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Advice for Young Writers

Once long ago, I was a university career counselor, and so I absolutely love getting questions about careers and goals and what it takes to be a writer.

First off… if you write, you’re a writer. Full stop. There’s no need to tell people you’re an aspiring writer, or an unpublished writer. Just like if you’re an artist, it doesn’t matter if you sell your art or not to be one – you just are.

The best thing you can do right now for your writing is to read as much as possible, and read in every genre: fiction, non-fiction, romance, fantasy, science-fiction, horror, graphic novels, fanfiction… There’s something to learn from all of those. If you only stick to one genre, then your writing might end up sounding like what everyone else writes, instead of something original.

Soak up everything you can – that includes movies, plays, games, art, history, nature – anything with narrative or that changes the way you think or observe about the world. Experience as much as you can – take notes or keep a journal if you really want to dig into those feelings later. There’s no rush. You need to live a life in order to write about it.

If you’re ready to be a published writer there are two ways to go about it: self-publishing and what people call traditional publishing. I am not an expert on self-publishing and so I’ll mainly talk about traditional publishing, but there are many resources online for self-publishing that are easily searchable.

A traditional publishing journey typically means writing a book, finding an agent to represent you, who will then sell it to a publisher like Penguin Random House, or Scholastic. Sometimes you can skip the agent part and sell a book directly (then find an agent afterwards) but that is far less common.

Most traditionally published authors have a second job or career in addition to writing fiction. It might be hard to do two things at once, but it can be worth it: for the financial security (writing doesn’t often pay very well), and also to gain expertise beyond just writing – which will help your writing too.

If you’re looking for writing related careers to complement your fiction career, there’s also copy writing, or technical writing (that’s what I do). In general, being a good writer will help you in most careers you choose, and the career you choose doesn’t have to be related to writing at all. For example, John Grisham remained a lawyer for many years while writing novels, despite being a bestseller. Alternately, I’ve seen people advise a boring job, or at least one that doesn’t leave you exhausted at the end of the day so you still have energy to be creative afterwards. It’s valuable to have a life beyond writing, because the more you experience, the more you can write about.

My final bit of advice: have fun with what you write. It doesn’t matter what you write. If you love writing, it can tide you through the ups and downs in this industry. It can be disheartening and difficult at times facing rejection after rejection, but if you love the writing and don’t give up, it’s all worth it.