We all write on a daily basis. Whether it is an email, a Tweet, a paper for school, or an article for a magazine, we all write, maybe now more than ever. So, how does one move from being a person who writes to being a writer?
Writers come in a myriad of variations. There are freelance writers, novelists, journalists, screenwriters, playwrights, technical writers, poets, and more. Being an English major, I know I want to find a way to make a living by writing, but what are my best options? Will being a woman have an effect on those options? And what really are my chances of making my dream a reality?
Melody Warnick is a freelance writer who has been published in O: The Oprah Magazine, Redbook, Reader’s Digest, and Woman’s Day, just to name some publications.
In a personal interview, Warnick explained, “I'd always imagined myself as a writer and did all the normal writerly things, like spending four years on the high school newspaper, majoring in English at college, and reading a ton. But it wasn't until after my first baby was born that I started looking at magazines and realizing that, hey, those were freelancers doing most of the stories, not people on staff.”
Valeria Flores, a sophomore at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) plans to become a journalist. She described journalism as “such a competitive field.” As Flores explained it, “You have to know a lot of different things in order to be a good journalist.”
Working.com backs up this statement by saying, “Both print and broadcast reporters need detailed knowledge of the geography, history, economy, politics, media law and social life of the communities and countries in which they work. For writing critical reviews and analyses, they also need specialized knowledge in a particular area such as art or politics.”
So how does a person get a foot in the door?
Warnick got her start by sending an idea to a small local magazine. They paid her $0.10 a word. “I got paid a whopping $200!” Warnick said.
However, it was a start she could build on; pitching ideas to successively bigger and better publications. According to Warnick, “It took me less than a year until I'd gotten my first assignment for a national magazine.” Now Warnick makes between $45,000 and $50,000 per year (pre-taxes). “But I'm definitely part-time,” she added.
Flores did an internship at EMCC’s student magazine, The Lion’s Perspective, to get some more experience. She said she occasionally does research about job availability in journalism. She added, “Honestly, I am concerned,” referring to future job prospects in her chosen field. According to a Forbes article published in April of 2012, “Journalist came in fifth on the worst jobs list”, but the same article also cited a Georgetown University study which said “The unemployment rate for recent [journalism] college grads was 7.7 percent, a half a point below the national rate of 8.2 percent.”
Has being a woman affected Warnick’s career? “In good and bad ways,” she said. “On the upside, I've written a lot for parenting and women's magazines over the years; being the target demographic and a regular reader of those magazines helped me pitch stories they wanted to publish. However, the downside, Warnick continued, “is that I sometimes lack confidence to pitch publications that I see as more male-centric, like, say, GQ or Outside. There ends up being a bit of a women's magazine ghetto where female writers get stuck.”
Flores said she thinks being a woman will probably affect her career somehow, but she said she thinks being Hispanic is something that will have an even bigger impact. “Because I'm bilingual, it's going to help a lot.” stated Flores. “Instead of paying two people to do one job, they can have just one person.”
Warnick would advise college students who want to become writers to “Think broadly. I've stuck largely with very traditional magazine writing, and that's probably to my detriment. The most successful freelance writers I know have learned to find work in all kinds of places: writing web content for a local business, writing catalog copy, writing white papers or brochures, writing educational content, writing marketing or ad copy, writing blog posts or books or speeches.”
Warnick continued, “One of the hardest parts about starting out is that everyone wants to see samples of your work, but you’re just starting out and you don't have those samples. It's frustrating.
If I were a current college student, I'd get an internship at a newspaper or magazine or work on the college paper—anything that lets me write and rack up a few published samples of my writing. The other alternative: start a blog. I think editors are more willing than ever to look at blog posts as samples of how you write.”
Whichever sort of writer I end up becoming, the key, it seems, is to let my writing become its own foot in the door. Whether it is through a job, an internship, a blog, or even papers I’ve written for a class, all of them can be considered samples. The consensus seems to be to create and select your best samples, and then use them to demonstrate what you can do. So that is what I plan to do.