So you want to be a writer?

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: December 5, 2011

Shakespeare, Hemingway, Stephen King—these are just a few names you might conjure up when you think of what it means to be a writer. But you don’t have to go to the library to read a writer’s work; writing is surrounding us all the time. If it weren’t for a writer, you wouldn’t be reading this article! And for every piece of writing published on the web or in print, there is an editor behind it, brandishing a red pen.

Writers and editors are behind the text you see in books, magazines, and newspapers as well as in technical help manuals, advertisements, and textbooks. And it’s not just the words you read that they are responsible for, but also the words you hear: on TV, in movies, and in radio commercials. For all that variety, writers usually specialize in one or two different types of writing based on their background knowledge and field of expertise.

For many people, writing is not a primary profession. Writing is part of the daily job in many professions, or work that one does on the side to share their know-how about a certain subject. (For instance, a doctor might write for a medical journal, or even a high school textbook.) College professors are usually motivated to publish their writing, though teaching may be their primary duty.

Often, writing is simply a hobby. As blogging becomes ever more popular on the internet, amateur writers have more opportunity than ever to share their recreational writing with a wide audience and to respond to each other as editors might. Relative to these folks, working writers are relatively few, but for our purposes, we will focus on them.

Authors are the class of writers whose work we are familiar with through literature and most leisure reading. They write original work which we enjoy in the form of books, stories, or movie scripts, and they fall broadly into categories of fiction (imagined, invented stories) and non-fiction (writing based on “real life”).

Editors who work with these writers make sure that their writing is clear, organized, and of course presented in a final version free of typos or misspellings. Sometimes editors have the power to revise a piece of writing by rewriting or adding to the written work. Therefore, the line between writing and editing is sometimes blurred.

Another kind of writer, whose work you may encounter on a daily basis without even realizing it, are the technical writers who write instruction manuals, troubleshooting steps for software programs, or reports on new industrial products. They have intimate knowledge of their subject, combining their technical expertise with writing skills to create their material. Rather than using creativity to weave a story, technical writers convey facts and processes in a way that makes it easy for a reader to understand and/or follow.

In order to be a good writer, you must have: a knack for verbal communication, background knowledge of your topic, and plenty of practice. For this reason, an advanced degree is a great option for aspiring writers or editors. An MA in Liberal Arts, or either a MA of Arts or MA of Humanities, can give you the depth of knowledge necessary to write about a given subject with authority.

Of all the different kinds of writing that exist, what every writer has in common is that they must do research on their subject: whether through direct observation, extensive reading, interviews or experimentation, writers have to know more about the thing they are writing about than they could possibly writer. An MA in Liberal Arts offers a well-rounded education to learn about a wide variety of subjects, while also requiring written responses to reading and research—and that translates to hours of practice.

An MA in Liberal Arts covers three main areas of knowledge: humanities, social sciences, and the arts. One can also zero in on an MA in Humanities or an MA in the arts. The study of each of these at the graduate level will require extensive research and in-depth analysis, which are key ingredients in good writing.

For those with a serious interest in writing and editing, an online liberal arts degree is a great option. Distance learners, like many working writers today, work from home—or anywhere they can drag a laptop. Because class participation and assignments usually take the form of written responses, aspiring writers have ample opportunity to hone their skills. They will be asked to respond to each other and critique written work as an editor might.

Although not every writing gig will pay (maybe not that blog you started about your pet rabbit), working writers can make a solid living: in 2006, the median annual earnings of salaried writers and authors was $48,640; for salaried editors, it was $46,990. Technical writers make out even better, with a median annual salary of $58,050. Even entry-level technical writers make a good wage: in 2006, their median annual salary was $40,400.

As for Stephen King? Well, he made $45 million in 2008 alone. But who’s mincing words?

Learn More about:

  • A Liberal Arts Degree
  • A Master of Arts Degree
  • Online Writing Degrees

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