How to Start a Writing Career in Your Early 20s

Writers typically get a mixed bag of reactions about their profession.

“Oh excellent, you must be so smart. I bet you read all the time.”

Or, “Journalism, huh? That sounds really competitive.”

Or, “I hear that Journalism is in a sorry state these days.”

Or, “I’m sure you make a lot of money with that. When will your book be in Barnes and Noble?”

Or, “Have you ever been published for a large publication, small publication, or medium-sized publication?”

TRUE STORY! And every writer needs to come up with graceful responses for people who don’t know too much about what they do.

But the truth about being a writer is that most people don’t just magically fall into the newspaper or magazine industry, or just start writing a 1,000 page book because they think, “Why not?” It’s more of a field where passionate people make a concrete decision to become a writer, journalist, or author. Sometimes your happiness even depends on it because you can’t imagine becoming anything else.

Lots of people resolve to do something, but what sets those who achieve apart from those who wish is their determination and work ethic. If you are a 20 something who is thinking about becoming a writer, here are some tips on how to get into the trade:

Start early.

People who start early at developing their craft have a higher chance of “making it.” Editorial internships at publications are key in developing your brand. And, if you know that you want to be a writer and are in college, start writing for your school newspaper or find a publication which has an audience of college students and apply to write for them. Her Campus, College Fashionista, College Fashion, and Total Sorority Move are some examples. Majoring in English, Writing, or Journalism is always a good bet for aspiring writers. This way, you learn basic skills for writers such as AP Style, how to pitch stories, and grammar rules. Or if you major in a field you would like to specialize in as a writer, this way you can gain that expertise. However, you need to make sure you also have the writing skills to succeed! A fashion merchandising major is great for a style writer, and a politics major is great for a political journalist -- BUT if they don’t bring other skills to the table, they are not as valuable to publications. Start gaining clips ASAP!

Send queries to magazines and newspapers -- both local and national!

Start small, then go bigtime. If you think there is a story that needs to be told, write an article about it and send it to a local newspaper or magazine. If you are bold, send queries to bigger publications, such as Cosmopolitan, Elle, Marie Claire, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, or Nylon. When you send queries to publications, it’s really all about luck and timing. Sometimes an editor just won’t feel like responding to your email or will quickly glaze over it. Many times, you will not receive any response. But, that doesn’t mean you should stop trying and give up. Just go back to the drawing board, and write something else or send the same article to a different publication. Your inexperience may show if you are young, but if you have talent that will also be evident. And if you have a positive attitude, you can be of good use anywhere. Keep persisting!

Read as much as possible.

Writers who do not read will never be as good as they could be if they dove into being a bookworm full force. Steven King once suggested to aspiring writers that they exchange watching television for reading. Not only is reading better for your brain, but it will make you smarter. People who read often generally have a greater capacity for humor and wit, and of course -- clever writing. The value in reading mainly lies in two factors: observation and imagination. By “observing” great writing through reading, you automatically soak in some tips on how to phrase words or even grammar rules which are important. And ultimately, reading improves your creativity and your imagination will thrive. Imagination is essential for writers. Therefore, reading is essential!

Find a side job.

Lots of aspiring writers dream big and imagine themselves appearing on talk shows to discuss their latest book or interviewing famous celebrities for national publications, but also fear of becoming the dreaded starving artist. Writing is not an easy endeavor when you start, so you need to get creative with ways of making money. Suggesting to find a side job may seem discouraging, but writers typically don't make too much money in the beginning of their careers. Picking up odd jobs such as babysitting, pet sitting, tutoring, bartending and even selling arts and crafts will help you make some extra dough to support yourself financially. I started being a host at my uncle's real estate open houses on the weekends to make some extra cash. Alternatively, think of other creative ways to incorporate writing into your career through having multiple business endeavors open at once. Possibly, you are a fashion stylist and a blogger. Or, you are a successful entrepreneur and a finance columnist. But, whatever you jump into, you need to be an expert. Think of what you can offer from your education and experiences!

Find your specialties.

At my first editorial internship, the publisher suggested that I develop a specialty. This concept adds to developing your craft because there are one or a few aspects of writing you are focusing on. So, go with your interests and what you think readers will also be interested in. For example, I started giving relationship advice and that attracted a lot of readers. The topic was in demand. Later, BEAUTYSCOUT Magazine named me their relationships columnist and I decided to become a certificated relationships coach. Consequently, my specialty turned into a brand. Follow your instincts with what is relevant to other people and what you also enjoy writing about. It’s a win-win!

Develop other skills.

Writers who only write are not marketable. So, develop other skills that can also bring value to publications. Some other good skills for writers to have are: graphic design, marketing strategy, web design, photography, and video production. The ability to not only edit their writing, but to edit photos and video makes a writer useful to a magazine or newspaper publication. Success in business depends on two things: providing product that is in demand, or providing a service that is in demand. The more services you can provide, the more marketable you are as a writer. So, figure out what else you are good at and interested in, and roll in that dough!

Make connections and network like crazy.

If you are writing for a publication and know someone or meet someone with an interesting and relevant story, interview them with their permission. If someone seems intriguing, why not exchange contact information and pursue a written story? Part of networking also takes place on social media. Today, young journalists in particular promote themselves on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages. There is actually a lot of value in doing this because not only are you putting yourself and your work out there, but it gives you credibility as a professional. It’s more than saying, “Hey, this is me. I’m a writer.” You’re also saying, “My work is out there in print and online. I’m in demand.” In short, start posting your articles on social media because you never know who will see them! Of course, some people may not care or pay attention- but whatever. Your Twitter post could equal your next big break!

Follow your passion!

If Destiny called and she said, “You are going to be a writer,” hustle and grind for your dream. If you want to be a writer, you need to write as much as possible. Take definitive steps towards developing your skills and your brand. Intern at a newspaper or magazine. Try to freelance for other publications at the same time or after the internship is over. Network with the right people and make lasting connections. Figure out what you’re good at, and run with it. If you want to write a book, start and stop contemplating. See what your mind comes up with automatically, and you could be on the New York Times Bestseller List in a few years. Seize the moment, and begin pursuing your passion today. Don’t listen to any negative voices -just move forward confidently and say, “I am capable, and I will do it.”