The best thing you can do for your career is to write. Whatever your profession, there are opportunities to share your experiences, offer tips and tricks, and promote yourself through words. Writing is also an excellent way to brand yourself online, especially if you are looking for a new job or changing careers.
I believe anyone—even those that think that they are “bad writers”—can write elegantly. You just need to set pen to paper.
I began writing professionally by writing book reviews in my field (which I’ll explain in detail in a moment). In time, I was asked to join the editorial board of a journal and later invited to guest-edit an issue. About seven years ago, I was approached by a publisher to submit a book proposal that led to my first book, Managing Image Collections: A Practical Guide. Some of my graduate school papers became part of chapters in that book. Some time after that, I was asked to submit another book proposal to the same publisher. My second book, Project Management for Information Professionals, arose from my curiosity about how to work better on teams. At the time, I was working on two painful projects for my employer, and I knew there had to be a better way of doing things! My third book, Creating Family Archives: How to Preserve Your Papers and Photographs, is self-published through Amazon. I’m now in negotiations with a publisher for a revised and expanded second edition. I’ve also written review articles, peer-reviewed articles, chapters in books, posters, blog posts, and presentations.
Here are some tips I’ve learned from more than a decade of professional writing:
START SMALL Write a review for a professional journal. Editors are always looking for reviewers, so reach out to journals that interest you. You’ll most likely be placed on a list of other reviewers, and the editor will occasionally send out a list of books they have for review that you can claim. As you get to know the editor, he or she can put aside books of a particular topic for you. You’ll have about a month or so to read the book, then write a 500-1500 word review. You’ll wind up reading something you should already be reading anyway, you’ll get a free book, and you’ll see your name in print and online.
NEVER MISS A DEADLINE If you agree to a deadline, don’t break it. If something unforeseen comes up, alert whoever is responsible as soon as possible if you think your piece will be delayed. Make people’s lives easier by adhering to deadlines, and build a reputation for quality, timely work.
SEARCH OUTSIDE OF YOUR WORKPLACE I’m hesitant to suggest writing for your employer. Often, the writing doesn’t credit you and, if it does, it can be limited to how long it’s available online or in print. Writing for an employer is often undervalued. You’ll be expected to write more with little or no credit.
I remember going to an interview years ago for a database administrator position. The interviewer saw that I was an English major as an undergraduate and then suggested that I should be their newsletter editor too. That, along with several red flags, made me decline the second interview. It also opened my eyes to how good writing skills can often be taken for granted by companies.
It’s far wiser to write outside your employer’s realm to build your brand professionally. Lean into your career, not your job.
For instance, I wrote books, chapters, articles, and reviews while working for a past employer; when I got laid off, I left with a portfolio of my own work. Everything that I had written for them disappeared into the ether after I left.
DON’T TAKE CRITICISM PERSONALLY During the writing process, you will often work with another person—be it a book editor, proofreader, or journal editor. Most people are wise about offering suggested changes, as they know how it feels to be on the receiving end of critical comments too. I’m not precious about my words. I will never win a literary award, but I want to make sure that I am as clear as possible. If someone suggests a better way of phrasing my words, I take their suggestions.
IGNORE THE "GRAMMAR NAZIS "They always identify themselves that way, and they rant about Oxford commas too. What pretentious bores!
There’s a type of person who takes delight in pointing out other people’s mistakes. They often are your co-workers, which is another reason to avoid writing for your employer. I’ve worked with a number of these types. They delighted in pointing out a misused word. Interestingly enough, they never bothered to get anything published themselves. Grammar Nazis never do.
DISCOVER WHERE YOUR AUDIENCES LIVE Experiment with where your writing will be received the best. A blog post like this lives on my website first. I’ll link it to my social media accounts—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and some LinkedIn groups. I also import my blog posts on Medium. Different audiences exist on different platforms, and I want my message to reach everybody.
You might have a niche audience so a forum, listserv, newsletter, or other means of information distribution may work for you.
EDIT, EDIT, AND EDIT AGAIN You can always improve your writing. Nothing written the first time is good or should be. Rewriting and editing improves your text every time. The difference between adequate writing and good writing is revising, so keep revising—then revise more.
I often read my writing out loud and make edits. I’ll print out a hard copy, and revise further. I use tools like Grammarly, the Hemmingway app, and the Expresso app to catch errors. I also use text-to-speech readers to listen for awkward phrasing. You can also look at sites like Fiverr to hire copyeditors and proofreaders like myself. I enjoy revising so much that I decided that I might as well make money while doing it!
FORGET PERFECTIONISM No one is perfect so don’t expect your writing to be perfect too. Write good enough in clear language about something you are passionate about. It can be big or small, practical or theoretical. Just create something that you are proud of and share it with the world. You’ll be surprised how writing about an aspect of your profession can let you get to know people with similar interests. Your name will start getting known, and you'll find that new opportunities will start to come your way. Trust me on this!
Margot Note Consulting, LLC