These days it’s on everybody’s bucket list – to write a book. But regardless of whether that bucket list item is a novel, non-fiction or memoir, the world needs more than just book writers. Content is a vast industry in itself and despite the resistance to paying for it, it is continuing to grow.
But there are actually five different types of writing, all requiring vastly different skill sets. So if your heart is set on it, it’s worth considering where your talents and your best chance of getting read lie.
If you want to be a writer and you want to make the big money, corporate and professional writing is where it will most likely happen (if you’re any good, of course). Corporates have the ability to pay and often the willingness if that writing helps them achieve their business goals, which tend to fall into the following categories:
*Establishing them in their field (marketing)
*Establishing them as experts in their field (thought leadership, sometimes also known as research and development)
*Contributing to the bottom line (business)
While corporates might know everything there is to know about running a business, including marketing and thought leadership, they generally don’t have great writing skills so conveying that knowledge is where they need help. Writing is one of those things that everyone thinks, erroneously, that they can do because they passed high school English. Disabusing them of that notion is difficult in a corporate setting because of the number and size of the egos that will be encountered.
Business people tend to use business-speak (which drives everybody crazy, especially since it’s often indecipherable gibberish) and quite a lot of the time they won’t know or be willing to acknowledge that they need help. So it takes a very particular type of person to be able to work in this environment and steer the writing in the direction of quality and sense. But if you can hack it and you’re willing to write about things that you wouldn’t give two hoots about if you weren’t being paid, then there is a lot of demand.
Generally, you need to be an academic with funding in order to undertake research and then indulge in academic writing to reveal the results so you can’t just decide one day that you want to give it a go and expect to be doing it quickly. But if you have an area of special interest and you want to contribute to the expansion of knowledge on the subject, then academia might be the best direction for you to head in. Universities provide the structure, support, independence and money necessary to enable this kind of discovery. Corporates sometimes provide the support and money but they generally have agendas so independence can be more questionable.
According to Google Scholar, my little sister is the co-author of 74 academic papers in addition to the 100,000-word PhD thesis she submitted in 2016. That’s a lot of writing. And it’s a lot of writing about important things. There isn’t much money in academic writing in itself but you’ll get to do a lot of it and as long as you are able to support your discoveries with well-designed and executed research, it can set you up as a sought-after expert, which in turn leads to more research, more results and more writing. It’s a self-fulfilling writing career.
Once upon a time, journalism was an honourable profession. In more recent times, it has become a game of speed and celebrity involvement instead of accuracy and historical importance. It has also become a profession completely lacking in job security. But for some people who want to write for a living, it’s something they’ve dreamed of since they learned how to write and despite everything, they can’t imagine heading in any other career direction.
Journalism requires an inquisitive nature, an aptitude for forming and retaining a lot of contacts, the ability to remain impartial about issues that divide people and countries, and then there’s also that all-important ability to write. It requires a lot more than that but if you want to know it all, there are university courses for that.
Journalists writes news (a strict reporting of what is happening) and feature articles (still strict reporting with an emotional undercurrent but as a means of steering the news) and undertake longer investigations (to reveal the news that isn’t obvious and that politicians and churches and large conglomerates would prefer remained unknown) if whoever they work for supports that kind of in-depth journalism but they don’t write opinion pieces. If you want to write opinion pieces, then you become a commentator and insert yourself into the story. It sometimes looks like journalism but it isn’t.
You might end up writing filler pieces like “A week’s worth of healthy dinner recipes”, “Where do you go when you die?” or “Australia’s most awesome office” and you might end up becoming the story yourself (because life happens to journalists, too) but if you keep writing, you never know where it will get you in the long wrong. Maybe it will be in a position to return journalism to its ethical, honourable place. Or perhaps you’ll just have to settle for a satisfying writing career.
Anyone who has ever received flat-pack furniture from China will know that there is a genuine art to technical writing, especially if the flat-pack is ever to become anything more than flat. It requires logic, it requires accuracy, it requires the ability to write a process from beginning to end without missing a step lest the completed flat-pack furniture from China end up looking less like furniture and more like abstract art.
Procedural writing also falls under the technical category. As well as being able to outline procedures clearly, it entails coming up with them in the first place. And in addition to showing how to accomplish a particular task, they generally also do so in a way that is auditable for quality purposes. Just like the furniture ending up like abstract art, poorly written procedures can end up being a guide to poorly executed assignments. But unlike the furniture that ends up looking like abstract art, there can be serious implications for badly-written procedures. Any company worth its salt will have written procedures and these can range from things as simple and as frequently ignored as ergonomics to things that result in huge fines when they’re ignored such as working at heights and emergency evacuations. Because when a poorly written emergency evacuation procedure goes wrong, the conversation turns from crimes against language to the potential deaths of workers.
It’s not always sexy – heck, it’s almost never sexy – but technical writing is important. And when it’s done well, it can be extremely satisfying and worthy of a decent enough salary.
And finally we come to creative writing. If you’ve given some thought and/or some effort to trying out all the other kinds of writing and they just won’t do, then here’s where you can go crazy by writing whatever you want, whenever you want, for as long as you want. Just don’t have any expectations that anyone will ever read you or pay you. It’s nice when they do but it’s very rare.
Creative writing takes on a huge number of forms from the very personal (diaries, journals and memoirs) to short forms like poetry and short stories (although sometimes it seems to take just as long to get them right) and long forms like creative non-fiction and fiction. And then from fiction, we get into genres – horror, romance, mystery, crime, thrillers, drama, supernatural, fantasy, young adult, steampunk and I know there are plenty I’m leaving out. In fact, there are so many creative writing avenues that you can get lost in them.
The thing about creative writing, even more so than writing in general, is that it requires genuine talent. That talent can develop over time – usually over a long time – but if you don’t have it, then torturing people with your writing efforts might get you noticed but in a way you’d prefer not to be. (There’s another post for you if you fall into this category – “What to Do When You’re a Bad Writer with a Good Story”.)
But, just as importantly, you’ll never know if you have any talent if you don’t give it a go. So if it’s what you want to do, then don’t let anyone talk you out of it. After all, if you find out you don’t have any talent, you don’t ever have to show anybody your abysmal writing efforts. And if you find out that you do, well, anything’s possible.