5 Things Everyone “Knows” About Professional Writing — And Why They’re Dead Wrong
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the world of professional writing. On the one hand, every corporation, startup, nonprofit, and publication needs talented writers and communicators to stay up and running.
On the other hand, people consider writing to be one of those “impossible” career choices – you’ll often hear people say it’s impossible to make a living at it, even though that’s clearly not true. I mean, I’m doing it right now, and so are a lot of other people I know.
So today, I’m going to very quickly go over some of the most common myths I hear about professional writing and give you an insider’s view what it’s like to actually be a full-time writer.
Myth #1: It’s Impossible To Make A Living As A Writer
This is the first response you’ll probably get from friends and family if you talk about going into any creative industry. People have heard horror stories about “starving artists” and unemployed English majors, but they probably don’t know any professional writers personally, so this is the only side of the story they hear. The problem is, it’s a totally skewed vision of what professional writing actually looks like.
The truth is, there are hundreds of thousands of freelance and professional writers in the US alone, and they make pretty good money for their work. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for a professional writer in 2010 was a solid $55,420 a year – not enough to make you rich, maybe, but you certainly won’t starve. Skilled writers with a few years of experience are can sometimes make twice that much.
How much you’re able to make as a freelance writer partly depends on what kind of writing you do. A skilled freelance copywriter may be able to charge as much as $10,000 for a simple sales letter. A respected freelance journalist can make thousands of dollars researching a single story. And a skilled blog or content writer can make $100 or more per article.
There are some big benefits to freelance writing apart from the salary – you get to set your own schedule, spend more time on hobbies, family, and friends, and you get paid to talk about issues you’re passionate about. So if the salary is in line with your budget and this sounds like the kind of lifestyle you want to live, freelancing might just be a good option for you.
Myth #2: Only A Lucky Few Bestselling Authors Are Able To Make Money As Writers
This myth is everywhere in the media, and for good reason: people love to talk about that struggling single mom working in a diner who made it big and became a bestselling author. Stories like this make it seem almost impossible to break into the field – more a matter of luck than anything else. Now let’s break down all the reasons this myth is problematic.
Not only does this myth convince many struggling writers that they’ll never be able to “make it,” it can also give aspiring writers an unrealistic idea of the money they can make as a writer. The truth is, most professional writers aren’t going to pen famous bestsellers – and that’s okay. Most people don’t start writing because they want to make millions on a book deal. They just love writing and communicating with people and want a job that matches their interests. Don’t feel intimidated by the idea that only writers with wide recognition are “real” writers – it’s just not true.
The other problem with this myth is makes it sound like success as a writer is all about luck. And it’s really not about luck at all. Even those miraculous success stories you hear about are the result of years of hard work, training, rewriting, and revising. All successful writers have made it to where they are today by being willing to keep trying when they run up against obstacles and keep writing even when a particular editor didn’t like their work.
One real life example? Stephen King. While he’s a multimillionaire now, King started out as a high school English teacher to pay the bills. He spent years writing at night and sending off his short stories to magazines. His first novel, Carrie, was rejected over 30 times before he managed to find a publisher – and it was an instant success when it came out. If he hadn’t been willing to keep perfecting his manuscript, keep sending out submissions, and stay positive about his work, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
I’m not saying that you’ll become the next Stephen King, because I can’t guarantee that – but I do want you to know that if you continue to work hard to improve your writing and expand your skills, you can live comfortably on a reasonable salary doing work that you really enjoy.
Myth #3: Writing Nonfiction Isn’t Creative Or Fulfilling
If you’re a creative writer, the idea of writing nonfiction professionally probably fills you with dread. I know – because I used to be the same way. When you’re used to writing to tell that great story that’s been kicking around in your head, writing to communicate information and research can seem like a step down. The truth is, though, nonfiction writing can be just as creative and rewarding as fiction and other creative writing.
I’ll admit that as a budding writer I fell prey to this one. Never mind that I’d never really written nonfiction – I assumed that it just wouldn’t be as fulfilling or interesting as the short stories and poetry that I was trying to get published.
Then I needed a workstudy job and ended up working on the staff of my school newspaper. I realized there’s a lot of room for creativity in how you approach a nonfiction subject – and a lot of different formats for communicating your ideas.
Not only that, but nonfiction writing is a lot easier than fiction writing! Once you know what you want to write about, it’s simply a matter of doing the research and then writing down your thoughts. It’s really gratifying for me to be able to finish nonfiction projects quickly and easily – something I just can’t do with my creative writing.
One more reason I find nonfiction writing fulfilling? I’ll be honest – it generally pays better than creative writing. And while that may seem unfair, there’s a good reason for it. People urgently need the information that you’re giving them when you write nonfiction – while well-written fiction can certainly change lives, many stories are read and then forgotten. Well-written nonfiction has an immediate, sometimes lasting impact on readers in a way that has real, practical effects on their lives.
Myth #4: Only People Born With A Natural Writing Talent Can Be Pros
One of the biggest reasons the amateur writers I work with don’t pursue their dreams? They believe they just aren’t good enough. And in a culture that seriously misunderstands how creative professionals work, it’s easy to assume they just don’t have the inborn spark of talent necessary to be great writers.
The truth is, writing is a skill that you can learn. No one is born a great writer. Great writers develop through years of practice, hard work, and a willingness to really listen to feedback. Becoming a great writer is really a matter of trial and error – and this site is specifically designed to help you make as few of those errors as possible along the way, so your writing can be professional quality right away.
Myth #5: Writing Should Be A Hobby Because You Can’t Do It Full Time
To hear the way people talk about professional writers, you’d there are no full-time writing jobs out there. That the best you can hope for is to write as a hobby (unless you luck out and make it big). And that’s just not the case.
The truth is there are lots of roles out there for full-time writers. While it does take some time and effort to establish yourself in the field, that’s the reality in any skilled profession. Starting off writing as a hobby is a great way to build up a portfolio and gain experience without having to worry about paying the bills – and it’s fine if that’s as far as you want to take your writing work. But if you’d like to write for the web full time, there are lots of opportunities out there. In fact, here are 20 of them!
This article is taken from my upcoming course on breaking into freelance web content writing and blogging, the Freelance Web Writer’s Workshop. If you’d like to know as soon as the course is available (and get a chance to try it out at a special discount), just sign up for our mailing list and I’ll let you know!