If you’re a writer, you might have heard this most of your life:
“People don’t make a living writing. You should find something practical to do with your life.”
Smart, capable writers grimly pass around war stories on Facebook. Penny-a-word assignments, clients who don’t pay, disdain for our craft, and disrespect for our profession.
Yet, look around at this digital world we live in, it’s made of words. The technology to produce digital content exists because we create words worth sharing. Text, video, audio, it all needs great writing if it’s going to be worth spending our time on.
If writing is your profession and your passion, you can accept crap assignments for crap money and crap treatment; or you can choose something better. Because there is something better.
In the time I’ve been working professionally with Writers, I’ve noticed some necessary traits, abilities, and strengths that make the difference between life as a well-paid writer, and life as someone who likes to write but can’t seem to get paid for it.
Here are some of the most important:
This might seem squishy, but if you’re meant to be a writer, you know what I mean. There is no substitute for the ‘love of writing’. For the passion of getting the words right: the head-scratching, and the pacing around the house, and the endless drafts that aren’t quite right yet.
If you don’t love language, and your topic, and the act of putting words together, none of the rest of this really means anything.
I could have just as easily used ‘Compulsion, Obsession, or Bullheadedness’ for this section. Whichever word you choose, it’s about refusing to settle for weak writing, because the words matter.
An attitude of service
Write like it matters and it will!
Writing for self-expression can be high art, pursued for the sake of your own experience of truth and beauty. As soon as money changes hands, though, the audience: the reader, listener, or viewer, becomes the focus.
Professional writers work from an ‘attitude of serving’ their audiences. Serving them with truthful, beautiful words, yes. But also with language that meets their needs, and language that clarifies, rather than prettifies.
Novelists, copywriters, and content marketers all live in service to audiences. No matter how clever or perfectly poetic we may find a phrase, if it doesn’t serve the audience, it’s gone.
Many writers imagine that if you have a good writing voice and a strong opinion about the serial comma, you’re qualified to work as a professional copywriter.
Not so fast.
Great copywriters and content marketers are fine wordsmiths, but they’re also strategists.
They understand what types of content work to attract attention, to stand out amid the sea of content clutter, to motivate buying behavior, and to help the audience make the journey from interested bystander to loyal customer.
Solid content and copywriting strategy come from training (and practice). You can get a lot of that training right here at Paradigm House, of course.
The willingness to become a marketer
There is some money in writing fiction. There’s also still a little bit of money in journalism and feature writing, especially if you have excellent contacts.
However, for the most part, if you want to make a great living as a writer, the fastest, most enjoyable way to do that is to write content for businesses that want to find more customers.
It’s interesting, lucrative, very much in demand, and it will get you researching and investigating as many different topics as you like.
You might think that this kind of writing is boring to do. Far from it. Creating really good content (as opposed to the mass of junk that makes up 95 percent of web copy) will call on your skills as a storyteller, investigator, wordsmith, and historian.
A well-qualified content marketer needs all the skills of a great feature or fiction writer, combined with solid marketing strategy.
You also need to get comfortable marketing yourself. This can be surprisingly tough, but you need it.