Tips for professional writing majors

Comics on the Brain had a friend ask us for some tips for a college student majoring in Professional Writing. This student is working a typical student-level job — at a convenience store and gas station.

For a writer, that’s terribly boring work. There’s no creativity involved. There’s not even a chance to use the skills she’s learning in college.

What’s she to do? Basically, CotB says “Never give up!”

What, that’s not specific enough?

Well, we do have some ideas, and here they are.

 Step One — The Job Search

Know where to look for work and know how to look for work. Almost all job searches begin on a job-hunting websites. When you’re there, you need to know the key words to search. For a person interested in professional writing they are:

  • Writing
  • Corporate Communications
  • Public Relations
  • Publication
  • Graphic Design
  • Editing
  • Editor
  • Social Media
  • Journalist
  • Journalism

You also need to look beyond the area where you live or go to school. Search in any geographic area where you have relatives. Search in any area where you have friends. Don’t just stick to your hometown.

 Step Two — Practice Writing

Do anything you can to write. Practice writing every day. And do it with the idea that someone important is watching you.

Some ideas:

  • Start a WordPress blog on a very specific topic and write the hell out of that topic. For example, the student could write about her experiences working at this “Kwiki Mart.” And she shouldn’t just write about “I went to work today.” Instead, she should look at the ins and outs of her shift, the good and bad customers, what can be improved, what’s great and so on. Every thought can be a new blog post. Doing a blog like this requires a lot of observational skills on the writer’s part. It also should be a test of her ability to “write something out of nothing.”
  • Write an ebook and self publish it through any one of the ebook outlets, including Amazon, Lulu or Smashwords. Then work hard at promoting it through social media, a website and at local book-friendly businesses. This may sound like a silly idea, but it gives a student some active experience on all the things a professional writer needs to know. What should she write about? Well, that’s certainly important. Be active and find a topic that interests you. If you’re writing a non-fiction ebook, then don’t be afraid to call people up and interview them about the topic. If they ask for your credentials, you can just say its a school project.

Step Three — Look for opportunities

  • Contact your current job’s corporate office and ask them if there’s any opportunities available. Even if your company isn’t locally based, contact the corporate public relations or marketing team and see if they would consider offering some telecommuting work. They might offer to place a young writer on a local PR team. Likewise, volunteer for anything that comes down the pipe through corporate. This might involve non-writing assignments, but it gets you noticed so you can exploit future opportunities.
  • Local nonprofit agencies in your immediate area are always looking for help. Whether it’s the SPCA, the library or the some other agency, chances are young writers will have an opportunity to prove themselves. Contact their president or public relations person and see if there’s a project they need help on. Maybe she can write some profiles for their website or create some flyers for them.

Step Four — Expand Your Knowledge

Nearly all professional writing jobs require you to do more than writing. Sometimes companies need someone to run their social media programs, maintain a website or do graphic design. This is a writer’s opportunity to make themselves stand out.

.Train yourself on any key Graphic Design and Web programs you’re not familiar with. In school, she might not be getting trained on PhotoShop, Illustrator, InkScape and all the web and app programs out there. Knowing these will be a big benefit in a job search. There’s plenty of video and web tutorials on these programs, so an opportunistic writer doesn’t need in-class instruction. Also as a student, many of these programs for free or at a very low cost.

Conclusion

Getting work as a professional writer takes plenty of patience. You need to develop your writing skills so that you can write about whatever’s put in front of you. A writer also has to understand that they need to be able to do other things beyond writing — at least at first. Finally, and most importantly, they need to look for opportunities to write. They need to actively seek them out. Sometimes, a person will have to jump through multiple hoops before getting that opportunity, but its out there.

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