Using imagination and research skills, writers create works of fiction and non-fiction, including books, poetry and manuals

As a writer, you'll usually either be commissioned to write or you'll submit a draft to an agent or publisher in the hope of securing a contract for the rest of the works.

Your writing work will involve coming up with ideas for stories, plots, characters, names, headings, or discovering facts and relevant information, etc. You'll need to carry out in-depth research and develop your writing by editing and reworking it. You'll also need to proofread your writing so it's a good standard, though it will usually also be professionally proofread and edited before publication.

Writing requires discipline, determination and resilience, and because a writing career offers relative freedom, you'll need to find what suits you in terms of working pattern and style to produce your best work.

Types of writing

You could write in various forms, including:

  • children's stories
  • life writing
  • magazine and newspaper articles
  • non-fiction texts, including technical guides and manuals
  • novels
  • poetry
  • screen and radio
  • scripts for theatre
  • short stories
  • web content.

There are also opportunities for writers in areas such as mobile phone content and computer game scripts.

Some writers may find avenues to diversify their writing and write in different forms, such as published novelists also writing reviews and literary criticism.

For more information on the role of a technical writer in the science, engineering and pharmaceutical sectors, see technical author.


As a writer, you’ll need to do some or all of the following:

  • research the market including reading relevant publications or blogs, and stay up to date with writing that is being produced in your chosen field
  • select subject matter based on personal or public interest, or as commissioned by a publisher or agent
  • undertake background research including desk-based research and conduct site visits or interviews
  • structure and plan writing projects
  • edit, revise and review work, especially in response to feedback
  • work to tight deadlines, especially for theatre, screen and radio
  • submit material for publication in the required and expected format
  • network with other writers, as well as others involved in the industry such as publishers, booksellers and organisers of literary events
  • liaise with publishers, agents, script editors, producers and directors
  • finding, pursuing and maintaining knowledge of publication opportunities
  • market your work, including maintaining an online presence through a website, blog or social media presence
  • talk about your work at events, such as literary festivals, and conduct readings or book signings
  • teach writing in further or higher education settings or run workshops privately
  • critique the work of other writers including sometimes providing mentoring or coaching services
  • manage the business side of writing including maintaining financial records, checking contracts and submitting invoices and tax returns.


  • Writer salaries are notoriously low, variable and unpredictable and it's common for a writer (dedicating part of their working time to writing) to earn as little as £3,000 to £7,000 per year.
  • The Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society reports that typical earnings from freelance journalism are as low as £17,500 per year.
  • In rare cases, a writer may be lucky to earn a significant amount for their writing, even reaching six figures for the most fortunate.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Freelance Fees Guide sets out indications of average rates for different kinds of freelance writing. The BBC offers standard rates, which are available on The Writers' Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) - Rates and Agreements.

Having a good agent, business manager and/or accountant is essential for most high-earning writers.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Depending on your employment arrangements and personal life, your working pattern as a writer may be entirely flexible and varied or follow a schedule.

Some writers will use weekends and evenings to work, fitting their responsibilities around other employment or family commitments, while others adopt a disciplined approach, keeping strict office hours, and possibly working away from home to avoid distractions.

What to expect

  • While most writers are self-employed freelancers, some may be taken on for short-term contracts in television, radio, screen or theatre. There are also some opportunities to be employed as writers in residence in particular communities or organisations.
  • Professional writers supplement their income in a range of ways. This can be through teaching, lecturing and self-publishing, for example, or from prizes, fellowships, grants and bursaries. Many writers have a portfolio career, with writing being just one aspect.
  • Writers live and work throughout the UK, but the highest concentration of writers is in London and the South of England.
  • Research shows that there are pay gaps linked to social class, gender, ethnicity and geographic region. The Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society carries out work to understand and highlight what writers need for their working environment and to report on the challenges they face.
  • Although most writers are based at home, some travel may be necessary, for meeting publishers and agents and attending conferences, author events and literary festivals.


Although this area of work is open to all graduates, the following subjects are particularly relevant and may help to give you knowledge of different styles and genres of writing:

  • communication and media studies
  • creative writing
  • English language or literature
  • journalism
  • performing arts.

Entry without a degree, foundation degree or HND is common.

Most academic qualifications will help you to develop strong writing skills and a relevant degree will provide you with a good grounding in grammar and the structure of language.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not essential, but there are suitable Masters courses available. Typically, these combine academic study with practical experience and mentoring.

To get a place on a postgraduate course aimed at potential writers, you'll usually need a portfolio of recent creative writing, published or unpublished. The subject of your first degree is not always relevant, as course providers are generally more interested in the quality of your portfolio. Some institutions, however, will ask for a degree in English or a related discipline.

You may be able to get a place on a course without a first degree if you have creative writing experience or other creative writing qualifications.

Many courses have a specific focus, such as novel writing, screenwriting or writing for performance. Do your research carefully to make sure courses match your career aims.

Search for postgraduate courses in creative writing.


To succeed as a writer, you'll need:

  • literary skills and excellent written English
  • imagination
  • a clear, entertaining style
  • an organised approach and the ability to work to tight deadlines, while maintaining attention to detail
  • excellent research skills, both literary and business-related
  • self-discipline and time management skills
  • the ability to work alone for long periods
  • verbal communication and networking skills for developing media contacts
  • marketing skills and an understanding of new media as a tool for self-promotion
  • commitment and the desire to succeed
  • IT, web, typing and editing skills
  • the necessary financial skills to manage yourself in the employment market
  • the ability to understand and accept criticism
  • persistence, determination, resilience and enthusiasm.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience in related industries such as bookselling, publishing, film or television may be helpful but isn't necessary. A portfolio of either published or unpublished work, however, is crucial, to showcase to potential publishers or contacts.

Securing a publishing contract can be challenging with significant levels of competition.

Students can improve their chances by getting relevant experience while at university, including writing for student newspapers or magazines, or taking part in student radio or a drama club.

You can break into the profession by winning local or national writing competitions. These include fiction, poetry, screen and playwriting and usually can be found by a simple web search of 'creative writing competitions,' or 'screenwriting competitions.'

Some publishers run competitions to find new talent, and the prize can include publication. For example, the children's fiction publishers Chicken House, in conjunction with The Times, run an annual children's fiction competition.

Other useful ways to gain experience include joining a local writers' group. For a list of groups, see the National Association of Writers and Groups (NAWG). You could also start writing a blog.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.


Most writers work freelance and are self-employed. As income from writing may be low and unpredictable, most writers supplement their income with other related activities such as author visits, workshops and events.

In addition, many writers manage their writing work alongside full or part-time jobs, which may be related to their writing (such as lecturing on creative writing courses) or entirely unrelated.

Because writing is largely a freelance occupation, very few vacancies are advertised, and most opportunities are found by making speculative approaches or by answering calls for submissions.

Writers of fiction and non-fiction who want to be traditionally published will need to seek an agent before seeking a publisher as most publishers will not look at uncommissioned work unless it comes via an agent.

Approaching a literary agent usually involves submitting the first three chapters of a novel with a synopsis and a cover letter (for fiction). Be sure to check each agent's list before submitting to check they represent the genre of fiction that you write in. The writer/agent relationship is important, so it's worth taking the time to find one that is right for you.

It's also possible to self-publish or produce an e-book and these methods are increasing in popularity. This can be an effective way to showcase your work and achieve independent sales through local bookshops or online retailers. However, taking on the role of both writer and publisher can be demanding and requires you to understand issues such as permissions and rights.

Depending on the genre you write in, you may want to consider submitting short stories or poems to magazines, websites, competitions and occasional radio programmes. See the National Poetry Library for a list of poetry magazines.

If you’re a scriptwriter, you may find temporary contracts with:

  • the BBC - through its Open Call script submission system
  • commercial and independent television and radio companies
  • facilities houses
  • large advertising companies
  • film and video production companies.

Writers for theatre often work on attachment to a particular theatre or company or may even form their own theatre company.

For submission guidelines for many agents, publishers and magazines, see the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook.

Many writers supplement their income with writing-related employment and there are teaching opportunities in:

  • colleges
  • community and adult learning centres
  • therapeutic centres
  • training courses
  • universities and schools.

Look for job vacancies at:

There are many websites and online forums offering advice, support and critical feedback.

Professional development

There's little in the way of formal training for writers. However, most writers stress the importance of staying in contact with peers for feedback as well as support, which can also be found through:

  • critical appraisal services
  • writers' circles
  • writers' courses and workshops.

Because of the solitary nature of the work, membership of organisations such as the Society of Authors and WGGB can be useful for peer review and maintaining contact with the literary world.

It's also important to keep abreast of what is happening in the sector you want to contribute to. For example, if you want to write for radio, it's useful to listen to radio programmes to get a feel for what is successful. If you want to write poetry, it will help if you're a keen reader of poetry and subscribe to poetry magazines. If you're interested in scriptwriting, visit the BBC Writersroom website for a range of resources, including interviews, advice and toolkits.

Attending conventions and conferences, such as Crimefest, the international crime writers' convention in Bristol, can help you develop your knowledge of the industry, as well as providing a good opportunity to meet people and develop your networks.

For more specific training, you could consider the following:

  • Organisations such as the Arvon Foundation and Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre provide regular courses where practising and published writers run workshops.
  • Look out for courses in creative writing or novel writing at your local adult education centre.
  • Some towns and cities have a resident writer who runs courses and gives advice. Ask at your local library for details.
  • There are many literary consultancy agencies, such as Cornerstones, which for a fee offer detailed feedback and advice to writers seeking publication.

Career prospects

As you gain a back catalogue of publications, income from new work (often in the form of advances) may be complemented by income from previous work, in the form of royalties on published works, public lending rights payments, payments for anthologising and so on.

As your profile increases there may also be more potential for earning income from teaching, lecturing and appearances at events.

In addition, some organisations offer salaried posts for writers in residence, and these are often restricted to published writers with a strong track record.

The career of a writer can be unpredictable so you must be resilient and keep up to date with what kind of writing is selling. Producing a steady output of work will help.

As well as your creative output, you’ll also need to work on marketing yourself and your work. An agent or a publisher is likely to help with publicity, but it's important that you also look for opportunities yourself, such as:

  • writing a blog
  • creating a presence via social media
  • interviews
  • readings
  • setting up your own website
  • workshops and signings.

Discipline and determination to succeed are prerequisites for career development, but writers stress that the rewards of seeing their work in print or production make it all worthwhile.

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