Because here’s a little-known secret to being a highly-paid writer: You don’t have to be a natural-born writer.
Stephanie Meyer, author of the worldwide bestselling vampire romance series Twilight, had never even written a short story before drafting her first book in the Twilight series.
Now Meyer is worth more than $40 million and has sold over 100 million copies of her books. Yet, she once planned to go to law school because she felt she had no chance of becoming a writer.
In fact, a lot of the most successful writers you meet will be the first to tell you they weren’t “born with it.” They didn’t grow up with an ache in their bones to make it in the literary world. Good thing, too, because in a lot of ways, this career is nothing like that world.
We were born with something else, though. It’s a mix of entrepreneurial spirit combined with an insatiable desire for freedom — both financial and personal. But for most of us, our writing talent amounts to a learned skill. It’s got nothing to do with being worthy or particularly gifted in communication.
Doctors Aren’t Gods and Writers Aren’t Born
Really, it’s just cultural misconceptions that tend to make us think writers in our industry are born and not made.
I’ll put it this way. When people ask what I do for a living and I tell them I’m a writer, I always get one of two responses.
The most common reaction is a cock of the head, a sympathetic smile, and a “Good for you!” Folks who react this way invariably think I must be scraping by on pennies, starving for the sake of my “art.”
The other reaction is more of a, “Wow … you must know a lot if you write for a living.” They’re the folks who assume I have some streak of innate genius. After all, how else would you be able to paint simple words on a blank page into a powerful channel that moves people to action?
But neither assumption is true. It’s like the whole doctors-as-gods phenomenon. They’re not gods. They’re just skilled professionals who spent years learning about the human body. And they have a way to monetize that skill.
On the same note, writers aren’t born with the God-given talent to weave prose into magnetic messages. We learn how to do it. And then we use our skills for profit.
Right of Entry Here is Simple …
In his book On Writing, Stephen King delivers the clear message that hard work and creativity can transform your ability to write. He emphasizes work ethic as an essential part of success.
Some say the ability to write is a combination of hard work and talent. I disagree — at least, when it comes to the kind of writing most of my peers and I do. I think it’s more of a dedication-paired-with-the-right-instruction kind of thing.
Although … I’ll confess there are a few other skills you need if you want to make a comfortable living as a writer …
4 Things You Must Know to Make a Great Living as a Writer
- Basic grammar rules. Easy stuff, like when to use “there” versus “they’re” or “their.” You never really have to worry about high-level concepts like split infinitives or conjunctive phrases. Besides, really great writing usually breaks a lot of grammatical conventions. If you want to brush up on the fundamental rules of writing, I highly recommend Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. It’s a quick read and it covers the essentials. It’s also a useful resource you can refer to when needed in your writing career.
- How to be an observer. A large chunk of the ability to write comes from watching, not writing. This means you watch the prospects you write to so you’ll understand their emotions and desires. It also calls for you to keep an eye on your preferred clients’ marketing materials. That’s one of the best ways to get an idea of the voice and tone they favor. Either way, the ability to observe patterns in behavior is key to effective writing.
- When and how to discipline yourself. Somebody once shared this inspiring quote with me, “A writer writes.” So, if you want to be a successful writer, you’ve got to put your fingers on your keyboard and start experimenting. You won’t get anywhere if you sit around and wait for inspiration to strike (trust me, I’ve tried. It never works). Many people say you should write every day for a specific amount of time. Sounds great, if you can swing it. Personally, I don’t always have a nice long block of time to take advantage of. But when I sit down in front of my computer, whether it’s for five or 50 minutes, I force myself to dive in — even when I don’t have a clear direction. Sometimes, just getting that first word on the page makes all the difference.
- What to read to improve your skills. No question, you’ve got a ton of learning materials to choose from. Reading definitely makes you a better writer, but where do you start? How do you keep from getting weighed down by all the e-letters and instruction manuals and forums and blogs? I say start small; you can always expand. Choose one source that jives with your preferred writing direction and keeps you up-to-speed on industry trends. Then, choose a second source that helps you improve your craft (you’ve already got this one nailed by reading The Barefoot Writer, being that it’s pretty much the leading source of info and advice specific to writers who want personal freedom and a well-paid living).
The Ultimate Ingredient to Truly Successful Writing
Finally, to be a great writer, you need to be able to get and take feedback. Whether it’s from your own circle of friends or from a peer review group of fellow writers doesn’t matter, as long as you can count on honest advice.
I use both. My husband usually delivers my first round of critiques. I know he’ll be frank if I write something that’s awkward in any way. He’s not one to fish out compliments he can give me. If it’s bad, he’ll tell me. If it’s good, he’ll tell me.
After that, I turn to my network of fellow writers — many of whom I’ve met through AWAI. They help me strengthen my copy and cut out unnecessary sentences.
You don’t have to have a thick skin to take these kinds of critiques. You just need to remember that feedback makes your copy stronger and more effective. This makes your clients happy. In turn, your career takes off.
In This World, Access is Everything
The bottom line is that you should never treat your writing like something that represents the “essence of your soul” (as writers in other genres describe their craft). Look at it instead as words on a page or screen, thoughtfully put together based on proven conventions within our field.
And of course, don’t forget that writing can be your vehicle to creating a freedom-filled life in a way no other profession offers.