Author/Writer Job Description, Education, Training Requirements, Career, Salary, Employment

Job Description: Writers and authors develop original fiction and nonfiction for books, magazines, trade journals, online publications, company newsletters, radio and television broadcasts, motion pictures and advertisements.

Training and Educational Qualifications: A college degree generally is required for a position as a writer or editor. Although some employers look for a broad liberal arts background, most prefer to hire people with degrees in communications, journalism or English. For those who specialize in a particular area, such as fashion, business, or law, additional background in the chosen field is expected. Knowledge of a second language is helpful for some positions.

Job Outlook: Employment of salaried writers for newspapers, periodicals, book publishers and non-profit organizations is expected to increase as fast as the average. Magazines and other periodicals often develop market niches, appealing to readers with special interests. Businesses and organizations have newsletters and Web sites, and more companies are experimenting with publishing materials directly on the Internet. Online publications and services are growing, thus requiring writers with web experience.

Salary: Median annual earnings for salaried writers and authors are $48,640. The middle 50 percent earn between $34,850 and $67,820. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $25,430, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $97,700. The average for annual earnings is $50,650 in advertising and related services and $40,880 in newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers.

Significant Facts:

•    Most jobs in this occupation require a college degree in communications, journalism or English, although a degree in a technical subject may be useful for technical-writing positions.

•    The outlook for most writing and editing jobs is expected to be competitive because many people are attracted to the occupation.

•    Online publications and services are growing in number and sophistication, spurring the demand for writers and editors, especially those with web experience.

Did you have an internship in this field prior to starting your job?

I don’t believe there is a way to have “an internship” in creative writing. What you can do (and I did) is to enroll in a Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) program, which is basically an academic welfare state for young writers. You get two to three years out of the rat race to learn how to write. I studied fiction.

Do you know of which companies have the best internships in this field that are known to help launch a successful career?

As I say, the best version of the internship for creative writers is the MFA program, and there are hundreds of them across the country, along with a growing number of PhD programs in creative writing.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

There’s no geographic requirement for my line of work. You can live wherever you like. Because very few authors make enough money to survive from their books, however, most of them do some teaching. For this, it’s important to be in a city with colleges or universities. And, of course, there’s an argument to be made that writers are best to live in New York City where the publishing industry is based. In reality, writers should live in whatever setting is most conducive to their creative work.

What is your typical day like?

I try to write in the morning. In the afternoon, I either teach or do the sort of work that pays the bills. I also try to make time to read every day. Maybe get some exercise. I don’t own a TV. TV is a giant time and energy sucker, which you can’t afford if you want to do sustained creative work.

What are your job responsibilities?

My basic responsibility is to keep myself at the keyboard long enough to do some writing every day. Then I try to generate some income.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Having the freedom to write about those things about which I feel most passionate.

What do you dislike about your job?

Writing is extremely lonely. And there’s a ton of rejection to be absorbed. There’s no way around either of these problems from what I’ve seen. You just have to learn how to withstand the isolation and disregard. Easier said than done.

Have you had any turning-point or “light bulb” moments in your career that have helped you get to where you are today?

The main thing is to realize that our culture steers people away from careers in the arts because they don’t involve selling anything to anyone. This means that at crucial moments you have to make a decision that feels unpopular. For me, this was the decision to leave my job as a reporter and go back to school to study fiction. I lost my salary, health benefits, business card, and all that stuff, and I had to spend five or six years toiling in obscurity. This was the only way I was going to become serious about my creative work.

How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

I got bored. More specifically, my heart got bored with my mind. I realized that writing newspaper articles was allowing me to be clever, and occasionally thoughtful. But I wasn’t engaging my imagination or trying to say anything deeper about what it means to be human. And that just grew tiresome.

How you got into this industry?

You don’t really “get into” the “writing industry.” It just doesn’t work like that. I decide what I want to write a short story, a non-fiction memoir, a novel and then set to work on it. If I work hard enough, I’m able to get a publisher to put the book into the world. Sometimes.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

Just being able to publish a book particularly a book of short stories in a culture as joyously semi-literate as ours.

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?

Honestly, writing is about all I’m qualified to do. It would be fun to host a radio show, for instance. But it would feel like a betrayal of the sort of work I do as a writer.

What publications do you read?

The only magazine I read with any consistency is the New Yorker. Occasionally, I’ll check out articles online. But I left journalism because I grew disenchanted with the superficiality of its coverage.

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

The most important thing for young writers is that they honestly want to get at the truth whether the truth comes wrapped in fiction or a straight up non fiction. If you want to write for any other reason (for money, or glory, say) you’re not going to do too well.

Did you have an internship in this field prior to starting your job?

Yes, I’ve had a few internships. I worked at New York Theater Workshop as a literary intern when I was an undergrad. I also was a general office intern at the Jean Cocteau Repertory and worked briefly as a script reader/general helper at Little Magic Films right after college and at Theater 503 in London, right after graduate school.

Do you know of which companies have the best internships in this field that are known to help launch a successful career?

I think for playwrights you should intern at theaters that have real backbones and really look for perspective from their playwrights. It isn’t to say you need to always agree with the theater’s choices, so much as it is to say that you should get accustomed to thinking about other people’s work and begin to try and understand why people respond to that work. Also, I think a good literary internship doesn’t ever involve getting anyone coffee because it should be more about a literary manager who is interested in your opinion. Why not New York Theater Workshop, or the Public.. .or even smaller theaters like The Rattlestick or the Milk Can Theater company, who are really building themselves into major companies and respond to enthusiastic and engaged interns.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

As a playwright, you can live anywhere, but I would say New York and Minneapolis are great places because you won’t be writing in a void. Austin is great, I hear. Iowa City is a great place to be for grad school. Philadelphia seems cool too.

What is your typical day like?

I work three days a week as a volunteer coordinator for a program in Brooklyn called Vintage Pride where I match volunteers with LGBTQ seniors. At the moment, this is my bread and butter work. The other

two days of the week are my teaching days, and on those days, I spend a few hours at A. Philip Randolph High School in Harlem teaching NYC high school kids how to write short plays. Then I hike up to the Bronx to teach my college class in the late afternoon. In the evenings, I tend to spend a lot of time seeing things, if I’m not working on my own things. Writing and rewriting and submission work fits in all around this. I recently won two awards that will allow me to leave my bread and butter work behind for a few months so that I can focus more on writing and teaching. My typical day will change. But I find that as a theater artist, my typical day changes all the time.

What are your job responsibilities?

To write plays, to teach theater, to write theater, to direct theater, to create new fans of theater.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love the chaos of wearing a lot of hats. I love that my life is so unpredictable (even though it is utterly terrifying sometimes.) I love that I’m spending my life using my imagination to understand the world I live in…or the world someone else lives in. Oh, and theater people are the best. I always feel at home around them.

What do you dislike about your job?

Sometimes it’s exhausting. I feel an emotional connection to my work so when something is disliked, or rejected or dismissed, it hurts. You have to clean yourself up off the floor a lot… or talk yourself down from the tree. A life in theater requires an astronomical amount of patience.

Have you had any turning-point or “light bulb” moments in your career that have helped you get to where you are today?

I’m always amazed when someone connects to my work and when someone doesn’t. Last year, I got ripped apart by the New York Times and it was amazing to me that despite how difficult it was to read such mean-spirited comments about something I loved, I was able to keep on doing this. But I’ve had amazing teachers at Iowa and Fordham who have turned the light bulb on again and again and again. My teachers at Fordham especially taught me to love theater, not just to love myself in theater. And they respected me in my growth process. When you are respected as a human being, your mind and heart are at their highest capacities for learning and deepening.

How did you get into playwriting?

I got into playwriting particularly because I just found I had a knack for it. I could do it at home with no money and I could really finally have some control over something. I got into teaching because learning to teach is something that Iowa really emphasized. They understand the practicalities of being a playwright in America.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

Getting a production in New York City that my friends don’t have to pay for.

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?

Maybe screenwriting although it seems less free to me. Teaching obviously, but I prefer teaching older kids so I guess I’d have to get some scholarly experience in some other area.

To what professional associations do you belong?

Dramatist’s Guild.

What professional publications and Web sites do you read?

TCGiArtSearch and New York Foundation for the Arts Web site.

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

Be careful about letting other writers tell you how to write and when to write and where to write and what you should write about. People often seek this advice from older playwrights, believing that this is the key to success. But I think it just makes playwrights crazy and self-conscious and frozen. Embrace your mess if that’s your deal. Or embrace your order if that’s your deal. There is no right or wrong way to write. Just write. If you’re not writing, maybe you’re not a writer. Or you’re not a writer right now. That’s okay too. Ultimately, comparison is destructive to the soul.