This year, I was able to turn years of blogging at my food blog, Food for My Family, and freelancing for other sites into publishing my first book, Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats that Shine. While there may not have been a fireworks display and trumpets sounding in the physical world, there was definitely a parade being thrown inside of me as I realized a new beginning of where I wanted to take my career.
In 2008, I worked at a job where I listened to other journalists' interviews and typed them out. While it was an interesting and brain-filling type of employment, the job itself was rather thankless. I wanted to be the writer, the author of the piece drafting the words, and I wanted my name listed on the article. I wanted deadlines to mean more than just an arbitrary date that would provide a paycheck.
So at the urging of friends, I started a blog in 2009. It was slow at first—I took a month to decide what I wanted to write about and what the URL would be, then waited months after that before publishing my first post. Though finding my voice took longer than I would have liked, the fear I felt was not of the writing, but knowing that I did not want this to be just a hobby. I knew that everything I put up online was a means to an end, and that end was to make writing my career.
Once I got started, the return on investment was quick, and shortly thereafter I was writing bi-weekly articles for a well known organic brand and being compensated for my work. From there, I gained additional freelance opportunities, and within a year I was able to transfer all my work efforts into writing, leaving behind the grunt work. The following year, I signed a book deal to write and photograph my cookbook.
It’s been quite an experience. And if you’ve ever dreamed of writing or blogging—or even just want to build your professional presence online—here are a few pieces of wisdom I would share:
1. Remember Everyone’s Watching
It’s impossible to believe that anything you do on the internet will be truly anonymous— even if your initial reason for writing a blog or maintaining a Reddit profile is entirely for recreational purposes. If you’re ever looking to make your hobbies or your passions become more than just hobbies and passions, it's best to know that you have an audience (even if that audience isn’t attentive just yet).
For example, if you ever want to work with large corporations, be careful what you say on your blog. I have dealt with this mostly with food brands, some of which are wary to support me because of my stance on processed food (I don’t like to use it). But since I do believe there are honest brands out there, I will often include a line in my posts about how and when I do use those foods, which is important if I want their financial backing down the road.
While this is contrary to the advice you often hear about being yourself and dancing like no one’s watching, it’s important to be practical as you begin to take your blog to new levels. You have to be your own editor, determining what to cut and what to leave and how to best say what you mean.
2. Learn How to Market Yourself
Whether you want to land a job in graphic design, to turn online writing into a career, or to break into the video production world by first producing online content, marketing yourself will go a long way into making your goals happen.
For me, this is the hardest part of the job. I simply do not like talking about myself. We grow up being taught that it is rude to do so, and as an introvert, I can barely manage a word of audible praise for others, let alone going on and on about myself.
Alas, it is necessary. In the early days, I had to network. And now, I have forced myself into jobs that previously made me want to run and hide, including signing on to video series and television appearances and spokesperson roles, and I have figured out ways to get comfortable with them. I don't have to enjoy marketing myself, but I’ve learned that I can force myself to be good at it.
3. Don’t Hold Back
One of my most important lessons is that the world is only as small as you allow it to be. In my case, I thought that I didn’t have the right degree for my dream job as a writer. I held myself back for years, refusing to believe that I could get where I wanted without pursuing some form of higher education.
But the truth is, there are many ways to break into new careers, and making a name for yourself in the online community is one of them. While it may feel like a back door—and in some ways, it is—remember that people have been backing into careers for centuries. This doesn't mean you should give up pursuing higher education, and certainly, for some careers a graduate degree is just plain necessary, but you don't always need to have the master’s degree or the PhD before you start getting involved in your field of choice.
So, while I haven't given up on earning an MFA in creative writing and a culinary degree in my currently nonexistent free time, I am pursuing what I want to be doing now. And I’m letting the pieces of the puzzle fall into place for everything that comes after.