It’s hard to find a good writer. Goodness knows I’ve tried.
I think I’ve spent more time looking over CVs and writing tests than I have actually writing anything recently, and with good reason too. As well as my day-to-day work writing features for the healthcare press, I am also responsible for overseeing the work of our junior writers, and if they’re not up to standard, it soon becomes very apparent!
From my own perspective, there are a number of different factors that make the task of finding a good writer a difficult one:
- Experience vs. talent. Many employers will ask applicants to have X years of experience before applying for a given role. While experience is certainly useful, it’s only a very rough guide. This is because, simply, some people learn at a faster rate than others. What takes one writer five years to learn, may take another writer only a matter of months. Of course the same is true of any given job role, but as a (relatively) young writer myself, I often find myself held back by employers’ persistence in sticking to the policy of ‘you’re only good enough if you’ve been working for long enough’. Quite simply, some people are just better than others, and with writing in particular, some people just have it, while others don’t. In my opinion, when it comes to finding the best writers, there’s just no substitute for natural talent, but if you’re lacking a little in talent, then you need to have the following in abundance…
- Willingness to learn. This is a hard one, and almost impossible to assess. Everyone will say they are willing to learn at the interview stage, but when they actually get into a working environment, and are faced with a mountain of new material to pick up, jargon to learn and organisational process to get a handle one, that willingness to learn soon goes out the window! Of course, some people really are ready and willing to learn, and will walk over hot coals to try and learn the things they’re being taught, however having a willingness to learn is not the same as having…
- Ability to learn. Let’s face it, you can be the most committed employee in the world, but if what you’re being taught just doesn’t sink in, then it’s going to be very difficult for you to grow and develop within your job role. Again, as with my first point on talent and experience, some people just have an ability to learn, while others don’t. Personally, I find my ability to learn, and learn quickly is one of my key defining strengths. As a writer, this makes me very flexible, and certainly gives me an edge over most other writers who often only ever think with one side of their brain.
- Confidence. If assessing a writer’s talent and ability to learn is a hard task, then judging a writer’s confidence, you’d think, would be easy. But it’s not. This is because there is a very thin line between confidence and arrogance. As an interviewer, you don’t want a writer who’s arrogant, but at the same time, you don’t want a writer who ‘wouldn’t say boo to a goose’. Confidence is also a very broad term. From my own perspective it refers not only confidence in one’s self, but also to confidence in one’s own writing. Personally, I don’t have a problem receiving criticism if it’s justified. But even if it’s isn’t, I am confident enough in my own ability not to be easily knocked back by criticism that may be wholly subjective. In PR especially you need to have confidence and esteem enough not to let criticism set you back. I’ve seen too many people come to work as a writer full of confidence only to have the mask slip after the first few comments!
I could literally go on and on with this list, but that could get boring pretty quickly! As well as the above points, I think it’s important that anyone who wants to be a writer is also extremely widely read. If you don’t have a good idea about ‘how writing works on a page’, and how to really ‘read’ text, then you’re going to struggle. My other big tip to anyone seeking to become a professional writer is this: write, write, and write some more. The more you read, and the more you write, the more you will learn, and the more you will develop as a writer.
So, do you still think you’ve got what it takes? Great if you do, but now you need to show me! Sending me a CV that tells me you’ve spent the last five years working in a shop tells me nothing. But that’s a blog post for another day!
Until next time,