I wasn’t always a professional writer, although I’ve always been passionate about writing. Ten years ago, I was an aspiring writer. Seven years ago, I was a published writer, but my passion wasn’t paying the bills. Now, as I turn 30, it occurs to me that I’ve been making my living via the written word, in some capacity or another, for over five years. The most common response when people find out that I’m a writer is, “I want to be a writer, too! How did you do it?”
Reflecting on this question, I’ve identified three steps I followed, and I’m still following, to turn my passion into my profession. I didn’t have a guide when I started this journey; I had to discover the steps myself, with a great deal of trial and error. By sharing what I’ve learned, I hope that I can give you the head start I didn’t have.
1. Recognize That There Are No Points for Aspiration
If you’ve just been thinking about writing—even if you’ve been thinking for years about writing—you are not a writer. You’re someone who’s just been thinking about writing. You can certainly keep aspiring if you want to, but doing so is evidence that you don’t really want to be a writer. You’re actually losing points aspiring—as well as time. So, either start writing, or recognize that you don’t actually want to be a writer, and then put that energy instead toward something you care about enough to do more than just aspire to.
2. Know That Your Worth as a Writer Is Not Defined by How Much You Publish
If you write, you’re a writer. Seriously, that’s all you need to do: sit in the chair, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and produce words. The words don’t even need to form coherent sentences—at least not at first. My first drafts are often close to nonsensical, even though I nearly always sit down with a topic in mind. Most of what I’ve written has gone unpublished, and yet, even when I was working on those pieces, I was still a writer. And if you write, no matter how much or how little your writing is published, you’ll be a writer, too.
Before we move on to Step 3, a clarification: You absolutely do not have to be, or want to be, a professional writer to be a passionate writer. If you just want to write clear emails, or cultivate a daily journaling habit, or start a personal blog, or send witty and engaging tweets on a regular basis, then you are still a writer. Kudos to you for making the effort to be better at an important skill and for making the time to pursue your passion.
But if you do want to be a professional writer, then here comes the hard part. Because to be a professional, you must…
3. Write as If Your Life Depends on It
This is the goal of the professional, after all, isn’t it? To get paid for your writing, ideally full time. To feed yourself with the power of your pen. To put a roof over your head with the strength of your written word. To respond, when someone asks, “What do you do?,” honestly with, “I’m a writer.” And when they say, “But what do you do for work?,” reply once again, “I’m a writer.”
I’m not advocating you quit your day job and just write if your writing isn’t yet paying the bills. That would be foolish because there aren’t any guarantees when it comes to becoming a professional writer. But if you want writing to pay the bills, you have to act as if writing is the only thing that can pay the bills. Only then can there be a chance that it might, someday, pay the bills.
A Note and a Warning
The above advice applies to just about every creative career imaginable—and probably even the supposedly “non-creative” ones. If you want to be a filmmaker, make videos. If you want to be a published filmmaker, put those videos on YouTube. If you want to be a professional filmmaker, make videos as if your life depends on it. Ditto painting, singing, playing an instrument, playing a sport, practicing law, or performing general surgery.
A word of warning, though: Step 3 doesn’t end. Ever. You must do it every day. Being a professional writer was my goal for a long time. And it’s still my goal, even though I first achieved it half a decade ago. Every day I sit in the chair, and I write as if my life depends on it. Because I’ve decided that it does.
This article was originally published on theminimalists.com