“Oh, you’re a writer?”
It always seems to be a common response when someone finds out what I do for a living. There’s the slightest tone of ‘yeah right’, a hint of ‘whatever’, and a little bit of ‘that’s kind of interesting.” I think some people believe that being a writer means dreaming up characters, creating a story and then waiting to be published. Or pitching articles to magazines and receiving rejection letters over and over again – and never getting paid. Not everyone understands that writing can be a real profession, and it may be why some students veer away from pursuing it as a major.
But the truth is that there are ample opportunities in the writing industry for steady, good-paying jobs, so if you love to write and think you might like to do it for a living, please don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Follow my advice and you’ll be on your way to a rewarding career.
I chose writing as a profession because it’s all I ever liked to do. In high school, math homework or a science quiz made me sick to my stomach, while an assignment for a 10-page essay made me jump for joy (okay maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea). When it came time to pick a college major, there was no question that writing would be my focus. Even though the job market has changed in the past 20 years since then, I’m writing this today to share that I have never regretted that decision. I hope that if you are a student still deciding on a career focus, you will also consider doing what you love for a living.
What Major Should I Choose if I Like to Write?
When I started college in 1995, journalism was still big and newspapers and magazines (the real ones like your grandpa still reads) were still going strong. But when I contemplated majoring in journalism, an adviser asked me how likely it was that I’d enjoy covering local city council meetings and motor vehicle accidents – because those are the kinds of articles newbie journalists would be given. After wrinkling my nose, my adviser suggested I major in English, which would encompass many more areas of writing. My final decision was English with Emphasis on Writing as a Profession, and courses included:
- Feature Writing
- Business Writing
- Public Relations
- Media Communications
Now, if you love to write and know you’d like to focus on one particular area such as broadcast journalism or creative writing, a counselor can tell you how to do so. My goal with this post is to reach out to undecided students to tell you it may be a good idea not to pigeon-hole yourself. Trust me, the job you take right out of college may not be what you want to do forever, so a more general major might be best for you.
What Kinds of Jobs Can Writers Do?
When it came time to take an internship my junior year, I was still uncertain what type of writing I wanted to do for a living. I applied everywhere from PR companies to Hallmark — because although I wasn’t sure I wanted to create greeting cards for the rest of my life, I did like poetry. I ended up landing a technical writing internship at a brokerage firm, and at the time I was simply thrilled to be getting paid to write! That internship wasn’t super exciting, but it allowed me to have something impressive on my resume, and from there my career began. Here are the jobs that followed:
Technical Writer: I edited software manuals that programmers had thrown together — basically translating techy stuff into laymen’s terms so brokers could understand it. I also wrote the newsletter for the Systems Administration (IT) department. If you’re someone who likes computers and technology, technical writing may be a job for you.
Marketing Communications: When I got a little bored writing about software, I applied as a technical writer for a biotech/pharmaceutical company. I was originally hired to write manuals about lab procedures even though I had no knowledge of scientific anything. What they needed was someone to make the steps easy to read, because science people aren’t always the best with words. From there I started developing brochures and catalogs for the marketing department, where I gained a newfound respect for science and some great insight into the marketing and advertising field.
Features and Advertorials: Around the time I was laid off from my biotech job, I had my first child. I wanted to do something with flexible hours so I applied to write feature articles for a magazine distributed by a regional newspaper a few times per month. Because of my marketing background, they ended up assigning me advertorials — articles paid for by area businesses, including some national chains. I wrote about seasonal products, fashion trends, home décor and more — with the idea to make the articles NOT sound like paid advertisements. I also started writing feature stories about area residents, which connected me to lots of interesting people and allowed me to build a great portfolio. I’ve continued to write for the magazine for the past 10 years simply because I enjoy it. If you love to interview people and get to know area businesses, getting on with a local newspaper is pretty awesome. It won’t pay as much as commercial clients, but it can still be rewarding.
Blogs: Most businesses today put news about their products and services on their websites. Several years ago, a former boss who now owns a marketing company asked me to write blog posts — which are basically online articles — for several of his HVAC and plumbing clients. I learned that writing articles with specific keywords helps drive traffic to websites, and having more readers on their sites leads to increased sales. Pretty cool! When a couple of other companies found out I could do this for their websites, they asked me to write for them. Eventually, I reached out to other marketing companies to offer my blogging services, and I now write regular posts for 12 different businesses, including clients of three different marketing companies. I write about health issues, sleep disorders, mattresses, pillows, landscape lighting, internet service, and more. I’m not an expert in any of those fields, but I learn more about them every time I do the research for my articles. Blogging is a great way to write pieces that you know will reach hundreds of people. You won’t get a byline (name recognition), but sometimes that doesn’t matter. The other day I Googled something about my son’s sinus problems and an article that I had written for a medical practice popped up. To me, that was rewarding enough.
Web Copy: Visit any website and take a good read. They didn’t just let Sam from billing write it. They hired a writer to make it easy to read so it would make sense to the average customer. I’ve written several websites for companies, and with everything going online, web copy writers are only going to be more in demand in the future.
What Other Skills Should I Learn if I Want to Become a Writer?
While you’re considering what kind of career to pursue, go online to a job site such as Indeed.com and search for writing jobs in your area. You’ll find that besides having an English or Journalism degree, employers would like for you to know some technical skills, so it’s a good idea to either take classes in the following areas:
- WordPress – If you plan to do web copywriting or blogging, this is a must. Being able to upload your own copy rather than sending it to a web programmer is something a lot of companies want.
- Desktop Publishing – In the Marketing field, you may need to design your own brochures, catalogs and sales sheets, so you can’t go wrong with taking a course or two to learn some layout software.
- Social Media – You may be asked to manage and write engaging posts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other social media channels for your clients, so it’s a good idea to learn how to navigate each of them before you apply for a job.
Writing is a Real Job
In the pressure to choose what to do for a living, don’t just focus on the most popular or highest paying careers. Instead, consider what you wouldn’t mind getting up to do every day. If writing is the answer, know that there are endless opportunities for you to do what you love, make a decent salary, and be proud of your profession. I know I am.