Students in Southern New Hampshire University’s online liberal arts programs were invited to participate in the W.R.I.T.E. Challenge, an 8-week experiential learning program, working in groups to research and write a resource article related to writing. Beyond the challenge itself, the groups competed to be published in The Penmen Review. This is the winning article.
by Cathy Bown, Jessica Frazer, Sarah Jimenez, Julia Stoner and Alexa Wyszkowski
Starting a professional writing career can be both exciting and challenging. Whether you hope to be a published author, journalist, magazine editor, or freelancer, every writer has to begin somewhere.
If you are just starting out as a writer, these do’s and don’ts will explain why it is important to practice writing, learn about your target audience, create a personal brand, be realistic with expectations and goals, and be open to writing for a variety of publications.
1. Practice Really Does Make Perfect
Rarely will you come across a writer who didn’t practice their skills and were able to achieve success on their first attempt. Instead, you’ll hear stories from writers about what they did to hone their skills and work their way toward success. Stephen King was quoted as saying, “I try to get six pages a day,” and Ernest Hemingway once said, “I write every morning.”
In a HuffPost article, literary agent Megan Close Zavala recommends setting a specific amount of time for writing every day and consider this a daily task. According to The New Yorker, Anthony Trollope, a 19th-century British writer, committed three hours a day to writing; when he died, he had completed 47 books and volumes of stories all while he was employed with the British Post Office.
2. Build Your Brand
As a new writer, take the time to build and maintain your personal brand; in other words, that’s the image you wish to introduce to the public. When you present your own works of literature or newspaper or magazine articles, consider what you wish to be known for. According to The Book Designer, the most important question to ask yourself, even before you start writing is, “What do you want to be known for in your writing?”
By understanding what you are now as a writer, and knowing what you wish to become, the article suggests to “communicate what makes your work unique, and represents an implied promise to your readers of what they can expect you to consistently deliver.” Fortunately, there are multiple resources, such as The Writing Cooperative, that provides a detailed list on how to further create your own brand identity.
3. Create an Online Presence to Connect with Your Target Audience
Having a professional website and active social media accounts allow you to connect with publishers, publications, and readers. By deciding what kind of topics and genres to write about, you can target specific audiences and learn about their preferences and what they like to read. Zavala’s HuffPost article further explains that having a brand with a target audience may be essential if you decide to publish a book, as these followers will help support your work.
As you create your brand and determine your target audience, get to know other writers. An article from MediaBistro suggests that other writers may be able to provide advice and give recommendations.
Adrienne Kisner, the author of the young adult books, “Dear Rachel Maddow,” “The Confusion of Laurel Graham,” and “Six Angry Girls,” said she receives the most honest feedback on her writing from family and friends.
“I have friends from my MFA program and other writer friends. If I need candid feedback without regard to my feelings, I go to my mother. She is a voracious reader and doesn’t hold back on the opinions,” said Kisner.
One important way that successful writers build a fan base is by connecting with their audience. For example, Kisner has tapped into the young adult audience’s eagerness for writing that addresses universal struggles young people have faced over the years, as well as challenges that are unique to our time. Having a personal brand helps to draw the readers in and build a following.
4. Be Realistic, Not Idealistic
It is important to meet the expectations of those who you work with, whether they are your clients, editors, or publishers. A MasterClass article discusses the importance of understanding and managing these expectations, which could range from deadlines of your upcoming draft to a limited word count for an article.
Kisner had her first book published in 2016 and explained how important it is to listen to publishers and also be patient with them.
“Never assume when someone in publishing says ‘more soon’ means you will hear in the traditional sense of ‘soon.’ Figure at least six months from the moment they say that,” Kisner said. “Also, agents and editors are just people. Powerful people, but people nonetheless. Follow submission guidelines, but if they say you can follow up, definitely do.”
Another factor to consider is that publications may assign specific articles for certain topics, so writers may not be able to freely write about whatever they want. With that said, a Bookfox article makes some excellent suggestions for beginning writers. Rather than idealistically insisting on writing only the perfect novel or getting published in the best magazine, recognize that imperfections are part of the process.
It’s also important to write for your readers, not necessarily for other writers. Additionally, the article suggests taking the time to enjoy some bad books. Reading what doesn’t work, sometimes painfully so, can make reading a bad book more instructional than a great one.
5. Don’t Put All of Your Eggs in One Basket
New writers often face challenges when starting out and may even face rejection.
“It never becomes fun, being rejected, but you do kind of get used to it. Just know it is likely not your writing, but the mood and needs of those doing the rejecting. Keep writing. They just don’t appreciate your beautiful genius,” said Kisner.
Don’t be discouraged if it takes time to get published, or if the first publisher you send your manuscript to says no. Try another one, and learn from each experience. Keep writing: write a lot, and try to find multiple ways to get your name and work out there.
Consider writing for different online blogs, small business magazines, local newspapers, school publications, workplace newsletters, and even social media. The Writing Cooperative suggests writing copy for podcasts and helping other authors with their book launches. Having online articles with your name on them can be linked to your social media platforms and show readers and publishers the variety of writing experiences you have.
“Keep writing. Always! For yourself first,” said Kisner.
6. Just Start
A professional writing career starts with writing every day, building a personal brand, connecting with your target audience, having realistic expectations, and writing for a variety of publications. Learn from your challenges and celebrate your successes. With writing, you can always turn the page and start again.