18 Things Every 18-Year-Old Should Know Before Setting Out To Become A Writer

When you turn 18, the future is wild and endless. Like standing on top of the tallest building in the city, you see a big and beautiful landscape. If you choose to become a writer, many people will advise you to choose a different path. I am one of those people, but I know one thing about writers: They are stubborn and won’t quit. 

I have a few ideas if you asking, I want to become a writer, where do I start? These are 18 things I will tell a younger me who is ready to start this daunting, windy, and interesting journey.

#1. Don’t start out as a ghostwriter. 

At 18, you probably don’t have much of a portfolio to your name. This is not good if you want to do writing as a career. 

Choosing to ghostwrite means most of your work will be in other people’s names. It’s not what you need at this stage of your career. You need to start writing and building an audience. Ghostwriting isn’t the best way to start.

For starters, develop your voice. Ghostwriting involves writing other people’s voices; it can become so interesting that you are writing like one of your clients.

Build your personal brand

I believe if you have writing skills already, ghostwriting, without writing for yourself, isn’t the best way to get to the top. Many people who will hire you are only willing to pay the bare minimum and sell the work you’ve created for them. If it sells, they will come back for more. If it doesn’t sell, they will leave a bad review. 

This is not how you want to spend the rest of your writing career. It’s not how you want to have an audience and a volume of work that will bring you a fortune. 

I am a ghostwriter, though. I am still a ghostwriter, and I got into it because I wanted to make money. But I have learned that people aren’t taking me as seriously as I have. I have written and sold a couple of 100k stories. I have written countless 10k-word stories. 

Often, the buyer didn’t know my name or that I was the one handling the job. They hire people on Upwork or Fiverr, who outsource to me outside those platforms.

Writing for yourself

Imagine if I had a story somewhere that is 100k words long. I can build an audience from the readership, write a sequel and sell, or get valuable feedback that will transform my writing career. 

It’s important to remember that this will only happen if I already have the skill to write quality stories

So instead of starting out as a ghostwriter, start writing for yourself by starting a blog or picking a platform where you can showcase your skill. Of course, what you write about is up to you.

But then, ghostwriting can be a way to earn quickly, which was my situation when I moved to a new city. If this is the case, spend some time building your authority. So instead of writing for people consistently, start writing for yourself on the side. Write and publish one post per week. 

I started this blog for a couple of reasons. 1) to create a space where people can see my work. I can write web series, but I have none to my name, and it’s sad. 2) to learn SEO. 3) to get leads, 4) to build my personal brand.

#2. Develop the habit of reading quality stuff

When I say quality, I mean filter what you read like someone on a diet. 

Read books, not just blog posts. If all you read are blogs, you’ve not even started. I’m sorry. 

Pick, read and study good books. 

Talking about quality books, I have a few recommendations on the blog.

I have a few recommendations for essays and short stories that will change your life. 

I have a few recommendations for blogs that will make you smarter. 

#3. Develop a strategy for becoming the kind of writer you want to become 

Mission 1

I want to understand SEO and work with startups to use that opportunity to pivot in the future. 

Mission 2 

I want to build a brand that, if I write a book, eventually, I will have 1000 honest readers interested. 

How can I achieve these two? 

I have no idea, but I started a blog and urged readers always to follow me on social media. 

But I also know that getting 1000 interested people is hard. Many people with a large audience do not even have that many interested readers. You see their posts online; only 10 people out of 100k are adding their comments. 

I need to be genuine, honest, and ready to be vulnerable to achieve those missions.  

That’s my strategy. 

Want to know how to become a writer? Start by telling yourself what you want to achieve as I did.

Now it’s up to you. What kind of writer do you want to become? If you can’t decide yet, please take your time. Writing, failing, and reflecting on your experience as a writer will teach you what you need to do. 

Continue reading the post. (Or learn how to write a novel.)

#4. Become better at thinking 

In truth, you’re not a writer.

People don’t read what you write. 

If that’s how you think about writing, you’re making terrible prose, and it is just surface sentences. You need more than that, sentences that cut deep like a sharp pair of scissors, and the only way is to become better at thinking. 

If you say you’re a thinker, then yes, you’re getting the idea. People want to read your thoughts and become fascinated. Anything besides that will waste their time. 

You barely notice my ‘writing’ right now. You are following my thought. Remember this when you trying to write a book.

My answer to, is writing a book worth it, is that is the thought process interesting. The story you have set out to write must move the readers otherwise, we will drop the book before we finish the first chapter.

So here are a few suggestions.

Read writers that fascinate you and become a student of literature.

Read quality stuff. 

The writer studies literature, not the world. She lives in the world; she cannot miss it. If she has ever bought a hamburger, or taken a commercial airplane flight, she spares her readers a report of her experience. She is careful of what she reads, for that is what she will write. She is careful of what she learns because that is what she will know. 

Write Till You Drop, Annie Dillard

#5. Learn from the masters 

A thousand writers have been here before you. They have achieved great things that you and I can only dream about. 

But lucky for us, we can pick their books anywhere in the world and study them. 

I practice writing through imitation, the same way many great writers learned to be better. Note, however, there is a fine line between learning and stealing other people’s work. These aren’t the same. 

Hemingway studied, as models, the novels of Knut Hamsun and Ivan Turgenev. Isaac Bashevis Singer, as it happened, also chose Hamsun and Turgenev as models. Ralph Ellison studied Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Thoreau loved Homer; Eudora Welty loved Chekhov. Faulkner described his debt to Sherwood Anderson and Joyce; E. M. Forster, his debt to Jane Austen and Proust. By contrast, if you ask a 21-year-old poet whose poetry he likes, he might say, unblushing, ”Nobody’s.”

Annie Dillard

I love Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Adichie, and John Steinbeck.

If you ask me, Can I be a writer, I will respond with who do you love reading? How often do you read and write?

#6. Do not set out to become a full-time writer. 

I hate to tell you this, but you shouldn’t set out to become a full-time writer at eighteen. I am sorry. 

Get a job if you have to. Travel, get a degree. You can do all of these things while you write on the side. 

The best writers have been through many life experiences before they settle down and start writing. Your life across the seas can become the inspiration for your next big thing. Pursuing a degree, the school can become the setting of your next big book.

At 18, I would rather write part-time than become a full-time writer. The latter puts a burden on your writing, and good works rarely come out if there are such heavy expectations.

Don’t get me wrong. If you are offered a job as a full-time writing assistant to Dr. Nnedi Okorafor, take it. That’s an experience many people will pay to get.

#7. Be bold in making choices

When it comes to choices about your writing career, confidence is a weapon. If you sound less confident, someone who sounds more confident will get the job, the offer, and the deal. 

And confidence goes deeper than what you say or write. Someone who has more options will have more confidence when talking about things. Someone who has greater experience will have more confidence when making a deal. It exhumes rather than something you have to practice hard. 

In retrospect, you should learn to be bold by being open. Create options. Don’t put all your sources of income in writing at this stage.  

#8. Learn marketing 

A deep understanding of marketing will save you money and time. If you are like me, you probably have an abundance of time but limited cash. 

Many people on the internet are positioning their dumb courses to make money off you. By learning marketing, you will see the context they hide when pitching their products to you. You will know it’s all gimmicks and tricks. You can tell when a course will be a waste of time or a good investment. 

Use your time to learn SEO or marketing (read books, travel, and write). Even if you plan to know how to become a writer for movies, your marketing knowledge can be a huge advantage.

The writers who make good living writing are those supported by effective marketing strategy.

#9. Your earnings =  number of people you can influence 

As a writer in this modern age, your earnings or income is directly proportional to the number of people you can influence online.

Think about it. Why do brands want to bring in more traffic? Why do people want to have more followers on social media? 

The answer is simple: the more attention you can get, the more people will be interested in what you have to sell. It’s simple arithmetic. 

As you’re writing, try to build your online presence.

How much can earn as a writer?

Answer: how many people can you influence?

#10. Start a blog 

It’s easier to manage and gives you room to change how things work. You can start with a free wordpress blog. Use other platforms as a tool to get readers to your blog. 

There are not many downsides to starting a blog, but the benefits are tremendous.

#11. Do not write about writing

If all you write is about how to write, then you are probably not a good writer. And at 18, I am not sure you know enough experience in writing anyway. 

If you know a lot about writing, give us a piece of your genius. We want to read it. Don’t make it the only thing you write about, though. In a matter of time, your topics will start looking boring, repetitive, and lame. 

Check this blog, for instance. I have written about loneliness, rejection, productivity, psychology, and role models. I am working on web series.

#12. Learn to be your own critic 

The first critic you will ever have is yourself. When I was starting to write fiction, my brother and a friend were supportive, always asking me to write more and telling me what to improve. They are my critics, but before then, I learned to look at my own work and criticize things. 

Not sure how to be your own critic? 

Start by reading reviews and critics of other people’s works. Look at online writing competitions where people leave their reviews on the said work. Read the critics and learn what not to do in your own work. 

So, can you just become a writer? Yes, you can. However, you will become a lot better when you receive criticisms with open mind.

#13. Have a hobby that will never pay you 

A hobby that uplifts your mood and clears your mind will be your escape when you are tired, and your work feels like a burden. It is something you do when you tell people you are having a break.

Margaret Atwood suggests sleeping, going for a walk, or reading as an escape when you don’t know how to continue a project. Those are great choices. You can choose something else — cooking, gaming, playing sports (the best), etc. When doing this activity, there is no pressure to make money or impress an audience. Enjoy that feeling. 

#14. The internet and social media are your friend and enemy

The internet is big leverage. Someone miles and miles away from me will read this, which was not possible in the past. I can sell books and products to people who will never step foot where I live — such a good time. 

To become a writer today, you must see the internet as a tool.

The downside is that the internet allows everything good and bad. Social media apps are getting sales from attention, and they will do all they can to get all of us addicted. 

Learn how to use the internet, especially social media, for your own good. Turn it on only when you need it. 

The internet doesn’t miss you. It will continue to function without you. It’s you who miss the internet. 

15. Quality ideas are more important 

I wrote about how to become a rich writer

I mentioned two things you should know. You should choose what you write about carefully and then worry about how you execute it as best as you can. 

Good ideas and poor execution won’t sell that much. Good ideas and average execution will sell. The perfect mix is a good idea and has excellent execution.

Look at the three statements, and you realize “good ideas” remain constant.

So, how do you know an idea is good? 

I have covered all of that already. Live your life and enjoy it, study literature, travel, and read a lot. Challenge yourself the way Annie Dillard did, which ended up in a book called Pilgrim At Tinker Creek. Ernest Hemmingway wrote A Moveable Feast, as an account of his time during world war 2. Eat, Pray, Love is Elizabeth Gilbert’s adventure in three different countries. Alchemist is a metaphor for Paulo Coelho’s journey to becoming a writer. Nnedi Okorafor wrote Lagoon because she is inspired by “what if aliens come to Lagos, Nigeria?

#16. Create A strategy that works for you  

Everyone has a strategy, even if you are not thinking about it, even if the strategy sucks. 

You can create a strategy in two simple, easy ways. 

Answer the questions: 

  • What specific achievements do you want as a writer? 
  • How do you plan to achieve that? 

You will know if it’s possible to achieve that by listening to interviews with your favorite authors. Listen to hundred interviews with different authors. During your listening-to-interview assignment, you will find answers to how much do writers get paid?

Then recreate your strategy. 

#17. Become a student of humanity, literature, and the world around you

In other words, be interested. 

I have a small land at the back of my house. In the evening, when the sun goes down, I sit on a bench, a music player at my feet. Sometimes, mice would come out of the small grasses to pick a few things on the pavements. Sometimes, I hear the pecking of bats chewing the pawpaw fruits at the corner. 

What can you say about the paragraph above? It could be something I will use in my next book or use a line in a movie script. I am interested in my surroundings. As Teju Cole said, I look at my surrounding like an alien, literature like a curious toddler, and humans like a cop waiting to unravel a mystery. 

#18. Learn to discard the advice 

To become a writer, you must be true to yourself and what you want.

Earlier, I said you don’t become a ghostwriter, which is good advice. But what if a big brand or author asks you to write for her and promises to acknowledge your name on the book cover? Will you reject it knowing that the book can take your name to many places and the pay can cover your expenses for the next 3 months?

Do not reject such an offer. 

I gave that advice based on my experience as a ghostwriter. Sometimes, your choices are limited, and you know better. So choose what’s best for you at the time and work on getting to that stage where you can choose something better. 

In other words, learn to discard or save the advice that won’t help you at the moment.

So do you still want to become a writer? 

There’s no straight path to becoming a writer. Some of these tips should help you choose what and where to put your effort.

Good luck.  

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