Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Best Way to Begin a Writing Career

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Writing eBook Cover“Write for magazines.”

That’s what I would tell anyone who dreams of being a writer — whether they want to write novels, create curriculum, or do something else with words.

The best way to start is by doing piecework. Write for magazines, websites, and other publications, and you’ll begin to understand what the life of a writer really entails.

Here’s why that’s important:

It’s great practice

Years of feature writing for magazines and websites was the best way I could practice for my first book. It taught me how to meet a deadline, work with an editor, and be humble about my work — all of which are needed for a writing career.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a future novelist, nonfiction author, or journalist. Writing short-form pieces prepares you for long-form. This is a great alternative to endlessly working on multiple drafts of your book and letting it sit in a drawer for years.

As my friend Marion Roach Smith says, you need to “write for real.”

It’s humbling

Writers, when they’re beginning, have two diseases: neurotically believing they have no potential and, at the same time, thinking better than they really are.

Nothing will bring you back to reality more quickly than red markup on an article you spent dozens of hours working on.

If you’re going to be good — really good — you need to be humbled. It’s hard but healthy. A little criticism will ultimately make you better. If you don’t experience this, you’re probably hiding.

It pays

But it doesn’t always pay well. Nonetheless, writing for magazines teaches you how to manage your time, what you’re really worth, and why so many writers complain about being poor.

Still, there’s nothing quite like your first check in the mail. It’s empowering, validating. You realize you have something to say, and someone else recognizes it, too. What a rush.

How do you get started?

Just begin somewhere — anywhere. Start small and build.

If you read books — and you really should, if you want to be a writer — try submitting reviews to local newspapers, a friend’s blog, or a magazine. They don’t pay well, but it gets your name in print and can be a step to something bigger.

After that, try doing an interview. If all you have is a blog, use that. You’d be surprised how many stars are willing to talk to you. In the 21st Century, “blogger” is synonymous with “journalist.”

Then, publish online.

Create small wins that build momentum over time. Use a past success to get your foot in the door for a future one.

The secret to getting publishers to notice you is relationship. Once you know them (and they know you), you’re “in.” Then, it’s a lot easier to get your ideas heard and your words published.

If you’re living the romantic life of a writer in your head, it’s time to stop dreaming. Start writing. And if you feel like you have nowhere to start, begin where I did: with magazines.

Good luck.

This was adapted from a contribution I made to Shawn Smucker’s Building a Life out of Words, an excellent book on the writing life. Part memoir, part practical writing companion, this is a great read for any writer. Check it out here.

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. Check out my new book, The In-Between. To get exclusive updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • http://www.youngaspiringwriter.blogspot.com/ Chihuahua Zero

    I have actually considered this. I’ll see which magazines accept teenagers.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       I think skill is much more of a factor than age.

  • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

    This is exactly how I got started, Jeff. Thanks for explaining a strategy that works. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       very cool, Wayne!

  • Mike Zserdin

    Thanks Jeff. You always encourage to show up and write.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       what else is there?

  • http://www.mattloveshannah.com/ Hannah McKay

    Great advice! Thank you for the inspiration.

  • http://healthinsane.com/ Tim Anderson

    Love this post. The basic principle to write is reading. When we read, then we will have the guts to write. As my opinion, writing are presenting the ideas that we have learned from our surroundings.

    Thank you for this awesome article, Jeff.

  • http://twitter.com/PilarArsenec PilarArsenec

    I just so appreciate you and your blog.  Your writing is amazing, everything is just so helpful, meaningful and inspiring.  I am so grateful for your work and God has blessed me by allowing me to connect with you.  Thank you for all you do.  I so appreciate it.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      thanks, Pilar!

  • Susan48

    Aw, c’mon, Jeff. A little romancing of your writing life is nice – helps keep the dream alive. Everything else in this post is spot on. Note – checks come in thin envelopes. Love finding those in the mailbox!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       Romance, in my experience, is one percent passion, 99 percent discipline. If you show up, the romantic feelings happen.

  • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

    Is there really a difference between writing for blogs and writing for magazines? Most of the magazines are only read online anyways, right? 

    (Not being sarcastic, just an honest question. I know tone is IMPOSSIBLE to interpret online.) Thanks. 

  • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

    Is there really a difference between writing for blogs and writing for magazines? Most of the magazines are only read online anyways, right? 

    (Not being sarcastic, just an honest question. I know tone is IMPOSSIBLE to interpret online.) Thanks. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       Jim, yes there is. Much harder to get published in magazines (for the most part). While this is changing, the barrier to entry for magazines and amount of legitimacy we associate with a writer published in one is still significantly high.

  • http://www.ryanhanley.com/ Ryan Hanley

    You mean being writer isn’t just hanging out at coffee shops, banging the keys once in a while and cashing checks?

    Damn…

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       ditto

  • http://carefulcents.com/ Carrie Smith

    I was able to get my first “real” writing gig 4 months ago. The editor marks up my posts, makes me revise over and over, and (at times) scraps my whole idea. BUT… I have grown more with this editor and writing job, than all my other blogging experiences combined. 

    It really stretches me, humbles me and is excellent practice. With the guidance of my editor, my posts have been featured on multiple news outlets, including Business Insider. Even more than that, I feel like I’m constantly becoming a better writer. Your suggestions here are spot on.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      awesome, Carrie. glad to hear it. this can be hard, but is so good.

    • http://www.ontargetcoach.com/ Brent Pittman

      How did you get your “real” gig?

  • http://shawnsmucker.com/ Shawn Smucker

    Thanks for the mention, Jeff, and for contributing to the book. See you in a few days.

  • http://talesofwork.com/ kimanzi constable

    Great advice Jeff. I’m going for the local paper idea.

  • http://twitter.com/ChristelleHobby Christelle Hobby

    I agree that this sort of writing is a truly humbling and necessary experience for anyone serious about being a writer.  I wrote for our local paper and it was life changing.  Between editors undoing what you thought was a masterpiece and commenters making sure to point out every flaw imagineable, you get a good grasp on what it is like to truly swallow your pride and persist.  
    I would also suggest people write about topics they aren’t all that crazy about.  I had major creative breakthroughs while writing articles about credit and insurance because in order to not go insane, I had to dig deep and find the joy of writing within dry subject matter.  It’s not easy, but it definitely sharpens you.  Thanks Jeff!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      great point

  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry Carter

    Jeff, would you try to adapt stuff you’ve already written for a magazine or write something original?

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       both. whatever works. remember: it’s not about getting your words published, it’s about serving the magazine. find out what they need and provide something of value.

  • http://geeksofchrist.wordpress.com/ Mickey

    Writing for small venues gets the writer published, a few extra dollars, and best of all gives his/her confidence a very nice little jolt. Thanks for the advice – I do believe I’ll make use of it!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      awesome.

  • Stephanie Hilliard

    I didn’t exactly plan it that way, but I’ve cut my teeth writing for college courses. You must keep deadlines, you must meet the professor’s criteria for the course, and you need to be able to humbly accept criticism of your ideas and work. But it can also be very validating when you get that critique back and it says “well done.”

  • M. Saint-Germain

    I like magazine writing because I can see the beginning, middle, and end much sooner than when I’m writing a novel. I love feeling like I’ve “finished” something. In novel writing, it takes much longer to write THE END.

  • http://www.zahndrew.com/ Andrew Zahn

    Superbly helpful! I bought Mr. Smucker’s book and can’t wait to read more goodness like this!

  • http://rebootingworship.com/ Jamie Kocur

    I have been thinking about guest posting on blogs or trying to write work for someone else for awhile. I think it’s time to get serious about this. I think those red marks would do me some good to help my writing improve even more.

    • Adamh

      Jamie,Front Row Lit (www.frontrowlit.com) is currently seeking out writers.  Feel free to contact me at adamh@frontrowmonthly.com Adam

  • http://www.voyagersquill.com/about Patrick Hearn

    Thanks, Jeff – this was encouraging. I’ve been struggling to get a few pieces accepted into magazines, and finally discovered Elance – it’s not an excuse for me to stop trying to get in print, but it does make it easier to earn some money while working towards that goal. 

    It’s hard to stay focused and motivated when bombarded with rejection after rejection, though. I’m trying to remember that writing is my passion, and not just a source of income – it can be easy to forget when trying to make a living from it.
    On another note, I’m looking forward to seeing you in Nashville at Killer Tribes this weekend! 

    • Adamh

      Patrick,Front Row Lit (www.frontrowlit.com) is currently seeking out writers.  Feel free to contact me at adamh@frontrowmonthly.com Adam

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    Awesome advice Jeff!

    I like your suggestions about submitting articles to newspapers and magazines. That’s been on my to-do list for far too long. Time to take action, right?

    One place I have taken action is blogging. I started my blog to get practice writing and content for a book. It’s working.  I’m slowly piecing some articles together and coming up with ideas! Can’t wait to see where it leads.

    • Adamh

      Joe,Front Row Lit (www.frontrowlit.com) is currently seeking out writers.  Feel free to contact me at adamh@frontrowmonthly.com Adam

  • http://granbee.wordpress.com/ Rose Byrd

    Jeff, I have shared on FB and Twitter and think this is one of the most useful posts you have presented to us who love to write–and want to get read by others, hopefully getting paid for it as well.  THANK YOU, dear Jeff!

    • Adamh

      Rose,

      Front Row Lit (www.frontrowlit.com) is currently seeking out writers.  Feel free to contact me at adamh@frontrowmonthly.com
      @frontrowmon:disqus 
      Adam

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com Ed_Cyzewski

    It’s funny that I read this post today. I just received back my editor’s changes for my latest co-authored book due out this fall, and the changes were very minimal. It was such a relief, but I also know that it’s because a I wrote a book 2 years ago that I had to kill in the middle of the publication process due to some changes at the publisher. The process of writing that second book taught me so much  that I took into writing this “third” book which is really my second published book. In one sense, the second book feels like a “waste,” but just by writing that book for a publisher, I finally internalized the lessons I needed to learn. Writing this latest book was hard, but the editing process has been much easier because of that book that will never see the light of day. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      great lessons, Ed. thanks for sharing. I’ve learned so much from editing and editors.

  • Ryan

    Any specific magazines/websites that you suggest looking at for a beginner?

  • Ryan

    Any specific magazines/websites that you suggest looking at for a beginner?

  • http://secretsofagrocerystoreworker.blogspot.com/ Triston Lajon

    Very well put.  Some good practical advice for any writer.  We all have to start somewhere.  

  • Adamh

    Hello,My name is Adam Hornyak and I am a Featured Writer for Front Row Monthly Magazine (www.frontrowmonthly.com), a digital fashion and lifestyle publication currently being read in more than 50 countries.We recently launched several niche spin-off websites to highlight some of the unearthed talent that we’ve been seeing. One of our more recent launches is Front Row Lit (www.frontrowlit.com). Front Row Lit is a platform being offered to writers of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, short stories, and even book reviews. We would like to offer writers in your program the opportunity to submit their work for consideration to be published on the site.Our requirements are simply original pieces, 2,000 words or less, and can be on any topic. Exceptional work that fits our core demographic will then be considered for our main publication, Front Row Monthly. I can happily provide you a flyer upon request.If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at adamh@frontrowmonthly.com.Thank you for your time,Adam
     

  • http://twitter.com/Church_Johnson Church Johnson

    I would like to thank you for the Great Advice.

    Uniek81books™ 

  • http://twitter.com/Church_Johnson Church Johnson

    I’m back, I wanted to ask a question, How can go about writing for Magazine or feature my work inside one?

  • http://twitter.com/Minister_Mama Grace Biskie

    I think I get a little confused by all this sometimes.  I’m working on a book length book while trying to grow my blogging platform which will —hopefully— make it easier to get published.  Both these things are time consuming, so as I’ve considered trying to get pubbed in magazine’s it’s so overwhelming to try and take on a new thing too. (I’m also working 30 hrs. a week, and taking care of two kids).  So, I just know if I can add yet another unpaid writing gig.  Any thoughts on this conundrum???

  • Catherine W

    Jeff, your posts are always spot on and very personal, encouraging. The comments reveal exceptional observations from other writers, editors and readers. A good editor can be a writer’s best friend. A good editor will always make the written piece better. Every writer needs a good editor.
    Secondly I am concerned about your comment that “blogger” is synonymous with “journalist”. Most news media are still struggling to accept the blogger as a journalist, even though many print columnists would be considered bloggers if their work was published electronically. The other note concerns the legal protections afforded to journalists which is not automatically extended to bloggers. Therefore bloggers need to conduct themselves with a higher ethic, to present sources and be as transparent as possible to improve the perception of bloggers. This is an area to watch as electronic news streams continue to grow.
    Thank you for your insightful posts.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/TYYQLAYRM37HR22FFXNSD5D22E Shirley Rivera

    That’s what I’m thinking about—start gleaning inputs, and comments to local newspapers in the area to fellow bloggers and in a magazine. Hoping and praying to be more disciplined in attaining a “stepping stone” goal. Thanks for the article.

  • http://www.tillhecomes.org Jeremy Myers

    Sent off my first magazine query today… we’ll see what happens. 

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