Illinois alumna Ramona Sullivan (BA, Rhetoric, ’93) told the following story on Facebook about a formative moment she had in the Department of English:
You will have occasions when you fall short. No matter how much you achieve or how well you prepare, you will come up against those moments when you have to turn a bird into a refrigerator, and you just can’t do it. It doesn’t stop you moving forward. Not only did Ramona ultimately ace the class — she went on to the University of Illinois law school and became a public defender. Most recently, she ran for 6th Circuit Judge here in east central Illinois. You may have seen the yard signs around town. That bird didn’t turn into a refrigerator either.
And it was okay. Such moments will be for you, too. Learn more about Ramona here and here. If you’d like to contact her for advice (about law school, finding meaning and purpose in a legal career,working as a public defender, running for office…). make an appointment with Kirstin Wilcox (firstname.lastname@example.org) to join the Department of English alumni mentoring network.
I am a researcher for a financial education company, which means I spend most of my time looking at data. When I graduated from the University of Illinois with a BA in English in 2014, that is not the job that I thought I would have. Instead, I had this idealistic image of supporting myself by writing full time. However, once I got out of school and began looking for a job, I quickly found out that finding a full-time salaried position in writing was difficult, to say the least. This was in large part due to the amount of experience that most writing jobs expect applicants to have before they will even consider them. I was not quite ready to give up on the idea of writing for a living, therefore I turned to freelancing. What I quickly found out from freelancing is that it is extremely hard to make ends meet. So, with a heavy heart, I decided to take a dive into the corporate world.
My current job does not require a lot of writing. In fact, the only time I write for my job is when I am sending an email. At first, this didn’t bother me because I was preoccupied with getting adjusted to a new environment. Once I had settled in, I began to really miss the creative process that I had grown accustomed to in my time at the university. This lack of creativity in my life started to eat away me. So, like a good English major, I thought about it, and then I thought some more. Eventually, I came to two important realizations.
Just because my job didn’t involve a lot of writing didn’t mean that I couldn’t still use the creative and analytical processes that I had cultivated in college. Once I had this realization, I began to look for ways to apply these processes to my job. I found was that just because I couldn’t use my written words to tell a story, didn’t mean that I couldn’t use my storytelling ability. Instead of using the written word, I simply had to use the data that I work with to craft a story. When I used my storytelling ability in this way, people responded much more positively to the information that I presented. Being more creative improved my job performance.
I had been neglecting my creative side when I was not at work. So, I started writing again. I discovered that I enjoyed writing more because I no longer had to worry about the audience that I was writing for. I could write just to write. For me, it has been a great experience because there is no pressure. I also have complete creative freedom over my work because I don’t need to get anything published. I don’t have to worry about deadlines or writing something that can sell. Instead, I am free to create whatever I want to create.
My advice to those who want a career using their writing skills? You can always find ways to apply your creative process to your job. And once you don’t have to worry about making money, you are free to write about anything that interests you. So, don’t limit yourself to just looking at jobs that involve a lot of writing because you feel like you won’t be able to use your creativity. Instead, go out there and see what all the world has to offer.
We talked to Heather Gernez, Publicity Manager at the University of Illinois Press, about her experience of working at a press and the challenges she faced before starting her career as Publicity Manager. We also asked her for some suggestions for our undergraduates who want to pursue a career in the field Heather is now. This is what she said:
What is your current job? What challenges did you face to get there?
I’m currently the publicity manager at the University of Illinois Press. My primary responsibilities include sending books out to reviewers, setting up interviews and events for authors, and managing the press’s social media accounts.
I first started working for the press as student worker in the marketing department in my junior year of college. I had been working at Barnes and Noble as a bookseller since high school and knew I wanted to pursue a career in publishing. After college, I continued working at Barnes and Noble, and also began working at the UIUC library in Collection Management Services as an academic hourly. I applied to so many jobs in publishing during this time, mainly editorial positions, which is what I thought I wanted to pursue, but never had any luck. Looking back now, I think if I had been applying to jobs in publicity I would have been a lot more successful based on my previous experience. The work I did for my predecessor during my time as a student worker at UIP was definitely my favorite, but somehow I never made the connection that I should pursue publicity work! I did actually interview for an assistant acquisition editor position at the press, but didn’t end up getting it. A fact I am grateful for now, as I know it’s not the right type of work for me.
Recently we interviewed Steve Haruch, a writer, journalist and independent filmmaker based in Nashville, TN. He graduated with a B.A. from UIUC in 1996 (English/Rhetoric double major), and went on to earn an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Washington in 2000. After a series of teaching, copywriting and other odd jobs, he landed at the Nashville Scene, where he worked as a staff editor for seven years. Since then, he has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, NPR’s Code Switch and The Guardian, among other outlets. He edited People Only Die of Love in Movies: Film Writing by Jim Ridley (Vanderbilt University Press, 2018) and is currently producing a documentary film about the history of college radio. He is particularly interested in talking with students from minority backgrounds. In the interview, Haruch talked about freelancing, a career option that offers freedom of work.
What is your current job? What do you like about it?
I’m a freelancer, so my current job is really a series of jobs, mostly involving writing in some way. These are strung together in a manner that resembles regular work but is more open-ended and irregular.