Being a writer can be more than just a fun pastime or a way to get good grades in school. It can actually be a skill that turns into a lifelong profession. While writing a best-selling book is a lofty goal, there are other jobs that allow those with a passion for words to earn a living and pursue their enthusiasm for expression. But don’t just Take My Word For It!

This week contributor Heather O'Neill writes about being a newspaper reporter:  

“Ever since I won a school writing contest in the 7th grade I have wanted to be a writer. I just didn’t know how to accomplish my goals. It seemed impossible to write The Great American Novel as a young person but I loved reading and writing with a passion.  

One day, not long after I graduated college, it dawned on me that one of the things I loved to read were newspapers. At that moment, a light bulb went off in my head: I wanted to be a newspaper reporter! But how would I do that?  

I started by writing letters to all of the newspapers in my town and to my surprise one of them hired me to be an editorial assistant. An editorial assistant answers phones and opens mail in the newspaper’s newsroom. The real perk was that I was paid to spend my days surrounded by reporters, all of whom were chasing down stories and interviewing Senators, mayors and other newsmakers.  Listening to them, I truly got the news bug. This was what I wanted to do with my life!  

After proving myself to be a reliable employee, my boss allowed me to start writing short features for the paper. My first assignment was writing about a festival dedicated to “The Cat in the Hat,” one of my all-time favorite books as a child.  

After about a year I became a staff writer for another paper, assigned to cover all of the police and fire fighting activity in the town. I would listen to the police radio on my desk all day and when there was a crime or an accident or a fire I would grab my reporter’s notebook, jump in my car and speed to the scene. It was thrilling. Then I would go back to my office and sit down to write up my notes, crafting them into a news story. At first it was scary – most people don’t intentionally rush towards a fire, but away from one –but after a while I realized that I was enjoying my job tremendously. My life as a crime reporter felt a little bit like being immersed in an episode of “Law and Order” or "CSI".  I continued to cover this beat for several years, which gave me the opportunity to learn about the legal system from inside the courtroom, interview both victims of crimes and real life heroes, and learn the ropes of investigative journalism by combing through court records, police blotters and crime scene photos.   The days that my work appeared on the front page of the newspaper were truly thrilling, and I enjoyed competing with other reporters, trying to “scoop” them by unearthing a story that no one else knew about but me.  

What I enjoyed even more was the chance to connect with the people that I interviewed, helping them to tell their stories in their own words and being a liaison between government officials and the general public.  I have had many kinds of writing jobs since then but newspaper writing is by far the more rewarding professional experience I have had to date.”