So you just graduated from college or graduate school with a degree in English or another humanities-based subject, but you don’t want to teach. Or perhaps you once believed you were meant to teach. Only then to find that teaching is actually nothing like “Dead Poets Society.” Or your own experience in a tiny classroom filled with quiet overachievers, readers, and writerly types.
Oftentimes, teaching is the profession we're pushed toward. Especially if we're writers with an MFA degree. However, editing, marketing, research, and writing-based positions are often better fits. There are few things more frustrating than hating your job.
According to the Applied Psychology department at the University of Southern California, without passion or drive for your job, it simply won’t come naturally. Why torture yourself? Sometimes, it’s better to make a career change than to continue slogging away at a position you don’t enjoy.
Here are five career prospects for introverted, writerly types who would rather spend time communing with their laptops than their co-workers.
Content Writer/Public Relations Specialist
Imagine writing copy and on or off-site content, for a living. Mind you, this can be tricky. As a former teacher who now writes for a living, I’ve personally run up against a good number of mind-blocks (like road-blocks, but not). They can get in the way of getting an assignment done, if I let them.
The trick, of course, is not to allow momentarily slippage to derail us. Much of this has to do with awareness or mindfulness. Simply being aware of how your brain works and teaching yourself to expect distractions or hiccups. It will provide an advantage in knowing what to do, when they occur.
One of many tricks is to just walk away, for a moment. Go for a walk around the neighborhood or outside your place of work, and look around at the trees and the way the landscape changes with the seasons. Chances are, you’ll come up with the line or paragraph you need, while you’re away, without even thinking about it directly.
Another trick—and one I can attest to, regarding both creative and nonfiction writing. It is the trick of automatic or free writing. Simply allowing yourself to write as quickly as possible, then going back and revising it, afterwards. You might also consider brain storming through the use of a few key or thematic words, to get you started.
All that being said, content writing for online marketing purposes—whether you’re writing inbound or outbound content—can be surprisingly engaging and even educational. It requires you to research a variety of different topics in order to write about a topic knowledgeably and with a certain level of voice and authority.
You can take on contract work as a freelance writer, work for a company as part of their content marketing team, or write for a SEO firm that specializes in off-site content marketing for corporate clients. The BLS lists Public Relations Specialists as making an average of almost 57K a year.
Do you enjoy sentences? That’s the question that Annie Proulx posed to a young, burgeoning writer at a party, once—in response to her question: “What does it take to be a writer?” The role of editor is the flip side of the same proverbial coin, since a good editor—not unlike a good writer—knows how to judiciously revise (or ‘re-see’) a piece from a reader’s perspective.
If you want to be an editor, you’ll probably need to get your foot in the door, first, as an editorial assistant. There are also numerous types of publishing houses and genres of books, magazines, and journals. Do you want to work for a small press that publishes poetry and literary fiction. Or would you rather work for a mainstream, widely read magazine like Wired or Fast Company? There are also publishing companies and newsrooms that maintain a strictly online presence, such as Buzzstream.
According to NPR, a big part of an editor’s job is “convincing publishers it’s worth their investment. Then they work with the sales force, the publicists and marketers to get the book in the hands of readers.” A lot more components are involved in the process than before—as in thirty or forty years ago—because there are the online marketing and publicity components: there are simply more books out there, now, than there used to be, so the marketing and PR components are more important than ever.
Also, although books, newspapers, magazines, and journals in print form aren’t exactly disappearing, anytime soon, the job outlook for Editors on BLS looks a bit bleak. There is a 5 percent decline projected over the next eight years. That just means that you’ll have to work a little harder to get involved with the publishing industry. Or perhaps you’ll be part of the movement to start a publishing resurgence!
Are you more ‘left-brained’ than ‘right-brained’? Although that simple dichotomy has proven misleading, it is true that some people are simply better at digesting dry, technical information, statistics, and facts than others. If you enjoy peering at diagrams, assembling erector sets and complex Lego structures, or reading scientific texts, you might enjoy a position as a technical writer.
Tech Whirl defines good technical writing as resulting in “relevant, useful and accurate information geared to specifically targeted audiences in order to enable a set of actions on the part of the audience in pursuit of a defined goal.”
Moreover, tech writers don’t always write for consumers or the general public. Rather, they often write for internal documents and brochures that explain company processes or products to other departments or business partners in the same industry.
Becoming a technical writer may require some additional coursework that provides at least a basic framework-level understanding of computer systems and software programs such as Adobe FrameMaker, MapCap Flare, PageMaker, and Quark. Prospective technical writers may also want to develop their manual illustration and graphic design skills.
If you decide technical writing is for you, you’ll be well-compensated and enjoy good job security: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary is over 70K and the job outlook or growth rate is 10 percent, which is faster than average.
Perhaps you were the type of child who enjoyed hiding in the library stacks after school, holding a book over your face in hopes your parents wouldn’t find you, right away. If that’s the case, you might be the type of person who would prefer to make book recommendations to library patrons than teach a lesson to ninth graders on the symbolism in Romeo and Juliet.
If so, you might consider becoming a library assistant for a while to see if you’re passionate enough about libraries to get your Master of Library Science and graduate to full-time librarian.
It’s worth noting that libraries exist not just on school campuses and central, downtown locations but also in corporate business headquarters. Take, for example, Leslie Howerton-Hicks, who works for a large footwear company that she doesn’t name (but is probably Nike). Her title is “Footwear Materials Librarian,” and she manages the Material Center on the corporate campus.
Interestingly, Howerton-Hicks notes that companies sometimes don’t even realize that they want a librarian, since the word ‘librarian’ isn’t necessarily in the title of the job position. However, she says her company hired her “because they wanted their Materials Center run more efficiently and they wanted to increase its use by our community.”
In other words, she was hired because of her skills as a facilitator, organizer, and cataloger—in her case, of materials, but it can also apply to books or other types of information. More than ever, librarians are information and media specialists who know how access a sizable breadth and depth of knowledge that isn’t necessarily in book form.
Therefore, in addition to being a big fan of books, you should also be curious and dedicated to helping patrons find different types of information or answers to specific queries for a variety of reasons—personal, academic, and professional.
First of all, this is a huge title, but the traditional label of ‘writer’ refers to an author of books. However, there are many types of books out there—and not all of them are necessarily books one might store in a library, either.
Amusingly, the BLS lists the median pay as 60K, which of course varies wildly, depending on whether you are a part or full time writer, what kind of books you write, and whether or not you are willing to market yourself. That last part is huge.
Publications like Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers have tons of resources and helpful tools like grant and contest application calendars that encourage you to put your work out there and feel supported by a community of others doing the exact same thing.
The thing about writing is, it’s a slow process that takes a lot of time, patience, and persistence. To give you an idea of just how much time, it’s commonly said that forty is a young-to-average age for publishing a first book. Perhaps this is because many younger writers simply don’t have as much life experience?
It also can mean that writers come from a variety of backgrounds and often have day jobs or other jobs on the side, such as freelance writing or writing e-books for online publishing platforms. There’s also ghostwriting which—though it may not appeal to more creative writers trying to publish their own work—may be appealing to freelance writers willing to go without name recognition in exchange for good rates.
If you’re interested in exploring a few more possible career trajectories for introverts, check out Owl Guru’s list, here. It includes private household cooks, statisticians, and musical composers. Of course, it doesn’t take in account other interests, academic background, and aptitudes, other than those traditionally associated with English and humanities majors.
There are even blogs for former teachers in search of a second career path—such as Life After Teaching—that offer up a veritable plethora of ideas and encouragement for recovering classroom educators.
However, perhaps the best piece of advice I’ve encountered for introverts came from this article on Psychology Today. The best jobs for self-identified introverts are ones that interest them.
In other words, this notion of a hard-lined dichotomy between extroverts and introverts is false; although many of us fall somewhere along the scale of external and internal processing, or between needing time alone to process thoughts and wanting to be around others, it’s never nearly as simple as a label might have us believe. We all have individual aptitudes and talents. It’s simply a matter of figuring out what drives us and where we excel. The rest is relative.
The bottom line is, never let anyone tell you that you’re too much of an introvert to excel at a profession that you love. Both ‘extroverts’ and ‘introverts’ have much to bring to the proverbial table. It’s crucial that we make room at the table—as well as at the outskirts of the room—for all kinds of thinkers and doers, lest we fall prey to either/or thinking and painting ourselves into little boxes that don’t allow us to step outside, toward the open air.