Career insights: Become a Writer
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If you enjoy the experience of crafting creative sentences, engaging paragraphs and delightful prose, you likely consider yourself a writer. But have you thought about going from an amateur to a professional?
There are dozens of ways to be a professional writer, and many writers create work across different fields. If you are dreaming about taking your love of words to the next level, read ahead for a complete guide on how to become a writer.
What Is a Writer?
Writers are professionals who write articles, books, screenplays, dramas, comic books and more. They pay attention to detail, carefully craft content, and communicate ideas clearly and effectively. While some writers have degrees in English or a similar topic, many are driven purely by their own creativity, intellect and ideas.
Different types of writers
There are countless different styles of writing, but some of the main fields include:
- Fiction Author – Creating short stories and novels
- Poet – Crafting traditional, abstract and modern poetry
- Journalist – Immersing oneself in research to uncover a story playing out in the world
- Technical Writer – Writing manuals and textbooks
- Non-Fiction Writer – Conducting research on a topic and presenting it in a readable way
- Memoirist – Detailing one’s own past
- Essayist – Writing essays on all manner of topics for publication on websites and in magazines
- Academic Writer – Contributing to an academic field with cited and heavily researched work
- Blogger – Writing about any topic in a readable way and publishing on a blog
- Playwright – Creating plays for performance on stage
- Screenwriter – Writing for film and television
What is a freelance writer?
Freelance writers work on a self-employed basis, selling articles and works of fiction to different buyers. They may regularly work with one client, earning the majority of their income from them, or they might have a whole host of clients who come and go when they require content.
Freelance contracts can vary in style and design. Sometimes a writer will create content that they wish to write and seek a buyer after it is complete, while at other times they will write something to a client’s specifications. For example, a freelance investigative journalist for major publications might work exclusively on one long form piece for a year or longer, and then sell it to highest bidder. Alternatively, the piece may have been commissioned in advance from the client.
Freelance contracts can be for as few as one hundred words and for as many as an entire book. Charges are often determined by word count, but some freelancers prefer to charge for their time instead.
What is a ghost writer?A ghost writer is a person who is hired based on the quality of their writing, but who will not be given any credit for their work. In this case, a different party’s name (or an organisation) will appear on the written work, and the ghost writer will be compensated financially.
What is the difference between a writer and an author?
The term writer and the term author are often used interchangeably, but they do have different meanings. A writer is a general term for someone who creates written content across any topic or style, while an author is the mastermind behind the idea or plot. For instance, an author creates the storyline or plot of a television show, but a team of writers might work together to flesh out the idea.
Another commonly cited difference between an author and a writer is that a writer tends to be service oriented – they might do ‘words for hire’ and complete freelance tasks and a ghost writing jobs. An author usually refers only to someone who is published and writes only their own ideas, and who takes full credit for them.
What Does a Writer Do?
Every writer has their own process, and they can be completely different from one another. That said, all writers must start by choosing a topic and a method. The subject matter will no doubt be interesting to them, and they will want to expand upon this in order to catch the interest of others.
It all begins with a spark! A small idea that lights a fire within a writer and compels them to write. Many writers start with an outline and note taking in order to lay out a skeleton around which their article/book/project will grow. Some writing (particularly journalism, historical fiction, academic writing and non-fiction) requires extensive research, and so a writer will usually start there, or hire an assistant to do this for them.
While some writers are self-published, most will need to present drafts to a client or editor to gain feedback. This is a necessary and important part of any writing work, as a second (or third, or fourth) opinion can help to make the piece much stronger overall.
Writers who are under deadline from editors and clients must work diligently and punctually to deliver all work on time and to a high standard. In any creative industry, a person is only as good as their reputation. No matter how brilliant their content, if a writer has a bad reputation for laziness or irresponsibility they will often find that their work dries up.
What Skills Does a Writer Need?
Above all else, writers must have strong writing skills in order to have any degree of success in their chosen field. No matter whether you are writing an academic journal article, crafting product descriptions for a website, or working on a screenplay for a television series, the ability to convey ideas and build a strong connection with the reader is key.
Like any skill, writers benefit from practice, practice and more practice. That said, there are a few innate characteristics that most successful writers possess. These include:
Strong Communication Skills
At its core, writing is all about communication. If a reader can’t understand what you are trying to convey, you have failed in your mission. Evoking emotions, sparking ideas, and entertaining a reader – these are all key components of great writing. Part of this comes naturally, but education, practice and creative writing courses can all help immensely.
One of the things that sets a writer apart from the average person is that they have a knack for observation, and the ability to translate that observation into descriptive prose. Whether creating a character, painting a picture of a warzone, or describing a novel business idea, a writer must be able to observe the world around them and document it with aplomb.
Strong Reasoning and Problem Solving Abilities
Writers need to be able to look at an issue and present it in a novel or unique way. Many problems and issues have been covered in journalism and literature in the past, and the ability to cover them in a novel way is what makes some writers successful (while other languish in obscurity).
Expert knowledge of Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation
As you might have guessed, having a firm grasp on spelling, punctuation, syntax and grammar is important in order to effectively communicate to the reader. If you don’t write clearly and correctly, you risk confusing your reader and causing them to abandon your work. While word processor spellcheck and grammar tools can help to some degree, you might consider taking a course on the basics of English grammar to get the technical aspect of your writing up to par.
What Qualifications Does a Writer Need?
There is no one set of qualifications that applies across all writing fields. That said, many professional, published writers do have a university degree in the arts or humanities. This is not a requirement for blogging or creative writing, and so many people who have a passion for words but no other formal training excel in these fields.
While you might worry that you don’t have the right education to embark on a career in writing, you shouldn’t let this hold you back. Practice, practice and more practice – that is the secret to being a great writer.
How much does a writer make?
As there is no one type of writer, there is no set financial trajectory that writers follow. Every writer earns different wages, and their income depends of a wide array of factors. The income levels for a writer can vary wildly, depending on skill, content, style, industry contacts, and experience level.
Some copywriters are happy to write business blogs for a few pounds, while others will charge upwards of tens of thousands of pounds to craft a sales page.
That said, it is possible to determine a rough average for writers working in the UK. In fact, the number reported is shockingly low – The Guardian reports that a full time writer makes just £10,500 per annum. It should be repeated that this figure refers to attempted authors, and certain kinds of writing can pay much more than this, while some niches pay exponentially more.
Here again are some of the writing fields that are listed above, this time accompanied by a rough estimate of income:
- Authors – £10,500
- Poet – (*Note – very few poets are able to live solely from their income from poetry. Many work as professors or lecturers in university settings).
- Journalist – £25,000 - £350,000 (top end)
- Technical Writer – £34,125
- Academic Writer – £22,000
- Freelance Blogger – £32,765
- Screenwriter – £55,000
What are the Career Advancement Opportunities for a Writer?
Some people dabble in writing as a hobby that occasionally results in a small pay cheque; others wish to make writing their full time career. If you choose to make writing your main gig, you likely want to know how to advance your career.
Just as in any creative industry, advancing in the writing field depends on a number of factors. Freelance writers who build their portfolios and start landing bigger clients and contracts will consider being able to charge higher rates an ‘advancement.’ A fully booked calendar is a sure fire sign that you have advanced in your career as a writer.
For an in-house copywriter, career advancement opportunities will present themselves as promotions and pay rises.
For creative writers, career advancement might include selling a book to a publisher, having a spec script picked up for production, or booking a series of gigs reading poetry.
For anyone considering a career as a writer, remember that you need to give every piece of work your full 100% effort. Building a strong reputation is important, as is practicing your craft whenever you have a chance. Write, write, read – and then write some more!