writing

5 Career Lessons it Took me 3 Years to Learn

by Marian Schembari on December 26, 2012


My inbox floods in waves. Every May and every December I get a few dozen emails from recent graduates who are frantically trying to figure out what the hell to do with their lives. For some reason they think I have an answer on how to get a job. I don’t.

But over the past few years I have learned a thing or to about work and my career and what I want out of work and my career. And there’s a list a mile long of the things I wish I had known after graduating college, things that only come from experience and making stupid mistakes.

Lesson 1: Get over your fear of falling.

It’s been 3 years now since I graduated Davidson College and if I knew right off the bat that I didn’t have to get a ‘safe’ job and the only way to be happy is to do what your gut tells you that you really love than I would have done things differently. I wouldn’t have settled for a boring office job, but I’m glad I quit when I did and traveled when I did.

Lesson 2: Get published.

If I had known how valuable this blog would be three years down the line, I would have started in college. Even if your job doesn’t involve writing, WRITE. Not a great writer? Learn. Seriously, the ability to have people from all industries in all countries to be able to see your work/thoughts/skills is worth the few hours you’d spend a week writing. And it doesn’t have to be a blog. This can be your school newspaper, someone else’s blog, your local paper, a community leaflet, whatever. It doesn’t matter. Point is, people will want to see that you’ve gone the extra mile and have ideas worth listening to. Plus, I can’t remember the last time someone asked me what my degree was.

Lesson 3: Start small.

When I was looking at jobs for the big publishers, they wanted other publishing experience, even though I was only 21. So take publishing for example: find boutique, weird, quirky or niche publishing houses (or websites!) and start there. That’s not to say you can’t go big, but in terms of being “realistic”, small is good. Plus, I LOVE working for small companies. You get heaps more experience and – surprisingly – the pay is often better for newbies.

Lesson 4: NETWORK YOUR FACE OFF.

Emailing strangers is a good place to start, but won’t be enough. Join MeetUp groups, email every industry leader in your area, join a professional organization, shell out for conferences, read top blogs and contact the contributors. Then connect with them on LinkedIn. You do have LinkedIn, right? These are the people who are going to help you get jobs and vouch for you. If any of them are near your school, invite them for a coffee. Meeting in person is ALWAYS better than email. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS.

Lesson 5: Hire a resume writer.

I used social media to get a job and I’ve been using it since. But don’t underestimate the power of a good resume. I hired Jenny Foss of jobjenny.com and had the guys at Loft design it. They both blew my mind. My resume is the best thing since sliced bread and every job I’ve applied for has at least asked me in for an interview since then. My newest job in San Francisco called me for an interview within 12 hours of sending my resume. I was offered the gig less than 2 weeks later.

While I want to say that I would have saved myself a lot of grief by following these lessons three years ago instead of now, sometimes you just gotta make mistakes to really drive a lesson home. What was the dumbest career mistake you ever made?

 

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The Blogger’s Guilt No One Talks About

by Marian Schembari on September 25, 2012


I recently wrote a post for Brazen Careerist about how neglecting my blog helped me accomplish some big life goals. The content of this post is so important – so near and dear to my heart – that I need to re-mention it.

Go here to read the full post. In it, I discuss what prompted a two month hiatus on this site, despite having worked so hard to get it to a certain point, as well as the life goals I’ve accomplished because I haven’t had to worry about posting every day.

What I don’t talk about is the guilt.

I’m at work by 8am every day and stay until 5 or 6. I rush home, then hop into class, where I stay until 8 or 9pm. I rush home again, then frantically shower and make dinner. Which is a bloody mission because I’ve had a slew of health problems recently, meaning my diet is severely limited and every meal is this major stress. Then it’s 10pm and if I want any sort of sanity I need five fucking seconds to myself before collapsing into – thankfully – a dreamless sleep.

But every day I want to blog. There is so much in my brain you have no idea. I love the online community and I love everything writing has opened up for me. So I wanted to keep it going. But with finally getting my yoga teaching certification (squeal!), work, couchsurfing and my health, there was never enough time for it.

So I let it go. But I never did it officially. I never gave myself permission to let it go, even for a while. Every day I wanted to be the kind of person who could fit in a post during her lunch break or whip something up first thing in the morning before work.

But I see so many other bloggers who just had babies sharing updates the day after they gave birth. And apparently if you sleep at night you’re doing it wrong because apparently to be successful you can’t ever rest because if you’re not working you have to be working on a side project.

Maybe I’ve been in New Zealand too long, but the thought of working when I get home from work AND teaching makes me want to kill myself. I want a life. I love blogging, but I love going out into the world more. I love taking epic walks on the beach in the Coromandel or flying to Australia for the weekend to visit my childhood best friend.

When I DO get time to myself I love going home and curling up in bed with a fantastic book more than I love reviewing that book. (And on that note, I really do owe you a dozen book reviews.)

My point isn’t that I want to abandon this site. I couldn’t. What I do want is an understanding of how people do it! Is it even possible?

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Find the Right Words: What Yoga Taught Me About Writing

by Marian Schembari on August 21, 2012


One of the biggest challenges as a yoga teacher is finding the right words. It’s challenging a lot of responsibility to be a conversational, fun teacher while saying every posture correctly so your students actually understand what you mean.

During our first long weekend we did an exercise where we closed our eyes while our teacher told us, ‘Lift your arms up.’ When we opened our eyes, some people had their palms turned out, some turned in. Some people had their arms parallel to the floor, others had their arms straight over their head.

This taught showed us how varied our interpretations are of the things people tell say.

Then, we found a partner, kept held our hands a few inches apart, and had to follow followed the other person’s movements using sight only. We found there was a delay between the other person’s movements and our own imitation of their movements. But it was easier to follow than simply hearing words instructions.

Then we touched hands. And suddenly imitating mirroring our partner’s actions was completely intuitive.

Words are always up to interpretation. And as much as I love everything about words, it’s sight and touch, that clarifies what we should do with those words. Through my blog, I can’t touch you. (Lucky for you.) So how do you understand? How do I know what I see as yellow is what you see as yellow? Does that metaphor even make any sense to you?

Fast forward a few weeks later and we all got reamed called out for giving the instruction cue ‘bring the right foot toward the right thumb’. What we should have said was, ‘bring the right foot TO the right thumb.’ Toward implies anywhere between where the right foot currently is and the right thumb. This could be two inches or it could be two feet. In none of those options though do we say the right foot should be directly next (to) the right thumb. We shouldn’t expect people to understand what we mean when our words aren’t exact.

I’ve never thought so hard about the precision in the words I use. I worry about grammar and spelling and flow. But never the difference between precision and exactness and attention-to-detail. With blogging, we tend to flap around, assuming the words we think up on the spot will be perfectly understood by our readers.

But every. single. word. matters. is of importance. means something. counts.

I’m a huge proponent for cutting copy. My writing process involves a complete brain dump that takes 10 minutes and ends up being 1000 words. I usually like to cut down my posts to around 500-600. Every word is scrutinised.

There’s nothing I love more than cutting other people’s copy though, because I have no attachments to them. And I think that’s part of the problem. We have such an attachment to the words we originally choose, that first draw us in, that we don’t scrutinise how other people might interpret them.

Have a look at the last thing you wrote. Hell, look at the last thing I wrote. When I said, ‘My writing process involves a complete brain dump’, did you understand the visual? Or should I have said, ‘My first draft is usually a 1000 word brain dump.’ Which is clearer? Does the word ‘brain dump’ even mean anything to you? Should I have used ‘free write’?

In the words of Mark Twain, ‘The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.’

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An Open Letter to “Writers” on the Internet

by Marian Schembari on December 7, 2011


Dear So-Called “Writers” on the Internet,

I’m gonna to give it to you straight: You’re driving me crazypants. You’re making my life difficult. I am so. fucking. over Googling Very Important Things like “painting wood laminate” or “how to make the cat stop pooping in the tub” (true story) and having to slog through completely irrelevant and useless articles from eHow and Yahoo! Answers. Your link baiting tricks aren’t making our lives any easier. You’re preventing people from finding websites that actually provide quality content. You’re preventing us from solving life’s Big Problems and learning things about things in the Real World. I shouldn’t have to dig through massive piles of shit also known as Search Engine Optimized Content because you want to increase your page rank.

Exhibit A: One of you recently wrote an article on Social Media Today, Why Community Managers are Like Bacon. You start off with:

In this article, I am going to compare community managers to bacon. I am going to explain the similarities in characteristics between them. Before we begin. Lets identify what bacon and a community manager is in definition.

Then you end with this little gem of a conclusion:

These are my reasons why bacon and community managers are the same. I hope you enjoyed the article. 

What the WHAT?

First of all, that’s how I wrote when I was seven before getting told off by my teacher who sternly lectured “show, don’t tell.” Secondly, I know everyone can’t write. Sometimes I’m barely coherent. But the fact that a relatively well-respected site – with the tagline “The world’s best thinkers on social media” – is publishing your garbage makes my blood boil. But because every blogger and their gran loves a metaphor and the word “bacon” features prominently in the headline, this is apparently content GOLD.

And while I’m on the subject of normal people not giving a crap about how they sound online, stop acting illiterate when posting on Facebook. Most of us aren’t Hemingway on this particular social network, but it’s like you actually truly 100% don’t understand how words are formed. Maybe you were drunk? All the time? Is there a disease called getting-plastered-the-second-my-hands-touch-a-keyboard-itis? Perhaps you should see a doctor.

To help refresh your memory…

When Gen X whines that the internet is making us all bad writers, they’re talking about you. When old-school publishers laugh at bloggers who call themselves “journalists” they’re talking about you.

Please. For the love of all that is holy. Shape up.

Hugs and butterfly kisses,
Marian Schembari

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The Blogger’s Fail-Proof Guide to Editing Posts

by Marian Schembari on October 26, 2011


Both of my parents are writers. They write for major newspapers, edit articles, have blogs and publish books. My 20 year old brother has written for The New York Times and Complex. My other brother, 21, has taken photos for the Times and his college essay was better than most bestsellers. It’s madness. I come from a family of geniuses.

Clearly.

But while you’d think it would be a lot to live up to, we all have our own styles. In college, I would send my Big Important essays to both parents for editing and get back two completely different versions. I’ve always SUCKED at editing, but lately… I don’t know what’s happening… I suppose I’m turning into my parents.

I’m loving it though. Not editing my own work, mind you, but I get off on deleting sentences. Reorganizing paragraphs. Adding a slightly different – but radically better – word to really hit the exact meaning.

So I’ve been reading A LOT on editing and writing tricks to make the writing on this blog something I can be proud of. While I can’t pretend to know the first thing about professional editing (let’s count how many errors are on this post alone), I am slowly starting to teach myself. And I’ve come across some amazing blogs and articles that have been really useful in terms of what words are almost always unnecessary, how to break grammatical rules with style and various ways to tweak a blog post so it shines:

Self-editing: 10 ways to tighten your writing

I use this post of Alexis Grant’s for every. single. thing I write. I go through her list and remove all the unncessary words and, when I’m done, my writing is that much stronger.

Improve Your Writing with these Editing Tips

While this Lifehack article isn’t the most creative things on the planet, I do need to be reminded to read over my posts backwards, out loud, watch for fancy words, justify each phrase… Basically, this piece is every single editing basic for whenever you need a good reminder.

Proofreading Tips

It’s absurd how often I turn to Grammar Girl. I even listen to her podcasts on the way to work (much to the embarrassment of my father who thinks I’m weird). While this isn’t her best post as it include the basics mentioned above, I like her emphasis on the fact that nobody’s perfect. That said, if you have ANY grammar questions, search the Grammar Girl site as she’s answered every issue you could possibly come across.

How to Use Language Like a Pro

As usual, Men with Pens knocks it out of the park. Ali Luke, writer extraordinaire, writes here about analysing the writing of your peers and blogger idols. I keep meaning to do this exercise with some of my favorites, but I learned some serious things about writing style and how to tweak my own from reading this post over and over.

How to Lose 30 Pounds of Word Flab Overnight

My favorite thing about editing? Cutting, cutting, cutting. I have a sick obsession with deleting words and turning a 900 word post into a 500 word one. This Copyblogger post by Sonia Simone is EPIC in that she really helps you tone down your words so your copy is as clean, easy to read and concise.

Two Techniques That Help You Embrace Brevity

Another Copyblogger post that’s worth bookmarking. I love the author’s use of concrete examples to demonstrate how much better your writing looks and sounds when shortened (and restructured).

25 Things You Should Know About Revisions

Chuck Wendig should know that I would marry him in a heartbeat. This post, as is common with Sir Wendig, is full naughty words, a no-bullshit-attitude and some seriously good advice. My favorite? “Multitasking is for assholes.”

I don’t even think I’ve broken the ice on all the great resources out there, so please share your favorites in the comments!

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