1 March 2011

Writers create work for novels, short stories, children's books, plays and poetry. They can also write articles for newspapers and magazines, non-fiction and material for digital and broadcast media.

Fiona Mountain, writer.
Fiona Mountain, writer.

Working as a writer

As a writer you would:

  • choose your subject based on personal interest or on a commission given by agents or publishers
  • come up with themes, ideas or plots
  • research information using the internet, libraries and personal interviews
  • submit your draft to a publisher, either unsolicited or through an agent
  • revise your work (sometimes several times) if necessary, after getting feedback
  • pursue publishing opportunities
  • develop an understanding of copyright law.

As an established writer, you might also attend book signings, readings and discussions of your work, or run writing workshops.

You may need to supplement your income with other work, as only a small percentage of writers make a living from writing.

How to become a writer

You may need to supplement your income. Only a small percentage of writers make a living from writing.

To succeed as a writer, you will need to be able to come up with ideas that will sell, have good research skills and be able to express ideas in a style suited to your intended audience.

You may also need specialist knowledge, depending on the type of writing. It can be an advantage in some types of writing if you have experience in journalism.

You would work on a self employed, freelance basis and would choose your own working hours, although you may have to meet deadlines.


Most publishers will only consider non-commissioned fiction if you submit it through an agent. You can find lists of agents and details of how to submit your work in The Writers' Handbook and The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook.

For most other types of writing, you may find it easier to approach publishers direct. It is important that you research which publishers are likely to be interested in your work. You can find contact details for the major publishers and their main areas of interest in the above two books .

You will usually be expected to submit one or two sample chapters and an outline of the complete work. You are likely to have to wait several months for a reply, and need to be prepared for the possibility of rejection or not receiving a reply.

Radio and Television

Competition is strong for TV work, both for original commissions and for working on existing soaps and series. It will be useful if you have a track record in another area, for example, if you have had a radio or stage play performed.

However, it can be difficult to get producers or broadcasters to look at your work if you do not have an agent. Visit the BBC Writersroom for information on writing and submitting scripts for radio, TV and film.

Training and development for writers

You can develop your writing skills on a wide range of courses, from workshops to degree and postgraduate level.

Competition is strong for TV work. It will be useful if you have a track record in another area.

You can find out what is available by contacting your local college, university or adult education centre or by checking out:

You can complete some courses by home study. You can also attend residential courses on all aspects of writing, with advice from experienced writers, through the Arvon Foundation in Inverness-shire, Shropshire, Devon and West Yorkshire.

Attending courses will help you to gain writing skills, but will not guarantee that you will be a successful writer, as talent and creativity cannot be taught. You might find it useful to join local writers' groups for support and feedback on your work.

You can apply to join the Writers' Guild of Great Britain (the trade union for published writers) at three levels - full, candidate and student.

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