Want To Sell Words For Money? These Are Your Possible Paths.

Words For Money: Man in formal shirt

If you told me ten years ago that I could trade words for money, I’d have asked you to keep your ‘you can do anything’ speech to yourself.

Maybe it’s because I grew up without the internet, or maybe the industry was fraught with gatekeeping, but that’s probably why I’d stumbled from one bad career to another without giving writing a second thought.

It took going through multiple disasters before I finally took a chance in writing. And the rest, as they say, is history. Or was history. Shit, I sell words for a living and I still can’t choose between the two tenses.

How to start peddling your words for that moolah

I never thought I’d say this, but back in my day, internet content was something people made for fun. The term ‘social media executive’ still sounded like something out of Star Trek, and actual, paper newspapers were still the primary way Malaysians got their news.

In fact, the only gateway I had into the writing industry was through Jobstreet (a Malaysian job portal). Today, though? You can email an editor and start on your first assignment within the week. But I digress.

So you want to start writing? Here’s the secret: just google it. Look up any websites that interest you, then search ‘how to pitch to publications’ and you’re golden.

But it’s not just about starting, right? It’s also about the journey. And I can tell you that writing for a living can take to you to some pretty interesting places.

Here’s a rough journey I had taken, propelled solely off the power of words, and if you’ve been considering doing the same, perhaps you could find this list helpful.

A quick disclaimer

I believe that there’s passion, and then there’s the gift.

Having been a hairdresser, insurance salesman, auditor, and even a roadie, I have to say that writing is the only career to date where I show any semblance of competence, but it’s taken me a decade of mistakes before I could come to that conclusion.

And thus, I’ve safely concluded that writing’s my gift, though it might not be the same for you. I suggest you exercise your own judgement when it comes to your own pursuits.

Because maybe you’re fated to sing for a living. Or to heal others. I don’t know. As long as you don’t spend too long in futile pursuits. I’d tried that for six years as a hairdresser, and I sometimes wish I hadn’t wasted all that time for nothing.

Words For Money: A woman in sweater holding a gift

We should all take some time to figure out our gifts versus our wants. Photo: freestocks

Also, writing isn’t just about writing

A lot of my opportunities today come in the form of referrals, and weirdly enough, a lot of them don’t have anything to do with writing. It’s funny how life works sometimes, but it’s also important to note that all this is because of writing.

So you could end up selling courses bit. Maybe you’ll have to organise cables in the server room, or lead the product team.

You need to be open to change, because if there’s one thing writers need to get used to, it’s that our skillset is so broad that we’d inevitably need to take on new responsibilities.

Having said all that, let’s get started on your possible futures, roughly based on my past.

1. Writer

This may not be the same for everyone, but it is the most typical way to get your foot in the door.

There are tons of content mills, freelance markets, and corporate blogs to work for, so there’s no quicker way to get a taste of selling your writing than by… well… being a writer.

I myself got my start in a publishing house that handled pullouts for the local newspapers. Here, I learned how to write about things I didn’t really care about.

Because there’s only so much enthusiasm you can harbour for a certain university’s newly-launched diploma course.

But I joined the industry when print was still the rage, and I’m still grateful for that. It’s taught me to be more careful, because there’s nothing worse than immortalising a typo in the newspapers (we had an in-house sub, so the newspapers rarely vetted through the articles).

Words like ‘pagination’ and ‘bleed’ will filled my vocabulary which, for you, in today’s era, would be the replaced by the likes of ‘keywords’ and ‘alt text’.

The job may not pay well, and you may put out more than you’re worth, but if you have no idea where to start, being a writer is always a great way to get your feet wet.

A woman in checkered shirt and cap writing in notebook on a hill

I mean, the best way to writerdom is to actually BE a writer, amirite? Photo: Ashlyn Ciara

2. Journalist

Once you have some experience under your belt, you can go on and write for actual news outlets. The best part about being a journalist is that you can flash your name card in exchange for media perks.

I myself have been treated to gala dinners and product launches (we’re talking goodie bags and champagne here) just because we were expected to cover said events in our respective publications.

And if you think writer’s block exists, then be prepared to shatter that illusion. Being a journalist is the equivalent of being a line cook in your path to becoming a Michelin-star chef. It’s gritty, it’s a lot work, and it’s not for everyone.

That means you’re going to have to deal with one-hour deadlines, stick your neck on the line for possible scoops, and probably write about things you really don’t care about (having to cover business when you write for the tech desk, for example).

But you want to earn your chops? Journalism will whip you in shape pretty damn quick.

3. Travel writer

If you don’t think that anyone in their right mind would ever pay someone to travel, then you and I would be very good friends, at least circa 2014. But just because you can’t imagine it doesn’t mean it can’t be true.

Thanks to the portfolio I’ve built up to 2014, I was in a good position to seize a travel-writing opportunity when it presented itself.

Never in a million years would I have thought I’d grapple with the mud-pit wrestlers of India, stay with the highland tribes of Vietnam, or bid bear spirits farewell in Japan.

Who knows? You could be next. You could become a regular National Geographic contributor. Or you could end up maintaining a successful travel blog.

Whatever it is, I just want you to know that your dream writing gig could be out there, just waiting for you to be ready.

That’s what I’d learned in this era of my writing career—to always hone my craft, because there’s no telling when Lady Luck will show her generosity. And when that happens, you’ll want to be ready.

4. Copywriting

Sometimes you won’t truly write. Sometimes you’ll branch out a little. And while your main job description could be something like ‘produce engaging copy’, you might eventually end up doing things like ‘proofread Comms’ press releases’.

Remember what I said earlier? You have to be open to change. And the only reason I picked up SEO and social media marketing was because I remained open minded during my time in a tech company. Thanks to that, I now know more about about e-commerce than I care to.

Sometimes, your extra responsibilities might include picking up sales calls, giving tours to prospective clients, emceeing the monthly PR events, or even handing out flyers (yes, that was my ‘copywriting’ duty once).

But like the crime author that learns about anaesthetics or the best places to shoot somebody without killing them, you’ll also learn the peripherals of your job, such as how to craft an e-mail campaign or how to use Google Analytics.

And you know what? We writers are prime candidates for picking up new careers because of our wide knowledge (as opposed to deep).

A jack of spades on top of a pile of cards

Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one. Photo: Erik Mclean

5. Teaching

Finally, you can complete the circle and share your knowledge with others. My latest gigs involved teaching students in Malaysia and Singapore how to write.

Also, I’m now mentoring ten aspiring journalists in a volunteer programme in collaboration with the European Union.

Who knew that writing could manifest itself into all these opportunities?

You, too, could one day give back to the world. Perhaps you’ll go down your very individual path of being a poet on Instagram, or becoming the world’s biggest book blogger, before laying down a path for those aspiring to be like you.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing, it’s that you can definitely end up in some pretty interesting places just by the power of your words alone.

So what’s your journey?

There you have it, your possible writing futures based on my own timeline. And we haven’t even covered fiction either.

So why am I writing this? Because I never really had any literary aspirations growing up. I grew up without the internet, remember? Back then, all I ever knew about writing was that it was only considered a pastime.

Had I come across a blogger who’d shared their experience, I suspect I might’ve joined the industry sooner, and gotten a decade-long head start to boot.

So here’s my encouragement to you, young writer. I hope you realise that not only is it possible to sell your words for money, but you can have a heck of a time doing it too.

Just maybe don’t do it for the money.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Henry David Thoreau

Part of the journey also involves writing (and reading) awesome newsletters, so if you want, you could join the community and receive exclusive content that you won’t find elsewhere on the blog.

69 thoughts on “Want To Sell Words For Money? These Are Your Possible Paths.

  1. Great post! Thank you for your insight. I had no idea you dabbled in so many jobs. My only job ever was as a tutor and I signed up on Upwork to be a copywriter a year ago but after no luck I stopped sending in proposals. Maybe you can give us some insight into e-commerce because I have 3 online shops and I haven’t sold a thing (except for 1 friend buying from me once).

    • Ha. When it comes to e-commerce, I only know some platforms inside out, but I haven’t done the actual business myself, which is why I don’t like writing about it so much. By the way, I appreciate seeing your comments here, as they definitely add so much value to the topic at hand!

  2. So what’s my journey? Well after blogging the last few months, I do find it easier to express myself not only on my blog, but in my work where I need to write, write and write. So the practice was useful. Given a couple of slides (infofraphics on PowerPoint) I can whip up a first draft in 15 mins! Not a bad thing considering time is money. Of course editing will take more time….have a nice day!

    • Wow, what a great journey. And it’s not something we can quantify too, but the improvement does happen as we practise more. Thanks for sharing your story, Jeanne, and thanks for also embodying the all-important motto of ‘just write’!

  3. The idea of getting paid to write has always been a fantasy of mine – more like the kind that never comes true. Just a rumour that is never confirmed… That’s how far off it felt to me and reading your post made me feel like it truly could be possible… My only barrier is having to write things that don’t move me.. is that speaking from a privileged perspective? I’m not sure… I just can’t imagine being stuck in a job doing what I LOVE but writing about things that don’t interest me.. how did you deal with that? Did you find your passion for writing fizzled a bit?

    • Weirdly enough, I never ‘brought work home’, so to speak, so work remained work. Sure, writing about property standards and the effect of ageing on the economy wasn’t my true love, but I always had my blog or fiction waiting for me at home, so it didn’t really feel that bad.

      In fact, it’s taught me how to fake enthusiasm and do the job anyway, which comes in hand when even my favourite topics start sagging in certain parts. Thanks so much for your lovely comment and question Jen!

  4. This is very interesting to read! Thank you for sharing these opportunities. I was a *miserable* journalist! Probably because I’m super introverted and I had to go out often. But then I found freelance article writing for websites and that has been my side job while I pursue publication!

    • Oh yeah, tell me about it. My old editor used to say ‘ask more questions at press events so that people will know that we were there’, and that was a terrible thing to tell a non-confrontational introvert to do, especially one who preferred blending in with the crowd. Anyway, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  5. Thanks for sharing this information. This might be outside of your knowledge, but just in case, how would one go about from transitioning from a mental health blogger into a paid writing role within the same or similar field?

    • The same as anywhere else. You look up what the paying markets are, google ‘how to pitch to a publication’, and send out individual, specific pitches to each publication.

      I’ve been to your site, and I see that you have so many things going on for you, so you stand a higher chance being accepted by said publications.

      Of course, if you’d like to build your portfolio with big names, it’s always a good idea to approach NGOs and pitch to them (on a voluntary basis). Hope this helps, and just ask away if you have more questions and I’ll try to help!

  6. Good job Stuart. Travel writing seems like a fun path for a fellow globe trotter like me. The challenge is in developing the various skills necessary to profit through that channel. Rocking post here.

    Ryan

    • Thanks so much, Ryan! Yeah, it definitely is a hard niche to get into, especially since it’s one of the most preferred writing genres out there. And if we’re talking about profitability, it’s hard to top what the greats are doing. But we plod on, eh? You already have so much experience writing in this field, so I hope the profit part works out for you. And thanks so much for stopping by!

    • And I appreciate your comment! Thanks so much for stopping by. By the way, as a heads up, your Gravatar profile seems to be outdated, as the link included leads me to a broken page. Letting you know just in case!

  7. Hi Stuart, this is exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you! I love hearing about all the non-writing jobs you’ve done because of writing. I will stay open.
    Paz,
    Abby

    • Great to see you here, Abby! And yeah, I too didn’t expect I’d be able to land all these jobs through just writing, and staying open is definitely the key word here. Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

  8. I suppose I should apply to online news sites, I believe they’re in need of writers always.

    Apart from that, how much do you think it helps in getting a writing related job, if you have a blog, (or possibly multiple blogs?)

    • Do you mean how much can a blog help you get a job? I feel it’s pretty important, especially if you put your portfolio online as well, because it establishes credibility. When I was still on the lookout for jobs, I’d just point my prospective employers to my blog and that’d answer all their questions.

      • I talked to another guy about this, and he said that a blog can be more wordy than it has to be. So a portfolio might work best.

        But I suck in creating those. After all, that is why I’m bothering you with these questions, aren’t I?

        Well, nothing can be done about it. I’ll just grit my teeth, and create one.

  9. The writing path is definitely a long, and sometimes hard one—but it can also be so worth it. While taking my writing more seriously these past few years, it’s definitely been a struggle figuring out which path I’d like to take. From English teacher, to fiction writing, to copywriting and content creation, the list is endless. But as you said, with today’s technological advancements, it can take just one Google search to figure things out. Cheers to more writing and thanks for another inspiring post.

    • Oh yeah, the internet is a marvel indeed. It’s helped me learn so much faster than if I didn’t have it (such as for cooking), and it’s changed the way we humans function as a whole.

      But the writing path though? That one’s all heart. And for me, hopefully my fiction career turns out all right, lol.

      Thanks for always stopping by. I appreciate you!

  10. This is great and very motivating. I’d love one day for you to write about some resources for writers regarding getting clients, pitching to editors, and best practices. It seems you’re on the pulse of what works.

    • You know, that’s actually a great idea, Brad! I’ll look into that and see what I can come up with. Thanks for taking the time to share such awesome feedback. And thanks for stopping by!

  11. What??!! Did you say you’re “…teaching students in Malaysia and Singapore how to write…mentoring ten aspiring journalists in a volunteer programme in collaboration with the European Union.”? Where do I sign up man? M’sia/Spore?EU??!! LOL!!! Those are some pretty fortunate folks that are under your tutelage…please tell them I said so, tho haha who am I haha! In any case they probably know already. Anyhoo, once again another great blog post to guide us new writers…thanks again Stu!!

    • Yeah, I’ve had the privilege to work with NUS and NTUC, and it was a fun ride. And the volunteer programme is mobile journalism, so there’s surprisingly very little to do with actual writing lol.

      It’s all basic stuff though, so I’m sure there’s nothing you don’t already know :D

      Thanks as always for your great support, Kelvin! Always great seeing you here.

  12. This was a really helpful post, Stuart!
    Previously, I used to perceive writing just as a hobby too. But with time, I’ve come to realize that I want writing to be a larger part of my life. As a newbie, I feel it’s definitely hard to find your first gig. Your post helps in highlighting where to look for work. :)

    • Could I also add that if you’re willing to write for free, NGOs are a great place to start. That way, you can feel better about not being paid (cos you’ll actually be writing for a cause), and you’ll still get to compile a good portfolio with known names.

      Just email them and send a pitch, and if you’re unsure about how to pitch, there’s always Mr Google. Wishing you all the best, and thanks for stopping by!

      • That’s another good suggestion. I’ve always loved volunteering for NGOs and wish to continue to contribute to them in some or the other way. Being able to use my writing to help them out would be absolutely lovely! :)

  13. Great to read about your journey (so far) Stuart. It sounds an inspiring and interesting one.
    Mine seems rather less adventurous: academic => book editor => freelance educational author => fiction writer (after 30 years). I didn’t get to do any mud-wrestling, but I did learn to play banjo and keep bees.
    I’m pretty much 99.99999% confident that you’ll work your hairdressing experience into your writing one day, if you haven’t yet. No experience is ever wasted on a writer 😊

    • Oh yeah, hairdressing experience did come in handy when I worked for AirAsia. Got to cut Tony Fernandes’ hair on the first day of the job, lol. Weird how past experiences end up shaping your life.

      Your journey is inspiring too. Anybody that lands on fiction has the right to say they’ve had a great—albeit challenging—writing career.

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I really appreciate it!

  14. I never tire of reading about someone’s journey to get where they are, even if that place isn’t something fascinating. Your story is way more interesting than mine—a guy who taught elementary school for 31 years and tried to give this writing thing a look in retirement. Respect to anyone who can make a living by doing this.

    • To be fair, I’ve since stopped formally writing for money, and am trying to get paid for my work instead, if that makes any sense. And doing that is definitely slow going.

      But being a teacher for 31 years is a solid journey of its own. That level of dedication is unheard of in this day and age, and what character that must build. I’ll bet you’ll know a thing or two about sticking to writing when everyone else is giving up at chapter three.

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Pete! I appreciate it.

  15. You are truly inspirational, Stuart. Of course, part of your success, in addition to your talent, appears to have been your flexibility to try out different permutations of that thing we generically call “writing.” Thank you for helping to show me some of the possible paths. And I’m already retired, so I can easily heed your admonition not to do it for the money. :)

    • Being able to pursue professional writing without needing (or wanting) to pursue the money is such a blessing, because it allows you to truly explore your creative wants. I have a short period of time to do the same right now, and here’s to discovering all these paths together. Also, thanks so much for stopping by!

  16. My pre retirement work had nothing to do with constructive writing. Today I blog for my own amusement, or perhaps more appropriately “your amusement”.
    Sitting here today, if I started my work life again I think it would be something to say “I’m a foreign correspondent”.

    • Wow, being a foreign correspondent would be pretty interesting. I’ve always fancied reporting news in war-torn or conflicted countries, but now I think I prefer operating from ‘home base’.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kevin. I appreciate it!

  17. I loved reading about your journey and enthusiasm! I’m also a professional writer who began before the internet. I got my foot in the door at a magazine and excelled at sales, but made friends with the editor who let me write. Within a few months I was published all over the world! Then I went on to newspapers, and later websites. I also wrote five books, two of which can be found in Barnes & Noble stores. I also edit content and help others write their books. It’s a beautiful journey making a career out of what you love (and do best!)

    • Whoa, that’s an amazing journey indeed. Thanks so much for sharing and for showing what’s possible. Hopefully it will inspire young writers to take a similar path too. And yes, being able to do what we do best is a blessing indeed. Thanks so much for stopping by, Maryanne!

  18. “Was” OR “is history”… damn it… now I can’t stop thinking about that… which is it?!?! But, I enjoyed this post- as always your blogs are insightful and fun to read! Thank you!

    • I always don’t know which tense to choose, especially when I’m writing fiction in past tense, but am bringing up an idiom that’s present tense.

      Oh well, at least we know we’re writers, because only people like us will bother with these useless details, lol.

      And thanks so much for your kind words. How lovely!

  19. It’s amazing where life takes us, isn’t it?
    I have always enjoyed writing, but wasn’t really given the opportunity until I was in my early 40s. Having the support from hubby #2 and his family made it so much easier to dedicate writing time, and I even traded some of my words for dollars.
    Now I blog and write ebooks, neither of which has made me a fortune yet but I love what I do.
    And for those naysayers out there (hubby #1), I think they’re just jealous and afraid our words might earn us more money and prestige than they have. Just my opinion of course.
    Once again Stuart, you have given us points to ponder. A quote I read somewhere said, “Write for the love of it, the money will follow.” Good thing we love what we do. :)

    • What a lovely comment. I always enjoy reading what you have to say in each post, Diane. Thanks for sharing about your life too. It’s great how different all our lives are, and the more that’s shared here, the better for the aspiring writer.

      And I think that final quote applies to all things in life. As long as we’ve found the thing we’re willing to go through both good and bad for, we’re golden!

    • I think the exact reason for me going down this path is to be able to then share my stories to others who are hoping to go down the same path. And it suits my personality of being the jack of all trades, lol. Anyway, thanks for stopping by as usual!

  20. Thank you for sharing your experience. I have been making steps to try and take my blog more seriously and work on earning money from it. So it is a new adventure for me! Thank you for sharing.

    Lauren – bournemouthgirl

  21. This is great encouragement. I’ve often had thoughts of “Oh it would awesome to get paid to write things” but I have an incredibly large “stopper” that lives in my mind. All the excuses as to why that’s such a silly thought. So I AM encouraged by your post here. Thanks!

    • Omg I can totally relate to having a ‘stopper’ in your head, because that’s what I have for everything else in life. I always doubt myself and put things off for later. I think part of life is learning how to overcome that. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Becky. I appreciate it!

  22. This is very intriguing, Stu! As an undergraduate, I can’t say I haven’t given writing a second thought, but I think I’ll keep it a side matter of blogging and writing novellas for now (*wink, wink*).
    It’s amazing to hear about your path leading up to the legendary Stuart Danker who writes amazing articles. I’d definitely love to be a journalist in another life, but it’s totally possible to give my passion (Hear that? It ain’t a gift. It’s a passion. Meh.) a good try in the future.
    Thank you very much for this post!
    Olivia

    • Well, if blogging and novellas interest you, then you definitely don’t need to be a journalist, because there are tons of successful bloggers and fiction writers out there, and you definitely belong there if you make the decision to.

      Hopefully you find some time to give writing a fair shot before deciding whether or not to continue down that path. Thanks so much for stopping by, Olivia!

  23. Interesting to hear about your writing path! I lacked the confidence to think it could be my job and so I did all sorts of odd jobs – I’ve had a dozen professions, at least! Some of them were intentional and fun (over a decade in tourism and aviation) and some of them… well, I was selling myself short (customer service). Anyway, today I’m a content manager and it happened just because I decided to re-brand myself at work. I just started telling everyone about my successful email campaigns (which I love doing) and copywriting (which I also love – it’s a thrill to see how well my pitches have worked!). Copywriting isn’t a step on the way to become a freelancer – for me, it’s the destination, I’m happy with it for now. It’s stable and secure. As for producing free content for the web, I’m still doing it! 😁 My blog isn’t an advertorial, it’s my storybook and portfolio. But I think you’re right: it takes time to mature into it. Anyone who says they’re a writer when they are 20 is a phony! Either that, or I’m just jealous of them! 😝

    • Wow, high five! I used to be a content manager too, but that was a pretty interesting experience for me, because I had to come up with advertising copy, churn out press releases, and proofread every little asset from various departments. Don’t know what my job scope was to be honest, lol.

      Thanks so much for sharing your journey and inspiring other budding writers! I’m sure they’ll find this useful.

      And congrats on being where you want to be in your writing career :)

      I love that you stopped by!

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