If you read my last post, you know that:
a) I got married
b) I got a real job
c) I spoke about my real job on a panel this spring at UCSB
d) This post is my nervous, pre-rehearsed answers to the panel questions, which I asked for ahead of time.
How did my background in Literature influence my work in advertising?
Studying poetry taught me to write clearly and boldly and eliminate fluff. To distill the message into the fewest, most potent words possible while maintaining tone and voice. This is useful when writing headlines, taglines, long form copy like product descriptions or voice over and even for captions and descriptions that only the client will see.
Reading aloud in class developed my oratory skills; a poem or paragraph comes off much better when you read clearly and audibly with confidence and feeling. And you can tell when you’re boring a room, by the shuffle and rustle or the keen silence. So this is a useful skill in interviews, brainstorming, presentations and pitches and in speaking to clients – whether they’re in the room or on a conference call.
Workshopping taught me how to look subjectively at my work, not be too attached to my words, welcome feedback and critique, and in discussion do more asking than telling. I learned it’s far more valuable to answer a peer’s question with a question of my own than explain something I was trying to accomplish in my work. I learned to eliminate ‘you’ language when discussing someone’s work – to be sure I’m talking about the work and not the creator. This makes it easier for people to receive feedback and criticism. This is useful when brainstorming, concepting and in the early stages of a project.
Explicating literature taught me how to choose words that work extra hard to evoke mood, tone and voice without seeming to break a sweat.
Writing fiction especially taught me to take on and fully occupy various p.o.v.’s and voices. This is useful when writing from a particular brand’s voice, and being expected to evoke its “personality”.
Studying literature was essentially studying the human experience. It nurtured my compassion, imagination and sense of possibility. It gave me a way to look for the humanity in everyone – and the story in any scenario. And if you haven’t heard, Story is, like the big buzz word in advertising now. You can’t eat a bag of potato chips without learning the freakin history of the potato chip company or potatoes themselves. They figured out that they can’t just talk at us about their product anymore, they need to try to engage us.
How did I prepare for a career while in college?
I constantly scoured the walls for writing contests, grants and scholarships. These supported me through school, vamped up my resume and may have helped me get selected for other programs.
I built relationships with instructors and classmates who have become lifelong friends, mentors and professional references. They have written me letters of rec, read numerous application essays, invited me to speak in their classes and even included my poems and songs in their teaching curriculum.
I trained as an English tutor, which polished my grammar and syntax skills and gave me a way to earn income outside of school.
I self-published a poetry chapbook. This was a way to put my work out there for others to see. To stop polishing the gun and actually shoot it, as Amiri Baraka put it. I sold them at my readings and shows, and they earned me what author Barry Spacks calls “jam money”. More than anything, this was a way to stand behind my work and feel like a real writer.
How did a Lit-based education prepared me for the business world?
Preparation for the business world is not a primary feature of Lit education. But the great thing about reading is that you can’t help but learn - not only by example – about craft, technique and device, but also the topic. Black radicals and the Radical Tradition. Linguistics of American Minorities. An entire class on Vonnegut. Or Jane Austen. Or Marx. Even if you read only fiction, you could learn a lot about building a small business in a metropolitan area, or the cost of running an aristocratic household in post-Edwardian England. Or the huge advantage of free labor during American slavery. And this understanding makes for a well-rounded knowledge base.
Is it really all who you know?
Yes it is, but who do you already know? My first freelance copywriting job was right out of highschool for Coldwell Banker’s, through my aunt who did graphic design for their ads. My second was for Van’s Shoes through the roommate of a guy I went on a date with. I gained an industry mentor through an email introduction by a high school friend. And the husband of a highschool friend got me an informational interview with my current employer after we met at a birthday dinner. I didn’t have to rub elbows at fancy parties or drink shots for any of these connections.
What advice do you have for students?
Write for free to get published. You’ll be able to look back at a body of work accessible to others. Also, when someone asks “Have you been published?” You’ll be abel to say “Why yes, yes I have been.” Nothing kills a conversation like answering ‘No’ to that question.
Work with people you know. Help out friends, family and small businesses. My husband and I redesigned my father’s brochures and business cards and album covers. It improve the look of his Charter business, was a great addition to our portfolios and led to more work from other small businesses.
Intern as early as possible, before you can’t afford to or feel like it’s beneath you. If it feels too late, look for volunteer opportunities.
Get obsessed. I call it the Owen Meany effect; when you tap into your natural passions and interests, you become an expert in something. Inevitably, your expertise will be needed, often when you least expect it.
Treach Yo’self. Spoil yourself with educational opportunities. Some of my faves: audiobooks, audio recording singing lessons, improv classes, online language videos, youtube yoga classes.
Always have a library card. Books, audiobooks and ebooks have been a huge part of my learning. Especially when I was broke.
Hoard opportunities to get involved. You make friends, broaden your network, tap into local resources and have fun for free. Toastmasters, Film Festivals, community centers, GO!
Stray from your job description. No matter where you work, continue to provide value and look for more ways to give. Take it from the menu-proofreading restaurant hostess.
Try a small pond. If you keep trying and can’t get your foot in any doors, spend some time in smaller community where cost of living is low and it’s easier to gain experience and contribute. The kinds of places where you have a good chance of being the lead in the local theater production; it’s still an honor, still a great experience, but easier to do. I moved from NYC to my native St. Croix for 3 ½ years before returning to LA to pursue a career. You can read about that in my post Treach Yo’self
education that costs a little
- The Book Shop – These weekly courses in LA and OC that get you ready-for-hire at ad agencies. Taught be people in the industry, not dusty professors. Endorsed by my agency mentor.
- Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater – Aside from excellent cheap entertainment seven nights a week, here you can study improv and sketch writing, musical improv, storytelling and sitcom spec writing.
- ioimprov - Another great improv theater in LA and Chicago.
- Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Almost Anything - Author/Teacher/Independent Learning Activist Kio Stark saves you thousands.
education that costs nothing
- Acumen – Pick a topic, get some friends together, learn! created by an organization that works to end poverty worldwide.
- Canvas - Free online courses, or you can teach. A co-worker of mine taught a memoir writing course, and she had 1,000 students!
- Annenberg Learner – The most recommended and respected method of learning French. The videos have great 90′s fashion.
- your local library – Audio books, downloadable ebooks, Idiot’s Guide books, comic books, movies, instructional dvds and more.
- classics – You can find most older and classic books for free online as pdf’s and audiobooks.
where to hoard opportunities to get involved
- meetup.com - A super quick, easy way to connect with groups around anything from playing chess to finger painting and beyond. Use it locally, or when traveling. There’s an app!
- Time Bank - The website is homely, and the application process takes a while, but it’s an incredible network to be a part of.
- Writers Guild of America - Dude, they have an entire library of film and tv scripts that you can go read! Lots of events, volunteer opportunities, resources.
- 826national - You can tutor kids through this org founded by author Dave Eggers.
- writegirl - Ladies, you can team up with a young girl to encourage her writing.
diversity programs /employment/internships/fellowships/best kept secrets
books that changed how i live/work/write
- The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko
- 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World-Class Brand by Al Ries and Laura Ries
- Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People by G. Richard Shell
- Street Smarts: An All-Purpose Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham
- The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Area by Teressa Iezzi
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
- Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland
- Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business by David Mamet
- On Directing by David Mamet
- Theater by David Mamet
- True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor by David Mamet