You can get paid to practice writing. All it takes is a little effort, a lot
of writing, and a willingness to open yourself up to different types of writing.
Becoming a Better Writer
I have four statements I'd like to present:
- Nothing improves your writing like writing.
You can read about writing, you can think about writing and you can dream
about writing. These all help you get started, but eventually you'll need to
do a lot of writing--and rewriting--to improve your writing. If you want to
get better, write. Write often. Write a lot.
- Nothing helps you write more than having a deadline.
We're only human. We have lives with complications and distractions.
Sitting down and writing something, whether it's just for practice or for an
article, novel, short story, screenplay or anything on spec is a difficult
thing to do. But if there's a deadline--and someone counting on you to deliver
a manuscript--it's a little bit easier to set aside the distractions and find
the time to write.
- Any type of writing helps all types of writing.
It doesn't matter what your ultimate writing goal is--any and all writing
that you do will bring you closer to your goal. There are many different
styles and formats of writing, but all writing is, above all, communicating.
Practicing and perfecting your writing and communicating skills with any type
of writing will increase your skills with all types of writing.
- There's nothing like getting paid to write.
The feeling you get when you receive money for doing something you love is
one of the great joys of writing. Unless and until you have the fame and clout
to get that big advance to write your ultimate novel or screenplay, the way to
make money writing is to write what other people need, not what you want. It
may not be exactly what you've always dreamed of writing, but it gets you
closer to your goals--and the money doesn't hurt.
If you're serious about writing, jump at any chance to write anything--especially
if it's for pay. Open yourself up to writing many different types of things.
Stop thinking of yourself as a novelist, screenwriter, short story writer or
poet. Start thinking of yourself as a writer--or better yet, as a
communicator who happens to excel in written communication.
Where To Start
A good place to find various small writing jobs is where you work. If you
work in an office, you're surrounded by potential writing projects. The typical
office requires a lot of writing: reports, procedures, important memos, group or
department handbooks, manuals, product information sheets, brochures, catalogs,
press releases, and much more. Someone has to write these things, and more often
than not they're either written by people who don't want to write them (and
would love some help), or they're contracted out to professional writers.
Contact the people at work that don't like writing and offer to help. Find
out who contracts outside writers and offer your services at a discount rate. If
there's an in-house writing group, talk to the group's manager to find out if
you can help with overload work, and if they might be opening up an entry-level
If nothing else, write a procedures manual, or series of procedures memos
that explain very clearly how to do some of the repetitive tasks that you do, or
that the people who work for you do. And don't ignore the very short projects.
There's bound to be something at the office that needs explaining on a regular
basis, even if it's only the old temperamental copier or the off-brand,
logicless coffeemaker, that needs explaining. Write it. It'll save someone from
having to explain the same thing over and over.
Every writing project you complete gives you both writing practice and a
portfolio piece. Plus they're useful. If you document some of your own tasks,
you can use the written procedures to train others to help out during busy
times. It might even help you unload some of those repetitive tasks on others as
you start spending more work time writing.
Be sure to keep copies of everything you write, and show your work to friends
around the office. They may want your help with writing up their procedures or
If you can't get any, or enough, leads through work, use your network of
friends. Do they, or people at their workplace, ever hire writers or need help
writing reports, memos or procedures? You'll be surprised by how many
opportunities you may get if you offer your services for the right (read that
low) price. And the old saying, "The first time's free," applies to
writing as well as other, less savory lines of work.
Be Ready For an Opportunity
Whatever you write may be practice for you on your way to writing
other things, but it is real and important to the person who is trusting you to
write it. Even at a bargain price--even for free--you have to be able to
convince that person that you can do the job and do it well or you won't get the
And that means being prepared--prepared to write and prepared to prove you
can do it. A friend gave me a card that I've kept in plain view at my desk ever
since. It says, "Luck is being prepared for opportunity when it
comes." Take it to heart. Put together a short portfolio of different types
of writing that you can present to show your capabilities when an opportunity
For this portfolio, you'll want a variety of short but very polished items.
No first drafts of novels or screenplays. Typical things that you might include
- A sampling of simple office procedures (2 or 3 at most)
- A short story or two (no more than 5 pages each)
- Short humorous or serious essays
- Website writing (or a whole website, if you're so inclined)
- Press releases (2 or 3 at most)
- Newsletters (2 or 3 at most)
- Catalog product descriptions
If you already have these things, great. If not, then start writing. Study
samples and write your own. The products you write about don't have to be real--make
up some for your press releases and catalogs--but the writing must be the best
you can do right now. Don't sell yourself short.
The most important thing about this portfolio is that it should be as
polished and professional as possible. Let a few friends proofread read
everything. Make sure everything is well laid out on the page and printed
cleanly. Ask for help if you need it.
Take Advantage of That Opportunity
Once you have a portfolio, it's time to look for things to write. Identify a
possible writing task and ask for a chance to prove yourself. Show your
portfolio and explain that you want to write and will be flexible with payment.
Once you get an assignment, remember these two things:
- Deliver--on time and do the best work you possibly can.
- Pay very close attention to the assignment. Deliver exactly what the
person asks for, not what it inspires you to write.
Here's a real-life example:
A few years ago, I was managing the writing group at a software company. I
needed to hire an entry-level writer, and wanted to open the opportunity to
current employees in other departments. I posted the job and made sure word
spread on the office grapevine.
About 10 people expressed an interest in the job. I interviewed them all.
Half of them had a of sample of their writing to show me. I gave everyone a
small assignment to see how well they could deliver an assignment. Two people
turned it in. One was rough and needed a lot of work. The other was more
polished--but it wasn't close to what I asked for. It went off on a tangent and
didn't cover the subject I had assigned. Guess who got the job?
Whatever type of writing you dream of doing, you'll only get there by writing--writing
anything and everything you can.
It's possible to paid to practice your writing if you're willing to work and
willing to try writing different types of things.
Look for opportunities all around you, especially at work.
When your opportunity comes, be ready for it.