Issue: February 2009
In This Issue:
Picture this: you’ve graduated from high school, possibly college, and you are finishing up your first full week in a real job. You’re sitting at your desk eating a ham and cheese sandwich and you hear, “Ping!” Your boss has sent you an email.
“So, Michael,” he writes. “Describe your first week on the job.”
How are you going to respond? “OMG! It’s been 2G2B4G! TTFN, Mike.”
You may not be back for Week Two.
Men and women who run businesses talk often about the importance of strong writing skills in building successful careers. Workers need to be able to communicate in writing through important proposals to win contracts, written reports and, yes, even informative emails to coworkers and clients. Sure, you are flexing that writing muscle a lot these days as you communicate with friends through Facebook messages, emails, instant messaging and speedy cell-phone chats. But shortcut e-communication is not what employers are looking for. They want writing with substance.
Now’s your chance to improve your word power in preparation for all the writing assignments your boss pings your way. In addition to your schoolwork, find ways to spend more meaningful moments with your keyboard and/or your pen. Write regularly in a journal, enter a national essay contest or join the school literary mag.
Need more inspiration? Teens who were interviewed last year for a report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project said the following scenarios motivated them most to write:
So, what are you waiting for? Write on! TTYL.
While writing is a skill we all need to do well, some students may want to take their love of words all the way to the employment office. Here are three careers that may appeal to the writer in you:
The Blogosphere Awaits
Everyone wants a chatty, informative blog on their Websites these days. And while most blogs are designed to be personal publishing platforms, big companies like Stonyfield Farm have launched blog communities (in this case, “Cow”munities) to communicate with and relate to customers in a personal way. Blogging is a unique and fun type of writing, and professional business bloggers are in demand. You definitely need experience.
Grant Me This Wish
A grant writer develops and writes grant proposals, which are documents that seek to persuade private and corporate foundations, as well as local, state and federal government agencies to give funding to a worthy project or cause. Professional grant writers, who can earn as much as $125 an hour, must develop very strong skills in writing, story-telling, consulting, research, project planning, evaluation and budgeting. Once established, professional grant writers often run successful home-based businesses.
Headlines and Deadlines
If you love writing and asking questions, then you may want to consider a career in journalism. Journalists come in all shapes and sizes, from newspaper reporters to magazine feature writers to online columnists. This career is about more than the written word: it’s knowing the right questions to ask, being persistent, thinking critically and handling the pressure of deadlines. While journalists may eventually develop a specialty, many must be skilled at jumping in and out of different topics as they tackle stories that relate to current affairs at all levels. Most importantly, journalists must be great listeners.
You’ve seen that look in your parents’ eyes, or possibly reflected in the reaction of your school counselor. You simply mentioned, ‘I want to write novels for a living’ and you were met with a furrowed brow and a skeptical gaze: ‘Well, now, maybe you should have something a little more solid to fall back on,’ they suggested.
Elizabeth Joy Arnold no doubt saw and heard similar responses when, as a teen, she talked of her passion for writing. After all, she was a star science student in high school; a whiz at chemistry and physics. Wasn’t her career path quite clear?
So she followed the formula-paved trail that must be her destiny, though her heart remained with books, pens, her keyboard. After earning a graduate degree in chemistry from Princeton University, she ultimately worked as a consultant to pharmaceutical firms.
But it seems Arnold’s destiny was not determined by chemistry textbooks, but a very different book altogether. In 2007, she left the lackluster lab behind when her first novel, Pieces of My Sister’s Life, was published by Bantam to great critical acclaim. The following year her second novel, Promise the Moon, hit the shelves. Arnold was officially a chemist turned novelist.
“I always wanted something more creative outside of chemistry,” explains Arnold, who lives in Pennington. “After I left grad school, I couldn’t find a job because it was in the middle of the recession in the 90s. I was doing temporary secretarial work and I was so miserable that I wanted something more fulfilling on the side. That’s when I started following my dream of becoming a writer.”
During those years, and while she was a pharmaceutical consultant, Arnold wrote and shopped around seven complete novels while also working a full-time job. Publishers rejected all seven. She paid her dues, as most writers do, a sacrifice she says was well worth it.
“The process of getting accepted for publication is much harder than anyone realizes,” says Arnold, who just submitted her latest novel to her editor, due out next year. “For fiction, there is so much competition. Just getting a foot in the door is hard. Agents get hundreds of requests a day to represent novelists and they can only take maybe between five and 10 a year. Almost everyone goes through years of rejection. I kept at it because it was a passion. I had this feeling in me that this is what I wanted to do with my life. I’m going to keep plugging away until it works—and it did.”
Local fiction writer Elizabeth Joy Arnold, author of Pieces of My Sister’s Life and Promise the Moon, offers some advice to aspiring young writers:
Avoid this painful pay stub sticker shock by learning one important reality before you enter the work world: the difference between gross income and net income. Gross income is the total money you earn in a particular pay period and net income is the portion of those earnings after deductions that you actually get to take home. With a little help from those tax people, H&R Block, here’s your paycheck breakdown:
Writers Are Readers The most important thing is to read as much as possible. You learn more from writers that you love. If you love the Twilight series, then read it from different perspectives to figure out how the author wrote it. Definitely take writing classes. No matter how good you are you can always learn something.
Feedback Is Valuable You can learn a lot from what people tell you about your own writing, but also from reading new writers and offering them suggestions on what they can do better. Exchange writing in online or offline critique groups, some of which are designed especially for teens. If you can’t find one, then form one of your own. You need to develop a thick skin and not be hurt when people critique your writing. That’s part of the process of being a writer.
Embrace Editing Revise, revise, revise!Your first draft is just that—often a mere outline of what your final masterpiece will become. Each time you return to that draft, you have an opportunity to improve it. Suffering writer’s block? Then walk away for a day and return to it with fresh eyes. Suddenly that plot twist you were laboring over will work itself out. Writing can sometimes be like a pet or a child: the more you nurture it, the stronger it will grow.