How I Went From Hating English Class to Being A Professional Writer for Life
Growing up, I despised English class.
The countless reading assignments, the forced memorization of vocabulary words, grammar and syntax rules, the SUMMER reading assignments…
At the time of my adolescence, these things really just weren’t for me.
Once, in high school, I forgot to do a homework assignment heading into my AP English class. It involved drafting a piece of original poetry — I can’t remember ever really liking or connecting on an emotional level with poetry, to this day — that included a repetitive refrain.
So, in a last ditch effort to avoid scoring a zero on the assignment, I stopped by the computer lab before class, printed out a paired down copy of the lyrics to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, and turned it in.
The result? An A+ grade, of which I smiled (because I couldn’t believe it had actually worked) but was far from proud (because being somewhat deceitful always made me nervous — I was actually a pretty good kid, after all).
Now, whether the positive grade was due to sincere pity, respect for creativity, GNR kicking ass, complete and total oversight by my teacher, or some combination of the above, the world will never know.
But it didn’t do much to change my opinion of my least favorite subject.
Manufacturing Experience Through Writing
The turning point for me, if you’re wondering, came shortly after graduating college.
I left Penn State University in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Sciences & Technology, poised to join the workforce as a budding, young System’s Analyst or IT Consultant.
The only problem was the fact that the country was in the midst of “The Great Recession,” leaving me stranded and hopeless when it came to landing an entry-level job.
Over the next year, I applied to, interviewed at, and never heard back from countless companies. The age-old catch-22 situation I found myself in was priceless: I needed a wealth of experience in order to obtain a viable job, but couldn’t get that experience without having said job.
Then, it dawned on me. I needed to manufacture my own.
Blogging was still a relatively new concept, and social media was even more so. So, I applied to be a Staff Writer for one of my favorite tech sites — MakeUseOf (MUO) — and I started contributing 2–3 articles a week for modest pay.
Almost another year went by, but now I had some real credibility in the tech space. I had contributed some 200 articles to MUO at this point, started a personal blog of my own (the link juice I got from my author’s byline on MUO helped rank my site and get me a ton of “free” search engine traffic at the time), and grown my Twitter account to thousands of initial followers (remember, this was much easier back then).
Suddenly, my résumé was much more impressive, and it was all thanks to writing, both short and long-form.
Taking Writing From Part-Time to Full
That’s when I decided to revisit the job hunt, and boy was I glad I did.
I applied to a small startup company run by a guy whose work (and beliefs) I had become very familiar with over the past two years: GaryVee.
I sent in my résumé, communicated my ability and desire to help his aspiring team, and was given a shot at proving my worth in the form of an unpaid internship in New York City; A 60-day opportunity that I certainly didn’t take for granted.
When I was hired in October of 2010, I was the company’s (~)tenth full-time employee, operating as one of its first Community Managers. My day-to-day duties very much incorporated writing, as it primarily involved sending out written correspondence to clients and countless responses in the form of tweets and Facebook comments on behalf of brands.
Suddenly, I was getting paid an entry-level salary for my writing.
Over the next handful of years, the company grew at an impressive rate, and with that growth came new departments and positions. At a certain point, I found myself at a crossroads, needing to decide between two career paths: one in the account department versus one in creative.
I elected to go the creative route, understanding that this meant I’d be doubling down on a path that relied primarily on a deep understanding and mastery of the written word.
I transitioned into a Copywriter and then, eventually, Senior Copywriter role, drafting copy and creative concepts for everything from tweets to monthly content calendars to million dollar commercials and campaigns.
Before I knew it, I had gone from completely despising English as a subject to being at the forefront of exercising its creative use in new and interesting ways. I wasn’t just getting paid to write; I had, in effect, turned it into a career.
Next Steps in Life’s Copywriting Journey
Fast-forward to present day and I very much identify as a writer.
Through my time in New York I gained a ton of experience, writing on behalf of some of the world’s most recognizable figures and brands, in a variety of different formats, mediums, and roles.
That’s when I decided to turn my sights back on myself, furthering my writing résumé by concentrating spare time on building my personal brand.
I started writing, producing, and publishing content more consistently on platforms like Medium, which led to the creation, curation, and growth of an online publication and brand.
I’ve since left New York and moved in with my girlfriend out in Denver, starting a personal brand consulting company in the process. Now, with a handful of initial clients, we’re in the business of teaching others how to manufacture experience and credibility of their own, and we’re doing a lot of that through writing.