Writing for your career: 5 things you should know

The day job.

For 8 hours a day (ish), 5 days a week––I am a senior copywriter for an innovative, emerging, super rad tech company. But, I have been writing professionally for my career for the last seven years or so.

After finishing graduate school (I received my masters degree in professional communications, writing and rhetoric in 2011), I landed a job in the nonprofit space as a communications director. There, I not only wrote, but I learned the field of marketing and digital communications. As my career grew over a few years and I took on new opportunities, I become more focused on digital media and marketing, and less on writing. This was great experience, but ultimately, I missed putting words out into the world on a regular basis. However, while working in the nonprofit world––my food and cocktail writing was doing really well, so my creative itch was scratched and I was able to dig my heels into the world of digital and social marketing for social good.

Then, about eight months ago (after over six years in nonprofit marketing) I accepted a coveted senior copywriting position for a booming tech company. For two reasons, really. First, to write more and get back to my skills that I most relied on, trusted, and enjoyed. And second, for more career growth/money/upward mobility. I was ready to leave the nonprofit world behind and join the ranks of the fast-paced, innovative, exciting world of technology––as a writer.

It was an intense transition. More intense than I could have anticipated. I had become used to being the expert––highly fluent in the language my nonprofit world had given me. The tech industry was a whole new universe, with new challenges and a new language all its own (blockchain, IoT, HTML languages anyone)?

Through this transition, and now 100% focused on creating copy, I’ve learned heaps about what it means to be a writer, not as a creative writer––but as a career writer.

So, here’s some advice from lil’ ol me, if you happen to be someone who is looking to write and make money as a content producer or copywriter.

Let’s break it down:

1. Embrace the red pen

The most important lesson you can learn as you embark on your career in writing, whether that is as a copywriter or content creator of any kind, is to embrace (and not fear) the red pen. This can be especially hard for early writers in their career, and it was super hard for me for a long time.

After writing for college and graduate school for so long, I became very aware that the less red pen on my papers, the better. I don’t find that this is alway so for a career writer. Sure, it is nice to have something come back with little or no edits––but if you want to really grow and understand the brand you are writing for, you have to embrace, expect, and appreciate edits and changes that are made to your work.

You absolutely CAN NOT take edits personally. I have become a good writer because of people I respect and admire making edits to my work. And then, you might have to re-learn again once you move to a new job or brand because edits can be totally different based on messaging and organizational writing guidelines. Oxford comma, no oxford comma. We say ‘this’ and we don’t say ‘that’. It is ever-changing and always should be.

Those red marks can still feel harsh at times, but to be successful you have to learn to brush it off and realize that your reaction to edits is your own responsibility.

Love the red pen.

2. Learning new messaging is difficult

Just because you can write, doesn’t mean you will automatically nail the messaging. When I started in nonprofit, it took me at least six to eight months to start feeling comfortable in the language that was expected of my copy. It took probably two years before I would say I was nailing it on a regular basis. And even after six years, I had to reframe and retrain my habits as we grew and adopted different messaging as things became more important or faded into the background.

When I entered the world of tech, it was like moving to another country. Totally foreign. Sure, I knew I could write––but there is nothing that will make you second guess yourself like trying to write in a new language. I googled a lot of things; I probably spent half of my days learning messaging and branding and trying to understand tech lingo. I watched endless videos and scoured my company website. And, I am still not proficient.

I am however, finally finding a groove. I am also totally fine and capable of finding answers on my own or speaking up with questions (even if I think they might be a novice).

Having confidence to find the information you need BEFORE you start writing will be vital to your success.

Above all, be patient with yourself.

I went through about 3 weeks of second guessing myself and my abilities as I transitioned as a writer into the tech industry. I had to find my confidence and give myself grace and understanding (which all of my co-workers offered up so willingly). We are hard on ourselves and we should give ourselves more room for learning and growth without the guilt and shame of feeling like we ‘can’t’.

Also, cocktails.

3. Write for your editor

Get to know the person who will be editing your work the most. Pay attention to the edits that they make, because the will likely make the same ones over and over until you start nailing the copy.

Get to really understand how they read your copy and what they expect from it. Do they always cross out superfluous words? Do they constantly nix specific jargon or rearrange phrases? Are they always putting statements into more actionable or active language? What is it that makes them tick?

Maybe you think your copy does the messaging justice (and you can usually argue your point), but in the end––if you write always with your editor in mind, it will save you a lot of time.

Then, create projects on the side––where you are writer and editor and GOD, and you can do what you want.

You know, just to even the universe up.

4. Your writing ‘personality’ does not matter

Or more so, your personal writing voice.

It doesn’t matter. But never fear, that doesn’t mean you can’t be creative, catchy, clever, or whatever else you need to be.

You need to embrace the voice of your brand or your client or whoever it is you are ghost writing for (I am getting better at nailing our CEO’s voice, currently!). Practice putting your voice away and work on bringing forth the persona your brand needs to be.

It can actually be really fun and rewarding when you get it right. 

I found that when I used too much of my personal voice in my branded copy, that is when I would get the most edits. And that is also when I would take edits more personally. Your voice mostly doesn’t matter when you are writing for work, so leave it behind and embrace the chance to be an word-actor for a while.

Then, go back to your personal writing to get your voice out into the world, because I am sure it is beautiful. 

5. Give edits with grace

I’ve been behind the red pen many times. And I always have to remind myself what it can feel like on the other end. Especially with a new copywriter.

Don’t just edit. Give worthwhile feedback with comments about WHY you are making your edits. And give praise where you can as well. 

A writer who comes away from a project feeling good about their writing will only write better. Yes, they can learn something and improve, but never let someone feel awful because you edited their work.

Be kind and offer solutions and reasoning. And, always give an example of copy they slayed.

Be a leader and mentor in your editing, not a jerk. 

In the end:

There is a ton I am learning everyday, but I know that writers out there are constantly searching for career paths and how to land the perfect writing gig.

I feel lucky that I have been able to take my career in a path that is fulfilling to me as a writer, and that allows me to you know, LIVE IN THE WORLD. And if you are looking to have a career in writing, copy, or content––I hope some of this helped.

Reach out —–≥ inthewayzine@gmail.com