Author Archives: ceceliamwestbrook

Robbie Maakestad : Editor, Author, Award Winner

Robbie Maakestad is an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus and is writing a biography of place about the City of David archaeological park in Jerusalem. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Ball State and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from  George Mason University. He has been published or has forthcoming work in Essay Daily, Bad Pony, The MacGuffin, Free State Review, and Bethesda Magazine, among others. In 2017, Robbie was shortlisted for the Penguin/Travelex Next Great Travel Writer Award. Follow him at @RobbieMaakestad.

How did your English major lead to your current position? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition into that job?

Without a degree in English, I certainly would not be prepared to teach or edit as I do now. After getting my BA in English from Taylor University and my MA in Creative Writing at Ball State, I attended George Mason University in Fairfax, VA (where I still live) to get an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. After graduating in May ’17, I started editing for The Rumpus and teaching nonfiction as adjunct faculty at George Washington University (GWU)–both positions that would have been unattainable without the experience afforded by my degrees. Studying English in undergrad forced me to practice critical thought in regard to my own writing and to the writing of others, which has proven essential in both my teaching and editing. Workshop in creative writing courses laid a foundation for leading discussion in my own classroom and for knowing what to look for as I select essays to publish.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Mondays and Wednesdays I teach at GWU in Washington D.C., so I commute an hour into the city by metro, teach two sections of Historical Creative Nonfiction, hold office hours, and put in several hours of my own work before heading home. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays I head to the library for 8-10 hours and grade, lesson prep/read class materials, and read and edit essay submissions. I’m currently about two-thirds of the way through writing a history of the City of David–an archaeological site in Jerusalem–so I also spend a lot of my library time working on the book, and reading archaeological reports, biographies of archaeologists, and texts about ancient Jerusalem in order to mine the history for a narrative.

Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?

It’s probably cliché, but if you know what it is that you love to do, position yourself in order to make it happen as your career. Post-undergrad I thought that I might want to teach college English, but I wasn’t sure, so I pursued my MA in order to get teaching experience while getting a writing degree. It turned out I loved teaching at the university level (and I’ve always loved writing CNF), so for me an MFA was the next step in pursuing both of those passions. During my MFA I edited Phoebe Journal where I learned that in addition to writing my own work, I love publishing other writers, so after graduating I found an editing position. Things fall into place eventually; it’s just a matter of networking and gaining experiences that will qualify you for the job that you want eventually.

Melissa Glidden : Freelance Writer, Copyeditor, and Mom

Melissa Glidden has an M.A. in Creative Writing from Ball State University. She has translated her college learning into editing, copywriting, and marketing. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her daughter, knitting, and reading.

How did your English major lead to your current position? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition into that job?

I have a B.A. in English, an M.L.S. (Master of Library Science), and an M.A. in Creative Writing. There are so many skills I gained by studying English that I use today as a copywriter, copy editor, and marketer, but to keep this from getting too long, I’ll just highlight one.

Succeeding as an English student—whether you’re studying literature or writing—requires you to look at an object (like a novel, short story, or poem) and see it for more than face value, for more than just the words on the page, or the chronological list of events that unfold in a story.

For example, if you ask the average person what the Harry Potter series is about, they’ll probably tell you it’s about a bunch of wizard kids doing wizard kid things and saving the day. But ask an English student, and they’ll tell you it’s about friendship, bravery,       sacrifice, and so on. An English student won’t just tell you that Harry Potter is a wizard boy who survived an attack by a really bad guy. They’ll tell you something about how Harry is a symbol of mankind’s ability to leverage kindness, bravery, and morality for the betterment of humanity in spite of our innate flaws and imperfections!

Copywriters (and editors, and marketers) need to be able to see A.) the product (a can of Coke) and B.) the audience (the person choosing between Coke and Dr. Pepper) for more than what they really are. Successful English majors are majorly good at this!

What’s a typical day like for you?

In addition to any copywriting work that comes through my agency Burgeon, I have a full-time job as a copywriter for a company based in San Francisco—a company that used to be one of my freelance clients! Both roles allow me to work remotely, so I can literally work from wherever I want.

Usually, I get up at 6 A.M., and drop my daughter off at school by 8 A.M. Until I leave again to pick her up by 3 P.M., anything can happen!

Typically, I have a to-do list of things that need to get done—maybe some copyediting for a client’s website, or an email marketing campaign. Sometimes, I have a phone meeting either with an agency client or someone from work.

Between all of that, I run errands or try to do something a little fun, like eat lunch at a restaurant or knit.

The greatest value of working remotely is that you aren’t forced to be in one location from 8 to 5 each day, so whether you get 30 minutes or 4 hours of downtime, you can use them more productively. You can take off all those annoying “administrative” life tasks, like waiting in line at the B.M.V., or you can give yourself an extra 20 minutes to craft the-most-perfect froyo treat at Berrywinkle. You know…priorities.

Some days, my daughter is with her father, which means I have more hours in the day to finish work. Other days, I may have a lot of interruptions like emails, phone calls, texts, or last-minute work requests. Other days still, I may simply be having difficulty concentrating, or I may be out of town (usually in San Francisco where my partner lives, and my company is based) which can mix things up even more.

The only thing that is truly consistent—I get to spend my days playing with language, meaning, sounds, and finding ways to connect people with products that have the potential to improve their lives.

Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?

For starters, know that it is very hard to make it in whatever industry or career you’re considering. There is a lot of rejection, and not a lot of money.

Some people would call this bad advice, but here’s mine: do whatever you want to do.

Most people know, deep down, what it is they want to do, and who it is they want to be. What do you do when you’re procrastinating? What tasks do you procrastinate, and what tasks do you not procrastinate? What’s something you loved doing as a child, or were always really good at?

It’s things like that that motivated me to work on my website, tweak my portfolio, and spend hours marketing myself when, perhaps, it would have been easier to just keep doing what I had been doing (and I’ve had several less-than-fun jobs.)

Sometimes, I got exhausted and quit for a few days. Sometimes, I cried. Sometimes, I still cry! But I never lose sight of my motivation and the things that got me where I am today.

Be smart. Make a living. Do the right thing by working hard, supporting yourself, and being generous to the people who rely on you. But don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Your professors didn’t—their journeys were long and sometimes arduous, and now they make a living writing and studying things they love.

You can too. 🙂

 

November Good News: Prof. Grutsch McKinney’s Awards and More!

In between Halloween and Thanksgiving, check out how much good news we have to share!

Prof. Jackie Grutsch McKinney won the 2017 International Writing Centers Association Outstanding Book Award for two of her books: Strategies for Writing Center Research and The Working Lives of New Writing Center Directors (co-authored with Becky Jackson and Nikki Caswell). Nikki earned her MA from Ball State in Rhetoric and Composition in 2008. To be considered for this award, one’s work must show the qualities of compelling and meaningful writing, sensitivity towards situations where writing centers exist, and strong research and representation on writing centers. Congratulations!

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