Keeping Ahead of the Game

Jigsaw Metaphor

Timing is everything. I recently completed my first ever assignment as a freelance copywriter. As happy coincidences go, the same day saw a long overdue catch-up with expert of the trade, London based copywriter, Al Allday.

Such meetings, I cannot deny, offer me a mixture of encouragement and trepidation. Our career paths lie roughly in the same direction. Al hit the motorway, while I’m still navigating the long way round. While back-street manoeuvring supposedly makes you a better driver, motorways get you from A to B in the best way. Without doubt, following Al has made me a better writer.

Writing, many people don’t realise, must be split into disciplines. Historically, mine has always pointed inwards. Funded projects notwithstanding, a PhD stems from one’s own initiative, not from a third-party brief. It takes some considerable practice to learn to concentrate or dilute your writing to set demands.

There is no guarantee of competence in different writing disciplines either. Top sprinters do not make good distance runners, and vice versa. There is no saying that journalists would ever be able to write a successful PhD; nor that researchers, for all their abstract writing, could ever sell a story or pitch in 100 words.

My first independent brief, fittingly enough, was to complete some guides for everywoman that could not be done during my contracted period. (Informative writing, not sales). Keeping the road metaphor alive, I went the extra mile and produced an article about blogging. The irony behind the gesture was in providing advice that I do not follow myself: consolidating a niche; updating regularly; and building networking opportunities…

Part of this is due to a self-defeating prophecy: privacy as a ‘niche’ is so different in theory and practice. I have also, as discussed recently, been passive in promotion: not only because no specific audience was envisaged for this space, but also because you need experience and confidence to self-fashion yourself publicly (or, failing that, the capacity to bullshit). Some postgraduates struggle to realise their strengths. Others now seek to gain from this. Academia.edu profiles are all the range. Either join the game, or be left behind.

I am often behind the times, but perhaps this can change. Recently, the Bristol Alumni news and career advice newsletter appeared in my inbox. At the top of its billing was an item on ‘How to apply for a job that’s not advertised’. For once, I’m one step ahead of the game. I have submitted a job proposal produced with painstaking precision. Let me not jinx it by mentioning it here. If this lands, there will be considerably less pressure on the publicity, whatever form that would take.

I know the readership here is very small, but I would be glad to know who follows this blog. Please let it be a reason for you to drop me a line, and I will thank you personally for reading.

[Just beating Pink Floyd on the theme of 'Time' is the orchestral version of Nightwish's outstanding symphony, 'The Poet and the Pendulum'. The conclusion in particular (10:00 onwards) is hauntingly wonderful]

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