I really haven’t talked much about being an entertainment writer on any of my blogs, but I’m going to get into that a bit right now.
So, what are my qualifications for discussing this? I’m definitely not famous, but I’m not exactly totally unknown, either. I’m in a weird place in life because, honestly, I’ve most certainly had over a million people view things I’ve written. Not everyone can say they’ve had multiple months where 70-90,000 people have read articles they had published! Many of my articles appear in Google News searches and I’ve even done some interviews with famous people, such as the production designer for a Sam Raimi movie.
Interestingly, this career path is easier to get into than one might think, though there are potential barriers. Professional writing is also weird in today’s climate because, honestly, everyone has written, said, or done things that could get them “canceled,” and there’s a genuine risk that someone will go through your past looking for dirt. However, I don’t want to discuss this issue today (other than to dismiss those swho say it’s an imaginary problem). I want more to discuss how to get started in the biz, average pitfalls of writing, whether its difficulty takes a toll, and my own writing preferences and rules about what I’m willing to write, and for whom.
I should warn you that, as I proceed with this, I am by no means declaring myself an absolute master at writing. In fact, I have written some things that make me cringe in retrospect (and I suspect that’s true of anyone dedicated to the craft). However, on the bright side, I have also looked back on some articles and thought, “Wow, did I really write that? That’s actually good!” First, let’s look at how I got started and what that might imply about professional writing, in general.
4 Important Things: A Little Skill, Some Confidence, Some Luck, and Also Who You Know
Okay, here’s the big, shameful reveal: I got started in writing because I knew a guy who wrote (and still writes) for a fairly big entertainment site. In fact, I dated his sister for about 3 years. The embarrassing truth: I might not have become a professional writer otherwise, even with my college degree. I saw that he was looking for writers and I was like, “Why not? What the hell do I have to lose?”
In my defense, I also needed the approval of other people at the website in question and I needed to do some orientation stuff. However, it was easier than some might think, even aside from me “knowing a guy.” So that brings up an important first step: If you want to get in on this game, you really just need a little skill, confidence enough to keep trying, some luck, and probably some worthwhile connections. In fact, that seems very true about work in general. The point is, once I made that initial connection, I branched out and started writing for other sites. One gig led to another, which is how work tends to be.
So, in a way, writing isn’t uniquely horrible in this regard. It’s simply true that, if you know the right people, you will encounter certain opportunities. I also don’t want to downplay confidence very much, though I will say it’s not everything. In order to become a writer, you need enough confidence to pursue it.
There’s also a good chance that, somewhere down the line, you’ll get rejected by a website or publication, so you also need enough confidence to fail and try again. If you’re a successful entertainment writer, you might find yourself getting e-mails from publicists of cable networks, and you can probably get screeners (early access to movies and TV shows). Hell, one publicist first talked to me via Twitter (and not even in a private message!).
Look at Other Writers Sometimes…But Not to Plagiarize
Let’s say you have very little confidence, even though you have some writing ability. I get frustrated just thinking about that clash of realities. Well, if you’re in such a bind, I encourage you to look at a number of different websites and articles, even from major news sources and other lofty places.
If you look long enough, you will inevitably find some truly atrocious writing, often paired with garbage points of view. There are often misspellings, instances of horrid grammar, odd opinions that make no sense, and occasionally some barely concealed plagiarism. How can this knowledge help? Remember: No matter how bad of a writer you are, there is probably always someone more successful at it who is worse than you!
Unique Pitfalls to Professional Writing
My personal blogs and pathetic Youtube videos are largely unsuccessful, and that’s because I’m not doing that to appease audiences much at all. Those are more like personal diaries, to some degree. However, the sites I write for are a little different. They often have their own unique standards and approaches to doing things. On the bright side, their ideas tend to be sensible.
Still, be prepared for times when they aren’t. In fact, I still get bummed out when I got hired at a massive website only to quit without publishing a single article. Let’s just call the site ReenScrant, so I can technically weasel my way out of liability. What was the problem?
As a beginner, ReenScrant wanted me to choose from a puny range of article topics, ostensibly to prove myself. The pickings were slim, and I ended up being expected to write about Dragon Ball Z — which I have never watched in my life and, frankly, have no interest in watching. I ended up quitting. Ultimately, it was a bit like dodging a bullet because there’s at least one Youtube video about the site plagiarizing in a major way (meaning they weren’t sly or subtle about it). Still, I do sigh sometimes while considering what might have been between myself and a very large website.
I should also note another pitfall: Sometimes editors at websites don’t seem to do anything to improve articles, which can be frustrating. You might wonder, “Hmm, why didn’t they fix this error I made?” Sure, one might say, “Well, you shouldn’t have made that error, dipshit!,” and there’s truth to that, but still…doesn’t that fall ever so slightly under the purview of an editor? (I won’t name names here, but this will probably end up a problem for you., if you accrue experience writing for others. Even if you’re a better writer than me, you’re still all but guaranteed to make mistakes along the way, and they aren’t always corrected.)
Then there’s the other problem: Some editors will alter your articles a little too much. Personally, this is one of the most frustrating aspects of writing for someone else, and it can be potentially maddening if you’re not careful.
Again, I won’t name names, but I’ve had people change headlines to substantially alter the meaning of an article. On a few occasions, someone has inserted words and whole sentences that make less sense than what I’d originally written, including installing atrocious grammar. Even more frustrating, the people doing this aren’t necessarily villains, so you don’t want to bite their heads off about it. Still, it can be more frustrating than you’d think, and without being a perfectionist.
Is Writing Hard?
There are a few assumptions one can make about the difficulty of writing. Some will assume it’s the easiest thing in the world, that anyone can do it. Others will assume you need genius-level intelligence, or that to be an entertainment writer requires you to be some elitist, know-it-all snob. Although I do know it all, I wouldn’t need to in order to have a successful writing career!
I have had many different jobs in life. I’ve been a janitor, a dishwasher in some Chinese restaurants, a substitute teacher, a library aide, a donor greeter (for a company we’ll call “WoodGill”), and even a Salvation Army bellringer (despite admitting to them I am an atheist)! Much like writing, all of these jobs had their unique challenges. However, none of them were likely to get me the same kind of exposure.
Sure, not everyone can be an entertainment writer, but you’d be surprised at how many people can’t even get the basics right with janitorial work! Still, once you get the ball rolling as a writer, you’ll likely adapt to the routine reasonably well. In fact, if you work for the right places, you might not even need to worry much about deadlines, which means you can work at your own pace, or even almost by your own rules. There’s always talk about writing being competitive and, to some extent, yes, that is true. However, it’s not necessarily a phenomenon you’ll be affected by. This brings me to the next section…
My Writing Preferences and Standards
As I write about these, keep in mind I’m not saying these preferences will apply to you. The point is, you can have standards. The entertainmenmt writer career path is more flexible than you might assume.
Personally, I am at a point where, for the most part, I know what I want out of my writing career. Basically, I am fine with it not being my main income source. Not everyone is cool with that, but I’m fine with pretty much doing it part-time. Really, I’m willing to look at writing as providing what I call “cappuccino money.” It is supplemental. Actually, I still write for a site that doesn’t even pay me any money because I like the people there.
Also, based on bad experiences of “putting all my eggs in one basket,” I have decided to never (if I can help it) only work for one place. I don’t get hired as often as I’d like, but I’m not literally always looking for new jobs, either. Basically, I look for what works for me. I don’t want to write for a place that’s too restrictive. I don’t want ultra-strict deadlines, so I try to avoid sites like that.
In fact, I take it to a bit of an extreme: If a website needs me to write a cover letter, there’s a chance I won’t even apply there. I’m at a point where I’ve already established that I can be hired by reasonably successful sites. If they need more than to look at my CV, I lose interest.
Part of that is simply because, if I’m being honest, I know professionalism is somewhat of an illusion. As stated, there are countless bad articles out there, some of which make my very worst one look like a masterpiece. If I’m writing for a site, the hiring process should be quite informal. Fortunately, some places are just like that, and perhaps even more so than they should be!
Still, if a website trusts your instincts as a writer, it can be a good sign, so long as you don’t use their lax attitude as an excuse to be absolutely lazy with your content. If writing starts to feel degrading like a regular 9 to 5 job, it starts becoming a bigger problem. It’s creative work, so you should feel creatively satisfied. Plus, readers will probably detect whether you’re being genuine or not.
Final Thoughts: Everyone Who Can Write Probably Should
After everything I’ve written here, it seems obvious that writing has more advantages than disadvantages. If you can squeeze in time to try professional writing, I think you should. Obviously, your path as a writer might be different from mine, with different entry points and experiences, but that is life. On a similar note, I think everyone should try their hand at music and the visual arts. In fact, a similar idea applies to those fields as well: No matter how bad you think you are, there’s someone worse than you at it who’s still successful.
Now, as a final point, I want to mention Grammarly (and presumably other apps to help writers). I do use Grammarly, and it can be valuable if you mess up typing. That being said, there are times where Grammarly absolutely would mess up my grammar. Basically, be on the lookout for that risk. Use common sense when it comes to any spellcheck apps! In fact, there are even circumstances where you’ll absolutely want to use bad grammar for stylistic reasons. You may wish to turn auto-correct off, because it can totally screw up some sentences, making them incoherent. The best spellcheck will always be a pair of actual human eyes!
Anyway, this is my writing on writing. If you like it, maybe I’ll eventually do a part 2.