The path to becoming a full-time writer isn’t always a straight one. Sometimes your career will wind through a maze of experiences and you will be left wondering one thing: Do I have what it takes?
In all likelihood, your career won’t be built on the success of one idea and a few followers you met online. The Internet does make it easier to build a community around a common cause or passion, but it doesn’t happen overnight. We still have to pay our dues, create great content, and connect with the right people.
Margaret Roach has done all three.
In this episode of The Portfolio Life, Margaret and I talk about the lessons she learned through a variety of interesting writing assignments that led her to where she is today. We also chat about how she was able to integrate her life and art with a passion that might surprise you.
Listen to the interview
To listen to the show, click the player below.
There is no overnight success
As old-fashioned as it sounds, the old ways still work. The tools and technology we use to spread ideas may have changed, but two things remain. We still need content and we need connection. Or maybe that's just one thing, really: people.
If you want to make a splash in this world — as a writer, artist, or entrepreneur — you need both people to pay attention and friends in the right places. You need influence in your industry and an audience that wants what you have.
Margaret learned that it takes hard work and determination to be a freelancer. You have to piece together enough assignments in a way that pays the bills while gradually growing your own credibility as a writer.
You need to be open and willing to accept opportunities as they come, even if they aren’t the book deal or featured article you’ve been longing for. In Margaret's case, she spent years editing sports and fashion pieces. And in doing so, she learned a valuable lesson.
Sometimes, the subject of your work doesn’t matter nearly as much as the way in which you do it. The key to success lies in the skills you develop when you're in the trenches, tackling unrelated projects for the sake of experience.
In other words, you can’t earn your stripes if you stick too closely to a niche. You must experiment. The voice you hone through practice will be what sets you apart, but in the beginning you have to be willing to do some grunt work.
If you eventually want to jump ship and pursue your passion, this is what will carry you through the waves.
Develop that voice and reputation, and eventually people do start coming to you to hear from you.
—Margaret Roach [Tweet]
Three things to remember
To boil it down, here are three lessons we learn from Ms. Roach:
- Take every assignment seriously. The same devotion you’d put into an assignment for The New York Times should be spent on creating a PTA bulletin.
- Practice every day. If you want to be a writer, write for anyone who will have you. Strengthen your skills by putting in a little work every day until it becomes habit.
- Earn the right to be heard. You can establish your authority both by connecting with an audience and with others who are doing the same thing. If you don't do this, you run the risk of irrelevance. We miss your work before you ever have a chance to share it.
During our chat, Margaret and I spoke about everything from how she uses social media to the holistic approach she takes to blogging (or what she calls “horticultural how-to and woo-woo”). Whether you want to simplify your life or improve your writing, I think you'll enjoy following her stuff.
To find out more about Margaret's work, visit her blog, A Way to Garden, and check out her latest book, The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Life.
- Are you near New Orleans? I’m going to be speaking at #FinCon 2014 September 18-20 and I’d love to meet you while I’m there. Get the details of my public meetup (feel free to bring a friend) and RSVP here.
- How about the Pacific Northwest? I'm going to be speaking at Moody Bible Institute in Spokane, WA September 8 & 10. I'll be gathering with others at another public meetup. Find out more and RSVP here.
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Have you made a career move toward one that is based on your passion, or are you considering it? Share your experience in the comments.