Whenever I talk to someone who wants to learn about making a career writing, I always ask them what sort of career they want. Because the truth is that while there are many, many careers that require writers who think and write creatively, not all of them call for the same kind of writing.
If someone tells me they want to write, I ask them one simple question. This is a question that I wish someone had told me when I went into advertising, because I didn’t appreciate how differences in writing styles play out in different jobs. The question is:
Do you consider yourself a wordsmith or a storyteller?
A Way with Words
A wordsmith is a person that likes to mess with a sentence, switching words in and out, moving clauses around, until he or she really feels like it is written in an interesting way. This person may spend fifteen minutes trying to decide between words like “join,” “connect,” and “link.”
A wordsmith is someone who will try to write every little thing in the most interesting way possible.
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A Teller of Tales
A storyteller, on the other hand, is a person who wants to take his or her reader on a journey. That is, someone who looks at a subject and figures out the best way for an audience to experience it, immediately assigning to it a beginning, middle, and ending.
A wordsmith spends time and energy to make an immediate impact.
A storyteller spends time and energy to craft an overall experience.
How It Impacts Your Writing Career
Now, there are writing career paths that combine both of these needs. In fact, I imagine that most careers that are open to someone who wants to write will ask that writer to be both a wordsmith and storyteller at times.
What I tell people who are asking me for career advice that it comes down to where do you want to spend most of that time and energy? Certain writing careers will ask more of you as a storyteller, and others as a wordsmith.
Here, off the top of my head, are some writing career paths that would lean more in the wordsmith direction:
These are some of the career paths that call for storytellers:
It behooves you to start thinking of your skill set not as just a writer, but a certain type of writer. Because if you’re a storyteller and you get into advertising, you may be asked to write 20 headlines about the same things, and then be asked to rework those headlines in miniscule but meaningful ways.
And if you’re a wordsmith, you may be asked to interview regional assistant director of inside sales for a company blog post and create a story out of that interview that makes that person interesting and the work they do for the company vital and world-changing.
These are certainly not the only two types of writers out there, but going from the most general description (writer) to something a little more specific, I think this is an important first designation to make.
Feel free to add in your writing career and where you think it falls on the wordsmith/storyteller spectrum in the comments below.