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We’re taught from an early age about grammar and semantics—how to eloquently weave words together to paint a picture. Throughout the course of our education, we write reports on everything from what we did last summer to colonial imperialism and later scramble to put pieces together from research for our term papers. But not all of us choose a college major in English Literature, Communications or anything else in the Fine Arts where we can actually refine our writing to be a professional writer.
We are the people who have these initial hopes of reaching other careers, whatever they may be, by choosing another specific major in college—a time when most of us are first navigating the real world, wondering if the mystery meat in the dining hall is edible, and trying to set up a study date with the cute boy in ecology class. Thus, that dream you had at 17 may not be the same dream you have at 25.
When I was in graduate school for a non-fine arts field, I began to explore the potential of serious writing. Although most of my writing was through assignments and reports, I began to write just for myself. I would have deep conversations with passionate friends, I would write down witty titles, and I kept a journal. As I looked back at the imaginative world that was brought before me through the chapters of various books, I stumbled upon that missing piece that I was hungry for: to tell a story.
I had already begun volunteering with a storytelling organization, and I got involved in reproductive justice. I began to read personal narratives, opinion pieces, and stories about things happening around the world. I began to look at storytelling through a journalistic lens, and I knew that one day I wanted to have a career that took that approach.
The summer I graduated, I was lost because I had already dipped my toes in research. Research in my field (or where the jobs were), consisted of analysis of large data sets to produce percentages and statistics that never could tell a story, just a fact. Once I realized I wanted to explore the right side of my brain, I looked at countless job listings that preferred candidates with a degree in creative arts, journalism, communications, or anything of that nature. I thought, “Well, it’s too late.” I didn’t want to go back to school, and I was already drowning in student loans.
I was discouraged at first, but I learned a lot about myself and that I was willing to push through these barriers. You may come across the ideal job that’s perfectly suited for you, but feel discouraged because that piece of paper you got after college highlights your major in a non-writing field. Although these job requirements may seem to emphasize a degree preference, you can do the job just as well as someone who has that desired major of expertise.
Here are a few things you can do to make you stand out and begin a career as a writer:
Look for a job in your field in the meantime for steady cash flow. You can find other ways to contribute in your department such as asking your supervisor (if they are super cool) to connect you with the communications director or public relations manager. Show your interest and offer up your skills.
Start a blog
Begin developing your platform online by writing whatever interests you, whether it’s journalism or even fiction storytelling. Follow like-minded bloggers. They can be really good inspiration.
Keep a journal
Document everything you see, hear, or read that inspires you, whether it’s from your own experiences or something you witnessed while riding the train. Keeping a journal can help you come up with topics to write about. Personal narratives or inspirations from outside can one day be used for a memoir, short story ideas, or even a post for an online magazine.
There are a lot of internships and volunteer opportunities for those seeking communications or editorial work. Start by finding something in your field, then look for opportunities in public relations or social media management. This is a good starting point for developing your skills as well as showcasing what you can really do. Who knows, this could even lead to a job!
Contribute to online publications
Find blogs and websites that are looking for contributors and pitch an idea to the editor. This is a good way to build up a portfolio and collect writing samples for future job applications. Start by writing on your own blog or a platform like Medium and then offer contributions to publications you’re interested in and read regularly.
Offer to proofread
Ask your writer friends (or anyone) if you can proofread what they’ve been writing. You’ll sharpen writing and editing skills, and you can add this to your resume (and maybe even get testimonials out of your friends).
Start small. Go big.
Seema Bhakta has a photography blog which she rarely updates. She has a degree in Public Health and works as a Data Analyst and volunteers for storytelling organizations for health & human rights. You can follow Seema on Twitter.
Witty Title Here publishes works from emerging, female-identifying writers. Want to submit your short work of fiction, journalism, humor or opinion writing? Send drafts or pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org.