Writing is one of my favorite topics to write about, and chat about. Whether it be on Medium, on my podcast, or even here on my blog, you’re sure to find a lot of tips from my experience as a writer. A little bit about me — I’ve been writing for half of my short life. I started taking writing seriously around the age of thirteen years old. Getting started in your teen years gives you a pretty awesome advantage. By the time you are old enough to start looking for your first writing job, you have already been through the awkwardness of trying to find your voice. Hopefully you succeed at it by now. If not, at least you know a little bit about what not to do.
There’s a major transformation the writer has to go through, however, and it’s an important one. I’ll never forget the blog I read on this topic a while back. It was the first time this idea occurred to me, and was part of what sent me on the trajectory I am on today. It’s an important lesson to learn, and the lesson is this: you can either write for yourself, or you can write for others.
There Are Two Types of Writers
Ultimately, there are two types of writers — those that write to be read, and those that write for themselves. In regards to this, the author of one of my favorite books, Thomas Merton, writes:
“If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy. If you write for men — you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while. If you write for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted that you will wish that you were dead.”
I totally agree with what he says. Writing for yourself can be a rewarding experience, and a fun way to pass the summer. I spent many summers of my youth, in fact, writing away stories, pen and notebook in hand. In the end, however, it is not enough. At some point, if you are going to become a real writer, or stand to keep creating, you are going to have to make the transition into writing for someone other than yourself.
You may never make it passed this point. That’s fine. Chances are, before long, you will get too busy with the actual important things of the day. You’ll stop writing, and one day you’ll remember back to those silly words you penned out over school holiday.
Writing For Mankind
Assuming you aren’t the first kind of writer, then hooray! You’re part of a select few of us who have taken the step beyond what is comfortable, into the strange and unfamiliar world of writing [somewhat] professionally.
But where do you begin? Where do you start? Writing is such a big world, after all. You could write books, blogs, screenplays, adds, greeting cards, technical stuff — you name it. The world is your oyster. But first, you need to take that invaluable first step — getting paid.
Just Give Me a Writing Job
During the great recession, I was a young teenager. When I was around sixteen years old, working at Starbucks was still a very sought after job prospect. I remember how people would actually line up around the block in order to try and get selected to work at the prestigious job as a barista. I almost got the job, and I told the hiring manager that I liked to write and I liked to come to Starbucks to write, and that’s why I was passionate about Starbucks.
I almost don’t have to say it, but I didn’t get the job. People at Starbucks don’t want people who like to write. They want people who will, I guess, make coffee.
The problem is, like getting that coveted job at Starbucks when you were (or are) a teenager, you need experience to get experience. It’s the old catch-22. And it sucks.
What Getting Experience Looked Like For Me
I know people who were able to saunter into writing jobs as easy as if they were showing up at the beach to sunbathe. But I don’t know many like that. I certainly was not one of those people. I faced a lot of setbacks, and a lot of reasons to think I probably wasn’t good enough to write at a high level. I struggled writing papers sometimes in college (dude, those were so boring). And even when I started writing for magazines, I struggled transitioning from writing for myself to writing for others.
The major difference between the two is that when writing for yourself, you don’t have to follow any rules — you can do whatever you want. When writing for others, you have to follow the rules. And there are a lot of rules to learn and to follow. Writing blog posts is different than writing news articles. Writing white papers is different than writing social media headlines. That’s just how it is. You have to conform and learn the rules before you can innovate them. Only a true master of any art form, after all, can truly break the rules.
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” –Pablo Picaso
I Took Low Paying Jobs to Get Experience
When I first started out my writing business as a young man straight out of college, I charged horridly low rates for my articles, and had to write them incredibly fast in order to get them done while also working a day job. This was an incredibly intense experience. But ultimately, it gave me the tools I needed to move on to the next job, and the next one after that.
There were times, for example, when I would wake up at 5 am, bike down to the local Starbucks and hurriedly write my requested, paid articles before hopping on the train that would take me into the city for my actual job. Wow, those days were intense! And I’m glad I did them when I was younger and had the resilience to handle it.
The Writing Adventure is In the Journey
If you, like me, are passionate about writing, and are eager to learn what it takes to make it in the field today, then rest assured — you have time to learn it, and to get good at it. You will just have to make sacrifices and work hard along the way. Ultimately, however, the journey of the writer is the exciting part, and it’s a long journey fraught with peril and excitement. If you were truly meant to write for others, then be not afraid. You’ll love every minute of it.
Originally published at https://www.josephwriteranderson.com on March 25, 2020.