Advice for beginning writers is plentiful. Some of it is useful. You’re told to be patient, to persevere, not take rejection too hard and to seek mentors. So far so good. But many advice-to-the-neophyte-author columns also caution you to “keep your day job.”
By definition, getting paid for stringing words together is being a writer. Therefore, if you want to be a writer, look for a writing job. Perhaps some successful novelists have gone right from flipping burgers or selling awnings to the New York Times best seller list, but I can’t name any. Dig beneath the surface, however, and you’ll find many successful authors began as journalists, copywriters, technical writers, English teachers, newsletter editors, website content specialists, public relations coordinators, resume writers, ghost writers and many other related professions. Writing successful books–nonfiction or fiction–requires skill and practice. The more you write, the better you become. So why not get paid for writing while you’re honing your skills? You can still work on that novel or biography at night while you write newsletter articles or ads during the day.
Although I wanted to be a writer since my first journalism class in high school, I didn’t sell my first book until a couple of decades later. But I’ve always written for a living. And I found satisfaction in every writing form. Writing anything well is a creative challenge and everything you write becomes part of the experience you draw on as your career progresses.
My newly published mystery novel, Death in Nostalgia City, would not have happened had it not been for writing experience years before. Nostalgia City is a theme park resort that re-creates an entire small town from the late 1960s / early 1970s. My protagonist, Lyle Deming, an anxiety ridden ex-cop has taken a job driving at cab in the park thinking it will be a stress-free escape from police work. But this is a murder mystery, and things happen.
Creating this book, I drew on previous writing experience. Early in my career I was a newspaper reporter covering the police beat. Later I wrote advertising for Knott’s Berry Farm a large theme park in southern California. Combine police work with Knott’s and you have a theme-park murder mystery.
Nearly every form of professional writing can be a lesson for the future. Some writing vocations teach you to be succinct. Others teach you to be descriptive, persuasive, informative. Even seemingly mundane business assignments can help you expand your vocabulary and learn to write with a specific audience in mind.
In a 9-5 writing job you will also learn what I consider one of the most important attributes of a successful writer: discipline. Working on a book in your spare time doesn’t necessarily invest you with a sense of immediacy. You can lean back, clasp your fingers behind your head and stare into space waiting for the creative muse. That’s fine and what one needs to do at times, but excessive pondering does not produce prose. When will you ever finish that book? On the other hand, deadlines are a reality whether you’re writing for a print publication or the promotional department of a retail store. You learn to write on cue.
At the risk of sounding like the instruction book frequently consulted by the leading man in the Broadway musical, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” the initial hurdle here would seem to be getting that first writing job. But just like J. Pierpont Finch, you can look around for openings where you work now. If you’re a salesperson, check out possibilities in your sales and marketing departments. If you’re in retail, or high tech you can find opportunities for writers. Believe it or not, average business communication today is poor. If you can write clearly, you can be a valuable company asset. If you need to look outside your present organization, take your time.
The experience and productivity you gain writing a corporate report or website article could lead you to your own Nostalgia City.
Among the things Mark S. Bacon has written in his career are: direct mail advertising, newspaper news stories, radio commercials, obituaries, executive speeches, commercial websites, political campaign brochures, newsletters, magazine feature articles, corporate annual reports, online columns, display advertising, TV commercials, nonfiction books, short stories and grocery lists. His new mystery novel, Death in Nostalgia City, was recently released by Black Opal Books and is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the iBookstore.