Transferable Skills Veterans can use for a Successful Writing Career

My father left the Marine Corps after 17 years of service. Honorably discharged, he set out to pursue his dream career.

Months passed. An uncomfortable chorus of crickets ensued. My dad ended up working at a box factory to help make ends meet. It was tough. And he wasn’t alone.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18.8 million women and men in the workforce are veterans. And according to LinkedIn, about a third of veterans are underemployed.

But why? In short, it’s complicated. There’s a mixture of not understanding and undervaluing skills veterans acquire during their service. To top it off, veterans may face harmful stereotypes like lacking emotional intelligence (a skill critical for many careers) or being inflexible.

But the thing about stereotypes is that they’re not true. Veterans have tons of great skills that make them well suited for many careers. Including writing, which is what we’ll be focusing on here.

Here’s a few skills from your time in service that can be transferred to your new writing career:

Time Management

If you’re a writer, especially if you’re freelancing, you need to master time management.

As your own boss, you’re in charge of consistently meeting deadlines, invoicing clients, and pitching new projects.

And if you’re not a freelancer, you’ll still be a on a tight schedule. The world of writing is fast paced one. Doesn’t matter if you’re a content writer, freelance journalist, or grant writer. You’ll be juggling multiple tasks and competing deadlines that demand your attention.

Whether you’re freelancing or writing for a company’s marketing department, one of the most crucial elements to a writing career is to submit assignments on time.  If you can do that, you’ve already got a jumpstart on your new career.

Collaboration

So-and-so is a Democrat so I can’t work with him. She’s a Republican, how can we be on a team together? Or unaffiliated, does she just not care? Even at the highest levels of authority, we hear instances of people not only disliking each other, but refusing to work together because they disagree.


You don’t need me to tell you that in the military that wasn’t an option. People of all different backgrounds, rankings, and opinions worked together in your squadron or unit. Your lives and your country depended on it.

This is a great skill for a writing career. You must be diplomatic and savvy enough to work with people who don’t think like you.

I’m not saying that as a vegan you need to work at a meat packing plant or something else that fundamentally goes against your values. But you need to be able to work with people of different backgrounds, personnel levels, and varied opinions.

You might be meeting with the director of a company to talk about the social media calendar for the new year. Or maybe you’re writing grants for a bipartisan think tank and have to meet with people on both sides of the political spectrum.

Either way, no matter how your opinions align, you need to be diplomatic to work on a team or provide exceptional customer service to clients. And those are definitely skills you bring from your time in service. No matter your rank. No matter your branch.

Communication

You might be rolling your eyes because this is the most obvious one. Thinking back on my dad’s service, I can’t think of an instance where clear communication wasn’t needed. It was certainly the case as a pilot in Somalia. Or doing training exercises in a desert.

As a writer, you need to clearly communicate with your team and your clients. If you can’t begin your part of the project without a teammate submitting theirs, tactfully let them know.

If you’re freelancing, you’ll need to lay out clear timelines and answer any questions from a client or potential lead.

And you need to be able to write in a way that the reader or target audience can understand. Think less William Shakespeare and more Hemingway or Rowling.

Even if your specific job or duties didn’t entail writing 20 pages of reports, chances are you used communication skills daily. And that’s a soft skill with a big payoff for writing careers.

Problem Solving

As our school’s geology department said, shift happens (okay, they didn’t, but you fill in the blank). And when writing…. stuff definitely happens.

Suddenly, a team member ghosts you 3 days before a big project is due.  A client who loved your grant application yesterday suddenly hates it today. And has, in fact, changed it to something you know is bad writing. Or there’s a global event and you suddenly need to write a press release for your company in less than an hour.

As I said earlier, the world of writing is a fast one. And you need to be able to make smart decisions quickly on your feet. Problem solving is going to be the bane of your existence as a writer.

And you’re probably nodding your head. Because it was also the bane of your existence in the service. Whether you were in charge of inventory, carrying out a mission in real time, or doing an exercise in the officer’s academy, you have problem solving skills. You had to take a situation, analyze it, and quickly determine the best solution.

The Bottom Line

These are just a few skills that you bring from your time in service to the writing field. And there’s probably even more than you realize. Sit down and make a list of everything you’ve accomplished. Think of all the skills you used to make that happen.

All of those accomplishments are things you can transfer to your civilian writing job. You will have to take time to clearly translate it. To spell it out so it seems overly obvious.

 It’s frustrating, I know. Because you have so much to offer, and for some reason, people don’t seem to see it. But you know it, and I know it. Have patience, be persistent.

And if an employer is truly giving you grief about your military service, know that there are laws that protect you from job discrimination. Whether you’re pursuing writing or something else, know your rights, and report discrimination to the appropriate authorities.

What My College Experience Taught Me About Copywriting


It was 2 a.m and I was standing in the pouring rain.

I was in college at a Relay for Life event. I’d co-founded a fundraising team with my childhood friend, Brianna.

Our team had placed into the top three for money raised. With zero experience.

I mean zippo. Zilch.

How did we succeed in fundraising as two sleep-deprived college students?

Maybe you’re thinking we baked our tushies off.

Nope. I mean, we did, but that didn’t bring in profits (maybe we needed to up our cupcake game?).

Or maybe you think we knocked on doors.

Wrong again! We’re both introverts! Mwahaha.

Instead, we did this:

We tapped into a key skill. A skill everyone can tune into. That doesn’t require a degree. One I still carry with me in copywriting. And one you need to hone, too, to see writing success.

Empathy.

Empathy was our breakthrough for fundraising. It’s how we raised more money online than at any bake sale.

Empathy, too often, gets a bad rap.

It’s equated with being too sensitive or squishy. Or crying when the dog dies in a movie. But that’s not it (okay, I do cry when the dog dies in a movie. Anyway…).

Empathy is something we all possess (unless you’re a psychopath). And we all need to flex our empathy skills to succeed in copywriting. Or if you’re a business owner trying to write your own copy.

In our case, we wrote our stories on our fundraising pages. We did outreach. I remember speaking to a group of people about losing my father at 13. We told people about how the disease affected us personally.

We wrote about our desire to help anyone battling cancer get the care they need.

Our dream for a cancer-free world.

People connected with that. Sometimes sharing with us their own personal stories of battles with cancer or losing a loved one.

It was empathy that allowed us to develop a relationship with our audience in a way reports and statistics can’t.

And the same applies to copywriting.

While you don’t need to drop thousands of dollars on copywriting classes, you 100% need empathy to succeed as a copywriter.

Without it, you’re going to struggle writing effective copy.

Ask yourself, what keeps your ideal customer up at night?

Most likely, it’s not “captivating messaging to optimize their website experience.”

It’s probably something like, “How am I going to keep up with the cupcake business while home-schooling the kids in a pandemic? Will my business survive?”

Make sure your writing speaks to them directly. Show clients that you understand their pain points and that you are the one to help them.

If you’re empathetic, you can succeed in copywriting. If not… it’s going to be a tough road.

Over to you. Are you a Copywriter? What skill do you think is essential to copywriting success?

How those old letters can improve your copywriting

When’s the last time you got something in the mail?

What was it? A new Amazon delivery of toilet paper? A box of quarantine chocolates? Or maybe a letter (remember those?)?

As a kid, I loved getting the mail. I’d immediately look for letters from my grandparents or my globe-trotting aunt. The envelope would have my name on it. Not my parents. Or anyone else. It was written to me.

Letter writing actually teaches an important aspect of good web copy.

Good web copy, like a hand-written letter, is specific.

No, true, you’re not writing to Caitlin, but you’re writing to your audience.

Just like you can’t send a letter to anyone, you need to know who your audience is before you write a single word of copy.

Who are they? Is it active-duty moms, mom-bloggers, or baby boomers looking to retire abroad?

Think about who your ideal customer, client or donor is, and write to them directly.

Don’t write to everyone. This might be tempting, but is the kiss of death to good copy. You’ll end up with bland, vague, web content.

And if your audience can’t quickly connect with you in those first few sentences, they’ll move on to someone else.

Vague, general copy doesn’t stand out. It doesn’t grab the attention of your clientele. Instead, it’s the equivalent of that guy in high school who sent the same message to 20 girls asking them to the prom.

And chances are you don’t want to work with everyone (and their mother). If your ideal client is a baby boomer looking to retire to the coast of France, you probably won’t be thrilled working with a 19-year old looking to backpack across Asia for their gap year.

It has nothing to do with you being polite, but the crux of what your business is all about and who you serve.

In the online world, you have just a few seconds to get someone’s attention and persuade them to keep reading. Write in a clear, deliberate way that speaks to them, their problems, and their desires.

Remember, if you write to everyone, you’ll write to no one. Always write with your audience in mind.

Now, over to you. Are you writing your web copy? How is it going for you?

This Content Mistake Is Costing You

A family member asked me to revise their cover letter. Within a minute, I saw the problem.

A big, blob of tiny black text. And long.

We’ve all done it. The epic long, Homer’s Odyssey (which could’ve definitely been shorter) cover letter, report, or article piece. The content is just too long. It plagues even the best of writers.

But it’s not your fault.

Think back to school. Reading East of Eden or academic works. Or writing your research paper that must be 8-10 pages. So, what do you do? Try and cram as many extra words as possible into your sentences to take up the page.

Oh, don’t deny it. I taught.

Over time, we develop a deeply ingrained habit of making things unnecessarily lengthy. And it’s a bad one. Especially in our digital world.

Attention spans are shrinking. People aren’t reading word-for-word or left to right. They scroll and scan from their phones.

To write successful content, you need to keep it short. This is especially crucial for social media but applies to any online content. Anecdotally, I’ve found that the shorter my cover letter, the more likely it is to get read.

I’m not advocating for “caveman” speak. It still needs to make sense. But when you edit you need to cut out extra words, tangents, or additional topics (i.e: if you’re writing tips for bringing home your new kitten, don’t start talking about dogs.).

These have a way of sneaking into our writing. They suck the power out of your copy. With so much content out there competing for attention, readers may scroll by.

Keep it brief.

Writing Garbage

Welcome to Writer Wednesday, a series about quick copy fixes for your content. Subscribe to my blog to get the latest copy editing tips.

Writing Garbage

There it is, staring you in the face.

The blank page. “What’s on your mind?”, your favorite #socialmedia site asks.

Nothing? Cat memes? Take a deep breath and start anyway.

You successfully push through the struggle that is writer’s block. It’s finished. Like Frodo at the volcano, it’s all over! Triumphant, you read that first draft and it’s…..not good. Some might even say, terrible.

How are you feeling? Displeased? Ignore the scream rising in your throat chakra, and let me restore your chi with this sound piece of advice:

“Write garbage, as long as you edit brilliantly.” – C.J Cherryh (author of over 80 fiction novels, and knows a thing or two about #writing ).

I promise you this, your first draft will *always* be crap. Doesn’t matter if you’re a plant daddy or Ernest Hemingway. They’re called “rough drafts” for a reason (and it wasn’t because your teacher thought you were a terrible writer). I’d sooner throw my first draft out the window than publish it.

The purpose of your first draft is to get ideas from your brain to…the screen. It’s not about neatly placing each word and churning out perfect #content the first time. If that was the case, I’d never write a single word.

The secret is in the editing. This holds true if you’re a content writer, copywriter, or a student trying to finally finish that research paper. Proofread like it’s nobody’s business. Be merciless with bad copy and typos. Cut out sentence-sucking globs of words (more on that later).

Take the time to carefully read through each sentence. Although garbage is perfectly acceptable for first drafts, if you don’t edit you *will* struggle as a writer.

So, go ahead. Write filthy garbage. As long as you edit ruthlessly.