Name: Meg Goforth-Ward
College & Majors/Minors: BA in Professional Writing from York College of Pennsylvania and MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University in Forest Grove, OR
Current Location: Bothell, WA
Current Form of Employment: Adjunct writing instructor and Communications Specialist
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I teach college-level writing classes for Vincennes University's Military Education Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, WA and I am the Communications Specialist at nFocus Solutions.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
I started working at a Subway in my hometown when I was fifteen. My brother worked there and got me the job. I stuck with it for about six years because they were flexible with my school schedule and it was a piece of cake job. I guess I'll admit that it was also pretty fun.
I got my current job as a Communications Specialist from applying for countless jobs after graduating with my MFA. This company was one
of only a few that contacted me and asked for an interview. When I was offered the position, I was told I didn't have all of the qualifications they were necessarily looking for, but they really enjoyed my personality and level of energy. So even if you don't have the skills, you have the energy! So fake it and you'll make it.
My teaching job came to me in a much more random way—at an AT&T store in a mall. My phone had broken (or I broke it on purpose because I wanted a new one, maybe) and I went to the local mall to get a new one. I sat at one of the tables reserved for people shelling out their left arm and their right leg for a new phone waiting for the sales lady to finish explaining all of the packages and extras I couldn't afford. At the table next to me sat a grey-haired man with kind eyes. He kept glancing over at me while I answered the lady's questions about what I did for work and school. I worked at a coffee house and went to grad school for writing, I told her. The man's ears perked up, and I saw him rooting around in his wallet. He leaned over, excused himself, and handed me his card. "We are always looking for writers to teach," he said. I told him I was new to grad school and wouldn't have my degree for another year and a half. "No problem," he said. "Hold on to my card and contact me when you graduate." I did as he said, he remembered me (or claimed to remember me) a year and a half after that new phone (of which I've had three since), and now I teach sailors how to write.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
My time spent volunteering as a Grant Writer with a homeless shelter in Charleston, SC has proven to be valuable to me personally and professionally. I was fortunate enough to be able to volunteer my time and not have to worry about getting a paycheck, so I took advantage. I learned the ins and outs of basic grant writing and advanced grant writing. This year of my life allowed me to see what worked and what didn't work in terms of writing for a purpose. I had real results--dollars and cents--that measured how well I wrote a grant. Being able to work at a homeless shelter put me in a situation I had never experienced before. I lived a fairly sheltered childhood in a nice neighborhood with everything I needed to survive and thrive. Walking into the shelter each day, passed George who had a heavy limp and a brain injury but always asked me if I needed help with anything, opened my eyes to real life. The real world, if you will. From that moment forward, I knew my goal in life was to use my love of writing to help others in whatever way I could.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I did not do nearly enough, let me tell you. Whatever you don't, do more than what I did. Grad school was a tough two years for me. The schooling itself was incredible, and I highly recommend an MFA program if that is something that interests you. I met some of the best people I've ever known in the program. But I didn't write nearly enough. I did the minimum I had to to graduate. I was struggling with some mental health issues and my father passed away unexpectedly during that time, but I know I could have and should have done more. I had little to show other than a degree. Now I see my friends publishing work from their grad school experiences and talking about all of the books they read. I don't have those polished stories to send out to publishers and I barely remember the titles of books I skimmed. Luckily I was able to get a job with just the title MFA on my resume, but I would much rather have more pieces of writing that I can be proud of. So do your work, do it well, and read. Read everything you can get your hands on.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
First of all, are you crazy? Why would you get a degree in English?! I kid, I kid. English is the best thing there is. Everything about it is wonderful. I could give you pages and pages of advice, but who has time for that?
Turn off the TV and the computer and the phone and the tablet and the iPod (do people still use those these days?). Go into a room with a desk and a chair. Sit your butt in that chair. Write. Write words that mean nothing. Write words that mean something. Write nonsense. Write a novel. Just write. Don't stop. Don't add that comma you think you should have added two sentences ago. You'll fix that later. Right now,though, just write. Don't be afraid. If it's important to you, it will be important to your reader. As good old Ernie H, said, "Write hard and clear about what hurts." Don't be worried about people judging you. No one has to see what you are writing right now as it it yours. You never know what can come out of sitting down and writing, though.
And read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, journalism, comics, graphic novels, children's books, everything. In order to write well, you need to read well. You'll learn more from reading than you ever can from a semester of a writing class (just don't tell your instructors I said that).
Most importantly, be yourself in your writing. Let your personality and voice shine. And make sure you have a little fun along the way.
To the graduates, congratulations and salud! To the current English majors, you are awesome. Keep going. It won't be easy, but, to be completely cliche, it will be worth it.