This guest post is by Jerry B. Jenkins. Jerry is is a 21-time New York Times bestselling novelist (including The Left Behind series) and biographer (Hank Aaron, Walter Payton, Billy Graham, and many others) with sales of over 71 million copies. He teaches aspiring authors at JerryJenkins.com.
You love to write. People have told you you’re good at it, and you sense they’re right.
But writing is one thing. Writing for a living is another.
How do you know the time is right, or whether you really have what it takes?
You’d better be certain you know what you’re getting yourself into before you take the leap.
Full-time writing is no hobby. And it’s not easy. But if you’re called to it—oh, the rewards.
Find Your Passion
I’m one of the lucky ones. I knew I wanted to be a writer in my early teens, and I pursued it with a passion I’d shown for nothing else.
But even that didn’t guarantee my success—it guaranteed only that I’d never quit.
I became a sports writer before I was old enough to drive.
At 14, I talked my way into a stringer job at a local daily newspaper, covering high school sports. I was paid a dollar per column inch that survived the sports editor’s red pen, making me a professional writer.
At 19, I became sports editor for that paper. My passion had become my profession.
I became a magazine editor at 22, a magazine publisher at 28, and a book publisher at 31.
On my own time, I became an author at 24, a novelist at 29, and decades later I’m closing in on 200 published books, 21 of those New York Times bestsellers (including The Left Behind Series), with more than 71 million copies sold.
Several of my novels have been made into movies. I’ve written the first-person as-told-to autobiographies of countless superstar athletes (Hank Aaron, Walter Payton, Orel Hershiser, Nolan Ryan, Meadowlark Lemon, et al.).
I tell you all that not to brag, but to say I’ve been at this game for decades and enjoy a career most people only dream of.
The bottom line?
Dreamers talk about writing. Writers write.
Writing well, well enough to make a living at it, requires knowledge, training, and a lot of practice.
VERY few people are born good writers. I certainly wasn’t. In fact, I don’t know any who were and have read of only a handful.
If you’re like me and nearly every other writer, you’ll need to grow in the craft, especially if you ever want to land your dream job. How do you do that?
Read as many books on the craft as you can get your hands on. Here are a few of my favorites.
Write—every day. Maybe take a journalism class or an online writing course. Find a way to get words onto the page every day.
Is My Writing Good Enough to Make a Career of It?
Have you put off pursuing a writing career because you fear you aren’t good enough?
I didn’t become a full-time writer until after my 90th book was published. Until then, I worked full-time and wrote during my extremely limited free time.
I quit my day job only after I’d lined up enough book projects to pay me three times the salary I was making. And even then, the decision was difficult.
It wasn’t just my salary that had to be replaced. I had to cover everything: my pension, benefits, supplies, even weekends and vacations.
My biggest breakout project, Left Behind, was hardly my first book. Neither was it my 50th. It was my 125th.
Work hard. Learn everything you can. Write about the things that ignite your passion. And when you’re ready to pursue a writing job, here are some to consider.
10 Popular Writing Jobs
While you could become a:
Greeting card writer
Business plan writer
Video game writer
Comic book writer—
— rarely will one of those alone support you. As a freelancer, you must be willing to be all things to all people. I recall years of never saying no to an assignment. A writing job was a writing job.
But here are ten of the most popular writing jobs, the first seven of which I’ve engaged in at one time or another:
Do you have a story idea strong enough to justify a 75,000–100,000 word manuscript able to captivate a reader throughout?
Resist the urge to start your writing career with writing a book. That’s like enrolling in graduate school instead of kindergarten. You have a lot to learn first.
2. Nonfiction Writer
Categories include articles, blogs, autobiographies, biographies, essays, memoirs, nature writing, reviews, profiles, reports, sports writing, how-to, self-help, and more.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming nonfiction is easier to write than fiction. Too many details must be gotten right. Do your research. Get the details right, or readers will notice.
Do you love news and have the ability to be objective?
The best journalists display stellar research skills and the ability to detach from the story to present the most accurate, neutral account possible.
Networking and the ability to ask difficult questions are paramount.
Journalists write for newspapers, magazines, and news websites, or create scripts for radio and television and podcast news broadcasters. Some freelance and build their own brand.
A journalism degree is preferred and was once required for journalists. That may still be true for some high-profile media outlets, but if you have the ability to write well and attract readers, you might still qualify.
Contrary to a journalist, a columnist offers an opinion and his perspective on current events.
A columnist should know his audience well and write with a distinct voice that can keep readers scrolling or turning pages.
Start a blog, write for free, and step outside your comfort zone to write for out-of-the-box entities.
5. Web Content Creator
Individuals, companies, and organizations need blogs, social media, and website content. They often hire freelance writers to create it.
It helps to be well-versed in SEO, HTML, CSS, and WordPress and social media practices, so if those are new to you, you have homework to do. 🙂
ProBlogger posts a job board of potential projects.
Are you willing to write, regardless who gets the credit?
A ghostwriter is often the content creator behind social media posts, scripts, speeches, blogs, other web material, and even books. By definition, the writer’s name does not appear with their work.
Politicians, government officials, business executives, celebrities, and PR firms need speeches. Some people even buy wedding speeches and toasts.
An excellent speechwriter gets to know the voice of the speaker, researches the subject, and writes the speech. Speechwriters rarely get the credit for their work.
Are you great at working with a team? Do you love film and theatre?
Writing scripts for movies, cartoons, television programs, and plays may be the most collegial of all freelance writing. Up to a dozen people may have a role in producing a script.
Script editing, working on a movie set or the stage, and learning the business is helpful experience for writing in this field. As with many other types of writing, if you have raw talent and can prove yourself, formal training isn’t always a must.
“For many writing jobs, if you have raw talent and can prove yourself, formal training isn’t always a must. Practicing your craft, though, is always worth the effort.Tweet thisTweet
A copywriter creates publicity and advertising copy, including brochures, direct mail pieces, billboards, websites, emails, and catalogs.
The copywriter must communicate well with few words and powerfully invoke action. Knowledge of social media and Search Engine Optimization are important.
Most agencies look for writers with a four-year English, Communications, or Journalism degree, and a candidate who has held an internship or has on-the-job experience.
10. Technical Writer
If you can make complicated jargon readable and understandable, this might be for you.
Technical writers rarely get credit for their work. To be competitive, they need to be problem solvers, enjoy technology, and understand procedures and processes.
The education required for this quickly growing field may depend on the subject matter. Many schools offer degrees in technical writing, but a degree in Communications, English, Journalism, or a field related to the specialty are also acceptable.
The Hard Work of Writing Jobs
Writing is hard, exhausting work. If you don’t find it so, you’re probably not doing it right.
Writing a book is especially daunting because of the sheer magnitude of it. Attack it the way you would eat an elephant—one bite at a time.
Don’t let fear of failure stop you. Let it motivate you to do your best work every time.
Immerse yourself in the craft, read and write every day, and you may find there’s room for you in the writing business.
Have you held any of these writing jobs? Let us know in the comments.
For today’s practice, you have two choices:
Option 1: Choose one of the writing jobs listed above and imagine a day in the life of the writer who does it. What are the ups? What are the downs? What unexpected conflict throws a wrench into their day? Write a scene about your professional writer.
Option 2: Choose one of the writing jobs that you’d like to do. Practice writing a piece in the style of that job. Want to be a journalist? Write a newspaper article about something that happened to you this morning. Want to be a speechwriter? Write a speech for someone you’ve seen on the news.
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