Using Your Writing Skills IRL

Cross posted from my monthly column at FFC.

I often joke with my partner (who, in addition to being a fabulous writer, has worked in the web doing user experience and strategy work) about how I have absolutely no skills that are marketable in the real world. Of course I know this isn’t really true; a quick Google search will recommend lots of jobs you can do with an MFA in creative writing. But I’m sure some of you will agree that it sometimes it feels like our lives “as writers” are completely separate from the rest of our lives “in the real world.”

As a remedy, I’d like to offer an abbreviated list of ways our writerly skills can serve us in the real world.

  • Getting out of trouble. “But, Officer, that person three cars back was swerving all over the road. I was just speeding up to get away from him. Did you not see that?” If you’ve ever gotten out of a speeding ticket by telling a yarn like this, you can thank (in equal parts) your acting skills and your narrative skills.
  • Playing cards. Any hold ’em player worth her green vinyl visor will tell you that bluffing a hand has less to do with trying to buy the pot and more to do with telling a consistent story. As the cards fall, you’ve got to make your opponent believe you’re hitting your hand. This involves constructing a convincing narrative about which cards are helping you and which are blanks and reacting appropriately. Apply your plotting skills here and you just might walk away a few dollars richer.
  • Being compassionate. We’ve all played the character-building game where you watch a person on the street and imagine their story. Do this enough and you may find yourself doing it all the time. I’m able to stay zen when someone cuts me off in traffic or is rude to me in the grocery store because in my mind’s eye I can see their chicken pox-afflicted children, or the unsigned divorce papers on their desks. Whether you’re right or not, being able to imagine a person’s whole life makes you a happier, more compassionate person.
  • Maintaining a successful relationship. That’s right. Ask any couple’s counselor what’s the most important part of a relationship and he’ll tell you: Communication. If there’s anything that writers excel at, it’s finding the right word in a churning, chaotic sea of language.
  • Letting someone down gently. On the other hand, if it’s just not working out, your language skills can also help you through the oft-dreaded break-up talk. You know all about mood, tone and context. You know how to affect your audience with your words. Channel that expertise here. Save the poor guy some tears.

It’s nice to feel my “writer” life and “real” life meld from time to time. How have you used your writing skills outside your writing?



3 thoughts on “Using Your Writing Skills IRL

  1. Yes, yes, yes on the compassion. And, in turn, being a more compassionate person I think is (I think/hope) making me a better writer.

  2. Oh so that’s why I stay so zen while driving … And other times. I’m great at coming up with plausible reasons for why people whom we will never again interact behave poorly toward us. Usually, I like to assume they just are wrapped up in themselves and misunderstood — lord knows that how I usually behave.

    Charming post btw! And I found your rules for living in a simulation quite entertaining.

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