Tips on Becoming a Writer or Editor

editor_writerA friend of mine asked me, “How did you become an editor, and how can someone else get into that type of career?” That’s a tough question to answer because I never grew up thinking I’d be a writer or editor. I didn’t make up my mind on a career until high school, when I decided to explore a profession in TV journalism—either as a reporter or news anchor. At the University of Florida I studied TV and radio journalism, and even had the chance to report the news and anchor a newscast for several semesters. Nonetheless, I didn’t stick to TV journalism. I did give it a try, however. I interned at FOX News and worked at ABC News. Yet, nearly eight years since I graduated with my TV news degree, I am continents away and in a pretty different profession than I expected—Staff Editor of Middle East Content for a leading global consultancy firm. Thankfully, I enjoy my job even if I didn’t anticipate it, and can share some tips for people who are looking to enter the editing and writing field:

blog-Start a blog. With a blog you’ll have a presence online and be able to have proof of your writing ability when applying for jobs/internships (it will also hopefully allow you to improve your writing over time). I would suggest wordpress.com, the platform I’m using for this blog!

-Intern or try to contribute articles to publications. Most publications are in need of content (especially free) so one way to bulk up your portfolio is to send your content for consideration/publishing to media outlets that you’re interested in. So come up with a list of publications you like and then email their editors to see if they’ll accept your content. This can also help you network with people within the industry you want to enter.

-Gain the relevant skills and knowledge. Most people don’t have the time or financial ability to go back to school. Luckily there are many platforms for learning that don’t require much money or full-time attention. One of my favorites is Lynda.com, which offers thousands of intense tutorials on everything from blog writing to fashion photography. To sign up, you have two options—basic membership or premium. Both are relatively inexpensive and worth their fee. On the other hand, Coursera.org provides free classes (including writing and English courses such as English Composition offered by Duke University) from the most prestigious universities around the world. Students who successfully pass a course receive certificates from the university that offered the course (this can help freshen up one’s resume/CV and show perspective employers that they’re not complacent).

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Technology’s Wonders: What Would I Do Without Adobe Connect, Kindle/Overdrive, Lynda.com, and Coursera.org?

First, let me start out by saying that I’m currently based abroad in Beirut, Lebanon. Yes, far, far away from my native Los Angeles, California. Yet, that hasn’t stopped me from pursuing another master’s degree through the University of Florida or prevented me from checking out books from my local library in the U.S. You might be wondering how this is possible. One word: technology.

Technology is making my life easier and more enjoyable in more ways than one. Let me explain…

Adobe Connect in action during a UF imagery course in Summer 2012.

Adobe Connect: Today, you can find hundreds of e-learning programs that are substantive and of high-quality. This means anyone who can afford it can now get a bachelor’s, master’s, and even a PhD through schools that might have once been difficult to access geographically. For me, it means I don’t have to quit my job and life abroad to pursue my second master’s at the University of Florida, ranked 125th in the world by the 2011-12 Times Higher Education Report. My program employs Adobe Connect, web conferencing software for our classroom sessions, which are all live. It’s truly extraordinary that I’m able to engage with my classmates in real-time as if I’m on UF’s campus in Gainesville, Florida. I can chat with the professor and my peers, turn on my webcam and microphone, raise my hand, ask questions, and basically do everything I could do in a normal classroom setting. My classmates and I have presented countless projects and homework assignments to the class with no real issues, except that since class is live in Florida, it’s usually well after midnight here in Beirut when class meets. No big deal!

Overdrive for Kindle: One aspect that I truly value about being an American is the access I have to lovely public libraries, which are located across every community in the nation. Borrowing the latest books, periodicals, magazines, films, and music at no charge is unheard of here in Lebanon. To make matters worse, this country doesn’t feature massive book stores that carry every possible title like what is typical at U.S.-retailers Borders and Barnes and Noble. Frankly, public libraries are one of the top things I miss about life in the U.S. So it’s no surprise that I purchased a Kindle through Amazon.com and began buying books that piqued my interest. A few years after my Kindle purchase, Overdrive was launched. Basically, it’s the best thing since the Kindle. Overdrive allows library users to borrow Kindle ebooks just as you would with a hardcopy book. You check them out, you return them, and you basically have a virtual library at your fingertips.

Lynda.com

Lynda.com: Want to learn AutoCAD? SEO? Google Analytics? HTML5? Digital photography? Photoshop? InDesign? Lynda.com is a one-stop hub for tutorials on how to use software or learn web skills, and beyond. I discovered this site last year and was amazed at how inexpensive the monthly fee is and how comprehensive the tutorial offerings are. More than that, the video tutorials are super high-quality and have greatly supplemented my University of Florida courses. In fact, I sometimes contemplate whether I should forgo the master’s and just learn everything from the Lynda.com tutorials. It would be cheaper and perhaps faster. But hey, a degree holds more weight so I’ll plod along until I’m done with my grad program.

Coursera.org

Coursera.org: Want to take courses from world-renowned universities like Johns Hopkins University,Princeton University, and Caltech? More importantly, do you want to take courses for FREE? Coursera.org is a website I discovered earlier this summer. It offers nearly 200 courses that are taught by instructors from top universities worldwide (University of Florida is one of them—Go Gators!). Students who successfully complete Coursera courses receive a certificate from the university that facilitated it. So I could theoretically come away with certificates from Stanford, Rice, Duke, and Penn, among many others, which is quite incredible. You’re probably wondering who is running this website. It was started by Stanford grads who wanted to make higher education accessible to everyone. It’s a great premise and while I’m too busy juggling a full-time job and graduate school to enroll in courses, I’m definitely keeping it in mind for when my life settles down.

What technology is drastically improving your life?

Cyprus Getaway: So Close, Yet So Far Away

My weekend destination. Nissi Beach, Cyprus.

In about 20+ hours I’ll be live streaming a University of Florida course, putting finishing touches on a few work projects, and packing my bags (I love multitasking) for a weekend getaway. Cyprus here I come!

 

The 5 things I look forward to doing over the four-day break from life:

1.  Watch my friends tie the knot in Ayia Napa. I love destination weddings (well, everything minus the high expenses).

2.  Sleep. I will have endured two all nighters in a row so I need to catch up on my Zs (don’t worry, I did take one power nap).

3.  Tan. Of course while I have 70+ SPF on (so American, I know).

4.  Enjoy good company. How often do I get to explore a new place with a group of close friends? Actually, quite a few times a year, but still not often enough so I better savor it.

5.  Get refreshed. It’s going to be a crazy fall season with work projects, grad school, and travel. I need to pack up on R&R in preparation for the storm ahead.

Summer Hiatus Is Over—I’m Back!

Where I spent my summer weekends (southern coast of Lebanon)

During the last few months, “write a blog post” was on my to-do list. Unfortunately, my full-time job and two summer grad courses (who am I kidding, beach outings and social events too) got in the way. But that is all about to change. I’ve just started my third graduate semester at the University of Florida and one of my course’s assignments will involve regular blog posts. That’s right, I’m back for several more months! Hopefully, the routine will stick this time around and I’ll continue to write long after the course is over. We shall see…

Taking Critique Like a Champ

ImageHearing feedback is not always easy or fun. In fact, it’s a bit tough, especially, when you’re a new web designer and after painstakingly learning the ins and outs of Photoshop and Illustrator you’ve created a decent mock up of your website only to have it torn to pieces. Well, it actually wasn’t that bad. In fact, I learned so much from hearing my colleagues’ feedback on my web design (and from seeing the designs they were working on).

ImageMost importantly, my colleagues and instructor were able to give me a fresh perspective on the design and could catch things that I couldn’t (or wasn’t trained to see). That was definitely a benefit and I’ll be incorporating some new changes into the design. However, I say that feedback is tough to take because when you get so far along with a design, it’s sometimes hard to have yet another go at it. Sometimes you just want to move forward and get on with it (probably not the best approach!). But that’s life and I know first-hand from my job as an editor that the more times text goes back and forth in the revision process, the better. I guess I will just have to get used to it!

“Criticism is a necessary evil for growth. We all get it, and we all unfortunately need it.”

Getting that Navigation Menu Right, Among Other Things…

I don’t think there is any one factor that is quintessential to web design or one aspect that has much more importance than another. In fact, I think each individual aspect, combined together to make a whole webpage, demonstrates just how important each one is. If you don’t have the colors right or the proportions correct or the appropriate content, then the whole website will be tarnished and that of the user’s experience, even if everything else is perfect.

Some people may believe menus are one of the most important factors in web design, and I agree to some extent. It’s like a highway without any signs or a mall without any floor plan or information booth. Without a navigation menu people will undoubtedly get lost. However, I feel that even if there is a menu in place, it doesn’t make it a successful web design. Take for example, University of Florida’s e-learning in Sakai website.

This e-learning website features a left hand vertical navigation menu, which is great, but does that automatically make it a strong website? Franklly, UF’s Sakai website is disorganized and confusing despite its efforts to incorporate a navigation menu. Its menu tabs “Worksite Setup”, “Membership”, and “Site Info” mean nothing to me nor do they relate to my classes. This demonstrates that navigation menus are a great idea in theory but need to be carried out 100 percent to be effective. And by that I mean, clearly labeled tabs, tabs that indicate that there are sub-tabs within, and a hierarchy of some sort.

For my personal website I have included a small navigation menu that acts as a header. It includes the standard tabs such as “About me”, “Resume”, “Portfolio”, “Blog”, and “Contact me” just to make sure that visitors to my page can easily access what they came to find. But as I’ve stated above—the navigation menu I’m hoping to build can only be 100 percent successful if the rest of the web design is planned and carried out thoughtfully with the users’ experience kept in mind at all times.