Tips on becoming a writer
How to start out in one of the toughest professions
A friend of mine emailed me earlier asking for tips on becoming a writer. I jotted down a few things and then thought they might be useful to others too, so figured I’d share my experiences with a wider audience.
A small disclaimer - this is what I’ve found to work for me over the last five years. If you disagree on anything here, do feel free to use Medium’s excellent commenting system to share your thoughts too.
Get a blog. Use it all the time. Write three times a week, at least, and spam out the results on social media. Ask your friends to share it if it’s something interesting.If you can’t work up the enthusiasm or find subjects three times a week, then writing might not be the career for you. Don’t pretend you can’t find the time.
Write about things other people AREN’T writing about. Dig deep and find the amazing things on the internet or in the real world that aren’t being reported. Remember that your friends are probably pretty cool but most people aren’t. Don’t assume everyone’s heard about something because you or your friends have.
Write about things other people ARE writing about. Have an opinion when things happen. Write it down. Be quick and be good. Those are the only two things editors want. But be careful of becoming an angry person on the internet - opinion doesn’t have to be negative. Write about good news, too.
Follow up every lead. After a while you’ll start listening as a journalist, instinctively knowing when someone says something that might make a good story. It’s a combination of “wow, I’ve not heard that before”, “ooh, I wonder if that’s normal”, and “whoa, that’s incredible”. Google it to see if anyone else has got there first, and if not then dive right in.
Hit publish. Stop umm-ing and ahh-ing and worrying it’s not good enough. If it’s 80 percent there, hit publish and move on to the next thing. If you’ve got something terribly wrong, you can always correct it later. Unless it’s libel. Don’t libel people.
Carefully target a few publications. No-one likes a carpetbomber. Identify some publications that often publish the kind of thing you want to write. Hit them one at a time, befriending and chatting to the editors responsible for the sections you want to write for on Twitter, and then once you think you’ve got a good relationship, drop them an email pitch with something amazing that’s perfect for them and for you.
Pitch passionately. The perfect pitch email explains why something is amazing, why the publication’s audience will be interested, and why you’re the best person to write it. Enthusiasm is infectious - if you’re fascinated by something, say so.
Start using Twitter all the damn time. It’s so important for journalists, as a source, contact network and distribution mechanism all in one. Plus, if you’ve got a relationship on Twitter with an editor, you’re not emailing them cold.
Use Reddit. It’s the engine of internet culture right now, as horrible as some of that culture might be. It’s also an undervalued source of awesomeness. Find some obscure subreddits with things you’re interested in, follow them, contribute to them, and learn from them.
Don’t be afraid to work for free, but make sure you’re getting something out of it - connections, experience or knowledge are just as valuable as cash, even if they don’t directly pay the rent.
Don’t give up. Writing is so incredibly hard to do professionally, especially as a freelancer. You’ll be paid terribly and late all the time. But it’s also the best job in the world, so don’t forget to enjoy yourself.