By: Rachel Taylor
This summer was not a vacation, but it took me to places I’ve never been – through the stories of those people whom the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) has touched.
I started interning as a writer for the IFDC Communications Department this past May, and I had no idea what a briquetting machine was. When that first day of writing came, I still thought of fertilizer as something you put on temperamental roses so they would keep blooming. Or, as a young child, it could be dangerous if I played in grass that was dotted with it. I’m glad I don’t think like that anymore, since half of my family came from the farming community of Corinth, Mississippi. My dad still watches the crops that grow in large sprawling fields on either side of our subdivision and worries about them when they don’t get harvested right away. While my internship was not what you might picture as a standard writing internship, I think all writers will understand these experiences while on the job.
1. When One Curious Word Turns into a Research Chain
You notice something mentioned in a project you’re editing, something you’ve never heard of before (Guti urea, West African CFA Franc, etc.). Every writing assignment should teach you something new, so it’s a good find, but it’s when you go to look it up that it becomes an adventure. So, you Google it, and the definition relates it to another mysterious word. When you follow that, it finally tells you what that one word means – of course, it leaves you with a missing piece. The more often you write, the more often you have to follow a paper chain until you reach a vague understanding. Then you can explain it to others. This could go on for ten minutes to an hour, but at least you learned it. That’s part of learning to write well: you give others and yourself a bigger view of the world.
2. The Total Rewrite
There are many types of drafts a writer/editor might receive for an article or story. There are drafts from people who write well, but have very limited time to tell a story, so they miss key elements of sentence structure. There are also drafts, when you’re working in an international organization like IFDC, that come to you as a translation straight from the mouth of Google Translate. As a writer, I’ve had to work with many types of contributors. Plenty of my own writing has been rewritten to serve a different purpose. But these changes can be tedious, and the page is usually bright red from all the changes. You can’t even tell which words are left because the rest of the sentence is crossed out. However, I always find that these stories turn out to be the most rewarding of all.
3. When Even You Don’t Know the Grammar
You know that the word “You” would have an “are” following it versus “is,” and you are the “Grammar Nazi” that corrects other people on social media (that’s rude by the way, but it serves my point). But there are moments where you correct grammar in a sentence… and it just sounds wrong when you read it aloud in your head. So you re-correct it to another possibility. But now doubt has sunk in. Should you follow your instinct that made the first correction? Or should you leave this new correction? You finally give in and just allow the next editor to tear it out. In the end, the sentence may not even be left in the final product. Grammar is always going to be just slightly out of our grasp – new rules are made every year – don’t let it get you down! Just learn, and move on.
4. The Usual Success
You finally finished the edit, article, or story, and had it published online. Congratulations! It doesn’t look like much, even though you know people usually like this kind of story. The reach isn’t that good compared to the usual posts, but you know it’s flawless and that’s all that matters. But few things are more rewarding than “working hard at work worth doing.” And one view is still better than nothing! 😉
Overall, I was able to try every form of writing that was available to be learned. I learned how to write for a different community (what are hectares?), edited to my heart’s content (do we follow U.S. currency or the currency of the writer?), and I even tried writing a proposal (what’s a grant?)! Always get an internship – you will never run out of things to learn!
This blog is part of IFDC’s “Intern Experiences” blog series. IFDC offers internships in many areas of our work, from our research labs, to headquarters support, to the field. If you are interested in participating in our internship program, check out our careers page for current openings.