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A Day in the Life of a Writer

Writers come in all shapes and sizes-film critics, novelists, editorial columnists, screenwriters, technical writers, and advertising copywriters. Many spend the beginnings of their careers practicing their skills as they await a big break. While all writers prefer to write on subjects of personal interest, most professionals are assigned topics by an editor. Writers may work at home, in an office, or in a hectic newsroom, but wherever they set up their office, writers generally spend upwards of 40 hours a week hard at work-even if only a fraction of that time is spent actually tapping the keys of a word processor. Writers begin by asking questions and researching a subject. The process of “writing” may involve conducting interviews, reading up on a subject at the library, traveling to a far-off location or even surfing the Internet for clues. A writer must be open to the possibility that new information will change the original angle of a piece. As she gathers the necessary information, she gradually develops a working outline from which she is then able to work up a draft. Then it may be time for an editor to review the material and suggest changes. A writer may wait and send a completed draft manuscript to an editor, while others may prefer to send the manuscript in “partials” (sections or chapters) in order to give the editor a chance to see the work in progress from an earlier stage. The editing process continues until editor and writer judge the material ready for publication. Writers collaborate with the other professionals involved in the media, such as photographers, graphic designers, and advertisers. Screenwriters and playwrights write original pieces or adapt existing books or stories for the stage or screen. Usually they attend readings or rehearsals to make revisions because problems may appear when the piece is performed that they had not anticipated when they wrote it. Copywriters generally work for advertising agencies, researching market trends to determine the best way to sell their clients’ products. Technical writers take esoteric subjects and write about them in simpler terms so that readers can easily grasp the ideas and information.

Paying Your Dues

The one point most employers agree on is that good writers combine a natural gift for language with an unwavering devotion to their craft. For a professional career, a Bachelor’s degree in journalism, English, or literature is all but essential. But most important of all is practice, practice, practice, regardless of the medium. In high school, potential writers can write for the school newspaper or the yearbook; in college, they should continue writing for school newspapers and apply for internships at publishing houses. Technical writers should be well-versed in their subject areas and perhaps have advanced degrees. Every writer should be a proficient typist with mastery of a word processor; nowadays many writers, especially journalists, are expected to deliver their copy electronically via e-mail. Writing experience is very important. Writers must be disciplined, focused, good at research, and able to work under deadlines. Writers should collect samples of their work to show to prospective employers. A writer’s first job is often as an assistant to a writer or an editor. Beginning writers generally work hard at research and clerical tasks while awaiting recognition and opportunity from their boss.

Present and Future

The earliest known writings are papyrus rolls recovered by archaeologists in Egypt and Greece and dating back as far as 3,000 B.C. It was not until the fifteenth century, however, when Johannes Gutenberg developed the first printing press, that books became accessible to more than a privileged few. Newspapers were established by the eighteenth century, heralding the dawn of the modern publishing age. As the printing press became more sophisticated, writing flourished. Writers are needed everywhere, but it seems that there are still more writers than assignments, which led John Steinbeck to comment, “The profession of writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.” Most freelancers obtain their primary income from other sources for many years before “making it” as authors. Demand is expected to increase for writers in commercial areas though, as the number of commercial venues continues to expand. The world of electronic publishing has increased the demand for writers as Web publishers seek out “content”-boding well for writers in the coming years.

Quality of Life


Writers just starting out generally work as assistants, receiving bit assignments here and there. Most spend a substantial amount of time perfecting these pieces because they know this work may be a step toward a bigger writing assignment or a promotion. Freelancers struggle to be heard and some create Web sites to get their work seen and to receive more feedback than a form rejection letter. Competition remains fierce, and many writers prepare themselves for an alternate career and pursue writing on the side, especially at first. This way they can eat and pay the rent while they obtain the experience they need for technical writing or wait for they day they get a letter of interest from a literary agent.


Most writers have been published in one form or another by this time. They may still be working on the “Great American Novel,” but the most determined (and luckiest) have begun to receive the occasional paycheck for their commercial or technical writing. Those with steady employment never find their workday dull, but instead enjoy its daily changes in pace and subject. They have learned to operate under strict deadlines.


After ten years, writers are now better able to obtain assignments with the publications they desire. But many continue to write even without substantial pay, since writing is often something the writer needs, rather than just wants, to do. Many published writers continue for years to subsidize their writing careers with other jobs, but those lucky few who have found steady work in journalism or elsewhere report high satisfaction, despite moderate pay and often heavy pressure.