I’ve tried to write this lots of time in lots of different forms — but it is what it is: I am writing this entirely for a young cousin who has expressed that she would like to get into writing, professionally. I tried to dress it up, but it didn’t get done — so here it is, undressed!
Note: I am an unsuccessful writer, except in the sense of commercial writing and editing. In these areas I am adequate, but paid! I am probably the worst kind of person to be writing this kind of advice. If you’re reading this, and you’re the better sort who ought to be writing this instead — please add comments as it would be very helpful!
What to do to start being a writer today
- Get a Twitter account
- Get a Medium.com account
- Get a Tinyletter account (link to it from the bottom of all your articles)
- Write a thing every day
- Edit, publish, email, and Tweet it the next day.
Why do you need these accounts? Twitter is for distribution, talking to peers (other writers), and subjects. Medium is where you articles go. It looks nice, people are into it at the moment — you could do it anywhere, but medium.com is super quick and easy. Tinyletter is an email distribution platform, get people to sign up, and then send them your writing weekly, or whenever.
The important thing about all these platforms is that they provide you with a way to write publicly, and over time, build an audience who likes to read you.
This will make your life easier when you want to get paid!
But what do I write?
This is the fun bit! Try writing different sorts of things. Here’s some stuff to try writing:
- personal essay (it’s great if they intersect with something else, like tech humanism, health and personal experience, or, er health again?)
- short stories (there’s millions of places to publish these, but you could write fun, moving and interesting stuff like this, this, this, or this)
- whatever it is that Sadie Stein does every day for the Paris Review — write as if you’re a correspondent.
- social commentary, in the form of an essay — it can be about anything!
- Satire/humour/funny lists or something
- data journalism (find, or take, some stats, or polls — work out what’s interesting about it, write about that)
- Reviews of things like books, tv, whatevs.
600 words would be a good length of these, but just go with what feels natural.
Being Safe Writing Online
I know, I know you know. However:
- use a pseudonym — something catchy and interesting that means you won’t be identified as you. You can then write happily about anything without worrying about your family, friends, or (importantly) subjects reading it and getting you in trouble
- “isn’t this the opposite of what you do though?” — yes, but I am protected by a powerful deterrent of being not very interesting, and also coming from a time when we all thought we could all really live online. We couldn’t, it was a rubbish idea.
- don’t feed the trolls — and there will be some.
Practice forever, read lots, talk to other people writing, who you admire. Understand all the different kinds of writing out there, and how to do them. Practice by satirising these types — and then do a serious one at some other point.
Read everything, and understand what is good about it. Most of getting better is practice + reading + understanding context + understanding value, and then copying, emulating and internalising those parts that you want to keep.
You’ll find a voice once you have a craft.
Advice from a short story writer
I asked my friend who is a published short-story writer lady. Here’s some things she said:
Read lots of books and online stories, join different writing groups and classes (all different ones if possible where there’s a mix of ages).
Practice loads. Get brave and share and get feedback (you don’t have to listen to it all but it’s interesting).
Send creative stuff off as much as possible (I don’t do this much) but the more you send the more likely you are to get published and build your writer’s CV even if you’re not paid for it (which you probably won’t be).
So that’s good!?
Getting paid is a tricky part.
Currently, the way that websites make money is that they charge advertisers to advertise on their site, based on thousands of impressions (in advertising this is CPM, a site might charge £1CPM, so if you have a million impressions might make the site £1000).
Writers often get paid per word, or a set amount. Or sometimes in a weird way like this. Young writers are often asked to churn through crap to make #content. If you’d like to be depressed about the state of writing online, then you can always read Carles.Buzz’s series “life on the content farm”!
But don’t worry, as writing online is always changing, so it will get worse or better — but certainly won’t be exactly like this forever.
It’s important you engage with the idea that writing can be a job you should get paid for, if you’re good at it. This means understanding a bit about the way the people paying you would make money from your words. You need an audience to have power in that relationship.
Writing for cool sites is often achieved through pitching. Gita Jackson wrote a thing about how to pitch properly. So read that.
There’s some great advice from Laura Snapes over here about the importance of good hydration and some other stuff about writing I guess.
Unrelated, but I love the sadly-probably-dead Today In Tabs newsletter, which you can read online here. This is a good example of someone who eventually got paid through sponsorship of their newsletter (like, probably not that much, and they are an established writer, but it’s the thought that counts!)
There’s loads of places to go in writing, and you can move between things more easily once you have a reputation. You could become an editor and run a whole magazine or publication, or start your own, or write a novel or 12, or move into screen writing, or take the business writing route and make some money!
Which is all very exciting… but you probably need to get started now, right?