I have, on occasion, been asked for advice by a young writer looking to grow their career. However, I also am, in one form or another, a young writer looking for my so-called “big break”. I have asked established journalists questions about how they got to where they are, I have poured over countless YouTube videos of interviews with my favourite writers, looking for that one sentence that would transform me from mere aspiring writer, to professional, in-demand and well-respected behemoth of a writer.
As it turns out, there is no definite answer; everyone has a different story. Some writers trained in journalism, some have an undergraduate degree, maybe even a postgraduate degree. Others fell into journalism by chance, after doing a degree in English or another language, some got onto coveted training schemes and bagged promising apprenticeships. The lucky ones had a friend who was influential in the industry, and managed to get themselves a good job that way.
If I wasn’t watching YouTube videos, I spoke to just about every journalist I met. Almost everyone I spoke to had come into the industry differently, some said having a postgraduate degree in anything was a waste of time, while others said that they wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if it weren’t for their qualifications. During an internship in London, at least two of the journalists I was working with advised me without any irony or malice, that I shouldn’t try to get into get into journalism, because there were no jobs, and things were only going to get worse.
In short, every answer I got, while interesting, confused me more. Should I go to back to university? I don’t have the money to do that. Should I do an NCTJ course? Should I try to diversify and start adding more skills to my CV? All the options available were so overwhelming that I felt like I was going struggling up a spiral staircase; I was moving, I was heading towards some kind of goal, but I wasn’t going anywhere fast. It was frustrating, it was tiring, it was not helpful at all.
And this is my advice; if you want to be a writer, write. Write as often as you can during the day, write in the evening, and then write again the next morning. Set yourself a goal to get up in the morning and write a specific amount of words before lunch, then smash that number.
Don’t forget to read, a writer needs to read and remember how to get lost in the literary worlds that other authors create for them. Reading is a joy, reading should never be a chore, if you don’t read anything, then how can you expect anyone to read your work?
And finally, here’s my golden rule: don’t ask other writers for advice. I’m serious. Every writer has a different story; every writer has a distinct background and voice. Their past is not your future, so create your own career path and carve your own journey in stone. Don’t strive to be a second-rate version of your favourite writer, be a first-rate version of yourself. Don’t imitate, create and never be afraid of doing the things that your idols didn’t do.