Four things you need to do before foraying into writing as a career

It’s an enticing idea. I had the whole scene playing in my head: I walk into a coffee shop with my laptop – or notebook and pen – queue at the counter for a cup of tea or coffee, and take a seat by the glass window. Then I earn a good sum of money from every piece I write, from my passion. I live calmly and creatively.

I know many friends who nurse the same idea in their heads. For me, the mere thought of it had often sent my stomach lurching – I desired it. And I only acknowledged that I wanted a writing career so badly after college, when I already graduated from nursing and passed the licensure exam.

At first, I forced my way towards it. I was naive. I had some writing accomplishments in elementary and high school, anyway. I’d also been journaling since I was eight and never stopped. So disregarding my college degree, I applied for a part-time freelance writing job, got hired, but was paid little, and then I walked in to publishing companies to hand in my CV. These were big magazine companies in the Philippines, and there I was, applying to become their junior writer or junior editor even though I didn’t know what the role really meant. Of course, I was rejected. But those bold steps made me accept the hard-rock truth: I wasn’t ready for the writing world. So, I hatched a plan.

1. Build your writing career alongside your full-time job.

While a writing career remained as a holy grail, I steered the wheel away from it a little, more like grazed its edges. I thought of myself as a nurse and writer, but since that didn’t qualify me as a medical writer, I applied as a medical transcriber. And I got hired. For a year, I listened to accented dictations and arranged doctors’ words and grammar into medical records. I kept a notebook with me, and I’d note words that were new to me, jot down grammar tips from our editors, and scribble my deep thoughts about all of it. It was good. People were also nice to talk to, but only without their headsets on. At home, I wrote blog entries, read books, and enrolled myself in writing courses in other countries. On Saturdays, I went to a university to take education units. Since transcription soon felt dull, mechanical, and too technical and solitary for me, I started looking for arts and interaction. I told myself that I would be a teacher that moonlights as a writer.

2. Be serious about improving your writing skills.

After a year, I quit transcription, finished my teaching certification, and was hired as an arts-integrated teacher. I enjoyed it. For the first time, I believed I was an artist – every child within us is, according to Pablo Picasso. In the classroom, we sang, danced, and painted. As a teacher, I did a lot of acting more than the little kids knew. I poured my love for creative writing into our weekly newsletters and quarterly narrative reports. Soon, I was asked to write program scripts, theatre-play scripts, and other school-wide writing tasks. Arts ignited my creativity and life became more meaningful and thus writable. At home, I read Ayn Rand, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and other classic authors, and studied their style. I initially explored works by British authors before I developed an appreciation for contemporary literature. Buoyed by the improvement I started to see in my own works, I shifted from Tumblr (private blog under my pseudonym) to Blogspot (public blog with my byline). I wrote unceasingly and learned more about writing, and people started to read my works.

3. Reach out to more readers. Find a way to get published.

Before long, I saw an opportunity to become a contributing writer of a devotional book. I applied, got accepted, and for the first time, I saw my name and work in print. I was happy, but I wasn’t satisfied. Two years later, I wrote a 200-page memoir and sent the manuscript to the publisher of the devotional book I was writing for. They liked it and published it, and that catapulted me to the writing world. They thought my writing style was “fresh” and asked me to write for their magazines and other devotional books. We launched the book in about ten of their communities around the metro and I met people. Since then, I started receiving affirmative messages from readers in my email and social media accounts. Friends and acquaintances started coming to me for editing and writing help. Some asked me how I wrote a memoir. All the while, I worked from 7 AM to 4 PM – teaching kids, designing classrooms, preparing lessons, and writing lesson plans.

4. Find your niche and master it.

Memoir became my niche. It was a perfect opportunity; the form sounded new to most ears in our country. A year after my book’s publication, I launched my first ever writing service – a one-on-one memoir writing tutorial, starting at Php 400/hour. Soon, one-on-one tutorials turned to workshops. Then workshops turned to classes. I also increased my mentoring fee and created mentoring packages after a student subtly accused me of having imposter syndrome, and I was thankful. Since I started getting more mentees and more writing stints, I told the school that I could only do part-time work with them, which they assented and paid me for a fair yet low fee.

Two years in, I officially stopped chasing after good-paying part-time jobs and went full-time in what I now call Scribblory Writing and Tutorial Services. It doesn’t exactly give me the calm and creative life that I expected, but it paves a way for me to serve more people and it pays more than I ever earned from my previous day-jobs and the jobs I applied for but didn’t get. I’m already here, living out my dream career, but it honestly doesn’t feel any different. In the end, I realized that writing, learning, dreaming, and loving don’t stop, and that’s where the joy really comes from.

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