How to Become a Professional Writer (And Get Paid Too)
It sounds like a headline too good to be true, right? Finding a good writing gig is already difficult, not to mention one that pays the bills, but it’s very possible to get one right out of college; and this is how it happened for me.
By the time graduation hit, I thought I had it made. I believed that with everything I’d done within the past year, it would be unthinkable for some places to turn down my resume. I had three great internships under my belt, several published articles online, an editor-in-chief position with a school magazine, and a killer list of recommendations. Like I said, I had it made. But my biggest problem was that I assumed I was better than a rejection letter, and I assumed wrong.
In total, I applied to over 30 jobs in the few months leading up to and following graduation. I heard back for an interview with one internship in Palo Alto, which turned out to be disastrous on the phone—the interviewer had a thick British accent I could hardly understand—and the place I work now. That’s more than 28 places that turned me down, some without even letting me know, but it all makes sense in retrospect.
To be honest, I set my standards high. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I made a few misjudgments in the application process that could have saved me a lot of time, and excruciating pain over writing custom cover letters.
For starters, no one ever told me beforehand that editorial assistant positions usually required a year’s worth of professional experience—or a good amount of luck—to land right after school, and yet just about every position I applied for was an editorial assistant job. I avoided internships—again, assuming I was too good for that—and instead focused on the “dream” positions that I probably would have wrestled someone for if need be. But in having this mindset, I passed up opportunities that could have been just as great, if not greater, than the ideal jobs I wanted.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s simple. I want you to be successful as a writer, but that also means reframing your mind about what you deem as a success, and what you see as a failure.
You see, as much as I’m embarrassed to say some 28 out of 30 applications didn’t pan out, I’m also so grateful that they didn’t because of the professional writing job I have now; and I guarantee that if you’re facing a similar ordeal right now, there’s a silver lining to be found in all those pesky applications.
With that in mind, here are some obvious and not so obvious ways you can become a professional writer in no time.
Apply for Paid Writing Internships
An internship out of college isn’t ideal for every graduate, but many people do it and end up landing great jobs from those opportunities. This isn’t to say this is your only option, but it’s a good one if you may need more experience for the job you wish to land later on. For two months following graduating, I worked as a social media intern at The Hollywood Reporter and loved it. Though I wasn’t writing, I had numerous chances to write, learn the ins and outs of the magazine business, and get a better sense of what I ultimately wanted for a first job, which made me all that more prepared for the next job. Some great places to look for writing internships, aside from your college career center, include Ed2010, LinkedIn (the iTunes app), mediabistro, Glassdoor, and Indeed. Also, if there’s a publishing house or magazine or other favorite place you want to write for, contact them! It never hurts to reach out and see what positions they have available.
Connect With Other Influential Writers
This is crucial not only for finding a job after graduation, but continuing to build your professional network. When I worked at the Career Development Center at Chapman University, the counselors there always told me to network, network, and network some more until you’re practically blue in the face. And they are 100 percent right. Those relationships that you build with professors, employers, coworkers, colleagues, and other writers like yourself are essential to your success because those are the people you’re going to need for recommendations, advice, and even future writing opportunities. So be bold, make a coffee date, and foster these relationships like you would with friends. And who knows, they may turn out to be your best friends someday.
Submit Your Work Online
It’s one of those “duh, of course” tips, but you’d be surprised how many writers I talked with who didn’t have a single written work online prior to graduation. In this day and age, all of your work should be readily available on the Internet. That means creating a blog, submitting work to literary publications, and writing articles for various other sites that otherwise were in pen and paper format before. Trust me when I say no employer is going to bother reading through all the work you send them, but as long as they see you’ve published a number of solid creative works online, you’re guaranteed a better shot.
Learn Blog Platforms
On the topic of submitting, you should already have a grasp of different user-friendly blog platforms online. WordPress, Drupal, Squarespace, you name it—these are all websites you need to learn and be familiar with if you plan to apply for a digital writing gig. Not only that, but it puts you ahead of the game when you have a strong knowledge of basic content management systems. To put it into perspective, I’m practically the go-to person for all website management at my work, and I barely passed computer science in college so it doesn’t take a genius to learn this stuff. Just someone who wants to stand out as a digitally-versed writer.
Share Your Work on Social Media
Alright, so I’m not the best at doing this, but I can say it has worked wonders for others who post their articles to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. all the time. I know it’s difficult for writers to be vulnerable and put their work out there for everyone, but that’s the only way we’re able to continue growing and developing as professionals. So share as much as you can. Post or tweet out a link to your article or piece of creative work with a little blurb on what it’s about. People are way more likely to click on something if it’s 1. from someone they know, and 2. easy to find. Oh, and tip to the wise, don’t mix and match these types of links with personal and possibly inappropriate posts. Employers can find that stuff, and I can promise those passive aggressive call outs won’t do you any good—even if they get the momentary attention of the person you’re targeting.
Build Your LinkedIn Profile
I know, it sucks. I don’t like LinkedIn either, but it’s one of the easiest tools on the Internet for finding jobs and writer groups. In fact, I would almost say your LinkedIn page is more crucial to your professional development than any blog or personal website you create. It has everything any employer wants to know about you right there on a screen—your employment history, your article links, your hobbies, passions, affiliations, etc. Even if you’re looking to write a novel or creative work on your own, LinkedIn can connect you with hundreds of publishers, similar writers, and talent scouts that can help you publish your piece.