Writers come in all shapes and sizes-film critics, novelists, editorial columnists, screenwriters, technical writers, and advertising copywriters. Many spend the beginnings of their careers practicing their skills as they await a big break. While all writers prefer to write on subjects of personal interest, most professionals are assigned topics by an editor. Writers may work at home, in an office, or in a hectic newsroom, but wherever they set up their office, writers generally spend upwards of 40 hours a week hard at work-even if only a fraction of that time is spent actually tapping the keys of a word processor.
Writers begin by asking questions and researching a subject. The process of “writing” may involve conducting interviews, reading up on a subject at the library, traveling to a far-off location or even surfing the Internet for clues. A writer must be open to the possibility that new information will change the original angle of a piece. As she gathers the necessary information, she gradually develops a working outline from which she is then able to work up a draft. Then it may be time for an editor to review the material and suggest changes. A writer may wait and send a completed draft manuscript to an editor, while others may prefer to send the manuscript in “partials” (sections or chapters) in order to give the editor a chance to see the work in progress from an earlier stage. The editing process continues until editor and writer judge the material ready for publication.
Writers collaborate with the other professionals involved in the media, such as photographers, graphic designers, and advertisers. Screenwriters and playwrights write original pieces or adapt existing books or stories for the stage or screen. Usually they attend readings or rehearsals to make revisions because problems may appear when the piece is performed that they had not anticipated when they wrote it. Copywriters generally work for advertising agencies, researching market trends to determine the best way to sell their clients’ products. Technical writers take esoteric subjects and write about them in simpler terms so that readers can easily grasp the ideas and information.
The one point most employers agree on is that good writers combine a natural gift for language with an unwavering devotion to their craft. For a professional career, a Bachelor’s degree in journalism, English, or literature is all but essential. But most important of all is practice, practice, practice, regardless of the medium. In high school, potential writers can write for the school newspaper or the yearbook; in college, they should continue writing for school newspapers and apply for internships at publishing houses. Technical writers should be well-versed in their subject areas and perhaps have advanced degrees. Every writer should be a proficient typist with mastery of a word processor; nowadays many writers, especially journalists, are expected to deliver their copy electronically via e-mail. Writing experience is very important. Writers must be disciplined, focused, good at research, and able to work under deadlines. Writers should collect samples of their work to show to prospective employers. A writer’s first job is often as an assistant to a writer or an editor. Beginning writers generally work hard at research and clerical tasks while awaiting recognition and opportunity from their boss.
Editors review and edit manuscripts and give authors guidance and direction for clarifying and otherwise improving their pieces. (Many editors admit to being failed or aspiring writers; the reverse can also be the case.) Journalists, who are of course themselves writers (see separate entry), tend to work under the direction of an editor who sends them out into the field to dig up stories, follow leads and interview people, and submit their findings in the form of a readable article.