6 Things Every Aspiring Writer Should Know

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Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw, Veronica, because I never thought I would be doing one of these service-y posts telling you all how to write. But the reality is that ever since I’ve been working as a writer/blogger/complainer, I’ve been getting emails from little mini-Bret Easton Ellises asking for my advice on how to “break in” to the writing world. I never answer them because I feel ridiculous telling anyone how to do anything (I’m defective, you guys. You do not want to add me on LinkedIn. SAVE YOURSELVES THE TROUBLE RIGHT NOW!). But I also feel guilty ignoring their questions because I remember being their age and frantically emailing anyone and everyone for guidance. I get it. College is a desperado time. You’re grasping at coke straws. So fine. I’ll give you some advice. Here it is. You can choose to take it or you can just be like, “Um, no.” I wouldn’t blame you either way.

1. Have a trust fund!!!!

I’m joking but also completely serious. Sure, you can make it as a writer without a financial safety net but it sure does expedite the process if you have something to lean on! I know so many writers who had help from their parents in the beginning of their career. It worked because it gave them time to write every day, build a portfolio, and eventually get hired somewhere. One of the most important parts of being a writer is actually having the time to create. Money buys time. And alcohol. And drugs. Things you will definitely need as a writer! (Oh, stop rolling your eyes at me. I can see you. People are so weird about money but if you have it, the only thing you should be embarrassed about is wasting the opportunity it provides you with to fucking do something with your life ASAP.)

2. Have boundaries

When I first started working as a writer three years ago, I had no boundaries to speak of. I would just sit here and be like, “OMG, I want to write about that guy I slept with last month because I just need to work through it, you know?” Part of this was because I thought no one actually read my work (not true!) and the other half was simply because I didn’t know myself well enough to really understand that there were consequences to the things that came out of my brain and got put on the Internet. We live in an oversharing age so the need to spill all our deep dark secrets can be tempting, especially when you see other writers getting awarded for it. I would strongly encourage everyone, however, to slow their confessional roll. Two years ago, I posted an essay that was pretty raw and vulnerable and Nick Denton (owner of Gawker Media/all-around terrifying and wise person) messaged me to be like, “Uh, you should chill out with this kind of writing. Otherwise, you’re going to have nothing to say in a year.” He was right. The fact is that I will always write personal things because that’s just what I gravitate to (I literally only read personal essays by women and gay men in my spare time) but I never feel like I’m selling my soul for hits anymore. Viral articles fade but a fulfilling personal life lasts forever! Also, the more you write about your personal life, the less you’ll have one, okay?

3. Don’t intern too much

Unless you’re Lauren Conrad and secretly have a dress line out in stores while you’re licking envelopes, I’d advise you to not get trapped in the k-hole that is interning. Like, if you are on your fifth internship and you’re 24, you might need to reevaluate some things in your life.

4. Be upfront about payment

Writing for free is fine in certain cases, especially if you’re just starting out and need the exposure. However, you need to clear in the beginning about payment. Don’t pussy foot around it. Otherwise, editors are gonna be like, “Great, we got someone who can work for free! Off to happy hour, y’all!”

5. Actually write things, you idiot!

Okay, look. My biggest pet peeve when dealing with other writers is having them complain about having a shitty career and not having any money when they don’t actually write anything. A lot can be said about my credibility (or lack thereof) as a writer, but one thing I actually know how to do is meet deadlines, turn stories in on time, and write a shitload. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve dealt with who have disappeared when given a contract to write. They just don’t do it. They don’t actually write! They’re like Fran Lebowitz but without the amazing personality/lesbian voodoo to fall back on. So my # 1 advice to anyone who wants to write is to do it as much as possible. I know I may not be the best writer but I sure as hell am better than I was two years ago. And that’s because I’ve been flexing the muscle and writing every single day. You don’t have to be prolific but you do have to be reliable and follow through on stuff. You also have to be tenacious. Email every editor over and over. (But not me because, uh, I’m busy.)

6. Join a gym

Writing is a sedentary lifestyle and burns roughly 4 calories a day, so unless you want to gain twenty pounds in a year, I suggest you join a gym or find some other exercise other than burning brain fuel. TC Mark

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.

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