First, let me preface this by saying that I love writing. I absolutely love my craft. It doesn’t matter if I’m working on content for a client or a passion project of my own, I always enjoy writing even if I don’t really enjoy what I’m writing. However, there are times when I hang my head in shame; not so much because of my own misdoings, but because of someone else’s.
In the digital age, anybody can become and call him or herself a writer. The same thing could be said about referring to oneself as an entrepreneur, but people don’t often make that claim unless they have something to show for it. On the other hand, a person can claim to be a writer without really having to prove it. Sure, a good writer will have examples of his or her writing at the ready, but when you tell someone you’re a writer, it’s not likely that they’d ask for your curriculum vitae.
If this exchange happens on the internet, the other person could always drop the person’s name into a search engine to find any credits to his or her name, but more often than not a person is just going to go by whatever information they get during the exchange—and, consequently, take that with a grain of salt.
Although I love helping other writers develop their careers, I take issue with how easy it is for people to call themselves writers. It takes more than a personal blog to be a writer; and in my experience, many people claim to be writers in the hope of leaching any prestige that would typically be reserved for the more accomplished, proven writers.
I’m unemployed, don’t have a college education to speak of, but I have a two-star rating on Textbroker so I’ll just say I’m a writer.
The other half of the problem is people who are disillusioned with their skill as a writer. Much of the issue is that, similar to the problem I described above, these individuals want the title and prestige of being a writer, so they focus their energies on style and become completely unable to assess the quality of their own writing.
In most instances, this results in extremely, painfully pretentious syntax that tries so hard to be poetic and make people weep at its beauty that it’s hard to read. I can’t even describe how angry I get when some millennial—it’s almost always millennials who do this—is clearly trying to be the next Fitzgerald or Hemingway when he or she has clearly never written more than a book report for tenth-grade English class. It’s like holding up a big sign that says “amateur” and tells me that the person is in it for all the wrong reasons. The person wants to hear that they’re as talented as Charles Dickens when it’s obvious they couldn’t be further from it.
Allow me to make this perfectly clear: Style does not equate to skill. Complexity and big words do no equate to style. Nonsensically, ridiculously long sentences do not equate to style. Feeble attempts to emulate prolific literary figures does not equate to quality. Wanting to impress people by telling them you’re a writer doesn’t make you a writer.
I apologize if this sounds harsh. I’m in no way trying to insult anybody or discourage anyone from pursuing a career as a writer. But I need my fellow millennials to understand that being a writer is about so much more than the title. In this day and age, there’s actually very little prestige that comes with being a writer, and a lot of this is because of how many people are calling themselves writers because they want to be impressive. It’s giving actual writers a really bad reputation because it makes people skeptical when real writers tell people what they do for a living.
And that’s the operative expression here: Writers do this for a living. That’s one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle. To be a writer, it takes so much more of an investment than the amount of thought you put into choosing just the right hashtags to include in your next tweet. Calling yourself a writing is something that you earn. When you tell someone you’re a writer, it should be because it’s true in some way and not because you wish you were one.
Again, I’m not trying to discourage anyone from being a writer. In fact, now that I’ve said my piece I want to offer some advice to you or anyone else who might want to be a writer. Specifically, I’m going to tell you what it takes to be a writer.
The Actual Ability to Write
The most obvious prerequisite to be a writer is to be able to write. This may seem obvious—would you say you were a veterinarian if you had no experience with animal medicine?—but as you can tell from everything I said above, there are many people, particularly millennials, laying claim to this title when it, in no way, applies to them.
Many people have an innate ability to write and it just comes easy to them, but writing is a skill that can be learned, too. Of course, there are journalism classes a person can take, but you can learn to write from other resources as well. English and grammar classes are helpful, but one of the resources I recommend most highly is for aspiring writers to simply read more books. As you read, pay special attention to the sentence structures, phrasing, and words that different writers use. Reading has probably been the most beneficial resource of them all for me personally.
The Desire for More Than Notoriety
Sure, there’s a certain “cool factor” to the idea of becoming a famous author, but that shouldn’t be the main draw. You’re most likely to experience success when you want to be a writer because you’re passionate about writing. When you have that fire in you that’s propelling you forward, you’ll find that you work harder, retain more information, and get more satisfaction out of writing. I’d go so far as to say the “prestige” of being a writer is the last reason anybody should be pursuing a writing career.
Practice Makes Perfect
When you’re passionate about writing and have developed some level of skill, the next logical step is to practice. This doesn’t mean you should sit down and start churning out a bunch of essays that have no focus or purpose. Instead, seize any opportunities to practice that you can find. Start a blog and write blog posts regularly; make sure you take the time to plan and structure your blog posts because that’s an essential part of writing almost any type of content.
Another good idea is to apply to some content mills to be one of their (grossly underpaid) writers. Like virtually all writers, I have some very complex feelings about content mills, but the one thing they have going for them is that they offer newbies a means of practicing. And not just writing, but many aspects of the craft. You’ll learn how to interpret a client’s requests and decipher the parameters they give you so you can identify their content needs and be able to deliver. You’ll learn how to market yourself and interact with clients. You’ll learn how to structure and manage your writing time. Although content mills are notorious for paying writers extremely poorly, they’re a great resource for those who are just starting out. Plus, there are many content mills available, so you could apply at a handful of them and have several sources for writing work that would help you hone your skills and make you some extra pocket cash, which is never a bag thing.
Being a writer is as much about motivation and preparation as it is skill. While I hope that no one takes offense to what I had to say at the beginning, I also hope that I’ve made it clear being a writer isn’t about having a title that commands the respect and admiration of others. It’s about taking a skill, passion, and craft and using it to help people or their businesses. Hopefully my fellow millennials will stop seeing the title “writer” as their ticket to fame and fortune and learn that being a good writer is about more than complex sentence structure and big words.
Do you agree? What are your thoughts on the attraction some people, particularly millennials, seem to have to calling themselves writers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.