This is almost as important as step 1It’s impossible to be a good writer without also being a reader, but it’s literally impossible to be a writer without writing, so this is step 2. That said, reading is vital. I’ll go further - having favourite authors is vital.
You need to have heroesChances are when you first thought, I should be paid for words, you were reading a writer you like. And the part of your brain that’s shouty and telling you not to do things was quiet long enough for you to hear the other part of your brain that’s rooting for you. And that part said, we can do this. And without knowing anything about you, I bet that part is right.
But first you need to read moreAfter asking people if they write, I ask them what they’re reading. Again, this isn’ t a trick question. I don’t want them to say Shakespeare or Martin Amis or Elena Ferrante. I want to know who they read to get a sense of what kind of writing they want to do.
And with the same frequency as the writing question, many people don’t have an answer. Now maybe they’re embarrassed to tell me because they don’t read whoever they think I think they’re supposed to be reading. But I gather not everyone has favourite authors the way we all seem to have favourite bands or movies. And if you’re trying to be paid for words, you should.
Writing is incredibly subjective. Luckily in the beginning, that subjectivity will be yours alone. Which is why having a target to reach, a person to look up to, is incredibly helpful. Or as I said, vital.
Now, just because you love the writing of Jia Tolentino doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to write like Jia Tolentino. Because, again without knowing you, you won’t. Few can. The good news is you’re not trying to write like Jia Tolentino, you’re trying to write like you. But with a quiver of author arrows you can fire at the target of being paid, you’ll at least have a benchmark for what good writing looks like to you.
Reading stuff you like will make you want to write more, and make you a better writerI love wandering through bookstores. And every time I do I immediately want to write. Good writing is inspiring. If you currently find it crushing your spirit, your internal editor is probably on a tantrum. It’s good to remember that all authors (except maybe that idiot Jonathan Franzen) wishes they could write like someone else. It’s in our blood.
Don’t read only books. Don’t read only articles. Don’t read only taglines on tube ads. Read everything. Good writers pull from everywhere, and the internet is a giant interconnected cluster cuss of influences and references. To swim in this ocean you need to eat a lot of fish. (Metaphors are hard.)
Here are some of my favourite people who get paid for words:
Warren Ellis - legendary comics writer turned novelist turned showrunner. Every week he sends out a newsletter that is full of writerly wisdom, omelette recipes, and book recommendations. He writes a lot in practically every format and all of it is fantastic.
Robin Sloan - continuing the theme, Sloan is a novelist and word experimenter and creator of one of my favourite projects of all time, the newsletter slash risograph-printed zine mail thing, Year of the Meteor. He also made an app that’s an essay about loving things online.
Shea Serrano - ostensibly a sports writer but also the leader of the FOH army, a Twitter-based force of good that routinely raises thousands of dollars to give to total strangers who need it. Serrano writes with such an assured tone and swagger it’s like listening to an old lady with a shotgun during the zombie apocalypse.
Jason Kottke - I’ve been reading kottke.org for over 20 years. The links are all incredibly interesting, but without Kottke’s conversational prose I wouldn’t have stuck with it. Like your most interesting friend had a galactic brain.
Fitzcarraldo Editions - not a person but a London-based publishing house. I own 12 of their books and could easily buy every one they publish. They have an uncanny eye for international authors. Highlights include Brian Dillon, Simon Critchley, Claire-Louis Bennett, and Olga Tokarczuk.
Right, now that you’re writing and reading, it’s time to convince yourself you’re a writer.