By Riley Becks
To the average person—and by the average person I mean someone who has not yet had the pleasure of working in the writing world—the term “staff writer” seems easy enough to define: a person who curates written content for a business. And this definition, at its core, is accurate—but it’s not all-encompassing.
In fact, the roles and responsibilities of a staff writer differ from company to company depending on their size, budget, audience, medium, and overall business needs. “Written content” is a tad vague, too. What does that entail? Truthfully, this is also dependent on the business you work within—some companies still produce actual print media (which is so 1440s of them) whereas others have opted for an entirely digital platform.
Regardless of where you land and what you’re doing, there are still some universal truths of the staff writing experience that I’m (un)fortunate enough to share with you, should you find yourself entering this profession.
Header 1: It’s Important to Understand Your Role
Having a firm grasp on what your role is within the larger scope of your company’s operations is a great starting point for new (and experienced) staff writers. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s essential for your success in this or any other position, really.
Here are some basic questions to consider: is there already an established voice in this company’s content that I should be replicating? Is the purpose of my writing to inform, persuade, or entertain? Is this company focused on increasing its engagement on all of its platforms? All of these are important things to ask your Managing Editor, particularly when starting a new position.
Why is this important? If your company’s goal is to increase their engagement, for example, it might be wise to familiarize yourself with some SEO (search engine optimization) best practices. If their content already has an established voice, take some time to review previous blog posts and social media copy—doing so will give you insight on how best to cater your writing to the brand’s needs. If your company is expecting you to write a serious, well-researched blog post about the decline in quality music, sending in an opinion piece on why My Chemical Romance was the most influential alternative rock band of the early 2000s is probably not going to cut it (no matter how true it is).
Header 2: Feedback Won’t Feel Like Your Friend, But it is
Ah, yes—the dreaded “please fix.” You’ll see this phrase numerous times throughout your writing career, and yet, it always seems to sting just as much as the first time. Understand that feedback on your writing is (almost) never meant to be a personal attack—your Managing Editor is simply editing in the context of a greater brand message or goal, as we discussed previously.
It can be difficult to remember this when you have critiques on what feels like every single line—it’s something I still struggle with, myself—and you might be tempted to reply-all and write a thoughtful, well-constructed “I know what I’m doing,” but please understand that you will always have something to learn. Your writing can always improve, and taking feedback from those who have been in your position is one of the best ways to get there.
I’m not saying every person your writing gets in front of will be a qualified critic, but I do think your supervisor can do more for you than CrazyJeff836 who thought your latest newsletter copy was “sloppy at best.” Have confidence in your ability, but be coachable.
Header 3: You’ll Need to Kick Old Habits
Far and away the number one obstacle I’ve had to overcome (and often still stumble through begrudgingly) to succeed as a staff writer is procrastination. My first piece of advice on this is not to confuse procrastination with writer’s block—you may think they’re the same thing, but more than likely you’re equating them to feel less guilty about not hitting deadlines or not getting ahead on your work when possible. Writer’s block is the lack of inspired writing; procrastination is the lack of writing altogether.
If you’re afflicted with either of these conditions, my recommendation is to set aside some time for automatic writing—the practice of writing down whatever comes to mind without a preconceived construct. Just set a timer for 20 minutes, put a pen to paper (or fingers to a keyboard), and word vomit.
I say vomit because a lot of what comes out is going to be, well, gross. But creating this scribbled, incoherent mess will get your brain firing, and eventually, the words will start to make sense. In my experience, it’s a much more efficient way to put off work—do with this information what you will (or won’t, because you’re probably still going to procrastinate from time to time, and that’s okay).
Obviously, this is only a micro-preview into the staff writing world, as there are many other happy and hard truths that come with the job. However, these few mantras have served me well in my time in the field, and I pray to the writing gods that they do the same for you. Now, charge your laptop (or ink your quill), wipe those smudges off of your blue-lens glasses, and give all the CrazyJeff836’s out there the best damn newsletter they’ve ever seen.