When you tell your family and friends you want to be a writer, there’s a chance you’ll be met with nosy questions about careers for writers and how much money you’ll make. As annoying as this may be, you do have to find a way to pay the bills.
Teaching and publishing are often held up as the best – if not the only – careers for serious writers. While both these paths can be very fulfilling, they’re not a good fit for everyone.
Fortunately, there are several other professions that will keep the lights on and give you space for your creative projects. The digital era has brought with it a need for content, and writers have the skills to provide it.
Before I get into eight jobs for writers that aren’t teaching or publishing, I’ll walk through the pros and cons of these two fields. Hopefully this post helps you find a path that suits your career goals. Let’s jump in!
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The Pros and Cons of Working the Publishing Industry
Publishing offers a variety of opportunities for book lovers to build careers for themselves. Covering all the options available to you in this field could be an entire post on its own. So, for the purposes of this one, we’ll focus on editors.
Working as a book editor gives you the chance to read and be part of creating amazing pieces of literature. Although authors get their names on the covers, editors are just as integral to the process of shaping words into full-fledged books.
If you work in independent publishing, you’ll also have the important job of putting out unique books that might be overlooked in the New York publishing scene. For those who value minority voices, experimental literature, or other work that isn’t considered “mainstream”, this can make for a fulfilling calling.
All that said, if your true goal is write your own book, editing may make the path to get there longer and more difficult. Like many careers for writers, working in publishing is usually very demanding of your time. Making space to practice your craft will require determination and discipline.
That’s assuming you can break into the publishing industry at all. There are precious few positions available for aspiring editors, especially at the larger New York publishing houses.
You may have more luck landing a desk at a small press, but they’re less likely to have the stability an established company provides. Independent publishers often have a hard time turning a significant profit, so don’t plan on getting rich working at one.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Teaching Creative Writing
Here’s the thing about teaching – you can tell when someone loves it. I have had some great instructors who were truly passionate about helping their students improve their writing. Although it definitely isn’t for me, watching those people teach reassures me that it is possible to make it a satisfying career.
Depending on where you teach, you may also have access to resources that can help with your own writing. University libraries, guest lecturers, admission to conferences, and other unique opportunities may be more accessible if you’re affiliated with an institution of higher education.
That said, the struggles with teaching are very similar to those associated with publishing that I outlined above. You’ll have to spend a lot of time working at it, for very little money.
Chances are you’ll be paid for the time you spend in the classroom. However, that’s only a fraction of your working hours. You’ll also have to factor in lesson planning, grading, and office hours. How much time these tasks require will likely depend on the number and type of classes you’re teaching.
The demanding hours could very well creep over into the time you have for your own writing. You’ll have to carefully plan your days to avoid getting behind on your projects.
The Trouble With Adjunct Positions
Most creative writers hope to teach their craft. They want to run workshops, discuss the elements that make a good story, and share favorite pieces with their students. Unfortunately, those positions are few and far between.
Particularly when you’re first starting out, you’ll likely have to work as an adjunct. This means you’ll be contracted by a school to teach one or more classes for a single term. You’ll be paid less than a livable wage, won’t receive benefits, and have no guarantee of being brought back the following semester.
For reference, in 2016, adjuncts at the private liberal arts university I attended were allowed to teach no more than four courses per school year. They received $4,000 per course. If you do the math, you’ll realize that means they could make $16,000 per year at most.
If you’re an adjunct, you’ll almost certainly have to either teach at multiple universities or get a second job to cover your expenses. Hopefully, you only do this for a year or two and then land a permanent position. That’s not the case for everyone, however. It’s easy to see why the field is so competitive.
8 Careers for Writers that Aren’t Teaching or Publishing
If you think life as an editor or a writing instructor is for you, don’t let this post discourage you! However, if those paths don’t sound particularly appealing, there are many other careers for writers. Here are eight you might consider
This one feels a little on the nose, given the medium, but you can make a living as a blogger! There are many ways to monetize a website. You’ll also have the added benefits of being your own boss and getting to spend a lot of your time writing.
Of course, there are drawbacks to any job. As a self-employed professional, you won’t have access to benefits such as health insurance or a 401k.
More importantly, it can take a long time to start making money with your blog. Some publish posts for years without seeing a single penny. Chances are you’ll have to work on your website in your spare time while juggling a day job for a while before you can blog full time.
2. Web Content Writing
While we’re on the topic of websites, they’re full of written content. Someone has to write all of it, and that person could be you. Companies may hire freelancers and/or in-house writers to fill their sites with quality copy.
In some cases, writing web content may give you the opportunity and the freedom to work on a variety of projects. If you like mixing things up or have a short attention span, this can be a real benefit.
That said, freelancers experience much of the same instability that other self-employed writers face. On the other hand, if you’re not built for a 9-to-5, working a company office job may come with its own difficulties, such as burnout.
3. Ghost Writing
Ghost writing involves you crafting a piece – an article, or sometimes an entire book – for someone else in exchange for payment. Your client may be very hands on and provide research or other resources, or you could have creative freedom and be on your own.
Generally, people seek out ghost writers because they have an idea, but not the writing skills to carry it out. You’ll have to work with them to some extent to develop their concept and bring it to life on the page.
When it comes to careers for writers, few provide the opportunity to write book-length projects for pay. Seeing your writing in print and getting the chance to work on a longform piece are amazing opportunities.
However, your client is the one whose name will appear in the byline. Not getting public credit for all the time and effort you put in may be hard to swallow.
4. Freelance Writing
As a freelancer, you can cover multiple genres and forms throughout your workdays. In fact, any of the careers for writers we’ve already covered in this post can be pursued on a freelance basis.
This flexibility can be nice, as it provides variety and the chance to pick and choose your gigs. Having control over your schedule also makes it easier to travel, manage family or other commitments, and work on your own creative pursuits.
One of the biggest challenges for freelancers is finding clients. You’ll have to find ways to network and self-promote in order to maintain a steady stream of income. Sites like Upwork can help, but keep in mind that they also take a cut of your fee.
5. Freelance Editing
You can also give feedback to others as a freelance editor. You might even take a few gigs in each area to appeal to wider range of potential clients and add some variety to your workdays.
The same people who might be looking for freelancer writers could also have their eyes peeled for editors. Businesses need web copy, blogs and other publications need posts. Even novelists may want a second opinion before sending out their manuscripts, and be willing to pay for one.
I’ve already touched on the drawbacks to freelancing, so I won’t repeat myself. Offering multiple services (i.e., writing and editing) could very well help you find more clients and land more jobs, so it’s worth considering.
6. Technical Writing
“Technical writing” refers to industry-related writing, often for software or other technology. Those in this field may create manuals, documentation, and other instructional materials related to their employers’ products.
Unless you happen to find a position that involves writing about software or machinery that you happen to be very familiar with, technical writing will require a lot of research. There’s definitely an art to finding accurate information and turning it into new material, so brush up on your skills.
Any job where you get to write is nothing to turn your nose up at. However, technical writing is often far from what might be called “creative”. You’ll need to learn how to shift gears and adapt your tone and style to different purposes.
7. Grant Writing
Those interested in the non-profit sector will be glad to know that there are careers for writers that enable you to put your skills to work for a good cause. Many organizations rely on grants for money to run programs and pay employees, and you could be the person for the job.
Grant writing requires you to be very persuasive in order to convince the person, company, or institution you’re appealing to that your organization should receive their support and funding. You’ll also likely be responsible for other tasks related to the grant application and submission processes.
Non-profit work comes with many risks and rewards. Many like to know that their work is making a difference and contributing to a good cause.
However, there’s also an increased risk of burnout among non-profit employees. It’s important to take precautions to protect your mental and physical health.
8. Marketing Communications
Businesses need to promote their products and services to consumers, and marketing communications specialists provide the means to do just that. They create content for a variety of mediums, which might include ads, emails, social media, or any other channel that connects brands with customers.
Ad copy, tweets, and Instagram captions may not feel like “real” writing to you, especially if you’re working on a 100,000 word novel in your spare time. However, there’s something to be said for the skill it takes to convey a lot of meaning and emotion in just a few words.
This is another position where you’ll have to find balance between creative freedom and financial stability. A desk job isn’t for everyone, but the consistency it provides can also decrease your stress level.
There are reasons why teaching and publishing are two of the most popular careers for writers. However, not everyone who loves working with words is well suited to the long hours, low pay, and competitive nature of these roles.
Fortunately, there are a many other jobs that will still enable you to practice your writing skills. From flexible, self-motivated freelancing careers to more traditional marketing positions, you have options when it comes to making a living as a writer.
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