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101 Job Applications Later and 5 Things I Have Learned

1. Force yourself to think of the positive side – It is easy to start an internal dialogue while looking through hundreds of job postings that will tell you things like, “I can’t do that job!”  Or, “No way, that workload sounds overwhelming!” 

For example, one job posting I came across said you need to write 3,000 words a day!  But maybe I could write 3,000 words a day…it would depend on the words.  If I have to think up the creative idea in the first place AND then do the research AND then do the writing?  In that case, maybe 3,000 words each day is too much to come up with all on my own all in a day!  But if you are provided with 6,000 words, and they just want you to edit them down to 3,000, rewording them to make it more translatable and relatable, then sure, I could do that, no problem. (In addition to being a novelist, I’m an essayist, after all). 

Maybe you can do anything.  You do not know unless you at least try and apply for the job.

2. Never assume – Do not let your internal dialogue tell you at the outset that they wouldn’t want you for the job.  Never assume you know exactly what they are looking for. 

Someone wrote that job posting, and then you interpret the language, the list of skills, and if you assume just because you only are a perfect match for some of the requirements, (but not all, the way they worded it), that somehow you are a square peg for that round hole, then you are missing out on the chance that the someone other than you would actually interpret you as a near perfect fit, and then want to send you an invitation to interview.

3. Be bold and tell them why your imperfect fit is perfect – Many job postings are seeking a future employee or prospective employee that has a lot of experience in whatever niche market the company is in. 

In my experience, I know my skill set as a writer has been honed to a fine point in the last 15 years, but maybe my resume does not reflect that.  My resume shows that I am at the top of my field in education credentials, but so far, I only have one year of actual professional writing experience.  So, where I fall short when looking at most job postings, is in being able to prove years of professional writing experience by having a previous job in the exact same position as what they are looking for.  And really, I think, not many applicants are going to be applying for a job where they have had the EXACT same job before.  Instead, they have something that instead gives them the exact same skills.

So, find an element of your qualifications that represent the skills that they are looking for.  For example, myself, as an office manager and accountant for 15 years for my previous company, I also made frequent advertising decisions, even writing the tagline that forms the basis for that company’s mission statement to this day.  As an office manager, I wore many hats.  I have to remember that just because writing ad copy wasn’t my only job for them, that does not mean I wasn’t participating regularly in all the things to do with advertising, (including coming up with SEO keywords).  And, I gained valuable experience in all kinds of writing and communications, on all kinds of subjects.  This included letters and responses to clients (customer facing communications), writing and updating the business plan (grant and proposal writing), and quotes (B2B and B2C = what we do and why you need us).  That is a lot more writing skills than simply the title “Office Manager” can say.

4. Apply a second time – If you see a job posting come up a second time, apply again.  Maybe they didn’t notice you the first time.  Never assume they read your resume and passed on you, because maybe they didn’t even see it.  Add something to your cover letter to get you noticed this time, because at this point, you have nothing to lose.  Or, maybe they did see you the first time, but somehow you look like a better fit this time because of your tenacity to try again.

5. Don’t sweat the tiny mistakes – No matter how hard you try, even if you look everything over 3 times (5 times), later you may notice one tiny mistake on the last-minute change you made to your resume to tweak your skills to suit this particular job, or on the cover letter, etc. There is nothing you can do about it, let it go, try not to lose sleep over it. Perfection, no matter how hard we long to achieve it, is nearly impossible to reach. Near perfect should still shine through to get you the job. We are only human after all.

There, that was 900 words in 45 minutes, (and then 15 minutes of editing).  Maybe I could write 3,000 words a day after all.  Now, where was that job posting I saw that said that…

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Hardwired for Story

https://quotefancy.com/lisa-cron-quotes

“We think in story. It’s hardwired in our brain. It’s how we make strategic sense of the otherwise overwhelming world around us.” –Lisa Cron

I recently explored a writing opportunity as a web copywriter and storyteller.  I really appreciated that they called the work “Storytelling.” Humans are hardwired for story, and any piece of writing that puts people (characters) at the center of an action (plot) will be translated as a story.

Everything is a story. This is a story.

I can see that using characters and plot for advertising purposes is one of the best ways to engage an audience.  We are not only hardwired to listen to a story and take it in, but to relay the story to others.  There are many articles here and here where people much smarter than me have proved this hypothesis.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in grad school where I spent years studying writing, is that stories are made to be retold.  For example, even our favorite memes on social media are a hybrid of storytelling.  A meme advertises a concept in its storytelling form that is retellable, and advertising must capitalize on that.  The epidemiology of memes is exactly because they are a micro story, they are relatable, and therefore they ask to be retold.

If a piece of writing is not translatable as a story, we won’t have that feeling to retell it. Advertising that is storytelling at its heart will be the most effective.

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Skills Assessment: Good Cheap But Not Fast

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Recently, I have taken a few online skills assessments.  I have enjoyed them, even though I enjoy Pop Culture quizzes even more.  But I love challenging myself to find details other people may have missed, and the most recent assessment test was all about details. 

For me, what I love the most about looking for specific details is a throwback to wishing I could someday work for the FBI.  No, not as a field agent.  I wanted to be the guy in Clear and Present Danger that could hack a password based on combining other known details.  Not computer hacking where you have to be a code genius, but rather the unlocking of information based on combinations of other information.  I love it!

Of course, in Clear and Present Danger, the character that does this information gathering is Petey, played by Greg Germann, and he works for the CIA, not the FBI.  But it’s the closest reference I could come up with to how I wished I could feel in a job like that.  I like the feeling when I can solve problems for other people, based on information gathering, and Petey does that perfectly. 

Anyhow, back to the skills assessments.  The most recent one did have one thing that I wasn’t sure about; it was timed.  On one hand, just like Petey, there is a certain feeling that the faster I do this the more impressive I will seem.  On the other hand, what if I miss something or make a mistake because I am rushing the result.  And therein lies the rub.  I am not sure if it is more impressive to be fast and fairly accurate, or more impressive to be slower but have 100% accuracy. 

It is fairly difficult to have both, fast AND accurate.

Just like the sign above, good and cheap won’t be fast.  And similar to offering those 3 kinds of services above, you can have a variation of some of the services, but you can’t have it all.

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The Barnum Effect

I recently had a student write two versions of the same story.  The second version delved a little deeper into the character and explained little more about what was motivating the character, and this is a technique that certainly serves a story in many instances.  And some readers will absolutely respond to that extra depth and say without a doubt they like the second version better.  Myself, if a writer explains too much, I accept the story is entirely theirs, and I am entertained and enlightened.  But I felt closer to my student’s first version on a personal level because I was filling in some of the blanks on my own, which personalized the story for me.

The story was a character study of disparate individuals whose lives intersect at the park.  What I got in particular from the writing in the first version was the opportunity as a reader to fill in what I needed to about the story, based on my own life experiences, biases, and ideas.  In my opinion, leaving room for a little bit of interpretation when it comes to the character’s motivations will better position your reader in the story.  It’s a balancing act between telling the reader just enough to create an understanding, but then leaving out just enough so that the reader can fill in the rest of the blanks, thus creating a feeling of their own participation in the story.  Sort of like the Barnum Effect, the reader can fill in any blanks from their own personal script of experience, allowing them to feel personally connected to the story, in a way, like you were writing it just for them.  

I do not compare fiction writing to the Barnum Effect to impugn fiction writing in any way, only to point out every reader will connect with a story in their own way, if given the chance.

No matter what, I love stories, I love studying stories, and I truly appreciated the opportunity to read two versions of the same story, and then share my thoughts.   Ultimately, the student will decide for themselves which version resonates in its truest form to the story they wanted to tell. 

My final thoughts are just because you’re telling a story doesn’t mean you have to explain your story, even if you encounter readers who say, “Please explain what you mean here.”  I’m more along the lines of, “Wait!  Don’t tell me.  I want to figure it out for myself.”  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with stories that explain, especially when we are dealing with subject matters where we are craving an explanation in a world that confuses us at times.  But then at other times, we are watching events simply unfold, and I think it is better if you do not explain too much.

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Forms of Creative Writing: Letters

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the different forms of creative writing, and just came across one I had not thought of: letter writing.  Personal correspondence, or letter writing, has formed the basis for epistolary novels and stories, for example, Stephen King’s Jerusalem’s Lot and Jane Austen’s Lady Susan.

Letter writing was (I say was, because it is a dying art form) incredibly widespread and diverse, and is a wonderful example of creative non-fiction storytelling, done by everyone from famous writers, like John Steinbeck above, to the average literate citizen, young and old.

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Diversity in Stories

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I had a student make an interesting observation about the initial desire to leave the character open to interpretation, so that it could be anyone, entirely relatable.  However, she was also correct when she realized that actually made the character flat, uninteresting, not relatable at all. 

Generally, a reader already pretty much knows whatever the story situation it is that you are writing.  It could happen to anyone, but we do not want just anyone.  What readers want (usually) is how a specific character reacts to that situation, with all that is unique to them.  Same story but different because this character is different. 

And that is why diversity in publishing is important and will be even more so moving forward now that we have figured out the publishing industry was not giving us as much diversity as it could have.  Readers are drawn to diverse characters, and we want to know all of them, from all places, all walks of life.  And sometimes the most relatable characters, the most human, are not even that, (Spock, Frodo Baggins).  Omg, I just got goose bumps thinking of that scene at the end of Wrath of Khan…

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Anyhow, there is an incredible amount of diversity on this planet too, so I hope we can see and read as much diversity as we can moving forward.

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Why Does my Plot Need to Happen?

I think it’s one of those questions to reconnect us to why we started our story in the first place, to get us to keep telling the story if we reached a place where we weren’t sure.  Writing can be hard work, and if we ever feel blocked and frustrated, sometimes we just need to articulate to ourselves something like, I may not know why, but this story now exists only as a shadow, and it must be brought into the light.

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Fight Club, Oops, I Mean Writing Club

I’ve been really lucky, most of my experiences with writing clubs, groups, classes, (any get together to discuss writing), have been quite positive.

However, for some, I’ve heard they can be highly critical of new members and their writing, while not necessarily being award winning authors themselves…in fact, not even published authors, just creative writers like many of us, so who put them in charge of putting down another writer’s writing, instead of lifting them up?

Of course, some writing clubs are hit and miss, maybe some are just wonderful.  Heck, I suppose writing classes are hit and miss too, but my goal in a writing class is that we do our best to encourage and provide feedback to get to people going with their writing or get them to continue writing what they’ve already started, whichever one applies.

Sometimes writing clubs remind me of that scene in Gladiator, “Are you not entertained!?!”  It becomes as though the writer “owes” the group to be writing something that they, in particular, want to read.  But we all like to read different things!  You cannot write to please everyone, because that would be impossible.  And even some award winning, immensely popular fiction might still not be your cup of tea.  You can Google lists like, “Popular Books Everyone Loves but I Hate.”

So, I hope my writing classes are about recognizing everyone here are writers, who are looking to find their voices by reading about writing and then practicing some writing.  It’s NOT about the end product, and whether or not it “entertained” us.  It is about how each of us are trying to articulate our writing voice and is there any feedback we can offer each other to help make our writing voice stronger or clearer, in whatever genre or medium in which we happen to choose to write.  😊

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The Four Seasons

With Ripley by my side, in the last 2 years I have discovered a love of hiking. Recently, we were able to complete a photo project, to take a picture in the same spot in all four seasons.

Spring
Summer
Autumn
Winter

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I Consume Story, I Create Story, I Pursue Story

I had weird dreams last night.  They had me looking backwards and not forwards.  Sometimes dreams have me looking sideway, into an alternate reality that makes no sense, but not last night.  Last night I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old.  Last night I was rewriting the time spent in the halls of my high school, but this time seeking out different people.  Seeking out people who were just ghosts in the background, standing just behind whoever it was I was I focused on back then.  They saw me but I didn’t see them.  And in my dreams last night, I was determined to change that.

As a writer, I always try to find the story in my dreams.  As a writer, I assume there is a story in everything, and story has purpose, I truly believe that.  I consume story: reading books, series, and film.  I create story: writing novels, short stories here and there, and blog posts.  I purse story: teaching creative writing and look for the great lines within the writing; the few words that encapsulate the entire story.  A thousand words too little, a million not enough, yet many times it only takes a few words, or just one sentence.  And I always find what I am looking for, no matter how rough the prose.  It is always there, and I find it, savor it, and I am comforted.  So, if my subconscious brain is trying to tell me a story in my dream, what was it?

Sometime last year, I did a really weird thing, or maybe it wasn’t all that weird, I counted up how much of my life I had spent going to school.  To explain this, there are two things you need to know about me.  1. I love to count things.  How many words I’ve written, how many movies I’ve seen, how many years since such and such event occurred.  And 2. I like going to school.  School makes sense.  It has structure.  In a world I cannot control, I can control school.  I am given an assignment, I complete an assignment, I repeat.  After graduating high school, life as an adult called, and I started working for a living, I started an occupation.  Then school became my hobby, my avocation, my pastime.  I even voluntarily took schooling for my occupation, obtaining professional designations.  Eventually, I arrived on January 1, 2022, and I had stacked up enough degrees to have obtained graduate level, as though I had been playing a decades long video game.  My field of expertise does not have a PhD program, so I am done.

40 out of 50 years of my life going to school in case you were still wondering.

However, I am never done.  It is one of the great joys of my life that I found my love for creative writing, and I can always give myself an assignment of writing to complete.  And I found a community of writers at Mount Royal University, students of writing like me, who take my eight-week long courses to help find their words.  I love reading what they have to write.  I love that I still get to go to school.

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