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How to Become a Writer as a Second Career

by | Feb 20, 2015

When you entertain the idea of being a writer, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to begin.

If you’ve done something else with your career up to this point, how can you use that experience and expertise to find writing jobs? How can you become a writer?

I spoke with two professionals, accomplished in their own careers, who’ve turned their interest in writing into more than a hobby.

Angela Weiler, the public services librarian at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York, has been a librarian for almost 20 years, but didn’t begin writing novels until her early 40s. Her first, a novel in stories called Going Up the Country, was published in 2005 by Log Cabin Books. She self-published Flashpoint in 2014.

Kristen Lutz, a massage therapist in Boston, Massachusetts, also loved writing from an early age but only started writing professionally a few years ago. She’s now the director of communications for the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Massage Therapy Foundation (Mass AMTA), a part-time position where she’s responsible for writing, editing and publishing its newsletter and blog.

From their experiences, and my own, here are six tips for using your career expertise to land writing jobs.

1. Understand your motivations and how far you want to take them

Like many of us, Angela enjoyed writing from a young age, but until her 40s, she considered it to be a hobby. “It was a mid-life realization. I’d always had a folder in my file cabinet labeled ‘ideas’ but I didn’t start actually writing until I was in my early 40s.”

For both Angela and Kristen, turning writing into more than a hobby took time. Once they both decided to make time to write, they knew they were on the right track.

“I started setting aside weekend mornings to write for two to four hours at a time. I didn’t work at it a lot, but I worked at it very steadily,” said Angela. Kristen made the time to write when she realized starting a blog would help her health coaching clients.

So, what’s your motivation to write? Have you already started devoting time regularly to writing? And how far are you willing or interested in taking it? If you’re ready to write professionally, either part-time or full-time, it’s time for the next step.

2. Learn about all the different types of writing you can do

Fiction or nonfiction? Long or short form? Books, blogs, articles, newsletters or social media? Thanks to the proliferation of written media on the Internet, a huge variety of writing opportunities exist. Which ones are right for you?

One of the best ways to learn about different types of writing opportunities is to read. “Read everything! Read within your genre, outside of your genre, find voices that you like, and learn from reading others’ work,” said Angela.

Kristen agreed, and also recommended practicing editing other people’s content. “Editing other content is super helpful for two reasons. One, it’s an ego-booster for my own writing when someone else’s writing style is horrible. Two, I pick up on new ways to write.”

3. Look for ways to write at your current job

One of the biggest obstacles for people interested in writing is finding those first writing gigs. Kristen’s first writing job came when she was a health coach.

“My interest in writing while I was a health coach came from a need to better serve my clients. We needed a way to increase accountability for their goals, so I created a blog,” she said. “With access to the blog, my clients could virtually touch base with me and have key health coaching components repeated to them by way of my posts, sharing of news articles, exercises or healthy recipes. It became a way to continue our conversation past our session time.”

If you can find an excuse to write in your current job, ask for it! The best part about this approach is you don’t have to hunt for a writing job — if you can work it into your current role, you’ll get paid for it and gain writing experience.

4. Use your career expertise

If you’re trying to use your career experience to land writing jobs, become an expert and brand yourself as such.

I was hired as a writer because of my work in career development and job search advice. Kristen was hired as a writer because of her knowledge of health coaching and massage therapy. And, in addition to creative writing, Angela reviews books and peer-reviews articles for journals because of her experience as a librarian.

“These opportunities came through my work as a librarian. I do peer review for research projects, and book reviews as well, mainly for nonfiction. Once you get a few of these experiences on your resume, more opportunities tend to pop up,” said Angela.

Having solid writing skills is only one part of becoming a writer. Kristen found her current role as director of communication for Mass AMTA because she’d already started sharing her expertise by writing blog posts with massage-related organizations.

“The former director commented that I was a natural writer and wanted me to get more involved in the chapter’s communications department. I was offered the newsletter editor position and later transitioned to take over the director position. All of that happened within a year,” she explained. Without offering ourselves up as experts in a certain field, how will others find out about us?

5. Build your network and brand yourself as a writer

When I was a college career advisor, I created and wrote my own blog about career advice just for fun. It was a nice outlet, giving me a chance to practice writing in a risk-free environment.

However, a friend’s girlfriend had just been hired at a lifestyle website for college students and young professionals, and the company was in the market for a career advice blogger. Even though my blog was really only a hobby, it was enough to get me hired. She read my articles, thought I’d be a great fit, and voila, I’d found my first paid writing job.

Building your network is one thing, but you also need to let that network know you’re available as a writer. All of your social media profiles should mention something about you as a writer. Use LinkedIn, About.me, Content.ly or an online portfolio to showcase your previous and current work, whether paid or unpaid.

Also, figure out rates for your work. If you’re asked up front how much you charge for writing services, know how to answer!

6. Look for writing jobs

This is probably the most obvious tip in the bunch, but if you want to be hired as a writer, look for writing jobs.

Reach out to your industry’s professional organizations and see if they need guest bloggers, or become involved in some of their local activities,” recommended Kristen. If you’re positioning yourself as a writer within a certain field, look for writing jobs within that profession.

Many great niche sites can help you find freelance or part-time writing jobs, so if you want to keep your current profession and write on the side (as many, if not most, writers do), the opportunities are out there.

When searching job boards, expand your search keywords to include job titles like copywriter, research writer, community manager, reporter, editor, content writer, freelance contributor, blogger, journalist and guide.

Your previous experience counts

If you’ve decided you want to be a writer, you don’t need to chuck your career out the window. Instead, use your expertise and knowledge to help you find writing jobs.

Start writing to hone your voice, grow your network and brand yourself as a writer, and put yourself out there by applying to writing jobs. But first and foremost, realize that your career up to this point isn’t a waste — it’s an asset.

Have you successfully used your career experience to find writing work?

If you’re exploring other writing careers, check out this article, where you’ll find more options to get paid as a writer.

Perhaps this quiz can help you decide.