Types of Writers
Many people think of themselves as writers because they often spend time writing for fun. They may write poetry and short stories or articles for a school newspaper. Actually, anyone who writes could be considered a writer—but not everyone makes a career out of writing. Those who do are known as professional writers, or people who make their living by selling the words they have written.
The shelves of bookstores and libraries everywhere are filled with books, all of which were written by authors. Just as there are books about every possible topic, there are also different types of authors. Some write nonfiction books, which are based on true information and facts. These authors write about everything from arachnophobia (fear of spiders) to Zen (a branch of Buddhism) and everything in between. Other authors write fiction, or books that are drawn from the writer’s imagination rather than facts. Some authors write both fiction and nonfiction books.
Judy Blume is an author who mostly writes fiction. She says that when she was young, she dreamed of being a cowgirl, a detective, a spy, an actress, or a ballerina. She never really planned to become a writer, although as a child she loved to make up stories. When she was older, she began to write her stories down. She says the reason people write is because they have stories inside them that are burning to get out: “The best books come from someplace deep inside. You don’t write because you want to, but because you have to.”1 As for where she gets her ideas, Blume says they come from everywhere—memories of her life, incidents in her children’s lives, what she sees and hears and reads, and most of all, her own imagination.
Some writers spend much of their time writing poetry. They may write for poetry journals and magazines or publish books of poems. Billy Collins is a well-known American poet who has published six books of poetry. He has also read his poems on national radio and television programs. Collins encourages aspiring poets not only to read poetry but also to memorize it. He says that may seem old-fashioned, but it is the best way to develop a true appreciation for poetry. Also, he says that poets must force themselves to slow down instead of always hurrying and to take time to listen to their inner selves. He shares this advice: “Pay attention not always just to what is on the blackboard, but what is out the window. That bird on a wire. That cloud. Pay attention to the natural world. Pay attention to your daydreams. Pay attention to what is on the periphery, for that is where the small wonders often reside.”2
Newspapers all over the world employ writers, who are also called journalists. These writers often specialize in news about politics, foreign affairs, business, sports, entertainment, or crime. It is their job to find out facts and then write stories about them. It is also important for newspaper writers to make their stories interesting so their audience will want to read them. William Blundell, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, says that while newspaper writers must report the truth, they must also be good storytellers. Their articles must grab the readers’ attention, hold their interest, and make them remember what they have read. It is not enough to write stories that contain only facts and nothing more, as he explains: “Yes, [the] reader does require specific information, and our first priority is to provide it. But he has deeper and more universal needs that have to be met at the same time or he’ll flee. Nothing is easier than to stop reading.”3 Blundell says that making a story interesting is an “unspoken commandment” of journalism that is a common demand of readers everywhere: “For Pete’s sake, make it interesting. Tell me a story.”4
Investigating the Facts
Some writers may spend days, weeks, or months digging up little-known facts about a certain issue before writing their stories. These writers are called investigative journalists. They perform a valuable function because the things they write can make people aware of important issues. For example, in the early 1970s, two investigative journalists from the Washington Post exposed government corruption. Because of their investigation, many top officials were indicted (charged with a crime) and eventually went to prison. The scandal even led to the resignation of Richard Nixon, who was the president of the United States.
Like newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines also have staffs of writers. Alan Hope, a writer from Belgium, writes for a weekly newsmagazine called the Bulletin. His stories deal with many different issues, including poverty, housing, crime, and justice. Before he started writing for the magazine, he worked for a newspaper. He says that the biggest difference between newspaper writers and magazine writers is their deadlines, as he explains: “In the old days, I would have an almost constant deadline. Now that I write for a weekly magazine, the deadlines are less pressing.”5
Some writers choose to use their talents to help sell products and services. Advertising copywriters write such promotional materials as ads, mailers, and billboards. They also write television and radio commercials. One well-known copywriter is Luke Sullivan, who has worked in advertising for more than twenty-five years. He says the most successful advertising writers are those who are creative and energetic, and who also have a wonderful sense of humor. He believes that people who end up in advertising are often those who are not happy in more traditional jobs, as he explains: “What makes this business great are the knuckleheads. All the people just slightly left of center. This business seems to attract them… All in all, they make for an interesting day at the office, these oddballs, artists, misfits, cartoonists, poets, beatniks, creepy quiet guys, and knuckleheads… It’s just one comedian after another all the way down the hallway.”6 Even though advertising is a highly competitive field, Sullivan says there are opportunities for writers who are willing to develop their skills, learn about the business, and work very hard to succeed.
Another competitive field is scriptwriting. Some scriptwriters write movies, and others write scripts for television programs. Television networks hire staffs of scriptwriters to write their regular weekly programs. Also, they may use freelance writers to write scripts. These are writers who work for themselves.
Most people who are successful scriptwriters worked for many years before being able to sell even one script. For example, Adam Herz, the scriptwriter for the movie American Pie, wrote many scripts for popular television comedy shows and tried to sell them. The scripts were rejected, but his writing talent caught the attention of a few agents. Just a few months after he finished American Pie, he had sold the script and the movie was being filmed.
A Variety of Specialties
There are writers who work in many other areas as well. Corporations often employ writers to create publications such as brochures and newsletters. Web-development firms hire writers to write websites. The government hires writers for many different assignments. Some write speeches for top military officials, members of Congress, or the president of the United States. There are also technical writers who specialize in writing about technical or scientific subjects. They write manuals for all kinds of products, such as software or computers. They also may write the instructions that come with bicycles, toys, or anything else that says “some assembly required” on the box.
Writers use their talents and skills in many different ways. Some write for television programs, while others write instructions for using laundry soap. A writer’s work may appear on the shelves of a local bookstore or be recited aloud during a presidential speech. Or, it may be in the form of a news story that tells the public about an oil spill or a terrorist attack. No matter where writers work or what they write, the words they craft are important. They have the ability to make people laugh or make them cry, to keep them informed and help them to learn.
1 Judy Blume, Judy Blume Talks About Writing. www.judyblume.com. fn2. Billy Collins, 2001 commencement address at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut, June 3, 2001. www.choate.edu. fn3. William E. Blundell, The Art and Craft of Feature Writing. New York: Penguin Books, 1988, p. x. fn4. Blundell, The Art and Craft of Feature Writing, p. xii. fn5. Alan Hope, interview by Peggy J. Parks, May 7, 2003. fn6. Luke Sullivan, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998, p. 231.