I graduated from Bath Spa University in 2011 with degree in Creative Writing. After getting a 68 in my second year, I decided to have a relaxed final year; safe in the knowledge that I was almost guaranteed a 2:1. Not the most ambitious or forward-thinking move, but a forgivable teenage one.
On graduating it took me 8 months to find my first job. I slowly lowered my expectations and applications until I was gunning for part-time bar work. Eventually, like the buses I spent most of my time waiting for, two job offers came at once. Assistant Manager at a nearby gastro pub or Online Marketing Assistant at a Birmingham agency.
The former paid slightly more, but the choice was pretty obvious.
In the interview, I felt almost embarrassed about my degree and found myself trying to shoehorn my square-shaped experiences into the rounded job description. Little did I know that in the year of Google’s killer Penguin/Panda updates, I, a qualified writer looking to enter marketing; was the perfect solution to the agency’s problems. That was the first hint that my degree hadn’t been a total mickey mouse choice…
It didn’t take long for me to understand my new manager’s enthusiasm for my skill set, which until then I thought was preparing me only for a life of writing Tolkien fan fiction. Apparently a Creative Writing degree had taught me a great number of business skills, that all seemed to fall into place during my first professional role – and continue to prove essential today. These are, of course, all skills that can be learned, but came natural to me:
The gift of the gab is one thing, but when 90% of your communication is done via e-mail and scribbled post-it notes; communicating via text is an underrated skill. You’ve studied narrative and Hemingway’s brevity. You can get your message across without the need for a meeting. If you don’t know how valuable a skill that is yet, you will.
Navigating conversations and people
When you spend so much time creating characters and personas, then tweaking them on the feedback of your peers, you learn a lot about personality. You start to see a recognisable pattern of real-life people, their motivation and their aims. Eric Berne’s Games People Play is a useful insight to this, if it’s a skill you’re looking to develop. Navigating office politics is up there with learning Russian, raising children and deciding whether that dress was gold or blue.
Breaking the mould
Creativity is often an innate skill for writers. I don’t claim to be the next Steve Jobs, but I am open-minded and willing to dip a toe in new waters. Having this approach can be crucial in marketing, particularly in difficult niches. Breaking the mould doesn’t have to mean erecting a branded 50ft dinosaur on the M25, it might just be spotting some new software to improve your processes. Not sexy or stylish, but that willingness to experiment could make a big difference to your business.
Selling and pitching
Akin to leaving expertly constructed notes on the back of napkins, you should have less trouble than most in pitching an idea to your colleagues. Besides a common natural enthusiasm, you’re familiar with the nuances of conversation and persuasion that makes expressing your idea clearly and positively much easier. It’s not about side-stepping or hiding the negatives, it’s about presenting a balanced view where your audience don’t feel like they’re being forced into a decision. Think about the “show don’t tell” rule that was drilled into you and let your audience come to their own (your) conclusions.
Writing has no barrier to entry and everybody has an opinion. What makes it an exciting exercise, also means that you’ll face lots of criticism and rejection. I’m 26 and I’ve had more red lines and question marks scribbled on my writing than I’ve watched re-runs of Friends episodes. It’s made me a big boy and I can deal with it now – which means I can also cope when my ideas are overlooked, when suggestions are overruled and when my workload becomes overrun.
Being a walking thesaurus
“Let’s leave before Ross comes back.”
“Quick! Time to absquatulate!”
So I’m sure I’m not alone in being a writer at heart, making my living in the nearest-fit career that offers stability. At least, I was. I went fully freelance in January 2020, and it was the best decision I ever made. Global pandemic notwithstanding.
Moral of the story: study something that interests you, you’ll (probably) be fine anyway.