2020 is off to a tumultuous start for everybody, and those hoping to start a career during the COVID-19 lockdown period couldn't have arrived at such a life-altering period at a worse time. The entire workforce, the entire job market, is shrouded in uncertainty – for those hoping to enter it for the first time, it might seem entirely inaccessible.
If you’re looking to begin a career in writing, you’d probably be feeling more than enough uncertainty starting a career under “normal” circumstances. But under the conditions 2020 has introduced, it’s hard to see any path forward – opportunities are few, scattered, and indistinct.
I began my career last year, after graduating in English from Pomona College. Nearly everyone I know who entered the writing world with me approached their next step with different goals in mind, different priorities, different tradeoffs. Here’s the advice we can give for 2020.
*None of these are true pros. They’re relative pros among an overwhelming field of cons.
Writing is a great task for working from home! Although work opportunities have been axed across the board, those industries/jobs that are most conducive to remote work have remained the most active, reliable, and plentiful. And, really, no position is better suited to working from home than a writing job.
Additionally, the internet at large has experienced surges as parts of the economy have shut down – this could be great for the sorts of jobs that may involve writing. But moreover, it's great for the sorts of writing that people are reading online, and the avenues available for you to write outside your job.
Sorry – writing is generally not essential. Not in 2020's sense, anyway. People can make clever, convincing arguments to the contrary, but this remains a major obstacle. On a large scale, people’s lives and well-being do not and will never depend on writers doing their jobs. This is what it means for work to be “essential” during this pandemic. It will be easier (and for good reason) for people with hard skills to establish & continue their work through times like these.
The field of options for people beginning a career in writing has always been disordered and scattered. Now it might be even more so. Especially as you begin your career, there are more questions than ever – and in this case, that’s a bad thing. Companies aren’t always clear about their hiring options or career opportunities, and writing jobs may be less stable than most.
What can you do?
The best writing advice for those beginning their careers in 2020 is the same advice I would give to those who began their careers in 2019 – reconsider what a writing job looks like.
Nearly every person I know who began a career in writing after graduating college is doing something quite different from what some people might imagine a writing career can be – here's some wisdom from the fringes of the writing world.
Consider all types of positions
Ideally, your first position when you start a writing career will be one that can directly & naturally lead to other, “higher” positions, and each job will naturally build toward the next. That's the hope: you'll determine your career path early, and follow it step by step. But that's almost never the way it actually works, even under "normal" conditions. Even if you're not particularly inclined toward career exploration, you'll have to be especially adaptive as a young writer. Sometimes, temporary or unpaid positions are the best options for the beginning of your career in writing.
This won't be a desirable or practical choice for everybody, however. Many, if not most, can't afford to take temporary or unpaid positions, and need full-time, secure, paid jobs. But if you feel free to do so, temporary or unpaid positions can get your career started in ways you might not expect, or can help you develop job experience while relying on a secondary source of income.
"Try not to think so long-term. You don't need to have a life plan at 22."
Andy Reischling also graduated from Pomona College in 2019 with an English degree – since then, he's packed up for New York for back-to-back internships in documentary film. Here's what he has to say:
"Graduating with a degree in something that doesn't easily lend itself to a
specific vocation can be overwhelming for any and all twenty-somethings who
are only vaguely aware of what they'd like to be doing for the rest of their life.
You're all smart and can impress your friends with how many chapter books
you've finished and the correct pronunciation of Turgenev and what radical
empiricism means, but, unfortunately, I don't think that's a job. So, what do
My own advice on this question, and you can take it or leave it, is two-fold:
First, try not to think so long-term. You don't need to have a life plan at 22.
Those people who have done and tried a lot of things typically avoid midlife
crises and are more satisfied with/better at their jobs once they do settle into a
field they enjoy. Obviously you should still plan responsibly for your future and
work towards your goals if you have them, just don't assume what you're doing
in your 20s will be what you're doing in your 50s. There's always time to
My second piece of advice is to be a bit aspirational, even if that means
forgoing a steadier option to work an internship or part-time gig in something
you find important or fulfilling. When I graduated I was briefly seduced into the
idea of working at a bank or financial services firm or something; I didn't even
know what they did but the pay was good. In the end I took an internship in
documentary film in NYC and worked weekends getting yelled at over the phone
and in person at a clothing store. I haven't looked back since -- very content with not managing wealth (if that's what they did there) and happy with the progress
I've made in my career. Even if it's not immediately lucrative, you want to think
of your 20s as an investment in getting the experiences, connections and
creative skills you need to later be able to make money doing something you
enjoy. You'd be surprised about how many doors open when you really commit
Continue personal projects actively
2020’s conditions have made ways forward for young writers are increasingly unstable, but a few things remain certain. The most important of these: just keep writing.
The most reliable tool at the writer’s disposal is activity. Having a large and diverse portfolio of work and writing samples to draw from is paramount in the pursuit of any writing-centered position, and “maintaining the craft” is necessary to your own growth as a writer.
I recently began bouldering, and felt myself improving week to week. It was unexpectedly heartbreaking when the gym closed due to coronavirus concerns – why was it so hard to lose what amounted to a dilettante exercise activity? As I continued to write, I realized the reason for my deep disappointment. Losing an outlet for my energy, creativity, and time wasn’t so bad. Feeling that my improvement and growth was out of my control, though, was defeating.
I’ve continued to dive further into my writing, because it’s constantly at my fingertips. My improvement and growth is squarely up to me, and I can access this impulse, this drive, almost any time. There are tons of outlets for you to pursue personal writing projects: create a Facebook group where you and your friends can give each other feedback, start a personal blog or portfolio website, share your stories, articles, & poems on social media.
As Audre Lorde puts it, “Poetry is not a luxury” – writing, unlike nearly any other professional concern, is available always.
Any opportunity can be a writing opportunity!
I’ve learned this one over the course of the past year, as I’ve worked in tech as a content writer. No matter what opportunity you take, there’s a good chance you can create your own opportunities to write.
"I've learned that, when you're doing interesting things, people want to see behind the scenes."
One of my coworkers, Reid, began his relationship with our team by working temporarily to help us set up our new office and purchase equipment, security, utilities, and furniture for the space. We liked working with him and he put energy and commitment into doing what was best for Kapwing. He crossed his T’s, dotted his I’s, developed great relationships with everyone he worked with, and envisioned the Kapwing office in responsive and creative ways.
"Starting at Kapwing as a Growth Specialist, I expected my work to be pretty
behind-the-scenes. But I've learned that, when you're doing interesting things,
people want to see behind the scenes. Sharing your process can be just as
valuable as the result. We didn't see great returns from TikTok videos, but I was
inspired to write about our experience trying the platform. That article now gets around 2,000 visitors every week, with an average visit time of 8 minutes. That's a cool feeling. It's inspired me to document and share more of the small things in life."
Engaging in any work opportunity with resourcefulness, skilled communication, and creativity can open opportunities for you to use those qualities further. After beginning as our office manager and coordinator, Reid joined the team as a growth lead, and since then has written in-depth articles on branded social media, led PR efforts with education leaders, and published videos on TikTok culture. As long as you demonstrate your value as a writer, many positions can become writing opportunities.
None of this advice is likely to make it easier to find a job to start your career in writing right now – sorry about that. But I think it should help you reframe your approach to the job search and make the most of any opportunity you find. Anything can help kick off a career in writing; all you have to do is write.