My alma mater is doing one of those alumni bulletin board things for the English Department, so I had to answer a few questions. Partly because it seems helpful and partly to justify the time spent on it, I thought I’d post it here. It’s probably most helpful to aspiring writers in college.
1.) What do you do?
I stay home, sit at my computer all day, and pretend my typing, e-mailing, and web surfing is a real job. I actually just launched my own freelance writing and editing business, Monkey Outta Nowhere. I write articles for magazines and web sites, copy for brochures and postcards, e-lists and blogs for businesses, and edit magazines and books.
2.) Why did you choose to be an English Major?
All I ever wanted to do since writing a book about my cat in my first grade class was write. I’ve never wanted to do anything else, so a Writing Major seemed to make sense. I’ve strayed into more editing than writing in my career, and that’s where other interests have helped, including a minor in Art.
3.) Do you feel your English Major has contributed to the skills needed in your current occupation? If so, how?
Absolutely. I write every day, which was a skill fine-tuned in the writing program. Without the confidence to know I can write something, I wouldn’t be able to tackle anything I do. Of course a program alone isn’t going to make you succeed. There’s plenty of practical, real world experience you need, as well as a healthy curiosity about the world. While Bethel didn’t necessarily provide those, I did find them while I was there.
4.) What was the process you went through to get the job you have now (i.e.- how did you make the move from Literature to what you are doing now)?
In high school I edited my youth group’s newsletter, I edited the Table Tent for two years, wrote a handful of free articles, and landed an unpaid internship with a national publisher after my sophomore year. I edited their web site for the next three years, wrote a trail guide for the National Park Service, and racked up a few more free articles. Two weeks after graduation and five days after getting married I went to work as an assistant editor in the Internet Department of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). My prior experience got me in the door, and the two and a half years I worked there gave me much of the experience that’s helped me today. In July 2003 the BGEA relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina and I became unemployed. I looked for a job for four months without finding anything. Then the freelance work started coming in and I stopped looking for a job. Two months later the freelance jobs slowed down and I realized I needed some help. I took some small business classes and learned how to do this for real. As of today, I’m still at it.
5.) How has your English Major had an impact on your personal life (outside of work experience)?
I think I’m more inquisitive. I love to read (usually average 40 books per year — it’s easier when you’re out of college, trust me). Being a writer is often about telling stories, whether it’s fiction or a news blurb, and that requires a certain amount of curiosity. I’ve also been writing a blog for over five years, which I started simply to keep me in the habit of writing. That’s a big part of my personal life now, as dorky as that sounds.
This is the kind of advice I always feel like sharing, but I’m never sure where it fits. So here goes…
Top 5 Suggestions for English Majors (in no particular order):
1) Just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean other subjects aren’t important. I’m kicking myself for my appalling lack of business knowledge, something one or two general business classes would have helped immensely.
2) Network, network, network. 95 percent of the jobs I get come through contacts I’ve cultivated throughout the years. This is how most people find their full-time job.
3) Get published. It can be the Clarion, the Coeval, the Table Tent, or your own web site — just get published. As you get into the writing world you need to have examples of your work, and the piece you wrote for class or the story hidden in your drawer don’t count. You might not get paid, but that’s how it works. Editors want to see published clips not because they question your skill (that’s easy to judge) but because they question your experience.
4) Learn it now. You’re paying (or someone is) a whole lot of cash to get a good education — make sure you’re getting it. You may hate grammar, but it’s a lot easier to ask the prof to explain effect and affect than to have to figure it out on the job. If you stink at interviewing, take the time to learn now. It’s better to blow the interview with the Market Square chef for the Clarion than to blow the interview with Mel Gibson about The Passion.
5) Know yourself. It sounds cheesy, but it really helps to know your strengths and weaknesses — both professionally and personally. Despite my messy desk, I crave organization, which explains why I’m good at setting up a publication schedule. I’m also an introvert, which means an all day convention is going to wear me out and I’ll want to be alone in the evening (knowledge that has helped my marriage tremendously).