What’s In a Writer’s Resume?

NoobOne of the most common questions I get from writers who actually read my mile-long manifesto on breaking into freelance writing is, “What’s this Writer’s Resume thing?  Do I need that?”  Uh.  Yeah.  If I bothered to put it in the fucking manifesto, it’s pretty damn important.  I’m not just whistlin’ Dixie here.

So, today I’m going to talk to you about your Writer’s Resume.  You’re going to love this one.  It’s actually useful and will probably have fewer curse words than my typical blog posts — though I’d not fucking count on it.

What Is a Writer’s Resume?

Just like other employed bastards, we freelancer writers need to keep a resume on file so we can quickly demonstrate how awesome we are to future employers.  Unlike the typical schmuck, though, our resumes are skill-focused and are meant to highlight our incredible writing prowess.  They also should be better than most boring, fucking awful, white bread resumes — we’re supposed to be the Creatives, remember?

So, for us, the rules are a little looser…. we can play around some and not expect our file to get tossed in the round bin immediately.  In fact, if you can insert something that will get attention without insulting your potential employer, you’re headed in the right direction.  DO NOT FUCKING TAKE A TEMPLATE AND FILL IT OUT.  I BEG YOU!

There are some components that your resume needs, so make sure yours has these sections, regardless of how you title them:

Contact Details.  No one can contact you if you hide your contact information.  Make it big, put it at the top and include your name.  For fuck’s sake, I shouldn’t have to tell you this.  You don’t need to add your address, just email and phone.  No one’s sending you a letter.

Purpose Statement.  Somewhere near the beginning, you need to have a purpose statement.  Now, on a normal resume, it would go something like this: “My purpose is to secure a job doing menial labor for 40 hours a week.”  You can’t settle for that shit — yours needs to be fucking awesome.

I wrote a great purpose statement/intro on my last resume, it goes like this:

“I can still hear them clicking, the tap tap tap of metal on metal as each key rose and fell in a symphonic urgency – through the keys of that old Royal typewriter, I learned the trade of my grandmother, the journalist. Times have changed, the sound is softer as I beat ferociously on plastic keys, but I’m still finding new ways to apply those old principles to my industry as a freelancer. Whether reporting, copywriting or educating gardeners of all skill levels, concepts like honesty, integrity and punctuality are at the forefront of my mind.”

Maybe it’s a bit wordy, but it gets my point across.  Try to limit your statement to about 100 words so as not to overwhelm your audience.  Also, give it nice, big headline so people notice it.

Skills Outline.  Your purpose statement can be a fucking knock-out and you’ll still fail if you screw this section up.  This is the meat of a writer’s resume.  What can you write, what do you know, what are your skills?  Some ideas to include: SEO experience and knowledge, experience with different voices (especially casual if you’re a blogger), Social media experience, quantifiable improvements to sites you’ve been involved with and your fucking people skills.

Nobody wants to work with a writer who flies off the handle when they get an edit request — if you can handle deadlines like a pro and can keep your cool when edits do happen, add that to this section.  Trust me, that one little skill will get you further than being the best fucking writer on the planet.  Nobody wants to work with a hot head.  But don’t lie about it if you do freak out — just exclude it and then grow the fuck up.

Work History.  Your work history matters, but not like you think it does.  Writers are different, I think I told you that already, so your ability to hold a job doesn’t really matter too much.  What does matter are these two things: your proven print work experience and your actual job skills.  Number one makes sense, surely, but number two is less obvious.  Let me explain that a little better.

Because of Google’s increasingly tough standards, today’s writers need to know something about anything besides words.  That knowledge you picked up working odd jobs will become your primary niche — or your niches if you’ve worked in different industries for enough time to have actually learned something.

For example, I worked as a Realtor for nearly 10 years — I know, I was shocked, too.  Because of that decade, I easily pick up work directly related to the real estate industry.  However, I also grew up on a beef farm (really) and owned a dairy farm and commercial greenhouse (really).  I spend a lot of my time writing about gardening and farm-related products, too.  Those are my primary niches — the real estate and the gardening/agriculture — and I can prove my competency with my work history.

Unlike you, though, I also can get away with being a generalist because of my work experience as a reporter.  Having been a professional newspaper reporter means something else: I know how to research and I can pretend to look like a pro on just about any subject.  You may think you can, too, but you can’t — at least not according to your resume — so try to focus, ok?

Education.  You need to include a tidbit about your education because potential employers want to be sure you’re literate.  In fact, most will require a degree and many want to see that you completed a Bachelor’s.  That’s not my rule, it’s the way of the industry.  Unfortunately, too many people who can barely form a sentence want to be writers.  There’s got to be a way to weed them out, so this is the test most people use.  It is what it is.

So, that’s it.  That’s all you really need.  The section order I’ve given you is the order I have on my own resume.  I pulled up a sample so I could share with you and discovered that my resume hasn’t been updated in almost two years (yikes!).  This is the old one, feel free to borrow ideas for your own (but if you plagiarize me I will fucking cut you).

One last note.  The reason I’ve not needed to update for two years is because I’ve not had to solicit work in that amount of time.  It can happen for you, too, but first you have to learn how to do all the things it takes to get rolling and develop a reputation.  Start with your resume, we’ll talk about samples next time.