Millie’s Guide to Careers in Writing
What should you study to start a career in writing?
The first answer that probably comes to mind is enrolling in a university program with "literature," "creative writing," or "journalism" in the degree name. These programs offer a dedicated focus on certain kinds of writing, such as writing analytically about literature, producing your own creative pieces, or reporting on current affairs, respectively. If you're interested in studying journalism specifically, you can find some great advice in our guide to studying journalism in the US and the UK. Other examples, outside of journalism, include English literature and writing-based degrees such as History or Philosophy!
Outside of these more obvious programs, there are other options such as degrees in communication, marketing, publishing, and public relations (PR), or even fields like writing for television. These are all starting points to hone your writing skills, depending on the kind of writing you envision making a career out of.
“It’s worth taking courses in other specializations or trying out an internship that approaches writing from a different angle.”
Even if you choose your track in one specific program, it's worth taking courses in other specializations or trying out an internship that approaches writing from a different angle to get a better idea of the available options out there. For example, as a creative writing major, you can choose to specialize in a genre such as poetry while still exploring other electives such as feature writing, creative nonfiction, or children's literature.
What can a career in writing look like?
If you’ve heard people say that the humanities are dead and that a degree in writing won’t get you anywhere, let us assure you - nothing could be further from the truth! Writing well is a valued skill in all industries. Regardless of what a given company deals with, it needs clear and effective communicators who possess critical thinking skills, pay attention to language, and know how to conduct their research. This is exactly the kind of training you receive when you study writing in university, with specializations in genres or fields giving you an advantage to eventually join specific sectors.
Another misconception is that making a career in writing is restricted to only writing for a living, which is simply untrue. Think about your favorite book - publishing it wasn’t just a one-person show! Sure, there's the writer, but there’s also the literary agent who represented them and worked with the publishing press. At the press itself, editors read submitted manuscripts, decide what has publishing potential, and then provide feedback to selected writers. Beyond that, there are marketing and sales teams that ensure a book reaches its target audience through advertising, a design team that creates book covers, and a legal team that deals with contracts and publishing rights. And this is only the tip of the iceberg!
“Another misconception is that making a career in writing is restricted to actually writing for a living, which is simply untrue.”
This is just one scenario, and the roles vary depending on the context. Some other examples include: a PR or marketing company, a literary magazine, a community reading and writing initiative, a newsroom, or an academic department. Everywhere you look, writing skills are in use.
How can you explore these career options?
With so much variety in how you can make a career out of writing, it's important to try out different options to learn what you don't like in order to eventually discover what you do like. This means using all kinds of search terms when you're looking at internship opportunities, including: editorial intern, marketing intern, content intern, social media intern, publishing intern, freelance writer, copywriter, PR intern, and more.
“To gain experience, even without securing an official internship, you can actively participate in the local arts scene.”
The range of possibilities available also means you shouldn't limit your searches to organizations like publishing presses, newspapers, or magazines. You'd be surprised how companies like app start-ups are looking for writers to develop their content!
To find these opportunities, you can use online search engines with job listings such as Indeed.com. Building your online network is valuable, but it's also important to connect with students, professors, and alumni. Find out what creative projects the people around you are leading, participating in, or somehow affiliated with and see how you can contribute to them.
To gain experience without securing an official internship, you can actively participate in the local arts scene in various ways. Host or attend reading events, book clubs, or writing workshops. Share your own writing through a blog or other online platforms, such as Medium, or by reading it aloud in community spaces. And don't forget to consistently submit to or join the editorial board of your school's newspaper, journal, or other writing publications.
The biggest tips that are often given to writers offer valuable advice - keep reading and keep writing! However, to really grow and envision a career in writing, it’s not only about reading and writing for yourself, but doing that in a wider community of people with similar interests.