"How did you become a writer?" The first time I was asked this, I felt like a fraud. I too, have asked this question. Searched the internet for insights and tips I hadn't thought of yet. Generally the advice I found was riddled with the sort of enthusiasm usually reserved for inspirational posters. A saccharine display of passion and determination which would inspire me for maybe an hour. Then my world-weary self would reemerge and I would think this shit is for the birds before shutting down my computer.
So how do you do it? The truth is I'm still looking for an easy answer. However, I've had a few major successes and I can now pinpoint how I got them. So here are my tips, void of the usual "live your dreams" inspirational pep talk.
This is the worst.
Tell People You're a Writer
Even during my first assignments, I felt like I was lying to the person I was interviewing. Like a child dressed in a cape exclaiming "I'm Superman!" However, opportunities arise when you put it out there. Make it known. After all, no great composer was discovered by playing songs alone in their bedroom. Having a source of steady income is a smart move. However, if you're currently a server, an account manager, a stay at home parent -- own that you're a writer first. Don't be shy about saying it at a bar when someone asks you what you do. Just be prepared for it to be received with an air of suspicion and possibly a judgmental eye roll. Artists.
Take Any Opportunity
Let's be honest. At first you're not going to paid. Initially, your focus should just be on getting a few pieces in print or online. My first piece of writing (that was seen by an audience larger than my parents) was in a Peace Corps Ukraine Newsletter where I regaled fellow volunteers with tales of bucket baths. Later I could show these to confused employers!
Carrie Bradshaw's weekly sex column that seduced us all into becoming writers with the promise of an outrageous income doesn't exist. But it got me thinking ... eventually you'll get to the point where you're offered writing jobs that don't interest you. Yes, writing forty 75-word captions on various paint colors will be dull. However, it will help pad your portfolio, show you can make a deadline and give you some contacts that in the future may lead to more opportunities. You can also maybe get a Sex and the City style blog entry comparing men to paint colors out of it.
Build a website
It doesn't have to be a blog -- just an online portfolio to feature your work. Ideally it's your name, but it doesn't have to be. If this sounds daunting, take comfort in the fact that I have more experience doing flying trapeze than I did with building my website. If you're a visual learner the YouTube tutorial below is an invaluable step-by-step walkthrough on how to buy a domain, register it with Wordpress and set up the theme. It also shows you how to update it and add articles/photos. If you build it, they will come.
Get a Twitter account and LinkedIn
#IKnowRight. If you're rolling your eyes like I did at first, hear me out. The majority of my writing opportunities and editor relationships have arisen from using these two social media sites. On LinkedIn you can search by local companies in your field of interest and see if the people who work there list an email they can be reached at.
On Twitter, highlight your writing interests (travel, fiction, food, world news, etc) in your profile with a link to your website. Use analytic sites like ManageFlitter.com to search for editors in your area. Follow them and later tweet them (or if they follow you direct message them) to see if they have any freelancing opportunities.
I'm not saying spam the hell out of editors -- but I am saying do the initial contacting and make it personalized and endearing. Charming spam is what you're going for.
If you're like me you discovered early you're better at writing than at talking. However, much like your first gynecological or colonoscopy exam, your first networking event must be done. If you don't know where to start looking, sites like MeetUp.com list networking events in your area. A quick search of writing meetups in Houston, Texas (because that's oddly the first city that came to my mind) displayed meetings this week for the Houston Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers and another for a Scriptwriters group. New York has hundreds including a group for those who have self published. San Francisco's list is also limitless including a group interested in crowdfunding (because it's San Francisco).
So attend a meeting. Write your website on your name tag and mingle. You may meet someone who is looking for a writer with your experience. Or, if you're a romantic comedy writer, the person who you'll spend the rest of your life with!
Be Dependable and Take Criticism
If doctors are assumed to be A Types, than writers are assumed to be flaky. This generalization has been backed up by many editors who have expressed gratitude for simply receiving a story on time. If you build up a great reputation for being dependable, you'll get more assignments. Period.
Occasionally, you may turn something in and find that your beloved masterpiece was not well received. This will hurt your pride and make you want to scream "You just don't understand my art!" Don't do this. The outlet for which you are writing has their own voice and tone that deserves to be respected. The Editor knows what they are looking for and it's your job, as a professional, to be open to hearing their suggestions and then to rework your piece. Save your principles for your personal works. Use your pent up aggression to write your novel.
Or just cry in your bathtub. That works too.
Got any other tips that have worked for you? Share them in the comment section!
Follow Ashley Hardaway on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ADHardaway