Locked

AMA: How do you become a professional writer?

Jason Brooks
Apr 14, 2018

I switched careers at 37 in order to become a full-time, professional writer. Five years later, I'm stable, successful, and looking to push farther--and I'd love to share anything I've learned that might help you.

You can AMA here, or on Twitter - @JasonMuses

Bring any question, no matter what it is, because good writers ask great questions.

AMA.jpg

twitter.com/JasonMuses

Comments are locked

Conversation (66)

In three easy steps and under a minute you could be hosting your own AMA. Join our passionate community of AMA hosts and schedule your own AMA today.

Let's get started!

Which aspects of your writing process do you find to be the most freeing and which are the most confining?
Apr 21, 6:23AM EDT0
Can you ever imagine a future where you no longer write? What would you do?
Apr 20, 6:45PM EDT0
Do you remember the first book you read? Also, what book are you reading now?
Apr 20, 5:21PM EDT0
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Apr 20, 12:57PM EDT0

I struggle with a perfectionistic tendency that, I'm learning, is common among a lot of creators. There's always something about any work I do that, given the time and opportunity, I would change. But I've learned that my 90% is better than most people expect or need, so I don't have to be perfect in order to exceed expectations. That's a liberating place to be as a writer.

Apr 20, 1:09PM EDT0
Do you believe one must have a wide vocabulary to be a successful author?
Apr 20, 12:13PM EDT0

I think it's better to have a wide range of reading, which by nature expands one's vocabulary. You can know a lot of words, but if you don't have a feel or understanding for when, where, and how those words should be used, that knowledge does benefits you little.

Apr 20, 12:50PM EDT0
How has your writing career affected your lifestyle?
Apr 19, 2:56AM EDT0

I'd love to know a little bit more of the context behind this question, but off the top of my head, it hasn't changed much. My income stream was impacted when I first devoted myself to writing full-time, but over the years, I've not only stablized, I've actually increased what I bring in.

Schedule is pretty much still the same--writing is a commitment, whether it's your full-time commitment or not. You have to show up each day and put in the work, even if it's only 30 minutes worth.

Beyond those two areas, not much else has changed in my lifestyle.

Now, in my character, self-awareness, skill level...there have been some massive changes/growth in those areas.

Apr 20, 12:53PM EDT0
Which aspects of your background have been most helpful in your writing career?
Apr 18, 6:16PM EDT0

Sermon development played a crucial role. Learning how to break down a text, find relevant information, create application/sticky take-aways, and deliver it all in a way that connects with the audience has been one of the biggest advantages in my career. Spending 15 years honing that skill has paid massive dividends.

I would also say that growing up around a Southern family helped a lot. Narrative, story, and humor were (and remain) a significant part of how my family communicates, and those elements translate into my writing, even in a formal business document.

An affinity for learning and reading helped too. I read widely, and consume a lot of words on a daily basis, everything from news to cereal boxes. I just enjoy taking in words and seeing how they fit together to shape our perpceptions of the world around us.

Apr 20, 12:58PM EDT0
What is your preferred writing style? Have you come to decide about this style after writing for long or was it natural to you?
Apr 18, 5:28AM EDT0

It's not a "style" per se, but I always lean towards authentic voices. I don't like pretension in others, and I often find I battle it in my own work. It's a grind to eliminate grandiose puffery, but I have to do it.

The problem I have is being easily inspired/influenced by anyone who has a talent for turning a phrase. I find I subconsciously imitate people after reading in a certain vein for a while; but then again, so much of being a writer (or any kind of creator) is stealing from and improving upon other people's work.

I came to value authenticity over time. I think a lot of writers feel a burden to be more profound, to speak from a higher place of authority, instead of speaking from a place of authenticity. I've found that authority stems from authenticity, so the more a writer learns to lean into his or her own voice, the more authority they convey. In my experience, people pay more attention when they know the person speaking comes from a place of genuine understanding.

Apr 20, 1:03PM EDT0
How do you begin the writing process and which steps do you follow further?
Apr 18, 5:24AM EDT0

I begin with jotting down an idea in my phone or on a piece of paper. I have stuff all over the place--Evernote, iPhone Notepad, Bear, Word docs, and the 1,000 different journals I cycle through.

Once I have an idea down, the ones that stick in my mind get the most attention, and I think through them constantly. If I'm on a deadline, that piece gets the majority of my thinking time, and if I've got 40 hours to spend on a project, I spend 30 of those hours thinking through the piece repeatedly before I ever put words on paper/screen.

The more I marinate on a topic/thought/story/poem, the easier it is for me to get the words out when I sit down to write.

Apr 20, 1:06PM EDT0
What sacrifices have you had to make to succeed in this field, and do you feel the sacrifices were worth it?
Apr 17, 3:18PM EDT0

I was a pastor before making the switch, so I actually feel like in some ways I'm making fewer sacrifices. That being said, you have to commit to certain things, like reading, writing consistently, submitting, and being comfortable with people critiquing your work.

None of those are true "sacrifices" in the sense that they cost something other than personal comfort--it's not like I'm risking my life to write--but they did require a shift in my own thinking and beliefs that continues to reverberate even now.

I will say this: if you're not willing to let go of your ego and insecurity, writing probably isn't going to treat you very well as a career. Those two things must be sacrificed if you want to make it long term.

Apr 17, 4:41PM EDT0
Was it difficult to give up job stability to pursue writing? What gave you the courage to do so?
Apr 15, 6:38AM EDT0

It was and it wasn't. The stable pay, yes. The work environment, not as difficult.

I'm a person of faith, so ultimately the courage to take the leap came from that place--I felt like it was my created purpose, and that kind of assurance is helpful. But my wife and kids were supportive and encouraging, and those two things are essential--not just at the beginning of your career, but throughout the journey.

I also had worked hard doing side work while I was employed, and had built up a network of contacts that helped me stay afloat in the early days.

Apr 17, 4:44PM EDT0
Did you take writing courses to prepare yourself before attempting to pursue writing full time? What are some of the courses that you would recommend?
Apr 15, 5:42AM EDT0

My Bachelor's is in English, so that was a great foundation for my technical and rhetorical skills. I've taken a few courses here and there (mostly free online stuff), and I read other writers regularly.

There are plenty of online gurus who are willing to help you in one area or another, but I highly recommend reading Steven Pressfield's stuff on writing. It's very helpful in establishing the right mindset and habits.

I also recommend subscribing to Jane Friedman's newsletter, Electric Speed. There's a TON of great information about the business side of writing.

Apr 17, 4:47PM EDT0
What is the name of your blog and what are some of the topics and themes it discusses?
Apr 15, 5:02AM EDT0

I just relaunched a new website at www.jasonmuses.com and I blog mostly about writing, but if past is prologue, there'll be a few meandering rabbit trails thrown in for good measure about everything from Marvel movies to politics to what my kids have done recently.

Apr 17, 5:07PM EDT0
Did you always love writing or was it something that developed later in your life?
Apr 15, 12:47AM EDT0

I've always loved it, though I didn't always understand it. For the first 20 years of my life, I was an artist--I drew comic books and cartoons. It took me a long time to realize I only drew as a way of getting my stories out faster. Once I came to that realization, I put the pencil down and grabbed a keyboard.

It's been the last five years of building a career that's taught me how much I really love writing. When you write other people's copy, good and bad, you learn quickly if writing is a passion or just a skill. I truly love it--I'm as proud of a simple marketing email as I am of a great short story, and I love some of the things I post on Twitter as much as I love some of the poems I write.

Words play in my head all the time, and they seem quite happy there.

Apr 17, 5:10PM EDT0
What are some of the challenges of getting published presently?
Apr 14, 10:00PM EDT0

Depends on what you mean by published. You can start a blog this afternoon and be published in an hour. If you mean having someone else vet your work, deem it worthy, and pay you to print it, then the challenges are the same as they've always been:

Read great authors.

Toy around with ideas.

Scribble down ideas.

Play with them some more.

Write a crappy draft.

Read your crappy draft.

Revise your crappy draft.

Read your better draft.

Revise the snot out of that one too.

If you have friends you trust, let them read it and critique it.

Vow to get new friends, then realize their comments were right.

Revise the snot out of it again.

Submit it for consideration.

Wait.

Get rejected (not always, but often).

Resubmit.

Find a publisher.

Tell people about that thing you wrote that was published.

Float on a gossamer cloud for a couple of days,

Realize, "Crap. I have to start over again."

Repeat.

Boom. Welcome to the club.

Apr 17, 5:15PM EDT0
Do you have another book in the wild space series and what can you tell us about it?
Apr 14, 5:01PM EDT0
What are some of your favorite book genres? Does your taste in books change over time?
Apr 14, 4:11PM EDT0

I love Raymond Chandler. I enjoy Ray Bradbury. I devour C.S. Lewis repeatedly, and same for David Foster Wallace. I also like John Maxwell, Simon Sinek, and Jon Acuff on the business side.

My tastes have changed a bit. I don't do well with modern literary fiction. I quit reading in the vein after Freedom and just haven't picked it back up.

If you like literary non-fiction, my friend Elena Passarello is a must read. Her two books, Let Me Clear My Throat and Animals Strike Curious Poses are both exceptional. www.elenapassarello.com/

Apr 17, 5:19PM EDT0
How long do you expect the wild space series to continue?
Apr 14, 1:04PM EDT0

Well, I'm not the Jason Brooks who writes that series, but given Disney's commitment to building the Star Wars universe, I'd imagine it will be around for a while. :)

Apr 14, 2:02PM EDT0
Your bio on goodreads mentioned you help other writers get published. Who is the most fascinating writer with whom you've worked with and why?
Apr 14, 12:49PM EDT0

Charlie Wetzel. Charlie is my mentor and friend, and he has a life-story that would leave you stunned. He's also written a LOT of books, as well as screenplays and curricula, and his most recent short story keeps advancing through a contest over at ScreenWriters.

What makes Charlie interesting is that he's spent most of his career unknown and yet has done very well. Most writers wouldn't imagine a career like Charlie's because his name isn't front and center, and yet he has one of the most successful career paths of any writer I know. That contrast between the perception of a what a successful writer looks like and what a successful career can look like in reality is helpful when you're considering your own path.

Not everyone can be Stephen King. But that doesn't mean you can't be successful.

Apr 14, 2:07PM EDT0
What kind of writing do you do?
Apr 14, 11:47AM EDT0

I'm the oddball these days--my primary writing is business/professional (leadership development and personal growth, specifically). That's how and where I make most of my money. But I also write short detective fiction, middle grade fiction, poetry, blogs, articles, screenplays, and songs.

To me, the goal is writing, whatever the form. I tend to move between them just to stretch myself and continue challenging my skills and abilities.

Apr 14, 2:10PM EDT0
About #AuthorsAMA

Welcome to #AuthorsAMA, an AMA Event channel for authors and their important work sharing their knowledge with others.

The #AuthorsAMA channel (http://www.AuthorsAMA.com) is owned and operated by AMAfeed, LLC.