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Communications Career – what’s it like?
Today I had the major pleasure of my granddaughter “shadowing” me in my office to explore a career in communications. I got to explain many things to her. For example, at the top of my list of priorities is my family, especially my wife, who has sacrificed and supported me through many decades. She has difficulty accepting that she is my first priority, having put family first for so many years it’s ingrained.
Why focus a career on communications?
On a very practical note, people who communicate well are ususally they ones who are successful, and who are chosen for leadership positions. On a less pragmatic level, most human problems involve poor communications. My daughter worked with students as a speech pathologist for years. She found that the inability to communicate well with others, such as recognizing facial expressions, led to behavior problems, which led to poor educational outcomes.
From language, to picking up on body language, to recognizing microexpressions, to noting significant signs in our environment, to noting posture (FBI interview: foot angled toward the door), to whale and porpoise vocalizations, to dramatic action, there are so many ways of communicating.
The Power of Communication
I’ve done communications in too many major areas to mention, but include journalism, marketing, nonfiction books, management, fiction, art and illustration, screenplays, movie production, religion, technical articles, and instructional material. My early book on screenwriting has been used in schools as an addition to curriculum. It’s still available. I've done original research on the use of semiotics in a visual environment (visual semiotics on this Website).
With a background in engineering, I’ve worked in several fields. Communicators with engineering or specialized foundations are highly in demand by industry because they are very effective and need less of busy people’s time.
The more diverse education and experience you have, the more competently you can do things. I started my communications career as a radio announcer. The Navy felt I could probably repair radio devices. I could do it well. My career shifts often included high tech. Boom, writing in technical fields from software to doing home design.
There is also a definite crossover of psychology into communications. I majored in psychology and religious studies to understand how to work with people, what motivates, them, what things they respond to, what their deeper needs are, how to communicate effectively. You can explore persuasive writing and rhetoric. Good luck with that. Using principles of psych and writing, I redesigned a 13-week technical training course, condensed it to three weeks with added material, and presented it to foreign students who could barely speak English. It was considered more effective than the 13-week course.
Setting out to be a writer may take you to places in writing that you never imagined. Earning a living in writing is not easy so you have to keep an open mind and be flexible. Few professional writers have writing as their only source of income. I once looked at repeat sales of screenplays by writers of major movies. Few wrote more winning movies.
As a screenwriter you might get assignments from studios if they see an excellent script from you on a writing evaluation Website. Writers who self-publish may get noticed by an agent. But few inexperienced writers get big breaks. This needs to be widely recognized. It takes years of hard work to get into a successful career.
I’ve been lucky and made a living up to $72,000 a year in 1995, in communications. But not from areas I thought I would work in. It’s been good and still is.
How to hang in there, and find satisfaction
I’ve found that I remain interested and satisfied in communications, regardless of the field I’m communicating about, if there is creativity involved, and if I invest myself in the job. This interest effect doesn’t last forever if it is repetitive and boring. I need variety and challenges to keep me interested.
Some areas of the world have disaster response manuals written by me. Cool. Some people know more about Artificial Intelligence (AI) thanks to my writing. I regularly debunk technical nonsense on Facebook, put there by haters and mischief makers – a public service. But now I’m able to devote most of my time to things I want to write.
What I love about communications
Variety, creativity, challenges, helping others, doing research on subjects, working from home a lot, being my own boss, being in control of my time, being able to take breaks – long breaks when I want to – and gig jobs that don’t move me elsewhere, or bind me in place, or that I know will end. I’ve worked mostly from home since 1978, and found I’m much more productive there.
I love the impact that words can have on people's lives. Our minds aren't closed systems that are naturally unable to deal with differences, changes, and new information in our world. No, our minds are open systems that from the earliest basic acquisition of knowledge begin categorizing and hungrily acquiring more. Watch children explore their environment. They are endless in their exploration.
But rudimentary knowlege of our world is only the beginning. We are endless in pursuit of knowledge that will improve our world. Studies of people with brain damage who have lost language abilities, and on the rare finds of deaf people who have never been exposed to language, indicate that they feel at one with nature. But they lose the ability to think. Language makes thinking possible, especially being able to conceptualize and to have abstract thought. Given the choice between being at one with nature, or gaining language and thinking ability, people indicate they would choose language. Language is perhaps key to our being human and being able to control our environment. Because we can communicate, we can make the world work for us.Higher order thinking.
language is a piece of "social technology" that allows us to cooperate for the good of ourselves and everyone.
What I dislike about communications
When gigs abruptly end so you have no income for 3 or more months. I dislike marketing my books, even though I was a marketing manager for two companies. But just like in any business enterprise, marketing and advertising are major parts of the budget. Without it, no one knows your book is there.
I also dislike the inability to communicate with ideologues who are polarized so that any attempt at communications (sharing and discussing ideas) is not only impossible, it actually makes their polarization hardened like a nuclear silo with impenetrable irrational ideas. This makes me doubt the survival of humanity, because I like to inform and it isn’t possible.
Falacies in communications are that we don't all understand a "word" in the same way. Some don't want to learn how to communicate - grunts and foul words suffice to get their message across. We don't all want to listen to things that don't please us. We don't all want continue learning. We have interpretive filters guided by our attitudes or extreme attitudes such as polarization, and these things stand in the way of effective communications.
The challenge for myself and others is how to bridge these obstacles to communications, not to control or manipulate others, but to give them the tools to make their lives better. Sometimes this is as simple as writing a story. But how do you shape a story to do this? If you write drama, people get upset by it and walk away. But if you write comedy, which is a lite treatment of a serious topic, all kinds of issues can be explored. This is why I call comedy the highest art.
"What we've got here is failure to communicate." Cool Hand Luke movie.
Reach for the top of the backboard, stretch yourself, and expect to maybe reach the hoop or do a slam dunk. The writing field is way overcrowded, especially after the pandemic, and the resulting competition is intense. Apparently up to 90% of people want to have written a book, even though a fraction of them are readers.
You can’t be found on the most popular publishing platform, Amazon, which is estimated to have over 3 million books and adds around 12 every hour, unless you are already a big seller and you pay Amazon to advertise. Nice racket. You can advertise independently of Amazon if you want readers, and … emphasis … you know how to market, otherwise you are wasting your money. I publish on Amazon for print books, but sell eBooks on Smashwords without advertising. Advertising can eat up more than you will ever make. Be wise. Be where they're looking - my first rule of marketing.
The speculation market for screenplays is hot, but full of cold water. I spent a lot of time creating a pilot for one producer and learned there were 2500 other entrants. Big gamble. You can pay several sites to have producers evaluate your script, and maybe buy it or give you an assignment. Go ahead and invest hundreds of dollars to get noticed. Nice racket.
Hollywood produces fewer than 30 independent screenplays a year out of an estimated over 50,000 submissions. There are opportunities across the US with other producers doing independent movies … but generally you will need to live there and get unpaid experience on set before anyone will take notice. Producers have specific types of scripts they look for, and this changes with the wind.
Not to be cynical, but for as long as I can remember (at least half a century) there has been more money in selling services to independent writers than most of them will make. Part of my personal mission has been to make best practices information and tools available worldwide to writers to bypass some of this frustration and expense.
There seems to be some market for instructional material (courses) on a variety of material, for writers to create, marketed with having no qualifications at all. This makes me wince. Some people are good at researching and writing, but I have generally found that people with actual experience are better at instructing. I will likely create some course on communications later, from my experience.
The actual market for content (writing) is larger than ever before. There are more independent movie and TV productions, more easy and inexpensive ways to publish books, and more publications looking for articles. As usual, the field is looking for excellent writers who know topics well, and can repeat, repeat, repeat.
Use every opportunity you can to keep learning about communications and everything else. It's the only way to stay ahead in this fast changing world. I write novels for New Adults (~age 20). If you have difficulty understanding human behavior, study Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It will tell you most of what you need to know. When you stop learning, you're dead.
What’s a career in communications like? I’ll have to loosely quote William Kelley, Academy Award winner for Witness, who said to me: It’s very difficult, so if you can do anything else, do it. But if you have to be a writer, it can be great.
I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I like too many things. Maybe that's a strong indicator of a communicator.
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