Name: Katie Plumb
College & Majors/Minors: University of Puget Sound, BA in English: Writing, Rhetoric, and Culture. University of Utah, MS in Environmental Humanities.
Current Location: Salt Lake City, UT, soon to be in Bozeman, MT
Current Form of Employment: Freelance Writer & Aspiring Author
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I have plunged head first into freelance writing. It has only been about six weeks since I made the decision to do so, and although it has been scary, unnerving, and overwhelming at times, it has also felt like the best decision I’ve ever made. I have two established “gigs”, one writing short articles for a quarterly magazine and one editing for a small business, neither of which provide enough revenue to sustain me, but do give me hope for other opportunities. I spend the bulk of my time now seeking out opportunities and networking. I look forward to spending a greater portion of my time actually writing soon, but freelancing is a process I am still learning.
Previously, I held a variety of jobs in the field of environmental conservation. Whether my job description included writing or not, I always made it known that I liked to write, and was often given the opportunity when it arose. I recently completed an AmeriCorps volunteer position as a field assistant for rare plant conservation. I re-wrote the department’s web content and drafted newsletter articles in addition to the reports we put together on our research. Before that, I was the outreach coordinator for a small non-profit, and I wrote almost everything we put out into the world, including web content, social media content, grants, press releases, newsletters, and donation appeal letters. I also edited monthly “green tips” that were published in our local papers.
I have also been writing published articles for local and regional publications over the last three years. Some work has been paid, some hasn’t, but it has all been good experience. I plan to continue pitching story ideas and developing relationships with publications I aspire to write for.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
My first job out of college was as a barista, and it served me well while I figured out what my next step was. After two years of traveling, playing, and working, I decided to go to grad school for a program that brought me under the mentorship of a number of environmental writers I admire, and helped join my passions for environmental issues and writing.
My first job after graduate school that involved writing was for a non-profit, and, strangely enough, it found me. I had applied for a position with another organization, and although I was not selected for the job, one of my interviewers passed my resume on to a friend who was looking to hire an outreach coordinator. She contacted me and offered me the job without even doing a formal interview. It was not at all your typical job-search experience, but it was valuable to recognize that by putting myself out there, even for jobs I wasn’t fully qualified for, I was opening myself up to opportunities I wasn’t even aware of. Especially in small communities and non-profit networks, people talk and share resources, and you never know when your name is going to come up.
As for my current situation as a freelancer, I made the decision after trying a variety of jobs that I thought might be good career paths, and not really loving any of them. Although they were great experiences in which I learned a lot, I wanted more flexibility and creativity and an endless possibility of things I could write about. I have a lot of ideas that I want to pursue, and it seems like a risk worth taking while I am still young and relatively untethered. Truthfully, I’ve wanted to be a “writer” since college, and knew that I could be a “writer” since grad school, but letting go of regular paychecks and facing the fear that maybe it won’t work out took a long time and a lot of self-encouragement.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
As a graduate student, I had the opportunity to teach a writing course for undergrads. For the most part, I enjoyed the experience. It helped me recognize that I do have a lot of knowledge to share as a writer, and that I enjoyed helping others learn the craft. But it also helped me recognize that although it was something I could do, teaching wasn’t at the top of my list of jobs I wanted to do, at least not at this time in my life. Figuring out what I don’t want to do has been a huge part of deciding what I do want to do.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
In college, I was really drawn to travel and experience the world. I did a Semester at Sea program, traveling around the world on a ship, and then I took a leave of absence for a semester to travel more and reconsider the academic direction I was headed in. The time I spent wandering and learning about the world helped steer me towards my current path. I was a literature major who loved words, and by going out and seeing some of the world, I was moved to think about how my studies, and eventually my career, could be more active and engaged in my community. I was inspired to write as a way to educate on a larger scale, to use it as a creative and powerful tool to motivate others.
Towards the end of my college career, once I had settled on an emphasis in writing, I participated in the submissions committee of my school’s literary journal, which prompted me to start submitting my own work (and to start accepting rejection!). I also got an internship for a class, during which I worked with a non-profit to write some marketing materials, research future projects, and pitch project ideas to potential donors. This got me interested in non-profit work and I began searching for writing and communications jobs with other non-profits, only to learn that the place I was living was saturated with well-educated and experienced applicants, which inspired me to go back to school!
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
These are some things that I have to remind myself of often, which might be helpful to someone in a similar situation:
- If you want to write, write about things that matter to you. Delve into things you’re passionate about. It shows in your writing. As one of my dearest mentors said, “If it matters to you, it will matter to someone else.”
- Don’t be afraid. I know, it sounds dumb, but it’s the simplest form of advice I can give. Fear of failure is a powerful motivator to not do the things we care most about. I face it every day, but eventually I just got tired of my own excuses.
- Collaborate with other creative thinkers, support and encourage other writers, and listen to others’ advice and criticisms. You don’t have to take any of it to heart, but you never know what gems of wisdom someone else might have.
- Thinking about writing doesn’t make you a writer; writing makes you a writer. Doesn’t matter where—on a blog, in a journal, on a napkin, on a piece of bark. Doesn’t have to be published or polished—if you are writing anything in any form, you’re a writer, and you will get better.