Ask this question to parents, teachers, colleagues or friends, and you'll probably be told that being a writer is an unwise career choice. It's always the same advice: “Writing isn't a job you do to pay the bills. You'll starve."
It turns out, this isn't true. Writers and authors had a median annual wage of $73,150 in 2022 and the top earners pulled in over $160,000. Rather than being a starving artist, it seems that you can support yourself full-time as a writer. More than 50,000 people in the United States already do.
The caveat is that creativity, a way with words, impeccable grammar or the burning need to write may not be enough to make a living writing. Writers tend to come with a specific set of personality characteristics and you will need to complete a very honest personality assessment and career aptitude test as part of your career planning before you commit yourself to a writing career.
What is a writer anyway?
When we think about writers, we tend to think of the JK Rowlings and Stephen Kings of the world – bestselling authors who make it big. But there are many types of writers. Poets, journalists, copywriters, technical writers, bloggers and biographers are just some of the types of writers who make a living from their craft. Some specialize in a certain type of writing or genre, while others may work in multiple areas.
This can sound daunting, especially when you're trying to narrow down the options. But having a broad field is really great news. It means there's room for many different types of people with many different motivations, passions and strengths. A technical writer for Google is going to bring different skills to the table than a romance novelist, case study writer or lifestyle journalist. The challenge is finding the writing niche that matches your skills, interests and talents.
Before we get to that, let's look at the personality traits that all writers tend to share.
Personality traits of successful writers
No matter what type of writer you are, there are certain personality traits that tend to make you successful. These include:
Attention to detail
Writers must be able to pick up on the smallest details and nuances, which can help them create more compelling narratives. For copywriters, that means knowing the audience, voice and tone for a given project. For a blogger, it might mean understanding the latest SEO trends as well as pinpointing what curious readers want to know.
Researching, plotting, outlining, writing, re-writing, editing, improving – no matter what type of writing you're doing, there's a lot more going on than just writing. You have to be able to focus on the task at hand and work methodically through the process.
While some types of writing require out-of-the-box creativity, others focus on delivering complex ideas in simple, memorable ways. Creativity may not look the same for every writer, but you have to be able to deliver something interesting through the power of the pen.
Unless you're one of the lucky few who can make a living through self-publishing your work, you almost certainly will have a client, editor or publisher who will need to give their input or make changes to your work. You have to be open to making those changes to meet the needs of the project. Criticism comes as part of the job, so you'll also need to have a fairly thick skin!
Making a living writing is possible but it rarely happens from producing a one-hit wonder. You have to write and keep on writing, day in, day out and often to deadlines, even when you're not feeling the muse. Self-motivation is key – you need to be able to persevere when the going gets tough. If you're the type of person who likes to write what you want when you want, then you will need to look at writing niches that don't include deadlines, processes or dealing with clients.
The Big Five personality types of successful writers
Because there are so many different types of writers, just about any Myers and Briggs or Enneagram personality type can find a niche that suits them. However, what we tend to see is that successful writers score highly on certain traits in the Big Five test, which may be a more accurate predictor of success in this field.
The first trait to look at is Openness. People who score high in Openness on the Big Five test are observant, curious and attracted to novelty, which are characteristics that every successful writer needs.
Another trait that writers tend to score highly on is Conscientiousness. Being conscientious ensures that you can keep working diligently even when the creative juices are not flowing as they should.
But it's a balancing act – too much Conscientiousness can make you too perfectionist and afraid to take risks which, for a writer, can be like wearing a straight jacket. If you score very high on Conscientiousness, you may find alignment with more process-driven writing jobs such as technical writing or creating business and educational materials, resources and guides.
The other trait to look at is Extraversion. Often, we have an image of writers as Introverted lone wolves who hide away in their garrets to write. But the reality is you have to have some people skills if you want to find clients and get paid to write. This is especially true for journalists, copywriters and content creators. While you don't have to be an Extravert to make a living writing, it helps to have some networking skills and the ability to sell yourself and leverage your relationships to be able to land work.
The journey starts with a career test
Before you commit to a career in writing, it's important that you take the time to do some honest introspection. A career aptitude test such as Career Personality Profiler can help you to identify whether writing is the right career path for you and what type of writing would be the best fit for your personality. Based on the powerful Holland Code and Big Five systems, your results come with a list of well-matching career suggestions to help you get started on the right career path.
Once you have identified a type of writing that resonates with you, it's time to get started. Invest in some good reference books and courses on the specific type of writing you're interested in, attend seminars and networking events, read as much material on the topic as possible and make sure you always have a portfolio or samples of your work to showcase. The beauty of this career is that you can start writing as a side gig while you continue to work in your current job, which offers a relatively low-risk way to test the waters.
With hard work, determination and passion for the written word, anything is possible. So go ahead – start exploring what it takes to become a writer today!