“Anyone can write.” “The barrier to becoming a freelance writer is low.” “Writing is easy.”
These are comments that I often see made online. While there’s a grain of truth in them, they are not completely true.
It’s important to correct these misperceptions because they drive down income for those of us who earn a living as a writer. These beliefs also lead to unhappy clients with writing projects that need to be rewritten.
In this post, I’ll discuss the question of whether anyone can be a writer. I’ll list six basic skills that writers need.
On the surface, it may look like anyone can become a professional writer. After all, there are many different types of writing. You would think there would be a writing niche for everyone.
There are some basic skills that all writers (and especially freelance writers) need if they are to succeed. Not everyone has these skills.
Skill #1. Good Language Skills
To be a writer, you need to have good language skills. That includes:
- Word usage
If your language skills are a little weak, all is not lost. Think about taking a composition class at your local community college or online before you start your writing career.
Skill #2. Ability to Generate New Ideas
One of the biggest challenges that writers face is coming up with new ideas. If you don’t believe me, do a search on the phrase “overcoming writer’s block.” It’s amazing how many articles, posts, and books there are on the topic.
A lot has been written about writer’s block because it’s a common problem. Yet, writer’s block takes many new writers by surprise. Here’s why.
Most people can come up with a handful of creative ideas about familiar topics without too much effort. Most people who start a blog or begin to write articles start with those easy topics–and the writing goes quickly. Naturally, they expect all their writing will be that easy.
Sooner or later every writer comes to a point where they run out of ideas or where they are assigned an unfamiliar topic. That’s why the ability to generate new ideas is so important.
Skill #3. Good Research Skills
Along with the ability to generate ideas about unfamiliar topics goes the ability to research those topics. A professional writer must have good research skills.
For unfamiliar topics or topics that change often, much of the writer’s time will be spend on research. So, would-be writers who hate research should think twice about a writing career.
Skill #4. Thoroughness
People who are unfamiliar with writing often think that perfect copy flows effortlessly from a good writer’s fingertips.
It doesn’t. Most writers I know spend a lot of time going over their writing. None of them makes a regular practice of turning in their first draft as a finished project.
Besides grammar and spelling, here are other things writers check when they review their work:
- Completeness. Does the writing match the assignment? Does it adequately cover the topic?
- Accuracy. If statistics and facts are used, are they correct? Are names of people and places spelled right?
- Citations. Are sources and quotes cited properly? Do hyperlinks work?
Skill #5. People Skills
Another skill that’s important to writers is people skills. Many new writers have a romanticized view of a writer working alone.
However, writers need to interact with people. Here are some examples:
- Clients. Freelance writers must get along with clients.
- Editors. Both freelance writers and staff writers have to work with editors.
- Readers. Web writers are often expected to interact with their readers.
- Sources. Journalists must cultivate and work with people who will give them information.
Skill #6. Persistence
The final skill that all writers need if they are to succeed is persistence. Whether you’re a freelancer or a staff writer, your career will suffer if you quit in the middle of a project.
Freelance writers, especially, may be tempted to quit when their writing business slows down. But the freelance writers who don’t give up are the ones who succeed.
One thing you may have noticed about these skills is that exercising them takes time. But many people don’t have much time.
If your non-writing obligations take most of your time, it makes sense to hire a professional to do your writing. Your business will be better for it.
If you are a writer and would like to learn more about how to succeed, check out the ebook I wrote with Carol Tice.
What Do You Think?
Can anyone be a writer? What skills do you think a writer needs?