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What does a writer do?
A writer is someone who writes in a professional capacity. They use words to create various works such as poems, books, scripts, articles, technical guides, blogs and other types of written content. There are many opportunities to diversify in this career for those with creativity and imagination.
Writers can work for companies or on contracts or work as self-employed freelancers. They can work in various sectors, including advertising, education, publishing, entertainment, journalism, etc. They can also specialise in specific areas of writing, such as fiction, non-fiction, web content, travel, magazines, newspapers, song, screen and many others. Therefore, what writers do will depend on who they work for, where they work and their specialisms.
A writer’s aim is to produce written works that are engaging and captivate readers’ attention. They will carry out many tasks, including selecting an area of interest, conducting extensive research, planning and organising, developing and writing individual works, effectively communicating, meeting deadlines, editing and proofreading, submitting drafts, revising work, liaising with others, etc. The role may also encompass administrative work, e.g. record-keeping, particularly if self-employed.
Writers typically work as self-employed freelancers and will spend most of the day working alone from home or in an office with a small team, depending on their role. They can also liaise with various external stakeholders, such as designers, editors, publishers, private clients, agents, other writers, booksellers, proofreaders, marketers, advertisers, the public, event organisers, etc.
A writer’s responsibilities will depend on many factors, including who they work for, where they work and their specialisms.
Some examples of their day-to-day duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Selecting an area of personal or public interest or on the request of a publisher, agent or client.
- Researching their subjects by reading books, articles and journals, using the internet, conducting interviews and site visits, and using other resources.
- Planning and organising ideas, plot, content, thoughts, structure, tone, style, etc.
- Developing and writing individual works with the intended audience in mind.
- Ensuring their writing communicates effectively and is concise, engaging and clear.
- Completing work to tight deadlines.
- Editing and proofreading to check for typos, inconsistencies and errors.
- Sending drafts to clients, editors or publishers.
- Putting their work on social media or websites and identifying publishing opportunities.
- Revising work where necessary and in response to feedback.
- Liaising with other writers, editors, designers, publishers, agents and directors where necessary.
- Business management, e.g., record-keeping, sending invoices, submitting tax returns, etc.
- Keeping up to date with their area of interest and industry trends.
In some cases, writers may attend book signings and readings. They may also run writing workshops and attend events, such as literary festivals.
A writer’s working hours are highly variable and will depend on whether they are employed, contracted or freelance. If writers work freelance, they will usually set their own hours.
Being a writer is not usually 9-5, as there will be deadlines to meet, which may require working evenings, weekends and bank holidays. Some may fit the work around other jobs, so their hours can be irregular.
Most writing roles are freelance, but there may be short-term contracts and even full-time permanent jobs in some cases. There may also be flexible working options for those employed, e.g. part-time, job share, remote and homeworking.
Travel may be a requirement for writers if they need to attend events, conferences and meetings. There may also be overseas opportunities for some individuals. However, these are rare, but they could take their work abroad with them if they work online.
What to expect
There are many positives to being a writer, especially if individuals have a passion for sharing the written word and are creative and expressive. Creating written works that get published and receive positive feedback can also be exciting and fulfilling.
If an individual loves learning, this role could suit them. Writers will conduct extensive research when planning their written works, enabling them to learn about new things within their chosen subjects and impart that knowledge to the audience. There are opportunities to be subject matter experts in some cases.
Being a writer is a rewarding career choice. Depending on their area, their words can educate, inform, influence, entertain, inspire, evoke and help people. They have a crucial role in society, and writing is essential for communicating with people. In some cases, their written prose can give a voice to underrepresented and marginalised communities and provide insights into critical situations, such as war, famine, corruption, crime and unrest. Their role can make a positive difference.
It is a good fit for those who do not want or cannot do physical work. Writers spend most of their working time inside their homes or in offices. They can also work from other settings, such as cafes, libraries, parks and gardens, and can even take their work overseas.
Being self-employed with your own business or working freelance and having an opportunity to be your own boss can be attractive. It can give individuals the independence to take charge of their working day and overall career progression. The start-up costs can also be low; in some cases, individuals may be able to do it as a side job. Working from home can also be a perk for some and give them a decent work/life balance.
Boredom will never be a problem for writers, as each of their written works will differ, and they will conduct extensive research, which can be interesting. There are numerous sectors to work in and various areas and forms of writing in which to specialise. They may also meet and collaborate with others, travel to different places and attend events and festivals.
Even though there are positives to being a writer, there are challenges and cons, e.g.:
- Mental demands – the role can be mentally demanding, as writers must produce written work that is engaging and captivating. It can be difficult for people who are perfectionists to release work they are happy with, especially if they receive criticism. Some may face rejection, which can be demoralising. There is also a lot of responsibility and pressure to meet tight deadlines, which some may find stressful.
- Computer work – a lot of computer work is involved in writing, which can mean sitting down for long periods. Their work can also be time-consuming.
- Isolation – being a writer often means being isolated if they work from home and freelance. It can be difficult for some people to be alone for long periods without social interaction. However, it may be a good fit for introverted people.
- Low pay and competition – the salaries for writers can be low compared to other careers. Individuals are not always guaranteed work in freelancing; income can fluctuate, and job security may be poor. It can be challenging in the beginning for writers to get paid for work, so they typically have to supplement their income with other employment. Individuals must stand out and demonstrate their experience to earn decently in this career.
- Staying motivated – the role can be challenging for individuals who procrastinate and find it difficult to self-motivate, especially if deadlines are more relaxed or if they are writing for themselves. Being a writer requires significant motivation, dedication and accountability.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is suitable. Being a writer is mentally demanding, isolating and requires significant self-motivation. Job security can be an issue, and the pay can also be low. However, there are many positives too, and those who become writers have a passion for writing, creativity and self-expression.
Individuals should consider the pros and cons when deciding whether to be a writer. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a writer
Some of the personal qualities a writer requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- A passion for writing.
- Creative ideas.
- A willingness to succeed.
- Creative, expressive, imaginative, enthusiastic and ambitious.
- Clear and concise.
- Self-motivated, self-disciplined, determined, committed and persistent.
- Confident, objective, responsible and accountable.
- Knowledge of current trends.
- Knowledge of media production and communication.
- Knowledge of the English language, spelling, grammar and punctuation.
- Excellent writing and literary skills.
- Excellent research skills.
- Time management and organisational skills.
- Networking skills.
- Typing and editing skills.
- IT skills.
- Social media, marketing and business skills (if self-employed).
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
- Being thorough, accurate and having attention to detail.
- The ability to take criticism.
- The ability to express themselves in a way to engage audiences.
- The ability to deal with rejection.
- The ability to be flexible and adapt to change.
- The ability to work in isolation for long periods.
- The ability to work quickly and efficiently, prioritise different demands, multitask and meet tight deadlines.
- The ability to use initiative.
- The ability to identify new ways of doing things.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to use the computer and relevant software packages proficiently.
There are many different routes to becoming a writer. Individuals could go to university or college, enrol on a course with a private training provider, apply for an apprenticeship or apply directly. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.
An individual does not need a degree to become a writer, but most in the role usually have undertaken further education. An undergraduate or postgraduate degree in a relevant subject can help individuals stand out.
Some examples of the topics that may increase their chances include (this list is not exhaustive):
- English language or literature.
- Media or communication.
- Creative writing.
- Digital media.
- Performing arts.
If individuals want to specialise in specific areas of writing, it may help them to have a degree in that field, e.g. science for those looking to be a scientific or technical writer.
The entry requirements and the number of UCAS points needed will depend on each university, and individuals should check before applying.
They will typically require the following:
- 1 or 2 A Levels for a foundation degree or higher national diploma.
- 2 or 3 A Levels for an undergraduate degree.
- 2:1 or 2:2 relevant undergraduate degree for a postgraduate degree.
Some institutions may also invite applicants for an interview as part of the selection process.
Undertaking a college or private training course can help individuals become writers.
Some examples are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- Level 2 Diploma in English language.
- Level 2 Diploma in Media and Journalism.
- Level 3 Diploma in Digital Publishing.
- Level 3 Diploma in Journalism.
- Level 3 Diploma in Creative Writing.
- AS/A Level English Language.
- AS/A Level English Literature.
Individuals usually need:
- Level 2 – two or more GCSEs grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent.
- Level 3/A Levels – four/five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent.
Private training companies may also offer courses. There are also schools and colleges specialising in writing. Some offer training on how to be a freelance writer.
It may also be worth enrolling on low-cost online short writing courses to see if the career is interesting to pursue further. That way, if not, it will save an individual a lot of time and trouble. Even community writing courses can count.
Courses and qualifications do not guarantee a role as a writer. However, it will demonstrate to employers, companies and clients that they are keen on the job and may give individuals a competitive edge. Always check the entry requirements before applying.
Although there isn’t a writer apprenticeship currently, individuals could apply for one in publishing, journalism, digital marketing, content creation, etc.
The entry requirements will depend on the apprenticeship level. Some employers will set their own.
Opportunities are on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed.
Individuals can also apply directly to companies for writing jobs which they may advertise on their websites or job sites. However, they rarely advertise vacancies, and most opportunities are speculative.
The skills and experience required will depend on each employer, client or publisher. Some may require specific qualifications and/or experience.
Relevant work experience, either paid or voluntary, can help individuals stand out and build their knowledge and skills.
To gain experience in writing, they could (this list is not exhaustive):
- Apply for trainee/assistant writer or journalist roles with newspapers, magazines or other publications.
- Apply to work as a scriptwriter in TV or radio.
- Apply for temporary or contract jobs that involve writing.
- Apply to specific industries for which they want to write, e.g. engineering or pharmaceutical and technical writing.
- Enter local and national writing competitions, e.g. the Poetry Society and Writers & Artists.
- Write books and sell them on platforms such as Amazon or eBay.
- Write articles for student and community newspapers, local publications and websites.
- Work or volunteer with charities, community schemes or not-for-profit organisations that may need help writing, editing, social media or blogging.
- Join a local writers’ group.
- Produce blogs online on their own website.
- Do their own research to understand writing and what it entails.
Individuals should also build up a portfolio of unpublished or published work.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training companies can provide relevant training courses.
We have many approved courses that can be useful for individuals looking for a career as a writer, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- DSE awareness course.
- DSE assessor training.
- Lone working.
- Office health and safety.
- Health and safety for homeworkers.
- Understanding GDPR.
- Workplace stress awareness.
- Complaints handling.
- Time management.
- Customer service skills.
- Resilience training.
- Equality and diversity.
Professional bodies, unions and associations, such as the National Association of Writers’ Groups (NAWG), Writers & Artists, the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIOJ), the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB), the Federation of Writers, the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE), the International Association of Professional Writers and Editors (IAPWE), the Society of Authors, and other organisations, can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become writers and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.
The type of training required will depend on who an individual works for and their specialisms. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed, especially for specialist roles. Jobs are on websites such as GOV.UK Find a Job Service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Guardian Jobs, Arts Jobs, Arts Council of Wales, ProBlogger Jobs, and many other sites. Also, look at recruitment agencies for temporary and contract roles.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities for individuals. Refresher training is also advisable as it keeps their knowledge and skills up to date.
Most writers are self-employed and work freelance. They can set up their own website offering their own services, work for a company or join a writing community, for example (this list is not exhaustive):
If an individual decides to be self-employed, they will have additional responsibilities. They must:
- Have the correct insurance, i.e. professional indemnity and business. If employing anyone, employer’s liability insurance will be required.
- Register with HMRC.
- File tax returns.
- Register with the ICO to hold personal data (to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR) (if applicable).
If an individual decides to be self-employed, they will need to factor in certain costs, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- IT and office equipment.
- Professional memberships.
- Joining a community.
- Training and CPD.
- Supplies, e.g. office.
- Marketing and advertising.
Further advice and guidance on being self-employed is on GOV.UK.
Individuals will require a written works portfolio to show employers, clients, publishers, editors or agents.
Where do writers work?
As previously mentioned, writers tend to be self-employed and work freelance. They can choose to work for one client or several.
They can also work for or with (this list is not exhaustive):
- Agents (e.g. if writing fiction or non-fiction).
- Engineering and pharmaceutical companies (e.g. technical writers).
- Private individual clients.
- Newspapers, magazines, journals, online publications and websites.
- Television and radio stations.
- Film and theatre productions.
- Marketing and advertising firms.
- Publishing houses.
- Small publishers.
- Online publishers.
- Educational institutions.
- Training providers, including online.
- Charities and not-for-profit organisations.
- Authors (i.e. as a ghostwriter).
- Recruitment agencies on temporary or fixed-term contracts.
They can also work for themselves, e.g. with their own website, self-publishing or writing e-books.
Most writers will work from home or in offices but could work from anywhere if they have a laptop/tablet and an internet connection.
Writers can work anywhere in the UK, but most are in London and other large cities. Some may work overseas.
How much do writers earn?
A writer’s salary is highly variable and will depend on the following:
- Their exact role and specialisms.
- Their qualifications, training and experience.
- Their industry/sector.
- Whether they are employed, self-employed, freelance or work for agencies.
- The hours they work.
- Their geographical location.
Some examples of average annual salaries for writers are as follows:
- £25,567 (Payscale).
- £33,189 (Glassdoor).
- £33,869 (Indeed UK).
- £35,569 (Talent.com).
- £39,271.64 (Check-a-Salary).
It is worth noting that, in most cases, freelance writers will typically earn low salaries, especially when starting their careers, which is why most will write alongside other employment. Some employers/clients will pay a flat rate per piece of work or for a number of words.
There is potential to earn decent salaries and even high ones if individuals become well-known, e.g. popular novels or blogs.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of writing to specialise in
There are many areas of writing to specialise in and far too many to mention here. Some examples include:
- Blogging – writers that create blogs are typically known as bloggers. They write about specific topics and publish blogs on websites to appeal to niche audiences. They can increase viewership and promote their content by using social media and other platforms.
- Content writing – individuals can become content writers who produce online written works. They may create courses, articles, social media posts, blogs and other online materials. They encourage readers and increase traffic to websites through search engine optimisation.
- Copywriting – in this role, copywriters write persuasive content (copy) for advertising or marketing purposes. Their aim is to write in a way to encourage people to purchase products or services.
- Fiction writing – writers can choose to write fiction, such as short stories, novels and other creative imaginary works, with the aim of engaging readers from start to finish. They can specialise in various genres, e.g. literary, science, crime, thriller, fantasy, horror, poetry, historical, children and young adult, classics, fairy tales, etc.
- Non-fiction writing – involves writing fact-based works, such as books, guides, information and stories on various topics, e.g. self-help, travel, biography, autobiography, history, memoirs, philosophy, religion and spirituality, science, nature, medicine, art, etc.
- Ghostwriting – in this area, ghostwriters write for other people. They may write books, articles and other works but are not known as the author.
- Screenwriting – individuals can specialise in writing scripts and stories for films, television programmes and even computer games. They are also known as scriptwriters.
- Speechwriting – involves preparing and writing speeches delivered by others, such as politicians, celebrities, senior executives, leaders and other public figures. They may also write speeches for weddings and social events.
- Technical writing – requires individuals to write technical documents, such as user/instruction manuals, data sheets, patient information leaflets, etc. Their role is to take complex information and technical concepts and write them in a manner that makes it easier for non-expert readers to understand.
All specialist writer roles require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. All writers must have an excellent grasp of English language, grammar and punctuation. They must also be able to captivate and engage readers with their written words. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a company is looking for (if employed) and a writer’s intended specialist areas. Further training may be necessary for specialised roles.
If writers do not do their roles correctly, their written works may not be well-received by readers, employers, agents or clients. In some cases, it can decrease their chances of being published, cause reputational damage, reduce their income and cause financial losses. Therefore, whatever the type of role, writers must have the necessary competence to carry out the work professionally and correctly. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.
Written works, trends, audiences, technologies and equipment are regularly changing. Therefore, writers must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to carry out their roles effectively and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives writers the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities, and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional body, union or association (as previously mentioned) can help prospective and current writers enhance their skills and overall career. These may offer different levels of membership, CPD, support and access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is an opportunity for career progression for writers. With more qualifications, training and experience, they could become a self-published online, print or e-book writer. Alternatively, they could specialise in specific writing roles, such as technical or copywriting, or enter literary competitions to promote their work.
Knowledge, skills and experience gained from writing can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, they could move into publishing or editing. They may even decide to move into creative writing teaching or book critiquing.
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