Advice to a Future Freelance Writer

I haven’t updated my website in a long time because I’ve been too busy doing paid freelance writing work for other sites! This is a very good problem to have, but it’s still a problem. I’m going to try to do a better job of updating this site regularly just to show the world that I AM in fact, still in business as a freelance writer (7 years and going strong!), and also share some advice and ideas and general musings to give prospective clients a sense of what I’m like and how my thought process works and what it might be like to hire me as a freelance writer.

I recently got a question from a Facebook friend who mentioned that they have a 13-year-old child who is very interested in writing and wants to know what it’s like to be a writer for a living.

Giving advice to young people is one of my great joys in life; if there’s something that young up-and-coming writers can learn from my experiences, I’d be honored to share a few bits of wisdom.

If you’re 13 years old, or any age, and are interested in becoming a writer, then here are some bits of advice:

Write All the Time

A writer is a person who writes. So do it! Start a blog. Keep a journal. Write every day, even if it’s bad, even if you feel stuck, even if you never want to share what you write with anyone, just do it. Writing is a craft and a discipline; sometimes it’s magical and elegant and you have a perfect feeling of creative “flow,” but sometimes it’s a miserable agonizing slog and your brain feels like trudging through molasses and every word feels like discordant notes of music. But you just have to keep going! Keep producing! The world doesn’t need more constipated, tortured artistes; the world needs you to PRODUCE. If you feel like you might have something to say, then say it. Put it out there into the world and contribute your verse.

Photo Credit: Dan90266  CC BY-SA 2.0

Read All the Time 

Being a writer is like being a jellyfish, or a big whale that feeds off of plankton through its baleen filter-feeder system. (This analogy sounds cumbersome, but bear with me!) You need to write, yes? But you also need to read ALL THE TIME to give you constant INPUT and INSPIRATION to write. You need to drift around the Internet like a jellyfish, or inhale massive quantities of ocean water like a whale, and PROCESS THAT INPUT into new ideas and insights and observations and written material. This is one of the many reasons why I love being a freelance writer – I get to float around the Internet all day like a happy jellyfish, sucking up inspiration wherever I find it. (See how that works? Not such a bad analogy, is it? This is why people pay me to write things for them.)

Explore the World

Writers should travel. Even if you can’t travel because you’re too young and you still live with your parents, watch Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown (it’s on Netflix, last I checked) and other travel documentaries to learn more about other countries and other parts of the world. Read about other places. Read world history. Watch international movies. Learn a foreign language. Make friends with the foreign exchange students at your school – I made friends with Fabrice, the German exchange student, back when I was 15 years old, and we’re still friends 22 years later. All of these experiences – especially if you start at a young age! – will give you valuable perspective and help you empathize with people from all cultures and all walks of life.

Talk With People

Never miss a chance to talk with people and learn from other people around you. Be open to ideas. Participate in conversations. Ask good questions. Have the mentality of a reporter – watch interviews and listen to podcasts and get a sense for what it means to ask open-ended questions and engage with people around you and help draw the stories out of people. Lots of people think that writers are all solitary souls who disdain talking to other people, but some of the best writers are comfortable striking up conversations. And even if you’re an introvert, the most important thing is that willingness to learn from people and a curiosity about what makes people tick and how to get the best out of people. I spend most of my life working alone in an attic, but I care about people very deeply and I tend to believe the best about people. We all are enriched by each other’s presence and we have so much to learn from each other.

Go to College – But Don’t Worry About Going to the “Right” One

I graduated from Rice University in 2001 with a degree in History, and back then, I didn’t know I was going to be a freelance writer in 2017. But looking back on it, everything in my life has led me to this point. I spent two years at Iowa State University and then transferred to Rice; I was undecided about my major until the 2nd semester of my junior year at Rice when I declared a major in History because I loved to read history books and my advisor gave me some great advice: “Major in the subject that you would most like to teach.”

Lots of people who are smarter and richer than me are questioning the wisdom of traditional university education, and there may be something to that – it’s true that college is more expensive than ever; the costs have more or less doubled since I was a college student. I don’t know if college is worth it for everyone, but if you want to be a writer, college is still great preparation. Why? Because you learn how to think. You learn how to analyze information critically and synthesize sources of information and do the hard, unglamorous, disciplined work of sitting in the library for hours and hours while you cram your head with material and try to come up with something new to write about what you’ve just read.

But don’t worry about going to the “right” college – don’t get hung up on a name brand college degree. I really believe this: it doesn’t matter where you go to college so much as whether you get that degree. There are lots of people with big-name college degrees who aren’t very smart and who don’t end up being very successful; there are lots of people who did 2 years at community college and then graduated from a state school who go on to do amazing things and have a great life. Don’t think there’s one “right” college for you that’s going to make all the difference – you’re better off just working hard wherever you are and publishing articles on your blog and building up a base of business as a writer that way. We have the Internet now! Traditional credentials are less important than they used to be. Your college connections can be helpful but college is not the end-all, be-all of everything – in fact, one of my freelance writing mentors, Carol Tice, doesn’t have a college degree!

There’s never been a better time to be a writer. I love what I do for a living, I get to work with smart, fun people all over the world, and I get paid to think and learn and create. What could be better?? If you’re 13 years old (or any age) and interested in working as a writer someday, start now. Read. Write. Learn. Explore. It’s an amazing journey and I’m happy for you that you’re already on your way.

Do you have questions on how to become a freelance writer? Email me: 

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