A Writer of All Trades

resume-1799953_1280While I am relatively content in my current position, I still make an effort to scope out new positions at different companies every once in a while. It never hurts to see what other opportunities are out there, and so this morning, I did just that.

But after looking through the results that came up after searching “Content Manager”, I regret the amount of stress and exasperation that I put myself through at not even 10:00 in the morning. Good grief.

First of all, I saw a position for a Social Media Manager that offered minimum wage. Intrigued, not because I wanted it, but because I was wondering exactly how amazing their company must be to pay someone that little, I clicked the posting. Now, I can’t even remember what the company was or how absolutely wonderful they were (which speaks for itself), but I do remember the requirements for the position.

They wanted someone with excellent written communication skills with experience in Photoshop, CSS, HTML, and JS, as well as a Master’s Degree. Oh, and aside from the responsibilities you would associate with the title, they also wanted someone who could write speeches, prepare reports, and, a little cherry on top for good measure, someone who had management experience. For minimum wage.

Next, I was taken on a different kind of journey. This time, the job title actually matched my search for “Content Manager”. A good sign. The posting was fairly straightforward, but there were a couple of typos, which just goes to show that yes, they really do need a Content Manager.

Since the posting looked relatively interesting, I decided to move onto the next phase of pre-application investigation: I reviewed their website. Oh, boy. Here are some of the issues that I can remember:

  • On their About page, the company name was spelled incorrectly (an obvious typo).
  • They had links to their Team, Websites, and Company pages that just redirected back to the Home page.
  • Their social media links also went back to the Home page.
  • They had nothing on the site to indicate that it was under construction.

While this may not seem as bad as my first finding, I felt it was a bit of a slap in the face. Why? Because the hiring company expects applicants to put in time and effort to apply for this position when they can’t even take the time to ensure that their posting is free of typos and to even mention that their site is in development.

And, as a potential candidate, I was decidedly unenthused after learning that I wouldn’t be able to view their site or social media pages. Something that virtually every applicant will want to do before sending in a resume.

Next was a position from a company that not only spelled the job title incorrectly but that I had worked for in the past, albeit in a different department. I’ll be honest and tell you that I looked at this position mostly out of curiosity and not genuine interest.

Now, this posting was a little more subtle in its faults, but it was a perfect example of how writers, communications professionals, and content leads are expected to “do all the things” in a role that should be specific to their skills.

This job wanted someone who would communicate effectively with clean writing and grammar, develop a cross-country marketing strategy, and create content for online, print, radio, and everything in between, aside from a plethora of other responsibilities.

Now, it doesn’t sound that terrible, I know. But the issue with it lays in the desire to have a writer who can create content for so many different platforms. Yes, we writers are versatile, but just because we know how to write for one medium does not mean we can write in another.

For example, writing for radio is a writing specialization. Certainly, any writer who wishes to can learn how to do it, but it isn’t something that we necessarily just know how to do. It isn’t a ready-made skill that we have in a back pocket, picked up while we took a general communications certification or degree.

Job hunting is hard enough on its own, without all of the garbage job postings and unrealistic expectations these postings seem to be looking for. We are writers. We create content. That does not mean that we can also code a website, design branding, kill it on social media, and essentially run the entire marketing department for a company.

And for those of us who can, minimum wage isn’t going to cut it.

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On Teaching Substantive Editing

correcting-1870721_1920I have a small writing team of three that I am responsible for. These three are all fairly fresh out of school, and while they learned all of the basics while they were there, they are now coming to grips with the fact that theory and practice are two very different things.

I spend a lot of my time editing their work. Three full-time writers producing content means about half my time is spent using Track Changes. This year, we made it a goal to cut down on my time spent editing by having them learn to edit each other’s work, both through copy and substantive editing.

They have copy editing¬†under control. It’s straightforward. Look for misspelled words, incorrect grammar, do a little fact checking, etc. It’s the kind of copy editing that virtually every writer should practice and that virtually every writing program teaches.

It’s the substantive (or developmental) editing that’s giving me a challenge. While it is my preferred type of editing, and I do it well, teaching it is a whole different sack of potatoes.

When I sit down with a piece to evaluate it based on how well I think it was written for the intended audience, and whether the elements of it fit together smoothly, I do it through feeling. If you’ve done any substantive editing before, you probably understand that this type of editing isn’t based on rules or black and white dos and don’ts.

In all likelihood, you could give an unedited piece to three different professional substantive editors and have them all point out different things.

And that’s what has been so difficult. I need my writers to edit for the same types of things that I do so that the content we create is similar in style, tone, and quality when it goes live. If millions of people are going to be reading our work, I need it to be, at the very least, consistent.

But how do you teach three different people to apply developmental edits in the same way? I still have no idea, but I can tell you how we have started.

Although my job calls strictly for nonfiction content, I find substantive edits much easier to apply to fiction, at least when you are first getting started. Issues with plot, setting, vocabulary, transitions, and organization can be more apparent when you’re reading something that you haven’t written and that is outside of your normal content stream.

Therefore, I set to looking for a good piece for us to practice on. It couldn’t be too long, but it couldn’t be too short, either. It had to be appropriate for work, and it had to be in fairly desperate need of an edit.

Eventually, I happened upon Penny in the Dust by Ernest Buckler. At first glance, the story seemed relatively clean. Upon second glance, the issues started to make their way to the surface. Upon the third glance, I had about 30 comments in Track Changes suggesting rewrites, asking questions about vocabulary, and pointing out setting issues.

It was perfect. I gave it to my writers and told them to get to work. Each edited the story, as did I, and then we met to go over it. I was a little worried that we would all find different issues with it and that it was going to be hard to find common editing ground, but for the most part, we seemed to call out most of the same problems.

They, in their editing infancy, found fewer edits than I did, but they also pointed out some things that I had missed and helped to clarify some of the questions I’d had through their alternate impressions of the story.

I think they still have more to learn as editors, just as I still have to figure out how to be better at teaching subjective skills like substantive editing. But, through a good old fashioned workshop exercise, and a lot of discussion, we’re all starting to find common editing ground, and that’s what’s important.

If you are looking for a piece to practice your substantive editing skills on, I highly suggest Penny in the Dust. The main theme of the story is quite solid and works well as a strong premise, but the execution of the setting, plot, and dialogue is, well, you’ll see.

If you have questions about what edits we made, let me know and I may publish them in a separate post.

A Semblance of Balance

water-747618_1920When life gives you lemons, what do you do?

While some make lemonade, I neglect my blog. Not that I have been handed lemons so much as 34 bags of groceries that I am supposed to carry to my house in one trip. With four of those bags threatening to spill their contents in the driveway. In -40 degrees Celsius.

What I am trying to say is that I have been busy.

The older that I get, the more responsibilities I seem to have each day.

If I want to decrease my chances of having a heart attack and stay in relatively good physical shape I have to exercise and eat healthy.

If I want to expand my knowledge and understanding of the world and the people within it so that I don’t become an ignorant, crotchety old bat in my later years, I need to keep learning.

If I want to be emotionally happy and whole, I need to nurture the important relationships in my life by being present and available to those around me.

And if I want to continue to hone my professional skills, I need to write, edit, read, and learn as much as I can so that I stay on top of things and avoid looking like a fool.

With all of these things, and the limited time available in a day, I often feel as though I am frantically trying to juggle 4 calling birds, 3 French hens, 2 turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree all while sitting atop a unicycle going down the autobahn towards oncoming traffic. At night. In the rain.

The truth is, in order to maintain even a semblance of balance, you sometimes have to choose what to set aside in order to make room for something else. For me, that has been my blog. But now, since some things have quieted down, and because I have sorely missed writing about things that are not related to either publishing or my work, I am going to attempt to find some sort of equilibrium between posting all the time and never posting at all.

That being said, finding that balance may take some concerted effort. We’ll see how it goes. I am notoriously bad at keeping my blogs consistent.

Wish me luck.