So, you love to write, but is building a career in words really a feasible option? If you have a deep-seated love of language, a sprinkling of natural flair and talent plus a steely determination, then the answer is yes. But times are tough out there in the job market, especially in the creative industries, and you’re going to have fight exceptionally hard if you’re to build your dream writing career…
Laying The Foundations
Unless you have both talent and luck in abundance, there’s only one way to get your writing career started and that’s getting some writing work experience under your belt. Thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities out there for those that want them.
It is essential to build up a portfolio of published work in order to demonstrate both your skill and enthusiasm. In the digital age this couldn’t be easier – you can have your own personal blog up and running in a matter of minutes using one of any number of free blogging platforms. Running a blog means you can write whatever you want, whenever you want. Do consider giving your blog a focus, though; if you really want to get a job working in sports journalism, for example, your blog should be about sport.
Away from a personal blog, you should consider writing a few pieces for local newspapers, magazines and websites. You might not get paid for them, but it’ll look good on the CV. You can also consider guest-blogging opportunities on blogs and websites that cover similar areas to your own. If you’re at school or college or university, get involved with the student newspaper/website. If there isn’t one, start one!
Perhaps the most invaluable experience, however, is an internship or work experience placement. The big drawback to writing internships is that more often than not they are unpaid, meaning that it’s mostly those with sufficient financial support who are able to take up the available places (this thoughtful article by David Dennis argues that unpaid internships and the culture of privilege they foster are ruining journalism). Paid internships do still exist; you just need to work a little harder to find them because they’re not to be found at the big publishing houses and newspapers.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Shorter-term work experience placements are in plentiful supply and are a better option for students and recent graduates who are unable to carry the punishing financial burden of a long-term unpaid internship.
You can get writing work experience in more places than you might imagine. Smaller magazines and newspapers often have slots available throughout the year, while big companies that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with editorial careers invariably have a dedicated writing or communications team that you can hook up with for a short placement. A speculative request to any organisation that tickles your fancy is definitely worth a try.
your options for writing careers
One ‘writing’ job can be completely different from another. In terms of options, it all depends on your personality- why do you like to write? And what do you want the purpose of your writing to be? Do you want to persuade, entertain or inform?
Image by: Rennett Stowe
The copywriter role has been popularised in recent years by the glamorous TV series, Mad Men. Copywriter jobs are all about the art of persuasion, or to put it crudely, getting people to buy stuff using the power or words. However, the ability to use language to inform clearly and concisely, as well as entertain with creative impact is key to the role.
As a copywriter, your role will involve developing ideas, pitching concepts to clients and/or colleagues and then writing copy for anything from TV and radio adverts to marketing emails and website product pages. To succeed in this role you need to be a highly creative and highly skilled wordsmith with the ability spark people’s imaginations and hold their attention.
With copywriting, it’s not so much what you say, but how you say it. You have to consider the tone of the piece and tailor it to your desired audience. A magazine or newspaper is likely to have a similar audience each week, whereas with each new client, you will have a different set of eyes and ears to reach.
To be considered for a copywriter job, you will often need a degree in a relevant subject such as English, Journalism, Media, Advertising or PR (although this is not a strict guideline and with an impressive portfolio or ‘book’, you are likely to stand out anyway). It is therefore essential that you develop a ‘book’ of your work, which is a brilliant way to showcase your innovative ideas and snappy writing. Here’s some advice on putting together an awesome copywriter’s portfolio.
Typical entry is through internships, although it is worth sending your portfolio to creative directors at companies which interest you, as it is possible to be talent spotted for a job like this. Once you have a foot in the door, career progression is very good. It is possible to get the salary of a mid-weight copywriter within three years and become a senior copywriter with 10-15 years writing experience. The pay is excellent with top end salaries reaching £100,000.
With thousands of people wanting to see their name in print, journalism jobs are hard to come by. However, there are more and more jobs are popping up these days for website-only publications. Whether you are pursuing your writing dreams online or in print, you’ll need a portfolio of published work to back up your application.
There is a lot of variety under the umbrella of magazine/web journalism and it’s worth noting that usually a specialist interest or expertise is required on the magazine/website’s subject. For example, you’d need to have an interest in surfing to write for a surfing magazine etc.
Life as a journalist involves pitching ideas and writing and researching articles. Other activities are likely to include; editing copy to meet the house style, conducting interviews, sourcing images and attending seminars- making this a varied an challenging role.
Depending on the magazine, this role is for some who wants to write either to entertain or inform. Or better still, a combination of both.
A degree is not strictly essential, although definitely preferred. Journalism or English are the kinds of degrees employers will be looking for, but if it is a very specialised magazine such as a science or business publication, they are likely to want a degree in that subject.
An NCTJ is a journalism qualification, which is a great way to boost your chances of a job. Other than that, there is no fixed career path and people enter journalism from all walks of life and similarly leave it pursue a variety of careers such TV, film, marketing or publishing.
If you want to stay in the world of journalism, you’re mostly like to start as a junior writer and then to features writer, sub editor, features editor, deputy editor and finally editor. But this is not a definite path and there are plenty of opportunities for development in other ways.
To be a successful newspaper journalist, you need to be a curious and determined person with high attention to detail and the ability to ask the right questions. In newspaper journalism the aim of your writing is to inform, although depending on the topic, it can be entertaining as well.
This kind of role would suit someone who thrives on deadlines and the thrill of the chase. If you want to think slowly and take your time, news probably isn’t for you.
A typical week would involve writing and researching articles, interviewing people, building contacts, investigating stories, attending conferences and answering the phones on a news desk.
Part of the appeal of newspaper journalism has, from the very beginning, been the excitement of being the first to know what is happening. The feeling of omnipresence that journalists working for BBC or Sky news must feel is big part of the buzz. However as a junior, you will most likely be writing for a local paper, where this god-like feeling might not apply but you have to be prepared to work somewhere less interesting as you’re first job and just think of it as a stepping stone. It’s an achievement in itself simply to be paid to write.
As well as just simply ‘news’, most papers also have a section for politics, sport, art, culture, business or science and so it is good if you have an area that you could specialise in. 60% of newspaper journalists have a degree but it is not essential with the right experience, talent and personality, you can still be successful. Similar to magazine journalism, it is definitely worth considering at NCTJ course, as this will greatly improve your chances.
Personality is very important in newspaper journalism jobs. You have to be resilient, persistent and flexible. And to be successful, you have to have a keen interest and curiosity in the world itself.
Image by: Joseph Severn
Blogging is a great way to get valuable writing experience, but it can also be a career too. This is one of the newest writing jobs around, thanks to the rise of the internet.
There are two options with blogging: you can either write your own blog and monetise it through paid advertising or write for an internet marketing company for SEO purposes.
If you can develop and write a blog that large amounts of people will read, then you could make money, simply from writing it. Many blog owners monetise their blog by allowing third party sites to place advertisements. However, it is rare to make enough money from this, to live solely from blogging as the average blog makes around £5000 a year.
One of the most successful ways to make money from blogging is to become a blogger for an Internet Marketing company. Blogging is a key strategy used in search engine optimisation, which is fairly new but thriving industry.
The role will involve you writing and researching blogs on a variety of topics – anything that is related to the company’s clients. The aim of the job is to create engaging content that will be read and shared, but also plant keywords and links within the text that will link back to the client’s website, thus improving their standing in the search engine results list.
There is a lot of variety to this role and you will be constantly learning new things. Your role as blogger is to entertain and inform and the role is suitable for someone is passionate about the internet and technology but who also loves to write and research.
The role of communications Executive is another title that can mean very different things depending on which company you work for. Jobs like this are available anywhere from charities to large commercial companies and everything in between. All areas of life require a communicator: someone who can articulate their business plan or charitable goals, clearly and persuasively.
A typical day as a communications executive would involve developing and writing email bulletins, newsletters, press releases, social media and posters. The aim of the job is to raise awareness of the activity and news at that organisation, both internally and with the outside world.
You’ll need to be a clear and persuasive communicator, as you will responsible for maintaining the image and brand of that organisation. In a sense, you are the voice of that organisation.
A degree in English, Media or PR would be preferable for a role like this along with a portfolio of written work and experience using social media. An internship in a similar role would be the ideal way in to a job like this.
So far, we have already discovered that ‘writing’ can mean a number of things. But if you were to meet someone new at a party and introduce yourself as a ‘writer’, they would probably assume you were a struggling/ aspiring writer of novels, poetry or screenplays.
And ‘freelance writer’ can mean that or it can be freelance journalism and blogging. Whatever kind of writing you are doing, if you can build a portfolio and an audience to match, freelance is a viable and liberating option.
The key to success in freelance writing jobs is to get your work out there and a great way to do this is to work as a journalist, copywriter or professional blogger and then go freelance when you have already built up a reputation and a network of contacts.
Hopefully this inspires you to take a shot at that writing career you have dreamt of, and gives you some food for thought as to which direction you’d like to go down. Why only use your imagination at weekends? Whichever career path you pursue, any career where you are using your imagination has to be a good thing.
Article image by mrsdkrebs