Name: Rhonda Watts
College & Majors/Minors: Central Washington University: English Language and Literature, Writing Specialization
Current Location: Tacoma, WA
Current Form of Employment: Full-time, contract, and freelance
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I am the creator as well as a writer, producer, and co-host of Pop DNA Podcast. We explore the connections between classic literature and current popular movies and TV shows, as well as the traces of historical and cultural influences in said media.
I am also a blogger on my own blog, Rhonda Blogs About Books, and I do some freelance and contract writing. I have a full-time "day job" at the moment, but I am hoping to be able to go down to part time, or even leave it altogether eventually, as I build my clientele through freelance, as well as my audience and relationships with sponsors and advertisers for my blog and podcast.
(My "day job," or how I pay the bills, is working in Vocational Rehabilitation, as a sort of translator or liaison between a worker who has been injured on the job, their doctors, employer, physical therapist, sometimes attorney, and any other party involved in their case. This involves a lot of research, textual analysis, and writing, so the skills I gained with my English degree are crucial to this job, as well.)
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
My first job after graduation was a temporary internship with an entertainment news website that I found through a typical job posting, applied, and interviewed for in the standard way.
Following the internship, I took on the role of Media and Community Relations Coordinator for a local history museum; this position included a lot of collaboration with museum education, which inspired me to pursue work in the education field for several years. I ended up teaching preschool and earning an Early Childhood Education credential in the process. Unfortunately, teaching turned out to be a very demanding and draining field, especially for an introvert, and I left teaching to get back in to the field of writing, communications, and media that I had originally wanted to pursue.
I had been writing on my blog for several years at that point, but only intermittently. I decided to treat my blog like a part-time job and create a posting schedule for myself, as well as work on defining my voice and focus for my posts, and create more of a presence on social media. After several months of consistency in these areas, I recently sold a sponsored post, had a piece from my blog featured on Medium, and I've been approached by two publishers to review their books. Using my blog as a portfolio, I also began to seek out sponsorship and freelance writing work.
Around the time I left teaching, I also decided to pursue the podcast idea I'd been ruminating on for about a year, and recruited a like-minded friend to partner with me. We learned as we went, picking up whatever technical knowledge we needed along the way. We've now been making the show for nearly a year, we've done one live show and are booked for another, we've been asked to speak on a panel for a fan convention, and we just signed with a podcast distribution network.
While I am in the process of creating this new job for myself, I do still need a way to pay the bills, so to speak. In my search for my current day job, I was looking for something in office administration or data entry, something that I felt I could do competently but that would leave me enough mental energy to pursue my creative projects off-hours. I found my current position in Voc Rehab again through a typical job posting, and was pleasantly surprised to find something that met my "9 to 5" requirement, but is also providing a useful service for people and uses my writing skills.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
Surprisingly, teaching involved a lot of writing: lesson plans, curriculum, newsletters for parents, documentation of students' work and learning, and even the stories I made up to tell the kids at circle time! So much of preschool curriculum is focused on pre-literacy and language, which are an English major's forte. Thinking about literacy and this language I know so well, thanks to my degree, in terms of a three- or four-year-old child who is just learning how to express themself with language and recognize written words really gave me a new understanding of and appreciation for language and literacy.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I read literature and wrote analytical essays and poetry and fiction for class, but I also read and wrote what I wanted. I read popular and YA novels (The Hunger Games books were huge when I was in college!) and I wrote crappy fan fiction and silly blog posts about pop culture. At the time, I had a vague idea that I might want to be an entertainment journalist, so I watched a lot of movies, I watched way too much TV, and I read the kind of material I wanted to write, as well.
While in college, I was also fortunate enough to land a work-study position with my school's Campus Life department, writing and editing for the Publicity Center's publications. This experience was key in helping me hone my skills in all kinds of media writing, as I wrote press releases and other marketing pieces, interviewed speakers and artists that visited campus, and had the opportunity to publish articles in the city newspaper.
I also listened to a lot of podcasts, which at the time were a brand new form of media, and that's really when the seeds were planted that I might want to do a podcast at some point, some day.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Don't be afraid to pursue what you love, but be open to the possibility that it might not look exactly the way you expect at first. In order to do what you really want, and build it into something that can sustain you, you may have to take on those "day jobs" for a little while, and that is OK! And also, don't be afraid of not knowing exactly what you want to do, and just exploring the possibilities. If you keep following your passions and interests, you'll find your place. And if you possibly can, write some crappy fan fiction, just to get it out of your system.