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Writing: graduate area of work

Being an author isn't just about writing novels. A career as a writer can cover a variety of different specialisms: writers produce literary compositions, technical manuals, articles, reports, books and a multitude of other texts.

The vast majority of authors and writers are self-employed or freelance, although technical authors and journalists may find opportunities for permanent paid work. Many writers choose to go 'freelance' because it gives them flexibility (for example, to travel or pursue other interests) and a wide variety of work.

Being employed may mean less flexibility and variety, but can offer the advantage of greater job security and financial stability. At the end of the day, deciding whether or not to be self-employed depends very much on personal preference, but is definitely a popular option in this field of work.

For a small minority, writing can yield prestige and high financial rewards, but in general the work does not pay well and freelance work can be unpredictable; many writers take additional forms of employment in order to supplement their incomes. Writing can be solitary work that entails spending a great deal of time working in isolation - although this is not always the case and some writing may involve speaking to people to gather information.

Typical tasks include: writing, editing and proofreading text

  • liaising with other professionals such as printers, photographers and artists
  • marketing and distributing work
  • researching and developing contacts
  • seeking publishing contracts
  • negotiating terms and conditions of contracts
  • general administration.

What's required

You'll definitely need to be determined and talented in order to get on in this competitive sector. Lots of people would like to write for a living, and getting work published can be difficult - especially when first starting out. It may be necessary to rewrite work again and again in order for it to be accepted for publication.

In general, working as a writer gets easier as you progress, build up a portfolio of work that you have done, and make contacts in the sector. You will need to be persistent and enthusiastic in order to keep going and build up your little black book of useful contacts - whether you want to get a job or build up a client base for freelance work.

It is not necessary to possess any formal academic qualifications: language and writing skills are more important. Previous relevant experience gained from published articles, freelance work or writing competitions can be useful, although not essential. A wide variety of institutions including universities, colleges and adult education centres offer short creative/novel writing courses that can be helpful.

Where to find out more

It is essential to make lots of speculative approaches to publishers. An agent can be employed to provide advice and to help secure contracts. Useful publications include Writers' Forum (published six times a year), The Book Collector, The Book Directory, The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook and The Writer's Handbook. The latter two of these contain comprehensive lists of agents and publishers.