Blog Post # 6 COM0011: The Fake it Till You Make it School of Writing

Writer? Yes!

It took me a long time to respond “writer” when people asked what I did for a living. I had to force myself to give myself that label, even though I had only a few pieces of work “out there” and no paid writing gigs. It felt strange. Unnatural. Boastful. Most of us are not conditioned to self-promotion. “It’s not nice to brag” is a common message we receive through childhood. So that was a hurdle I eventually had to overcome. Here’s where the expression “fake it till you make it” helped a lot!

The road to becoming a paid writer isn’t (for most of us) easy. For a long time, I felt like I was pushing a boulder up hill. I’d make phone calls every day. Send out as many queries as possible. Only to sit and wait. I wondered if I’d ever get that call to say we need your writing services. Basically, I spent my mornings marketing and my afternoons tearfully watching Law and Order reruns.

For a great take on how it feels to wait by the phone and a few clever strategies to get you through it, check out this humorous blog.

What are your qualifications? Well …

In my opinion, the most important qualification for being a professional writer is loving to write. If you love to write you have an advantage over, I’d guess, 75% of the population. Better still. Work will never feel like work (well, most of the time). The next is to be a good writer. Unfortunately, this is where the expression “fake it till you make it” does not help. You have to be good.

Here are four skills that are non-negotiable:

1. You must have an excellent grasp of grammar and punctuation, while knowing when it’s okay to break the rules (for more on this, see my previous post on speechwriting).

2. You must be able to deliver quality writing on time. The ability to meet deadlines is critical.

3. You must be able to write lively, engaging text.

4. You must be able to put your ego aside, accept feedback and rewrite. As one of my mentors says: Writing is rewriting.

Build your portfolio

I hadn’t followed the usual path towards becoming a writer. I hadn’t pursued an undergrad or Master’s degree in English literature or communications, though I had taken many university level courses in English and American lit. Without these credentials, I had to find a way to market myself so that potential employers and editors would overlook these missing pieces and recognize what I could offer. I had to define and demonstrate my skills and talents and build relationships of trust from scratch.

As I practiced writing, I sought out potential publishing opportunities that would help me build my portfolio. In fact, just a few weeks ago I was surprised to come across a short piece in my filing cabinet that I had written in 1999 and that was published on an on-line writing blog called Inkspot that same year – yes, there were blogs in 1999! This was one of many unpaid writing gigs, but they all counted in helping me establish my reputation as a competent and skilled writer.

Always look for the next opportunity

Stay nimble. My 10-year plan is to be able to write from anywhere in the world. This means building new skills and a portfolio for the on-line world. It’s new territory for me. Another boulder to push up that hill, yes, but another fresh start. It’s exciting, and a little nerve-racking, as every good new beginning should be!

Have you ever sat by the phone waiting for that new opportunity?

3 thoughts on “Blog Post # 6 COM0011: The Fake it Till You Make it School of Writing

  1. Thanks for your post, its always nice to see other people taking that leap and creating a new image of themselves – it’s not an easy task. I’m in the process of trying to do that right now. Being unemployed for the last 9 months has made me re-evaluate myself and what I can do. So I’m not trying to educate myself on social media and work towards my Event planner credentials. I’m building my confidence in taking the leap of faith in myself and being my own boss. I bit scary but I think in the end it will be liberating to have my own company and be successful (fingers crossed).

  2. Very interesting post. As a fellow professional writer, I’ve shared many of the same sentiments throughout my career. Writing is one of those fields where unpaid gigs are a dime a dozen (who doesn’t like free work?) but paid writing jobs are so hard to come by. It can be daunting waiting for that phone to ring when you’ve got to pay your rent, but at some point you have to put your foot down and know that, if you are talented and if you are persistent, good gigs are out there.

  3. Hi Brad, great post! I’ve got the degrees and been writing professionally for more than a decade but I still struggle to identify myself as a ‘writer’. Perhaps, like you, it has something to do with my upbringing and being shy about my work. I’m particularly shy when writing about personal experiences although writing for private companies, NGOs, etc is a lot easier. I think part of it also has to do with being told by my parents that writing is not a “real” job while growing up and even to this day. Although my pay checks proved this wrong and I’ve learned to identify myself as a ‘writer’, I still get the occasional self-doubt and feel a panic attack coming on every time I send out a new document for review or post something on one of my blogs. I think the best advice that I ever received was when I was working as a nightlife columnist for the Ottawa Sun a few year’s back. Each time I suggested a new article topic or feature item outside of my usual column I would apologize and feel as though I was stalking my editors. But one day, my editor told me that I should keep making suggestions and never apologize for pitching a story. He went on to say that as a writer or journalist, the only way to get ahead was to keep coming up with new ideas and never feel bad about pitching my ideas because it’s the only way to get noticed and to create new opportunities not only for myself but for the paper. That was great advice and did a lot to boost my self-confidence. While my editor certainly didn’t approve of all of my ideas, I did get the chance to write additional articles and feature pages from time to time. Just keep at ‘er. Eventually one of those ideas will pan out.

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