Writers are known through writing, not certificates.

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Becoming a good writer

One mistake many employers of writers make is to place emphasis on the shadow instead of the substance of writing. This shadow includes paper qualification, the field of qualification, claims of published works and certain soft skills that have no bearing on one’s ability to write.

A good writer is known through writing, not through certificates or claims.

Any time I see an employer, who needs a good writer but is fixated on degrees and certificates, I see an unserious employer. Does a certificate write? No. Does a degree write? No. Degrees are important but they do not determine if someone can write well or not.

 

If you say you are a good writer, I won’t argue with you. If you show me published materials you have written, I won’t still argue with you. Having worked in the newsroom and in the book publishing industry, I have seen poor write-ups transformed by wonderful editors. Before I joined journalism, I used to read some news stories with the byline of certain people. I rated these people as wonderful writers because of the stories that had their names on them. When I went into journalism, I was shocked to see a different picture. Stories would be coming into the newsroom through the fax machine (and through the email in later years) from reporters across the country. The news editor and his deputies would be busy rewriting these stories before sending them to the page planners to prepare them for publishing. Sometimes, you would hear their anguish about the lack of head or tail in certain stories. Sometimes, they would pass some stories to a few trusted hands around to help turn the stories around. Upon reading some stories with the names of some people I had read their news reports, I could not believe the quality of writing and grammar that I saw. Sometimes, in frustration, the news editor would fling a news story from a reporter into the dustbin, after reading it a couple of times without getting anything meaningful from it. Sometimes, the news editor would ask the person, who had turned a story around, to add his or her name as co-writer of the story, given the amount of work done to make the story readable.

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Consequently, this experience helped to change my attitude about writing and writers. Since then, any time I have the opportunity to recruit a writer or consult for an organisation on the issue of recruitment of a writer, I de-emphasise certificates and claims and emphasise practical tests in writing. If I want to know whether you are a good writer, I would simply give you something to write to prove your capacity. The same thing goes for an editor. You prove your capacity through editing, not through certificates or claims of having edited so and so works.

 

Similarly, having soft skills like interpersonal and team-playing skills is wonderful but they should not be must-haves for creatives like writers and artists for organisations, which place substance over shadow. They should be under “nice-to-have.” Creatives and technical professionals like tech and engineering experts don’t necessarily need to have great interpersonal and team-playing skills to be effective. Primacy should be given to the quality of work they produce. If they are wonderful at what they do but are not great at relating with people, they can work behind the scenes. As long as they deliver results, that is what matters most. If an artist has a habit of going into fits of tantrums but is known to churn out mind-blowing designs, that is a better candidate for employment than an amiable and affable fellow who churns out mediocre designs.

 

Most people who are knowledgeable about global issues usually remember that Saatchi & Saatchi is an advertising agency because of the global publicity the UK-based agency created through some memorable advertising campaigns. One of such was the “Labour Isn’t Working” slogan it created for the Conservative Party, which helped to give Margaret Thatcher victory in the 1979 election. Saatchi & Saatchi, which was formed in 1970 by two brothers (Charles and Maurice Saatchi), whose family migrated from Iraq to the UK in 1947 because of antisemitic fears, became the largest advertising agency globally in 1986 when it bought over the US ad agency, Ted Bates.

 

While they were still coming up as an agency, one day they presented a design to a client and the client said the copy was not good enough. Charles Saatchi, who was a copywriter and the older of the two brothers, told the client to roll up the design and stick it up his a.se. He then walked out. That is the type of thing you don’t tell a client. The younger Saatchi (Maurice), who was the client service professional, tried his best to manage the situation. Consequently, Charles stopped attending meetings with clients and interfacing with clients. But he was great at creating advertising concepts and copies upon which the campaigns were anchored. Maurice would hold meetings with clients and make presentations to them and then revert to his temperamental and reclusive elder brother. If Charles was not a co-founder of the agency, he would have been fired because of his tempestuous nature. But his younger brother managed him well while he produced the results that helped to make Saatchi & Saatchi a household name in advertising.

If a creative has soft skills, that is great. But if not, it should not be a hindrance to hiring such a talent. The disadvantage for creatives, who do not have people skills, is that they unintentionally put a ceiling on their rise. They may rise to become senior managers or directors in an organisation but may never become the CEO unless they are owners of such organisations.

 

In the Nigerian scene, some of the great copywriters, journalists and broadcasters, who were raves of the 1970s and 1980s, had no university education. But they were exceptional. There are also many people with university degrees in disparate fields like engineering, medicine, economics, and mathematics who have excelled as novelists, playwrights, poets, copywriters and journalists.

No university gives a person a degree in “good writing” or “good editing.” Universities give students degree certificates in English, Mass Communication, Theatre Arts, Linguistics, etc. Because these courses have a link with language and communication, graduates from them “are expected” to have good writing and grammar skills. Note the two words: “are expected.” However, to be sure that these graduates meet that expectation, they need to be tested. Non-graduates who have the writing talent and have honed their writing skills through self-help as well as graduates of courses that are not related to writing should also be given equal chances and tested without prejudice.

 

When tested on writing – even if roused from sleep – a true writer evinces a spark of excellence. In conclusion, good writing is like pregnancy: it does not talk – it shows!

Credit; Azuka Onwuka

 

 

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