Do you enjoy writing? Do you like the idea of taking the thing you love doing the most in the world and turning it into work? So that your access to food and shelter hinges on your ability to turn a creative outlet into a commercial product? Smart move. It sounds like you’d like to become a professional writer.
The good news is there are many ways to make it as a professional writer.
You could become a novelist. All you have to do is get an MFA from a top program. Then win a prestigious national writing prize. Then leverage that to earn a coveted artist-in-residence. Then use that time to pen a dazzling manuscript that lands you a book deal. Then publish your debut novel to largely positive reviews. Then follow it up with another widely acclaimed novel. Do that, and you’ll be a third of the way there.
Or you could freelance write. Freelance writing is like that scene from Aladdin where the cave collapses, and Aladdin has to hop from rock to rock as everything around him falls into a pit of lava. Talk about a life full of excitement! Plus, with the right dose of anxiety medication, you’ll barely even notice that the check you’re counting on to make rent still hasn’t come in the mail. That’s called work-benzo balance.
You could even try your hand at writing for television. You know that classic joke: “What do you call the dumbest graduate of medical school? A doctor.” Well, the same is true for comedy writing. Except it goes: “What do you call the writer who sent in the second funniest packet out of thousands? Unemployed.” See? All you have to do is be number one.
And if none of those is your speed, you could always teach writing, which is valued just as much by society as writing professionally. There are tons of famous writing teachers known only for their teaching skills. Their names will come to me … just give me a minute.
Whatever route you decide to pursue, be patient. A writing career is not a sprint. It is also not a marathon. A writing career is one of those wilderness survival challenges where they dump you in the woods without a map or a compass or food and whoever finds their way out wins. Except the only thing you “win” is that you don’t have to go to law school.
Is there a formula for being a good writer, you might ask? Yes, and it’s simple: Writing is 40 percent talent, 70 percent luck, and 50 percent determination. To become a writer, you do not need to be good at math.
But before you can write professionally, you must first learn the rules so that you can break the rules, then fix the rules, then send an invoice to the rules for the repair costs. Sometimes being a writer means crafting elaborate metaphors that lose their internal logic halfway through.
Once you’ve mastered the craft, being a writer is just a matter of venturing out into the desolate, windswept nuclear winter that is the modern publishing landscape and having the courage to shout, “Does anyone have time to give this a quick read?”
Aside from that, being a writer is easy. You just sit down at your laptop until you #bloodemoji. Being a writer is essentially paraphrasing other writers with a few light changes that appeal to modern sensibilities.
If you commit to writing every day for the next three to ninety-six years, you’ll be sipping gin and tonics on the French Riviera with your fellow Pulitzer Prize winners before you know it. Or be dead in a pauper’s grave. It’s a coin toss, really.
Remember: writing is rewriting. It is also showing, not telling. And killing your darlings. Kill enough of those darlings and, eventually, the writer police will come and send you to writer jail, where you’ll do lots of writer push-ups, and form a prison writer gang, and get sent to writers’ solitary confinement, where you’ll realize, “Wait a minute, this metaphor stopped working a long time ago.”
So you’ll go back and rework it. And that’s when you’ll know: you’re a professional writer.