Writer Jobs – The Complete Career Guide for Creative Writers

Written by Scott Wilson

creative writing jobs

Writing is its own reward.

Maybe it was easy for Miller to say as he bounced from Paris to Greece to New York to California breaking new ground in controversial subjects, but he’s not the only famous creative writer to feel that way.

The dirty little secret for most writers is that they will be writing whether they are getting paid for it or not. Blogs, journals, essays, short stories… there are words in your head that need to come out, stories that need to be told. The paycheck that may or may not come along with them is very nearly incidental.

I wrote a novel because I had a yen to do it. I believe this is sufficient reason to set out to tell a story.

You’re not required to try to make a career out of writing, and many creative writers do not. In some ways, the need to make a living at writing clashes with the creative impulse. Constraints on your pace, genre, and ultimate control of your work are inevitable when you need to turn words into dollars.

Many critically-acclaimed and widely-read authors have made the choice to pursue creative writing separately from their main source of income:

But being paid to write is still the dream for many.

If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

So if you love writing, having a way to turn all those words into a regular income is an attractive option. It’s a career path that is full of competition and is unlike almost any sort of traditional profession. But if you can make it into a writing job, you’ll never have to work another day in your life.

How to Make Money Writing? – What Every Creative Writer Needs To Know About Making a Living by Writing

There's writing and then there's the business of writing. Got the first one down. Still figuring on the second.

Writing is a calling, but it’s also a business. Creative writers have their own impulses and ideas for what they want to write about. Maybe it’s the clash of swords and the hot blaze of dragon’s breath across ancient battlements in the genre of fantasy. Maybe it’s the inner lives of family of Northwest loggers struggling through the Great Depression in an epic work of literary fiction.

At the end of the day, though, creative writers are like any other worker. They need to get paid enough to put a roof over their heads, food on the table, and electricity to fire their word processors.

The good news is that it’s not that tough to get paid as a creative writer. The harder part to accept is that getting paid enough to make a living often means writing in line with other people’s visions rather than your own.

This brings creative writers to a fork in the road, leading to two different paths to making a living:

Creative Writers Who Get Paid for Writing

I don't want the world to give me anything for my books except money enough to save me from the temptation to write only for money.

Novelists, playwrights, screen writers, and other creative tellers of tales fall into this role. They are paid directly for the written works they create, based on their talent and the demand for the stories they tell. These are the jobs that most creative writers aspire to, but they are also hardest to find.

drawing animeAlso in this category, however, are many writing jobs that require plenty of creativity, but don’t necessarily fit the mold people have in mind for creative writers. Copywriting is a creative writing job; so is blogging, writing speeches, or crafting comic books. There are a thousand niches where a creative writing degree can earn you a living; you don’t have to be committed to the proposition of creating a best-selling Great American Novel to make it as a creative writer.

Writers who get paid for writing write for a market. Whether that’s in a professional position like journalism, technical writing, or copywriting, or as a novelist, poet, or script writer, what you write must be in demand.

Creative Writers Who Get Paid While Writing

Many writers take on jobs that involve creative writing, but which don’t revolve around it. Think college professors, teachers, reporters, or public relations professionals. Writing is a key part of those positions, and being a trained writer is important to be successful in them. But the writing that is done in those jobs is only in service of a larger objective—educating students, informing the public, spinning information.

Toni Morrison worked as an editor and university instructor through most of her professional writing career.

These kinds of positions don’t preclude you pursuing your own writing efforts independently. In fact, writers who get paid while writing can pick their own subjects and write in their own time. Many successful authors in less lucrative niches take this path. It offers both stability, a meaningful professional role that makes use of your writing skills, and the resources to pursue your passions without channeling them into someone else’s creative vision.

According to a 2018 Author’s Guild survey, only 21 percent of full-time, published authors earned 100 percent of their income from books. But around 60 percent were able to make a living combining their book and other writing-related income.

What Can You Do with a Creative Writing Degree?

A Writer’s Job Description Will Depend on Industry and Role

writing wearing headphones at computerYou know better than anyone that the creative spark is only fanned to life in certain environments. Summoning the muse entails different settings, activities, and inspirations for every writer. And writing jobs reflect this great diversity.

As any kind of professional writer, you will typically have great flexibility in determining how, when, and with what tools you express yourself.

But different types of writing jobs do place different demands on writers from day to day. Most come with deadlines to meet; many require research and interaction with other professionals in a variety of positions and industries. Even within a particular industry, one creative writer might have a very different kind of experience and demands than another.

An easy example of this is writers who work in the technology industry. Some are technical writer jobs, documenting software, systems, and processes for users and developers. But others are script writers, creating text and dialogue for video games or other entertainment-oriented software.

Freelance Writer Jobs: The Big Tent in Creative Writing Employment

Most writing jobs are freelance writing jobs. There are few businesses that require such a high volume of professionally written text that they can afford to employ writers full-time. So in every industry and role, freelancing is a big part of the labor market.

Freelance Writing Jobs for Beginners

frustrated woman crumpling paperFreelancing can be a tough gig to get started in, no matter what your interests or area of expertise. You start from nothing and effectively have to build an entire business operation around your writing skills. That requires a lot of very non-writerly knowledge, including in:


  • Accounting
  • Marketing
  • Copyright and employment law

There isn’t really any such thing as easing in to freelancing. The best you can say about beginning as a freelancer is that it’s comforting not to know what you don’t know.

Many freelancers who are just starting out find it easiest to begin in systems that mimic at least some of the framework of a traditional job. This often takes the form of content mills, which assign bulk writing tasks for peanuts, or through freelance marketplaces like Upwork or Fiverr, which offer a range of clients and handle billing and fulfillment… for a hefty cut.

No matter where you choose to start, the credentials that come with a creative writing degree are a big help. So is the community that your studies will tie you to. Valuable advice, ideas, and support will flow from fellow students and graduates.

That’s equally true of what people think of as traditional writing jobs: poets, novelists, short story authors and the like. Each of them represents an individual business, with their own taxes to file, expenses to track, and contracts to negotiate. With few exceptions, the publishing industry is firmly freelance.

Freelancing offers freedom and flexibility, but it requires high levels of self-motivation and a willingness to learn skills well beyond the comfort zone of research and writing.

Turning Your Creativity Into a Career as a Published Author

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

When you tell people you work as a writer, this is exactly the kind of job most of them will picture. As you start exploring your own interests and path to a writing career, it may be what you are picturing, as well.

Writing for mass market publication has never been the easiest way to make a career in writing, but it remains the dream for many creative writers.

But getting to that career will almost certainly take longer and involve more detours and difficulty than you ever imagined.

Massive Changes in the Publishing World Have Changed the Model for Creative Authors

Publication is a marathon, not a sprint. Writing the book is only the start.

In recent years, the traditional publishing model has been up-ended by the ease of publishing and promotion for individuals over the internet. This has divided the industry into two camps:

There’s no right or wrong answer for which path to pursue. Each come with advantages and disadvantages:

Traditional Publishing


You can't judge a book by its cover, but you can sure sell a bunch of books if you have a good one.

Poets Have a Unique Path to Walk in Creative Writing Careers

senior reading book in small personal libraryProfessional poets are a tiny and elite class of creative writer. They face all the same challenges as other authors pursuing a career in writing, and more:


  • A much smaller niche marketplace to sell to than other genres
  • More complex technical writing requirements of the form
  • Fewer publication opportunities

In some ways, the career path of a poet more resembles that of a painter or other visual artist. They are unlikely to find any kind of mass market exposure or success. The way to make a living as a poet involves personal branding, creativity, and hustle.

Poets may find patrons, wealthy individuals who offer financial support for their art. They also have the option of performing; live poetry readings can boost sales and create exposure. And there are official, funded positions in countries, cities, and states for poets laureate which may come with stipends.

Of course, poetry is just another genre, and many poets also publish prose works. Margaret Atwood is a prize-winning poet, but supports herself and is more popularly known for her works of historical and speculative fiction.

Picking a career as a poet is definitely turning on hard mode as a creative writer, but it’s also one of the purest and truest ways to express yourself in writing.

Regardless of which path you pick, sales in most creative genres and outlets are not enough to make a living on. According to BookScan and Publisher’s Weekly, the average book published in the United States sells only 200 copies per year. At the average trade paperback price of $18.40, that’s not enough to cover the household expenses for the typical American family for even a month.

Work like hell! I had 122 rejection slips before I sold a story.

There are more creative writers than you might imagine who find financial success in both realms of the publishing world, though. The ability to hit specific niche genres via the internet and to analyze and optimize sales opens up new ways to make money through creative writing all the time. And few writers stop at only one book. Most who make a living at writing rely on the cumulative sales of a catalog of works.

Choosing a business model and a genre niche that aligns with your skills and a growing market is important for anyone who wants to succeed in either traditional or self-publishing today.

It requires hard work and dedication to succeed on either path, but a creative writing degree increases your odds on both fronts.

What Kind of Money Can Creative Writers Make?

The myth of the starving artist isn’t entirely correct when it comes to writers. Few will get rich; on the other hand, many make a surprisingly good living. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for 2021 the median annual wage for all writers and authors was $69,510… well above the median for all positions, which was only $45,760.

The top ten percent of all writers earn more than $133,580 per year.

If that seems at odds with the income numbers from the Author’s Guild, and from the low publication rates cited by Publisher’s Weekly, it’s important to understand the discrepancy. And that comes from the extremely low barrier to entry in the writing profession.

Entertainment Writing Jobs Bring Joy and Pathos to the World

outdoor movie in the gardenOne of the main goals of creative writing has always been to entertain. Today, entertainment for most people often takes the form of movies, games, or television. That makes the entertainment industry another great fit for creative writers.

Using a carefully honed sense of format, dialogue, and characterization, writers can find both permanent and freelance positions working in the $1.7 trillion entertainment industry.

One of the few writing jobs that can include union protections, this is a tough field to break into, but a secure one once you get started.

It also requires a far more collaborative creative model than other types of writing. Writers in the entertainment industry are only part of a much larger team of artists that bring a work to life. Degree programs are one way that writers can learn how to incorporate ideas from other people and to learn to work as part of a group.

Successful writers in the entertainment industry usually have to develop skills and knowledge of their medium that go well beyond writing itself. A comedy writer who doesn’t have their finger on the zeitgeist of the audience won’t get many laughs. A scriptwriter who doesn’t account for camera angles and special effects costs will end up with an un-filmable script.

Script Writer Jobs - Use Words To Develop Visual Storytelling

Writing for the screen takes discipline and a strong visual imagination on top of keen writing skills. Because so much of film and television writing involves dialogue, a good ear for the rhythm and poetry of speech is important. And because of time and format constraints, the ability to ruthlessly edit, hone, and optimize plot and dialogue alike is something that script writers are well-compensated for.

Exacting standards in format, genre, and structure make scriptwriting a technically demanding job. While it’s not a big deal for a novelist to toss off a seven hundred or thousand page novel, a standard movie script had better not clock in at more than 120 pages.

Script writers may also work as playwrights, writing for live performance in a theater. Although this is a smaller niche than work in film or television today, it remains one of the most demanding creative writing professions and is well-respected in the literary world.

The world of scriptwriting doesn’t just exist for entertainment, however. It also has some crossovers with the field of copywriting, discussed below. Commercials and infomercials have scripts just like long-form entertainment shows do. There’s always a market for skilled copywriters who can combine scriptwriting skills with the ability to promote and sell products.

Comedy Writing Jobs - Put Creative Humor Front and Center

Comedy writer jobs require one thing above all: be funny. But being funny isn’t enough, either. Creative writing helps develop the kind of discipline and habits of iterative revision that are the bread and butter of the successful comedy writer.

Many comedy writers are also comedians, writing their own jokes. But others work on comedy productions developing sketches or scripts for TV, film, or theater.

Video Game Writing Jobs - Offer Gamers a Choose-Your-Own Adventure Story

video game workerVideo games have become a global phenomenon, from the days of Tetris to story-fueled role playing games of the modern era like the The Last of Us. And while simple game apps may not have much of a story to go with them, console and PC games released in recent years have proven that just as much intensity and feeling can be evoked through participatory storytelling as happen with any film or novel.

Game writers face real challenges in crafting a plot that must be both compelling as a story and fun to play a part in. They also must work closely with developers, facing real constraints in how their vision is built and the creative chaos of players taking things in unimagined directions.

Standing Out in the Field Is the Key To Making a Career as a Creative Writer

Americans learn the mechanics of writing in elementary school. Anyone with an urge to put together a novel, a short story, or to sell a freelance article only needs a laptop and a little bit of time.

The reality is that although everyone can write, few people write well!

The number of people who take a shot at it, however, drive down the averages. That’s why the Author’s Guild can find that only 60 percent of full-time authors make a living by writing, but BLS shows a healthy salary for those folks. The ones who aren’t getting paid enough don’t have the skills they really need to make it as a writer. All the persistence and drive in the world isn’t enough without a solid core of talent and skill.

Persistence can look a lot like stupid.

That’s why earning a degree in the field can be a make or break step for prospective creative writers to take. As a new writer, without training or education, you’re in the same boat as millions of others. You may have the raw talent you need to succeed. But the many technical skills, the discipline to power through the tough spots, and the familiarity with the industry it takes to turn writing into money are not automatically part of your repertoire. A degree offers all of them and more.

Other Professional Writing Opportunities for Creative Writing Graduates

Outside of what people think of as the traditional role of creative writers in publishing books and stories, there are many professional positions that make good use of creative writing skills. In general, those can be grouped into two main categories:

Any of the many jobs that fall into those roles can be just as creative as writing a fiction novel. Perhaps more importantly, they are jobs that have a steady income stream attached to them.

Copywriter Jobs are Responsible For Most of the Text That People See Each Day

copywriter creating contentFreelancing is not exclusively restricted to the world of novels and short stories. There are many creative writing jobs that fill other niches.

If there is one kind of writing that is always in demand, it’s copywriting.

Copywriters craft text designed to market a business or sell specific products. They put together everything from product brochures to one-line phrases for magazine ads. It’s a creative, high-pressure industry that is always hiring.

Copywriting is also one writing job that has a substantial number of regular jobs associated with it. Big ad and marketing agencies aggregate corporate clients and use a stable of permanent copywriters to develop campaigns for them.

Content Writer Jobs - Fill in the Blanks on the Internet

Content writing jobs have exploded right alongside the growth of the internet. Every business needs a website; every website has to draw traffic; traffic comes from search engines that index content.

Web content writing is a niche kind of copywriting, but an increasingly dominant one. According to market research from Technavio, the content marketing market is expected to grow by nearly $270 billion between 2020 and 2024. A lot of that money will go to content writer paychecks.

Greeting Card Writer Jobs - Bring the Range of Human Emotions Into a Few Short Words

If there’s an area that absolutely demands creativity in short-form writing, it has to be greeting card writing. With only a few lines to make a lasting, emotional impact, these jobs will exercise you skill and imagination. Greeting card writing is often poetic, both in expression and in the discipline required.

Blog Writer Jobs - Make an Intimate Connection With Your Audience

Blogs burst on to the scene as one of the best ways for writers to reach people on the internet in the late 1990s. Although less popular today than they once were, blogs open up a lot of options for creative writers trying to make a living:

Technical Writer Jobs - Bring Clarity to the Modern World

Capable writers who can fill technical writer jobs are in high demand these days. As the world becomes more and more digitized, everything from apps to cars have to be explained through extensive instructions and manuals. A technical writing job will draw on all the skills you learn in a creative writing program and more as you work to develop clarity and accuracy in complex subjects.

Ghost Writer Jobs - Help Tell Other People’s Stories

Ghost writing puts your creative writing skills to use telling stories not of your own invention. Instead, ghost writers work with individuals who have ideas they want to write down, but who don’t have the skills to put the words together.

Ghost writing jobs can be extremely lucrative. It may cover everything from drafting corporate memos for executives to writing a complete autobiography for a celebrity. Their name goes on the finished product, but it’s all your work between the covers.

Because credit is not offered for ghost writing roles, it’s hard to build a reputation in the ghost writing business.

How Journalism Jobs Fill a Vital Civic Role and Inspire Creative Writers

woman writing in small notebookJournalism is one of the most traditional ways for writers to make a living. While it’s not always thought of as a creative writing role, that has changed with long-form, explorative works like Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Norman Mailer’s Miami and the Siege of Chicago. Today, you can tell true and important stories using the techniques and sensibilities of literary fiction.

But journalism is also a common “get paid while writing” job for budding novelists. Charles Dickens got his start working the political beat for London papers—and picked up many of the themes and ideas that emerged in the social criticism of his novels during that period. Hemingway got plenty of paychecks working as a journalist even as he was penning some of his most famous works on the side. And of course, Samuel Langhorne Clemens got his start as a printer, typesetter, and reporter before he became Mark Twain, the Great American Novelist.

Travel Writer Jobs - Write While Experiencing the World

Travel writing is a dream job for many writers. Successful travel writers get paid to go exotic places and do interesting things. It’s like making a living out of being on permanent vacation.

That kind of attraction also makes it a very competitive field. But it’s also a great way for creative writers to get the kind of experiences and adventures that feed great stories. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert grew out of her travels writing for such outlets as GQ, Spin, and The New York Times Magazine… and her subsequent fiction novels were equally influenced by her wide-ranging explorations.

Sports Writing Jobs - Bring the Heat of Competition to the Written Word

Sportswriter jobs can be either freelance or full-time, like other types of journalism positions. But even in the world of journalism, sports writers have a latitude and style that is particularly aligned with creative writing. Of course, you have to become both passionate and knowledgeable about sports and the sporting world. But if you’re already a fan, this is a dream job for many creative writers.

Food Writer Jobs - Offer a Taste of the Finer Things in Life

Food writing jobs hold the same attraction for foodies as sports writing jobs do for sports fans. There is no denying that it takes a certain creative flair to bring to life descriptions of the tactile sensations involved in fine dining.

A degree in creative writing maximizes your skills to develop careers in a wide range of different industries and writing professions. The flexibility that comes with your education also keeps your options open—many writers explore several different paths to a sustainable writing career. Gaining experience through any kind of writing work lets you pay your dues and earn both the stripes and the skills you need for exactly the kind of creative writing career you’ve always dreamed of having.

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics job market and salary figures for Writers and Authors reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data Accessed October 2022.

Creative Writing Degrees By State

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