The Freelance Files: Issue 10

Gigs this week

Humane Pursuits published a profile I wrote about Erika Babbitt-Rogers,  a Laramie resident who owns and operates Wyoming Worm Wrangler. It’s been a while since I’ve written a profile — that’s newsroom-speak for a human interest story that focuses on a single individual — and this piece was a good opportunity to get back in the game.

Of all the news story formats, profiles are one of my favorites. They give you a chance to explore the world from someone else’s viewpoint. This type of writing also gets you out of your own head, which is a big bonus for introverts like myself.

Anyway, big thanks to Erika for driving me out to the family farm north of Laramie and showing me around. Thanks also to the Wyoming Women’s Business Center. Without their monthly networking meetings in Laramie, it’s unlikely that Erika and I would have connected in the first place.

Jam of the week

When I’m working, I like to pipe feel-good music straight into the old brain box. It’s a nice kick-start to the day, especially when I’m up at 3:30 a.m. preparing for my ESL classes or trying to wrestle a tough sentence into submission.

And this, my friends, is the feel-goodiest jam of them all, courtesy of Craig Chaquico. Enjoy.

Inspiration

This comes courtesy of Nellie Tayloe Ross, the nation’s first woman governor:

“At any moment of despair … this thought should give us courage — we can prepare for future responsibilities only by meeting credibly that which each day brings.”

Have a good weekend, friends.

 

 

The Freelance Files: Issue 9

Gigs this week

A few months back, I wrote about the newly rechristened Los Angeles Chargers’ plans to leave San Diego. They’re not the only NFL team planning to move. The Oakland Raiders have eyes on Las Vegas, where they hope to relocate and build a new stadium.

The relocation isn’t set in stone, and the Silver and Black still have several hurdles to clear. If they do make their new home in Las Vegas, though, it will be one more piece in the state’s plan to solidify its standing as a tourism hot spot. To read more, check out my story at VT Pulse. 

 

Jams of the Week

If you like your music a little on the weird and dreamy side, check out this track. Spotify served this up to me in a daily mix, and I can’t stop listening to it. It’s equal parts atmospheric and unsettling, like the opening track to your favorite creepy movie.

Speaking of creepy stuff, my husband and I recently finished watching “Stranger Things.” Wow. The series perfectly captured that mix of yearning, nostalgia and disquiet that I associate with the 80s. The score was pitch-perfect, so I was thrilled to see it available on Spotify. Check it out.

Inspiration

Imagination is more important than investment, and enthusiasm is more powerful than cynicism.

Have a good weekend, friends.

The Freelance Files: Issue 8

Last week was a busy week. Before you could say, “Holy Oxford comma, Batman!” it was Sunday night, I had nary an issue of The Freelance Files to show for it.

Anyway, here’s the installment that should have run on Friday. I hope you enjoy it.

Gigs last week

Kemper Arena sold for $1

Long gone are the days when you could buy a Whopper for 35 cents.* In Kansas City, Mo., though, you can buy an arena for $1.

That’s the deal that was recently reached between the City of Kansas City and Foutch Brothers LLC. The sale will allow the developer to convert the 43-year-old Kemper Arena into a youth sports complex capable of drawing both regional and out-of-state visitors. The deal will also help the city save roughly $1 million a year on maintenance costs, a city spokesman said.

If you want to read more, check out my latest story at Venues Today.

The Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act of 2017

Last week, American Muslim Magazine published my first foray into reporting on national policy. The piece examined the likelihood of the Muslim Brotherhood being designated a foreign terrorist organization and, if it did, what possible implications that could have for Muslim organizations stateside.

Robert McKenzie, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, was kind enough to explain exactly what the Muslim Brotherhood is. Like many people, I imagine, I had heard about the Muslim Brotherhood on the news, but I didn’t know much about it.

According to McKenzie, the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t an organization in the way that you and I might define the term. It’s not a cohesive movement with central leadership. Instead, the Muslim Brotherhood is widely dispersed, and its activities vary widely between chapters. For this and other reasons, it’s difficult to designate it as a terrorist organization per U.S. State Department criteria.

I also spoke with Hazem Bata, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, who explained how his organization might be affected by the designation of a group half a world away. It was an engaging interview, and I encourage you to read the entire piece if you want to learn more. AMM is a reader-driven, reader-supported publication. If you like what they do, check out their Patreon page. You can also donate directly to a story already in development.

Jam of the week

Here’s a little gem I stumbled across last week: “Deltitnu” by Aydio. If you like your funky jams infused with some vocal sampling and a down tempo flavor, I highly suggest this track. Pairs well with lazy Sundays and rainy afternoons.

Book of the week

I finally got around to reading the first volume of “The Vision,” the acclaimed comic by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and company. I’d heard good things about this book, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The narrative deftly examines what it would be like to be the cybernetic offspring of an android who decided to make — literally make — a family. It’s a moving story that examines family dynamics and otherness in with a depth you rarely find in realism.

Anyway, enough of me raving. Just go read it, will ya?

Inspiration

Where there is time, there is hope.

This is what I used to tell myself when I was working in newspapers and my deadline was looming near. As long as there’s time on the clock, there’s still time to turn things around.

Have a good week, friends.

 

*In case you missed that reference, it’s from a 1980s’ Burger King commercial. My parents had recorded some show on VHS — “Alf,” maybe? — and that commercial got recorded in the mix. Even now, decades later, I still find myself singing, “You could get a Whopppperrr!” Well played, Burger King. Well played.

The Freelance Files: Issue 7

Gigs this week

I spent many summers on my grandparents’ ranch in Colorado, so I know a few things about irrigation. In spring, you burn your ditches to clear out all the dead grass and gunk. After you turn on the water, you walk the ditch and keep a lookout for gopher holes. You have to plug those suckers good. Otherwise, they’ll make the ditch leak like a sieve. (Dad-gum gophers.)

I thought I knew all there was to know about irrigation until I wrote a piece about capillary irrigation mats for Cannabis Cultivation Today. If you’re an indoor grower, you can stick these mats under your plants, and the mat will help move the water to the roots. No muss, no fuss, and definitely no gopher holes. If you’re interested in learning more, go check it out.

This week, I also broke out my reporter’s kit and interviewed an honest-to-gosh worm wrangler. It’s for a piece that’s scheduled for publication at Humane Pursuits.

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I accepted the invitation to write for this online publication because they value well-written pieces that encourage thoughtfulness and reflection. I particularly liked this piece, which examines the myth that good writers — or any other type of creative, for that matter — are born, not made. There’s a pernicious myth out there that if you have to work hard to be a good writer, you’re not really a writer. That’s bunkum, pure and simple, and I appreciate another writer calling it out as such.

Anyway, check out Humane Pursuits if you need some thoughtful reading in your life. Or, if you need a break from buzz-worthy kittens and hedgehogs walking teeny-tiny tightropes or whatever else the Internet does these days.

Jam of the week

I love listening to smooth jazz while I write. When I need to get down to business, I turn on this playlist. Lyrics toss a wrench in my groove, so almost all the songs are purely instrumental. The one exception is “Got It Goin’ On” by Boney James. (Why, yes, Mr. James. I do indeed got it goin’ on.)

Inspiration

Keep your head, even when everyone else around you is losing theirs. Stay level and stay loose.

Have a good weekend, friends.

The Freelance Files: Issue 6

Gigs this week

When’s the last time you quantified how much garbage you made in a week?

If you’re like me, the answer to that question is “never.” Tracking trash has never been high on my list of priorities. However, it’s just one of the tasks you have to complete if you want to be a Certifiably Green Denver business.

I spoke recently with Amy Andrle, co-owner of L’Eagle Services. The cannabis retail store was the first of its kind to receive the City and County of Denver’s Certifiably Green Denver distinction.

The program, run by Denver’s Department of Environmental Health, evaluates businesses’ eco-friendly practices and management strategies in five areas:

  • Energy efficiency
  • Water conservation
  • Resource management
  • Alternative transportation
  • Business management

If you want to read more, check out the full story at Dispensary Management Today.

Fun stuff

I’m a fan of free stock images. (Namely, because I’m broke.) But, I get weary of the same old photos of writers, pencils, typewriters, etc. This week, I discovered Gratisography, and my life is forever changed.

OK, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but seriously. Here’s my favorite one so far:

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See what I mean?

Check it out. And, while you’re there, buy the man a coffee. Evil genius deserves to be rewarded.

Jam of the Week

This week’s jam comes courtesy of Welcome To Night Vale. At some point, I’m going to curate a Spotify playlist with all my favorite tunes from the weather section. For now, though, I give you “Having Fun” by Tom Milsom.

How do I describe this song? Imagine Patti Smith slamming poetry to the backdrop of flutes and syncopated drums, and you’d be close. Just listen, though. I think you’ll like it.

That’s about it for this week. Keep an eye on my Facebook page for photos, conversations and other nonsense. Also, if you’re thinking about landing a column in your local newspaper or picking up some freelance writing on the side, read this blog post first. It will help you establish a good relationship with your editor.

Inspiration

Things start moving when you do.

 

Have a good weekend, friends.

Photo credits: Pixabay, Gratisography

3 types of writers that drive editors nuts

Few professional relationships are closer than the relationship between writers and editors. A good editor can be your mentor, your safety net, your confidante and your friend.

Small things, however, can quickly erode the relationship. When the connection between writer and editor sours, it’s a misery for both parties involved.

Whether you’re a full-time writer or you’re looking to pick up writing as a side gig, it’s important to establish a solid rapport with your editor early on. Fortunately, that’s an easy task if you keep the editor’s pain points in mind.

Here are the three types of writers that drive editors bonkers, along with tips for how not to become one of them. Steer clear of these bad habits, and you’ll stand a better chance of getting on your editor’s good side and staying there.

Writers who turn in sloppy copy

Why it drives editors nuts

Few things irritate editors more than getting a piece riddled with errors. Editors are busy people, and they live their entire life on a deadline. They don’t have time to mop up a piece teeming with mistakes.

A few typos are forgivable. But a piece full of errors is the hallmark of a writer who has little pride in his work. Your editor has devoted her entire career to mastering the art of writing well and helping others do the same. She has little patience for writers who don’t take pride in their craft.

Don’t be this guy

The solution is simple: Read your work several times before you submit it. Better yet, have someone else read it, or read it aloud to a friend. Then, go back and double-check every fact and every name spelling.

Inevitably, a few small typos are likely to slip by. That’s OK. Just make sure your copy isn’t rife with misspellings, grammatical goofs and factual errors.

Writers who resist editing

Why it drives editors nuts

Editors edit. It’s their job. To ask an editor not to edit is like asking a fish not to swim.

So, you can imagine how editors get peeved with writers who insist their work is flawless and should be exempt from the editing process. Some writers will call up their editor after their work is published and argue with him over every change made to the story. (Seriously, this happens.)

Obviously, an editor should call you before making an edit that could potentially change the meaning of a sentence. And, he shouldn’t rewrite the piece entirely without consulting you. (That’s where the “mutual respect” part comes in.)

However, remember that editors are the gatekeepers of their publications, and they are ultimately responsible for everything that gets published. It’s their prerogative to make whatever changes necessary to prepare the piece for print.

Don’t be this guy

Don’t just tolerate the editing process. Embrace it. When you notice she made changes to the story, get curious and ask why. Show that you’re willing to improve and you want to learn.

Sure, it’s your writing, and you take pride in it. That’s good. However, resist every impulse to get defensive, and learn how to take corrections gracefully. Remember, you and the editor are on the same team.

Writers who don’t meet deadline

Think of a publication as an assembly line. At the front of the line is you, the writer. When you finish a piece, it goes to the editor, who maybe hands it off to her editor, who then hands it off to the design department, and so on. For the publication to come out on time, each department needs to hit its deadlines.

Remember what I said about editors living life on a deadline? It’s true. And few things aggravate them more than being behind schedule because a writer didn’t turn her work in on time.

Don’t be this guy

Be serious about meeting your deadlines. When your editor asks when he can have the piece, give yourself a buffer. It’s better to give a later ETA and turn in the story before deadline than give your editor an earlier date and fail to deliver.

Of course, delays do happen. A key source for a story isn’t returning your calls, and you’re having trouble tracking down a backup source. Editors understand this if you tell them in advance. The minute you suspect you may not be able to make deadline, let your editor know. The sooner, the better. You can earn brownie points by giving her a sampling of what you do have so far. This will show that you’ve been working on the story, not goofing off.

Your turn

What tricks have you learned for keeping your editors happy? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Photo credit: Gratisography

Reflections on “the good life”

Gigs this week

Diatomaceous earth. Ever heard of it?

Diatomaceous earth, or DE for short, is made up of the fossilized remains of phytoplankton or diatom algae. It’s fairly harmless to the likes of you and me. But, if you’re an insect, it’s a different story. As pests scurry through the dirt, the long-dead diatoms’ hard and porous exteriors gradually strip them of their exoskeletons, leaving them to dry up and die.

Bad news for the bug, obviously. But good news for cultivators. DE can also boost the soil’s water holding capacity and infiltration, making it a two-punch soil superpower.

To find out more, check out my article in this week’s Cannabis Cultivation Today.

The Pitch Machine

I pitched to a smattering of publications recently, including the new Wyoming Magazine. I also sent a pitch to Dialog Magazine, a soon-to-be-launched publication that’s designed to prompt conversations and build cross-generational connections in the process.

The issue I was pitching for revolved around one central question: Is social media depriving young people of the “good life?”  I had a whole slew of angles to pitch, thanks to friends who participated in a conversation I hosted on Facebook.

 

The discussion brought up some compelling questions. What role does social media play in our lives? Are we better off with it or without it? What’s it doing to our minds and our hearts? And, what exactly is the “good life,” anyway?

What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.

Also, check out my Facebook page for future conversations and chances to contribute to the Pitch Machine.

Jam of the week

This week’s jam: “Raise Hell” by Brandi Carlile. I have a soft-spot for Appalachian ballads, and this one hits every note, every point. The lyrics seem particularly appropriate these days.

You have a mind to keep me quiet

And although you can try

Better men have hit their knees

And bigger men have died. 

Genius.

Final thoughts

If you love it when comics and real life collide, check out this post from Pop Culture Uncovered. It turns out, U.S. presidents — both real and imagined — have made their fair share of appearances in the funny pages.

President Thor? I’d vote for that.

Have a good one, friends.

4 essential tools for great interviews

Let’s say you’re planning to build a deck on your house.  You’ve sketched out the deck’s exact dimensions, and you know how much lumber you’ll need.

What tools will you use to build it? Do you buy a nail gun, or do you use a hammer? Do you use two-penny nails or deck screws? And what’s the difference between pressure treated wood and a plain old two-by-four, anyway?

When you’re building something with your hands, the tools you use make a big difference. The same is true when conducting an interview.

The first step is creating your blueprint — drafting the questions that provide an accurate picture of the story and reveal the human aspect at its core. But even the best blueprints won’t help much if you don’t have the right tools for the job.

In this post, I’ll highlight the four main tools you need to interview like a pro. I’ll also describe my personal methods for each one.

Keep in mind that my suggestions aren’t iron-clad rules. Feel free to tinker with each one and find the method that works best for you.

Let’s get started. First, though, the usual disclaimer: I’m not getting paid to promote any products listed here. These are simply tools that I’ve found helpful.

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Tools of the trade

1. Notepads

Choosing your notepad may not seem like a critical decision. However, when you invest a good chunk of your day scribbling notes, the size and composition of your notepad make a big difference.

Types of notepads

Legal pads

You can get a lot of mileage out of one of these, and they’re widely available at most office supply stores. The larger pages also allow you to separate each page into different sections, if that’s part of your note-taking system.

Be aware that their large size might also be a liability. They don’t travel particularly well, and they can be difficult to use if you’re conducting interviews while standing.

Reporter’s notebooks

These slim little numbers travel well. They measure 4 inches wide by about 8 inches long, so they’re easy to slip into your jacket pocket or your pilot bag. Their small size makes it easy to write in when you’re on the go.

One downside: They’re a little difficult to find. However, you can buy them online in packages of 12 or so.

Also, because these notepads are small, they fill up fast. If you’re a prodigious note taker like I am, you’ll want to stock up. You can burn through one of these puppies quickly.

My pick: Stenographer’s pads

I buy steno pads by the handfuls. They’re big enough to hold several weeks’ worth of interviews, but they’re small enough to hold comfortably. Bonus: You can also find them at most stores where stationary is sold.

2. Writing utensils

Like notepads, pens and pencils are a small detail that make a big difference. When you’re taking quotes, you have to write fast. You don’t want a pen that drags or a pencil that easily breaks.

This is the one area where I’ve noticed reporters get particularly finicky. Some swear on red felt-tip pens, whereas others use only mechanical pencils. Again, go with what feels right to you.

Types of writing utensils

Pencils

Pencils don’t bleed when wet, making them a great choice for sports reporters and other professionals who spend a lot of time outdoors. If you get rained on, you don’t have to worry about your interview notes looking like a tear-stained Dear John letter.

Stick with mechanical pencils, though. They never dull, meaning you won’t have to pause mid-interview to ask your source if he has a pencil sharpener.

Felt-tip pens

Felt-tip pens yield their ink easily, so you don’t have to press down on them to make a good, clear mark on the page. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to take notes and feeling like you have to emboss the page just to make the ink flow.

On the downside, these do tend to drag, so they could slow down your writing. This is a liability when you’re interviewing fast talkers.

My pick: Ballpoint pens

A good ballpoint pen will glide easily on the page without smearing ink everywhere. It took me a long time to find a brand I like, but now I buy it religiously.

3. Voice recorder

The average English speaker in America utters about 150 words a minute. That’s a lot to process at once, especially when you’re trying to keep all the facts, figures and spellings straight.

That’s why I like to use a voice recorder during interviews. It allows me to focus more on the interview itself and less on trying to frantically scribble notes. Once the interview is done, I can review the recording to verify quotes. I’ve also found that I get a deeper understanding of the subject on a second listening.

This is one area where it’s worth putting down some cash. Good recorders aren’t cheap, and cheap recorders aren’t good.

Here’s what to look for in a high-quality voice recorder:

  • Stop, pause, fast-forward and rewind functions.
  • Variable playback speeds, which allow you to slow down the recording for easier transcription.
  • At least four hours of recording time. It may seem like a lot, but you’d be surprised how quickly you can use it up.
  • Lock functions to prevent you from accidentally deleting important files.
  • Indexing function. This allows you to set an index, or bookmark, at important parts of the file.
  • Built-in USB plug to allow for easy file transfer to a computer.

I’d recommend investing in an Olympus digital voice recorder.  They’re quite pricey, but mine has lasted me for years without any problems.

A word of caution

Voice recorders, like any digital device, can fail. They’re a good safety net, but they’re no replacement for a hard copy.

Be sure to always take notes even when your recorder is running. And, do make sure it’s running. If I had a quarter for every time I forgot to hit the “record” button at the start of an interview, I’d have a bungalow on the beach by now.

Also, be sure to let the source know that you’re recording the conversation. I say something like, “I use a voice recorder to verify quotes. Do you mind if I use it in this interview?” I’ve never had anyone tell me no.

4. Sticky notes

Sticky notes will save your sanity. I use the small ones — 1-3/8 inches by 1-7/8 inches — to index my notebooks. It saves me a lot of time I would have otherwise spent frantically flipping through my notes, trying to find a particular interview on deadline.

On each sticky note, I write:

  • The source’s first and last name,
  • The source’s title, and
  • The date of the interview.

I place the sticky note on the first page of the interview notes, making sure the edge of the sticky note sticks out like a tab. Then, I clip the rest of the notes from the interview together with a paper clip. This allows me to quickly flip through multiple interviews.

Your turn

Loved it? Hated it? Let me know in the comments. Also, share any special tools and tricks you use for conducting interviews.

Tracking wellness and teachin’ it up

Gigs this week

On Wednesday, Dispensary Management Today published a piece I wrote about a new app that’s scheduled to soon hit the market. The Wellness Tracker from Knalysis Technologies is designed to help medical marijuana patients track which cannabis strains best treat their symptoms.

Honestly, I never thought I’d be writing about legal cannabis. But, the more I’ve learned about it, the more fascinating it has become. Marijuana legalization is the nexus where social, political and economic issues meet. For a big-picture junkie like myself, it’s an interesting industry to cover.

Hi, teach

In other news, my main hustle now has a side hustle. I got word today that I’ve been accepted to teach part-time at VIPKID. I’ll soon be teaching English to Chinese students online. This means I’ll be able to dust off all the props and toys I used when I was a children’s librarian.

 

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Elroy the Rabbit rides again.

Truth is, I love teaching. I also love writing. My hope is to eventually leverage those two interests into a career as a freelance education writer. Because, let’s face it: Writing about education policy and early literacy is wicked cool. At least, it is for me.

Jam of the week

Funky synth solos. Check.

Hip-hopping back beat. Check.

In other words, perfect music for writing or chilling. Check it out, friends.

(I never pursued a career as a music reviewer. Now, we know why.)

Inspiration

“You have to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”

-Ray Bradbury

 

 

Hit the books, make bank as an English major

If you’re a working professional who’s thinking about going back to school, you’re in good company. Students older than 35 are projected to account for 19 percent of all college and graduate students by 2020.

But, a college diploma is a hefty investment. Pursuing an undergraduate degree at a four-year institution will cost you about $25,000 a year on average. It’s important, then, to choose a degree that will maximize your earning power after graduation.

So, which degree path yields the best return on investment? Here’s one route you may not have considered: Becoming an English major. Stereotypes of starving writers aside, English majors can — and often do — find their way into lucrative careers. (Public relations, anyone?)

PayScale Inc., a Seattle-based data firm, reports that workers with a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature can expect a median salary of $40,400 in the first five years of their career. Their median career pay jumps to $68,200 when they have a decade or more experience under their belts.

It’s not just about the money, either. Pursuing a degree in English can yield a greater sense of purpose. According to PayScale, 46 percent of English majors believe their work makes the world a better place.

Despite what you may have heard on the Internet, becoming an English major is not a one-way ticket to poverty. Nor is it a waste of time. If words delight you and grammar makes you swoon, rebooting your career with an English degree could the ticket to a fulfilling and well-paying occupation.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

First, we’ll examine some of the top-paying careers you can snag with a bachelor’s degree in English. Then, we’ll examine the hard and soft skills you can expect to develop while completing your degree. Finally, we’ll look at the versatility an English degree can provide in an ever-shifting economy.

Let’s get after it. Or, if you prefer Shakespeare, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”

What can English majors earn?

Quite a lot, actually. Here are some of the top-paying jobs for folks who graduate with a bachelor’s in English.

Technical writer

English majors are often associated with brooding novelists agonizing over their latest masterpiece. However, lucrative jobs exist in the non-fiction world, no starving or angst required.

Case in point: Technical writers. If you have a gift for making complex ideas comprehensible, then this could be the job for you.

Technical writers are responsible for drafting technical documents with the needs of their end users in mind. They write documents for products, and they sometimes supplement their writing with photographs, diagrams, charts and other visual aids to make the product more understandable to users.

The pay

Technical writers make good scratch. A senior position in this field fetches a median salary of nearly $80,000 a year.

What’s more, you can do the work in your jammies. Freelance job boards are flush with telecommuting gigs for technical writers.

Factors to consider

  • Technical writers usually don’t get a byline. If you’re seeking notoriety, this may not be the path for you.
  • The job also includes working closely with subject matter experts, so good interpersonal skills are a must.
  • Accuracy and attention to detail is essential in this line of work.

For more information

  • Freelance Writing has a library of how-to articles about breaking into the freelance technical writing field. It also publishes a job board with a variety of writing gigs, including those for technical writing.
  • The Society for Technical Communication offers training, publications and other resources for technical writers.

Director of communications

If you’re a director of communications, then your main priority is building and protecting your organization’s good image. This includes cultivating relationships with stakeholders, gauging the public’s perception of the organization, and communicating to internal and external parties during a crisis.

Public relations sometimes gets a bad rap for spinning the truth. In reality, though, it’s an honorable profession with ethics, truth and professionalism at its core.

The pay

The median salary for these professionals comes in at about $71,000 per year. The maximum potential salary can run as high as $123,000.

Factors to consider

  • People skills are critical in this field. Much of the job is building productive working relationships with a broad range of people, including reporters and other media professionals.
  • Top-par communication, both verbally and written, is essential for this role.
  • Directors of communication often develop long-range initiatives, so the ability to plan, execute and evaluate a plan is important.

For more information

Senior copywriter

Copywriters are responsible for the text, or “copy,” you see in a company’s promotional materials. Some copywriters work in a stable of in-house creative professionals, while others work with an independent agency that generates original copy for a variety of clients.

This is another job you can complete from home. Like technical writing, copy writing lends itself well to freelancers, and freelance job boards often have a robust selection of these types of gigs.

The pay

The average wage for a senior copywriter comes in at about $72,000 a year, but writers have been known to snag up to $97,000 a year. With that kind of salary, you’re guaranteed to steer clear of the “starving writer” stereotype.

Factors to consider

  • Like the other careers we’ve examined, this one requires solid people skills. These folks collaborate heavily with designers, product managers and business administrators.
  • If you become a copywriter, you’ll be writing about a wide range of topics, many of which may be unfamiliar to you. Curiosity and strong research skills are a must.
  • You must be able to write quickly and write well. If you can’t bang out polished prose in a heartbeat, don’t fret. These are skills you can learn once you master the art of the writing process and practice it diligently.

What do English majors learn?

Billy Collins once observed that majoring in poetry is like majoring in death. As an English major myself, I’d agree with that assessment.

Still, “moody navel gazing” isn’t the only skill you can put on your résumé when you graduate with a degree in English. You also develop useful hard and soft skills along the way.

Meeting deadlines

Read 300 pages of Paradise Lost by tomorrow. Then, write a five-page critical analysis of the themes of loss and redemption therein.

Being a successful English major is all about meeting deadlines — sometimes, seemingly impossible deadlines. But as anyone who’s worked a job knows, deadlines make the world go ’round. They’re a key part of being a professional.

The good news: A bachelor’s in English will teach you how to meet and beat your deadlines.

Writing quickly and writing well

Remember that high-paying copy writing job? You can only land high-paying gigs like that if you can pound out solid, well-composed sentences in rapid succession.

Studying English will whip your writing into shape, and fast. You’ll be writing. A lot. And that’s good. The more you write, you better you’ll get.

Added bonus: Your professors will give you feedback on every piece you write, which can help you improve at an exponential rate. Remember: Feedback is your friend. Welcome it with open arms.

Empathy 

Research suggests that reading literary fiction improves your ability to empathize, or understand what another person is thinking and feeling.

You probably won’t see empathy tests on a job application anytime soon. Nevertheless, it’s an essential skill for navigating both your career and your life. Empathy can be a powerful tool for leaders to engage and retain employees. It’s a skill we know we need, but we rarely get any explicit training on how to cultivate it.

Fortunately, it’s one we can learn through reading good literature, the kind that makes up the core of most university-level English courses. Plus, it will introduce you to a wealth of new ideas that will enrich your life and challenge your assumptions.

Talk about disrupting yourself.

Training for the future

Perhaps the most compelling reason to study English is that it lends you a great amount of flexibility. English majors can be public school teachers, professors, reporters, communications specialists, marketers, publishers and bloggers.

They can work in large companies or in small organizations. They can work for a corporation or work for themselves. Their mastery of written language opens a spectrum of opportunities.

The job market is rapidly morphing, and the data suggests that the “traditional” 9-to-5 might be evaporating.

The booming freelance market is just one indicator of this fundamental shift. Freelancers represented 35 percent of the U.S. workforce last year, and more people (including Yours Truly) are choosing to freelance by choice.

But no matter how much the market changes, there’s a good chance people will always need good writers. People will always have a message to convey, and they’ll always need skilled communicators to convey it with accuracy, clarity and grace.

Feed your writing skills, and in return, they will help feed you. And I’m not just talking Ramen Noodles.