steps to becoming a professional writer

5 Steps to Start a Professional Writing Career

By Eric D. Lehman, Associate Professor, Communications Specialist

Since I was a small boy, I always wanted to be a writer. By writer I probably meant “novelist” or “poet,” though I rarely thought about it. Instead, I just wrote whatever I wanted to, practicing over many years with different forms and styles. That was a good start. But having a professional writing career is a completely different process.

I am only a part-time professional writer. I write books, magazine articles, and content for websites. My other job is as an associate professor of English at University of Bridgeport, and that is the job that (mostly) pays the bills. Nevertheless, some people, including friends of mine, make their entire living from professional writing, using a combination of freelance contracts and larger opportunities. Others, including students from our program, have gone on to write and edit full-time. There is so much content being offered today through the internet and other sources, so there is always a need for writing professionals to do the work.

Starting a career often starts with a degree, like the English and Professional Writing degree here at UB. Sometimes, that comes in the middle of a career, when a writer wants more focus and formal training.

As a professional writer, you should:

1. Figure out a career path.

There are so many ways to start a writing career. You might write proposals or legal papers or résumés. You might write documents or marketing content for a large company. Businesses need writers to create social media posts and articles. And finally, yes, you might write novels and video scripts.

2. Earn a degree.

While it is possible to become a writer without a degree, having one will get you more freelance opportunities; full-time jobs are nearly impossible to find without one. You might get a degree in journalism, creative writing, technical writing, communications, marketing, or English and professional writing, like the one here at UB. A formal education also provides a solid base of critical thinking and writing skills that can be difficult to attain on your own.

3. Create opportunities to write.

You will want to try as many different forms and genres as possible, to figure out what you are best at. You should also look for opportunities that present themselves wherever you can. When I first started writing, I never thought I would like to write about food, but it has become one of my most reliable (and favorite) jobs as a professional writer. It happened because the opportunity arose, and I took it.

4. Build a portfolio of your writing.

Once you have a few publications to your credit, you should start building a portfolio of writing samples that demonstrate your skills to potential clients and hiring managers. Depending on the job opportunity, you will want to adapt and specialize this collection.

5. Establish your niche.

Finding the types of writing you do best and playing to those strengths will lead you to be an expert in a field. Perhaps that is health sciences writing or book reviews or commercial scripts. Or perhaps it is all of those. Build a niche market (or three) and become an in-demand professional writer in that field.

Writing is a skill that never goes out of style. Everyone needs professional writers to create, edit, and revise content. And since “everyone” includes book publishers, you should keep a little of your busy schedule open to write that novel you’ve always dreamed of, too.


Eric D. Lehman is an Associate Professor of English and the author or editor of 22 books, including New England Nature, New England at 400, The Quotable New Englander, A History of Connecticut Food, Literary Connecticut, A History of Connecticut Wine, Bridgeport: Tales from the Park City, Hamden: Tales from the Sleeping Giant, Insiders’ Guide to Connecticut, Connecticut Farms and Farmers Markets, Connecticut Town Greens, and Afoot in Connecticut: Journeys in Natural History, nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His biography of Charles Stratton, Becoming Tom Thumb, won the Henry Russell Hitchcock Award from the Victorian Society of America, and was chosen as one of the American Library Association’s outstanding university press books of the year. His revolutionary history Homegrown Terror: Benedict Arnold and the Burning of New London was a finalist in two categories of the Next Gen Indie Book Awards and was used in a question on Jeopardy. And his novella, Shadows of Paris, was the Novella of the Year from the Next Gen Indie Book Awards, a Silver Medal for Romance from the Foreword Review Indie Book Awards, and a finalist for the Connecticut Book Award.
In addition to his many books, Professor Lehman’s essays, reviews, and stories have been published in dozens of journals and magazines, from Edible Nutmeg to Estuary. He is also an associate editor for Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal and The Wayfarer. He lectures often outside the context of the University and has given over two hundred presentations of his research to historical societies, museums, and other groups. He has been consulted on diverse subjects and quoted by The Atlantic Monthly, USA Today, the BBC, the History Channel, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, and The Wall Street Journal.