Advice for a Young Writer

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Dear Young Writer,

I’m writing you from the future to give you some advice about the writing life. Right now you are a 21-year-old college graduate, full of questions and confusion about the right path for you. Should you continue on the trajectory your professors have set for you and earn your dues at a small-town newspaper or magazine, or think outside the box and leave the place you call home for uncharted territory? Should you put yourself in debt and focus on your lifelong dream of writing a novel with the help of a fine arts degree? Or should you do something that has nothing to do with your degree in communications and write in your spare time until you have the words on the page just right for submission?

It’s hard to know the right answer, especially if your main goal is supporting yourself and trying to pay off bills. Are you willing to be a starving artist? If you’re like me, you may choose to take the “easier” path and accept the first job in your field that is offered to you. And then you’ll realize it still isn’t enough to pay all the bills and you’ll go back to the restaurant you worked at while you were in school and ask to work weekends for extra money.

I’m 41 years old now, and while I still consider myself a writer, there are things I wish I’d done differently. I wish I’d known about freelance writing much earlier. I wish I had focused more on my interests and turned those into paying assignments so I wouldn’t have had to spend so many hours serving brunch and folding silverware to make ends meet. I know all those experiences I had (taking a job where I mostly typed up insertion orders for advertising clients and writing the occasional press release) were valuable, but I do wish they had been different. But back then, I didn’t know all the ways one could have her work published, nor did I know those opportunities would increase tenfold with the innovation of the internet.

The main thing I would have done differently is that I would have written more, written often, and learned how to receive more money for doing it. As it was, much of my career has been spent writing a little and doing a lot of other things, like crisis management, public relations and marketing. These are all solid skills that continue to help me pay the bills, but they zap your energy when you go to sit down write creatively. And, I would have learned more about travel writing so I could visit places I’ve never seen before and turn those visits into paying assignments, or better yet, receive free trips in exchange for an honest review of a destination.

So you see, young writer, the sky’s the limit. But the answers will not always come easy to you, and you may get sidetracked with the promise of career advancement every now and then. But focus on what you want out of life, and how you can make your writing talent help you achieve your goals.

And most of all, don’t ever give up doing what you love the most. There are days when it will be the only thing that brings a smile to your face.

What things would you tell your younger self about writing? Are there jobs you wish you’d passed on so you could have spent more time writing?

Renee Roberson is a freelance writer and editor who also works in marketing at a nonprofit theatre company. She spent many years working in restaurants while she tried to figure out how to turn her writing into paychecks. Visit her website at


Sioux Roslawski said...


First of all, how old were you when that photo was taken, because you don't look any older now. For that reason, I now dislike you intensely. ;)

Secondly, you asked a question. What would I tell my younger writer self? I think I would begin by telling myself to begin sooner. I didn't really start to write seriously until I was in my late 40s. I'd also advise my younger self to find some honest writing friends. That too happened later than it should have. I'd probably finish with something about the writing finish line, that there's no point in feeling like I'm in competition with other writers. I need to increase MY productivity and improve MY skills.

Thanks for such a great post. I'm sorry I didn't respond sooner. (We celebrated my family's Thanksgiving on Sunday, so Saturday was cleaning day and Sunday was cooking day.)

Anonymous said...

My initial reaction to reading this was to tell my younger self to start writing sooner - but on reflection I realised that the life experience gained in taking a meandering route to writing through other endeavours has made me a better writer. My next piece of advice not to put my first attempt at a novel through the shredder when the publisher's rejections became too demoralising is good. It probably was rubbish, but it would give me a laugh now. I'd also tell her not to date Steve - but that has nothing to do with writing!

Mary Horner said...

I think I would tell my younger self to take more chances with the writing itself and sending it out, which is advice I still need to tell myself. But maybe my younger self would listen.

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