Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and Profiles » Writer Job Description

What It Takes to Be a Writer

interview writing writers reading wrote

The paths writers follow in their careers vary based on what type of writing they do. Most of them attend college and earn a four-year degree. Many study English and other languages and take a number of writing courses. Those who want to pursue careers in newspaper or magazine writing often earn degrees in journalism. Or, some choose to earn degrees in political science, history, law, or geography. This education is valuable because it helps writers broaden their knowledge. However, it is their ability to write well and hold their audience’s interest that determines how successful they will be at a writing career.

Professional writers often say that writing has been a hobby from the time they were very young. As children they wrote stories about their families, friends, and pets. They noticed things that were happening around them and wrote their observations in a journal. Some wrote their own websites, comic books, greeting cards, songs, or neighborhood newspapers.

Clayton Hardiman, a newspaper writer from Muskegon, Michigan, saw writing as a way to escape to new and different places. When he was just six years old, he wrote a poem about his puppy—however, his family had never owned a dog. They were too poor and could not afford to have any pets. Hardiman learned at an early age that writing gave him the ability to imagine whatever he wanted, as he explains: “I discovered that writing was magic. You didn’t need money, you just needed an imagination. Whenever I wrote, I could go places I couldn’t really afford to go.”7

The Importance of Reading

Just as writing swept Hardiman away into an imaginary place, he says that reading did the same: “I fell in love with reading when I was very young. And whenever I finished a good book, I would sit there feeling the excitement over where I’d been… and ache because there was no more.”8 Most all writers agree that a love of reading and writing go hand in hand. Famous poet Maya Angelou believes reading is so important that parents should read to their babies before they are even born. She says children should be taught to love all kinds of books and stories and poetry, as she explains: “I’ll tell you my secret about writing and my encouragement to young men and women: READ. If you want to write, read, and here’s a gem of a hint: read and read aloud. Go into your room and hear how your language sounds in your mouth and in your ear. Let it out because poetry in particular is music written for the human voice.”9 Author Stephen King also says that reading is essential for someone who wants to be a writer. In his book On Writing, he calls reading “the creative center of a writer’s life.”10

Practice Makes Perfect

Most successful writers, like Stephen King, insist that reading is a crucial part of becoming a writer. They also say that the only way someone can become a better writer is by actually writing. Author Natalie Goldberg compares writing with physical exercise such as running. She says that just as people become better runners the more they run, they become better writers the more they write. She explains:

Some days you don’t want to run and you resist every step of the three miles, but you do it anyway. You practice whether you want to or not. You don’t wait around for inspiration and a deep desire to run… You just do it. And in the middle of the run, you love it. When you come to the end, you never want to stop… That’s how writing is, too. Once you’re deep into it, you wonder what took you so long to finally settle down at the desk.[11]

Goldberg’s personal goal is to write every day and fill up a notebook once a month. Like her, many writers record their thoughts in journals. They often carry notebooks with them so they can write things down when they are inspired. Jeff Kosloski, a scriptwriter and advertising copywriter from Denver, says that wherever he goes, he always has one or more notebooks with him, and he explains why:

Who knows when I might get a creative idea? There have been many times when I’ve been driving in my car and this great idea suddenly popped into my head. Obviously when you’re driving you can’t write, so I just called myself on my cell phone and left a detailed message. I have left ten-minute messages before, describing some great idea that’s in my head. Other times I’ve pulled over on the side of the road so I could jot down a thought in a notebook. The key for me is when I get that simple nugget of an idea, that one little inspiration, then I have to find a way to record it right then.[12]

Kosloski says he also keeps a notebook next to his bed because he never knows when he might think of a great idea for a script—even while he is sleeping.

Not Giving Up

People who write for a living have worked very hard to succeed. Along the way, they have learned many things. One of the most important lessons they learn early on is how to accept criticism and rejection. Successful writers know that even the most successful writers are not liked by everyone. Sometimes they are rejected many times—even for years—before they finally become successful.

No one knows more about rejection than people who write books, stories, and screenplays. According to the book Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul, many best sellers were rejected when the authors first tried to sell them. For instance, the first children’s book written by Dr. Seuss, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by twenty-seven publishers before it was accepted. Later, the book sold 6 million copies. As for movies, the script for Star Wars was rejected by every studio in Hollywood before it was finally accepted by Twentieth Century Fox. The same was true for E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, Forrest Gump, Home Alone, and _Pulp Fiction_—all were rejected at first. Judy Blume offers this advice to aspiring writers: “Don’t let anyone discourage you! Yes, rejection and criticism hurt. Get used to it. Even when you’re published you’ll have to contend with less than glowing reviews. There is no writer who hasn’t suffered.”13

No two professional writers achieve success exactly the same way. Some knew they wanted to become writers from a very young age, and others did not. Some started out writing poetry and then went to work for newspapers. Some worked at other jobs and wrote movie scripts or books—which they hoped to sell—in their free time. Yet even though writers may follow different career paths, most of them share one thing in common: They cannot imagine a life that does not involve writing.

7 Clayton Hardiman, interview by Peggy J. Parks, August 29, 2001. fn8. Hardiman, interview. fn9. Luke A. and Kortney R., “Interview with Writer Dr. Maya Angelou,” Teen Ink: Interviews Written by Teens, September 2001. www.teenink.com. fn10. Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2000, p. 147. fn11. Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones. Boston: Shambhala, 1986, p. 11. fn12. Jeff Kosloski, interview by Peggy J. Parks, June 2, 2003. fn13. Blume, Judy Blume.

What Writers Do [next] [back] Types of Writers

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or

Vote down Vote up

about 6 years ago

I found this article to be very helpful and very true. I too write and have loved writing and reading books as long as I can remember. Going to the library is one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday. I haven't had much time for that lately, but after reading this article I will make reading books a priority. I just accepted a writing position!

Thanks for sharing your knowledge

Ginger Tansil

Vote down Vote up

over 1 year ago

there was a object twinkling in sky and my eyes were sparkling, but i never loose my sight. i wonder what was that when i was young and cant spell a word. but i found it beautiful , i was lost in its beautiness. and when i grew up i knew that twinkling object was star that only arrives in darkness. so do the sucessful man, always had to struggle hard, thrown away and rejected. but at last they will shine , shine to high that the darkness wont trap them again. so never give up hope , keep moving who knows sucess was to near?
just a thought

Vote down Vote up

over 4 years ago

As everybody did I also found this write up, really essential in every writer's career. This article above is a miracle for me cause I was like, about to leave writing and I just suddenly came across this article and it is so inspiring that real cases of popular authors even scriptwriters' experience is shared. Thank you for uploading this article. THUMBS UP to you.

Vote down Vote up

over 5 years ago

I honestly did find this article quite helpful but i'm still kinda confuses on what i should do? i'm a senior in high school and i keep pondering what major i should choose. i know i'm not the greatest writer in the world but i do like to write and i LOVE to read i think i am more passionate about reading then i am writing. i'm not very consistent with my writing. i have ideas in my head all the time but i don't know how to put them into words. i'll write but then when i reread it i don't quite get the picture i see in my head. i'm just confused and i needed to vent but the article was very helpful.

Vote down Vote up

over 5 years ago

I honestly did find this article quite helpful but i'm still kinda confuses on what i should do? i'm a senior in high school and i keep pondering what major i should choose. i know i'm not the greatest writer in the world but i do like to write and i LOVE to read i think i am more passionate about reading then i am writing. i'm not very consistent with my writing. i have ideas in my head all the time but i don't know how to put them into words. i'll write but then when i reread it i don't quite get the picture i see in my head. i'm just confused and i needed to vent but the article was very helpful.

Vote down Vote up

about 6 years ago

i found this article very true and this priece has helped me see what i haven't yet seen till now.

i have found the natural talent in me for writing. i am grateful and have now found my future career.

i am so glad i found this article, or then maybe i would have never really started writing.

i admire these people and i an relate very clearly to clayton hardiman.

Vote down Vote up

about 6 years ago

I found this article to be very helpful and very true. I too write and have loved writing and reading books as long as I can remember. Going to the library is one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday. I haven't had much time for that lately, but after reading this article I will make reading books a priority. I just accepted a writing position!

Thanks for sharing your knowledge

Ginger Tansil