13 Things I Want To Tell Young Writers


1. Making money from your craft isn’t selling out.

There’s nothing noble about being a starving artist. Write in your spare time while maintaining a job that pays your bills. If you can get a job writing but it isn’t glamorous, take it. Writing in other forms will always help with the writing you really want to do, like how working our other areas of the body helps with the area you actually want to improve.

2. Consider yourself a sales person.

This applies to every professional but when you are writing an email to someone or otherwise trying to get them to help you. Consider who they are and how helping you can help them.

This means that instead of getting an email that says “it would mean so much to me if you would publish my work,” an editor would receive an email that contains a story or article they would love to publish. Editors want to publish your work, that’s their default setting. It benefits them to find and publish people who fit with whatever editorial direction they are going in. You talk them out of it by not reading the kinds of things they publish and being somewhere in line with that, by blowing past submission guidelines, or by sending something boring or poorly written.

3. Read submission guidelines.

They are there for a reason and they’ll save you and your editor a lot of time. Wasting someone’s time is one of the worst things you can do to someone you are trying to build a relationship with.

4. Be a “hands off” person.

In creative fields it’s very common to be needy. You need opinions on whether your work is good, you need help finding a direction, you need proofreading — and eventually you need a lot of feedback and advice about very minute details. Try not to outsource this to other people. If you’re talented, you already know the answers to most of these questions in your gut.

The less time someone has to spend helping you, the easier it is to publish your work. They may not remember you as specifically “easy,” but they’ll have vague, positive feelings associated with you.

5. Don’t trash talk people publicly.

This is a bad look. People do notice. They may not particularly care or take offense, but they won’t forget — they’ll tell someone in the industry the next time you come up in conversation.

6. Be yourself.

Don’t use words or writing styles because you’ve seen them before and admired them unless they naturally come out of you. Don’t use words that feel unfamiliar. Don’t write something because it seems cool. People can always tell when something sounds forced or inauthentic. Write what you want, the way you want to write it.

7. Learn how to make a logical argument.

A lot of internet writing is based on opinions. If you want to write about your opinion you need to know how to make a good argument, and how to avoid a bad argument. If you argue something is important, explain why. Don’t rely on tradition or current cultural views. Don’t use an ad hominem or a false dichotomy.

8. Write. Write a fucking lot.

The more you write, the more you will improve.

9. Start a blog.

It’s hard for me to understand people who want to be a writer but don’t write. If it’s sincerely hard for you to write, maybe you don’t actually like it? Write when you don’t feel like it. Practice writing and publishing something everyday and leave it open for feedback. Engage your audience. Take note of what people like to read and what no one clicks on and think about what it was that was engaging about one post that was not engaging about others.

Note: PUT YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION ON YOUR BLOG. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wanted to talk to a creative person about their work, only to find there is zero contact information on their blog or portfolio. What’s the point of even having a blog or portfolio without this?

10. Don’t do what everyone else is doing.

If you see a million DIY blogs, don’t start a DIY blog. If you still passionately want to make a DIY blog, make sure there’s a solid, identifiable reason someone would identify with and follow your blog versus the thousands of other similar blogs. Don’t rely on talent alone to stand out, this can work, it just takes a lot longer (and requires a lot more luck) than having a fresh, individual brand.

11. Understand that writing interesting titles does not cheapen your work.

If you care about what you are writing, you want people to read it. The way titles work is changing. Most people no longer purchase a magazine and read every article no matter what it is titled. You need to think competitively about why someone is going to click on your title out of the pile of links running through their Twitter feed all day. It’s a very good skill to develop if you want to have a voice in the crowd.

Similarly, it might seem like the best “write what you know” idea to write an edited version of your diary. There’s value to this, sure, but it’s very hard to get people to care about your personal life. Make your stories relatable.

12. Internet commenters are harsh.

If you see a bad comment on your work and immediately want to take it down, you’re in the wrong line of work. You need thick skin. Internet commenters are predisposed to be critical, not encouraging. You need to believe in what you are putting out there. If you don’t, who else is going to?

13. Don’t fight with your editor.

As my favorite editor says, “out of everyone who is ever going to read your work, your editor is the only person who is actually obligated to care. If they don’t care, you have a problem.” If you are starting out as a writer and working with an editor, chances are they know the climate you’re entering into a lot more than you do. Understand that they are the expert and their goal is to help you. They aren’t being a dick because it’s fun.