What Should I Major in to Best Prepare Me for a Writing Job in the “Real World?”

Guess what? I don’t care and neither does any employer. Here’s what does matter — your real life experiences. That means internships and work you’ve done in the real world. Here’s a wake-up call for you: you’re already living in the real world. Even though you think college is this magical bubble that excuses you from working in the real world, you’re wrong. The real world is all around you. Again, you’re living in it whether you like it or not.

Don’t be scared. This is good news. It means that nothing is stopping you from pitching your favorite magazine or publishing your own novel. You don’t have to wait until the day a degree is put in your hand. Flash forward to graduation day and I promise you that you will not necessarily feel any more prepared to face the real world than you do now. I promise you that sitting in a classroom will not prepare you for a job. Only real experience in a workplace will prepare you for real experience in a workplace.

So start blogging. Start pitching. Start tweeting. Start networking. Start interning. Start working. All that experience will add up big time while you’re in school. Then by the time that diploma is placed in your hand, you actually will feel more confident. Watch this video from Ira Glass (LOVE HIM) on how important it is for creatives to start producing a body of work.

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me  is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit.

Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

And if you are still looking for an answer to “What should I major in?!” I’d say that if you’re debating between English or Creative Writing or Journalism, choose the major in which you will learn the most and that will diversify your skills the most. And try to take a class or two from different kinds of writing majors. I majored in Journalism as well as a second major in TV and Film. I took a screenwriting class and a TV news reporting class in addition to my typical reporting classes. I wish I took a public relations class and a creative writing class too. I learned something different from each of these classes, but they all helped further my writing career.

The moral of the story is this: take advantage of the learning experiences around you, but don’t let them define or limit your career.

Aubre Andrus is a freelance writer in Chicago who specializes in copywriting, blogging, reporting, and social media consulting. View her website and portfolio at www.aubreandrus.com or find her on Twitter @aubreandrus.

The First 5 Steps You Need to Take as a Freelancer

You may be a journalism major who’s looking to get some work in the “real world” while you’re in school. Or a DJ who writes on the side and always wanted to start a freelance business. Or you could be an accomplished writer with a full-time desk job who’s looking to go freelance. Either way, you all have one thing in common: you don’t have any confidence. All aspiring freelancers I talk to are so worried about taking that first freelance leap. They don’t even know where to start. Now they have no excuse. (NOTE: I’m going to assume that you’re following my theory of diversified income and that you’d like to write for print and online publications as well as for copywriting and social media clients.)

STEP 1: Build your website.
Even if you have nothing to put on it. At the very least, create an about.me page. If you only have paper copies of your work, start scanning and uploading. If you’re already lost, hire a college kid to build one for you. Just make sure you know how to update it yourself. You’re going to have to learn this eventually, people! I wrote two posts on how I built my blog/portfolio. Read part one and part two. Note that my home page is a separate entity and was built and designed by professionals.

STEP 2: Beef up your LinkedIn profile.
LinkedIn is the greatest resource ever made for freelancers. Clients can find you and you can find potential clients. Stalk editors or business owners that you’d like to work with. It’s so easy! But first add keywords to your job descriptions, job titles, and personal title. Get a professional-looking profile photo. Start updating your status frequently. Join groups. Get active.

STEP 3: Build your portfolio.
If you’re a newbie writer, reach out to a family member or friend who owns a business and ask if you can start a Facebook page for them. Or write copy for their website. Or create a blog for them. If you don’t know anyone who owns a business, start writing website copy or marketing copy for clients that haven’t even hired you. Just because they didn’t pay you doesn’t mean you can’t put it in your portfolio. Graphic designers do this all the time so why can’t writers?

STEP 4: Pitch.
I’ve already covered the overarching theory of how a newbie writer can break into freelancing — which is that all you need is good ideas. So start gathering those good ideas and finding the perfect publications to pitch them to. Or start scanning the web presences of the local businesses in your area and see if they are active on social media. If they’re not, shoot them an email and offer to jumpstart their Facebook page.

STEP 5: Apply.
One part that sucks about starting off as a freelance writer is that you’re constantly in a job search. Your goal is to build your arsenal of steady clients so that you can stop job searching. And to build your online presence so that clients reach out to you. Like I mentioned in my post on how I find freelance writing jobs, clients reach out to me on LinkedIn all the time.

One thing to remember: don’t do any of this work for free! Ok, maybe if you write some copy for a family friend’s website, you could do it pro bono because you’re building up your portfolio. But stop there. Don’t think that you have to put in your time and start with measly clients and measly pay. Think the opposite: you set your own salary and choose your own clients. Dream big.