Robert Moskowitz -- Writing Coach





Robert Moskowitz accepts a strictly limited number of talented writers into his customized, one-on-one coaching/mentoring program. It's the best and fastest way to accelerate your writing skills, your freelancing business acumen, and your overall creative career to a significantly higher level. Don't be shy: If you suspect you have what it takes, and want to become the best writer you can be, send no more than 250 words describing your writing career to date and your best sample of no more than 2500 words to RobertTheCoach {at} RobertMoskowitz {dot} com. Due to the large number of requests he receives, he can respond only to those writers he believes he can help.

See some of my credentials here


What Does It Take To Make

A Successful Career As A Writer?  

The woods (and the Internet) are full of promotional materials telling you how easy it is to make a six-figure income or larger as a professional writer.

Don't you believe it.

Millions of people can write, including a solid proportion of everyone who has graduated from High School. But that doesn't make them writers. 

Hundreds of thousands of people write reports, descriptions, memos, emails, and other materials as part of their jobs. But that doesn't make them writers, either. 

Tens of thousands of people claim to be professional writers, but in my experience darn few of them earn enough to support themselves through their writing. It's just not easy. And I know, because I have supported myself as a writer for more decades than I care to think about. 

Lately, I've been thinking back on my career, and trying to piece together the elements that allowed me to raise two sons, keep them fed and clothed and entertained, send them to top colleges, start them off in life, and all the while support myself without actually having to "take a job" doing anything other than slinging text -- and over the years, I've held darn few of those. 

Most of my life, I've earned my keep as an independent writer, finding people willing to trade good, hard cash for some black marks on paper (and more recently bits and bytes inside a computer) that I've been able to arrange to their satisfaction. 

I once had a writing teacher who gave me a demanding assignment, and then sought to make it seem less onerous by holding up a dictionary. He said: "Your completed assignment is right here in this book. All you've got to do is choose the right words and put them in the correct order."

Simple, right? 

On the contrary, writing is something that millions of people can do, but relatively few can do well, and even fewer can use as the basis for a successful career. To the best of my understanding, here are the elements that are necessary for someone to forge a successful career as a professional writer:

1) It helps if you have a gift for the written word. You can succeed without it, but fame and fortune in the big-time, fast-paced world of professional writing comes a lot easier to the gifted. 

2) A strong work ethic. It's not for nothing that Thomas Edison famously said: "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." Writing may not require genius, but it does require a willingness to put in the time and the effort to craft written material that is clear, cogent, compelling, creative, and concise -- among other things. Good writing requires a massive amount of rewriting. Word-processing makes it easier and faster to do this rewriting. But it doesn't eliminate the need for you to do it, over and over and over again until the writing is as perfect as you can make it.

3) A good, well-trained, and well-educated brain. Writing comes from thinking, and good writing comes from clear, smart thinking. If you think badly, or fuzzily, or dimly, generally you can't write well. You may be lucky and find a huge audience for your fuzzy, dim thoughts. But you can't count on that, and you don't know how long that audience will keep buying your words. To make a career as a writer, you must be able to understand, analyze, create, and convey the messages that audiences appreciate. 

4) A strong business sense. We're talking about a career, here, folks, and that involves earning money. If you expect to earn enough money to live (or even better, to live well), you must be able to control your time, conceive of written products to sell, set prices, do marketing, keep costs low, manage your profit margins, find leads, entice prospects, close sales, and all the rest. There are many more great writers than successful writers. The biggest factor that separates the great writers from the great writer-earners is the ability to turn a buck from what they write. 

5) Longevity. Sure, you may be the next J.D. Salinger, who made a whole career out of writing "The Catcher in the Rye." But that would be a longshot. It's far easier to build a successful career if you can keep cranking out great works over a long period of time. This involves self-management, self-discipline, self-growth, self-awareness, receptivity to new ideas, a willingness to change, good health, long-lasting motivation, and a slew of additional characteristics of the same nature.

6) Luck. Let's face it: being in the right place at the right time with the right answers to the right questions is not a matter of skills or training or education or even being gifted. In some ways, it's better to be lucky than skilled. But I can't help believing that the harder I work, the luckier I get.

Of course, these are just the characteristics that I notice in myself, and to which I attribute my success as a writer. But I'm aware that this kind of analysis is too much like the sportscaster who goes into the winner's locker room and asks "What got you here?" From the Winner's Circle, it's easy to look back and attribute success to anything -- from belief in God to not changing your underwear -- that seems important. But that doesn't make it so. 

There may be other factors contributing to my success. Heck, it's almost certaint that there ARE other factors contributing to my success. I'd tell you what they were if I were aware of them. But I'm not. If you've got other ideas, I'd love to hear them.

I don't know how many of these I can teach to people who aren't willing or able to learn them. But I know how to try.

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In Defense of Magazine Writers
By Robert Moskowitz

Written in rebuttal to:

I find this information about as useful as instructions on how make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I mean, yes, this is good information, but no, no decent magazine writer who has used the Internet for at least a few months will learn anything from it.

Let's take it point by point:

"...most find it hard adapting to writing on the internet"Are you kidding me? In a room full of 100 magazine writers, how many find it hard to write for the 'Net? What is your source for this information? I know a lot of magazine writers, and not one of them has had the smallest problem writing material that works great for the 'Net. They may have problems accepting the miniscule rates of pay that 'Net publishers seem willing to pay for their content. But "find it hard adapting to writing on the internet" -- I don't think so.

“Change Fonts.” Oh, this is a really tough one. The author apparently believes magazine writers have some kind of techie-block that prevents them from learning how to change fonts in their word processing software, and/or their webpage-building software, and/or they lack any friends or coworkers who can do this for them once an article is written in a worthless serif font. Let the record show that this article is itself published on the 'Net in a serif font. What’s the appropriate take-away from that?

“Cut up the text.” Oh, yes. In the author’s estimation, this is another difficult concept and intricate task that is way beyond the skills of most magazine writers. Imagine: you actually have to know how to press “enter” once or twice in a row after every few sentences in your writing. And then you actually have to do it. Phew! Get the massage oil, Gladys, I’m in real pain here.

“Understand entry points.” This is the first sensible notion in the article, but why does the author think “entry points” are beyond the ken of most magazine writers? Any magazine writer worthy of the name can write a great lede, lots of decks and call-outs, headlines, sub-heads, and paragraph labels. The concept of “entry points” has the exact same meaning on the ‘Net as it does in magazines: It’s the first thing a potential reader may see, and it better be interesting. 

By the way, I find it strange that this author thinks people read magazines only from front to back. How many of you flip from the back to the front looking for something interesting? How many of you read the page to which a magazine naturally opens because of blow-in cards or stapled offers or changed-weight papers or other physical factors that make the magazine more likely to open there than anywhere else? How many of you insist on reading a magazine by turning to the table of contents (often 20 or more pages in from the cover and many times very difficult to find) and go from there, as opposed to just turning or flipping pages in search of something interesting?

“Understand the important relationships that your writing creates.” I’m not sure what this actually means, so maybe I’m not capable of writing for the ‘Net. Or maybe the author either doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or can’t explain it very well in writing. If he’s talking about “links,” which seems to be the case, is he really trying to make the point that magazine writers can’t handle the task of including links in their writing? Or that they aren’t capable of collecting some reference material and submitting it along with their article? (Isn’t that the same kind of work required for writing some kinds of printed “sidebars?”) 

And in this section the author includes a second point: “Write shorter articles.” How this relates to “relationships” is not obvious to me. Doesn’t this suggestion fit better with the previous discussion on “entry points,” since the author suggests that shorter articles can lead readers to other valuable content? Maybe what we‘re seeing here is an author unable to parse his own text into unified, homogeneous topics. Writing is thinking, and if your thoughts are not well organized and sequenced, your writing won’t be, either. Most magazine writers are pretty good at this kind of thing. Some web writers, apparently, ... not so much.

“Watch your metrics.” Metrics is just measuring, and in this case, measuring the audience. Is there a successful magazine writer who is not concerned with garnering the largest possible readership for his/her articles? And why does the author believe metrics are beyond the grasp of most magazine writers? Where does the author get the idea that “journalists are supposed to concentrate on writing, with very little access to audience research.” 

Actually, one of the first rules that most magazine writers have mastered is the art of writing to their readers, using tools such as vocabulary, style, structure, and rhetorical arts aimed directly at the intended audiences’ interests and ability to understand. Yes, the ‘Net offers faster and more accurate and detailed feedback on who is reading your work than most magazines. But that just gives magazine writers a leg up on other writers who are less attuned to the importance of keeping your audience with you.

“Get comfortable with interactivity.” I don’t have a puppy from Tbilisi. Does that make me incapable of writing for the ‘Net? More to the point, most magazine writers have received letters from their readers, often with a terse note from their editor (the same one who approves their paychecks!) indicating the importance of responding ASAP to this feedback without either pissing off the magazine’s subscriber or admitting that your entire article was worthless. Feedback is the magazine writer’s middle name. Whether you find feedback “jarring and hurtful” or not has nothing to do with your ability to craft a great article, and even less to do with how well that article will fly on the Internet.

In short, there’s not much of value in this piece. And there is absolutely no support for its thesis: “most [magazine writers] find it hard adapting to writing on the internet.” The instructions are relatively sound, like those for making a peanut butter sandwich (Get some bread, spread some peanut butter, then some jelly) but I seriously doubt there are many people getting paid to write for magazines who will find these ideas either new or difficult.

The author has seriously underestimated the skills and abilities of most working writers. But maybe he got paid for it. If so, it’s not a complete waste of effort -- as any magazine writer will tell you.

P.S. I’m not usually such a curmudgeon. But sometimes it’s necessary to label the obvious for what it is!

Robert Moskowitz