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How to Become a Writer or Author

A college degree is generally required for a salaried position as a writer or author. Proficiency with computers and communications equipment is necessary for staying in touch with sources, editors, and other writers while working on assignments.

Education and Training

A bachelor’s degree is typically needed for a salaried job as a writer. Because writing skills are essential in this occupation, many employers like to hire people who have a degree in English, journalism, or communications.  Writers and authors need time to polish their craft through on-the-job training before their work is ready for publication.

Those with other backgrounds who demonstrate strong writing skills also may find jobs as writers. Writers who want to write about a particular topic may need formal training or experience related to that topic.

Because many writers today prepare material directly for the Internet, they should be knowledgeable about graphic design, page layout, and multimedia software.  

Work Experience

Writers can get job experience by working for high school and college newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, advertising and publishing companies, or not-for-profit organizations. College theater and music programs offer playwrights and songwriters an opportunity to have their work performed. Many magazines and newspapers also have internships for students. Interns may write stories, conduct research and interviews, and gain general publishing experience.

In addition, Internet blogs can provide writing experience to anyone with access to the Internet. Some of this writing may lead to paid assignments regardless of education, because the quality of writing, the unique perspective, and the size of the potential audience are the greatest determinants of success for a piece of writing. Online publications require knowledge of computer software and editing tools that are used to combine text with graphics, audio, video, and animation.


Writers and authors generally advance by building a reputation, taking on more complex writing assignments, and getting published in more prestigious markets and publications. Having previously published work that was well received and maintaining a track record of meeting deadlines are important for advancement. Writing for smaller businesses, local newspapers, advertising agencies, and not-for-profit organizations allows beginning writers and authors to start taking credit for their work immediately. However, opportunities for advancement within these organizations may be limited because they either do not have enough regular work or do not need more advanced writing.

Many editors begin work as writers. Those who are particularly skilled at identifying stories, correcting writing style, and interacting with writers may be interested in editing jobs.

Important Qualities

Creativity. Writers and authors must be able to develop new and interesting plots, characters, or ideas so they can come up with new stories.

Determination. Writers and authors sometimes work on projects that take years to complete. Freelance writers who are paid per assignment must demonstrate persistence and personal drive.

Persuasion. Writers, especially those in advertising, must be able to persuade others to feel a certain way about a good or service.

Social perceptiveness. Writers and authors must understand how readers react to certain ideas in order to connect with their audience.

Writing skills. Writers and authors must be able to write effectively in order to convey feeling and emotion and communicate with readers.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition