By Christina Katz
I’ve been getting many questions lately from writer mamas about how to create a writing career. Of course, I discussed this in Writer Mama but I think I need to restate. Possibly, because I have a second book out now, it may appear that I have changed the advice I offered previously, but I have not. In fact, I am recommitted to the “baby step” approach I sketch out in Writer Mama the more I see moms getting all tangled up in the self-promotion web (pun intended).
To have a successful writing career, carefully choosing where to devote time and energy can create quicker success than not making any choices at all or trying to do everything at once. While, there is no one “right” way to build your way up to professional writer status, the following general suggestions can give you a baseline from which to find your own way:
A commitment to writing craft should come first and remain a high-priority throughout any writer’s career. I recently made The Elements of Style a required text for my Writing and Publishing the Short Stuff Class because we have been spending too much time on basic grammar issues. I feel like a bit of a broken record on this topic lately, but I feel strongly that if you wish to have a professional writing career, step number one is read Strunk & White cover to cover. After that there is still a ton to learn about writing craft. Prose forms. Specialized writing skills for different genres. Formatting. Rewriting and polishing skills. But whatever else you do, start with a solid awareness and understanding of basic grammar. From there, you can really go anywhere as a writer.
When do you need to start learning how to sell your work? If you want to write professionally and you either don’t already know how to sell yourself or you are unsure at all about your ability to pitch your work, then this is something you need to work on from the get-go. Now, in my WPSS class, we start with the writing forms for three weeks and then start thinking about pitching after everyone has a little bit of confidence about their writing. This seems to work well. If you are reading Writer Mama, after you’ve read the first two sections, you are ready to begin writing for publication, especially if you are pitching regional parenting publications. Don’t feel like you have to try and learn/understand every single thing. Just learn the basics and begin! Small successes build the confidence required for the challenges that follow. Writing for publications is challenging! Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
Frankly, if you are working on writing for publication, self-promotion can wait. Freelancers, who earn gigs by submitting and pitching their work, don’t need a fancy website or blog just to write an article and send it out. Trying to build the website or blog while writing your first articles can actually be a hindrance. And hey, I wrote a whole book on this topic. So if I say don’t worry about the platform, then really, it can wait. I wouldn’t give you bad advice! Once you are writing and getting published fairly consistently, that is a good time to start thinking about self-promotion. Ditto if you have and offer other services that need to be promoted. Obviously, if this is the case, online promotion is the easiest way to get the word out. Just be sure your other offerings compliment your writing goals rather than derailing them.
Like platform development, can professional development wait? No. It really can’t. So here’s what I suggest: as soon as you start earning money, invest a percentage of it into your professional development. I’m not talking about purchasing supplies. That’s just the cost of doing business. I’m talking about classes, joining the best associations for you, and eventually getting to a live conference to benefit from the immersive learning and networking that takes place in these brief yet intense learning experiences. You might think you should wait and only focus on professional development when “you are further along.” The irony is if you want to get further along, professional development can speed things up exponentially. So don’t rule out professional development. Prioritize it and succeed!