Monday, February 4, 2008

Reader mail: advice for writers

Julie wrote in to ask: "I'm wondering ... how did you start your writing career? Did you always love to write? What would be the first step towards freelance writing and can you recommend any distance learning or writing courses or books that I could start with if I were to pursue writing?"

I started writing in grade school and loved it. Even as a kid I loved reading--and I would say that is a pre-requisite for being a writer--to love to read. Often, the things we love point us toward our calling in life.
I majored in English and worked on the student newspaper in college, got a job as a newspaper reporter right out of college, did that for 10 years or so, and for the last 14 years, have been freelance writing. Having ten years of experience as a professional writer and thousands of clips made it easier to convince my first publisher that I was not a complete rookie.
But writing is not an easy job. A lot of people think you can just do it a little on the side--but being a freelancer means you are running a business. You not only write, you have to market your work, sell yourself and your articles, manage the financial and schedule aspects, etc. You can do it part-time, but the income will reflect that. In fact, even if you do it full time, the income tends to seem more like part-time income.
But if you love writing, it's worth looking into. Question: do you write now? Just for yourself, or whatever? If not, I'd start. A lot of people like the idea of being a writer, but to be one, you need to write--which a lot of people don't have the discipline to do.

Even if the only writing you do is in your journal or blog, do you do it regularly? If you don't write now, you may want to ask yourself, why do I want to be a writer? I'm not trying to discourage you, but it's a competitive field. Do you feel obligated to write, or do you actually enjoy it.
I absolutely love doing it. People sometimes ask me--don't you have to be "inspired" to write? I write every day except Sundays--not just e-mails. It is a discipline, and you do it whether you feel "inspired" or not. The inspiration often comes after you've had your butt in the chair for a while, and not before. I'm not trying to discourage you, but to give you a realistic picture of what it's about.
I'd recommend a book called Making a Literary Life, and also Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.
If you're interested in freelance writing for magazines, I'd suggest you pick up either The Writers Guide or the Christian Writer's Guide --both are listings of all different magazines, whether they accept freelance written stuff (some publications are entirely staff written), how to get in touch with the editors, etc.
Also, if you haven't had any training in writing, I'd suggest taking a writing or journalism class at a community college, and attending a couple of writer's conferences. There's an excellent Christian writer's conference held in June on the campus of Wheaton College. It's called Write to Publish. (see You can meet with editors, take classes on all aspects of writing and publishing. Writer's conferences are a great combination of learning and networking, and you need to do both. Mt. Hermon's conference is supposed to be one of the best--it will be held next month in the beautiful Santa Cruz, Calif. area.
There are also a lot of websites out there that have very good information--I've got links to several on my blog.
Hope that helps.
Blessings on your writing, wherever it takes you!
The picture accompanying this post is of a painting by Sally Rosenbaum. Check out her work at, it's all lovely!


Alana said...

That is great advice, Keri. I love to blog, but don't think I could do what you do! I think discipline is key to success in anything.

Keri Wyatt Kent said...

Thanks. You may not be called to what I am doing. My kids are older, this is my job, my ministry. It's what I do, about 30 to 40 hours a week.
for others, just blogging occasionally is a great outlet, and a chance to connect with other people. We each have a calling, whether it is motherhood, a marketplace career, a ministry, or a wierd combo of the three (like me).

Dianne said...

I have had to come to accept that for now, this season, being published is not there for me. Time wise, I can either write or market my writing, given working 40+ hours per week. That said, I heard someone ask recently what is it I cannot not do? That'd definitely be write. And I do strive to meet a goal of XXX words/day. Maybe it's a cop out but I've chosen to write for now and trust God to move me to the writing life when he's ready. He's taking me on such a deep journey of knowing and learning since I've come to that decision. Sometimes I get anxious and frustrated (it's really hard to read an article when I have a similar idea in draft form) but God keeps reminding me (somehow) to be patient. Things like this (your blog) continue to encourage me. So thanks again for sharing! sorry for rambling.

Cheryl Wright said...

Hi Keri,

I was smitten with the picture that accompanies this post. Where did you find it?

Keri Wyatt Kent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keri Wyatt Kent said...

Cheryl and everyone,
The picture is of a painting by Sally Rosenbaum. You can find all of her wonderful work at
The title of this particular piece is Morning Journal. I found it on Google Images. Sally's work is really lovely, take a look at her site!