Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Melissa Miller. Please read more about Melissa in the bio footer.
When I was three years old, my father bought me a collection of Golden Books. I was in my first days of pre-school, but he thought it was time I learned how to read. Every night, I would climb into his chair with him, and he would read the stories aloud to me. I don’t remember the exact moment I learned to read, or what story it was, but by the time I reached Kindergarten, I could read fluently. I have spent my entire life loving books and stories.
When I was old enough to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The natural answer was, “A writer!”
In college, I pursued an English literature degree paired with creative writing. Perhaps it was because I had always known I wanted be a writer, that I never asked myself the incredibly important question, “How do I become a paid writer?”
Surprisingly, none of my professors thought it was necessary to include “How to find a job after college” in the syllabus. Since then, I have been a full-time writer, an editor and a blogger, but I have also been a full-time waitress, bartender and cashier. Today, I write full-time at work, and when I go home, I write to keep my prose and imagination limber.
The first thing you need to understand about becoming a professional writer is that it’s very competitive. This means each job for which you apply is receiving many applications. Each magazine or newspaper to which you submit your work is receiving multiple stories.
You will be rejected, ignored and dismissed. Your manuscript or story will end up in someone’s desk drawer or inbox, forgotten or overlooked. But take heart, dear readers-writers!
You aren’t a real writer until you receive your first rejection letter.
Once you reach that milestone, and have the guts to continue writing, you are on your path to professionalism. Failure is very often a necessary part of success as it helps as grow and hone our craft. Consider this quote from Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling:
“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
There’s a lot of discussion about the value of a college education these days, especially a degree like English literature.
“Do you plan to teach?” People would ask when I told them what subject I had studied.
“No, I plan to write,” I would reply.
And yes, there were moments, especially in the wee morning hours after bartending, that I wished I had studied anything but English.
Yet, I would find myself writing poetry at three in the morning, trying to capture, in words, the way the streetlamps gilded the tree leaves against the darkness; and I knew that I had made the right decision. To me, there is nothing more potent or magical than the written word. It’s something that is anchored within me.
If you’re interesting in pursuing classes in writing, check out these free online courses. There are also paths to earn your English degree online. One of the most valuable aspects of taking a writing class is the sense of community it offers. It will also give you a professional advantage by offering insight into the competition you will be facing.
There are few people who can be successful on raw talent alone. Seek out those who support you, who understand your craft and your ambitions; and never give up.