Want a career in writing? Here’s what you need to know.

So you are fresh out of school and you want to write? Maybe you completed a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature or Communications and think you can interact well with a reader through your creativity.writing book creativity career choices student.jpg

No matter how well you performed in your classes, the progression of your education into a career is a rocky one at best. All students are taught and graded, for most until eighteen, in an archaic system that values mediocre structured writing. Why do I say that?

Truly creative minds try to break the mold of what is considered standard writing (a little something I learnt from English Literature). The works that you study tend to be stylistically unique from the typical book you pick up at the library. But, the papers you submit to your teacher are highly structured and confined by the proper format. We were taught that paragraphs need a topic sentence, three points, and a conclusion. Those who succeed in school often are the ones that can follow instructions the best.

So is writing a legitimate career?

“Yes!” I cry out, my voice drowned out by the darkness of the horizon that is a writer’s future.

Writing, similar to music and the fine arts,  is one of the artistic careers that faces long odds at being financially successful. We are occasionally met with stories of successful authors, most of whom have spent many years perfecting their writing and ideas to create one standout book. Financial stability can be a barrier that many face when trying to mold their writing to earn a paycheck. You will hear over and over that “writing is not a career” and “you can’t make money with writing”.  Don’t get discouraged – there are many ways you can use your writing communication skills to succeed.

Creative Writing

You want to chase the dream and pursue a career that capitalizes on your creative skills in crafting words. Your ideal position may be in writing a script for a movie or television show, writing your own novel, or crafting beautiful poetry. One thing all these careers have in common is uncertainty – and this is nothing new. It may take years to create a written masterpiece that you can be proud to show the world and your accomplishment still may not achieve the desired financial result. It is difficult to predict what kind of literature will become popular and most of the time marketing has a huge part in determining the success of a creative work.

To me, creating an original piece of work that is shared by an appreciative audience would be the ultimate goal, but I understand that the process may be long, which is why my career is not centered around creative writing. I know many people who have channeled their creativity into a part-time outlet while they pursue another path as their full-time career. I fully support those who look to succeed in a creative field, but I also know that I also value financial and job stability, so I am happy to push my creative boundaries on my spare time and not as a full-time endeavor.

Technical/Business Writing

The category of writing that reflects the rigid  academic structure in the working world is technical and business writing.  Used profusely in the tech and financial sectors, technical and business communication values clarity and brevity. It is a style that requires direct and concise lexicon and structure. Free-flowing creative writing rarely succeeds in this format, as creativity usually demands the reader to decipher multiple meanings in a work of literature, which conflicts the goal of this form of writing.

Learning effective business or technical writing can be a huge shift in graduates who have spent years expressing their thoughts in the form of an academic paper. Often, I have submitted papers upwards of ten pages long that analyzes a single concept in a novel. I enjoy spending time and my word count on fully dissecting the meaning of a paragraph, word choice, or structure of a piece of literature, but that approach is counterproductive to technical writing. Clear communication demands short sentences with one concept. Ideas are separated clearly, often through numbered lists. My first brush with technical writing was a project to rewrite a technical manual used by people who had only a basic understanding of the English language. I struggled mightily to simplify my words into something easy to understand and aided by diagrams. In a way, I felt like my talents were being underutilized.

From my experience, there are plenty of  marketing or communications jobs related to a technical field simply because communication isn’t a focal point of their education or skillset. It would be your job to help others understand the industry. It may not be the most glamorous use of your eduction, but it is a necessary job.

Copy Writing/Commercial Writing

I would consider copy writing the ideal mix of creative and structured writing. Copy writing can cover a wide field that involves creative works like creating a story for a brand or very concise tasks like creating a sales script for a call center agent. “Copy” is the term used to describe the text created by a writer to achieve a communication purpose. It is not purely creative in the sense that there is usually a supervisor or client that requests certain parameters are met in your copy.

For example, if you are asked to produce a copy for an e-mail to promote a 50% off sale, requirements may be set to include 50% off as the focal point of the copy and to create copy in the format of a traditional email. These guidelines shape your task, but still offers you, as the copywriter, freedom to play around with your words. The way you shape the text reflects on the brand and message that you want to communicate, which is why I also call this commercial writing, or writing for a commercial purpose.

I have enjoyed experiences as a full-time copy writer and  as a freelance copy writer, both of which I enjoyed due to the creative freedom that the job allows me. Creating slogans and short, memorable headlines were challenging, but rewarding when I came up with something especially clever.  I realized that copy writing required considerable research and skill with lexical choices, especially when changing a few letters can affect the entire feeling of a phrase that is only four words long.

Many companies seek content writers who create blogs and other forms of communication that requires persuasiveness and creativity in writing to capture their audience. I have noticed that the types and styles of copy writers vary greatly. There is a job for every type of creative person in copy writing.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

To some degree, everybody thinks they can write, but does everyone have the artistic talent to create great writing? Writing is a skill honed by practice and an open mind that discovers new ways to communicate. These are just three ways writing can help you with your hoarded gold and I am open to hearing more.

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