5 minute read

What Writers Do

Depending on their writing specialty, writers’ jobs are often very different. Some are assigned specific topics to write about. Others come up with their own ideas and write about them. There is one task, however, that most writers share in common: research. For instance, travel writers must develop a thorough understanding of the places about which they are writing. So, most spend a great deal of time traveling. Technical writers must become knowledgeable about certain products. If they are writing a how-to manual for a computer, they must learn everything about how the computer works. Then they can write words that make it easy for readers to understand. Speechwriters must conduct lengthy interviews with the speakers. They learn what the speakers want to say and the style that is most comfortable and natural for them. They also learn things about the audience so the speech will have the desired effect. Even fiction authors perform research before starting a book. Some may spend a year or several years doing research before they start to write.

Life of a Fiction Author

Judy Blume tries to write seven days a week, even if she only writes for an hour or two each day. Her goal is to keep going until she has a first draft. She usually starts writing about 9:00 a.m. In the past, she rented an office because she thought that might help her accomplish more than if she worked at home. However, her office space was above a bakery, and all day long she could smell fresh-baked bread and pastries. Since she could not get through a day without eating glazed donuts, she decided she would be better off working somewhere else. Now her office is in her home.

Blume says that writing the first draft of a book is always the hardest time for her. She writes during the morning and then often returns to her desk after lunch. She reads over what she has written and sometimes scribbles comments on it. When her manuscript is finished and she begins to edit it, she usually works more intensely and for longer hours. When she is nearing the end of the third draft, she feels a strong urge to get the book finished. That is when it becomes harder and harder for her to leave the story and return to real life. Once she has finished a book and it is in the hands of her publisher, it is common for her to feel sad, as she explains: “It’s like having to say good-bye to a close friend. The best therapy is becoming involved with a new project.”14

A Newspaper Writer’s Day

Like Blume, newspaper writer Clayton Hardiman writes most every day. His job, however, is different from that of an author. He rarely has the luxury of focusing on just one story at a time. When he is in the middle of writing about a particular topic, an important lead may come into the newspaper. If that happens, he must stop working on one story and start another. He needs to be able to juggle many different priorities at once, and he explains what this is like: “It’s almost like burying yourself in a hole when you’re working on a story. You’re deeply focused on your subject matter. But no matter how much you want to focus, you have to switch gears quickly if a higher priority comes along. It’s common for me to be working on two or three stories at once. Some snap together in an hour, while others take longer.”15

No two days are ever the same for Hardiman, and his tasks vary based on what kind of story he is writing. Some require more interviews and background research than others. There are days when he spends much of his time in his car, traveling from interview to interview. Or, he may attend meetings, special events, or jazz concerts. Sometimes he conducts interviews over the telephone. Once he has gathered the information he needs, he returns to the newspaper to write his stories. He says that no matter what types of stories newspaper writers specialize in, there is one thing they all face every single day: deadlines. “I am always working under a tight deadline. No matter how busy I might be, or how many projects I might have on my plate, the newspaper has to come out at the same time each day. That’s something that does not change!”16

Writing for a Magazine

Alan Hope also faces regular deadlines in his job. But because he works for a weekly newsmagazine, he has a little more time to write his stories than a newspaper writer. Also, unlike newspaper writers, Hope’s stories do not usually involve “breaking news.”

His typical day begins with checking the overnight news on the radio and sometimes the Internet. Later in the afternoon he reads several daily newspapers. As he reviews the various news sources, he looks for story ideas. Then, he does some background research to see if there is enough information available. Once he has chosen what he wants to write about, he approaches the magazine’s editor with his ideas. If they are approved, he starts to contact his sources for interviews. When his research is done, he writes the article. Then he reads it over, cutting the length as much as necessary to make the article fit into the magazine’s allotted space. The last step is to turn the article in to the editor before his Tuesday morning deadline. Then he starts the process all over again, gathering material for the next week’s issue.

Different People, Different Jobs

No two writers are exactly the same, nor are any two writers’ jobs exactly the same. Some work for companies or governmental organizations, while others work for newspapers or magazines. Many work for themselves as freelancers. Some write at the same time each day, while others write at all hours of the day and night. One uses a computer to write stories or books, while another uses pads of paper and a fancy gold pen. While there may be vast differences in their jobs, their hours, their techniques, and the words they write, there is one similarity among all writers: The careers they have chosen revolve around the written word.

14 Blume, Judy Blume. fn15. Hardiman, interview. fn16. Hardiman, interview.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesWriter Job Description