We all ‘work with words’ in one way or another, but if you’re interested in looking for future employment in roles that ask you to write, re-write, research, produce, edit, proof and create content – then this article is for you.
If you’re seeking an occupation where most days are spent religiously hunting through the alphabet in search of some magic, (or at the very least something that isn’t copied and pasted, depending on caffeine intake) then again, you’re in the right place for some much needed insight.
Aspiring artists, writers, editors, publishers, journalists, poets and literary creatives all need to start their careers with a trawl through opportunities, (many of which will fail, sorry, no offence, but it’s true) in search of the one that is right for them. I’ve been a graduate of a Creative Writing degree for six years and I’m still in that testing process myself!
As a university student, there is something extremely attractive about pursuing a career in words. You want to be a paperback writer. A ruthless, yet respected, editor in London. A successful scriptwriter for the BBC. An investigative journalist not afraid to push boundaries.
That all sounds great - but as someone who held that same undergraduate drive to be creatively career-driven, I now know a few things that I wish I’d known in my student days. Lucky for you – I’m here to share them.
DON’T put your foot in your mouth
One of the most important lessons you’ll learn as a young creative is context. I cannot boldly underline, circle and highlight enough the importance of writing with an understanding of your context; this is the best way to say exactly what you want to say effectively.
This also means knowing your audience, adopting an appropriate tone and developing a world view. These are all things that university study and travel can help with, but there’s two ways to learn your writing’s place in the world:
The first is by working in a professional setting: an office, internship, a short course, volunteering.
The second is to read. Read lots. Not just literature, but articles, blogs, e-zines, tweets, copywriting brochures, the university newspaper! It all counts. Absorb as many words as you can on a daily basis, (trying to keep the quality of them high, obviously) and what you’ll notice is that the worldliness of your own writing will evolve too.
By knowing what you want to say and why, you’ll write with purpose, have a knack for marketing yourself cleverly and an ability to say lots with a little. And that’s exactly what employers want.
DO get your foot in the door
Writing for a living sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Unfortunately unlike vocational degrees, such as Medicine or Nursing or Physiotherapy, the graduate market is not waiting to slip you into a job after a Creative Writing degree. So you need to do a lot of the leg-work yourself if you want to be taken seriously as there’s a lot of competition.
Attend literary events, such as café conversations, workshops, open mic nights, book launches and career fairs to familiarise yourself with the industry.
American Studies undergraduate student, Olivia Lefley, is one such student making an effort to pursue extra-curricular opportunities for employability. Olivia said: “I decided to attend UEA’s Working with Words event in the hopes that it may solidify my plans for graduate life.”
Olivia is quite open about not knowing where she wants to take her career, but the event helped greatly to ease her fears about employability.
“I hope that it will have an impact on my future through 'trusting the process', which is an idea I heard regularly on the day. By this I mean that it is unusual to find a dream job immediately, but every job in between informs what I like or even don't like.”
Postgraduate literature student, Laura Lovett, is interested in a career in journalism, and through her studies at UEA she had the opportunity to hear first-hand advice from BBC world News Broadcast Journalist, Alpa Patel:
Laura said of the experience: “Alpa discussed her journey from UEA student to working at BBC world. She gave students tips on breaking into the industry and the importance of work experience. She advised young journalist to pick up as many skills in different mediums as possible… she said writing is still one of the most important skills a journalist can have.”
When attending events featuring speakers who share their website, blog or social media account - ensure you follow them. There is power in connection and what better starting point than a polite message thanking them for their inspirational words? That is exactly how you can sow the seeds for your own career.
As a writer you must have a thick skin.
My choosing to go down the creative path for your career, you’re embarking on one of the toughest professional routes there is. To be paid for making art is the dream, but in between now and then lies a lot of failure, rejection, criticism and the constant reminder that other people think they know better than you (and in many cases they do).
Current undergraduate Literature student, Rosanna Le Rossignol, attended the ‘Women and Words’ panel at UEA’s Julian Study Centre, and her experience paints a perfect example of how important it is to take yourself seriously and confidently in the job market:
She said: “Freelance writer and radio producer Cathy Fitzgerald reported that the women she’d studied at university with, ‘bright, brilliant, vivacious’ women, had ‘all decided to take up slightly less space in the world than we were entitled to’ by taking assistant and shadow jobs. She found herself ‘facilitating men’s creativity’ rather than expressing her own.”
As a graduate, prepare for your writing to be pulled apart by people who don’t write for a living. Your hours of labour over the keyboard will not be rewarded by any literary prizes or slow building claps in the office.
My best advice for a career in words is that you must write for the simple pleasure of writing. You must change your mind set to not see deleted words as failures, but necessary stepping stones to get the product up to a standard for its purpose. For example, I once spent hours producing copywriting for a retail brochure, cleverly constructing sentences, dropping in subtle puns and ensuring no two paragraphs sounded the same.
Productivity wise – this was an utter waste of time as the majority of brochures would likely end up lining a kitty litter tray. But development wise – this proved my dedication to the craft, and by putting effort into something that doesn’t even bear your by-line you are practicing creating art purely for the sake of it. What fun!
10 tips on getting published
The Careers Central at UEA host an annual event for students seeking to prepare themselves for a literary future - ‘Working with Words’ is a collection of workshops and seminars lead by industry professionals and alumni. This year revealed insight in areas as diverse as journalism, content marketing and travel writing, to communicating brands, writing for film and women and words.
Some particularly useful advice from the event were a collection of tips for university students on taking the first steps to getting their words published:
- Being pushy doesn’t get you anywhere – agents are already working with writers so all new reading is done in their spare time.
- Never pay an agent to read your work.
- Be careful with gimmicks - one agent explained how a writer sent their manuscript into the publishing house already in a bin… but it got them to read it!
- Follow the publishing agent’s web guidelines for submissions.
- Be aware of the genre and industry you’re writing into e.g. Young Adult Fiction.
- Don’t expect professional feedback as a rule.
- Have your full manuscript ready to go – don’t keep the agent waiting if they request it.
- The agent is not the end of the line – they must pitch your words to their editors, so the hard work often comes after that.
- Be prepared for drastic editorial changes - everything might be changed from the first to the third person.
- Get your name out there - social media presence is hugely important. Yes, this is licence to Tweet.