Writing Career Advice
If you are wondering how to become a writer, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers within publishing and journalism, as well as writing job prospects in the UK.
The Job Description
Writers produce a variety of types of creative work, including novels, short stories, children’s books, plays and poetry. They also produce feature articles for newspapers and magazines, non-fiction work, such as biographies or educational books, and material for radio, television and film.
As a writer you would:
choose your subject matter based on personal interest or be given a commission
by agents or publishers
come up with themes, ideas or plots
research, draft and revise your work
submit your draft to a publisher, either unsolicited or usually through an agent
rewrite your work (sometimes several times) if necessary after getting feedback.
As an established writer you could also attend book signings, readings and discussions of your work, or run workshops for other writers. You would be self-employed, so you would deal with your own tax and National Insurance.
You are likely to have to do other work to supplement your income, as only a small percentage of writers make a living from writing.
The key personal attributes of good writers include:
self discipline and motivation
perseverance and determination
willingness to work alone for long periods
the ability to accept criticism objectively
excellent research skills
the ability to meet deadlines
the ability to market and promote your work.
How to become a writer
To succeed as a writer you do not necessarily need academic qualifications. You will need to be able to come up with ideas that will sell, to have good research skills and to be able to express ideas in a style suited to the intended audience. You may also need specialist knowledge, depending on the type of writing. It can be an advantage in some types of writing if you have experience in journalism.
As a new writer you can develop your writing skills on a wide range of courses, from workshops to degrees and postgraduate courses. You can find out what is available by contacting your local college, university or adult education centre or by checking:
The Writers' Handbook and The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook
the Writernet website
the National Association of Writers in Education website.
See Further Information for links to the websites. The Writers' Handbook and The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook are published each year, and are usually available in local reference libraries as well as in bookshops.
You can study some courses by correspondence, and you can also do residential courses on all aspects of writing with advice from experienced writers through the Arvon Foundation in Inverness-shire, Shropshire, Devon and West Yorkshire. See Further Information for contact details.
Attending courses will help you to gain writing skills, but will not guarantee that you will be a successful writer, as talent and creativity cannot really be taught. You might find it useful to join local writers' groups for support and feedback on your work. Your local library may have details of these, or you could contact your local Regional Arts Board.
Training and Development
You can download a factsheet on getting your work published from the Booktrust website (in Further Information). This includes a list of books about writing and getting published which you should be able to find in your local library.
For fiction and general non-fiction, most publishers will only consider noncommissioned work if you submit it through an agent. You can find lists of agents and details of how to submit your work in both The Writers' Handbook and The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook.
For most other types of writing, you may find it easier to approach publishers direct. It is important that you research which publishers are likely to be interested in your work. You can find contact details for the major publishers and their main areas of interest in the two books mentioned above.
You will usually be expected to submit one or two sample chapters and an outline of the complete work. You are likely to have to wait several months for a reply, and need to be prepared for the possibility of rejection or not receiving a reply.
Radio and Television
You can find information on writing and submitting scripts for radio, TV and film by visiting the BBC Writersroom website (in Further Information).
Many writers for TV and radio have gained experience in theatre. You can find a list of theatres willing to look at unsolicited work on the BBC Writersroom website (in Further Information).
There is intense competition for TV work for both original commissions and working on existing soaps and series. It will be useful if you have a track record in another area, for example having a radio or stage play performed, but it can be difficult to get producers or broadcasters to look at your work if you do not have an agent. See The Writers' and Artists' Year Book for details of agents who will consider unsolicited material.
The Pay (a rough guide)
Freelance writers negotiate and agree a set fee for each piece of work.
The Writers' Guild negotiates minimum rates for TV, radio, film and some theatre. Details of these are on the Guild's website (in Further Information).
There are no collective agreements between writers and publishers as there are with broadcasters, producers and theatres, so the Writers' Guild does not negotiate rates of payment for book writers.
You could work freelance on a piece by piece basis, or be commissioned and receive a financial advance and royalties. You could increase your earnings and promote your work through literary competitions and prizes. Some institutions also offer awards, bursaries and fellowships. You could set up your own website to promote your work.
Once you have had work published you may apply to the trade union, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain for membership.
Useful journalism or publishing resources:
Society of Authors
84 Drayton Gardens
Tel: 020 7373 6642