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How to Become a Writer

writer
Writing jobs are quite varied, including freelance writing, copywriting and technical writing.
Credit: dean bertoncelj | Shutterstock

Are you a wordsmith? A master of the pen? Conqueror of the keyboard? If you have a way with words, then a career as a writer might be the right choice for you.

Writers develop original content for advertisements, books, magazines, television and movie scripts, songs and online publications. But being a writer often involves much more than just the written word.

Keep reading to learn more about what a writer’s duties are, where they typically find work, and how much money they usually make.

What writers do

Not surprisingly, most of what a writer does is write. Writers and authors create written material for a variety of sources. Whether they work for an advertising company, a newspaper, a magazine or a television studio, writers spend most of their working hours in front of a computer screen, typing up content.

A writer’s control over the content he or she writes varies depending on his or her employer. For example, a copywriter working for an advertising agency writes content about specific products and services for clients. They may have creative control over their content, but they do not choose what they get to write about.

Writers for magazines or online publications, on the other hand, typically must write about the themes relevant to their publication, but they may get to choose which stories they choose to write. Often, however, an editor gives them writing assignments.

Writers are usually asked to research their own stories in order to convey accurate details and facts to readers. They may have to pitch their ideas to editors, whose job it is to steer them in the direction of stories that audiences will want to read. Writers often work with their editors to improve a story, or other content, until it is right for publishing.

There are many different kinds of writers and their responsibilities differ depending on what they choose to write about. A biographer, for example, writes accounts of peoples’ lives and is responsible for conducting a great amount of research about his or her subjects.

A novelist, on the other hand, composes works of fiction that require a great deal of creative thinking but do not necessarily entail research. However, some novelists, like those writing historical fiction, often engage in a great deal of research as well.

Playwrights and screenwriters write scripts that will be acted out on stage or on a movie or television set. They are responsible for creating dialogue, story lines, stage directions and ideas about set design.

Technical writers, also called technical communicators, produce instruction manuals and other supporting documents to communicate complex and technical information more easily. They also develop, gather and disseminate technical information among customers, designers, and manufacturers.

Where writers work

Writers work in a variety of settings. As of 2010, the majority of writers worked for religious institutions, non-profits, civic organizations and for-profit companies, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A nearly equal number of writers were employed by newspapers, book publishers, advertisers and public relations firms in that same year.

The movie, radio, and television industries also employ writers, but in lower numbers.

Increasingly, writers are choosing to work on a freelance basis within various industries. Freelance writers have many of the same responsibilities as salaried writers, but they are not employees of the companies for which they write. Instead, they are paid per assignment and can choose to work for a number of publications simultaneously.

Both freelance writers and salaried writers may work from home. However, it is common for salaried writers of any publication or company to work in an office and maintain regular business hours.

Depending on the industry in which they work, writers may have to be available to research, interview, report, or write in the evenings or on weekends and holidays.

Most jobs for writers are concentrated in major media and entertainment markets, like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. However, in the digital age, writers can typically work remotely from anywhere in the country.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual wage for writers was $55,420 in 2010. Technical writers earn a bit more with a median wage of $63,280.

Becoming a writer

Salaried writing positions typically require a college degree. Degrees in journalism, English and communications are usually preferred by employers, but degrees in other areas are also acceptable, provided a job applicant has exceptional writing abilities.

Many writers choose to gain experience in the field by working for local publications, such as school or town newspapers. Some magazines and newspapers offer internships for aspiring writers, and many organizations allow novice writers to produce content for blogs and other unofficial online sources.

Advancement in writing careers is typically based on experience and reputation. Writers are responsible for maintaining their own integrity by properly researching their facts and citing their sources. And successful writers routinely meet the deadlines set for them by editors.

For more information on becoming a writer, visit the American Society of Journalists and Authors or the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.