Millie’s Guide to Careers in Writing
By Tusshara Nalakumar Srilatha
What should you study to start a career in writing?
The first answer that probably comes to mind is enrolling in any 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 writing and how to write to report on current affairs respectively. If you’re interested in studying journalism specifically, you can find some great advice in our guide studying journalism in the US and in the UK. Other examples outside of journalism include English literature, but also 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, public relations (PR), or even fields like writing for television. These are all starting points to hone your writing skills, depending on what 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 have critical thinking skills, pay attention to language, and know how to do 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 fields.
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 need to read submitted manuscripts, decide what has publishing potential, and then provide feedback to selected writers. Beyond that, there’s also a marketing and sales teams who ensure a book reaches its target audience through advertising, a design team that creates book covers, and a legal team that deals with the 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 situation and the roles vary depending on the context, with some other examples including: 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 being used.
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 to eventually find out what you do like. This means using all kinds of search words 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 would 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 as well as build your online network, but it’s also important to build your network through students, professors and alumni. Find out what creative projects the people around you are leading, taking part in, or somehow affiliated with and see how you can contribute to these.
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 live in community spaces. And don’t forget to consistently submit to or join the editorial board for your school’s newspaper, journal and 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.