Kristin Wong is an accomplished writer who has done work for some of the biggest names in media such as Lifehacker, NBC News, MSN, Mental Floss, and more. In addition, she has worked in technical writing, produced online videos, and even wrote a comedy series for Netflix. We caught up with her to get the inside scoop on how she has achieved success in this competitive field–and how you can too.
Update: She is releasing her first book, Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford in early 2018! Pre-order it today!
Did you always want to be a writer? If not, what was the moment when you decided you wanted this career?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first short story in second grade (“How Cats Got Their Ears”), and I’ve been writing ever since.
Getting paid for my creative writing made me think I could do it full-time for a living. I knew it was possible, but it meant I had to take action.
How did you decide to become a technical writer, and what skills did you need to learn to make it?
I lived in Houston, a big oil and gas city, so engineering and technical jobs are in demand there (or at least, they are when oil prices are stable). I looked for jobs that required an English degree and also involved writing in some way, and in Houston, that meant technical writing. My job description included the word “writer,” and that was enough for me at the time.
Even though I quit my technical writing career, I still think it was the most important job I’ve had. I learned to write concisely, but more importantly, technical writing gave me the confidence to write about pretty much anything. After writing manuals on how to put together complicated, mile-long drilling tools, there’s really no topic that intimidates me.
Why did you decide to transition from technical writing?
I wanted to write more creatively, so I took freelance gigs on the side: a comedy website, a local art magazine. Getting paid for my creative writing made me think I could do it full-time for a living. I knew it was possible, but it meant I had to take action.
You also have a background making videos and writing scripts, can you tell us about this aspect of your career?
When I moved to LA, I figured I’d try scriptwriting. I wrote a comedy series for Netflix, and I briefly wrote for an entertainment news TV show. Then I started working on a video series with MSN, and now I produce online videos for a few different clients. It’s fun! And I enjoy it as a side gig, but I prefer writing articles and essays.
You run Brokepedia, a website that focuses on money saving tips and tricks. Has operating this website opened opportunities for you? What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own website?
I’ve been trying to expand Brokepedia beyond just being about money saving tips and tricks. Lately, I’ve been writing more about my own relationship with money, how to earn more, and how to progress in the career you want. I think the site name and branding have held me back, so I’m actually in the process of rebranding it.
My advice for anyone who wants to start their own website is to establish an overarching theme. I’m a fan of Emilie Wapnick at Puttylike, and she talks about this a lot. Your overarching theme is the core concept of your website. It gives your site and your writing purpose and direction.
Do you think having a side project such as your own website is valuable for someone wanting to break into the writing game?
Yes! I know so many writers who started out blogging on their own site and then went on to author books or write for national magazines. A blog or side project is a great way to showcase your skills, practice writing, and release your creative energy.
With everything you do, always put in your best effort–even if you think no one will see your stuff,
How important has networking been in advancing your career?
The more my career grows, the more important networking becomes. I’m writing for 5-6 clients right now, and out of those, I only found one through a traditional job board; the rest were through networking.
You currently write for some of the biggest names out there—Lifehacker, NBC News, and others. What advice would you give for someone who wants to have a career as successful as yours has been?
With everything you do, always put in your best effort–even if you think no one will see your stuff, even if you’re not being paid much, even if your editor or boss doesn’t appreciate it. And put in that effort for your own sake, not anyone else’s. I’ve tried to follow this mantra from the beginning. There are so many times I feel like not trying. Sometimes it’s because I feel like a failure. Sometimes it’s because my boss assigns me work I feel is silly. Whatever the reason, half-assing your work only hurts your career. You’re setting up a potential roadblock, and I think this is especially true for writers, because we have a byline that calls us out.
Being a writer allows you to work anywhere, anytime—but it often also means that many writers are working all the time. How do you find a balance?
One thing I’ve learned to do is change the way I think about breaks. Breaks are a necessary part of the process. I love writing, and I love what I do for a living, but too much of anything will burn you out. Breaks help you regain perspective and focus. I spend at least one day a week not writing or working at all, and I shut off my phone and computer. When I’m on a “writing high,” where I feel like I can keep knocking out words for days, I stop myself, take a break, and come back to the work with much more energy. It’s like the Hemingway trick–stop writing mid-sentence to avoid writer’s block. Instead of pouring out all of your words until you don’t have any left, you stop on a high note. He wrote:
Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.
What’s next for your Kristin Wong and what are your goals for the future?
I’m launching a blog this year, www.thewildwong.com, and it will be all about adventures in money, career, and travel. Stay tuned!
Keep up with Kristin by following her Twitter and by visiting her website, Brokepedia and The Wild Wong. Be sure to pre-order her amazing new book: Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford