A Professional Writer Explains How to Become a Better Writer

Before I get started, I just want to give a quick couple of shout outs to Will, Amy, and Rec Tec Grills, whose Bull wood pellet smoker above was sent to us for promotional usage for a ton of great holiday meals throughout the next year. I fulfilled my obligation with the gift guide publication, but we love the Bull so much that I decided to use it as the featured pic in this blog to showcase the power of writing.

Rec Tec understood the power of writing when they sent me that grill, and I understood the power when I asked for it. Writing is a business that I’ve been hustling and grinding in full-time to make a living since 2011. At this point, few would question my assertion that I am, indeed, a professional writer now, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, my roots of being paid for delivering the written word extend deep into my childhood.

Path of a Professional Writer

By 7th grade, I was so far ahead of the rest of my class that I was helping a lot of my friends with their homework, especially math and English. I can’t even remember at this point who’s on my Facebook that would even remember me helping them, but there were a few levels, depending on how much I liked you or believed in you.

If I liked and believed in you (which includes anybody reading this blog), I taught you how to find the answers on your own. Guiding people through difficult problems was a fun way to spend time with them and see them under pressure. If I liked you but didn’t believe in you, I’d just give you the answers. If I didn’t like you, I charged you for these services, whether I believed in you or not. When it came down to writing essays, I always charged per word.

I knew to charge per word because since the age of 10, I worked after school as a paperboy for the Sierra Vista Herald. I was fascinated by the writing profession, and I often visited the Herald’s office on Wilcox Drive to tour the facility with my supervisor. I asked her everything I could about it. It never occurred to me to ask to write for the newspaper, so when my friend Kelly did it in high school, I was a bit jealous.

Between delivering papers (I always picked up extra routes when other carriers went on vacation) and hustling essays, I’d argue I’ve been a professional writer my whole life. But I have credentials since at least 10.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writing boils down to two ingredients – the subject matter and the technical structure. I taught myself to read using audiobooks (illustrated Disney books that included a cassette tape of someone reading them) at a young age and mastered college-level mechanics of writing the English language by 4th grade. Like everything in school, my personal interest in the subject matter was the deciding factor in how easy it would be to write an essay about it.

In school, we were given assignments as pages (i.e. – write a 3-page essay). I don’t know how it works now, and that’s sad because I literally know an English teacher I can ask right now. Anyway, I imagine it works the same as my job assignments, which is to hit a target word count, such as 500 or 1000 words, etc. Designing an outline and hitting that target is always easier when you have a real passion for the subject.

Understanding my passions was the key to my success as a professional freelance writer. Owning these passions and relating them fearlessly to any subject made me a versatile writer. Lil Wayne and Eminem (hip-hop is a passion of mine) are great examples of how this works. Both love success, women, the game, and mind-altering substances. They can relate any universal subject to those foundations.

Eminem also popularly uses pop culture references, much like I’m doing right now. That’s how he’s able to write so much so fast. These men have written a ton of words professionally. Whether they yelled it into a mic, typed it into a computer, or put pen to paper, they’re writers just like I am. They’re expressing their passion, and you need to do that as a writer. This doesn’t mean everything has to be about you, however.

Like Eminem and Lil Wayne, I wrote this about me for you. But you have to write about much more boring shit, so let’s dig deeper into how I push through assignments I don’t like.

Working Without Passion

I sometimes stress because I have to write something so stale that I can’t inject any of my personality into it. This only happens when I ghostwrite, which is the adult version of what I used to do as a kid in school. Eminem may not believe in ghostwriters, but I can assure you we exist, and we love the skill people like him, Joyner, Kendrick, Tech, and the rest bring to the table.

I love writing about drugs, hip-hop, computers, and pop culture, but sometimes I have to write about OSHA’s requirements for clean room technology or the process of creating synthetic fabric blends for specific purposes, even Bank of America training guides. These projects don’t allow for much humor (although you can often slip in a pun or song lyric if you’re slick enough) and are soooooo….stale….and…boring…..

For these, I have a state-issued medical marijuana card to help with. I don’t know what you should do about it. Maybe get off the internet and go learn something your teacher is trying to teach you. Or find a writer like me whose per-word rate you can afford to pay to ghostwrite for you.

I’m not going to cheat for you and give you the answers. I told you at the start – I like you and believe in you.

You’ll figure it out yourself.


Dr. Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. You can find his work in Cracked, High Times, HuffPost, Lifewire, Forbes, Fast Company, and dozens of other places, although much of it is no longer under his name. Dr. Penny loves annoying fake media.

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