A Guide to Practical Writing

August 23, 2022 by Eileen Wirth

At every Starbucks counter, there’s an undiscovered poet, and your server at Olive Garden may be doing gigs at comedy clubs after she gets off work. 

For years, aspiring creatives have worked in retail or food service while they wait for SNL or Second City to discover them.  Didn’t Stephen Colbert start this way? 

But if you’re willing to write practical material to pay the bills, you might be surprised at the opportunities you can find – opportunities that actually build your career.

While our barista is standing all day smiling at surly customers, across town his friend, the aspiring screenwriter, spends his days cranking out tweets and writing digital ads about bargains on brake jobs for a local auto repair chain.

Does this even count as writing? Hey! At least he’s composing  something instead of standing all day. In addition, if he works fast, he can open up hours to focus on his thriller instead of putting in a full shift. 

I was reminded of how even legendary creatives like screenwriter Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Julie and Julia) have to start at the bottom and plot ways to get noticed when I read a new biography about Nora by Kristin Doidge. 

I found her tactics (such as inviting intriguing people to dinner) almost as much fun as her movies. While it helped that her parents were screenwriters, she started with a reporting job on a New York newspaper where she turned typical boring new-hire assignments into fascinating stories. People noticed, and she was launched. 

Nora learned to write by writing and by thinking about the ordinary in extraordinary ways – the key to success for any creative. 

You can do this today at the marketing and social media jobs available online and through networking. Start by deciding to cheerfully pay your dues. 

Most employers think their products and services are cool even when they aren’t. They welcome young people who come up with new ways to convey mundane messages, just as Ephron did at the paper. Not only will they pay you for such creativity, you’ll find yourself applying these skills to your real work. 

Older employers especially like young creatives who have old-fashioned grammar skills to match their tech skills. If you’re blessed with these and learn to project enthusiasm, you’ll find some sort of writing job somewhere.

So master a few tech/social media writing techniques and  brush up on your grammar and then turn in your apron.  Go to the nearest coffee shop and let someone serve you a latte while you use free wi-fi to put your practical writing skills to use until a studio buys your script.

Got a question or topic on creativity you would like Dr. Wirth to address for The Greenhouse Journal? Shoot her an email at EILEENWIRTH@creighton.edu.

Eileen Wirth

Dr. Eileen Wirth is a professor emeritus of journalism at Creighton University and is an author specializing in Omaha history. She was a reporter at the World-Herald and a PR Writer for Union Pacific before joining Creighton in 1991. Eileen’s books include The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, Historic Omaha Houses of Worship and From Society Page to Front Page. She is on the board of History Nebraska and a member of the Nebraska Journalism Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Women’s Journalism Hall of Fame, and the Omaha Press Club Hall of Fame. She also has been active in numerous groups particularly the Omaha Public Library.

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