Part I of this article outlined how to build a foundation for life as a writer. Part II, which explores different writing careers, is below. Or you can skip to Part III, which will explore how to get a job as a writer.
What It’s Like to Write for a Living
When we think of writers, we often think of Jack Kerouac types, hunched over a typewriter and churning out prose, meeting with agents, and signing books. The truth is there are all kinds of professional writing gigs, and you can probably find one that fits your personality and creativity.
Most require a degree of some sort, but not always, so make sure to do your research! Below are a few main categories of professional writers:
- “Hard” Journalist: Hard journalists, who write for entities like CNN, the Washington Post, and local newspapers, are tasked with reporting facts in a clear and concise way. They’re in the information business. This type of writing involves a lot of research, networking, and fact-checking. It’s also extremely important—our nation is built on freedom of the press—and extremely powerful. Our news helps shape everything from public opinion to laws to whom we elect to office.
- “Soft” Journalist: This kind of gig is becoming more and more common, and the lines between “soft” and “hard” journalism are beginning to blur. Traditionally, soft journalism is less about strictly reporting the facts and more about telling interesting stories and entertaining an audience. A lot of popular sites like Buzzfeed, Pitchfork and The AV Club are considered “soft” news. The designation of “soft” doesn’t mean it’s less important. The writing is more narrative and lighthearted, rather than straightforward and factual. Soft journalists might cover the same topics as hard journalists, just with different goals in mind.
- PR and Corporate Communications: I’m putting these in the same bucket, because they often involve the same type of messaging. The biggest difference is this: When you manage public relations (PR) for a company, you tell the company’s story to those on the outside (general public, news outlets, etc.). Meanwhile, those who manage corporate communications tell a company’s story to those on the inside, helping share company news with employees in all departments.
- Technical Writer: This is a job I didn’t even know existed until well after I graduated college. It’s perfect for those writers who have rational, practical minds and love putting pen to paper. These writers craft scientific reports, financial summaries, instructional documents, and the like. As with hard journalists, your job is to convey something complicated in the clearest way possible, ideally making it accessible for any reader.
- Copywriter: Similar to PR, this involves telling your company’s story: in this case, through creative advertising. Every radio spot, TV commercial, print ad, YouTube campaign, and magazine promotion you see is envisioned and written by a copywriter. Most copywriters work with an art director and a creative director to brainstorm ideas and bring them to life. You can work at an advertising agency, which will work with a variety of clients, or for an in-house agency, which will manage advertising for a company and its subsidiaries. Either way, this job will require you to flex your creative muscles, which will get stronger with time.
- Author/Novelist: These people write our books, short stories and biographies. Writers of literary fiction often pursue master’s degrees in the field and teach at the same time, while authors of genre fiction (fantasy, mystery or science fiction) have found great success publishing independently on platforms like Amazon. If you have a story in your heart, or a topic you love so much you could write a lot about it, this might be for you!
- Entertainment Writer: This is a broad one, covering everything from people who work on movie scripts to those who review records. The career path of the entertainment writer is usually non-linear, and these jobs can be very difficult to get, but it is not impossible. The ones who snag these jobs are often those people who actually go for it. While some aspiring culture writers take the attitude of, “Well, that would be great, but come on; I can’t do that!” ask yourself this question: If someone is going to do it, why not you?
Of course, there are jobs that don’t fit neatly into the categories above, or jobs that can bleed from one category to another. But this covers the main roads on which writers might find themselves: from communicating ideas for large companies all the way to leading a life of creative solitude. Whatever you decide, your chances of getting there grow exponentially once you fully commit to it!
Now on to Part III, which will explore how you might get a job writing for a living!