4 Steps To Becoming A Professional Writer

4 Steps To Becoming A Professional Writer

By Neal Martin/ August 31, 2014
Last Updated April 27, 2023
writing tips

Writing and publishing is a long game. If you want to succeed at it, you have to be prepared to put in years of practice.

Many people who want to write for a living don’t like to hear that. It can be off-putting to know that you may have to slave away day after day for years, writing without any outward signs of success.

When I was a full-time martial artist, I came across people all the time who wanted to be like Bruce Lee or their favorite UFC fighter. I often watched in amusement as their faces dropped when I told them how many years of training it would take to get to that high standard.

Too many people want the glory and success without doing any of the hard work to get it. It’s the same across all of society, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. It’s like people want a magical solution that will whisk them straight from beginner to professional without having to bother with any of the steps in between.

Well, things don’t work like that. If you want to be even half-way competent in something, you still need to work your ass off. To be awesome, you have to work even harder.

It’s no different with writing.

But I’m sure you already know that.

Or do you?

For many years, before I found any kind of success as a writer, I thought I knew what it took to become one.

Turns out, I didn’t.

I thought back then that being a writer was mostly about sitting around, dreaming about success while waiting for the muse to strike so I could effortlessly bang out the book that was going to make me rich and famous.

Needless to say, that book never got written. Very little got written, in fact.

Such an approach to writing is laughable when you put it like that, of course. But laughable or not, the fact remains that many people who dream of becoming a writer never leave that stage. All they do is dream, while doing little if any work to make that dream a reality.

If you want to be someone who goes beyond dreaming to writing, you need to sit down and seriously contemplate exactly what it’s going to take for you to get there.

The realization that success in writing takes years of hard work  must be felt. You must dedicate yourself to the craft and learn everything there is to know about it. That’s going to take some time.

You need to understand this.

You must make a commitment to the craft of writing, and to the writing life in general. Unless you want writing to be just a hobby, you have to throw yourself fully into it, which will probably mean a fair few sacrifices along the way, mostly in terms of time and effort and putting your favorite things aside in service to writing.

Here are the steps you need to take in order to become a professional writer:

Step 1: Commit Yourself

Every serious endeavor should start with a commitment. Ask yourself how serious you are about pursuing the goal of becoming a professional writer, of becoming someone who earns a living from their writing.

How badly do you want it?

Do you really want to be a writer, or are you just in love with the idea of being a writer? Many people are in love with the idea of doing something, but when it comes to actually doing it, they find they don’t have the commitment or tenacity to actively pursue their goal.

Find out now if this is what you really want. If it isn’t, it is better to know before you waste time half-heartedly going after something you didn’t really want in the first place.

If being a writer is something you really, really want, ask yourself if you are prepared to do what it takes to achieve that. You may want to be a writer, but if you don’t think you can put the required amount of work in, then you might as well forget it. You’ll start the journey alright, but when the initial enthusiasm inevitably wanes, you won’t have enough commitment to handle the drudgery and accompanying frustration that comes next. You’ll end up throwing the towel in.

So be honest with yourself. If you don’t think you have what it takes to plug away for years, don’t do it. Go find something else to do, something you can commit whole-heartedly too.

To be honest, having that ability to commit to something over a long period is not a quality that everyone has. If that wasn’t the case, everyone in the world would be successful.

Those who are able to commit to a goal and see it through, whatever that goal may be, usually have no problem doing the same for whatever goal they wish to pursue. That’s why you often see people who are at the top of their fields—be they athletes, business people, top entertainers or whatever—switch to doing something else, finding the same level of success in their new pursuit.

It’s because these people know how to commit to something and see it through. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a great example of this. Look at how many different fields he found success in. That’s iron will and commitment in action right there.

I learned this lesson while training in martial arts. I understood the need for commitment if I wanted to be good at something. When I took a step back from martial arts and moved into writing full-time, I carried the same understanding with me. I have fully committed myself at this point to doing what it takes to become a better and more professional writer.

More than that, I’ve left myself no choice in the matter. I have to succeed. At this point in my life there is nothing else I want to do. In fact, there is nothing I can do. That’s how I’ve left things with myself.

Commitment. Get some before you start heading down the road of becoming a professional writer.

And one more thing. I get annoyed when some writing experts tell people who hardly write at all to call themselves “writers”, out of some misguided notion that they are helping these people. That’s just feel-good nonsense that doesn’t help anyone. A writer is someone who writes all the time, not once every six months or every couple of years. Just because you’ve managed to write two short stories in ten years doesn’t mean you should be calling yourself a “writer”. That’s an insult to writers who put the time and effort into actually writing every day of the week

Don’t go thinking of yourself as a writer until you are able to sit down at least five times a week and write for an hour or more, at least demonstrating your commitment to the craft.

Leave the feel-good antics to the people who like to kid themselves but ultimately get nowhere.

Step 2: Write Every Day Until You Die

If the idea of writing every day for the rest of your life doesn’t sit well with you for some reason that means you still have commitment issues. Go back to the first step and commit yourself fully, or else go do something else.

For the committed, get your butt in the chair and start banging out those words, every day if possible, or at the very least, as often as you can manage.

Pushed for time? Got kids to look after? Got a full-time job?

Kill your kids and quit your job, then you’ll have time.

Okay, maybe not kill the kids unless you want to write in a prison cell for the rest of your life. If at all possible though, quit your job. Quit it as soon as possible. I did. Best decision I ever made. Took me a while before I was in a position to do that mind you, but I did it because I made the commitment to becoming a full-time writer. The day job got in my way. It had to go, so I published a few books on Kindle which gave me enough of an income that I didn’t have to suffer the day job anymore.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Make it happen.

In the meantime, write your little ass off as often as you can. It doesn’t matter if what you write sucks big fat donkey balls. This is part of the process.

You may have heard it said that a writer has to write about a million words of crap before they begin to write anything good. That’s probably true. You have a long way to go before you reach a million words. Get them out of the way as soon as possible.

Don’t feel like writing most days? Welcome to the reality of being a writer. I’m writing this now with a banging headache after very little sleep last night and spending half of today running around after my eighteen month old daughter while she did here best to decimate my livingroom. Are there other things I’d like to be doing besides writing this article? Yes, I’d like to nap for a while, surf stupid websites, read a novel, watch Disney movies with my daughter, relax.

But I’ve only gone and committed myself to the writing life, haven’t I? I have to do this.

Are you a professional or aren’t you?

Grit your teeth and find a way to get those words out.

It get’s easier.

Trust me.

Step 3: Learn The Craft Of Writing And Learn It Well

You can’t skip this step, no matter how much you think you know or don’t know.

Learning and mastering the craft of writing should be an on-going concern. The hallmark of a professional writer is that they know their craft inside out. Amateurs are still learning the craft, that’s why they are amateurs.

But we all have to start somewhere.

Writing is the best way to learn your craft. That should be a given. You learn by doing, not just by knowing.

Knowledge is useless if you don’t how to apply it to your own work.

Beyond writing you should be reading as many craft books as possible. There are mountains of writing books out there. Find the best ones and start reading them. Study the techniques in the books and then apply those techniques to your own writing.

Try to avoid isolated writing exercises and those silly writing prompts you often come across. Personally I think these are a waste of time and they smack of college “creative writing”. It’s better to put your efforts into your own work, your own writing projects. This will give you more of a context to work with. You will also see how the technique fits in with the rest of your writing, how it fits in with the bigger picture.

The good thing about being a writer these days is that you don’t have to wait for years for some corporate publisher to deem you good enough before you get your work published. There are many indie platforms like Amazon Kindle around now where you can self-publish your own work.

What this means is that all the words you write as practice don’t necessarily have to go to waste. You can publish those practice books on Kindle and perhaps they will earn you a bit of money every month. This will do wonders for your motivation. Nothing like a royalty payment to perk you up.

Write articles as well. Look at your passions and interests and see if you can’t write about those.

Start a blog. This is a great way to help learn writing discipline and an effective way to hone your skills. I started off blogging and the experience helped me immensely as a writer. I also managed to write enough material for my last blog that I ended up getting four books out of it, which I published on Kindle. The blog I had before that, I got two books out off.

While you are practicing, nothing has to go to waste. It really helps with your motivation when you know that what you write could potentially earn you money down the line. Self-publishing (either books or blogs) will also make you feel like a real writer, which you are because you are writing every day, as well as publishing.

Step 4: Learn The Business Of Writing

In the days when the corporations had a stranglehold on the publishing business, a writer didn’t have to know much about the business of writing and publishing because the big publishers generally took care of all that for them.

These days it’s all about self-publishing and being an independent author. This is great in many respects, but it also means that an indie author has to handle their own business and marketing.

As a self-publisher, the success or failure of your books is completely down to you. If you want to be a successful, professional writer then you have to know how to market yourself and your work.

I intend to write future articles on this aspect of writing so I’m not going to go into details here about the vast field of marketing.

Suffice to say, you must start learning it all for yourself. The internet is stuffed with marketing advice, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding any. As with learning the craft of writing, read as many books and articles as possible, and also try applying some of the marketing techniques you learn.

Look at what other writers are doing to market themselves. Can you apply the same strategies and techniques?

Sign up to some of the writing forums where many indie authors gather to discuss marketing and promotional techniques. Many of these authors post about their own marketing efforts along with results gained from those efforts. That’s firsthand information. Study and learn from it.

One of the best forums to learn about marketing is KB Boards. There are thousands of threads on that forum stuffed with some really useful information on all aspects of writing and self-publishing. Be sure to check it out.

And Finally…

Remember that writing is long game that requires considerable commitment if you are to get anywhere with it.

The above steps are simple, but they aren’t just as easy to implement. With the right amount of commitment and motivation however, you can make following those steps easier.

You can be a professional writer, but only if you want to be with every fiber of your being, and only if you are capable of committing yourself fully to that goal.

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