Posts filed under Writing

Sumiko Martinez: Community Outreach Officer

Name: Sumiko Martinez

Age: 30 

College & Majors/Minors: 

  • B.A. in English from Westminster College, Salt Lake City
  • M.S. in Communication from University of Utah
  • Ph.D. (in progress) in Communication from University of Utah

Current Location: Salt Lake City, Utah 

Current Form of Employment: Full-time at a not-for-profit state government agency

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I currently work for the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA for short) as a Community Outreach Officer. I travel throughout the state, working with high school students and their families as well as counselors and educators, helping people learn how to prepare and pay for college. This job involves a pretty wide variety of duties, such as researching federal student aid policy and regulation, giving public presentations at scholarship nights, working with students one-on-one to file the FAFSA, and producing blogs, videos, and publications to support our mission. 

My other job (the one that takes up all my free time!) is being a Ph.D. student in Communication at the University of Utah. I’m currently working on my prospectus and with any luck will be starting my dissertation research this fall. My research interests are critical rhetoric, rhetorical theory, media and cultural studies, rhetoric of education, critical pedagogy, and U.S. education policy.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

I later learned that my performance on the required writing test was what made me stand out as a job candidate.

I found my first job as an internal trainer with UHEAA by searching through websites and job classifieds for anything that required writing skills. It was pretty serendipitous, actually. I interviewed the week before I graduated, and started working the week afterwards! I later learned that my performance on the required writing test was what made me stand out as a job candidate. 

I did a lot of technical writing and training for student loan servicing in that position, which really allowed me to apply my skills as an English major in an interdisciplinary field. 

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

While I was an undergraduate student, I worked as a writing center consultant for my college. This was the first important writing-related job that I had, because it made me learn that even though writing came somewhat naturally to me, that was not the case for a great many people. I had to reconcile my own assumptions with my clients’ struggles, and compassionately help them through a process that may have seemed daunting, annoying, and/or pointless to them. 

I learned so much, so fast in this job, but the most important thing I walked away with was that it’s all right to not know everything. Now, if I’m unsure about something, I research the answer for my clients and share what I learn with them.

There’s one session in particular that stuck with me. I was working with a student who had been referred to the Writing Center by a professor. He particularly needed help with comma splices. Ashamed to admit that I didn’t know what a comma splice was, I inadvertently advised him to put in ANOTHER one! After the session, a colleague pointed out my error, and I was completely embarrassed. I learned so much, so fast in this job, but the most important thing I walked away with was that it’s all right to not know everything. Now, if I’m unsure about something, I research the answer for my clients and share what I learn with them.   

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life? 

In hindsight, I didn’t prepare nearly as much as I should have! I visited my college’s Career Center for advice on job searching and resume writing. If I could give my younger self advice, it would have been to pursue more internships to get a better feel for the type of work I really wanted to do. I would have also told myself to get involved in student clubs or organizations, take on leadership roles, and generally not to be a chicken about networking. (I’d also argue that networking can be called “making friends with other professionals,” which I think sounds much more appealing.)

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree? 

I’m a huge advocate for the humanities, and I know we’ve all heard people disparage our chosen field of study, but take heart! An English degree can benefit you so much. In a society where choice of major is often judged by its perceived utility, studying English teaches you to think above the noise. Learning how to assess sources, frame arguments, and consider an issue from multiple angles are all skills that are necessary not just for the job market, but also for life as an informed citizen. Extend those critical thinking skills that you’ve picked up by studying English, and you’ll find ways to build a meaningful and satisfying life. 

Connect with Sumiko Martinez on LinkedIn, follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and visit her website at SumikoMartinez.com.


Posted on July 4, 2016 and filed under Communications, Interview, Interviews, Writing.

Alaina Leary: Social Content Curator & Freelancer

Name: Alaina Leary

Age: 23

College & Majors/Minors: Westfield State University, English with a concentration in Writing, Editing, and Media (Bachelor of Arts degree, May 2015); Emerson College, Publishing and Writing (in-progress Master of Arts degree, expected May 2017)

Current Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Current Form of Employment: Full-time, regular, plus I have several ongoing freelance roles

Where do you work and what is your current position?

Right now, I'm working at Connelly Partners / Breaktime Media, and I'm a Social Content Curator on several different client accounts. I'm involved in a lot of different aspects of social media, including community management, content audits, analytics and regular reporting, strategy development, creating posts (writing the copy, contributing design ideas and video concepts), scheduling posts, running social media ads, and working with bloggers, user-generated content, and social media influencers. I also work with some longer form content, including print and online magazines and blogs, and help out as needed with the publicity and PR side of social.

I'm also involved in a few ongoing freelance projects, including Her Campus, Luna Luna Magazine, We Need Diverse Books, Dear Hope, and Doll Hospital. In these projects, I have varied responsibilities, mainly tied into social media, editing, writing, graphic and web design, marketing, and publicity.

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 at a start-up that owned 19 local websites. I worked mainly on the feature stories program—seeking sources, reaching out for features, interviewing sources, editing content written by our freelance writers, curating photos, writing headlines and subheads, and electronically publishing. I did a bit of copywriting, social media, and community management work as well.

I found that job on Craigslist jobs, which I've always found kind of ironic. I was afraid of using Craigslist to look for work, but at the time, I'd been applying since December of my senior year (more heavily since February of that year). I'd used every career website, but I'd never used Craigslist. So I gave it a shot, and the interview process went so well, so I accepted the position. I really enjoyed working there, and it gave me the opportunity to use more than one skill set, which was fantastic.

“As it turns out, I wasn’t right for a senior role, but the recruiter told me not to give up, and I didn’t. I reapplied for another position in March, and she asked me if I’d be interested in joining the team on the client-facing side, as part of the agency.”

I found my current job in an interesting way. I connected with a recruiter at Breaktime Media in January for a senior editor position for an entertainment website that my company owns. I was really passionate about working at the company, but I didn't have quite the experience level that was necessary for the open role. After talking with the recruiter, I was even more convinced that this company was right up my alley. When she and I talked company culture, I tried really hard not to imagine myself getting the job. I didn't want to get too excited. As it turns out, I wasn't right for a senior role, but the recruiter told me not to give up, and I didn't. I reapplied for another position in March, and she asked me if I'd be interested in joining the team on the client-facing side, as part of the agency. I've worked in an agency setting before, and I loved it, so I said yes. The interview process convinced me even more that this was the right fit for me, and I'm so glad that I didn't give up! It just goes to show you that showing particular enthusiasm about a company or a type of role can go a long way—and so can finding a recruiter who you click with!

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

While I was still in college, I worked at a media agency, as I mentioned before. In that role, I wasn't dedicated to one branch, like I am now, because it was a much smaller agency in Western Massachusetts. I started there on co-op and was hired on as staff afterward. That job was crucial to getting where I am today. Not only did I learn a variety of skills and get to use more than one skill while I was there, but I also learned what it's like to work with clients directly, which was extremely beneficial for me later getting freelance work and now, working at an agency. In that role, I had an opportunity to work with writing, editing, graphic design, journalism, video editing, social media, PR, publicity outreach, and even customer service and administrative tasks. And the biggest thing that stuck with me? My incredible relationship with my supervisor, who I still speak with on a regular basis. She was my mentor throughout the process, and we really connected. I can't tell you how important this relationship was for my career development.

“And the biggest thing that stuck with me? My incredible relationship with my supervisor, who I still speak with on a regular basis. She was my mentor throughout the process, and we really connected. I can’t tell you how important this relationship was for my career development.”

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I took on three internships and several other professional development roles, including working freelance with two area nonprofits (Habitat for Humanity and Hope For Limpopo). I took a career prep class that gave me the opportunity to do mock interviews, practice my "60 second elevator pitch," and have my resume and cover letters critiqued. I took several other unique and useful classes, including special topics in freelance writing and advanced prose, which helped hone my skills and sharpen my ability to edit and refine my work.

I was an honors student, and I decided to do an in-depth thesis project on social media's influence on our relationships, which has been really helpful in my capacity working with social media and learning about human behaviors online and why they happen. It also gave me a chance to work one-on-one with a team of advisors, including a main advisor who I met with every week, and who gave me incredibly beneficial constructive criticism. 

I also worked on campus as a writing consultant at the reading and writing center, and as a tutor in almost 20 different subjects. My work as a writing tutor—and in the class I had to take to prepare to become one—was hugely helpful. My professor was adamant that all of us learn the importance of revising, and it actually changed the way I see the editing process for the better. She also inspired all of us to work on campus social justice issues. Because of that experience, along with three fellow writing tutors and the Student Veterans Association, I wrote a proposal for a veterans' center to be created on campus—and it's now in the process of becoming real.

I presented my work at five conferences, which was wonderful for my public speaking and presentation skills, and gave me the confidence I really needed when I was asked back as an alumni speaker for my college's annual English department award ceremony. 

Making connections was the best thing I did in college, though, as much as every professional experience gave me useful technical skills and practice. My work on Dear Hope came directly from the writing tutor veterans' center project, because DH's founder was a part of our four-person group. He and I have remained really close, and we believe in the same things, which is why Dear Hope is a perfect project to collaborate on. My relationships with supervisors and professors in college were also crucial. I still ask my former professors for career and professional advice (they're probably sick of me!), and connect with them about what I'm up to. The only reason I was invited back as a distinguished alumni is probably because I've kept up such strong connections. I've worked with my former professors, Catherine Savini and Beverly Army Williams, on their new website MotherShould? www.mothershould.com, and I've kept in contact with many colleagues and classmates, too.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t get a job with an English degree. You can get so MANY jobs with one! In today’s fast-paced digital age, an excellent writer is a necessary skill to get people’s attention and keep it.”

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Do it! Don't let anyone tell you that you can't get a job with an English degree. You can get so MANY jobs with one! In today's fast-paced digital age, an excellent writer is a necessary skill to get people's attention and keep it. You also don't need to be a full-time writer just because you have an English degree. People with English degrees can go to jobs in editing, digital and social media, PR, marketing, publishing, and many other fields. There are no limits unless you create them for yourself by saying that you can't do it.

Also, connect with fellow English majors and ask English grads what they're doing. Get a feel for what you might want to do early on, and try it out via an internship or co-op. Find out what your passions are and go for it! And don't be afraid to ask people in your dream job how they got there and what their advice is!

Visit AlainaLeary.com to learn more about Alaina and her work, and connect with her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter


Erin Windheim: Clerical Support Specialist

Name: Erin Windheim (formerly Erin Reilly. I got married in July of 2014)

Age: 29

College & Majors/Minors: I graduated Suma Cum Laude from Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO with a degree in English - Creative Writing

Current Location: I currently live in Denver, CO.

Current Form of Employment: I am a Clerical Support Specialist IV, Quality Assurance

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work at the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center (RMPDC) as a Clerical Support Specialist IV for the Quality Assurance Department.  I basically ensure that our Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Work Instructions (WIs) and forms are up-to-date and compliant with FDA and client regulations. We are frequently audited by our clients and the FDA, so I help ensure that we are audit prepared at all times. Day-to-day tasks usually involve a lot of moving around getting signatures, printing things off, sending out electronic trainings, and updating our SOPs and WIs.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

I graduated from college in May of 2009 right at the beginning of the Recession, so you can imagine how difficult it was to find a job, especially a job where I could put my English degree to good use. I must have sent out hundreds of cover letters and resumes with little to no response. While I was trying to find something professional, I worked at the gift shop at the Denver Zoo. Nothing special. Just your typical retail type job. At that time I was looking for a job in publishing, and it looked like most of the good ones were located in Boston or New York. So, after working in retail for a year or so and enduring constant hounding from my parents about getting a better job, I decided to move to Massachusetts in 2010. I moved in with my step-mom's parents for a time while I searched the internet for a good writing-related job.

My current work space.

My current work space.

After a couple of months, I got a job as a proofreader for a software development company in Billerica, MA called M&R Consultants Corporation. I think I found them through Monster.com. I mostly proofread storyboards and e-Learning sites for a multitude of companies, including Papa John's and Pearson. The company was pretty small with about 8-12 employees. Not a bad job, but because it was so small, there wasn't a lot of opportunities for advancement, so I moved on after two and a half years.  I worked for a time as a post-production assistant for a small production company called Award Productions. It mostly involved editing video files that were used in math programs for Pearson. I did that until the project ended, and I was laid off. Shortly after that, I moved back to Colorado with my then-fiancé.

Once I moved back to Colorado, I worked as a Quality Assurance Specialist for a small e-Learning development company in Centennial, CO called Tipping Point Solutions. I found their ad on Craigslist. They needed someone to help out with a major project for the US Army, and they appeared to be impressed by my editing skills and eye for detail. Unfortunately, I was a contractor for this company, which was really small, so once the major project was over, I was in danger of losing my job. So, I started looking around on Monster.com and found an ad for a Clerical Support Specialist at RMPDC. Thankfully, I was hired right before I was due to lose my job at Tipping Point Solutions.

My current job started out as a temp-to-hire position, so I worked as a contractor for a few months before being taken on as a full-time hourly employee. It took some time to learn the ropes, but I've been here a little over a year, and I've learned a lot and connected with my fellow employees. I enjoy doing something that I know is important and beneficial to the company as a whole.

Since I have always worked for small companies, transitioning to a large corporation was a huge adjustment. Lots of rules and standards and regulations. Lots of departments for various things, like Human Resources and IT. It's all very exciting, and for the first time, I actually feel like I was getting somewhere in my career. To me, this is what being successful looks like, even if it took me until I was 28 to find it.

My job has a STAR (Special Treatment and Action Reward) award they give out to employees who have shown exceptional initiative to solve a specific service problem or demonstrated excellent support of the company's values and goals. I've been awarded 2 STARs since starting almost a year ago.

My job has a STAR (Special Treatment and Action Reward) award they give out to employees who have shown exceptional initiative to solve a specific service problem or demonstrated excellent support of the company's values and goals. I've been awarded 2 STARs since starting almost a year ago.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I don't have another writing-related job exactly, but I did work as a writing tutor for a semester my senior year of college. I really enjoyed being able to use my writing skills to help other students succeed and grow as writers. Occasionally, I would get a student who would ask me to write their paper for them, but that was rare. Most students truly wanted to learn to be better writers and get better grades on their papers. If nothing else, this job taught me how much I truly enjoy writing and editing... even if it made me a complete nerd.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I've wanted to be a writer since I was 12 years old, so I started taking classes to prepare for that at an early age. I actually took keyboarding in high school because I knew it would be beneficial for a writing career. People often see how fast I can type and tell me that they really wish they had taken keyboarding in school. Anyway... I took as many writing related classes in college as I could. Majoring in English-Writing was certainly helpful in that regard. One of the papers I wrote for a composition class earned me an award from the Writing Department, which was awesome. I also took several creative writing classes that helped me overcome my fear of critique while teaching me different writing techniques and styles. Everything I learned in these writing classes has helped me grow and change as a writer, and I have used a lot of the skills I learned in my own poetry and stories that I write in my free time. 

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

If you have a dream to earn an English degree, go after it. Even if you have family and friends who insist you won't make any money or you'll never get a job, do it anyway. You'll be much happier pursuing a major you love than suffering through a major you hate because you want to live in a fancy house and drive a fancy car. My parents wanted me to be a doctor or scientist or a lawyer. I wanted to be a writer, so that is what I got my degree in, and while I may not have gotten into publishing, I am very happy that I pursued the degree I did. It was fun, it was rewarding, and I learned so much about writing and about myself. So, don't give up. Don't get discouraged. English is awesome, and if you want to pursue that, more power to you!

You can read Erin's poetry and fiction on FictionPress.com, check out a story she's writing on wattped.com, and connect with her on LinkedIn!


Posted on April 17, 2016 and filed under Writing.

Eric Garcia: Novelist & Screenwriter

ERIC GARCIA is an internationally bestselling novelist and screenwriter, behind such books and films as the Ridley Scott-directed MATCHSTICK MEN and THE REPOSSESSION MAMBO, which was made into the film REPO MEN, starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker. His comedy noir ANONYMOUS REX series (Anonymous Rex, Casual Rex, Hot and Sweaty Rex) was made into a TV movie, and his novel CASSANDRA FRENCH’S FINISHING SCHOOL FOR BOYS is in development as a TV series, which he is writing and executive producing. He is presently at work on his next novel. As a screenwriter and producer, he is currently in post-production on the Brian Cox-starring psychological thriller THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, and in preproduction on his adaptation of John Searles’ STRANGE BUT TRUE. He lives in Southern California with his wife, 2 daughters, and more pets than are probably necessary.


Name: Eric Garcia

Age: 43

College & Majors/Minors: Went to Cornell as an English major, transferred junior year to University of Southern California as a Film major, then switched back to the English Major. Ended with a major in English and a concentration in Creative Writing (sorry you asked?)

Current Location: Outside Los Angeles

Current Form of Employment: Novelist/Screenwriter

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I’ve been very fortunate to have a career as a working writer, which is good because I don’t have any particular skills that lend themselves to anything else. I guess I cook relatively well, but if you threw me onto a line in a professional kitchen I’d be bleeding and scalded within minutes. I used to be a fairly proficient guitar player but nobody wants me in a studio. Oh, I’m crackerjack at hunting down random things on the internet. Does that count? Does that pay?

These days, I work primarily in film and television as a writer and producer, though I began as a novelist and continue to work in that world, as well. My actual projects depend on the day, factored in order by what’s most pressing, what’s most interesting, and what randomly seems like it might be fun to try out. 

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different). 

Well, my first job ever wasn’t writing-related at all—it was teaching test prep for Kaplan. This was right after college, and I needed a gig while I worked on my first novel. Fortunately, my wife graduated from college a year after me and went into teaching, which, along with parental assistance, helped pay the bills. 

Anonymous Rex
By Eric Garcia

My first writing-related gig came when I sold my first book, Anonymous Rex, a few years after I graduated. I’d been working on it for a year or so, showing it to a few friends here and there, getting notes, rewriting, making tweaks, and then left it in a drawer for a couple years. Finally, on advice from a friend (the classic “it’s not doing anybody any good sitting in a drawer”) I decided to find an agent. Since the book was… odd… I figured I’d have my best shot at finding someone who also repped other odd bits of fiction, so I went through my bookshelf and picked out the books I thought fit my style the best. I then called the publisher of each and finagled my way into finding out who the agents were (sometimes I’d ask for the spoken word rights, which are usually reserved by the author). Got a list of five different agents who repped the various books, sent out some queries with a sample chapter… and waited. 

Three of them I never heard back from (I’m still waiting! It’s only been 18 years!), one of them sent a polite no thanks, but one wrote back to say she loved the chapter and was eager to read more. I printed out the rest and shipped it off and two weeks later got a phone call from the woman who would become my first agent. Barbara gave me some (excellent) notes on the book, and while I implemented those, she began talking to editors and, long story (not so) short, a few weeks later she’d sold it to Random House. Aside from Barbara’s excellent salesmanship, so much of it was an amazing mix of luck and timing and specific needs, and I’ll always be grateful that it all happened as quickly as it did. I was 25, and just assumed at the time that everything would always be so easy. Ah, the folly of youth…

From there, I continued writing novels while slowly getting into screenwriting, starting with the script for the Anonymous Rex TV pilot (which eventually got shot a few years later as a 2-hour backdoor pilot for SyFy, rewritten by a different guy), and then slowly transitioning into a half-and-half career as the screenwriting started to take up more of my time. 

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

So I accidentally lied on that last question—my first paying job was not teaching test prep. I had two paying gigs when I was a kid that were both tangentially writing-related. First, in sixth grade, my friend Josh and I would dress up as Alvin and Theodore Chipmunk (Simon was “sick at home”) and do rockin’ birthday party entertaining for younger kids. We wrote the scripts ourselves, workshopped them as we got feedback, and made some cash while having a great time. I still do an excellent chipmunk impression, by the by; ask me about it if you meet me. Or maybe I’ll Vine it one of these days.

My second job, also writing-related, came about summer of my junior year of high school, when my friend Mark and I created a business called Up A Creek. Keep in mind, this was Miami in the late 80s, so there were old people and VCRs in abundance (and cocaine, too, I guess, but that’s not germane to this story), which meant that there were a lot of elderly folks who had no idea how to set up and program their equipment. We’d put out flyers, they’d call us, and we’d go to their homes, set up their devices with big bright stickers we’d place over the various buttons, and I’d write each one a customized manual on how to do whatever it is they wanted done—record their favorite soap opera, set a weekly reminder, etc. It was technical writing of a very simple sort, but more than anything else it helped teach me the need to be clear, specific, and concise (and, fine, I clearly haven’t learned the ‘concise’ part well, but cut me some slack here).

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life? 

I’d always planned on being an English major, and that was my intent when I went to Cornell. The English degree there had a lot of interesting core classes with some fascinating higher-level writing courses and workshops as well—but I ended up leaving Cornell during the winter of my junior year to transfer to USC. This was partially to join the USC Film program, as I’d decided that I wanted to get an education in screenwriting as well, but also because I simply couldn’t take the oppressive winters at Cornell any more. I was born in the tropics, I live in the desert. I need my sun. So at USC I was a Film major for a bit—before pivoting back to English, partially because I decided that I wasn’t all that interested in the technical aspects of filmmaking, and partially because T.C. Boyle was teaching the upper-level workshops for English/Creative Writing majors. I’d always been a huge fan of his work and was excited to have him as a mentor. His advice and guidance led me back to prose, and without a doubt set me back on a path to writing novels. 

My freshman year at Cornell, I’d been in an improv group called the Whistling Shrimp, but soon felt the call toward what I really loved, which was sketch comedy. Having been a huge Python/Second City/SNL fan for many years, I was missing the snap of a perfectly planned and executed scene. So I formed Cornell’s first sketch comedy group, called—probably unfortunately —the Skits-O-Phrenics. Yes, I’m aware the name is insensitive at best. Yes, as a student I was adamant that we not change it. Yes, I look back on it now with an eye-roll. But: we were all responsible for writing our own sketches, then bringing them in where we’d talk them out, refine them as a group. Sometimes they’d go up, sometimes they’d get trashed, sometimes they’d be reworked into something completely different. But we made sure they worked before we put them up on stage. If the experience did nothing else, it taught me the benefits of collaboration—especially when you don’t always agree with everyone else in the group. How to navigate those waters, how to take conflict and make it benefit of the work. That’s something I do every single day in the film/tv world (and to some degree as a novelist, though that really is a much more solitary profession until the editors get involved). 

Also, while I was at USC, I interned at production company called The Ruddy Morgan Organization, headed by Godfather producer Al Ruddy and his producing partner Andre Morgan. I started by answering phones and making coffee (which I only did twice because I was terrible at it, and they preferred another intern take over), and moved up to reading scripts, writing coverage, and doing whatever else they thought I might be good at. During the years that I worked at RMO (a summer and a year as an intern, then a year as a part-time paid hire), they produced a number of features, and it was fascinating to watch the process from beginning to end. The failures were probably even more instructive than the successes—how does something go from a fantastic 120 pages of paper to turn out… as something less? And this, meanwhile, under the guidance of a fantastic producer like Al. Some of it was in the writing, no doubt; some of it was in the filmmaking. Some was just the process itself. 

Finally, I also took the time I had during college and just wrote. Mainly short stories, a few scripts, but the point was that I felt like I had time to just write and not worry about the rest of it. I always felt older than I was, was always worried that time was passing me by—that’s my own personal anxiety folder—but I knew that college was a time when I could find my voice and get down on paper (mid-90s—we still printed things out) whatever I wanted to without fear of judgment or loss. 

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Write, write, write. Don’t stop writing. I know, everyone says it, but that’s because it’s true. Whoever you are, whatever your age and station, find time to write about whatever interests you. DON’T WORRY ABOUT SELLING IT. That will come. If I worried about selling my work when I started, I would have ground down all the weird, oddly-shaped edges—and I believe it’s the weird, oddly-shaped edges that sold it in the first place. The projects that have done the best for me have been those that I’ve created as a labor of love; the commerce came afterward.  

Immerse yourself in a bunch of different worlds, by the way. As a typical English/Theatre geek I took a lot of literature and drama courses, and assumed I wasn’t all that interested in science—but when I had to take a science course to satisfy some core requirements at USC I was fascinated and have now become quite the lay-science nerd—my feeds and flipboard are filled with subs and follows of all sorts of science-related matters—and I incorporate ideas I find in those subjects into so many of my projects. 

Obviously, I’ve been fortunate enough to use my English major as a foundation for what is clearly a writing-heavy career—but I really can’t stress enough how important I feel an English degree is to nearly any career that’s not specifically technical or engineering-realted. Proper communication is key in every aspect of every job out there—and in this day and age, written communication is more important than ever. 

Plus it’s fun. Did I mention that it’s fun?

You can follow Eric Garcia on Twitter


Posted on April 13, 2016 and filed under Writing, Screenwriting.

Christine Reilly: Author & Teacher

Name: Christine Reilly

Age: 27

College & Majors/Minors: Bucknell - Psychology and English double-major with a Concentration in Creative Writing. I got my MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College.

Current Location: New York, New York

Current Form of Employment: Author and teacher

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I teach fiction and poetry workshops at Sarah Lawrence College and the Gotham Writers Workshop, and my debut literary novel, Sunday's on the Phone to Monday, will be published in April with Simon & Schuster.

Sunday's on the Phone to Monday: A Novel
$12.50
By Christine Reilly

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different):

My first job was teaching middle and high school English at the Professional Children's School, a private school in New York City for ballet and modern dancers, Broadway actors, Julliard musicians, and professional athletes.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I had a wonderful internship at Tin House, the literary journal. I got to go through the slush pile and give feedback, which was a dream come true—reading all day!

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

In college, I read and wrote all the time. I also kept a diary, which comes in handy now that I'm writing a novel about college students. I also got to experience writing workshop for the first time, which is my favorite place to be. Now as a teacher I facilitate workshop. I love seeing that side of the creative process. There's always such a wonderful energy in the room.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

It sounds cliche, but I'd say follow your dreams but work tirelessly as you follow them. I'm doing exactly what I wanted to do in college, and I didn't let the naysayers discourage me! I did, however, learn to be unafraid of failure. I didn't have any publishing or teaching connections whatsoever, so I reached out to every literary agent and educator I knew to learn more about a possible career in those fields.

You can visit Christine Reilly's website here



Posted on April 11, 2016 and filed under Writing, Teaching, Publishing, Interviews, Interview, Author.

Rick Wiedeman: Instructional Designer

Name: Rick Wiedeman

Age: 49

College & Majors/Minors: Pitzer College (Claremont Colleges), BA English

Current Location: Dallas, Texas

Current Form of Employment: Instructional Designer

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I’m an instructional designer for Hitachi Consulting, the IT and business consulting division of Hitachi, which is one of the largest companies in the world (330,000 employees), based in Tokyo. Our division is in Dallas, with offices worldwide. I’m basically a teacher in a company, instead of a teacher at a school—I write curricula, teach classes in person and over the web, and create elearning on a variety of topics. It’s a lot of fun.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

My first job was as a subrights and special sales assistant at Viking-Penguin Books in New York. I fell in love with creative writing in college, and wanted to be involved in the publishing industry. On my first day there, we got a death threat for publishing Salmon Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and had to evacuate the building. That was a fun welcome to New York.

Being in publishing was one of those experiences that looked neat on paper, but in reality was rather boring, and had little to do with my skills or interests. I did light typing and filing, and answered phones. My salary was $15,000 a year, and as you can imagine, you can’t live in New York on that—even in the late 1980s. It’s one thing to pay your dues, but it’s another to be miserable all the time. After a few months there, I took a job as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster—$17,000 a year—and the work atmosphere was even worse. The woman who worked next to me jumped off the George Washington Bridge just before Christmas, and my boss mostly went to long lunches and schmoozed with people. I stuck it out for a year, got to be editor for one book, and left. 

After this experience, I felt lost. I returned to my college town, Claremont, California, and got into the PhD program for English literature, but this wasn’t what I expected, either. Grad studies are nothing like undergrad—it was applying obscure philosophical principles to books nobody reads outside of academia. I didn’t see the point in going into debt for this, especially with the poor prospects for recent grads (at this time, fewer than 5% of PhDs in humanities were finding fulltime work). 

“The computer skills I’d developed, combined with my English degree, made me attractive for tech writing jobs.”

I don’t blame publishing or grad school for either of these experiences—I didn’t know who I was, or what I wanted. I was still searching. For me, I learn by doing, and two years out of college I’d learned two things I didn’t want to do: publishing and grad school.

I went back to my hometown of Dallas, Texas, mostly to see old friends. I hadn’t lived at home since I was 18, and didn’t want to be one of those people who got a liberal arts degree and went back to live with their parents, so I slept on a friend’s couch and got temp work. The computer skills I’d developed, combined with my English degree, made me attractive for tech writing jobs. I think my first gig paid $10/hour, or about $20,000 a year, which was livable in Dallas back then. I worked for the technical training division of American Airlines, creating course catalogues and instructor guides. This was mostly layout in Quark and Adobe Pagemaker, which I’d learned working on the college newspaper, but also involved interviewing subject matter experts to build lessons, which I found interesting. 

The neat thing about corporate training is, you learn about a lot of different things -- technology, law, project management, organizational psychology. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys random documentaries, likes people, and who’s good at trivia, it can be a natural fit for a busy mind. Equally important, it paid a living wage, and I didn’t have to share a one bedroom apartment with two other guys on the Upper West Side and eat bologna sandwiches. I could be happy doing this in Dallas, and I was.

Due to my natural interest in technology, I’ve ended up working in corporate training for Microsoft, Siemens, McAfee, and now Hitachi, where I’ve been for six years -- the longest I’ve ever been at the same place. Maybe in middle age, I’m finally settling down. They give me great freedom to approach projects as I see fit, and it’s satisfying work.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

Everything I’ve done (teaching, ad copy, tech writing, corporate training) has been shaped and supported by my writing skills. To me, good writing is the result of clear thinking. What I really learned in college was how to think clearly. I’d argue that if you can’t write well, you’re not thinking well. Writing is the evidence. People who approach it as a separate skill are missing the point.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I was on a work-study program at Pitzer College—my financial aid was tied to keeping a job on campus that worked around my schedule. The first two years of college, I was a security escort. I mostly accompanied young women to the library, which was across three other campuses (Claremont has five colleges, a grad school, and a school of theology). That was a good gig.

“So, it was really the combination of writing skill and technical skill that shaped my career, though at the time I didn’t think of it in such formal terms. I just enjoyed writing, and needed a college job for gas money.”

My second job, junior and senior years, was running the computer lab. This was in the days before everyone had a personal computer. Pitzer is a liberal arts college, and most students went to the lab to type their papers. I was given the key to the lab. That was my entire training experience. Basically, I was guarding the equipment. As students complained about losing papers or not being able to print -- these were the days where the operating system and the word processing program were on the same 5 1/4 inch floppy disk—I slowly figured out how these damn machines worked, and found I liked helping people. It turned out to be two valuable career skills that I’ve maintained throughout my life.

So, it was really the combination of writing skill and technical skill that shaped my career, though at the time I didn’t think of it in such formal terms. I just enjoyed writing, and needed a college job for gas money.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Don’t leap into grad programs expecting you’ll find work afterward. I’ve had several English MAs and PhDs work for me on various projects over the years. Check the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and pay attention to job projections. It’s fine to have a passion -- mine is creative writing, and I do it every week, if not every day—but I don’t try to pay the bills with it. You need to live. And you probably don’t need a Masters or PhD to do that. 

I think a lot of people go into grad school to feel good about themselves—grad degrees are like grown up merit badges. There are more fulfilling, and less expensive, ways to expand your mind and use your talents. For me, that’s writing. All I need is a library and the internet, both of which are practically free.

“Getting that first royalty check the month after publishing the first book made me feel like a real writer. (That’s my definition of “real.” If you got paid, you’re a pro.)”

The great thing about writing and publishing today is, you don’t need to be in New York to do it, and frankly, you don’t need an agent and a publisher taking 87.5% of your royalties to get your stories out there. Though at first I resisted self-publishing, since diving into it four years ago, it’s been one of the best experiences of my life. The first thing I wrote -- a short novel about a father and daughter trying to get from Dallas to Galveston after an apocalypse—did surprisingly well. I made two thousand dollars. The follow up novels did OK, but were a bit indulgent, and got mixed reviews; that’s OK, too. I’ve learned from that. I wrote a supernatural horror novella, which did poorly, and am now at work on a psychological suspense novel. The only investment has been my time and effort, and it’s been a great satisfaction to me. Getting that first royalty check the month after publishing the first book made me feel like a real writer. (That’s my definition of “real.” If you got paid, you’re a pro.)

If I were going the traditional route, I’d have to spend at least a year getting an agent. She’d spend at least a year marketing my book. If it sold, the publisher would spend a year doing covers and editing and scheduling production... and all that assumes perfect success each step of the way, which seldom happens. You’re about as likely to succeed in traditional publishing as you are to be a movie star. 

I’m not anti-traditional publishing. I may try that route it someday. But I know enough about the industry to have realistic expectations, and I love the full control self-publishing offers.

My personal website is rickwiedeman.com and I’m on Twitter @rickwiedeman. I’m happy to talk to any of my fellow writers about my self-publishing experience, and share what little I know about traditional publishing. My ebooks on Amazon are here.


Anna Wenner: Editor at Hallmark Cards, Inc.

Name: Anna Wenner

Age: 23

College Majors: English and History Minor: Global and International Studies

Current Location: Kansas City, MO

Current Form of Employment: Editor at Hallmark Cards, Inc.

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work at Hallmark Cards, Inc. as an Associate Editor making greeting cards. 

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

Although I did have some part time jobs and internships in college, this was my first full time job. In January of my junior year I applied for dozens of internships, most of which I never heard back from. Honestly, it felt like I could have been tossing my resume to the wind and had the same effect, which was pretty disheartening. Then I got a call back from Hallmark for their Writing/Editorial Internship. The application for this internship probably took me the most time out of any of those that I applied for. It involved creating a portfolio of greeting card samples and insight as well as submitting more standard application pieces such as a resume and cover letter. Then, when I got called back, I still had an interview to get through. Although it took time, it was well worth it because I got the editorial internship. That summer I interned at Hallmark's main headquarters in Kansas City, MO and later that year I was given a full time job offer to be an editor at Hallmark. 

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

My junior year in college I was the editor for the opinion section of the University Daily Kansan, the KU student newspaper. This job was great as a resume builder, but more than that, it was a great experience toward learning what I liked and didn't like about editing. In this position I read and edited about fifteen opinion pieces per week, which meant that in order to save time, I had to adapt to reading faster, giving only the most important comments as feedback for the writer, and honing in quickly on the meat of an argument and whether it was well made. Moving quickly for the paper as an editor (and in other roles that I served on the paper before and after my stint as an editor) taught me the importance of deadlines and helped me learn to balance speed and accuracy in my work.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

More internships hands down. It didn't really feel necessary to me to apply for internships until the summer of my junior year, and honestly, that was coming into it pretty late in the game. I lucked out because the first internship I did in college turned out to be something I really wanted to do full time, but that's not always the case. For instance, during high school I did an internship at a newspaper and while I loved the experience, it made me pretty confident that I didn't actually want to be a reporter like I thought I did. If I'd done more internships either during school or during breaks, I could have felt more sure about what sort of job I was (and perhaps just as important, wasn't) looking for. For me doing more internships wasn't entirely feasible because I studied abroad the summer of my sophomore year and I worked a lot every other break, but I do think I could have made it more of a priority to find internships. 

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

I have two pieces of advice for my fellow English majors:

1) People told me constantly that I wouldn't know what I wanted to do for a living in high school because there were so many jobs out there that I'd never heard of before. They were right.

If you'd asked me in high school what I thought I'd be doing by now, I'm sure I wouldn't have answered that I'd be making greeting cards, because honestly while I knew someone had to be the person putting the words on greeting cards, I never imagined it was a job I could actually have. Being at Hallmark has made me realize how many awesome, entirely unheard of jobs there are out there. 

2) Take that weird, non-writing related job. The stranger the better. 

The job I'm asked about most often off my resume is never something writing related—it's my part time job at a cemetery. 

I spent every break for several years returning to my hometown and working in the office of a cemetery there. I helped digitize their records by doing data entry, and did some investigative work to try and recover records that had been destroyed by a fire a few decades ago. There was nothing remotely writing or editing related about this job, but it's come up in every interview I've ever had. Why? Because let's be honest, it's a talking point. From my point of view, I was better off taking a strange paid job than doing a handful of more stereotypical "English major" roles at my college. Don't get me wrong—English major related experiences are really important for all the reasons I listed before, but I do think a weird job helps you stand out. It helps too if you can tie it back to whatever you're applying for. For instance, I usually said something about how working on rebuilding the lost records in the cemetery taught me to think outside the box and explore new avenues for answers. 

You can connect with Anna on LinkedIn here, and follower her on Instagram here.  


Posted on February 25, 2016 and filed under Interview, Writing.

Judi Ketteler: Freelance Writer

Name: Judi Ketteler

Age: 41

College & Majors/Minors: English Major/Anthropology Minor (B.A. from Northern Kentucky University); I also have an M.A. in English from Miami University of Ohio

Current Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Current Form of Employment: Freelance Writer

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I’ve been self-employed for 14 years. I work as a full-time freelance writer. That’s meant different things throughout the years. At one time, my focus was primarily writing for magazines. Now, I do mostly content marketing writing and copywriting, working for corporate clients (and some small businesses). I’ve been able to successfully support myself through writing all these years! Not only that, my husband is a stay-at-home dad, and for nearly eight years, I’ve been supporting the whole family!

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job.

My first job out of graduate school was a sales job at a trade industry magazine. I found it through a newspaper listing. Searching for jobs online wasn’t really much of a thing yet (this was 1999!). I only took the job because I thought I could work my way into editorial. I HATED the job. I didn’t want to sell banner ads for web sites (remember, this was 1999, and banner ads were all the rage). I only stayed six months. Everything about the job was terrible, except for the people I met! I made friends at that first job that I still have today. So, in the end, something good came out of it!

I started freelancing in 2002, after I got laid off twice in row, six months apart. I had been working as a copywriter at a design firm. I liked the job a lot, but when the economy took a turn for the worst in the summer of 2001, I got laid off. I found another job right away, helping a start-up nonprofit in the tech world with marketing. That job only lasted six months, because after 9/11 happened, the tech world was devastated. Non-profits definitely didn’t have any money!

When I lost that job in spring of 2002, I was 27 years old, and about to buy my first house. I was crushed and had to pull the offer for the house (my layoff literally happened the day after I made an offer)! It turned out to be a blessing, because I was able to take the money that would have been my downpayment, and use it to start freelancing. I had no idea what I was doing at first! I had been writing on the side for the local newspapers. I kept doing that, but then also started pitching stories to national magazines (which paid exponentially better than local publications).

I felt my way along, and soon was writing for many women’s magazines (SELF, Shape, Health, Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Better Homes and Gardens, plus, a smattering of web sites). I also had some agency connections because of my time working for the design firm, so I landed some good freelance copywriting gigs. When the magazine industry took a big hit around 2009 - 2010, I moved away from magazine writing and focused most of my attentions on copywriting. That’s where I am now! I partner with lots of content marketing agencies and web design firms. I have small business clients, too, and I help with everything from social media to branding to advising on web design. I’ve also written a non-fiction book, Sew Retro (2010), and I partnered with a company to co-write another book, The Spoonflower Handbook (2015). I’m currently working with my agent on a young adult novel. 

“It’s been a really great ride so far, and I never imagined that I could make such a good living by writing, including years when I’ve made six figures. I had no idea that ‘freelance writer’ was a job when I was in school.”

It’s been a really great ride so far, and I never imagined that I could make such a good living by writing, including years when I've made six figures. I had no idea that “freelance writer” was a job when I was in school. I didn’t really have any model either. I just made it up as I went along, and found the resources and mentors I needed as I went. 

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I mentioned that I worked as a copywriter at a design firm. That was a really crucial thing, because it’s how I learned the ropes of copywriting. The only writing experience I had coming out of grad school was academic. So, I knew a lot about 19th century women’s fiction, but I didn’t know much about how to write for everyday consumers. I had to learn by doing. Copywriting really is an art. Not all “good” writers can do it. You have to set aside ego and figure out how to clearly communicate to a target audience. I learned to do this by working at that design firm. I never could have freelanced without learning those basics!

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Honestly, I wasn’t much concerned with preparing for post-grad life when I was in college, or graduate school for that matter! I concentrated on learning as much as I could, and getting as much out of every class that I could! Looking back, I can see all kinds of ways that I was building skills in college. For example, deadlines! In my world, I wouldn’t get repeat work from clients if I didn’t know how to meet deadlines. In college, I learned the importance of turning papers in on time—and that skill has served me well! 

Also, the ability to research, to follow a footnote or a thread of something—that curiosity has taken me to some fantastic places, professionally-speaking. I had such great professors in college. They encouraged me to follow my interests and work on developing my own ideas about books, characters, theories, etc. I still use the critical thinking and discernment skills I learned by reading texts and criticism (and then writing about texts and criticism). Critical thinking is a big part of any story or project: knowing what to include (and why), what to leave out, what to edit, when to dig deeper into, when to push back, etc. 

“No time is ever wasted if you are learning new things. Sometimes it’s a seemingly small thing, but you never know how it may play out in your career!”

In terms of the craft of writing, my college and grad school classes definitely taught me the importance of voice. One of my strengths as a writer is my voice—specifically, my ability to craft the right voice for the project. How could I have learned that if hadn’t been exposed to such a diversity of voices, from Virginia Woolf to Herman Melville?

I think there is a social aspect, too: learning to have intelligent, respectful discussions with peers. I was very shy in college, so I probably didn’t really bloom in this area until graduate school. But the ability to contribute to discussions in a thoughtful way—that’s been so important in my career, and it’s helped me network and develop really key business relationships.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

You may stumble upon the perfect job right away, or, like me, it may be a series of stops and starts, and then a bit of luck and timing and going for it. Try to take something from each experience. No time is ever wasted if you are learning new things. Sometimes it’s a seemingly small thing, but you never know how it may play out in your career! Also, do as much networking and connecting with other people as you can. I’m talking face to face conversations! I love social media (especially LinkedIn), and have made quality connections that way, of course. But never underestimate the power of showing up in person and having a good conversation. Sometimes, I think I owe the success of my career to my ability to have a really good conversation with someone.

You can see Judi's work on her website, www.judiketteler.com


Posted on February 17, 2016 and filed under Writing, Freelance, Copywriting, Journalism, Publishing, Self-Employed.