The Non-Writing Skills You Need to Be a Successful Writer
Professional writing has many intangibles
Being a writer is a lot like being an athlete.
Top athletes bring several skills to the table in addition to their physical or even sport-specific abilities. The “intangibles”, like confidence and adaptability, define which athletes make it and which don’t.
Writing, just like sports, requires an abundance of periphery skills for success. Being a good writer, with a knack for storytelling, is the baseline. To build a writing career, you’ll need several skills that aren’t related to writing.
Along my accidental journey to content writer, I’ve learned which non-writing skills have helped me, and many other writers, create a career out of writing.
These are the top 6 non-writing skills that successful writers have in common:
1. Time management
For many writers, the career involves running several clients and projects simultaneously. Whether you work for a company, agency, or just freelance clients, there’s a lot you’ll handle at once as a writer. Writers with poor time management and organizational skills will struggle.
Once you fall behind on a project, it’s very difficult and stressful to catch up. I’ve seen several talented writers in my agency quit or lose their job because they did not keep up with the workload.
The better you manage your time, the easier it will be for you to turn in your best work to clients. This starts with organizing and scheduling.
You have to be very careful not to overbook yourself or to agree to impossible deadlines. Plan ahead by knowing what’s due each week and each day, and then create your workflow based on the due dates. Know your speed and writing process, and plan your time accordingly. Develop a system that allows you to work efficiently and utilize your time effectively.
Most writers work for someone else in some fashion, which means you need to be good at communicating. Of course, writing itself has an element of communication, but you also have to be an effective communicator outside of your writing. You must be able to speak confidently and calmly with clients or coworkers via email, phone, or video chat. You have to appropriately express yourself and your ideas, even in the midst of high emotions.
Providing a writing service for a client requires “customer service” skills, and the ability to handle confused, angry, and sometimes rude clients.
You should also be proactive with your communication to avoid problems. Sending weekly or monthly updates to your clients, checking in, and communicating about any issues immediately can help prevent larger problems that could sever a client relationship.
Some writers may be specialists and only write on the topics they know best, but many freelance and content writers have to write about a myriad of topics. You must be able to quickly and efficiently perform research and then incorporate your findings in your writing in a way that makes you sound like an expert.
Many days, my work feels a lot like writing mini research papers. Of course, as I work with a client more, I begin to learn more about the space, but I still write about several topics I never had any formal training in.
I’ve written countless articles about masonry, chimneys, fireplaces, SEO, digital marketing, fitness/nutrition, wellness, and dentistry. It’s impossible to be an expert in that many categories, which is why research is so important.
Your ability to research will define how well you can work with a range of clients. Writers should be able to find relevant information and sources quickly. But writers must also learn from what they read to produce coherent, beneficial writing on various topics.
4. Computer skills
Unless you plan to handwrite and snail mail all of your writing in, you need some basic computer skills to make money as a writer in the modern era. These abilities are a no-brainer for a lot of those that grew up with technology, but you’ll need to be able to effectively use:
- Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc)
- Online communication tools (Slack, email, etc)
- Google Drive (Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc)
- Any other digital platforms that are relevant to your job. ( My agency uses Jar HQ).
I was shocked this past week when a new writer asked me how to send a DM on Slack and did not know how to share the Google docs to me with editing access.
While I did my best to explain these things, I am concerned that she would struggle if she were to start working directly with clients. It’s very important to have a general grasp of the major digital tools and an aptitude for picking up new ones.
Different clients may have their own processes or tolls that they expect you to pick up on. In some cases, YOU must be able to explain to a client how to access, edit, or share something so that is information you have to understand yourself.
If you did not grow up immersed in technology, or aren’t familiar with the common digital tools, it’s not a lost cause! There are many online resources for learning about them, including mini-courses and even free videos/articles. If you ever find you aren’t sure how to do something, just look it up and see if you can find a YouTube tutorial.
To get where you want in any career, but especially in one as competitive as writing, you have to take initiative. I am probably not the most talented writer that’s ever written for Content Cucumber, but I am the first one they offered a full-time position to. My initiative helped me gain the writing experience to get the job, and then to continue to progress within it.
In my previous job as a part-time marketing assistant for a skincare company, I sent over some educational information about the value of having a consistent blog and content strategy when I realized we were missing that.
I was then asked to write the blogs, which helped me get the experience I needed to apply when the Content Writer position opened at Content Cucumber.
Since getting the position, I have offered feedback on our operations, ad copy, and more whenever I notice it. I send over content resources and ideas to our marketing team. Taking initiative to help our team improve has earned me more responsibility in my role.
As a writer, you have to take charge of your career. By taking the initiative to reach out to clients, promote your work, provide feedback, and seek out new opportunities, you will grow as a professional.
6. Willingness to learn
No matter how great of a writer you are today, it will be difficult to make a successful career out of it if you refuse to learn. The best people at any trade have a hunger for growth and learning, and writing is no different. You need to be open to feedback, and eager to improve as a writer and as a professional overall.
I once had a client request an 800-word blog post. When I turned it in, he then said he wanted only 1–2 sentences per point to use as an infographic.
I used this as an opportunity to improve my communication skills, as I politely told him I’d be happy to adjust the article but that he should please specify those details in the request in the future and be sure to choose the appropriate word count since I write based on the information in the request.
In another instance, I had a “troll” spamming one of my first Medium articles (and the one that’s done the best to this day, How I Became a Professional Writer with No Writing Degree or Experience) trying to pin me as a liar about my own career path. He had no intention of helping me as a writer or learning about my personal experience, yet I still found some useful ideas. Since then, I’ve focused on including more supporting details in my posts.
Learning as a writer is not always easy. You need to be willing to listen to criticism without letting it define you.
Some people have no intention of helping you improve and are only trying to cut you down, but you may even be able to learn from them. Always be open to learning and willing to grow while still having thick enough skin to retain your confidence.
Develop your non-writing skills
A lot of talented writers fail to make a sustainable career from their abilities because they don’t cultivate the non-writing skills that the career path demands. Fortunately, all of these non-writing skills and intangibles are learnable.
It’s not the best writers (or the best athletes)that always succeed. It’s the ones that are willing to develop a well-rounded skill set that will make the most out of their careers.
Professional athlete, content writer, and content marketer. Sharing my raw, unfiltered experiences. https://medium.com/@rashidabeal79