What’s Up With Careers in Writing?

UCSB Career Counselor/Coordinator, Eric Wilder, muses on the state of writing professions with a heap of hyperlinks, as we step into the new year

For over 5,000 years, written communication has been a cornerstone of modern civilization, evolving from ancient Mesopotamian tablets to the 280 character Tweets we consume today. As one of our greatest pastimes for delivering messages between humans, writing has provided a foundation to fuel countless careers, from Scribe to Journalist to Author to Researcher to Filmmaker and much more.

So…what’s going on with careers in writing as we wrap up 2020? Can you still make a living out of a craft for words, or are we in a post-pay world so saturated with written communication that it can only be pursued as a hobby or side gig at best? In closing out the most digitally consumed year of all time (DCYOAT), there is a lot to unpack in this developing story.

Traditionalists may look at the modern landscape of writing and fear that the end is near. After this week’s blockbuster announcement that IKEA is discontinuing its 70-year print catalog due to a steady decline in readership, many readers and publication pros are left empty-handed. In 2020, however, this update should not be surprising, as we have witnessed news media outlets downsizing their workforce and closing long-running publications — a pattern that was already prominent pre-pandemic.

Look beneath the surface, though, and we see untapped worlds of opportunity: “IKEA is already increasing digital investments” amidst an increase in online sales by 45% with over 4 billion visits to its website. As screen time continues its steady rise and *entertainment consumption increases in long-term forecasts*, we have many ways to write for a living in the present and future.

Through evolving patterns in how people consume written works, change is the only constant. Whether we look to the rise of the gaming industry, the boom of jobs in technical writing, the fact that there are 6x more PR professionals than journalists, the demand for marketers who can communicate clearly, the unprecedented advertising strategies that stand out from the crowd, or the emerging prominence of gig and freelance platforms like Medium, Patreon, and Upwork, the need for creative people with writing skills has never been higher. The pathways to success are just a little more nuanced, self-directed, and mission-driven than they were in the past.

Like it or not, the world of writing is changing before our eyes. Brands are trying to expand to reach greater audiences while reducing costs and resources, all at the same time. Scalability through technology is transforming how businesses engage their audiences. What used to be $0.50 for a newspaper is now 15 seconds of your time gazing at a video advertisement before consuming a piece of content, which is unlikely to have been written by a formally trained journalist.

This very thinkpiece, too, was written by someone without formal training in professional writing. But if you are reading this now, perhaps something is working in our favor. We have connected through media to share stories, exchange ideas, and consume information about a common interest. We have established a bond that is intangibly valuable, and though the complete impact may not always be measurable, this very interaction could just be the most effective way to inspire your next action.

Perhaps this is to say that what we are experiencing right now (i.e., a Career Counselor posting an opinion article in hopes of engaging the attention of a very specific audience: you) is metaphorically suggestive of the state of the industry in writing professions, as we look ahead to 2021 and beyond. With an open mind and a willingness to adapt, writing will take your life to surprising destinations. The only question is: Will you be ready?

For now, let’s continue to learn, so that we can discover how to earn

Learn How to Become a Writer >>

See How to Break Into Technical Writing >>

Explore Vault Media & Entertainment Guides >>

Browse O*NET Online for Writing >>

Check Out Media and Communication Occupations on BLS.gov >>

About the author: Eric Wilder serves UCSB students interested in careers related to Communications + Arts. He wrote a 25-page report on manatees in fifth-grade that drew low readership and conclusively terminated his career as a writer. Eric now pursues his dreams vicariously through university students who compose works of art that change the world.