Editor's Pick Jonathan Richardson Professional Writing

Writing as a profession

Data analysis and psychological studies show that treating writing as a profession is the most important way of achieving success, whether it is dreams of being a writer, blogger, selling online, or any one of the myriad ways we present ourselves through writing.

It’s important then that we act now. Statistics show that in 2010 we presented ourselves and our ideas through writing and other creative means more so than at any point in human history.

Yet while the technology has allowed us to change how we write and produce more, our attitude towards writing has not altered.

Writing on the mind
Writing on the mind

Profession and writing

The reason that we don’t think of writing as a profession is because most of us think we don’t need to, our attitudes are still stuck in the 20th century, whereas the range and scope of our writing is firmly in the 21st.

Gone are the days of personal writing, instead we have the age of everyone treating writing as a profession, and to me writing as a profession means:

  • Knowing the rules of spelling and grammar (although not necessarily following them).
  • Reading and studying the art as you would for anything you want to be good at.
  • Thinking and planning what both you and your audience will get out of your work.
  • Being able to sell the point of what you’re writing about.

We’re all authors with a large (enough) audience

Writing as a profession is not new, but its universal application is more relevant than ever as more people become writers with an audience.

As recently as 20 years ago a single letter was unlikely to have found a wide audience, and our essays and thoughts would only have reached the teacher or lecturer marking it. In 2011 thoughts and opinions are spread rapidly and easily to our friends, acquaintances and beyond. And they’re judged, from spelling and grammar to content.

The modern person sends 1.7 emails per day and there are 25 billion Tweets sent on Twitter and 30 billion bits of content shared on Facebook, with 6.1 trillion text messages sent. This is just personal writing we can measure and doesn’t account for blogs, work reports and other methods of writing.

What this means is that the average person thinks they know how to write. But the average person is wrong.

Unskilled and unaware

This isn’t me saying this, it’s science.

According to the Dunning–Kruger effect  a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Their main premise is that once we acquire the minimum amount of knowledge to perform a task to its minimum level, we believe that we have mastered it. And as the skill, knowledge, time and effort taken to master the basics is usually much less than that of advanced levels, we tend not to progress further and believe we know all there is to know.

As such, the basics of writing and composing an email, text and Tweet as simple and the entry level is low, lower than it’s ever been. According to the theory, we are unlikely to progress much beyond the basic writing skills required to draft these messages. This is fine if we are simply messaging a friend, not if we are expecting to have an audience.

All affected

The Dunning-Kruger affects everyone, of all ages, educational and social level.

One of the aims of jonvocation is to help break through writing’s Dunning-Kruger barrier and there will be a regular essay on treating writing as a profession and what we hope to learn about it.

Let us depart on that promise and one thought. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing – if we realise we’re unskilled in writing and unaware of this, what else are we dangerously unskilled at and in complete ignorant about?

Download “Writing as a profession” in PDF format

By Jonathan Richardson

Jonathan Richardson is a writer and the editor of Considered Words.

He's worked as a journalist, writer and analyst for organisations including the BBC and Which? He's also written for the stage in Cambridge, radio and sketches at the Edinburgh festival.

He's now a freelance writer and data analyst.

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