Ever wondered how your required college composition courses will benefit you once you’re in the “real world”? Ever wondered how important reading and writing skills are to engineers, artists, marketing experts, nurses, and entrepreneurs? I’ve started this series, Real Talk, to give professionals in a variety of industries a chance to share why reading and writing are so critical to what they do.
Today we’re profiling the husband-and-wife team Becca and Eric Shew of Shew Design, a communications and design company based in Bellingham Washington. (Incidentally, they have a fantastic blog about design, for those interested in learning more about branding, messaging, and graphic design. You can also follow Shew Design on Facebook.)
Describe your current job.
Our current job is running a communications and design company in Bellingham, Washington. The job involves a combination of graphic design, writing, front end web development, and communications strategy. We work with local businesses, non-profit organizations, and government agencies developing brands, websites, advertising, and marketing materials.
What kind of reading and writing do you do on an everyday basis?
Reading includes social media posts, blogs, strategic planning documents, tutorials, and email.
Writing includes email, proposals, blog posts, marketing copywriting for both print and web, and Facebook. We write for our own company, as well as for most of our clients. Writing can include everything from editing a client’s copy, to interviewing a client and writing an article or marketing copy based on the information we have gathered.
What kinds of reading and writing skills are key to your job/your field?
Being able to research topics quickly and efficiently is important, including the ability to simplify technical and complicated subjects. It’s also important to understand messages “between the lines” in terms of personal and business communication, intuiting the anxieties and concerns behind some messages.
Why are these skills important to being successful in your work?
We think it’s really important to cultivate a desire to learn and improve oneself in both good times and bad. Short term success and failure can help or hurt the creative process, and being successful in the long term emerges from a total commitment to grow and adapt. I think reading plays a critical role in the learning process.
Recently, we went out for a job in which we competed against several other website companies. As a company that does more than website design, we were able to see that their needs were only partially addressed by a website redesign. These included questions that related to their role in solving a complicated and poorly understood community problem. Our proposal addressed these challenges, framing the website project within this larger context. We got the job!
What advice do you have for students, particularly college students in first- and second-year writing courses?
Find heroes. Surround yourself with people you love and admire and emulate what they do and how they do it. Read their writing and listen to their interviews. Copy them* if you want, knowing that as the work evolves it will become your own. Go easy on the how to books and classes. In our experience, they are booster rockets that take you to a certain point but then to continue you have to be self-powered. Most other people in classes will not be able to make that transition. The political and social nature of classes and workshops sometimes takes on a life of their own. Resist the temptation to swap out an creative process with a social one. Writing is ultimately a solitary and undervalued process. It’s also awesome. It’s up to you and no one else to make it happen.
*Note from Red Pen Pedestrian: Copying is an important part of the learning process for writers, artists, or anyone in the creative arts and crafts. By trying to emulate the artists you admire, you build the muscles of your own craftsmanship. However, copying the words and ideas of others without attribution is plagiarism if you’re doing it for an assignment, school or otherwise, though, so be careful to make that distinction!