CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an author.
Is becoming an author right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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A high school degree or equivalent is the minimum educational requirement to qualify for the majority of writing jobs. Coursework in English, reading, and creative writing is especially valuable for aspiring authors.
While in secondary school, future writers can also develop skills and gain exposure to the field by contributing to the school newspaper or yearbook.
Select a Professional Path
Because of the diversity of the field, prospective writers should decide on a career focus or specialty before embarking on their post-secondary education. They need to consider the many options available to them and discover the one that is best suited to their talents and aspirations.
This process starts with asking questions such as these:
- Do I want to write fiction and be a short story writer or novelist?
- Do I want to write non-fiction pieces and work as a copywriter?
- Do I want to write articles for newspapers/magazines, and be a journalist?
- Do I want to write online content and be a web writer or blogger?
Undergraduate Certificate or Degree
While a small number of authors and writers succeed on natural talent alone, the far more common route to entering the field is an undergraduate certificate or degree:
Certificate in Writing
Short-term writing certificate programs teach students applied writing skills, the mechanics and styles of writing, and how to write for different audiences. These programs generally offer curricula in multiple niche areas, ranging from fiction to business writing, newspaper to web writing.
Associate Degree in Writing
The associate degree curricula is an industry-focused academic program. It provides students with practical knowledge they can use to transition into an entry-level writer or editor position or to continue on to a four-year bachelor’s degree program. Most associate programs require two years of full-time study to complete between sixty and sixty-six credit hours.
Students can opt for one of two majors when earning an Associate of Arts Degree in English: writing or creative writing. The writing major covers both the fundamentals of literary theory and development of professional skills in technical writing, business communication, advanced composition and editing, and news and informational writing.
The creative writing major serves as an introduction to genre writing. The focus of this program is to familiarize students with the four major literary genres: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama.
Bachelor’s Degree in Writing
A four-year bachelor’s degree program exposes students to coursework in both general education and their chosen writing specialty. This academic pathway can lead to work as writer or lay the foundation for graduate studies.
At this level, the most common majors are English literature, creative writing, and English composition:
This major blends the study of writing with literature. It introduces different forms of writing, such as fiction, novel, and expository/informational writing. It also explores contemporary American and English literature. These programs teach students how to critically analyze written texts and use workshops to help students improve their own writing.
Creative writing programs typically cover one of six genres: non-fiction, fiction, children’s literature, young adult literature, poetry, or scriptwriting. This major integrates theory and practice in composition and revision. Its objective is to prepare students for professional opportunities as writers and to become published authors.
This major exposes students to the fundamentals of professional writing. It focuses on skills required across writing careers with non-profit groups, government agencies, and publications; and in the entertainment, media, and business sectors. The curriculum covers composition, business writing, grammar and rhetoric, and language theory. Its overall goal is to develop students’ talents in critical writing, research, and analysis.
Many writing programs incorporate internships that allow students to gain practical experience by applying what they learned in the classroom to real-world projects. Internships in the business, marketing, and healthcare fields are often available to prospective copywriters and journalists.
Master’s Degree (optional)
After gaining some professional experience, writers may choose to pursue a graduate degree in writing. Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts programs provide students with advanced understanding of literary theory and writing techniques and an opportunity to further develop their own writing abilities.
The master’s in writing can take several forms. The following is a summary of the emphases of each possible degree in the discipline:
Master of Arts in Rhetoric and Composition
- Academic and professional writing
- Research methodologies
- Literacy studies
- Positions students for careers as teachers, professional writers, media specialists
Master of Arts in Literature with a Writing Emphasis
- Introduction to the study of writing and literature
- For students seeking careers in publishing, professional writing, or editing
- Typically serves as a bridge to a Ph.D. program
Master of Arts in Creative Writing
- Focus in a single concentration: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or professional writing
- Literary theory
- Development of writing skills outside of concentration genre
- Graduates may become authors, journalists, bloggers, educators
Master of Arts in Professional Writing
- Skill-based writing in policy development
- Business/workplace writing
- Grant writing
- White paper writing
- For careers in editing and writing in government, business, or industry positions
Master of Fine Arts
- Singular focus on developing creative writing skills
- Curriculum based on a specific emphasis (for example: fiction, nonfiction, poetry)
- Coursework focused on the theories of that emphasis and real-world application
Doctoral Degree (optional)
Doctoral programs in writing are aimed at students who wish to work in academia as scholars and educators at the university level. As they do at the undergraduate level, students choose an English specialization (rhetoric and composition; creative writing; literature; etc.). Ph.D. programs in writing are extremely competitive as they can position graduates for tenure-track university positions.