By Carol Tice
You need to learn more. You might need to learn more about how to write in magazine style, or how to market your writing, or how to write an enthralling first-person essay, or how to write compelling brochures, or how to report stories for a same-day deadline. The exact area of missing knowledge will be different for every writer.
A commitment to lifelong learning is a must for writers with big career dreams. There are three main ways I know to advance your learning about the craft and business of writing. They are:
1) Go to school. You don’t have to attend Columbia and get a master’s degree in journalism (though I’ve heard the connections you get from that are amazing). When I first realized I was becoming a freelance writer, I found a few night classes I could take through UCLA Extension. At the time, I was out-to-here pregnant with my first child…but I waddled off to class, because I knew I needed to find out more about how writing worked if I was going to support my growing family! I studied magazine writing, copywriting, and journalism ethics.
I’d probably be nowhere now without those three courses. They helped me analyze what I was doing fairly well intuitively, understand why and when a story worked well, and learn how to do it better. I learned how to do a professional interview.
Besides what I learned, taking those classes gave me confidence that I knew what I was doing. That confidence helped me pitch story ideas, get published, and eventually, land my first full-time staff-writing job.
These days, you can take classes through writer’s associations, Writer’s Digest, Media Bistro, and many others, not to mention your local community college. There are classes to fit every writer’s schedule and budget. In recent months, I’m trying to catch free one-hour teleseminars whenever I can on emerging writing forms such as blogging and social media.
2) Get a staff writing job. Before there was j-school, this is how everybody learned how to write for a living: They got a job at a newspaper, an alternative paper, a small journal. Then they wrote, and wrote, and wrote. It’s hard to do the volume of writing as a freelancer that you are asked to do as a staffer.
I find when I talk to really successful freelance writers, it’s rare that somewhere in their past, they have not had at least a one-year, full-time gig. I worked 12 years full-time at two different publications, and that volume of work — well more than 1,000 fully reported articles filed for just one of those two publications! — trained me up as a writer like possibly nothing else ever could. Having to find four story ideas every week, pitch them, get them approved, find sources, report them, write them, and turn them in on time breeds terrific discipline, develops your news nose, and gets you hundreds of contacts.
And you just write and write and write. You learn how to write a great article when you’re totally not in the mood. How to find so many story ideas that you never, ever run dry.
3) Find a mentor. Getting someone to school you one-on-one about the writing biz can be a quick route to radically enhancing your skills. Whether it’s an editor who takes you under their wing, a writer friend who’s willing to look over your stories before publication, or a professional writing mentor, seek out someone who can help you take your skills up a notch.
Have you done some learning to advance your writing career? Tell us how you learned what you needed to know, and how that knowledge changed your writing career.
This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.
Photo via Flickr user James Sarmiento