Writing advice

How to start a writing career: 7 bright ideas

Starting a story or novel is challenging enough. But how do you start a writing career, one of longevity and rewarding opportunities taken? Read 7 ideas for how to start a writing career:

How to build a writing career:

  1. Invest in your skills every day
  2. Balance theory with praxis
  3. Manage expectations
  4. Define what ‘writing career’ means to you
  5. Get support
  6. Take writing opportunities
  7. Practice positive promotion

Invest in your skills every day

The same principles apply, whether you’re asking how to start a writing career or wish to pursue another calling. Invest in your skills as often as you can.

When we invest in something, we may invest:

  1. Time
  2. Money
  3. Emotions

Many aspiring writers invest in the third category out of proportion to the first. Yet making time to write is essential for truly expanding your writing ability. Wanting it and raw talent are great, but so is putting in the work.

Make time to write, every day. On how to launch a writing career, Ray Bradbury says:

Just write every day. Read instensely - Ray Bradbury | Now Novel

Seek out opportunities to write to a brief (such as freelance copywriting). Learning to write on diverse subjects (even if they aren’t your greatest passion) is a valuable skill. After you’ve written a blog article about weather vanes every day for a year (true story), it’ll be easier to produce; to find words when you’re not feeling inspired.

Take free courses (such as our free 5-day email lessons on writing craft here). Learning resources such as Coursera provide education on a broad range of fascinating subjects, including writing.

Balance theory with praxis

Many famous authors went to grad school for writing. Yet an MFA isn’t essential for a career in writing, as Now Novel writing coach Romy Sommer shares in this extract from her webinar on becoming a pro writer:

It is a relevant credential you can add to your byline when querying. Yet astute agents and publishers are equally interested in questions such as ‘Is it good?’ and ‘Will it sell?’

Sometimes, academia is paralysing to creativity. The background noise of theory may make it hard to hear what you want your work to be.

A career in any field involves praxis – acts of doing. If you’re studying a concept, try to make a practical exercise out of it.

For example, say you were reading about decolonisation in history. As an exercise, you could do the following:

Practical exercise: Imagining historical events

Write an indigenous character’s perspective as they watch a ship landing on a beach bearing the emissaries of an imperial power.

Next, rewrite the same scene from the perspective of the settlers aboard the ship.

now novel community

Start with structured support

Structure your story with step-by-step prompts and get helpful critiques.


Manage expectations

Rare (and talented, and lucky) is the author who ignites a bidding war between publishers for their debut.

Self-publishing has made it easier to build a writing career despite prestigious gatekeepers such as ‘Big Five’ publishers, though. It’s easier than ever to access ‘the market’ as an author. Learning how to make a career in writing no longer necessarily requires the right social network, degree, or industry ‘in’.

Yet self-publishing also requires work, of course, plus funds for:

  • Cover design (if you want your book to intrigue and stand out in the crowd)
  • Editing (developmental, copy-editing, proofreading)
  • An ISBN number (the unique identifier for your book)
  • Other book expenses

There are also other key differences between traditional vs self-publishing as models.

Hybrid-published Author Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn unpacks the core differences in her helfpul article, ‘Pros and Cons of Traditional vs Self-Publishing’.

However you choose to start your writing career, have realistic expectations.

Planning and first drafts take time. Rewrites and edits take time. Publishing and marketing take time. Divide your process into small, attainable steps. Practice the two Ps – patience and perseverance.

Define what ‘writing career’ means to you

When we say ‘how to start a writing career’, a lot hinges on how we define ‘writing career’.

A writing career may mean:

  • Writing to connect to others and share stories important to you
  • Telling stories to build recognition or prestige through publication and other achievements
  • Writing to make money

None of these are mutually exclusive.

Let’s be honest about the third category, though: ‘Making money’ is not necessarily synonymous with the typical fiction writing career.

As an example, a respected English lecturer won a national book award for a traditionally published book. He held up his Amazon Kindle and said ‘this is what I bought with the proceeds of my award-winning book’, with a sardonic smile on his face.

Prestige thus does not necessarily guarantee riches (though it may boost sales).

If you plan to start a writing career with making in money at the top of your priority list, remember to:

  • Research what has been published in the last year or two in similar genres/subject areas. What’s been a bestseller? What’s passé? (Publishing a love triangle story featuring sparkly vampires straight after the Twilight series, for example, wouldn’t make much sense)
  • Learn as much as you can about your market: For example, who your readers are, demographics (who reads the kind of books you want to write?), how best to reach potential readers, what you need to price your books at to sell and to break even
  • Consider a sideline in writing commercially (e.g. blogs, website copy and other formats) while you build up your list of fiction titles. Freelance websites such as Freelance Writing Jobs, Fiverr, Problogger and others have jobs boards as well as platforms for marketing your writing services and showcasing your skills

Remember, too that many working authors supplement their fiction writing income by:

  • Teaching
  • Speaking at paid public events
  • Writing commercially (technical writing, copy-writing, blogging, speech-writing, and so forth)
  • Holding other full- or part-time jobs

Seize every opportunity to write. Commercial writing is not ‘selling out’. It may help you support your passion for fiction and develop better style.

How to start a writing career - infographic | Now Novel

Get support

When you watch roundtable discussions with authors, actors, directors and other creatives, you often hear ‘it takes a village’.

In writing, the ‘villagers’ include authors, editors, agents, beta readers, book designers and others. An online writing group is a good place to find support and build rapport with likeminded people.

If you’re starting out your year with a dream to write, surround yourself with people who will cheer you on and help you.

Novel coaching by a published author or fiction editor will help you improve as you go. Alternatively, a free online writing group (ideally) provides a safe space to share snippets, discussion, and the shared joys of reaching new milestones.

Take writing opportunities

When we talk about how to start a writing career, we are already thinking about ‘the long game’.

Longevity is built on small moments of brilliance, plus lots of getting down to work. Each small achievement is a bead you’ll one day string on one colourful thread.

So seize opportunies. Enter short fiction contests (short stories provide a great practice/training grounds). Submit to journals or reputable fiction-publishing websites. Treat new opportunities as a chance to explore your writing voice under new conditions or requirements.

If you’re offered an internship or unpaid writing work for a company whose values, subjects or culture you admire, and you have the time, take it. You never know: The practice, lessons and insights you gain may more than compensate for the time you volunteer.

Practice positive promotion

Social media provides many platforms to start building an audience for your writing.

Share occasional snippets or quotes from your own work. Ask your audience about their writing, what they love, too.

Do book blog tours when a release is imminent, where you can shine and show what makes your work and insight as an author one of a kind.

Building a tribe of others interested in what you’re doing also means listening and engaging. The same way that in a writing group, you trade critiques; share and listen.

What’s the best career advice you ever received? Share in the comments below.

Finish your book in six months with group novel coaching including weekly Q&As, workbooks and a structured plan to help you finish.

By Jordan

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *