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Become a Writer

What do writers do?

Writers and editors write! Writers write stories, or they write about things that really happened. They write books, and they write articles for magazines or journals. They write for newspapers, and they write for radio and television. Editors tell writers what to write about. They also decide if what a writer has written is good or not so good. If it is not so good, they change the words to make it good. When a writer begins to write, he or she gathers information. The writer may get this information just by looking or by doing research at the library. Or the writer may interview someone. Writers write something, and then they change it. Then they change it again. They keep changing it until they feel they get it right.

There are different kinds of writers. Newswriters write for newspapers or news broadcasts. Columnists write about people, places, and things. Editorial writers write how they feel about something. Technical writers give instructions on how to use a machine or how to do something. Copy writers write ads.

Editors write, too. They also review, rewrite, and change the words of writers. But their most important job is to plan what should be in a book, a magazine, or a newspaper. They decide what to print based on what they think readers will want to read. They assign topics to writers. And they make sure that the book, magazine, or newspaper comes out on time.

Editors have people who help them do their jobs. These workers are called assistant editors or editorial assistants. Sometimes they are called copy editors or production assistants. They correct errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. They make sure that a book or a magazine is correct and easy to read. They also may do research for writers. They figure out what each page of the book or magazine should look like. Most writers and editors use computers to help them do their work.

Some writers and editors work in quiet offices. Others work in noisy rooms. Some writers and editors have to travel. Others talk to people over the telephone or go to the library.

Writers and editors work 35 to 40 hours a week. Some work at night or on weekends. Writers may work overtime to meet deadlines or to cover the latest stories. They often face a lot of pressure to meet the deadlines. On some jobs, deadlines are daily.

How do you get ready to be a professional writer?

A writer or editor must have a college degree. To get a job, the best subjects to study are communications, journalism, and English. If you are going to be a technical writer, you may want to study science. If you write well, you may be able to pick up technical knowledge on the job.

If you want to be a writer or editor, you must be able to write clearly. You should also love to write. You should be creative and curious about the world. A good writer or editor has a lot of knowledge and doesn't give up easily. Editors must have good judgment so they can figure out what to accept and what to reject. They often have to guide and encourage others in their work.

You may be able to get a job on your high school or college newspaper. Of course, you won't get paid, but you will get experience. You may be able to be an intern in a firm. Interns write short pieces and do research. That way, they learn about the publishing business.

How much do writers get paid?

Half of all writers and authors earned between $29,150 and $58,930 a year in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $21,320. The highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $85,140 a year. Earnings for technical writers and editors were about the same.

How many jobs are there?

Writers and editors held about 319,000 jobs in 2002. Nearly a fourth worked for newspaper, magazine, book, and directory publishers. Many worked in radio or TV or computer software firms. Some worked for advertising agencies and many other business and nonprofit organizations. Others worked for government or for movie studios.

Jobs with major book publishers, magazines, broadcast companies, advertising agencies, and public relations firms are in the largest U.S. cities. Jobs with newspapers, business and professional journals, and technical and trade magazines are spread out over the country. Thousands of other persons work as freelancers. They earn money from the articles or books they write or edit.

What about the future?

There will be a lot of competition for writing and editing jobs. This is so because so many people want to become writers or editors. If you don't mind low pay, you can work at a small newspaper or at a small radio or TV station. Technical writers and those with the skills to work on the Internet may have an advantage in finding a job.

BLS expects jobs for writers and editors to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2012. Jobs in firms that publish books or magazines are expected to grow. So should jobs in advertising. The demand for technical writers will grow. There will be many new jobs as workers go to other fields or retire. Many freelancers leave because they cannot earn enough money.

Are there other jobs like this?

  • Advertising, marketing, promotions, public relations, and sales managers
  • Interpreters and translators
  • Public relations specialists
  • Reporters
  • Teachers—postsecondary

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

Selected Resources:

How to Become a Writer Or, Have You Earned This Cliche? NYTimes
Become a Writer
The Writer Magazine
Writing World

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