How I Turned Writing Into My Career
This isn’t an overnight success story.
Rather, this is a sign for those battling with the desire to be creative for a living – or more specifically, turn their writing talents into actual work.
Truthfully, I almost held off from writing this article because I figured I might not be deemed ‘successful enough’.
However, in saying that, I quickly realised how toxic it is was for me to dismiss years of sheer hard work. In fact, I’m immensely proud of the writer I’ve become – and more than anything, I want to reiterate that a career as a writer is attainable.
Yet when it comes to writing, you don’t hear about a whole lot of other career paths apart from being a journalist or author. Leafing through the pages of university course guides, it was all looking a little bleak for me – but at the time, all I knew was that I wanted to write, but just had no idea which box I ought to squeeze myself into.
For creatives like photographers, models, artists or dancers, the first instinct might be to flock to their kind, discuss their experiences, collaborate together and ultimately, offer support to one another.
However, for writers, it’s an entirely different ball park.
Being a writer can seem like a solo mission and frankly, feel isolating at times. Writing can be very personal, and you won’t often find two writers with a similar story. However, what I love most is the freedom of expression that it grants.
Following my gut, it seems I’d unknowingly kicked off my journey ages ago. In carving out this path for myself, this is what I have to share with my fellow writers:
1. Take initiative
As long as you are trying, that’s more than enough – and it all begins with the first step. It’s natural to be afraid of taking the big leap, but you don’t necessarily have to drop your current financial or academic gig to establish yourself in the right creative direction.
For those still uncertain of how to start, the best thing you can do is nurture and practice your passion. Putting your work out there can be scary, but encourage yourself to start small – whether that’s through approaching local publications, writing pieces that you love and simply sharing your words in your preferred medium. Tell your story, or tell someone else’s. Over the years, I’ve contributed to both print and online publications (including this one), and taken away some great experience.
If you are in university, I recommend thinking beyond it and see where your writing could take you now.
2. Practise + find your niche
Recognise what form of writing you are best at and what you enjoy the most.
This will help position you in becoming the writer you aspire to be. If you enjoy writing feature articles, the idea of working with a magazine might appeal to you. Or say you like writing copy – you could steer yourself towards freelancing for small businesses and marketing agencies who might outsource their work.
Or, similar to my own case, you can attempt to keep perfecting your craft and let your niche be made known to you over time – be it through your own judgement or others.
Years ago, in the cloudy midst of my graduating year in high school, all I did was write on my most proud possession: my blog. Sure, I was that teenager with a blog (yep, Blogger.com) stockpiled with all her thoughts and feelings – but I never stopped using my voice. I never stopped refining my writing, and through the process, concluded that writing copy and non-fictional articles were the mediums I was best at.
That being said, I can’t stress how important it is to also…
3. Venture into new fields
As a writer looking to get involved to some extent in the industry, you may find that your work depends on the demand of the market. I was very fortunate enough to have landed my first real paid writing gig after school at a digital marketing agency, based on my concert reviews.
I certainly wasn’t qualified, but hell, I was open-minded. I went in with the mindset that my writing skills could be transferrable, and I worked hard to prove this was the truth.
The lesson it taught me? Never be afraid of new things, and certainly don’t undermine yourself – especially if you haven’t even given something a go!
The willingness for one to adapt is always a great quality, and you never know what new writing styles might pique your interest. There is no limit to how multi-faceted of a writer you can be, and with every new venture comes valuable connections, too.
A side note? Alternative or experiential ways of learning are always commendable – even better if it’s picked up on the job!
4. Build your portfolio
This can’t be stressed enough; gather all your best work and store it in a safe place, no matter how much you of it you might have. It doesn’t even have to be a particularly fancy arrangement; on top of my online portfolio, I still keep all my work in a Dropbox folder, just in case. You might even find a bit of fun in creating an online portfolio on sites like Squarespace or Weebly.
Opportunities and interviews can arise when you least expect it, so having something to show for your talents is both smart and kickass. You can certainly tweak and spruce up your portfolio as time goes on – which thereon ties directly into the next point…
5. Don’t force it
I’m guilty of being up to my knees in several projects, or setting unrealistic expectations for myself to sit in a room and just create. As I’ve learnt the hard way, striving towards constant productivity can get unhealthy, quick.
There are days where your heart won’t be in it and you might even find yourself struggling to formulate sentences. Trust me, no good comes from burning out. Writer’s block is completely and utterly normal!
6. Be unabashed
Create work you are proud of.
Own your title as a writer and encourage yourself to reach out to potential clients and other fellow creatives – whether you’re seeking out chances to learn, network or acquire work. Of course, there are days where I doubt my work and wonder if I’ll ever amount to much beyond the status quo, but defeat is letting the prospect of negativity deter you from your goals.
No matter how established you are, the brand you’re trying to sell is yourself – and if you don’t believe in yourself, who will?
7. Get business savvy
Or, at least have some grasp of the ‘business’ side of things if you choose to begin freelancing. This includes aspects like:
Setting up an ABN (or the equivalent, depending where you live)
Creating your own personal brand and digital presence
Consulting an accountant or bookkeeper
Getting an invoicing system up in place (no matter how basic)
There are a bunch of great online groups such as Freelance Jungle that you can turn to as well for extra help. As shitty it is that school never taught us about these life skills, that’s where the Internet lends a hand.
8. Set boundaries to keep yourself + others happy
Holding yourself accountable as a writer is absolutely key. As I’ve noticed, being a good writer means more than just meeting deadlines and producing the bare minimum.
At the same time, you ought to draw the line where needed. I’ve overworked myself and overloaded more than I am proud of, and am still learning to say ‘no’ to projects that would otherwise take up all my free time.
If you don’t know what standard to hold yourself to, exercise the kind of work ethic that would result in a proud, healthy ‘future you’.
Besides maintaining a good balance, ensure that you are also extremely clear on the expectations of each client and all parties involved – think the scope of work, payment terms and deadlines agreed upon. (Try to get this in writing if you can.)
Then, when you finally deliver and see the tangible result in a satisfied client, what you do as a writer starts to make more sense. Amazingly, everyone’s happy – and need I mention that word gets around?
9. Follow up + get feedback
This goes without saying for job applications, volunteer positions, and many other areas in your life. If you really want something, you’ll have no qualms about being upfront about it.
For example, reflect on the time you really wanted a specific job but faced rejection.
Years ago, it was easy for me to take something like this personally. However, what worked for me over the years was knowing my worth, all whilst approaching new opportunities with a healthy amount of skepticism.
If you do end up getting what you want, that’s great!
However, if you don’t, use it as a chance to learn or build up your resilience. Ask for feedback, for it’s none other than a chance to better yourself. Overall, you have nothing to regret if you made your intentions and enthusiasm known.
10. Look forward + realise it takes time
In saying all of this, you might think it’s relatively easy for me to spew all of this considering I’m now at a point where I feel established. However, it’s taken years of hard work as well as consistency. Coming to grips with this – and refraining from rushing anything – is integral to your health as a writer working for a living.
In fact, experience doesn’t just refer to the amount of jobs you’ve had; experience is comprised of everything in between, from the jobs you’ve tried out and didn’t like to the people you deal with and the tough lessons learnt along the way. Case in point:
Eight months ago, I landed a job after being initially being rejected. I was over the moon.
Six months ago, I couldn’t look beyond the four office walls of said job. To me, it felt like that was as good as it was going to get.
Four months ago, I got laid off and was left unemployed.
Yet now, I’m writing and feeling more fulfilled than ever, both recreationally and in my career.
When faced with adversity all those months ago, I didn’t give up, and why should I have?
Sinking myself into a contemplative period, I’d thought long and hard about what I wanted as a writer – that being, to write about life, my experiences, and aid others in projecting what they have to offer. So, I turned to focus my efforts on freelance writing and luckily enough, my current job followed after.
In the midst of chasing a million prospects and writing pieces I’d believed in, it seems I’d slowly gotten my mojo back. I refused to dwell on what didn’t work out for me and instead, focused on what could. Moving into these new writing pursuits, I felt that same child-like excitement I had when I had my very first article published on Isolated Nation in 2015.
Before I knew it, I was doing what I wanted as a writer and loving every minute of it. I’d been propelling myself forward all along, by combining affinity for writing with hard work and the right mindset.
The best part is, I’m still going.