A focus on writing ‘for free’
By James Common, Managing Director of New Nature Magazine
Voluntary work is not just desirable for progression in the environmental field, it is near mandatory. Although the prospect of yet another ‘unpaid position’ may be daunting, such roles are often the only way of providing cold, hard proof of the dedication and passion so many of us mention instinctively on our CV’s. They also allow us to accumulate core and transferable skills, network and demonstrate that cherished ability to meet deadlines.
Thankfully, due to the rise of careers sites such as the Countryside Jobs Service and the increasing prominence of social media, voluntary opportunities in the great outdoors have never been easier to come by. Although, sadly, the same cannot be said for opportunities in the communicational side of conservation. Sure, a few internships and placements are advertised from time to time but, by and large, aspiring communicators are forced to think creatively when it comes to career development.
Getting noticed in environmental media and communications is difficult, as to write for well-known publications, you often require experience of writing for other well-known publications. It’s a vicious circle and ideas, however interesting, are seldom enough without demonstrable experience. Whether we are talking editors, media specialists or communications officers, all demand evidence that you can string together a sentence, inform an audience and produce engaging content. A difficult situation if ever there was one but one that can be overcome with a little ingenuity.
To get your writing noticed, you need to think outside the box: publishing your work online for all to see in as many places as possible. This is where blogging comes in. Maintaining an online journal or column immediately puts your work out there, allowing you to share your opinions, stories and interests, and above all else, showcase your passion [yes, that word again] for your chosen field. Whatever that may be. It could be moths, microplastics or extinct marsupials – anything goes.
The subject of your writing is entirely up to you; though whatever you choose to discuss, blogging, coupled with the savvy use of social media, may well mean that potential employers are aware of you before you even walk into your next interview. Writing, tweeting or even vlogging about nature is a great way to display dedication to a cause and the ample feedback provided by the online community – environmental commentators are more than happy to highlight mistakes, believe me - can often help you develop your writing skills. This allows you to learn what kind of wording works for a specific audience and, in your ceaseless quest to share your work, teaches you a host of transferable skills in SEO, keywords, promotions, web design, content management – all vital parts of any communications role.
Of course, for those looking for something a little different, you can also volunteer your time to write for existing platforms. From my experience of writing for a range of charities and NGO’s, many organisations, despite not openly advertising for such, welcome voluntary submissions. In our day of increasing reliance on digital content and social media, content is king, and providing your ideas fit with the ethos of an organisation, a letter, email or even tweet of enquiry can often lead to opportunities to get your work out there. Doing this not only allows you to showcase your skills as a written communicator but shows commitment to the organisations you hope one day to work for. This shows you are willing to give your time freely to aid in their success and, ultimately, stands you in good stead for the future. All of which goes without mention of the useful contacts made throughout the process – we all know the value of networking.
As we progress towards a more digital age, more and more platforms are opening to allow prospective writers to showcase their work. Of these, New Nature Magazine is a prime example: readily taking submissions from early career communicators and providing experience not just in writing, but in pitching – a skill that will serve you well in later life. As the founder of New Nature, I have observed early-career writers near instantaneously picked up by bigger, mainstream platforms after submitting voluntary posts to us. Thus, it is clear that writing voluntarily can lead to bigger, brighter opportunities elsewhere. Just look at countless young writers and bloggers who have contributed work to A Focus on Nature and Wildlife Articles – two additional, great resources for early-career conservationists – now publishing widely in the form of books and hard-hitting columns.
Personally, I have spent years of my life ‘communicating’ for free, and while it has not all been plain sailing, it has certainly paid off: leading to opportunities to write for magazines and books, contribute guest blogs, attend educational events and even nervously blag my way through TV appearances. All of which, in turn, have finally amounted to my first ‘proper’ job in conservation communications.
If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone, so do not be afraid to make your own luck, ask for opportunities, pitch your ideas and, above all else, have an opinion. You never quite know where doing so will lead you.