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Professional writing offers chance for behind-the-scenes production

Sept. 16, 2003

By Hans Christianson, columnist

I am often asked what my major, professional writing, really means. I never get used to this question. I often explain that it is a cross between English and journalism with a little telecommunications thrown in. The program is designed so that it may be tailored by individual students, but I myself have taken classes covering subjects from grammar to film criticism.

After I explain all of this, the next question proposed to me is: 'What will you do when you graduate?'

Write professionally, of course.

My favorite response is often met with raised eyebrows and further questions. What does it mean to write professionally? Allow me to explain.

Professional writers are nearly invisible to the world. Unlike journalists, who enjoy high profiles and daily assignments, many professional writers work in industrial fields to produce technical-based documents. Have you ever read the manual for your X-Box? A professional writer wrote it. Professional writers work to bridge the gap between a designer and the populace to whom their product is marketed.

Technical manuals are not the only component to professional writing. Similar to journalists, professional writers are hired to work at in-house magazines for companies such as John Deere. The writer does not necessarily need to know anything about tractors to work for John Deere. As long as the writer knows how to communicate, the tractor knowledge can be learned.

Commercial magazines also hire free-lance professional writers to produce feature articles and columns. The market tends to be slightly more competitive; however, a talented, determined writer can find a place in the industry.

If technical work is not interesting to you, think about entertainment. Professional writers produce stories that are turned into feature length films, hit television shows and successful plays. Most people don't realize it, but there is a team of professional writers who write shows like CSI and ER each week. The industry is so large, that two unions, Writers Guild of America West and Writers Guild of America East exist to protect writers' creative interests.

Writing professionally is hard work, but it also is extremely enjoyable. The thing is, the longer you stay at writing the more people drop out of the race. You may be reading my column right now, but sometime in the future you will probably see my name on a movie poster, next to the caption: Screenplay written by.