How to begin as a writer

The Student Writer

Here's what the first person wrote in an email:

I found the articles on this site educative and inspiring. I am hoping to be a writer too but am still in school. please advice me on what to do.

I'm not sure whether this person is in high school or university. But it doesn't matter. Here's what to do if you are in a similar situation. Simply put, the best thing to do if you want to become a writer, regardless of your age, is to write regularly. Even if you write for just 10 minutes a day or one day a week. Even if you have to get up an hour before everyone else to get some quiet time.

The hard thing in the beginning is to make yourself devote time to writing. Yet writing is something you can only learn by doing – just like riding a bicycle or skiing. Some people have theorized that it takes 10,000 hours to master any skill. Writing is like that. And the more you write, the better you get at it—the greater your sense of how words should flow as they express thoughts, observations, and feelings. There are no shortcuts here. You just have to keep doing it until it becomes as natural as walking.

Remember too that a writer is simply someone who writes. If you are writing, you have already become a writer. The readership comes later.

The second thing that will help you become a writer is to read a lot. To some extent, it doesn't matter what you read – anything from comic books to popular magazines is more grist for the mill. However, it cannot hurt to delve into the classics. There is a reason the great poets and authors are revered. The more of their language you can get into your head, the better.

When you feel ready and have a small body of work you feel good about, seek out other writers who can help you. Share your work and get their comments. If all they do is criticize and tear your work to shreds, don't give up. Take their advice to heart and try to do better. Eventually you will get more compliments than criticism.

Once you reach the stage where you are getting positive feedback, look for places where you can publish. Maybe you start with a blog or a student newspaper. Today there are many more places online than ever before where you can publish your words. Eventually, you may find people who will pay you.

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3. Just try it

You might find that once you've started, you can'tNow you’ve just gotta try it. But don’t worry. You don’t have to dive right in headfirst and write an epic poem. Beginners in anything need time to breathe and float. So go ahead! Dip your toes in. Write one sentence. It might sound a little obvious, but every story begins with a sentence. Just write something down. If you have to stare at that blank screen or piece of paper for an hour before you write anything, then do it. Stare at the ocean for as long as it takes. Believe me, there is a vast ocean to draw from. So dip your toes in!

You might find that once you’ve started, you can’t stop. That’s good. Keep backing up each sentence with another one. Prove that the last sentence you wrote is true by supporting it with the next one, and so on. Don’t worry; none of it has to make sense. Congratulations, you’ve just begun free writing! Do that for a set amount of time (15 minutes) or 100 words, whichever comes first. Write about the weather or your day or the man on the bus with the cane or a dragon and its horde. Write anything you want! Can’t think of anything? Here are some writing prompts.

How’d it go? Did you find the vast expanse of the ocean intimidating or freeing? Did time fly by like a hummingbird or drag on like the hum of an old radiator? Did the words spill out onto the page like milk out of your nose, or was it more forced like a noodle? (Graphic, sorry.) You just became a writer. How does it feel? Glorious? Disappointing? Freeing? A little anticlimactic? Yeah, that all sounds about right. Now that you’re a writer, though, you should write every day. Designate a small 15-minute chunk out of every day just to write. Then, in a month, increase that to 30 minutes. Continue until all you do is write. Just kidding! Leave time for eating. Say goodbye to sleeping, though, and hello to coffee. Kidding, again. (Kind of.)

2) Write Everyday

As with anything in life, practice makes perfect.

If you limit your writing to 3 tweets a month, you’re probably not going to improve much.

But if you write every day, you’ll begin to notice the process becoming easier. Thoughts becoming clearer. And most importantly, you’ll begin to enjoy it more.

It’s always more fun to do things we’re good at. Writing is no different.

A great way to do this is by committing to a certain number of words every day.

Chris shoots for 1,000 words a day. As does Srini. Our community manager Liz started with 500 and has seen that habit lead to productivity gains in other aspects of her life as well. LRA member Charles shared how he got a 1,000 word a day practice going here.

And if you’re someone like me whose entire business is built around a blog and the internet? Well the more I write, the more successful I become.

Need a little help writing every day? These 25 writing tools will get you on the right track.

Its Never Too Late to Become a Writer

Becoming a writer has no age restriction; the act of writing is rated G for the General Public, and those 3 aforementioned traits are found in writers from ages 2 to 99+.

Many writers discover their writing talents in their later years. Why, exactly? Neurology reveals there are two types of intelligence: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. “Fluid” refers to creative and adaptive thinking, including activities like writing and problem solving. “Crystallized” refers to the solidified body of knowledge people draw from—all the words, definitions, and experiences that build a foundation for the world.

Generally, younger adults have more fluid intelligence, whereas life experience builds one’s crystallized intelligence over time. The two intelligences tend to converge in a person’s 40s, since this is an age where the faculties for fluid intelligence haven’t declined, and crystallized intelligence abounds. Not-so-coincidentally, many writers see their careers flourish in their 40s and 50s!

Many celebrated writers didn’t put pen to paper until middle age or later.

In fact, many celebrated writers didn’t put pen to paper until middle age or later. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t start writing until her 40s, and her Little House series didn’t start printing until she was 65. Likewise, Most of Wallace Stevens’ work was published after he turned 50; despite being a poet, he worked at an insurance company, and most of his coworkers were shocked when he won a Pulitzer at 75. Nobody knew that he wrote!

Finally, many university students return for a writing degree after establishing a career elsewhere. BFA and MFA programs around the world educate students in their 30s and beyond; in 2017, the average age of a low-residency MFA student in the U.S. was 35.4, according to LitHub and AWP.

Whether you’re 19 or 90, you’re never too old to write. The best time to write is yesterday; the second-best time is today.

Want to Learn More About Writing?

Become a better writer with the MasterClass Annual Membership. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by literary masters, including Neil Gaiman, David Baldacci, Joyce Carol Oates, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, and more.

Writing Graduate Degree Program Admission Requirements

There are two main types of master’s degrees in writing: the Master of Arts (MA) and the Master of Fine Arts (MFA). The MA has an academic focus on literature, but does offer concentrations in writing, including creative writing and is a stepping stone to a PhD. The MFA is considered a terminal, or professional degree, that is dedicated to teaching students about writing and honing their craft. Both have similar admission requirements. However, the requirements do vary school to school. Below is a list of sample admission requirements for an MFA program.

Education

A bachelor’s degree in English, journalism or related field from an accredited college or university. Student must also meet minimum GPA requirements – usually a 3.0 out of a 4.0 scale.

Letters of Recommendation

Students must supply between two and three letters of recommendation that speak to the candidate’s experience and writing aptitude.

Transcripts

Unofficial transcripts must be submitted. Official transcripts are usually required upon acceptance to the program.

Graduate Record Examination

Most MFA programs do not require students to take the GRE for admission to an MFA program.

Prerequisites

Prior to starting their graduate courses, MFA applicants should be familiar with their writing specialty, e.g. fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. This includes taking undergraduate prerequisite courses in writing and literature.

Statement of Purpose

Students must write and submit a two- to three-page statement of purpose that describes their experience, education and why they want to earn an MFA in writing.

Writing Sample

The writing sample demonstrates the student’s skills in their chosen writing field. It may be between 30 and 50 pages in length (up to 10,000 words in length). It may include multiple pieces of writing, each of which must have been written in the past five years. Examples include short stories or a part of a novel for fiction writers, biography or personal essays for nonfiction writers, or a selection of poems for poetry students.

8. Rewrite it

So you’re done. You’ve been writing and writing and writing, and you’ve met your goal. Good job! Take a good long moment to celebrate. Pop open a bottle of Champagne. See your parents for the first time in months. Buy yourself something nice because you deserve it. Breathe in that fresh writerly air. Doesn’t it seem sweeter, somehow, now that you’re almost done?

Yes, almost done. You know what they say. Writing is rewriting. It’s one of those clichés that’s cliché only because it’s so true. Once you’re done celebrating, it’s time to hunker down once again! Some people take this “writing is rewriting” business so seriously that they will literally rewrite their story sentence by sentence, fleshing out original thoughts, expanding, cutting down. (That’s me. I’m talking about me.) You don’t have to be so completely masochistic (though I would advise you to give it a shot and see what happens), but you should definitely edit the heck out of your novel. It is not complete otherwise.

Once you’ve gone through and rewritten it, figuratively or literally, you should edit it. Here’s where those skills come in about nailing down rules of the English language. If you worked on it, this step is going to be a whole lot easier. If not, or if you just need a fresh set of eyes, you can have a professional edit your work for you, because we live in a convenient and beautiful world.

How to Become a Professional Writer: What “Professional” Means

One distinction to help you think about your writing journey is the difference between amateur and professional writers. If you’re not sure what you want to become, start with the following question: what does “professional” mean?

There are, generally, two classes of writers: amateurs and professionals. Before describing the professional writer, let’s be clear: “amateur” is not derogatory, and professional writers are not “better” than amateurs. Amateur comes from the Latin amator, “lover.” An amateur writer loves the written word just as much, sometimes even more, than the professional; amateurs simply have less pressure, deadlines, and financial dependence on writing. It’s a pastime, not a career.

If you want writing to be a significant portion of your income, then you aspire to being a professional writer.

If you want writing to be a significant portion of your income, then you aspire to being a professional writer. Professional writers have to approach their writing as a business, building a literary audience and keeping a regular writing schedule. Professional writers need to understand the ins and outs of the publishing industry—which they often learn through obtaining a university degree—and it also helps to have formal training in the publishing world and experience operating literary magazines.

How do you start to work toward becoming a professional writer? Below are resources to get you started.

9) Write Drunk, Edit Sober

This is the famous quote attributed to Hemmingway, that I think has a lot of validity to it. (Even though most agree Hemmingway didn’t actually coin the term.

Sure you can take it literally if you want, but the way I personally interpret it is let your writing be creative and free-flowing.

Don’t get bogged down in research, adding links, formatting, or overthinking.

Just write.

Then go back with fresh eyes to add edit, revise, format, and to make sure all of the claims you made during your initial draft you know, are actually true.

Hemmingway may not have written drunk, but he sure knew how to pick the good spots in Havana. This was at Hotel Ambos Mundos where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls:

Derek Johanson, Clay Boeschen and Sean Ogle at Hot

Derek Johanson, Clay Boeschen and Sean Ogle at Hotel Ambos Mundos in Havana, Cuba

Use images

There should always be a header/featured image at the top of the post. Make sure it’s high-res. I like to take my own photos, but some of my clients prefer pics from Unsplash or Pixabay.

Add images into the body of your work when you can. Don’t put generic images into the body. For example, you wouldn’t want a generic image quote like this:

Here’s me writing about marketing, making a great point. And now, I add this generic image.

NeilPatel.com
NeilPatel.com

Instead, use screenshots providing examples of what you’re talking about (like I did in this article about writers and money). Or, include graphs and charts that support an argument you’re trying to make. Like this:

Here’s me writing about marketing, making a great point. And now, I add this terrific graph that supports my argument.

Step 3. Write the stuff and put it on your own website/Medium

When you know what you want to write about, find company blogs or websites that feature that type of content. Try to mimic your favorite pieces/writers, but write something original, with a fresh angle. Put it on Medium. Voila — writing portfolio.

My Best Writing Tips to Help You Become a Better Writer

Here are my best writing tips so that you are more

Here are my best writing tips so that you are more successful with your writing!

1. Write Every Day

If you truly want to be a writer, you have to write every day.

Whether it’s a diary entry, a blog post, an email or your to-do list, find opportunities to write. Of course, what you write is important. If all you do are make lists, you won’t hack it as a writer.

You have to flex your writing muscle and write what you want to get paid for – business writing, horror fiction, chicklit etc.

2. Don’t Worry About Being Perfect

Work on just “dumping” your writing onto paper or online.

It’s not going to be pretty or coherent, but you are exercising your writing muscle and helping you get away from the fear of writing.

Being the grammar police is also something you don’t want to do with your own writing!

3. Work on Your Storytelling

Telling stories is so important as a writer.

For freelance writers like myself, I infuse my stories when I write as a way to connect with my readers.

Copywriters also heavily rely on emotional storytelling to help them sell.

As an author, you can think of that as well when you write in your characters. You can create a strong bond with your characters so that your readers crave more from you!

4. Work the Hardest on Your Openings

Your introduction or opening to your book is crucial.

It is what will convince someone to keep on reading. Stephen King can spend weeks and even months on his opening sentences.

So if you want to become a better writer, focus your writing on your openings.

Do I need a degree to become a writer?

Officially, no. You can become a writer even witho

Officially, no. You can become a writer even without a university degree and other formal qualifications. However, if you decide to pursue a degree, your chances of getting a well-paid writing job are much higher. 

Typically, writers will go to university to study English, literature, communications, or journalism. You can never be overeducated, and a Bachelor’s degree in one of these fields can help you land a better job in the future. 

However, as we mentioned before, you don’t really have to go to college to become a writer. Writers can craft their skills on their own by blogging, journaling, or taking an internship in a publishing company. 

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