As a nonprofit professional, writing has been a key cornerstone of my saily work. Everything from web content to grant proposals, from brochures to formal clinical reports – at some point, much of my professional life has been behind a keyboard of some kind. In fact, it became a nice substitute for a failed fiction-writing career in college. (Although I did manage to craft a monthly column for the Loyola Phoenix). Non-profit writing has always been a personal strength, but the challenge of writing for work – and writing for love – is a continuing effort that I am only now starting to master.
Both professional writing and personal writing use the same skills, and often within a diverse array of forms ranging from longer reports and stories to shorter forms like blog/social media posts. Both involve planning, crafting, and time management. Writing is an invisible skill, often hidden behind professional buzzwords: “crafting great content”, “clear, concise reporting”, “effective marketing copy”, or it usually takes second place to “visual storytelling” (after all, Facebook and Twitter posts get more engagement with visuals). Beneath the chatter, the major skill in both professional nonprofit writing – and creative work – finding and telling a story in a simple, emotionally accessible manner.
Discussing the writing “process” can often fall into pretentiousness. Professional nonprofit writing can be trickier – not just due to deadlines and goals, but also in considering the impact of what is written. My blogging and professional writing is slightly easier….but not as daunting. Much of it for me involves putting together notes, finding that central narrative, and then moving towards the best way to express that narrative. (I’m a paper, pencil, and sticky notes guy – after all, it’s much easier for me to find a scrap of paper and pencil than it is a decent Internet connection). Carrying a small notebook and pen allows me to write ideas as they come, and trust me – I have a box of notebooks that I often search through when “inspiration” eludes me. Depending on your perspective, I an outliner as opposed to a ‘discovery writer’), or in pulp writing terms, I’m a “plotter” not a “pantser”. Although once my fingers hit the keyboard, it becomes actual work, fueled only by coffee and music/podcasts playing in the background.
(I have yet to craft some ideal “plan” for how to write a particular thing, but I take great inspiration from Lester Dent’s Master Plot Outline. If you want some easy inspiration for hard work, you can track down Frank Gruber’s The Pulp Jungle via the Chicago Public Library’s interlibrary loan system. As a writer, Gruber had a very strong work ethic (needs link), and that’s a quality that I work to develop in both my professional and personal life.)
As a writer/blogger for a variety of outlets (you can find my portfolio via my personal site), I have adopted my own system for capturing ideas, hoping to bottle inspiration rather than wait for it. Much of what I use is based on Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done (after all, if it works for Joss Whedon, it should work for me). Structuring my time means that I can write and/or edit early in the morning, and then focus on work. (As a freelancer, my writing time is expanded – I’m focusing on other tasks within my day). Tools like Trello and LibreOffice allow me to work more effectively, breaking down my time – and projects – into separate buckets. (And yes, I do use Microsoft Office for professional matters – LibreOffice simply allows me to stay focused).
Tankfully, I am seeing the results of my work. On a professional level, it has meant seeing clients achieve greater success, including increased donations and/or income. To use business speak, I am demonstrating “positive return on investment (ROI)”. On a personal level, it has meant not only improved search rankings, but also having several short stories published (or in the process of being published) for a variety of publishers. (One of the greatest surprises I have received has been discovering that searching my name on Amazon.com leads to a page of works I have contributed to as either a writer or copy editor). My position is unusual in that I write both professionally and personally….and that the habits I cultivated performing nonprofit writing have also led to the beginnings of a professional fiction writing career.
Either way, writing has been very beneficial, and I am glad I can enjoy the benefits from both efforts.
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