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How to become a writer after your Au Pair stay

by Julia on Feb 13, 2020
How to become a writer - tasks, salary and career options
You want to become a writer? Then grab a pen and start writing! Jokes aside, we know that it takes more to be a writer than to just hold a pen in your hand. On the other hand, the profession of a writer often seems mystical to many people. But the truth is that it's only about talent, hard work and stamina. In this article we’re going to explain what a writer does, how you can become a writer and why you should definitely consider becoming an Au Pair before

What is a writer? 

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines a writer as “a person whose job is writing books, stories, articles, etc.”. Considering this definition, you can call yourself a writer when you earn money writing. Before we dive into the different types of writers, we want to say that you can also be a writer when you just love to write and when you enjoy creating stories, maybe poems or letters to your loved ones. The term writer is not only for those who write professionally, but for everyone whose heart and soul is attached to words and the rhythm of a perfect phrase. You don’t earn money with your words yet? Don’t worry: hard work and persistence are a writer’s best features. That being said, let’s talk about the variety of this beautiful profession. 
 
Writers can be found in every business field. They use their command of their language to convey information, a certain message, entertainment and ideas. Depending on their specific position they deal with different types of content such as manuscripts, books, articles and poems both on- and offline. Some writers work clearly non-fictional, for example journalists. Other, such as book authors, can work both on fictional or non-fictional content. But there is more to it than just what you can read. Some people become joke writer for satire or comedy shows, work as screenwriters or create content for radio plays. As you can see, the list of where a writer can work seems endless, especially since new jobs arised like social media manager or bloggers who also deal with texts. To give you a brief overview, let’s have a look at the list of potential jobs in a writing career:
  • author: someone who writes a book which gets published, may it be informative or fictional
  • journalist: usually a person who works in the news, needs to hold an objective view on events
  • columnist: often works for magazines or bigger newspapers showing their own view on topics
  • blogger: a person who creates his/her own blog covering a specific subject
  • copywriter: usually works in advertising or marketing phrasing slogans and commercial texts
  • screenwriter: works with texts that will be translated into moving pictures afterwards
  • translator: transforms a text in one language into a text in another language and must be aware of cultural and linguistic particularities
As you can see, there is a variety of jobs in which handling textes plays a major role. All of those require different skills and are embedded into very different work environments. Let’s dive into the common tasks of writers in the next section.

Tasks involved in the job

A writer writes, right? That’s what you might think but there’s so much more to be a writer than just write down what you have in mind. In fact, writing is actually one of the tasks that comes later in the process and doesn’t even take the most time. Let’s break it down to the tasks before and after the actual writing process. Before you actually start to write a text you need to:
  • find out what kind of text your client needs (if you’re a freelancer)
  • select a topic and find out if your audience would like to read about it
  • do research about the topic: web based research as well as interviews, phone calls, visiting places, speaking to authorities
  • create a concept and fill in the missing gap like quotations and informations
  • find the right tone for your text: do you need to write a formal speech or an informal article about a celebrity’s latest scandal?
After following these steps, the actual writing takes place. Grammar and spelling check included. After you’ve finished the text you will:
  • read it over and over again: no great text gets written in one day
  • let others check your text
  • check the facts before publishing
  • send the text to your responsible
  • implement your content into a CMS (content management system): the days where one just writes a text and the IT guy will implement it are over. You need to be able to handle at least a bit of computer work

Working conditions

When you write for a living, your working conditions greatly depend on your working settings. Obviously, a blogger who works from home for his/her own website faces different challenges than a travel journalist who works for a big website. The first question is: what kind of employment are you striving for? A writer can be:
  • employed
  • freelance
  • self-employed
  • a combination of it
It’s a fact that writers never belonged to the group of people who experiences a safe job situation. Even in the beginning of the mass media, writers used to be people who are rather paid per word than per month. The internet with its flexible options made the situation even worse when we’re honest. Relatable newspapers which used to be quite a good job opportunity for people looking for a stable job die in these days leaving behind a mess for writers of integrity. Whereas authors and screenwriters always struggled with funding of their projects, trustworthy journalists could often be sure to get a salary. 
 
Now, that people distribute more and more news (and often fake news) from doubtful websites, it’s getting harder and harder to get paid for good journalism. Let’s face it: you’ve paid to read a magazine but reading a text on a website is for free. This changed the writing scene tremendously
 
These big steps have led to new writing careers more focused on the world wide web. Content production, writing of scripts for videos, editing, translation is more what we’re talking about today. Digital skills are not a plus anymore but a requirement. If you think about a career in writing, make sure to become familiar with the latest technology, inform yourself about different CMS, learn about SEO, social media and follow the trends. This way, you can satisfy your client as a freelancer and strive for a good position in a company’s marketing department if that’s what you want. 
 
All in all, you must be willing to do (often non-paid) internships, to write articles for local newspapers where you get some cents per word and to keep up with the latest trends in the industry. As a writer you might not earn as much, have unstable working conditions and work whenever something big happens like a fire during the night, a protest in a developing country or a natural disaster in the middle of nowhere. If you’re still passionate about your dream of becoming a writer, learn how you start the path.

How to become a writer 

The way to become a writer depends on the specific position you’re striving for. If you want to work as a novelist, poet or author, your path will include hours and hours of writing, finding a publishing house or publish your work on your own website. In this case, you also need to learn the principles of marketing. But apart from that, there is no single training, degree or certificate that makes you a writer. It’s completely based upon your actions rather than your formal education (nonetheless, a degree will be your safety net if your plans don’t work out).
 
However, the modern writing jobs often require at least a Bachelor’s degree, not necessarily in writing by the way. But if you want to land in a company’s copywriting or marketing department you must prove that you’re able to handle a set of data and analyze the underlying message. The average employer thinks that there’s no better proof than a degree and this is why you should do your best to pursue one. If you really want to become a writer you should follow these steps:
  • Graduate from school: obviously, this point depends on the society you live in but in most countries you won’t be able to find a suitable job as a highschool dropout. Make sure to get good grades and lay the foundation for a future degree.
  • Get practice: You won’t wake up and write like the next Kafka (by the way, not even Kafka was satisfied with his writing skills). Use every opportunity you get to improve your writing style: participate in your school’s newspaper, write articles for the yearbook. Get in touch with local newspapers or radio stations and intern for free. You’ll also get some valuable connections from these jobs. Start your own blog. Even if you won’t earn money with it, your future employer will be impressed by your drive. 
  • See the world: nothing is worse than a writer who doesn’t know his topic. You want to be a travel journalist? Then travel! You want to raise awareness for social issues? Volunteer in a social project and go for it! You want to write about politics and global issues? Then go abroad and dive into a whole new culture! Everything is possible, if you’re eager to achieve it.
  • Choose your path: find out what you need to make your dream come true. If you want to become a journalist, you should pursue a degree in journalism, politics or law. A person who wants to cover science topics, should get a degree in science. A copywriter usually holds a degree in marketing. The easiest way to work in the field that you want is to talk to people in the business and find out what they did and learn from their mistakes. But don’t forget that especially in writing, there are many people who come from many different fields. Writing is a skill that can be taught in college but also acquired by experience. A former teacher would be a great educational writer. A psychologist can write books. And a social worker has seen so many things that people would definitely listen to his/her stories.

Training and certification

We already covered that a writer is nothing without experience. In most countries, a writer is also nothing without a certificate stating that s/he is a writer. The most obvious choice is to get a degree in literature, languages or journalism. Some programs have an emphasis on creative writing whereas others offer cooperations with newspapers and broadcasting stations. 
 
A really important thing about getting certified is making friends and contacts in the business. Who could help you better to find an internship or to introduce you to editors than your lecturer? Always be open about the next opportunity that waits around the corner.
 
Be it an undergraduate degree or on a graduate level, here are some programs that you might look for at your local university or college:
  • literature
  • creative writing
  • journalism
  • rhetoric and composition
  • publishing
  • professional writing
  • media studies
  • communication studies

What does a writer earn?

Writing is a diverse field. There are too many options out there to even define an average writer so the answer to this question depends on many points. First of all, a person’s salary is always impacted by
  • working experience
  • formal education and degree
  • position within the company
  • type of employment
  • reputation
  • further skills
Nonetheless, we try to give you a general overview about your income chances as a writer. Usually, people who have another profession and write for magazines on an expert level earn the most. In the US, a science writer can expect around $64,000 per year and technical writer make ca. $70,000. Another well-earning industry is art and entertainment where you can get up to $58,000 per year. A possible position in this field would be a screenwriter. Copywriter can find jobs in nearly any industry, earning between $40,000-57,000 annually. 
 
On the other hand, successful authors like Dan Brown or John Grisham can become millionaires but they’re really rare exceptions. Authors and poets usually have another job which pays the fees and they invest their freetime ro improve their skills. We don’t know if that will comfort you or make you sad but even outstanding talents like Kafka had a bread-and-butter job (Kafka for example worked for an insurance company and only followed his passion during the night). So, wherever you are in your career, you might not know which opportunities wait for you.

Should I become a writer? - Skills and qualifications

Being a good writer combines talent, training and experience. In fact, you don’t get born as a writer, you become one and acquire skills while trying. Writing is something that you can actually learn following some golden rules which you can find in books about creative writing. But this has actually nothing to do with the question if you really want to pursue this career. We hope that this list will help you.
 
You should become a writer if you
  • are passionate about words and phrases
  • read a lot during your free time
  • always phrase sentences in your mind when you learn something new
  • get complimented for your good writing style by others
  • cannot not write
  • can stand times (financially and emotionally) when no one is interested in your work
  • would also write about topics that are outside of our interest
  • are okay with a low to average income
  • can imagine to work as a freelancer
  • are not embarrassed to make an interview with random people on the street or important personalities
You should pursue another career when you 
  • want to make a lot of money
  • want to work 9-5 only
  • are not interested in building a portfolio without being paid
  • struggle with words
  • prefer listening or watching over reading
  • don’t really want to dive too deep into a topic
  • are aiming for a stable career without risks
  • have no interest in keeping up with latest technology and trends
  • are not interested in marketing whatsoever

Why you should be an Au Pair before becoming a writer 

The golden rule is: if you want to write about it you should know about it. In their very well known book “Handbuch des Journalismus” (manual of journalism) the German journalists Paul-Josef Raue and Wolf Schneider say that they would rather hire a person who has seen something from the world and knows about global issues than someone who finished a degree in the minimum time. Someone who had insight into another culture, spoke with people from a foreign country and actually adapted to another lifestyle knows what s/he is talking about. 
 
By spending an Au Pair year you experience all that. You challenge your own perspective, dare to widen your horizon and become an expert on the culture you’re living in. Perfecting the language skills of your host country is a nice side effect. And now imagine yourself in a newsroom where the chief editor is looking for a correspondent in France, Italy, the UK, Germany or anywhere else. Who would be the obvious choice? A former Au Pair who has actually lived in that culture and speaks the language or someone who holds a PhD in writing? Never underestimate the power of experience
 
By the way, even if you don’t really know what to do in life, a gap year is always a great option to think about your goals and dreams. If you want to read more about other potential jobs after the Au Pair stay you can find more in our job series.
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