The Professionals – do you have what it takes?

by limebirdmike

I’ve been a professional writer for a fair while now, and in that time I’ve seen a number of people come and go. What most people don’t realise is that professional writing requires a far greater range of skills than merely ‘putting words on a page’. For a start, it requires superb organisation and an ability to produce quality content to a tight deadline. Writers also need to demonstrate a good working knowledge of their market, while proving themselves adaptable enough to write for any number of different audiences.

Think you’ve got what it takes?  Here are my tips for anyone hoping to start a career as a professional writer:

Get organised. Organisation is everything in professional writing. I really can’t overstate this enough. You can be the greatest writer in the world, but if you don’t know what it is you need to write, when you need to write it, and who you need to write it for, then you’re very quickly going to find yourself struggling.

Master your art. If your writing skills are going to earn you money, your grammar needs to be impeccable, and your proof-reading needs to be second to none. Not only should you be able to proof other people’s work, but you should also be able to proof your own!

Know your market. It doesn’t matter who you’re writing for, you need to know your market inside out. The more you know, the more you will be able to “bring to the table” as a writer. If you don’t know your market, it won’t take long before the cracks start to appear.

Prepare to sweat. Writing professionally is not easy. Nor is it well paid. Most of us do it because we love to write, or perhaps because we see it as a route to greater things. I tell you this now – if you want to be a professional writer, do not, I beg you, be under any illusions as to just how tough it is. If you want to earn the big bucks, I suggest you do something else.

Toughen up. Writing is tough. Writing for other people is tougher still. When it comes to writing on behalf of someone else very often you will find that it doesn’t matter how good your writing, or how well your work meets the criteria you were given, if the client doesn’t like it, the client doesn’t like it. As a writer, you work “at the coal face”. This means you take all the abuse, and receive very few of the plaudits. You know how the old saying goes: “If you can’t stand the heat…”

Get educated (or not!) You might be surprised to learn that you don’t need an English degree to be a writer. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that I’d almost recommend you don’t have one, though that’s an issue for another blog!

So… do you still think you have what it takes? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

Until next time,


32 Responses to “The Professionals – do you have what it takes?”

  1. Great article, with a prior education in writing it’s something I’ve always want to get back into (hence my little blog), the toughest thing for me is writing on a topic that I’m less than interested in, takes a lot to focus on such a subject. Recently been writing for a motorcycle magazine and feel somewhat out of my comfort zone, I think it’s all about finding an angle I can latch onto.

    • Finding an angle can be hard. I work in the dental sector, which if I’m honest, isn’t the sector I thought I’d find myself writing in! Writing the odd article I think can be a fairly straight forward task, but the skill is, as you say, finding an ‘angle’ that you can work from. This is why knowing your market is so important in my opinion. I probably spend a third of my time at work just researching ideas and reading up on the latest industry gossip so that when I do come to write on a subject I can bring a little more to the work I produce.

  2. Well, Mike, I’m screwed. I can’t organize to save my life. For that matter, if it wasn’t for my husband, I wouldn’t be able to find my socks (or keys, or ipod…).

    Oh well, I guess breaking a “cardinal rule” is a fun way to start, right? 🙂

  3. You aren’t alone Shannon, I’m out of the running too. I’m not a good enough proofreader to be a professional writer. While English was my best subject, I coasted through and really don’t remember much about the mechanics.

    Commas screw me up every time, as many times as I’ve read it I still can’t remember which is 1st person, third person, etc. and a dangling participle sounds like something you need a tissue to wipe.

    • Neeks, that is awesome, “… dangling participle sounds like something you need a tissue to wipe.”

      I use commas to break things up as needed. I’m probably always messing up the rules, but it seems to work and my English teachers never complained.

      I’ve got 1st and 3rd person down, but that’s because I took Latin. I don’t mind it if participles dangle, as long as they don’t sound stilted.

      But, at least you are organized 🙂

      • Thanks for your comments everyone. I didn’t intend this post as something to put you all off writing — more I wrote it to give you all a sense of what ‘professional writing’ (or ‘writing for a living’) really is.

        Don’t worry Neeks, I shall get on to commas soon enough 🙂

      • Ah well, as I have been out of the workforce for several years anyway, I suppose I needn’t worry about doing it “for a living.”

  4. Write about something I have no interest in? That comes close to being a deal breaker. I write to tell stories about people, places, and events that interest me. Granted, most of these come directly from my imagination. Since much of what we write comes from within us, I think it would be extremely difficult to write well when I couldn’t care less about the topic. It does sound like an interesting writing exercise to try.

  5. Attitude to your work is so important isn’t it. I write a little monthly piece for a magazine, and a few weeks ago the editor phoned to ask if I could write another article for April, in addition to my usual monthly piece – she said to me “You always do exactly what has been asked and deliver on time, I’m forever having to chase other writers who haven’t got their articles in by the deadline”. I was quite shocked. We’re talking about paid-for articles here, but even if it was unpaid, I really can’t fathom people missing deadlines like that (unless there’s an extremely good reason). There are so many people who would kill for the opportunity to write for a published magazine. I would stay up all night writing if I had to, rather than miss a deadline, wouldn’t you?

  6. I love you Mike, I need you to know this. Not in a creepy stalker type way, but in a ‘you are such a frickin’ cool dude’ sort of way. You rock, you really do. Or, as the kids say: you is well sick, innit.

    You never grab me as someone who would or does take a particularly stochastic route to anything, let alone writing and your sagacious and sage writings here are always proof.

    I write sort of professionally too. In that I write constantly for my job and must easily churn out around 5k words a day if not more. The content is not exciting, mostly e-mails and reports. Still writing nonetheless. You are right in that proof reading and a jolly good grasp of our mother tongue is a fine way to ensure you do not appear like a proper twonk or indeed careless.

    Sometimes, I get so bogged down by the almighty amount of brain-draining sludge that I have to write, that I forget what the heck it was I loved about writing… and my creativity dies a death with it.

    I’m also one of those degree ennobled writer people. I have a rice and chips degree in Drama and English, which is essentially the same thing, except you get to dress up as Shakespeare (and his Mum) as well as read all about him. Did it help me? Meh. Kind of. It was mostly reading other people’s dated work and saying: ‘Yeah, that bloke that wrote Gulliver’s wotsits was really onto something there, wasn’t he?’ I can’t say it helped or inspired too much. There are specific writing degrees you can take. I wish I had done all of my degree in writing instead of my joint honours. Might have been a tad more useful. C’est la vie, sic vita est and all that.

    LimebirdCat x

    PS Beth, with that new graphic you are really spoiling us! Am well, proper, like totally likin’ that!

    • Ohh, the addition of ‘Let Your Creativity Fly?’ I’m glad you like! 🙂

      PS – Cat, I love how if I didn’t know where you were from, I would know you were English.

      “do not appear like a proper twonk”

      “jolly good grasp”

      “that bloke that wrote Gulliver’s wostits”

      I LOVE it! haha!

    • Not as much as I love you Cat! As much as I would very much like to meet you, I fear if I did your illusions of me would all be shattered 😦

      By the way, I wouldn’t regret not doing a degree in writing by the way. I found my own university’s creative writing elements a complete waste of time; they certainly didn’t *teach* me anything. If you really love writing, you will do it anyway, and you won’t need a course to make you better at it, or make you love it any more! If anything, CW at my uni just made me even more bitter and disillusioned than I already was before I started :p

  7. That properly, properly made me laugh that young Beth! Ha! I’m quintessentially British. I think it’s because my internal monologue is narrated by Stephen Fry…

  8. This is true, the dudes a legend. Imagine having round for tea? He’d be the bestest everest dinner party guest wouldn’t he? You’d just sit there, making him read stuff off the back of cereal boxes as no matter what he read, he’d still sound insanely posh and clever!

  9. Maybe, if one has to write on a subject that holds no personal interest, you could treat it as a fiction exercise…

    Imagine you’re an accountant…

    Then imagine that your colleague in the next cubicle has just explained to you about a great new accounting program…

    Hey, you’re excited! This program is GREAT!

    Now write about it from the excited accountant’s perspective.

    What do you think?

  10. @Shannon – Rice and Chips – it’s a takeaway reference meaning ‘half and half’. If you order a chinese or a curry, they’ll ask if you want rice or chips with that. There is the option of having half of each, that is what I meant. I love takeaway references, although obscure, highly entertaining :^) ! x


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