On Being a Professional Writer

To be a professional writer, you don’t necessarily need skill and talent. You just need passion and desire to write and tell a story.

Since 1990, I’ve been a full-time, freelance, professional writer making my living solely through writing books and magazine articles. At the time of this writing, I have yet to sell one of my screenplays, but I’m approaching the task of becoming a professional screenwriter the same way as being a professional writer: it takes work.

If the word “work” scares you off, chances are good you’re not going into screenwriting (or writing in general) with the right frame of mind. What it takes to succeed as a professional writer is mostly the love of writing and you better love writing because that’s your sole source of income. If you don’t love writing, you probably won’t last long enough to get past your first obstacle that comes your way, and then you’ll give up.

Just like anything in life, don’t do something because you want the rewards. Do something because you want to do it so your actions are its own reward. When I used to audition for movies in Hollywood, I would constantly see aspiring actors and actresses dreaming about fame and fortune, yet they never concentrated on their craft. They never took additional classes, they never read acting books, and they never even studied the movies or TV shows to see working actors practicing their craft.

The same holds true with many aspiring screenwriters. They hear of the fat six-figure payouts you can get just by selling a single screenplay, and they charge headlong into the task, thinking only of making the money and not about making a good story. Some of these people actually do manage to sell a screenplay (witness so many poorly written movies), but in the long run, unless you love writing, you won’t have much of a career as a writer. Of course, the same can be said about any career.

Before you even consider screenwriting, or professional writing in general, ask yourself why you want to do it. If it’s for the fame and fortune you think you’ll get, my advice is to find something that you really love doing and do that instead. If you feel the urge to tell a good story about something you love, then your chance of success will likely improve immensely. As a general rule, if you look for the money, you’ll be easily distracted by other seemingly get-rich-quick schemes and you’ll lose focus on writing.

If you love writing or feel a desperate urge to tell a story, then your chances of long-term success improves immensely. If you just want the money, take your chances buying a lottery ticket. It will be a lot easier, and if easy money is what you really want, you’ll be happier in the long run.

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