Last week I talked about my journey from college student and intern to freelance writer and travel blogger. It’s been a long one to be sure and has much more left to go. But let’s say you also want to become a writer. Where do you start? We’ve talked about where to apply for jobs and who to pitch to at length, but what else do you need? Here are my tools of the trade that I’m sharing with any aspiring writers out there. If you’ve long thought about becoming a writer, let the start of 2014 signal the beginning of your new career.
1. A Good Calendar
Invest in a quality calendar to keep all your assignments straight. For me, this means not one, not two, but three calendars. I carry a planner in my purse for all the day to day nonsense like work schedules and doctors visits. I have a second desk calendar just for blog posts, color coded by website and when they’re going live. My third is a year wall calendar that hangs on the back of my door from NeuYear.net. You may have seen mine from last year, which was color coded with my travel days. I like being able to see the year at a glance, so I know how to plan my projects. I got one for free from a social media conference I attended last year and loved it so much I bought another. Get your own for 10% off here!
2. Dictionary, Thesaurus and Handbooks
I include all sorts of reference guides into this category, starting with your basic dictionary and thesaurus for when the words just won’t come out. I also recommend a handbook for one of the styles, be it Associated Press, MLA or Chicago, depending on your field. I also recommend a classic like The Elements of Style by Strunk and White or On Writing by Stephen King. I also have a copy of Bill Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors just for good measure.
3. External Hard Drive
I cannot stress enough how important this is. Imagine if your computer crashed and lost everything you’d ever written. You’d be pretty devastated, assuming what you’d written was good and had sentimental value. I’ve saved everything from college essays to Word documents that never became stories. You never know when you’re going to need something or wish you had it. I’ve been using an iOmega eGo for many years now without complaint.
4. Dropbox or Google Drive Account
In addition, you should have a Dropbox or Google Drive account, but one is not a substitute for the other. Save your documents in as many places as possible. I’ve also used Dropbox and Google Drive with freelance clients as a way to submit my work or accompanying pictures, as well as to communicate when something is due, future ideas for publication and the like. I also have a shared editorial calendar with Brooke for Her Packing List, which is quite helpful. Both programs are free and have downloads where you can save items on your desktop immediately to your online storage. You may have to pay to upgrade after filling up your free storage, though. Create your own Dropbox account for free here!
5. Excel Spreadsheets or Accounting Program
As I said in my last post, you alone are responsible for your money. I have a spreadsheet of every assignment I’ve pitched, when it was submitted, when/if I’ve been paid and a link to the post or article, if applicable. I haven’t used Quickbooks or a real accounting program, mostly because I don’t make enough from writing to fuss with it, but if you do, it may be more practical to switch to software over spreadsheets.
6. High Quality Headphones
If you work from cafes, co-working spots or even your own home, it can get loud and distracting. Get a pair of headphones that you can bring with you to any potential offices. Thankfully for me, I’ve just received my first pair of Beats by Dr. Dre Wireless headphones (which I will be writing about soon), which allow me to listen to music and walk around my room without being attached to my laptop. And speaking of headphones, you’ll also need a power playlist to motivate you. To each his and her own playlist, but mine is full of songs by Queen, Florence + the Machine and Jet.
7. Writing Utensils
While I do most of my writing on my MacBook Pro, I am one of the few people who usually writes out a post or article with pen and paper before typing it up. I’ve found that Moleskine notebooks or those of a similar size and style are the best because they are durable, fit in your pocket and turn those nonsense thoughts from stream of consciousness to actual writing. If you frequently do interviews, get a recording device (or, I guess, your iPhone) so that you can go back and remember the specifics.
8. Colleagues and Mentors
I’m a part of a Facebook group of other freelance writers (shout out!) and we’re constantly chatting about how much we should get paid for certain projects, who is great to work for and what companies are hiring. Find a group of people with the same interests and goals as you. And learn from the best. Follow Leigh’s tips for writers on The Future is Red or Mike’s storytelling advice on Fevered Mutterings.
How does one become a good writer if they don’t read good writing? Read as much as you can and as often as you can. Read what you want to write. If it’s novels, start with the Time 100 Best Novels of All Time. If it’s travel writing, grab a copy of any year’s edition of The Best American Travel Writing.
That’s right, something you can’t buy or borrow. Gumption is what turns a hobbyist into a writer who chases down stories and, often, payment. Gumption separates the ones who can take criticism and use it to their advantage from the ones who can’t. So do you have it?