Hands up who fancies themselves a Richard Yates type? Or perhaps you are more of a Margaret Atwood. The literary legends of yesteryear have glorified what it means to be a writer, so much so that their legacy is more familiar than those authors of our same generation. There is a certain romance to the idea of being a writer to the point where we park them in the same camp as an artist, rather than the corporate realm where so many paid writers find themselves. When it comes to being a writer in 2019, how smokey are these mirrors?
It was in a crowded university lecture that I, and some 200+ fresh-faced students, we're told that Journalism was not the prosperous path it once was. An unlikely blow for an Introduction to Journalism subject, but one that I’ve carried long after graduating. Sure, newspapers no longer have sizable teams they once did, and magazines we grew up with are being pulled from the stands every year. But does that mean they need for writers is dwindling, or are they simplifying shifting in shape and taking on new roles outside of the traditional channels?
Writers in 2019 will typically hold the title of journalist, content writer, and copywriter - with many variations of these key disciplines existing under the umbrella. The rise of content marketing success stories has given writers the opportunity to write on a wide variety of subject matters, or niche themselves entirely. As for which pathway to pursue, it depends on your skillset and to what format speaks to you and your written form. Many content writers gain a passive education into digital marketing, which can become an unlikely pathway, but one that is becoming a common prerequisite for jobs in publishing.
A recent panel discussion I attended fostered a robust discussion about profession over passion, and who writes what in the media landscape. One of the speakers was a columnist in a prominent national paper, tackling fashion and societal trends and how they intersect. Holding that position was a privilege that was not lost on her, and one that she had worked hard to hold and re-define. Holding a salary position in a role not commonly associated with such, she expressed the challenges of writing to convert readers into paying members and the pressure that can create.
The other speaker was a freelancer, penning columns for a range of publications, new and old. The freelancer knew that content writing was a road most travelled for those not in a position to set their written agenda and publish what they want and where they want, but the metrics were softer. Did her articles get knocked back from time to time? Yes. Did she write articles with the intention of pitching them when the climate was right? Absolutely.
The takeaway was the commercialisation of writing, and that content and copy-writing was not the consolation prize to journalism, simply a different pathway. Many in the room were enjoying great success in this field, with the earning potential seemingly uncapped. Better still, the barrier of entry is low, so there is equal opportunity in getting published provided that a unique take or angle is curated by the writer. Knowing what to write about and understanding who your reader is remain the shared understanding of writers of any title, and failure to answer either could dry the ink for any talented writer.
When it comes to writing the highlight reel has never been more real. Few writers are able to pen their exact persuasions and make a healthy living, so it’s important to follow a few different rabbit holes and see where they take you. The aforementioned freelance writer, and many like her, appear to have won the literary lottery but still take on work outside their passions. The freelance writer said that she would be crazy not to take on content writing projects, and often the subject matter is not glamorous.
By writing every day, and across a broad category of topics, you can position yourself as a strong content or copywriter. Working with agencies directly will automate your writing workload, or you can pitch yourself to businesses who require a blog to support their branding and digital visibility. Seeking a mentor in this space may light the way forward and allow you to tap into your niche or writing form quicker.
Nathan Elly is the branch manager at Digital Next, a full-service digital agency based in South Melbourne specialising in responsive Web design, SEO, PPC and social media marketing. He’s a passionate digital marketer specialising in business development and long-term strategy, with experience from a multitude of SEO disciplines combined into a role which supports and progresses online businesses.