“What do you do with a BA in English?” Puppet Princeton muses on Avenue Q. What do you do with that magical paper that states your completion of a Bachelor of Arts in English? This parody musical (which references Rent!, Avenue B . . . which speaking of Rent!, places the opera La Boheme in 90s New York City) . . . anyway. Where was I? Yes!
We look at the degree as a pass to a job. I have paper. You give job. But ask any engineer: that paper is a base requirement for their jobs but is no guarantee of success. You still have to interview. You still have to WRITE a cover letter, resume . . . maybe an email or two. In my own life, who do my engineer cousins go to in order to help them get a job? The English major.
Fun fact: Did you notice Hades and Persephone are super talked about right now? Did you know Tony Award-winning Best Musical, Hadestown, turns the desire for Broadway to be mostly comedy to the old tradition of Greek tragedy? “It’s an old song. It’s an old tale . . . It’s a tragedy . . . we sing it anyway.” Thank you, English literature classes.
So when people tell you to get a real degree, remind them of the benefits an English degree carries.
Jo Gerlick joined Sigma Tau Delta as soon as possible and from semester one was an officer each year of undergrad. At this point, Jo has participated in the organization as an alumni more years than as an undergraduate. From Denver, CO, Jo currently teaches drama in the mountain Conifer community at Conifer High School and various local educational theatre companies. In a busy theatre schedule, creative writing is an area of life that gets less attention so continued participation in Sigma Tau Delta as an alumni is a vital part of Jo’s life.
For almost two years out of college, I worked the worst job in the world: long hours, terrible pay, no benefits, and a toxic work environment. But since I wanted to work in book publishing, what choice did I have? I needed the experience.
In my mind, freelancing was a side gig, not a full-time job—I had no idea I could make a living that way. Thanks to some wise advice from a veteran editor, though, I realized that most people in book publishing work on contract. In other words, freelancing is where it’s at.
I quit my awful job and started a freelance editing business. It was a rough journey (and still is sometimes), but I set my own hours, choose my own clients, and make more than I ever would have at that job.
If you’re thinking of putting your English degree to use as a freelance writer or editor, here are a few steps to success I’ve learned along the way:
1. Figure out what you want to do.
This is a more important step than it might seem. In the world of freelancing, it’s not enough to say, “I’m going to start a freelance writing business.” What are you going to write? Who are you going to write for?
Your answers will determine everything from who you need to network with to how you need to present your skills. Making these kinds of decisions early will help you navigate the rest of the process.
2. Get the proper training.
This is a step geared more toward editors than writers, although it can apply to both. Depending on the area of work you decide to go into, you might find that simply having an English degree isn’t enough.
In editing, for example, if your degree program didn’t focus on publishing or involve specific editing courses, many publishers won’t consider you a qualified editor. You can remedy this by taking a few online classes with organizations like the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) or enrolling in an editing certificate program like the one offered by the University of Chicago.
If you plan to specialize in a more technical kind of writing, taking classes online or at the local community college can help you brush up on important terminology and give you an edge.
3. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.
Part of starting a freelancing business is, well, starting a business. The steps for that depend on where you live, but a few necessities are choosing an appropriate business structure (sole proprietorship, LLC, etc.), choosing and registering your business name, and taking care of the required paperwork and fees. I would also suggest having a lawyer draw up or review the contract(s) you plan to present to clients. And, although you probably don’t need a lengthy business plan (unless you need financing), drafting one might help you figure out the smaller business-oriented details.
4. Put yourself out there.
No, I’m not giving you dating advice. I’m saying you should develop a web presence. People need to be able to find you and learn more about you. At the very least, you need a functional website and one professional social media account where you regularly post and interact. Most branding specialists I know suggest an additional presence, like a blog or a second social media account, but it’s better to start small and work up to that than to overwhelm yourself.
5. Find your people.
To make it as a freelancer, you have to network, and you have to do it well. You need to connect with people in your field, get advice, make friends. Perhaps most importantly, you need to find clients.
The best place to start is with professional organizations such as the EFA or the National Writers Union. The colleagues you meet through such organizations can provide helpful tips and even introduce you to clients.
Another good idea is to join groups or communities on social media. With a bit of research, you can figure out where your colleagues and prospective clients like to hang out online. (Twitter is big for writers and editors.) Once you know that, use your newly created professional account to go find them.
Pursuing a freelance career requires time, effort, and at least a little money, but for me, it’s a worthwhile endeavor. If you decide to pursue freelancing, I hope it brings you all the joy it has brought me!
Rachel Skelton is a professional editor and proofreader who works with indie publishers and self-published authors. Her business, The Editing Skeleton, is dedicated to providing a range of editorial services to fiction clients. She loves all things science fiction and fantasy but will read just about anything. She spends most of her free time with her nose in a book and a cat (or three) on her lap.
Gabrielle McBath, PhD
This past winter, I enrolled in an online Continuing Education course in Anglo-Saxon Literature at the University of Oxford. It has been decades since I ventured away from K-12 Educational management and teaching, and I missed dissecting the classics like Beowulf.
Using this specific translation from McMaster University, the following assessment will compare and contrast both the Old English (OE) and Present-Day English (PDE) versions of this epic poem, while specifically focusing on alliteration (repetition of a letter or sound in a phrase) and compounded words (mostly adjoined nouns in our subsequent examples).
An alliteration comparison is as follows; line numbers are in parentheses.
|1. gomban gyldan (11)||gave him gifts (11)|
|2. wuldres wealdend, woroldare forgeaf (17)||wielder of wonder, with world’s renown (17)|
|3. Þenden wordum weold (30)||while wielded words the winsome (30)|
|1. geong in geardum (13)||a son in his halls (13)|
|2. swa sceal geong guma gode gewyrcrean (20)||so becomes him a youth to quit him well (20)|
|3. ænne ofer yðe umborwesende (46)||soles on the seas, a suckling child (46)|
|1. Þeocyninga (2)||people-kings (1)|
|2. hringedstefna (32)||ring-dight (32)|
|3. meodosetla (5)||mead-bench (5)|
|1. aldorlease (15)||an earl for leader (15)|
|2. isig ond utfus (33)||ice-flecked, outbound (33)|
|3. segen geldenne (47)||gold-wove banner (48)|
Interestingly, when the PDE version employed the traits of the OE format of compounds or alliteration, the original OE version did not. The translator, therefore, applied a variation of the OE text, but retained the poetic device that would have been used at that time.
For example, line 46 contrasts alliteration: “soles on the seas, a suckling child,” as opposed to the OE version that does not have the repeating “s” sound, even though the vowel sounds continue to have alliteration. In line 33, there is a contrast in the compound between the Beowulf versions; the PDE version is “ice-flecked, outbound” whereas the OE version does not compound the first word.
There are many difficulties when translating the vast versions of this epic poem. J.R.R. Tolkien posited a thorough and interesting explanation in his essay, “On Translating Beowulf,” that focuses well on retaining literary context and dealing with poetic kennings (compounds that have a metaphorical meaning—for example, sundwudu is a compound of flood and timber meaning boat). Here is Tolkien’s argument on the translator’s paradox: does one lose the compactness of the original text in lieu of a colorful description, or retain this description but deconstruct the tightness of the grammar and meter of the original text?
Gabrielle McBath is the Sigma Tau Delta Alumni Epsilon Liaison to St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY. She is also a manuscript reviewer for the International Journal of Education Studies in Toronto.