Like many aspiring writers, my writing career started early.
I was that introverted six-year-old sitting a safe distance from the playground, nose perpetually glued inside a book. By third grade, I’d finished the entire Goosebumps series. Luckily high school rolled around and I’d graduated to the classics.
As with many literary students, my obsessive reading habits led to an interest in writing.
Awestruck by the way my favorite authors so seamlessly painted vivid pictures with words, teleporting my imagination to faraway worlds and back again for the price of a paperback, my inspiration was kindled. So, I earned an English degree and became a writer.
Along my professional writing journey, I’ve come face-to-face with a few difficult truths of the trade.
Identifying these truths and understanding how to navigate them will improve your skills as a writer and as a professional, whether you’re freelancing with clients or working full-time with a dedicated team.
1. Criticism is guaranteed
You’re going to cross paths with many people who write during your career, from the clients you work with to the graphic designers you collaborate with.
While this doesn’t necessarily make them writers by trade, you will have to face the fact that because they also communicate through writing, they will have opinions about your writing.
This will be frustrating at times – trust me, I’ve been there – but I’ve learned a few ways to handle unsolicited feedback.
First and foremost, listen. Don’t let your ego get between you and criticism because you might miss out on garnering useful feedback. It’s every writer’s job to listen and observe. Even if you don’t receive applicable feedback, you can mine these experiences for a topic to write about, say, for one of your freelance gigs.
Secondly, you’re going to receive a lot of rejections — via email, snail mail, text message and maybe even by tweet. Know this, process it and grow a thicker skin because there’s no way around it.
Writing is subjective and not everyone is going to like your writing. That’s okay. Rejections, followed by revisions, are part of the creative process. The best way I’ve found to reduce the frequency of rejections received is to read — set aside time to thoroughly read publications before you submit to them, and take breaks to read between writing and editing your work. Doing this will broaden your perspective and help you better tailor your voice.
Lastly, know when to brush it all off, have a glass of wine, and get back to writing — because sometimes, you just need to reset.
2. You won’t always like what you write
If you’re anything like me, you’re going to find yourself writing about topics you’re not particularly fond of at times. But with a little luck and a lot of perseverance, you will get through this period and find yourself blissfully choosing between projects that interest you.
For example, my first full-time gig was writing SEO content for an advertising agency.
Cool, right? Well, I forgot to mention it was an agency servicing “elective healthcare professionals” (AKA plastic surgeons). I never in a million years would have guessed I’d be a tummy tuck expert, but here we are. And I’m grateful for that opportunity because it provided the stepping stone I needed to propel my writing career from zero to something.
Even if you’ve chosen to pursue a more lucrative day job while spending your evenings working on a novel or essays, you’ll find yourself writing many unsatisfactory first drafts. You will read them over and over, doubting your abilities.
When I was in this phase of a creative writing project, a wise friend and fellow writer told me, “Doubt is part of the creative process.” This couldn’t be more true.
Consider every opportunity, and always do your best work. Embrace each step of the process, learn as much as you can and focus on how your present situation can catapult you towards your future goals.
Regardless of which path you choose for your writing, be patient and persevere. Don’t be discouraged by doubt — only after countless revisions will you begin to fall in love with your own work.
3. Writing demands perseverance
Some people are natural athletes who can pike-kick-spike like nobody’s business; others are gifted wordsmiths with an unwavering ability to make sense of nonsense.
Even if you’re not a natural-born writer, the skills can be learned with enough tenacity.
There are plenty of resources and techniques to improve your writing. And whenever writer’s block sets in, pick up a book. Reading a well-crafted story always inspires me to get back to the keyboard. They key to practical success is dedication to learning.
While writing techniques can be learned, intuitive qualities are also central to excelling as a writer. Aspiring writers must be cordially accepting of criticism and capable of empathy. Without these qualities, you may find it difficult to stand out from the crowd.
Some of the best writers I know are also the most empathetic — able to embrace vulnerability and truly feel the world from the perspectives of others, allowing them to tell authentic stories that resonate with their audience. Empathy will also go a long way in understanding criticism without allowing it to hinder your productivity.
I encourage everyone to write.
Stand strong in the face of criticism and persevere through the nights and into the weekends, if you must. After wandering down several career avenues — from video production to project and account management — the path has always led me back to writing.
Despite these sometimes difficult truths, the fulfillment that comes from writing is worth every rejection letter, every critic and every late night. Writers have the unique gift of storytelling to share with the world.
And with great writing comes great empowerment.
What other truths of the trade have you learned to effectively navigate?