Name: Jenna Stolfi
College & Majors/Minors: English with an emphasis in Creative Writing; Minor in Communications
Current Location: South Florida
Current Form of Employment: Gallery Manager, Writer, and Researcher
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I currently am the Gallery Manager, Writer, and Researcher for Daniels Antiques, a luxury antiques business.
This is not your grandma's dusty old antique shop. We specialize in selling polished WWII Binoculars, antique Louis Vuitton trunks, vintage coin-op and arcade machines, antique slot machines, and contemporary art. It is an eclectic, museum-quality collection that is a testament to both human ingenuity and a bygone era.
As the writer and researcher, I am responsible for all written content, which includes all social media accounts, email correspondences, product descriptions, marketing materials, and the blog. I learn something new every day.
My challenge each day is to make each of our items come to life, whether it be through the content I disseminate via various online channels, or through the spoken word when I am educating or selling to a prospective buyer.
As I have transitioned into taking over more responsibilities on the gallery management side of things, I have learned more about business operations than I ever expected to.
I think if I would have gone into a larger corporation, my position would have been a lot more narrow in scope. As one of four members of the business, I have many different responsibilities. This amount of responsibility has increased my skill set in ways I never could have imagined. I have learned the art of negotiation, learned accounting practices, and even become well-versed in shipping logistics, all while building my writing portfolio.
While at first it may be appealing to go right after the big companies when you begin your job search, don't rule out smaller family-owned or local businesses, where you can become an integral member of a team.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
When I first got out of college, the entry-level jobs I was most interested in were either unpaid or very low-paying jobs in expensive cities that would have required a cross-country move. I was apprehensive about going into debt or getting in over my head financially.
While I continued my job search, I became a full-time server. I was fortunate to work at a high-volume restaurant for most of my tenure, and found that the flexible schedule and the pay afforded me a great opportunity: time and money. I was able to take on additional side-jobs regardless of what I was being paid.
Social media and the internet are absolutely great for finding opportunities, but it is important to thoroughly research any person or company you are going to work for, especially if it is unpaid. There are a lot of people and businesses out there that try to exploit aspiring writers or recent graduates, so exercise caution if anything seems off. Always trust your intuition.
I was fortunate to work with a few great non-profits and small businesses that needed content for their websites but were too busy and too understaffed to create content on their own. I volunteered my services for free in order to build my portfolio.
This strategy worked, and the writing experience that I gained while working as a server allowed me to transition into the next stage of my career, which was becoming the full-time writer and researcher at Daniels Antiques.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
While it wasn't a job, one of the most important decisions I have made so far in my career was to pursue the Professional Sequence in Editing through University of California-Berkeley's Online Extension. I began this program while I was a server, and completed it while I was in my current position.
I wanted to supplement the creative skills I had practiced in my undergrad with the technical side of my craft, which is editing. This sequence begins with a much-needed refresher in grammar and mechanics, something that you don't actually spend much time on in an English degree! The middle two courses focus on copyediting, and the final course immerses you in substantive editing.
This sequence buttressed my confidence as both a writer and editor. I learned things that have helped organize my writing that I never would have thought of, such as style sheet generation. I also met a great group of diverse, virtual classmates who shared their wide range of experiences in different realms of both the writing and editing profession.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
When I was in college, I jumped at any opportunity that was put before me. If there was a club that sounded interesting, I attended the meeting. If a professor was looking for researchers, I volunteered.
I always pushed myself to try something new and to get outside of my comfort zone, which is a spirit that I continue to feed in my post-grad life. You never really know which opportunity will either directly or indirectly take you where you want to go.
I would say one of the most formative experiences of my college career was participating in the required advanced writing workshops. The workshops were no more than 18 people, and you were required to write a piece of either fiction or a small collection of poetry, and pass it out to every member of the workshop. Then, for a full class period, you had to sit in silence while everyone discussed your work. You could not defend your work, you could not clarify anything. All you could do was listen.
It was both a petrifying and illuminating experience that taught me how to handle constructive criticism. It taught me how to put myself out there, and also how to look someone in the eye and stand by my work.
If you are trying to become a professional writer or journalist, in the beginning so much of what you do involves the process of writing queries and submitting. It is a trying and difficult process that requires both vulnerability and detachment from yourself and your work. Workshops are an invaluable tool that can help you callous the skin you will undoubtedly need to be a writer.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Read as much as possible, all the time. Read books on craft, read books for fun. Ingest as many words as you can stand.
If you are trying to get published, many publications will put their contributor guidelines on their websites. Do the research. I recommend making a Twitter account to follow literary magazines, editors, other writers, and publications you want to submit to so you can get a good idea of what they are already publishing.
Explore all of your options when it comes to picking your career path. I never would have imagined myself working in a gallery, but I wouldn't change it for anything. Apply to jobs whether or not you think you have the experience. Try to add to your portfolio whenever you can.
English degrees can be one of the most valuable degrees out there because of their versatility. People are consuming so much information each day thanks to the internet. I don't think there has ever been a more important time than now to be able to write well and communicate clearly, and I don't think that's ever going to change.