At the #140conf in LA last month, I led a fun and informative Writers Panel with authors Amy Friedman and Jen Jones Donatelli. Amy, author of Desperado’s Wife, is a writer, editor, and Executive Director of POPS the Club. Jen, founder of Creative Groove, is a full-time freelance writer and editor. We talked about what it means to be a writer in today’s culture, writing as catharsis, how to get started as a writer, and much more.
The Changing Culture of Professional Writing
In the early days of social media, it was more important to have a specific niche than it was to do a little of everything. Now, that concept has been flipped on its head. In this culture, everybody’s doing a lot of everything, including writers.
We all have to be able to do everything. For example, many editors now require writers to promote their work online. We need our own online following so we can promote our work to that following. This requires us to have an understanding of marketing, social media, and all the necessary skills to build our platform and get our voice out into the world.
Writing as Catharsis
“Writing is how we communicate to each other who we are,” Amy said. “When we want to tell people what we know and what we would like them to know, what we wonder about, what we need to know, we have to be able to write those things.”
Amy described the cathartic process of writing through a deeply painful experience, and how the simple act of writing down what you’re going through releases the pain. Journaling can bring you back to being who you are at the core, and even if you don’t share what you’ve written, getting it outside of yourself is so important.
There are also times when catharsis intersects with professional opportunities, which is something Jen experienced. While she was going through infertility, she decided to begin writing about the topic. (“I wanted to find an excuse to interview doctors,” she said. Smart!) She connected with the editor at Redbook, and ended up with a year-long blogging gig there. “It was information- and service-based, but it was also very cathartic for me,” she said.
The Importance of Calling Yourself a Writer
Want to be a writer? Then it’s important to call yourself a writer. It’s normal to feel like you have to reach a certain point in your career before you call yourself a professional, but that’s just not the case. If you create, you are an artist. If you paint, you’re a painter. If you write, you’re a writer–so start calling yourself one!
“Don’t start talking about yourself being something else,” Amy said.
It may seem awkward at first, to go out into the world and call yourself a writer, but practice. Before long, it will be second nature, and you may be surprised what happens!
The Importance of “Anchor Gigs” for Stability
All three of us have (or have had) “anchor gigs” that support our passion for writing. Pursue retainer contracts with companies or publications where you can work remotely. It can give you the predictable income you need, while allowing you time to pursue your writing.
Retainer gigs come in the form of editing, copywriting, and ghostwriting, as well as jobs outside the writing realm, like social media management or online marketing. If you’re currently a freelancer or would like to step into the freelance world, we highly recommend an anchor job like one of these for added stability.
Tips to Get Started from the Writers Panel
It’s important to carve out time to write during the week–even if it’s 15 minutes every other day. If you do something every other day for 15 minutes to take your writing to the next level, to connect with people, you’re golden. Don’t overdo it; just do it and enjoy. Create that time for yourself, and amazing things will happen.
I recommend blogging as a way to get started. Blogging is super easy and writing intensive, and allows you to get what you know out of your head, so you can share it with other people. (This is also where I announced the release of my book Write On Blogging.)
Amy’s favorite writing prompt is to ask yourself, “Where am I from?” Your answer can come from any angle, and it’s a great way to learn new things about yourself, while flexing those writing muscles at the same time.
As a full-time freelance writer, Jen recommends joining membership listservs or Facebook groups for writers. There are hundreds of specialized and broad group out there, so why not start connecting now?
Want more? Check out the Writers Panel replay below.