How Good Do You Have To Be As A Professional Writer?

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How Good Do You Have To Be As A Professional Writer?

Let me talk about the skills you need in order to be a successful writer in terms of your actual writing ability.

The short answer: You don’t need many.

The still-pretty-short answer: You do need some.

Finally, the long answer: You need to have a reasonable grasp of every day English – assuming you’re writing in English. That doesn’t mean you need to have an extensive vocabulary or a conscious knowledge of grammatical structures. All it means is that you have to be able to write to the level that your average English reader will understand.

That’s probably not the level you think it is. I like to think in terms of this: Think about a tired, grumpy fifteen year old in a math lesson.

  • They don’t care about the subject.
  • They’d rather be doing something else.
  • They’re probably only going to get a C in their exams.
  • They want to get through your writing in as quick a time as they can.
  • You have to say something interesting quite often otherwise you’ll lose them.
  • You can’t assume any life experience or greater knowledge than what a 15 year old knows about the world.

That’s the general readership level of the internet. You need to be able to write and engage a person of that intelligence and temperament.

This is the only real skill you need.

For those of you who think, “Gee… that sounds easy!” Don’t leave your chair just yet.

The Hardest Part: Engaging Content (What Not To Do)

A lot of writers fall into the trap of thinking that because they write words, people are automatically going to enjoy reading them. That’s a mistake.

Also, a lot more writers think that –should they write about a particular subject – people will automatically be interested in that subject because the writer is interested in a subject and has written about it. Look at the scores and scores of opinion pieces that litter the web. If you wanted to, you could easily load Google up and find out:

  • 1) Why the end of the world is coming,
  • 2) Why the newest celebrity thing is the most important thing in the world,
  • 3) Why the current best-selling song is a portent for the end times… and it’s also Satanist/Communist/Fascist
  • 4) hundreds of reasons why you’re an arsehole and your life is going to end in abject failure and disappointment.

Look, there’s a place in the market for everything. The fact that these articles exist shows that at least someone likes to waste their money read these pieces.

However, the majority of these think-pieces exist because writers mistakenly think that if an issue is near-and-dear to their heart, then they need to write about it.

You don’t want to be one of those people, because they don’t get paid. Also, their actual contribution to the world is nominal, despite what they might tell you.

Instead the best way to write engaging content is to write content that directly helps people.

How could you know whether or not your words help people?

Make Every Piece Of Writing A Direct-Response Marketing Piece

In marketing, there are two schools of thoughts.

  • General marketing – which is based on brand awareness, exposure to advertising and a non-measured approach
  • Direct-response marketing; where you give your readers an instruction and measure the extent to which they do it

Now, I’m not going to go into the plus and minus of the approaches save for saying this: As a writer, the best thing you can do is think in terms of direct-response marketing.

Getting your readers to do something is the only way you’re ever going to know if you can write engaging words.

This doesn’t have to be a big “Buy Now” button, but it can be something simple:

  • Ask for people to leave you feedback
  • Measure whether you get repeat readers
  • Tell someone to click a link within your articles
  • Give someone something free to claim if they finish one of your books

These things will all tell you more about how engaging your writing is than asking your mother, who’ll tell you it’s great whatever.

If you take this direct-marketing approach, then you can quantify and qualify your writing skill.

To make it as a professional writer, this is the best thing you can do for yourself.

Final Thoughts

This is the first of a two-piece set of articles. In tomorrow’s article, I’m going to tell you – once you have the skills above – how you can leverage said skills and turn your words into money making machines.

Let’s recap quickly though. To be a professional writer, get these two skills:

  • Proficiency in the written word as the ability to write for a general audience
  • Learning to qualify your own writing by testing the response it generates amongst your readers

Assuming you understand and are willing to get both, check back tomorrow where we can learn how to put those words to use.



About the author

Jamie McSloy

My name is Jamie McSloy. I'm a writer from the UK. This site is about the business of being a writer. Copywriting, Content Marketing, Publishing and all forms of writing will be discussed here. Learn More About Me

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