Careers in Writing

The field of writing focuses on the creation and development of written content for target audiences, to inspire, educate, train or explain some concept. In general, writing and media careers are closely related and writers find many career opportunities in journalism or public relations. What separates this field from Media and Public Affairs is a decreased emphasis on interaction with the public and coverage of current events and news items. Instead this field has careers where the writing is aimed at explaining techniques, looking at history, or creating fantasy worlds on the page or on screen, as just a few of the options.

Pathways Header Writing

This field can be separated into:

  • Writers/Authors, those who propose, research, and revise information to create new content;
  • Technical Writers, a special subsection that writes to explain complex information and processes; and
  • Editor/Publishers, who evaluate, structure and further develop content.

*Other professional writing careers have been highlighted in Communication & Media (journalism, public relations, and social media).

Students in creative writing, wordsmiths or people who just want to find new and better ways to say something are highly sought after in this field. Those who would like to build a career in writing should have good attention to detail, ability to research topics and synthesize knowledge into a unified document (either fictional or non-fictional).

Writing Careers

In addition to the opportunities to write in Media, writers are needed in many other fields. Politicians need speech writers and non-profits need grant writers. Writers are the ones that develop ideas into scripts for TV/movies; they create the catchy jingles for songs and ads; most of the way we entertain ourselves are built from a writer’s work. The most well-known career in this area is as a published author of any genre of work (from fiction, to romance, non-fiction, mystery, self-improvement and more). With the shift in the book/publishing industry towards e-books more authors can find it easier to self-publish their works and sell them online without the use of a publishing agency.

 

While there is so much writers can write about, the one thing they all have in common is a strong understanding of grammar and the rules of the written word. Students should be well versed in grammatical rules and understanding of MLA/APA standards. To prepare for careers in this field it is important to have a portfolio of writing (fiction, non-fiction, technical) on-hand to showcase your work.

 

Related Jobs Include: Book Reviewer, Writer, Consultant, Political Speechwriter, Greeting Card Writer, Lyricist, and Screenwriter

Technical Writing Careers

This is a special subsection of writing careers focused on the explanation of complex material. These writers often produce the manuals, informational packets, and documents used by companies to train or inform constituencies on how to use products. Those who write in this area often have a specialization, like Automotive, Engineering, Medical or Marketing information. Usually this specialization comes from an understanding of the topics within that field and ability to simplify and explain to those with different backgrounds.

 

To prepare for a career in this area, students should gain experience in the field of their interest, through coursework (double majoring is a great way to get the necessary experience) or by interning within the field. In addition, as more technical materials are distributed online, technical writers must be able to use web and/or software to create more visual documents.

 

Related Jobs Include: Technical Writer, Development Writer, Proposal Writer, Technical Editor, Medical Writer, Proposal Manager

 

Publishing Careers

Publishers work closely with writers to produce new content. They evaluate whether a new proposal would be of interest to the public; read, review, and evaluate materials to provide feedback for writers; and deal with most of the administrative tasks necessary to promote their content to the public.  Students interested in publishing can become editors (read and revise content), promotional or publicity agents (create materials to promote books, magazines, and other content) or go into sales. Publishing careers are available with trade organizations (Penguin, Random House), consumer magazines (Conde Nast), online organizations (Bloomburg, LexisNexis), textbooks (Prentice Hall, McGraw-Hill) and more.

 

Students interested in this career should develop editing, revision, and good grammatical skills. Experience reading and assessing written material or script is good experience as well.

 

Related Jobs Include: Alumni Magazine Editor, Publicity Assistant, Production Assistant, Contracts Associate, Production Coordinator, Digital Editor, Marketing and Promotions Assistant

Alumni Within the Field

Rebecca Coleman

Rebecca Coleman, 2007. Novelist.

"I think any writer wants to complete a book they find meaningful, that reflects what they've learned in life, and to hear others say it kept them up reading and then stayed with them long after.

 After publishing Desperado City (2009), Rebecca's second novel, the Kingdom of Children (2011) was picked up by a publishing company as part of a three book deal. Read more about Rebecca.

Michael Cook, 2003. Technical & Creative Writer, Niche Associates.

"When people ask me to write pieces for them they're not just asking me to put their ideas into words, they're often asking me to shape the ideas themselves, because they don't understand them clearly enough to do so themselves."

Ranging from magazine articles to technical writing, short stories to LivingSocial deals, Michael Cook's post-graduation writing life is anything but one-dimensional. Read more about Mike.

Jamie Openden, 2004. Speech-Language Pathologist, Teacher of Speech and Language Disabailities, The McCarton School; Blogger, Huffington Post; Founder/CEO Bignity Ventures.

"It is a fantastic way for me to blend two things that I am passionate about, and it has taught me that I was once far too rigid in my definition of what it means to be a writer.

Jamie combined her creative writing skills with a passion for teaching and social justice, leading to a rewarding teaching career and her own internet venture. Read more about Jaime.

Getting Started

If you’re interested in a career in this field, here are some ways you can start preparing:

  • Read More! The best way to become a better writer is by reading the best books (fiction, non-fiction, and technical whatever appeals to you)
  • Gain experience writing and build up a writing portfolio
    • Keep your best works from classes and extracurricular activities
    • The Writer's Center in Bethesda offers on location & on-line writing workshops (for a fee), hosts more than 50 literary events per year and is a good place to meet other writers and learn about the writing life
  • Intern with companies in the area
    • Rowman and Littlefield is a nearby publishing company that often looks for interns at UMD 
    • Other smaller publishing houses and presses exist in DC though the largest publishers are located in New York
  • Get your writing recognized. It would be great to not only have a portfolio of writing samples to give to employers but also works that have been published or received awards. This is not only good for later career efforts but some competitions have prizes!
  • Take courses or work on a second major that enhances your skills
    • Consider the Creative Writing Minor in the English Department
    • Any English course, but especially grammar and courses that provide training in analysis (ENGL300 and ENGL301)
      • English Emphases in Creative Writing; Language, Writing, and Rhetoric; Poetry; or Prose
    • Technical Writers should have experience in the field they write on so science, engineering, or computer classes can help for these careers
  • Join Student Organizations involved in the field 
    • The English Undergraduate Association has lots of clubs and events for students interested in writing including the Creative Writing Club and the Novel Writer’s Support Group and is open to all majors
    • Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honors Society, has opportunties to  (please note the membership requirement)
    • Paper Shell Review and Stylus (don’t just submit your works, apply to be part of their editorial board great experience for publishing)
    • Jiménez-Porter Writers' House living-learning program that provides hand-on experience in the creative writing field
    • Maryland Cow Nipple, a humor newspaper on campus
  • Attend events to listen to great writers:
  • Consider a Masters in Fine Arts if you're interested in creative writing
  • Keep an eye on the University Career Center’s calendar of events for networking opportunities, training in using social media for job searching, and opportunities to meet with employers

Where to Learn More

Occupational Outlook Handbook: Media & Communications - information on Editors, Technical Writers, Writers and Authors

Career Profiles: Writing & Editing Careers

American Medical Writers Association

Society for Technical Communication

National Association of Science Writers

Association of Writers and Writing Programs - One of the largest writing associations in the U.S. AWP hosts an annual conference each year in which more than 10,000 writers from all over the country participate to attend workshops and a book fair featuring renown publishers

Poets & Writers - website with information, support, and guidance for creative writers

BookJobs – Information about the Publishing Industry and Jobs available within it

University of Maryland's Career Center – Visit Careers4Terps, a jobs/internship database exclusively for UMD students; also see the events calendar for networking opportunities, and events

LinkedIn – search for groups to join with the keywords “writing”, “editors”, “publishing”. You can also search for alumni who work in communication-related positions to get a better idea for job titles and organizations in the field as well as to make new networking connections.