How do you become a writer? The short answer is: anyone who writes is a writer. However, becoming a writer who’s serious about their professional career requires lots of work, and if you’re wondering how to become a professional writer, you’re ready to start the journey towards a productive and successful literary career.
You don’t need a degree to be a writer, nor do you need to be a certain age. Becoming a writer simply requires an admiration for—and a longing to create with—language. So, don’t worry about becoming a writer later in life or lacking a formal education. (That’s what Writers.com is here for!)
No one can teach you how to admire the written word, but the instructors at Writers.com are experts at turning longing into language. That’s why this article covers everything you need on how to become a writer. From the personal to the professional, let’s dive into everything writers need to build a successful literary career.
Everyone Can Become a Writer
Even today, there’s a persistent myth that writers are elite, born-with-it Ivory Tower folks who possess some ineffable gift of the Muses. Yes, some great writers were born with greatness, but anyone who calls themselves a writer does so because they labor with the written word.
Becoming a writer simply requires an ardent exploration of language.
In others words, you don’t need an MFA from the University of Iowa to call yourself a writer. Becoming a writer simply requires an ardent exploration of language. If we had to boil a writer down to three requirements, it wouldn’t involve age or degree. The 3 traits for becoming a writer are:
- Passion for the written word,
- Desire to expand the boundaries and possibilities of language, and
- Willingness to grow and learn continuously.
Many writers who have these traits stop themselves from writing, because they’re wondering how to become a writer without a degree. Now, writers certainly benefit from a university education or a family legacy in literature, but countless writers have acquired respect and success without a degree or name recognition.
Ernest Hemingway never went to college, but he still won a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize; neither did Maya Angelou attend university, yet she’s celebrated as the “black woman’s poet laureate” and later accepted a professorship with Wake Forest University. Degrees are just paper; it’s words that matter.
It’s Never Too Late to Become a Writer
Becoming a writer has no age restriction; the act of writing is rated G for the General Public, and those 3 aforementioned traits are found in writers from ages 2 to 99+.
Many writers discover their writing talents in their later years. Why, exactly? Neurology reveals there are two types of intelligence: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. “Fluid” refers to creative and adaptive thinking, including activities like writing and problem solving. “Crystallized” refers to the solidified body of knowledge people draw from—all the words, definitions, and experiences that build a foundation for the world.
Generally, younger adults have more fluid intelligence, whereas life experience builds one’s crystallized intelligence over time. The two intelligences tend to converge in a person’s 40s, since this is an age where the faculties for fluid intelligence haven’t declined, and crystallized intelligence abounds. Not-so-coincidentally, many writers see their careers flourish in their 40s and 50s!
Many celebrated writers didn’t put pen to paper until middle age or later.
In fact, many celebrated writers didn’t put pen to paper until middle age or later. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t start writing until her 40s, and her Little House series didn’t start printing until she was 65. Likewise, Most of Wallace Stevens’ work was published after he turned 50; despite being a poet, he worked at an insurance company, and most of his coworkers were shocked when he won a Pulitzer at 75. Nobody knew that he wrote!
Finally, many university students return for a writing degree after establishing a career elsewhere. BFA and MFA programs around the world educate students in their 30s and beyond; in 2017, the average age of a low-residency MFA student in the U.S. was 35.4, according to LitHub and AWP.
Whether you’re 19 or 90, you’re never too old to write. The best time to write is yesterday; the second-best time is today.
Where to Begin your Writing Journey
Rather than an If-Then structure, the writing profession follows a Became-Because structure.
How do you become a writer? Where do you begin? The writing profession is unlike most professions, which follow an If-Then structure. If you get a bachelor’s degree, Then you can work as a nurse, computer scientist, or accountant; If you join a worker’s guild or apprenticeship program, Then you can find work in a number of trade jobs.
The writing profession follows a Became-Because structure. Zora Neale Hurston became a writer because she obtained degrees from Howard University and Barnard College, encouraging her to dissect the African American experience through a literary and anthropological lens.
Conversely, Haruki Murakami became a writer because of a baseball game.
The qualifications for becoming a writer are unique to the individual, and every writer is formed by personal interests and experiences. As a result, no one can tell you where to begin your writing journey; however, if you’re wondering how to become a writer, you’ve already started your journey by thinking about it.
If you’re wondering how to become a writer, you’ve already started your journey by thinking about it.
How to Become a Professional Writer: What “Professional” Means
One distinction to help you think about your writing journey is the difference between amateur and professional writers. If you’re not sure what you want to become, start with the following question: what does “professional” mean?
There are, generally, two classes of writers: amateurs and professionals. Before describing the professional writer, let’s be clear: “amateur” is not derogatory, and professional writers are not “better” than amateurs. Amateur comes from the Latin amator, “lover.” An amateur writer loves the written word just as much, sometimes even more, than the professional; amateurs simply have less pressure, deadlines, and financial dependence on writing. It’s a pastime, not a career.
If you want writing to be a significant portion of your income, then you aspire to being a professional writer.
If you want writing to be a significant portion of your income, then you aspire to being a professional writer. Professional writers have to approach their writing as a business, building a literary audience and keeping a regular writing schedule. Professional writers need to understand the ins and outs of the publishing industry—which they often learn through obtaining a university degree—and it also helps to have formal training in the publishing world and experience operating literary magazines.
How do you start to work toward becoming a professional writer? Below are resources to get you started.
Some Resources for Becoming a Professional Writer
At some point, the professional writer needs to know the ins and outs of writing as a business. This list covers the essentials of how to become a professional writer.
How to make money as a writer
- Explore freelance writing opportunities (updated weekdays at F.W.G.)
- 6 writers explain how they make money (NY Mag)
- Self-publishing versus traditional publishing (Self-Publishing School)
- Writing to market (Funds For Writers)
Taxes as a self-employed creative
- Taxes on freelance writing and royalties (TurboTax)
- Tax tips and unique situations (The Balance Careers)
Resources on publishing
- Poetry journals
- Fiction journals
- Creative nonfiction journals
- How to get published in a literary journal (Reader’s Digest)
- Book: What Editors Do by Peter Ginna ($25 at UChicago Press)
Becoming a writer online
- Basic guide to each social media platform (Kindlepreneur)
- Building an author’s website (The Write Practice)
- Free website template for authors (Copyfolio)
- Running a mailing list (Your Writer Platform)
Things to know before taking writing classes
Additional resources for learning how to become a writer
- Setting SMART goals
- Reading like a writer
- The golden rule: show, don’t tell
- Overcoming writer’s block
Becoming a Writer: Developing a Writing Habit
How do professional writers spend their workdays? Perhaps the trickiest part about becoming a writer is establishing a writing habit. For example, Haruki Murakami runs a 10K every morning to support his writing, and Charles Dickens wrote (and slept) facing north to improve his creativity.
Perhaps the trickiest part about becoming a writer is establishing a writing habit.
What works for one person rarely works for another, so experiment with writing habits—and when you find one that works, stick with it.
Generally, you can parse the writing business into 3 separate components:
- The writing life—putting pen to paper at regular intervals.
- Scheduled time for “the business of writing”—literary submissions, applying for grants, etc.
- An active media presence—blogging, tweeting, emailing, etc.
You’ll want to schedule time for each of these elements in your daily writing habit. Of course, this is easier said than done. Budding writers often overestimate their ability to work: they think they can spend 3 hours writing, 2 hours replying to emails, and 2 hours submitting work to journals. Then they spend the afternoon watching reruns of BBC quiz shows. (Yes! I did do this recently.)
That’s why forging a consistent writing habit is essential—for amateur writers as well as professionals. Writing at the same place at the same time encourages your brain to write every day. And, if you can’t keep yourself focused on writing, try experimenting with different writing rituals. If a 10K helps Murakami write, something equally unique could help you, too.
Take Your Next Step with Writers.com!
The classes we’ve curated in our upcoming schedule will take your writing life to the next level. Whether learning a new writing style or mastering the business of writing, becoming a writer feels a whole lot simpler with Writers.com.