How To Become a Writer

If you dream of becoming a writer, you have a myriad of career opportunities available to you. While the writer’s stereotypical image might be that of the curmudgeonly author sitting alone and working on a novel, there are many different types of writing jobs available, from copywriting to medical writing.

You will not only enjoy a diversity of career prospects. You will also have the chance to earn decent money. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for writers in 2019 was $63,200. Like technical writing, some fields are even more lucrative: The 2019 median income for technical writers was $72,850.

If you’ve landed on this page, you’re probably already contemplating a career in writing. Congratulations! You’ve chosen an exciting and variable career path. The question is, how can you score your dream job as a wordsmith? This guide has you covered. Below, discover what it takes to become a writer, from skills to education, training, certifications, and more.

What Is a Writer?

A professional writer makes their living working with words. They write on all sorts of topics and create all kinds of materials, from books to press releases to blogs. You don’t have to write the next great American novel to live as a wordsmith successfully. The “writer” job title is broad and encompasses many types of careers.

Here are some types of writing jobs that could interest you:

  • Copywriters: Sometimes referred to as sales writing, copywriting is all about getting people to take action. You might craft texts that convince people to click on an ad link to buy a pair of shoes, for example, or write the words that convince a website visitor to sign up for an email newsletter.
  • Content writers: Content is needed everywhere, from websites to social media. Content writers help establish a company’s brand image, creating messages in line with a specific corporate tone and style.
  • Technical writers: Technical writers take complicated topics and explain them in layperson’s terminology that anyone can understand. They write documents like assembly guides, instruction manuals, frequently asked questions pages, and more.
  • Grant writers: Nonprofits and similar tax-exempt organizations rely on grant writers to secure them the funding they need to survive. Grant writers research funding possibilities and write engaging proposals designed to win funding.
  • Ghostwriters: These days, every big wig from C.E.O.’s to politicians seems to have a blog or even a book of their own. Think those people are all writing their material? Think again. Ghostwriters are hired to convey another person’s thoughts and ideas through written articles, books, blogs, and more. Their names aren’t on the projects.
  • Medical writers: Medical writers create product instruction and usage guides for pharmaceutical companies, healthcare organizations, and medical equipment firms. They may also write educational papers and study summaries. This is a highly technical field and usually requires a background in the biological sciences or health services.
  • Screenwriters: Screenwriters create scripts for television shows and movies. They often work in teams to craft compelling plot lines and dialogue. Screenwriters may also be tasked with taking a book or novella and transforming that written content into a screenplay, adapting it for visual media.

As you can see, simply labeling someone a “writer” doesn’t mean much. The job of a medical writer is very different from that of a screenwriter, for example. However, these professionals all share one critical characteristic — they are wordsmiths. They know how to craft the written word in a way that engages and compels others to take action.

What Does a Typical Workday for a Writer Look Like?

The writer’s workday will depend on the type of job they perform. As the list above made clear, there are many possible career paths a writer can pursue. That said, any writing job’s core tasks will be similar, regardless of the specialty. Read on for an overview of what a day in the life of a writer might look like.

It should come as no surprise that the bulk of a writer’s day involves writing. Depending on their role, a writer may work from home or in an office or do a mix of both. Writers need a computer to do their job, giving them significant flexibility regarding when and where they work. However, all writers must adhere to strict deadlines. Whether you are delivering a technical manual to a client or a book chapter to your editor, you must abide by these deadlines.

A writer doesn’t spend all day writing, however. A large part of the job also involves editing. While most writers work with professional editors who put a final polish on their work, any professional writer will first self-edit their work. This consists of developmental editing (checking that their ideas make sense and are structured clearly) and copyediting (checking grammar, spelling, and punctuation).

Apart from writing and editing, a writer’s day will also usually involve some form of collaboration. For example, a copywriter may sit down with an editor to go through editorial suggestions. A content writer might join a group of other content writers to brainstorm upcoming material for a corporate blog. A grant writer might report to their nonprofit’s head of funding on a grant proposal’s status.

Last but not least, a writer’s day will also involve some administrative tasks. If a writer is self-employed, for example, this could include duties like invoicing and bookkeeping. Meanwhile, writers employed by a company have to keep track of meetings, update project deliverables, and send emails and attend meetings. There’s no way around admin grunt work, even as a writer!

Will I Like Being a Writer?

Writing is a unique job and whether you like it or not depends mostly on your skills and strengths. This section can help you determine whether you would enjoy the profession or not. It highlights critical skills and also raises some red flags about what some people don’t like about writing. With this information, you can weigh the pros and cons of a writing career.

Characteristics and Skills of a Good Writer

There are specific skills that every writer possesses, whether they spend their days deciphering medical studies or writing technical documentation. Here’s what will make you great as a writer:

  • Superior language skills: You have to have an excellent grasp of the language you work in. A broad vocabulary and thorough knowledge of grammar and punctuation rules are essential. It also helps if you are acquainted with style books, such as the Chicago Manual of Style and the A.P. Stylebook. Don’t worry. This is all material you can learn. Knowing it will make your job easier and make you better at what you do.
  • Great attention to detail: Writers are observers. They can accurately describe situations, people, and places with words alone, no visuals needed. A keen eye for detail also makes writers better at self-editing and catching errors in punctuation and grammar.
  • Self-Discipline: As a writer, it’s on you to ensure you meet your deadlines. You might get a brief to write a 10,000-word ebook and two weeks to deliver it, for example. This isn’t the kind of project you can put off for 13 days and complete on day 14 (that is, if it’s going to be any good). You have to have the discipline and motivation to plan your own time and stick to deadlines.
  • An open mind: As a writer, you will have your work critiqued regularly. It’s improbable that you will turn in your work and that it will be deemed perfect. Editors and clients will come back to you with revision requests. You have to be open-minded about this and be flexible about changing your work.
  • Robust research ability: You will often have to do research when you’re writing. For example, if you’re tasked with writing a 2,000-word blog post about small business loans, you may have to research this material from scratch with no resources provided. Knowing how to identify reputable and reliable sources is critical.
  • A love of reading: The best writers are also avid readers. Why is this so important? When you’re writing day-in and day-out for work, you risk falling into a rut regarding style and tone. You don’t want to deliver the same type of work again and again. Plus, this gets boring for you. Reading inspires you in terms of vocabulary, phrasing, tone, and style. Reading is a writer’s most important homework.

Why You Might Not Like Being a Writer

While being a writer offers many benefits and can be an exciting and mentally stimulating job, it isn’t perfect (what career is). Here are some reasons you may not enjoy being a writer:

  • Writer’s block: This happens when creativity is lacking, and you can’t seem to get words on the page, no matter what you do. Unfortunately, deadlines don’t care about writer’s block. The longer you write, however, the more ways you’ll find to overcome such hurdles. For example, merely changing scenery and moving from your desk to a coffee shop can help.
  • Deadlines: Deadlines can be your biggest friend and your biggest enemy as a writer. They are great in that they offer motivation. However, they can also cause stress and pressure, particularly if you’re experiencing writer’s block. It’s essential to respect deadlines, however. Failing to do so makes you look unprofessional and incapable.
  • Solitude: One of the biggest gripes you’ll hear from writers is also one reason many people love the job — it’s relatively solitary. When you’re doing the actual writing or editing task, it will just be you and your computer. Some writers, especially those who work from home, may find this isolating.

Typical Schooling for a Successful Writer

While it’s not a must to attend school to become a successful writer (find out more about nontraditional paths to success below), an education does help. Here are the types of schooling that are worth pursuing if you want to be a writer.

Degree Type and Classes

Useful degrees for writers include communications, journalism, or English. A bachelor’s degree in one of these fields will require lots of reading and writing. You will improve your linguistic skills as a result. Relevant coursework includes introductory English classes and more specific tutorials, like writing for magazines, public relations writing, and working with mixed media (since many writers now create primarily online content).

Certifications

You don’t need any special certifications to work as a writer. That said, if you work in a niche field like medical or technical writing, having a credential in this area will be helpful. It shows you’re not just a good writer but also an expert in the field. Regardless of their focus, all writers will benefit from internships, for example, at an online magazine or copywriting agency,  that allows them to hone their chops in the real world.

Years of Schooling

A standard four-year bachelor’s degree or equivalent should be sufficient to get a job as a writer. Some writers may choose to also complete a two-year master’s degree via a specialty degree program, like creative writing. This isn’t a must, however.

Best Colleges for Writers

Ready to jump-start your career as a writer by getting the necessary education? Below, discover some in-person and distance learning options that are available to you.

3 In-Person Learning Programs for Writers

If you prefer a face-to-face educational experience, these are some of the best schools for writers you can choose from:

  1. Brown University: Brown University is ranked #1 by U.S. News and World Report for writing in the disciplines. Students can design their academic study to focus on a specialty while also furthering their writing education. Tuition and fees for Brown are $60,696.
  2. Columbia University: Columbia University is particularly renowned for its journalism school. A bonus is that the school is located in New York, making it easy to create professional contacts and find internships while you’re still studying. Tuition and fees for Columbia are $64,380.
  3. University of Iowa: The University of Iowa is renowned for a strong writing program, including a Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.). This is a state school. In-state tuition and fees cost $9,605, while out-of-state tuition and fees cost $31,568.

3 Distance Learning Program for Writers

You don’t have to complete your writer education in person. Distance learning programs offer added flexibility and can be more cost-efficient. Here are some quality choices:

  1. Lindenwood University: Lindenwood University offers an M.F.A. in writing online and is ranked second after Harvard for best online masters in creative writing. Tuition is $495 per credit hour, and the program requires 48 credit hours to complete.
  2. National University: National University’s Bachelor of Arts in English can be completed fully online. Fees depend on the course level, with 100-level courses costing $370 per quarter unit and 500-level courses costing $442 per quarter unit.
  3. Bennington College: Bennington College offers a renowned M.F.A. program that has turned out many published authors. You have to complete two ten-day residencies, but the rest can be done online. The M.F.A. in writing costs $21,530.

Can I Skip College and Teach Myself How to Become a Writer?

There’s no need to get a formal education to become a writer. Some of the best writers are self-taught and simply perfected their skills with lots of writing (and by reading other great writers, of course). Here are some nontraditional paths to achieving your dream of a career as a professional writer.

Parlay an Internship Into a Job

One of the best ways to become a writer is by learning on the job. An internship gives you real-world experience. Since many internships are unpaid, you don’t need a fancy degree to get a foot in the door. Often a writing portfolio is enough to get the gig. Impress your superiors during your time as an intern, and you may have a job waiting for you when the internship is over.

Start Freelancing On Your Own

You may not find a full-time job right off the bat as a writer, even with a college degree. Freelancing is the answer. Submit pitches (story ideas) to magazines, newspapers, and websites you’d like to write for. If they want one of your proposals, they may ask you to write an article for them. A freelancing career can lead to an in-house gig or allow you to remain gainfully self-employed, no office needed.

Self-Publish to Build a Profile

The tools and technology available for self-publishing are easier to use than ever. You can create your blog to share your writing using a web design platform like Wix, for example, and disseminate your work via social media. You can even self-publish entire books via Amazon. Publicizing your work is a great way to build your brand and attract paid gigs.

Which Software Programs Do Writers Use?

It used to be that writers needed little more than a computer (or, before that, a typewriter) to get the job done. Today, modern technology offers writers many solutions to make writers’ work more comfortable and efficient. If you plan to pursue a profession as a writer, you will likely want to invest in and learn how to use the following software programs.

Microsoft Word

Whatever type of content you write, odds are you will need word processing software to get the job done. Microsoft Word remains the go-to program of choice for many writers. You can purchase the entire Microsoft Suite, including Excel, Powerpoint, and Outlook, which may be useful if you’re starting your own writing business. For example, Excel is excellent for accounting.

Scrivener

Scrivener is a book writing software. If you write books, ebooks, novellas, or even lengthy white papers, it’s worth using. It lets you track word count goals, which can be a great way to stay motivated when working on a longer piece. It also allows you to divide content into sections (like chapters) easily.

Hemingway App

When it comes to self-editing your work, Hemingway App is a big help. Its primary purpose is to improve readability. A sentence that looks clear to you because it came from your brain might not be so clear to other people. Hemingway App flags such issues. It even tells you what grade level your writing is tailored to.

Google Docs

As mentioned, part of a writer’s job is receiving feedback and revision requests, usually from editors or clients. Google Docs is a word processing tool that is ideal for this purpose. You can have multiple people viewing a document in real-time and seeing the changes being made. You can also leave comments and track changes in suggestion mode. There’s no need to send emails back and forth with Microsoft Word doc versions like in the past.

Vellum

Vellum is another book formatting and word processing software. It’s a lot more straightforward to use than Scrivener. Specifically, it makes the formatting process more manageable. You can even use it to format your finished work for publication on major retailer websites, like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Grammarly

Grammarly is an excellent alternative to the Hemingway App. It catches spelling and grammar mistakes and even has a plagiarism tool, so you can make sure your work is always unique. Another benefit of Grammarly is the plug-in option. You can install the plug-in on your internet browser and check your work (for example, in a Google Doc) as you go.

Freedom

As mentioned, writers often have to operate on tight deadlines. If you have a big project due, you can’t afford to lose time to a lack of productivity. Freedom is a productivity app that can keep you motivated and on track. It even lets you block distractions that steer you away from work, like mobile apps and websites.

What Are the Best Blogs and Influencer Accounts to Follow?

As a writer, your skillset is continually evolving. You want to continually improve your craft in every way, from the actual writing process to how you market yourself as a professional. These blogs and influencer accounts can help:

  • Last Night’s Reading: Last Night’s Reading (@lastnightsreading) is a fantastic source of inspiration. This gorgeous Instagram is rife with beautiful quotes from extraordinary authors, all hand-picked. If you’re facing writer’s block, these picturesque words will get you out of your rut.
  • Freelance Writing Gigs: If you’re looking for a place to kick-start your freelance career as a writer, Freelance Writing Gigs is the place to go. The website posts jobs regularly and also provides a blog full of handy resources for professional writers. You can learn about everything from how to carve out your niche to what tax issues you’ll face as a freelance writer.
  • K.M. Weiland: If you want to get into book writing, follow K.M. Weiland (@authorkmweiland). This author has made it, and she shares how you can make it too. She posts advice for other writers and has even published two books on the topic (“Outlining Your Novel” and “Structuring Your Novel”). Also, be sure to check out her blog, Helping Writers Become Authors.
  • The Reedsy Blog: Reedsy is another great space to check out if you’re interested in book publishing. Their blog covers artistic and practical elements, from how to incorporate character flaws into your stories to how to best market your books.
  • The Write Practice: The Write Practice (@thewritepractice) website is dedicated to the craft of writing. They also have a fantastic social media presence. Check them out for advice on blogging, writing, marketing, social media posting, and more. Their blog is likewise full of tools to support your business as a writer.

5 Ways to Break into the Writing Industry

As a writer, it’s up to you to raise your profile and get people to notice you. The internet is flooded with content, standing out from the crowd is critical and these tips can help you succeed.

1. Get Online

If you’re a writer, you want to show off your work, right? Creating your very own website is the best way to display your talents. This is also great if you’re just getting started. Mainstream media and websites may be hesitant to take a chance on a brand-new name. By building a portfolio of your own online, you can start getting your name out there and building your brand.

Don’t stress: There’s no need to hire a fancy web designer to create your personal writing space. Modern tools make it super easy to create your online portfolio. Here are three tools you can use to get the job done:

  • Square Space: SquareSpace offers stunning themes that you can adapt to your needs to showcase your portfolio in its best light. It is excellent for those in the creative industry.
  • Wix: Wix is a user-friendly “drag and drop” web builder. You even have free templates, some of them specifically made for writers.
  • WordPress: For a more comprehensive platform, opt for WordPress. You get lots of customizations and third-party integration options. It’s more complicated to use than the other two options listed here, however.

2. Get Social

Social media is a fantastic way to boost your profile as a writer and connect with other writers (and potential employers). Create profiles on critical social media like Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Keep your brand consistent across your profiles. For example, don’t say you’re a copywriter specializing in fashion and accessories on LinkedIn and then claim you write novels on your Instagram.

3. Become an Apprentice

One of the best ways to learn as a young writer is to observe somebody who has already made it. Working as an apprentice or assistant to a writer will help you see what the work entails. It’s also a great way to get feedback on your work and to build your professional network. You can also try an internship. For instance, advertising and content marketing agencies offer copywriting and content writing internships, respectively.

4. Continue Learning

As a writer, you never stop learning. For example, people who started as writers in the print magazine field in the early 2000s now have had to learn how to adapt their writing style to online content. Today, writers must learn how to differentiate between types of online writing, for example, website versus blog content. You can find paid tutorials or free YouTube videos to further your goals.

5. Keep Grinding

Don’t let early failures set you back. Nobody became a writer overnight. The key to success is persistence. The longer you work at it, the more extensive and more robust your portfolio will become. You will also grow your professional network with time. This can help you score more lucrative and prestigious writing jobs as your career develops.

F.A.Q.

How Much Money Do Writers Typically Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median pay for writers in 2019 was $63,200. A writer’s exact income depends on the type of writing they do. Specialty fields, like medical or technical writing, pay more.

What Do You Study to Become a Writer?

A degree in English, journalism, or communications will help you become a writer. A bachelor’s degree should be sufficient, although you can also opt to get a master’s (for example, in creative writing).

Is Writing a Good Career Choice?

You have a diversity of career options to choose from if you want to be a writer, making it a solid career choice. Possibilities include copywriting, content writing, screenwriting, medical writing, technical writing, ghostwriting, and grant writing.

Are There a Lot of Job Openings for Writers?

The amount of job openings available to writers depends on the type of writing they do. For example, there are fewer openings for screenwriters than there are for copywriters or content writers.

What’s the Best Website to Find Writer Job Listings?

Writing-specific job sites include ProBlogger, FreelanceWritingGigs, BloggingPro, and MediaBistro. You can also check work-for-hire sites like Upwork and FlexJobs, which offer categories just for writers.

What Are Some Big Companies That Hire Writers?

Many large companies need writers. Media companies hiring writers include Thomas Reuters, Vox Media, and Conde Nast. Advertising agencies like Omnicom Group, Publicis, and Dentsu also hire writers. Even influential brands hire writers: A company like Amazon needs technical writers, for instance, while a company like Bayer or Pfizer needs medical writers.

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