¡Viva PW!

When we launched beyondwords and crafted our blog philosophy, we made sure to start off with the question professional writers are so often asked: What is professional writing?

This is a question we are constantly finding new ways to answer, and it turns out that we aren’t the only ones.

Students at Michigan State University recently tackled this question in Professor Suzanne Webb’s Introduction to Professional Writing class. The result? A fantastic website, Viva PW, that covers professional writing genres, skills, and jobs.

Viva PW

As an alumna of MSU’s Professional Writing program, the creative welcome spoke directly to me:

So you have decided that the Communications department is a bit too …um… verbal for your liking, and that English is just… unmarketable. There is always the prestigious Journalism department, but it just seems so… constricting. Fear not! We too were once rogue writers like yourself, until we joined forces and pens in the Professional Writing Revolution. ¡VIVA PW!

Check out the site to learn more about the Revolution and witness for yourself the amazing job done by these professional writing students.

Professional writers in the media

Congrats to John Phillips, Andrew Saulter, and Tyler Smeltekop, the creative minds behind Tridea Design, who are currently featured in Capital Gains Media. These three entreprenuers are all alumni of Michigan State University’s Professional Writing program, and the feature gives the scoop on how they do business virtually as designers. It’s great to see professional writers being recognized for their innovation, so be sure to check it out!

Must-read for web designers

If you’re a student who wants to do web design work after graduating, then Andy Rutledge’s “The Employable Web Designer” is a must-read.

Rutledge talks about how it is the student’s responsibility to make sure they have marketable skills upon graduation, and he lists what he considers to be the minimum requisite skills for a web designer. Skills like written communication, public speaking, and business etiquette made the list, along with typography, drawing, and branding.

So web design students and recent graduates, what do you think? Are there skills that surprised you or ones that weren’t on the list that should be?

I liked that the list included skills that professional writers and editors need for their day-to-day work as well. For example, “Idea Communication & Support” means being able to communicate your ideas and your reasoning for your decisions, which is a skill you must have as an editor. Does your client need to know the mechanics behind your edits? No, but you do need to be able to communicate your understanding of their work and how your changes make it better.

The bottom line is that no matter what program you attended, you are the one who has to make yourself marketable to the business world. What steps are you taking to make sure you are employable?

The art of the business card

I design and print a fair number of business cards as part of my duties at my day job. Actually “process” would probably be a better word for the work, as for the most part, the design work has already been done and it is just a matter of plugging in names and phone numbers.  As a genre, I am fascinated by business cards. I love the challenge of seeing how many different ways I can arrange information in the same 2 x 3.5 inch space. And nothing was more exciting than the day when I got my own business card. There it was in black and white: I was officially a professional!

part of my small, but growing, collection of business cards

Designing a really good business card takes skill and thought — sure, your name and number on white card stock will get the job done, but what will make clients remember you? Especially for a creative professional, the business card is often going to be the first representation of your work that a potential client sees, so it better be well designed.

My two favorite places for business card design inspiration have to be Creative Bits and Kariann Burleson’s flicker page. These examples range from beautiful and elegant to quirky and sometimes down right creepy (see the “bloody business card” on part two of the collection on Creative Bits).

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In the Workplace with Suban Nur-Cooley

Name: Suban Nur-Cooley
Title: Communications Coordinator & Freelance Writer
Location: Lansing, MI

Suban Nur-Cooley

Tell us about your educational/professional background.
I’m completing my Bachelors in Journalism at the University of Canberra, Australia. I transferred from my Urban Planning degree knowing that writing was truly my passion. I’ve worked as a freelance writer for a little over three years, with BMA Magazine, NOISE, and most recently Capital Gains Media. I am also currently working as Communications Coordinator for the American Cancer Society.

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Social networking tools

In case you missed it, I kicked off the networking discussion with “old school” networking. Now let’s take a look at social networking tools, which allow you to still share inspiration and information with other professionals, but in the online space.

Location, interests, profession, education…you name it, you can be linked by it. The exciting (and somewhat addicting) aspect of using social networking tools is that you can actually see how you are connected to people and then use these connections to meet others. There are many tools available and since most young professionals have been using MySpace and/or Facebook since their college days, I’m going to focus instead on how you can use LinkedIn and Twitter for professional development.

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“Old school” networking

When it comes to finding a job, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” There is some truth to that statement, in that often times you find out about job opportunities from people in your professional network. You could be referred to a job opening that wasn’t on your radar, or hear that a friend of a friend needs some freelance work done. So when building your network, you need to be smart about it and do it for both professional and personal development.

A great way to start is to find out what professional organizations are available for your field of interest. Continue reading

Creative Freelancer Conference – Chicago

I came across this event listing and thought I would share.

The Creative Freelancer Conference will be held in Chicago August 27-29, 2008 (only a short drive for those mid-Michigan creatives!).

According to How (the organization sponsoring the event), the conference will offer “the answers you need to move your freelance business forward at the first and only conference for the creatively self-employed.”

The conference will address topics such as marketing, client retention, proposals, contracts, time management, work/life balance.

In the Workplace with Lauren Fox

Name: Lauren C. Fox
Title: Assistant Editor
Location: Chicago, IL

Tell us about your educational/professional background.
I studied in the professional writing major, editing and publishing track, for four years at MSU. I also worked as a copy editor for The State News for a year before being promoted to copy chief, which I loved doing for a year and a half, and was recognized as Copy Editor of the Year in May 2007. I moved to Chicago to intern at Venus, Chicago Agent and Miami Agent magazines before being hired as News Editor for the magazines.

Tell us about your current job.
In July 2007, I was hired at Associated Publications Inc., where I continue to work as one of two assistant editors of three national magazines: Complete Woman, Sophisticate’s Black Hair and Sophisticate’s Hairstyle Guide. I mostly write content for the magazines, but also do a great deal of editing and securing material via PR and salon contact. I have interviewed various celebrities and their stylists, such as Amanda Bynes (actress) and Cassie Ventura (singer/actress). Some of my favorite pieces are about fitness/diet/exercise, such as how to get bikini-ready in 30 days and an in-depth look at organic food.

What does a typical day look like for you?
Work starts at 8:30 a.m. every day. I typically get into the office and read/respond to emails for about a half hour. After that, it’s nearly impossible to set a schedule. Since I have three different editors, one for each magazine, they likely will call me at least 10 times throughout the day to ask for celebrity photos, updates from PR agencies on different stars and status/progress on my story assignments.

Between that, I generally work on researching and writing stories. I share an office with the other assistant editor and the associate editor, so the three of us work hard but also are friends, so we take time out to talk during breaks. This is the time when we get ideas for stories, as we discuss our weekends, love lives, sex, etc. Anything goes, and everyone shares. I break for lunch around noon, come back and get back to writing. Some days I have five interviews, while some days I have none. Some days I have to write five stories, while some days I’m so bored I organize my files and alphabetize transcripts. It varies greatly from day to day. The office closes at 6 p.m., and the work day is done. We keep such long hours because we have to be in contact with both New York and Los Angeles for PR firms, celebrities and stylists.

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The reward of volunteering

While volunteering means giving something of yourself without any monetary compensation, it is the personal reward of a volunteer experience that keeps people invested. But what about the professional reward?

Whether you’re a student, a recent graduate, or someone who has been in the workforce for a few years, volunteering is a great way to gain hands-on experience and build your resume. And, like an internship, a volunteer position may lead to a full-time career.

Volunteer Match is one of many online resources available to help people connect with volunteer opportunities. Below are some examples of the ways professional writers, editors, and designers can donate their time and talents while gaining more experience and professional contacts. These are all in Michigan, but you can define your search by state, city, or zip code.

Web Design: Update and maintain a nonprofit’s website.

Desktop Publishing: Promote educational opportunities through newsletters, flyers, brochures, etc.

Historical Research: Create a photo archive and collect oral histories.

Grant Writing: Write and research grants for a nonprofit.

If your volunteer experience has led to career benefits, such as a job offer, a stronger social network, or a better idea of what you like or don’t like to do, please share in the comments.