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...The Best Writing Advice I Can Give
If there's one thing I've learned in almost 14 years of blogging, it's not to devalue the skills I have.
I started blogging in 2008. It’s 2022 now, and I am still blogging. It’s been a pretty consistent thing over the years, too. Whether it was for professorbeej.com, geekfitness.net, or geektogeekmedia.com, I’ve been blogging for just under 14 years now.
That’s crazy. What’s even crazier is that in mid-2017, I got amazingly lucky and landed a job as a professional blogger! Well, technically, my title was Content Creator, but writing 3-4 blogs a week was my main responsibility.
At the beginning of January, I transitioned into the Category Editor position, and it has really made me reflect on how I actually ended up being able to write and edit for a living.
I realized that it was due to two things.
The first was being consistent (and I know this because my boss told me it was a deciding factor) in creating quality content over the years. I took breaks and hiatuses, yes. But they were always for reasons, and they were never a regular thing I did.
The second was treating myself like a professional from the beginning. There are a lot of ways that I’ve phrased that over the years. I’ve said to treat writing like the job you want it to be and that there are no aspiring writers; if you write, you’re a writer. Stuff like that.
I also realized a few mistakes I made, too.
And that’s really what I want to talk about. My momma always started these kinds of talks by saying, “Son, you take an old fool’s advice…” and I never realized how accurate that idiom really was.
Now that I’m a bit older and have had my own share of successes and failures, I can genuinely say that I’m just enough of an old fool to offer up some advice for you to ignore just like I did my momma’s. 😂
For real, though, I wanted to outline the primary thing you can do to be taken seriously as a writer and move into professional writing as a career (or even side-hustle):
Do not write for free.
This one’s hard, y’all. But it’s extremely important. You should never, ever write for nothing. It doesn’t have to be money, but you deserve something in exchange for your writing.
You see…writing is a skill. And as a writer, you have that skill. You deserve to be paid for that skill. As much as a plumber deserves to be paid for their skills when they fix your pipes, a roofer patches your shingles, or a doctor sets your broken arm.
If someone tells you to write “for exposure” or “to get your name out there,” you tell them that exposure kills writers just as much as it does hikers lost in the mountains.
By trying not to pay you for your skills, people are treating you as though you're not a professional. That the skills you have worked so hard to hone aren't skills at all.
Or at least, they're not the kind of skills worth paying for because "everyone can do them."
Narrator: They can’t.
I spent yeras and years of my life earning a Bachelor’s and Master’s in English, and I guarantee that I’m a better writer than most people without that kind of training. If I’m not…what did I spend all those years learning?
So like I said, writing is a skill. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not.
Like I said…make sure you get something for your writing.
But when someone tries to get you to work for free, don't let them. Even family. Even friends. Even if they pay you with a pizza, making you chicken enchiladas, or baking you a cake, it's payment. And it shows that your skills have value.
The the old days of the internet, content farm websites would pay pennies per view on your article. I got lucky and won a $600 contest for a World of Warcraft guide that I had written. So it ended up being worth it for me as a sophomore in college. But the rest of my content? Total waste of time.
Much later, when I was transitioning from teaching to freelancing, a cousin needed me to design a website for them. I charged a hundred bucks, and he bought me a couple smoothies at the place we met to discuss things. Was it a steep discount? For sure! A whole website for under rate for a single hour (and the smoothies!). But he was family. He understood that it was work for me, a skill I had, and that it was worth paying for.
In another case, I wrote a few articles on running for a website called Fitocracy. In exchange, I was given a lifetime membership for their premium plan. I consider that a win. I got multiple clips at a well-established website, and a premium membership to a site that I already used (as a free member). It wasn’t money, but it was compensation that had real value to me.
Just keep that stupid expression from the late ‘90s and early 2000s in mind: don’t stop, get it, get it.
There’s always an exception, though.
The one real exception to this is blog or podcast or create as a hobby. That's different. You put out into the world what you want at your own discretion. You can charge for it if you want (or lock it behind a Patreon, maybe, or your own Substack newsletter like this).
But you control how it's used. You're using your own skills in the way you choose. This is no different from a concert pianist performing in a park, a carpenter building her own table, or a mechanic restoring her father's old hot rod.
And as you practice (by blogging, let's say, as I did), your skills will improve. Eventually, you can charge higher prices because you're better at what you do than you were before.
Would my writing from 2008 have been able to land me the job I have now? No way. But if I hadn't been writing steadily since then, I never would have improved enough to do it professionally.
And I had a lot of fun along the way.
Remember: don’t stop, get it, get it.
Being a successful writer takes time, discipline, and responsibility. That success won't come if you don't put in the effort. And it won’t come if you consistently devalue yourself and allow others to devalue you.
If you want writing to be your job, then you gotta treat it like one. Don’t work for free.
What’s your take on the subject?