Every May, the workforce’s ranks swell with a fresh batch of newly minted, hyper-talented, and frighteningly enthusiastic writers. While these graduates rightly claim to be gifted poets, essayists, and novelists, those not immediately blessed with MFA assistantships will likely find themselves clamoring for any run-of-the-mill entry-level editorial or reporting job. Publishing houses, advertising firms, and media outlets of all kinds (newspapers, magazines, popular web sites, etc.) receive dozens, sometimes hundreds of resumes for every position they post. This drives down salaries for today’s aspiring professional writers and creates an atmosphere where new writers know that, come next commencement, another crop of equally hungry, equally talented wordsmiths will appear more than ready to work long hours for little pay. In other words, the modern job market for new writers is hardly lucrative, rarely rewarding.
However, there are many creative, interesting, and well-paid jobs that new writers usually overlook. As writers are so often reminded in their undergraduate days, a good liberal arts education is adaptable to any kind of intellectually challenging writing work. A cursory glance at the classifieds beyond the reporter and editor searchers reveals several, largely untouched markets for writers to explore.
First, there is the design industry. Architecture, engineering, and interior design are by nature creative and artistic professions. But the intense educations designers receive rarely include much emphasis on how to communicate through text. This is surprising, considering the amount of written materials design firms produce. Architectural proposals are a synthesis of descriptive text and images, as are the award submissions, professional profiles, and even the maze of government applications designers produce every day. Add in speeches, presentations, letters to contractors, and, ultimately, specifications, and a writer will find more than enough to do in any 20-person design firm. There is even a design-specific guild of writers and marketers to help non-designers advance in this industry, the Society for Marketing and Professional Services (www. smps.org), In addition, these design writing positions pay, on average, significantly more than a cub reporter’s or an assistant editor’s salary. Writers interested in looking for work in the design industry should search for any advertisements from firms seeking “administrative” or “marketing” help-the titles don’t truly reflect the work involved, only the catch-all names of the firm’s departments.
Next, there is financial writing. Many writers, especially creative writers, assume financial writing is a Byzantine jumble of blue suits and bungled jargon, with a healthy dose of confusing math. Frankly, the perception is largely correct. However, skim the Wall Street Journal or The Financial Times just once or twice and the veil lifts to reveal some fairly interesting topics, only slightly hindered by their math. Writing abstracts about the movements of foreign currencies is almost, if not quite, like travel writing from a desk. Following mergers and acquisitions, even from a technical point of view, is like following a car chase that stretches out over weeks or even months. Executive bios are a chance for a good writer to test the limits of hyperbole-or of venom, depending on the latest twist in the market. IPOs, prospectuses, and executive summaries are just news stories with very specialized perspectives. Any English major with a passing grade in one or two economics courses, and a decent suit, can write for a financial firm. And, like writing for a design firm, the pay in financial writing can often be much more rewarding than other, more traditional writing work.
One last largely unexplored industry for new writers is work for non-profits. Every non-profit, from hospitals to animal shelters to private schools, needs good writers to draft press releases, smooth out speeches, produce web content, and, of course, knock out grant proposals. Pick any charitable area one might be interested in-child care, scientific research, libraries, the environment-and odds are there will be a nonprofit organization searching for some help with their written materials. Essentially, non-profits have stories to tell, and they need writers to tell them. Unlike writing work in the design and financial industries, writing for a non-profit does not promise great monetary rewards. But the intangibles of writing for a cause or institution one truly cares about can easily outweigh that year-end bonus or the promotion to associate editor.
Writers entering the workforce too often pigeonhole themselves into just a handful of particular positions in certain industries. In fact, there are entire worlds beyond calling the police station to check a city desk story or fetching coffee for an acquisitions editor. Clear, creative writing is needed in design firms, investment banks, and non-profits across the country, as well as among other many other lesser-known employers of creative writers. Whether saving for graduate school or just trying to move into a better apartment, talented new writers should be sure to explore opportunities outside traditional word-working companies.