My path to becoming a professional writer is a slightly unconventional one. In college, I majored in economics, took one English class, and originally thought financial advising was my destiny. But today, instead of walking people through their retirement plan, I spend 90% of my work day writing -- and I absolutely love it.
So how did I do it? Well, once I decided to seriously pursue a career in writing, I realized it’s a craft -- sharpening my writing skills would require countless hours and repetitions. And that's exactly what I did after I finished my homework at school. I learned how to write.
Professional writing is an incredible gig for creative people -- it provides both fulfillment and financial stability. If this sounds like the career you’ve always wanted -- even if you don’t have a lot of experience like I did -- writing for a living is entirely possible. You just need to be passionate about the craft and disciplined enough to put in the work. My story is proof -- and I’ll teach you how to do it.
How to become a writer
- Read every single day
- Write as often as possible
- Fight through the writing blues
Read Every Single Day
When I stumbled upon my first digital marketing internship, I had no idea what content marketing was. So I Googled it, and that's when I discovered HubSpot’s Marketing Blog.
Two years later, after reading posts about content marketing every day, I could distill almost any topic, like a dry economics topic about the consolidation of the grain trading industry, into a blog post-like format. And being able to structure most topics in a digestible way and writing in a conversational tone is what helped me land an internship on HubSpot’s blog team.
Reading when you're a writer is like listening to music when you’re a musician. It improves your skills because it inspires you to create better work. When you read great writing, especially by the masters of your genre or industry, these writers are essentially teaching you their craft -- you just have to pay close attention to their diction, syntax, cadence, voice, and structure. Jotting down your observations or some inspirational thoughts is even better for you.
Reading regularly can also arm you with some of the most important tools in a writer's arsenal: a refined vocabulary, the ability to quickly grasp new concepts, and the versatility to adapt your voice and style to any audience.
But one of the most prevalent obstacles of regularly reading is finding the time to do it. Most people place reading at the top of their to-do-list but never seem able to cross it off.
To read everyday, you must hold yourself accountable. Most people can finish a median-length book in only one week, if they just read for 45 minutes per day, so all you have to do is keep an active reading list and block off less than an hour each day to do so.
If you need help making a reading list, here are the following books, newspapers, magazines, and marketing blogs that I found most helpful when I first started writing:
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White
- Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
- Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
- New York Times
- Wall Street Journal
- The Washington Post
- The Atlantic
- Business Insider
- Fast Company
- The Verge
Now that I’m a full-time staff writer on HubSpot’s blog team, I owe a lot of my development as a writer to the habit of reading one blog post everyday. Reading and analyzing the work of the marketing industry’s top writers taught me how to emulate their best qualities -- but it took discipline to read everyday for three years.
The good news is that if you just take one hour out of your day to learn about writing, you’ll be able to hone your skills in the long-run.
Write as Often as Possible
Even though I majored in economics, I went to a liberal arts college, so my school’s curriculum was extremely focused on writing. Each class I took had multiple writing assignments. And once I knew that I wanted to work in digital marketing, I started writing all my papers in the form of a blog post.
My professors were definitely not used to this style of writing and it probably didn’t help out my grades, but it was completely worth it -- I practiced blogging enough to smoothly transition into my writing roles at my internships and, eventually, my first job.
If you’re not in school anymore, it can be hard to hunker down and write when you’ve already exhausted most of your mental energy at work. We all feel like turning off our brain and relaxing once the clock strikes five.
But to master writing and eventually do it for a living, you need to write on a consistent basis. The best writers, like J.K. Rowling, all block off chunks of their schedule to write in solitude almost every day.
If writing after work every day is a challenge for you, try only writing about your favorite topics. Your passion for these topics can pull you out of the post-work lull. If you need a little more help deciding what to write about, consider using a writing prompt generator like Plot Generator or Writing Exercises.
If you just started writing and you don’t know what to write about or even how to write, consider doing some copyworking. Copyworking is a common copywriting practice where you take an excerpt from your favorite author’s book (or any piece of writing you couldn’t stop reading) and transcribe it word for word.
The method will help you internalize your favorite writer’s diction, syntax, cadence, voice, and structure, just like reading does. But you'll absorb even more insight than when you read because copyworking forces you to slow down and pay even closer attention to the nuances of great writing.
In the writing community, the majority of the best writers had talent to begin with. But they also had to work incredibly hard to sharpen their skills and separate themselves from the rest of their competition. By constantly writing, no matter how good or bad the quality was, and honing their skills through writing exercises, they all learned how to captivate audiences. And you could too.
Fight Through the Writing Blues
I applied for HubSpot’s inbound marketing internship two times when I was in college, and, I’ll be honest, my heart stung when my first application got rejected. Looking back, though, I’m glad I didn’t make the cut.
Getting rejected was what drove me to pursue two other content marketing internships and take two additional writing classes at school, which honed my writing skills and helped me accumulate enough writing samples to prove that I could be an intern at HubSpot the next year.
Clawing your way through the struggle and self-doubt that comes with writing is exactly what you need to do to become a professional writer. It’s an arduous process, but it’s definitely worth it. And if you keep studying the craft and gleaning new insights, despite its highs and lows, you’ll start writing well enough to get hired.