When you’re sitting in workshop discussing a story, you always see yourself in the future sitting in coffeeshops pounding out the great American novel, or at a literary conference chatting about the identity issues in Kafka’s work with other hipster writery folk, or striking the bad grammar from the submissions of literary magazines, or sitting in circle-the-chair discussions with students over whether characters feel real or not, or reworking a paragraph from your most recent short story, basically being super hip as a writer within the writer persona.
Very few, if any, writers of literary fiction think office, or cubicle, or corporate, or 9-5, or if they do, it’s in the “sell out” column on the list of future options. I don’t think anyone in any of my writing classes had planned to take what they learned and apply it to any other venture other than trying to get short stories and novels published. I definitely didn’t.
Right now I work in a cubicle, in a office. It happens to be on a higher ed campus, and I happen to overlook a quad, but it’s still a cubicle in an office. I work 8-5 (oy) and I get a paycheck and I wear nice things to work. A far cry from super hipster in the coffeeshop. You could say I’m not using my degree, or that I’ve sold out, or that I’ve given up, or that I wasted all that time and money.
But you know what’s cool? I oversee a website with a ton of information for students on it. That website’s copy has to be clean and clear, engaging and informative, which I certainly know how to do. The copy on those pages has to have a certain tone to it; the emails I send out to students have to have a certain tone as well. Sometimes I have to give straight facts about a topic, sometimes I have to tell its story. I have to edit down content to be able to express the same ideas with fewer words. Sometimes I have to combine multiple pages, and sift through what’s needed, rewriting as a I go. I have to solve communication problems. In the past few weeks I’ve had two new projects, essentially consulting on other websites in my department. The request for one was, “This needs to be written, to be more smooth and engaging,” and I knew how to do that. The request for the other was, “We’re not sure what’s wrong.” So I read through the site and pinpointed what was flawed in the content layout, and rewrote the pages in a more streamlined, storytelling way. I’ve also been pulled into some marketing meetings about telling the stories of the students on campus. And I launched a new feature on the site last year: A student blog, of which I solicited content and even wrote some sometimes.
What’s crazy to me is that my writing talent is seen as an asset and a resource, something to be called upon. I’m the go-to gal for writing! That to me is pretty cool: You either think writing has no value in a corporate setting, or that there’s no room for creativity in writing in a corporate setting. Both are false.
I have to write clearly and quickly, be nimble, and have a lot of tricks up my sleeves, and that only came from years of playing with words, and reading the work of those who played with words. Quick data points are like Hemingway. Long narrative passages are like Hawthorne. Content that is confusing and clumsy gives me the same challenge as critiquing another’s work in workshop. It’s all about clear, effective communication that engages the reader and helps them learn. The business world, especially in its move towards more narrative storytelling for customer engagement, needs the fiction writers!
(Also, here’s a fun link about being an English major. Enjoy!)