Back when I started writing for a living, I had an orange folder with the good old skull-and-crossbones drawn across it. The word ‘Editors’ was inscribed on the front of the folder, within which I would put the rejection letters as they came back in. But except for that exercise in defiance I cannot give much specific advice, as that was the old days, when most publishers still wanted submissions to come by (real) mail.
Things have indeed changed since then, driven by the ‘progress’ of technology and with it, the ever-increasing pressure being exerted on print publishing. Today, more people than ever make a living through writing, especially those who are not writers.
It is important to be very clear regarding what you want, and to have no illusions. For while the TV and films rather perversely continue to romanticize the lifestyle, social stature and inherent worth of The Writer, the reality is that writers today are less respected than at any time in recorded history.
That said, both writers and non-writers can find plenty of work as industrial content providers. There’s plenty of opportunities for indentured servitude on the vast content plantations of the internet, if that’s what you’re into.
This is a hard one for many writers to accept, especially the old-fashioned ones, but we should be honest with ourselves. And this is a good exercise in humility. If in any doubt as to how to classify a particular writing job, just ask yourself why it is being commissioned, and you will find your answer.
Many people who work in industrial content providing find it satisfying and rewarding. Those who are really tech-savvy and keen on machines can make a good profit through self-publishing online, or becoming ‘content curators’ themselves. Many such writers don’t even know that they’re not writers, or simply don’t care. (According to my definition, even serial novels and anything centered on exploiting a hot ‘topic of the day’ are Industrial, no matter how nicely the prose). So if you wish to write an article or book conforming to specific industrial specifications, or if you wish to establish a website that is ‘useful,’ there are myriad examples to be found on the internet. I don’t need to explain that.
There is a distinction, unfortunately increasingly being lost now, between people who write and writers. People who are writers already know that they are, and don’t have a choice in the matter anyway, and definitely don’t want to be told what to do, so it is pointless (and even insulting) to offer them tips, unless they are working as bartenders or waiters, in which case tips are gladly accepted.
Nevertheless, if you still aren’t sure whether you are/could be/want to be ‘a writer,’ just ask yourself the following: whether this is the one thing you can’t live without, whether you would not accept changing your words to make them more profitable, and whether you would still be happy with your writing even if no one was to ever read it.
These are the important questions because they cut through everything else. Not too many people answer in the affirmative to these three questions. But if you enjoy writing, and write things that you like, whether or not anyone else does, that is sufficient. It is the spirit that goes into it that counts more than anything else.