Is writing a useless skill?

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer.

It seemed like an inevitable path. By age 18, I had written hundreds of poems and short stories, as well as two full-length novels. I’d also earned all As in my high-school English classes. I even had a teacher who once suspected me of plagiarism, because of the quality of my writing. (My consistent work later convinced her I was honest.)

In college, I majored in journalism and minored in English, graduating with distinction. I also finished a third novel in my sophomore year.

Originally, I had planned to major in English. At the time, however, a journalism degree seemed more lucrative, offering a wider variety of career options.

Talk about hindsight. Journalism is now ranked as one of the most useless college degrees you can get. (If you want to buy in to such rankings.)

A couple of my English professors begged me to change my major. Now I wish I would have. I always enjoyed my English classes more. Clearly, that was where I belonged.

A couple of my English professors wanted me to switch my major from journalism. Looking back, I wish I had.

A couple of my English professors said I should switch my major from journalism. Looking back, I wish I had. I don’t know if an English degree would be any more useful, but I probably would have been happier.

After college, I worked for two and a half years as a project editor for a local newspaper.  I started by scheduling photo shoots for our three magazines. Later, I worked with clients to create printed advertising products, such as brochures and supplemental inserts.

I loved my job, because I was putting my writing and editing skills to work and developing my craft. At night, I wrote fiction and humorous essays. My work and home life fed off each other. It was a harmonious balance.

Then 2008 happened. The housing market crashed and the economy tanked, and all those advertisers who paid my salary disappeared. Because I was one of the younger staff members, I was laid off. Last one in, first one out.

My boss assured me that because of my talent, I’d land another job in no time.

I haven’t worked in the field since. But not for a lack of trying. I applied for jobs at advertising agencies, PR firms, TV studios, other newspapers.

Nothing. No luck. I wasn’t what they were looking for.

After my layoff, I accepted a $10-an-hour position as a receptionist for a small real-estate firm. It was the only job I could get. They wanted me to answer phones and take messages.

But I was determined to put my skills to work. So because I had newspaper-layout experience, I created colorful fliers with compelling photos. And because I was a writer, I took the bland lists of home features the agents gave me and transformed them into captivating copy. I also started a Twitter account and a community blog, in addition to shooting and editing video for our YouTube channel.

But none of that mattered. Only one client complimented the broker on her well-written home description. The rest of my efforts went by the wayside, seemingly unnoticed.

When I asked about possible advancement, I was told I could run credit reports as a property-management assistant for a dollar an hour more — plus an additional fifty cents once I got my license.

Not quite the advancement I had in mind. Plus, there had been no acknowledgement of my advertising efforts, so I could only assume that my skills didn’t matter to them.

One good thing came from the conversation, however. I left.

Now, after a lot of flailing around, I’m with a different company. The pay is higher, and the co-workers are great.

But I’m still not working as a writer — or in anything remotely related to journalism.

So my point is this: My writing skills helped me succeed spectacularly in my academic life. I earned As not only in English, but also in other writing-intensive courses such as Core Humanities and Political Science.

Writing, however, hasn’t seemed to help me much in my career.

I’m not knocking writing. It’s still my passion, which is why I created this blog. It’s become not only my creative outlet, but a means to meet other like-minded people who also love writing. And I’m grateful for that.

It’s just that I’d always envisioned writing as less of a hobby, and more of a career.

I also thought writing was a skill that would mean more in the business world. Yet I’m rarely acknowledged or recognized for it. If anything, it’s taken for granted.

But maybe that’s the nature of this beast. Maybe writing is like the music business: either you make it, or you don’t. If you don’t, it becomes your hobby — something you tinker with in the late hours when your “real” job is done.

Could be. For every successful, big-name author, there are thousands of unknowns writing novels that may never be published. And not just authors, but filmmakers, script writers, musicians, playwrights. It almost seems like the creative field is a game of musical chairs, and everyone’s rushing to sit before the music stops.

And, of course, there are not enough chairs.

But what about the Internet? Hasn’t it changed the literary landscape?

Of course. But the problem with the Internet is that it’s so brief and transitory, and it rewards volume over quality. I agonize and rewrite constantly — often to a ridiculous degree — but a well-crafted piece today is yesterday’s news tomorrow. There’s no lasting impact — no replay value. Once its moment passes, it dissolves to obscurity.

So what’s the point in rewriting and editing when the world wants “good enough?”

The Internet certainly has opened avenues for self-expression and finding audiences. But exposure doesn’t necessarily equal success.

And anyway, not all of us are seeking success. Some of us just want to make a living doing what we love. I’m not looking for a multimillion dollar book deal. I just want to make the rent on a one-bedroom apartment.

Doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

I worked for several years digging trenches, laying pipe, shoveling gravel, planting trees. But I always knew I had a skill that I wanted to develop, a passion I wanted to pursue — a dream that one day would get me out of the trenches and into the life I wanted to live. That’s why I went to school.

And I’m not giving up. Writing is what I love, and someday, I’m going to make money doing it.

Because writing is not a useless skill. Creative jobs might be scarce in this apocalyptic, post-recession world, but I believe with all my heart that the world needs writers. Maybe things have changed, and maybe our attention spans are fleeting.

Regardless, I’m going to try. That’s why I keep this blog, and I’m sure that’s why many of you blog, too.

Because I know I have something to give. Even if I don’t get paid for it, I have to believe I have something to offer — something the world needs. So I’m going to keep on putting it out there. Who knows — maybe this blog will start to open doors.

But if not, what’s the worse-case scenario? I never make money writing?

Then maybe that’s OK. Because if somebody reads this piece and gets inspired — or if they laugh at one of my humor posts — then that means I’ve reached out to the world and touched someone else.

And for the time being, that’s the only payment I need. Because in the end, it validates the very reason I wanted to be a writer in the first place:

I want to matter.

17 comments on “Is writing a useless skill?

  1. I read every word of this well written post. You hit home on several points with me. We don’t create in a vacuum. If we are driven to create, we must create, and then we want to share our creations. Doesn’t matter if it is prose, art, photography… sharing is part of the process. Keep writing and sharing, never give up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your kind words — I really appreciate it. And you’re right that none of us creates in a vacuum. Part of the creative process is sharing with others. It’s not only how we forge connections with other people, but also how we let the world know we were here. Because each of us has a voice that’’s uniquely ours, regardless of the medium we work in — whether it be acting, writing, photography, painting, etc. To deny your creativity not only shortchanges you, but it also deprives the world of your unique voice and perspective.

      So I know in my case, I have to keep writing … even if I have to live on a diet of Top Ramen for a while to do it. Yum. 🙂


  2. Your joy of writing, truly shines through here. Writing is compulsive. We all want to leave something lasting that others will appreciate. I, like you, want it to be my writing, but I suspect readers might prefer cash from me instead. And like in the performing arts, there are many actors, but there are even more waiters who are actors. So to I suppose in the field of writing. Lets just hope someone who recognizes good writing when they see it, selects us over the other waiters. Really enjoyable post..

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your kind words. This piece sort of tumbled out — partly from frustration, and partly from a genuine curiosity that I wanted to explore. I never really thought that writing would unlock huge success for me, but I did think it would play a larger role in my working life. Yet these days, good writing on its own doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot. I’m not sure if that’s due only to my own biased perspective, or if there really is a cultural shift going on that places less of a value on quality writing. It does seem, though, that in our modern era, “good enough” is good enough.

      When I think of people who found success relatively late in life, like Rodney Dangerfield and Julia Child, I start to feel hopeful. But then I think of people like Vivan Maier, who only became famous after her death, and then I get depressed all over again. (It’s that glass-is-half-empty thinking that’s really put a damper in my motivational-speaking career, too.)


      • Don’t give up Allen. In my opinion, you’re a wonderful writer. Although no one paid me to say that. But if I think so I can’t help but think that at some point someone, who has money, will notice the same and offer you a living wage to make a living at it. Keep plugging away and believe in that. :O)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hey, thank you very much — and right back at you! I really appreciate the encouragement. Like you said, I think the best solution is to keep going for it. And if writing doesn’t work out, I can always pursue my backup career of juggling chainsaws while riding a unicycle and singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

        On second thought … maybe I’ll keep my focus on writing. My unicycle’s got a flat.


      • Now there’s an act, juggling chainsaws while not being focused and riding a unicycle with a flat tire. That’s daring to be different!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “I believe with all my heart that the world needs writers.” This reminds me of a graduation ceremony I attended at Julliard where one of the speakers told the graduating musicians, “The world needs you.”

    Some traverse across multiple paths to follow their calling and also pay the rent. Others arrive at a crossroads and manage to find one path where passion and money lie together. In either case, we can always find a way to do what we love to do.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Gail, thank you for your comment, and also for your support. It’s been reassuring to get so much positive feedback on this topic. You’re right that people can always find a way to do what they love. The opportunities are there, even if they aren’t always obvious. The goal, I think, is to keep chipping away till you achieve your dream — even if the dream isn’t clearly defined. Sometimes the progress seems minuscule, or nonexistent, but it’s all baby steps — and they’ll eventually lead to somewhere.

      Right now, I’ll have to resign myself to writing in stolen moments in the waning hours of the day. Too often, the words don’t come. But if I’m patient and wait long enough, inspiration eventually will strike.

      And when it does, then I’m really doing what I love to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good shit.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “I also thought writing was a skill that would mean more in the business world. Yet I’m rarely acknowledged or recognized for it. If anything, it’s taken for granted.” – Preaching to the choir Allen. No truer words were written. Great post. I went to school for Journalism but after graduation the taste of actual money led me in a different direction entirely. That being said I have been amazed throughout my work experiences how little value is given to getting every word just right, every punctuation perfect, etc. If one’s business isn’t all about writing it seems no one there cares about it being well done…more like medium rare.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really appreciate your feedback, because I thought it was just me. Sometimes I wonder if I’m allowing a couple of negative experiences to determine my judgement, but I don’t think so. I think it’s truly a widespread phenomenon. For whatever reason, writing is a skill that doesn’t seem to matter anymore in the workplace. (Unless, as you pointed out, you’re in a writing-focused business.)

      I read a lot how effective communication skills are highly sought after, but I’ve never seen that in my experience. You’d think they would be, though. Clear writing lends a degree of credibility, and it helps portray the individual — as well as the organization — in a higher light. I’m more trusting of an effective communicator. Clear writing stems from clear thinking, just as muddled writing stems from muddled thinking. You’d think companies would value effective communication more.

      Yet it does seem like when it comes to writing, “medium rare” is the guiding standard.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I can honestly say almost every time I read a story (news, sports, entertainment) on the web it has at least one typo in it…sometimes whole words are missing. I think the last couple of generations that have “come through” are so tweet, text and IM oriented there is actually an acceptance of mistakes in writing now. As long as the general message gets out there (speed being the priority) it doesn’t really matter if there are misused or misspelled words, complete and meaningful sentences, etc. I think your experiences are likely quite common and writing is a skill that does not matter anymore in most workplace scenarios.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. We live in such a face-paced society that now more than ever, speed takes priority over a well-crafted message. While one person writes, rewrites, edits, and proofreads an article, someone can tweet out the condensed version and get the same message across. It’s no longer about details anymore; everything is all surface and no substance.

      I just picked up a newspaper for the first time in years and immediately identified a typo on the first page. “Somehow” was broken up into two words. I wasn’t even reading the article; the typo was so obvious, it just jumped out at me. If I had missed such a glaring typo like that in my proofreading days, my boss certainly would have had my neck. Missing a split-infinitive was forgivable, but a misspelled word, not so much.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Walt Whitman quote: “In order to have great art, you must have great audiences.” But no matter how elusive and/or virtually non-existent the audience for great writing is, a writer (if it’s in his or her DNA) must write, knowing full well it’s worth will probably never be recognized except by a relative few (or a few relatives).

    So, in the end, about all I can add to what you’ve well expressed is, “I know the feeling!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Relatives definitely make good readers — and the funny thing is, they never seem to find fault, even in pieces I’ve written that I don’t particularly like. 🙂

      At least there’s comfort in numbers. If we keep creating, there’s a chance someone will read what we write, but I suppose if we stop, we’re guaranteeing that nobody will ever read our work. Nothing to do, then, but to keep on keeping on!

      Liked by 1 person

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