Writing Professionally (Technically Speaking)
If you asked me when I was in college, what I was going to do with my four-year degree in Writing, I probably would have told you that I was going to be a teacher and work on my books during the summer. That turned out not to be the case. When I graduated college, I was desperate to get a job and NO ONE would hire me. I would get a few people raising an eyebrow at me when they would see what my degree was in and I became discouraged. Not only was I discouraged that I wouldn’t be able to find a job but also that I had started to fall out of love with writing. And in the process, I lost myself a little bit.
I finally gave in and took a desk job which to me was the equivalent to “giving up”. I thought a cubicle is where artists go to die. And I thought my writing would fall by the wayside and I’d never fulfill my dream of being a writer. Flash forward to now, I’ve been working a desk job for eight years and I have not given up on my writing and have never felt more fulfilled in my life than I do now.
Today, I’d like to talk to you about the lessons I learned about being a writer and having a successful career at the same time. And how to balance both.
Tips for a Successful Writing Life
I. A Room of One's Own
So, how did I get from depression blue cubicles to happy and successful? It started with carving out a place of my own. This place doesn’t have to be a physical place, it could be a point in time too. For instance, when I started working there, I had this dream of writing my novel. While I couldn’t write it at work, I could use my breaks to get a little writing in. So I found a way to get a small writing tablet in or a notebook and would find a quiet space at work to take my breaks and get some writing in.
What you’ll need:
Pick a time that consistently works with your schedule and fits your personality. Are you a morning person or more of a night owl?
Pick a place that you have access to during your specific time and that you’ll have a hard time finding an excuse not to use it. For instance, if you pick the park and it’s cold, you could use that as an excuse not to write.
Set boundaries with those around you
Let people know that you need that time for yourself and your writing. Don’t let people guilt you into not using that time. Make sure that you aren’t a hermit though. You’ll need to make time for people too.
A reward system.
Remember Pavlov’s dog? Set up a reward system or trigger that works for you. For instance, I like to tell myself, “okay if you write this piece, you can take a break and get some chocolate.
Ask yourself, how do you write best?
Laptop? Desktop? Or Handwriting?
In your space, set up what you need to write distraction-free. For example, I have two monitors, one for writing and one for my notes. I also keep my writing reference books next to me so I can easily grab them, if I need to refer to them.
Warning: Do NOT let these things stop you from getting writing done. I often make excuses that I need a better monitor or this keyboard sticks too much. Make the habit and gradually change your space to accommodate you better. You’ll actually get a better idea of what you need for your space if you let yourself spend some time there feeling it out first.
This also works for writing professionally, find your place, where your input is valuable where you most enjoy working. And don’t be afraid to take up space. I was in spaces I “wasn’t supposed to be”.
Benefits of finding your own space:
Feel happier even when things aren’t going your way.
Having that time for myself made me excited to go to work because it meant that I would have the opportunity to work on my novel.
People will notice that you take your writing seriously which could lead to opportunities.
Before I got the admin job, I had interviewed as a technical writer at the same company but they ended up not hiring me due to my lack of experience. Seeing me writing on my breaks, I got a reputation for being a writer and everyone would ask me about my novel. This lead to HR noticing this and they offered me an interview as a marketing admin to groom me to write marketing copy. However, as I was getting ready to leave that position, an associate technical writing position opened up. Which I jumped at the change to take instead.
Creates a habit and helps you get into the correct mindset for writing.
I started off staring at a blank screen during those 15 minutes, but then I started forcing myself to write a sentence. Slowly, I started to write more and more. Writing regularly, in the same place at the same time, conditioned my brain to settle into that creative mindset right away during my breaks and I was able to get more done.
II. Be Your Authentic Self
I found the best job of my career being exactly who I am and I’ve never been happier. There are people and cultures out there that will fit you and your personality, so I encourage you to actively search for it.
What’s it good for?
I promise you, the more authentic you are with who you actually are the happier you will be in both your professional life and your personal life.
You’ll find a career, not a job.
Your writing will be better!
How do I do that?
Do your research!
Spend the time to look into different types of jobs and the details of what they do. If you find a job you are interested in, find someone who does that job and interview them about it. Make sure it’s something you would enjoy doing. You can find this information by using a search engine to find information on your career and you can even try looking up people on LinkedIn and reaching out to them about the career.
Take your time to figure it out.
People change their careers many times throughout their life, so don’t be alarmed if a job you loved starts to be something you dread doing. Keep reinventing yourself and growing. I actually went back to school in 2018 to do just that. I thought that after I got my MFA I’d become a teacher but before I could, I found out about a great opportunity to be a technical writer at a different company that had a great culture and ideals that I really aligned with and I went ahead and applied. And although I’m still in the same field, I found out that I had an interest in management and I was able to grow and develop those skills and found that perfect fit for me.
Experiment with your writing.
During a period of time where I was having severe writer’s block, I used my writing time to write some really weird things. I found some pieces in there that I really loved and have developed further ever since.
Write for yourself.
I wrote a story that was very much the kind of thing I wanted to be writing and it got me my first “good” rejection letter! That might sound funny but sometimes rejection can feel good because it means you are trying.
III. Find a Community
One of the best things you can do for both yourself and your career (both creatively and professionally) is to find a community of people who support you.
Having other people around with the same passions or goals as you will help keep you working towards those goals.
Another great thing about a community is that you will find people who have similar struggles that you are going through. People who are going through the same things or have gone through the same struggles in the past.
Hearing about the accomplishments of others and seeing what and how they do it, will inspire you to create and do your own things.
They say it’s all who you know. Having a community of people gives you connections to other like-minded people and you may be able to be a part of other opportunities that you might not hear about otherwise.
How Do I Find a Community?
For creative writing, AWP and Nano are great places to start!
For specific communities for your careers, do your research and find specific communities.
Create your own of like-minded people.
Corporate Writing Careers
If you have the passion to write professionally, you can find a career that plays to your strengths as a writer and you can learn skills from professionally writing which you can then transfer into your own writing.
Below is a list of some of the career opportunities you have if you are skilled in writing.
A career that allows you to expand on your writing abilities. A great career if you excel at descriptive and persuasive writing.
A career that allows you to take complex topics and condense them into easy-to-read material. Great for writers who enjoy research and technology and are good at adapting their style of writing based on the audience.
I may be a little biased here, but I love technical writing so much. I’ve grown a lot as a writer working on technical manuals. You have a limited vocabulary as you try to write at a sixth-grade reading level which helps you find creative ways of using a limited vocabulary to bring your content to life. We also emphasize using as few words as possible too which helps you learn how to say what you need to say concisely.
A career that is sometimes lumped together with other professions. This type of writing is where you review the text used in software and provide the text that should be used. This can be text on buttons, columns, or warning messages that display. Great for writers who love finding that perfect word and who are good at conveying a lot of meaning in careful word choice over length.
A career that allows you to write in a way to teach other individuals. Courseware can vary widely depending on what field you are in. Recommended for writers who are creative and enjoy people.
A career that writes legal documents. If you enjoy or are interested in law, this may be the job for you. Great for writers who like using high brow language who are good at understanding complex text.
Every career offers an opportunity to increase your writing skills if you give them a chance and try to find the benefits of the type of writing required in that job.
No two people have the same career path and it’s important that you take the time to figure out what’s right for you and find your own way to get there. It’s the best thing for you as a person but also as a career. So, I would encourage you to take some time in the near future and write down the top five things you’d want in a full-time job that would make you happy. The happier I was at work, the easier it was for me to find the time, the energy, and the motivation to write. And remember, an interview is a two-way process. It’s not just about a hiring manager deciding whether or not to hire you it’s also about you deciding whether the company and position you’re applying for are right for you too.