I have a lot of people who are interested in launching a writing career, but don't know how to get started. It seems a bit overwhelming. So I decided to try and write a post with seven sort of first-steps on writing. I hope this helps those who feel this call.
1) Take a Long View. This is less of a practical step and more of a vision thing. But I think it's importnat to not get too caught up, right away, in that big book project or thinking that you're going to make a ton of money so you can retire. You need to think of writing less as a way to make money (which in the future can happen, at least in a side-business kind of way) and more of a calling to communicate and use your gifts to lift people. Don't take an all-or-nothing approach with the idea that "God told me to write this ONE book and if it doesn't get published, that publishing house isn't following God." Take the long view and think of it as a progressive development of your gifts and your platform. Ok, with that out of the way, some practical steps:
2) Start a Blog. It used to be that to get started writing, you needed to get published somewhere, some kind of byline. Otherwise, where would you have an outlet to publish your stuff? Not anymore. I still think its important to get started writing in a various outlets (see step 3 below), however the internet has flattened the publishing world in that you can begin to write right away. My advice is to create a blog using a free service like Wordpress or Blogspot and establish a regular rhythm of writing. Set a reasonable schedule for yourself, perhaps two to three times a week, and commit to it. It's important for you to start writing even when you have an audience of nobody. You need to find your voice and work those writing muscles. Starting a blog is not as scary as it seems. I highly recommend Michael Hyatt's book, Platform and his website to get going. One word of caution: don't think you have to do everything Mike recommends right away with your blog (He says this as much). Just get your blog going, figure out a theme for your writing, and start writing. Don't spend all your time with gizmos and gadgets and sacrifice your time writing.
3) Start publishing in smaller markets. Besides getting a regular blog schedule going, it's important for you to start getting published in other publications. This is important for several reasons. First, it helps get used to working with an editor and being edited. Second, working on a deadline forces you to produce something. Third, it establishes some credits for future work. Editors at publications and book publishers like to see you've been published elsewhere. My advice is to start small. Do yourself a favor and invest in The Christian Writer's Market Guide. This book is filled with hundreds, if not thousands of big and small Christian publications needing articles. There are lots of opportunities with publications such as Sunday School take-home curricula, denominational papers, niche Christian magazines, Christian websites, devotional magazines, etc. And here's a really cool thing. Let's say you have an idea. You can spin that idea in a variety of ways depending on the needs of the publication you're pursuing. This is a great, great way to break into publishing and establish a bit of a name for yourself and to get used to writing professionally.The best way to query these publications is usually with a short email pitching your idea (though you'll want to pay attention to the guidelines in the Market Guide or on their website). I also encourage you to begin pursuing guest posts on popular blogs in the area where you'd like to write. Unlike most print publications, blogs typically don't pay in dollars, but they pay in traffic and exposure for your own blog and help you establish a reputation. Jeff Goins has a great blog on how to write a good guest post here. Typically the more popular blogs will have a section outlining their guidelines for guest posts. If there isn't one, then you'll simply want to email the proprietor and pitch your idea in a short email.
4) Get some professional training. I highly recommend you get some professional training and feedback on your writing. If you can afford it, I highly recommend attending a good Christian writer's conference. The Christian Writer's Market Guide should have a list of the popular conferences. I've attended and spoke at a number of them. If you're in the Chicago area, I can't recommend Write to Publish any higher. Others around the country are ones like Glorietta, ACFW, Write His Answer, and others. There are also one-day conferences. Really, Google "christian writer's conferences." Now, some words of advice. Not all of these are the same. I would look at the faculty teaching and the classes--does it fit what you want to do? And are do the faculty have substantial publishing credits? Also, see if there are editors attending and if they give time. This is one of the key benefits of attending a conference--you get to meet editors and build relationships that can sustain your writing career. If you can't attend a conference due to costs, travel, etc, there are other options. I recommend taking a short course such as Jeff Goins' Tribe Writers course. It's relatively inexpensive and is packed with good stuff. Also, Mary DeMuth has some great resources as well. My writing mentor, Cecil Murphey has a terrific website with some really good, practical writing stuff. You want to grow in your craft. You want to improve.
5) Network. Writing can be a solitary calling--you and the laptop, so you need to work hard to find a community of writers who can strengthen you. You also need to build relationships with people in publishing. Relationships are everything. I highly recommend you join a Christian writer's group either in your area or online. This is also why attending a conference is good as well. A few pieces of advice: Never burn bridges. Christian publishing is a small, small world. Editors move around. They talk. So if you become known as a prima dona or someone with very think skin when it comes to your work, well, you'll have a harder time getting published. Never publicly bash editors or writers. Never gossip about editors to other editors, etc. You should do this, not only for your future career, but because you are a Christian called to "love one another."
6) Get active on social media. I mentioned this last because there is a temptation to get active on social media without actually putting in the grunt work of writing. Don't do this. Start writing and commit to some kind of schedule or deadline. But, I will say this, in this day and age, it's vital to build a platform via social media. And here's how to use it. You'll want to use your social media accounts to leverage your writing. I typically use Bufferapp to send people to my blog posts. I also do this to send folks to my writing on other sites and, when a book comes out, to send them to my book. A tip here. I've found that using Buffer to schedule a "tweetable" quote from your work seems to work better at driving traffic than simply tweeting something like, "New blog . . . ." Another tip: find a few networks that work for you and use them regularly. You can't employ every network. Twitter and Facebook work for me, but I'm going to explore using Pinterest this summer (and thereby sacrifice my mancard).
7) Read a lot. Good writers are active readers. Reading helps stimulate creative ideas and it also fills your well. Nourish your soul with good books from a variety of genres. I also recommend you take in content in other ways, such as sermon podcasts, online videos, etc. But you must regularly, regularly add to your creative reservoir.
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). You can find more from Dan at his website DanielDarling.com.