Careers in Writing alumni tips

Careers in Writing: Top tips from alumni


Toby Mundy, Founder of Toby Mundy Associates Limited (English)

1.  Writing is about developing a voice. To find yours you need to write, and you need to read. A lot. Find voices you admire and try to work out how they do what they do.

2. It is better to underwrite than overwrite. Shorter sentences are more effective than longer ones.  Where adjectives and adverbs are concerned, less is always more. 

3. Find readers and listen to constructive criticism. Develop a thick skin. 

Daniel Ross, Online Managing Director for Classic FM and Smooth Radio (Music)

1. Adapt

Adapt what you do to get money.  Open your revenue streams.  Use your area of expertise to own as many disciplines as you can.  I write about music for money, but I also sometimes talk about it for money too.  I once transcribed a folk song for a famous novelist, I was a music researcher for a Radio 4 religious interest programme, I’ve done audience research for fringe theatre projects: all of that work was down to connections I’d made through writing.  Put yourself up for everything.  Some of it might be a bit shit, but some of it will be lucrative and interesting.  ALWAYS ADAPT.

2. Ask for Money

No-one will ever hate you for this.  It won’t always work, but also, it won’t always not work.  You don’t have to be unpleasant about it – your superiors in the writing world know that your time is worth money, but they’re also not always going to give it out if they can help it.  So sometimes you have to ask.


3. Talk Yourself Up

I suck at this, and am naturally averse to referring to myself in anything other than apologetic tones.  This is common behaviour among writers and creative people, so you’re not alone.  However, you have to get good at discussing your work and making it sound amazing.

Try these phrases for size:
‘Damn right I just wrote an essay on the power of Art Garfunkel’s wardrobe.’

‘Damn right I just wrote a short story starring a sentient puddle.’

‘Damn right I just wrote the world’s first ensemble play for rehabilitated Bronies.’ 

4. Don’t Apologise

I know this might be hard to believe outside of the university bubble, but in the professional world of journalism, content, corporate social media, publishing, wherever you end up: you will encounter people who think writing a short story for fun is lame, people who think waiting for two hours to interview one of your idols for ten minutes with no fee on a school night is a waste of time.

Frankly, these people should be ignored.  Don’t apologise for what you do, just because it’s not your main income at that precise moment.  I remember having to explain throughout my twenties to elderly relatives, or to my wife’s family, or even school friends when they would ask, so what are you doing for work?  I’d say, ‘I’m a content editor and copywriter for a mid-tier daily-deals website owned and operated by the 118-118 company, it’s like a crap version of Groupon, I strongly dislike it.’

I really should have said, ‘I’ve got a job as a copywriter, but I’m actually doing loads of music journalism on the side because that’s what I really enjoy.’  It can be hard, and people won’t always understand what you do, this is inevitable, but you must never apologise for doing it. No-one ever finishes developing, and if you’re following your passions you’ll always have something interesting to tell people. Which brings me on to no. 5…

5. Never Lose your Passions

This is the most important one for me.  Your passions can change, mine certainly have, but you must always keep them – otherwise you’ll go insane.

Realistically, you might not always be spending your entire working day doing something you love, so you should be prepared to find your joy elsewhere and fight to make it the biggest part of your life.

It’s not cheating on your employer, and it’s certainly not cheating on your studies: it’s insulating yourself for what comes next.Never lose your passions because they keep you fulfilled and interesting.  Whatever your genre, whatever your profession, all writers need that to survive.

Lucy Hounsom, Published Author (English & Creative Writing)

1. Take writing 'rules' with a pinch of salt. When it comes to writing, there's no 'right' way to go about creating a piece of fiction. Sure, some rules might help you hone that dialogue or rein in a few of those adverbs, but others are outdated or restrictive and can actually stifle instead of aid. Moulding a story into a viable novel is part of the editing process, rather than the first draft, so don't place limits on your style when you're starting out. 

2. Finding agency representation is gruelling, but you can improve your chances by following submission guidelines (sounds straightforward, but many authors still don't do it), doing your research on a specific agent who you feel might fit your work (and addressing them by name), and demonstrating knowledge of the market i.e. where your book might sit. Add in a polished synopsis and sample chapters, and a cover letter that's to the point, and you'll be in a much stronger position that many other authors also submitting. 

3. Don't be discouraged by rejection. This is a tough industry, even after you've secured a publishing contract. People are going to love your work and people are going to dislike it - that's subjectivity. You might not get there on your first try - I didn't and neither did many authors I know. Just remember to read widely and keep on writing. It helps to connect with other authors and publishing professionals on social media too. 

Careers in Writing alumni tips

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