Creative Writing is not just about crafting entertaining stories but also about breaking down technical and esoteric kind of information into engaging, relevant and quality content for a diverse audience !
Anchal Sharma, our next pathbreaker, Social Media Editor at Moss Motors Ltd., the world’s biggest supplier of automotive parts for classic British cars like Jaguar, Austin Healey, MG, Triumph and Mini Cooper, disseminates content through print and online mediums for classic car enthusiasts (a very niche audience).
Anchal talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about her her wide range of roles from editing kids’ magazines to writing for an automotive company with the sole aim of building a community of loyal enthusiasts.
For students, the industry needs more writers who can bring in a fresh perspective through their creativity, imagination and communication skills !
Anchal, what were your growing up years like?
I grew up in quite a diverse family, one where we were given a lot of freedom to be who we are. It is quite evident in the fact that I became a writer/editor, my younger sister is a software developer and the youngest one is a professional classical Indian dancer who moonlights as a Makeup Artist. I think being exposed to distinct viewpoints since childhood played an important role in shaping me into who I am today.
As a child, I enjoyed a healthy mix of indoor and outdoor activities. I had as much fun playing basketball or badminton as I had reading, painting, listening to music, or watching my favorite anime or sport. However, if I had to seriously pick a consistent interest, it was reading. I was very close to my grandparents and remember being gifted books especially on my birthday. Without even realizing it, I started to appreciate being able to step into a world of full of characters and stories so much so that I took the benefits for granted.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
I got my Bachelor of Arts degree with English Literature, Economics and Psychology as the main subjects. For my post-graduation, I studied English Literature.
Tell us, how did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
It took me a while to arrive at where I am today. I always took my interest and abilities in reading and writing as mere hobbies that I could pursue in my free time but nothing beyond that. In fact, a lot of my decisions came after doing something and realizing that that wasn’t what I wanted to do! For example, I took up science for my 11th and 12th grade assuming that’s what all students with a good high school score did. Of course, I felt disinterested. So, when it was time to choose my path after class 12, I understood that pursuing a degree in science wasn’t going to cut it for me. Being mindful of my general interests, I took up BA. I did not have any mentor at this point, and simply followed my instincts without understanding where they were leading me.
During college, the library was always my go-to place. Spending time there reading books always filled me with a sense of tranquility; it made me feel as if I did not need anything else. There’s an event I remember clearly. The year was 2007, and I had just finished reading Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie. A few days after I finished reading the book, I learnt that he was going to be at the Jaipur Literary Festival that year! Of course, I had to be there! I wasn’t going to get permission because I was an undergrad at that time, but the college librarian Sister Lillian played a special role in helping me get permission to attend the literary fest. It was for the first time that I saw so many important authors, journalists and bibliophiles in one place. Just being in that environment made me really feel for the first time, “This is the place where I belong.”
My first turning point came after graduation. I was offered the chance to write and edit moral education books for students of class I to VIII. That experience reinforced the feeling that I was going the right way.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
Since I was fresh out of college when I was contracted to work on the books, I made that my priority and enrolled in a distance learning program to pursue a Masters in English Literature. Working with a publishing house dedicated to printing children’s academic books was a great opportunity to create something that I could call mine. It was a contractual job. Conceptualizing new stories based on the curriculum structure that I was given was challenging work because for each grade I had to level up the writing even when talking about the same topics. It involved a lot of research to first understand my reading audience, then create content, check the use of age-appropriate language that could be easily understood by the students, and finally proofread and edit the drafts in accordance with the in-house style guides before they were ready to be published. You understand more about the publishing world, the weight of each word and the beauty of being concise while trying to get your point across. Getting into journalism, publishing houses, libraries, social media marketing, or working for yourself and writing books are all wonderful avenues to explore your interest and proficiency in English writing.
When the book writing project got over, I had to do something, so at the end of the year 2009, I found a teaching job vacancy and applied for it. I got the job.
It was a brand-new experience, teaching English Language and Literature to kids from grade VI to VIII. I found teaching a great way to build a solid foundation and understanding of language basics. Teaching actually taught me a lot and most importantly respect for the subject and its history. However, as months passed by, I became restless. I felt I was not growing or learning new things. So, I quit that job and opened a coaching center. Coaching too worked well for a while. I took class after class of high school, intermediate, graduate and post graduate students helping them with the English section of their competitive exams. Here too, I realized I had the same problem. I was teaching the same curriculum, and while it was interesting in the beginning because I was trying out different methodologies, it became formulaic after a while.
I remember talking to my sister about where I felt my career was going and just writing down what I wanted my life to look like, and trying to remember what my aspirations really were. After looking at what I had scribbled, I realized that all I wanted to do was write and discontinue teaching.
I made an online profile and started applying for freelance writing work. I wrote everything from resumes and SOPs to blogging for fashion, travel and FMCG websites. Once I had built a decent portfolio, I moved to Gurgaon and started working as a Senior Content Writer for a UK based company specializing in interactive technologies for educational institutions. My job at Genee Technologies involved working on the company’s website, writing product descriptions, press releases, blogging about the new products, and editing any marketing collateral. The content I was creating here was completely different from what I had done previously. It was solely for the purpose of marketing and creating more brand awareness. Here, I learnt more about SEO and how to incorporate those web friendly practices to create copy that drives sale.
I wrote the script for the 2014 New Delhi World Book Fair documentary and took up a lot of freelancing jobs to continuously build my portfolio while working with Genee. I used writing to express whatever my client wanted. I found this work mentally stimulating and fulfilling.
The next job put me in an editorial profile for a kids’ magazine. It was also a great learning experience. I took this job simply because it added to my skill set. At Think Stations, as a Senior Editor, I was not only working with an SEO manager and penning down marketing material, but also working with a team of graphic designers, photographers, freelance writers and editors to create new and appealing content for children in the form of a fortnightly magazine called “Kids Explore”. I learnt to work within tight deadlines and schedules as well as build on my editorial skills.
I moved to the United States after I got married and could not work due to the lack of a work visa. Two and half years of not working impacted my confidence. I wondered if I would get a job in a country where I had not studied and where I did not have any social circle but for some Indian people who were either engineers, PhD scholars or managers. So, I had no reference or inspiration to take from anyone around me.
However, I did not give up. After a bout of being depressed, I picked up writing again. I started writing for myself. Whatever thoughts came to me, I would poetically jot them down first in my diary, and then on an Instagram page. The moment I got my work visa, I sent out my resume. Within a few days, I got a call. After a telephonic and an in-person interview, I became the new Copy Editor and Marketing Assistant for Moss Motors Ltd.
How did you get your first break?
My first break was writing moral education books. I got it through a family friend who ran a publishing firm and wanted an editorial eye on the school books they were publishing for grade I to VIII. I convinced them that I would be able to create fresh new content for students.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Challenge 1: Inexperience
The first challenge was believing in myself that I could do more than I was asked. Nobody will trust you if you do not show confidence in yourself. You must believe in your abilities and desire to work hard, to put in the long hours and come out on top. I was so passionate about the work and what it would mean once it is done, that I did not let my inexperience get in the way of taking on a project of that scope.
Challenge 2: Understanding course content and sentence structure
Besides the curriculum that I was handed over, I consulted a lot of books to get an idea of the relevant topics to design the course structure for each grade. Writing long, complicated prose is easy. It is writing the simple things that’s difficult. I had to read a lot of elementary and middle school books to understand how to use age-appropriate sentence construction. I employed the same tactics in crafting exercises that followed each chapter.
Challenge 3: Meeting Deadline
Meeting deadlines is not easy when it comes to creative writing. Sometimes you can sit for hours with only a sentence to show for it. To meet this challenge, I started breaking down the process and ambiguity into small parts, defining and specifying the requirements expected from each lesson, setting timers and that way I was able to meet my deadlines without fail.
Where do you work now?
I have been working as Social Media Editor for Moss Motors Ltd. It is the world’s biggest supplier of automotive parts for classic British cars like Jaguar, Austin Healey, MG, Triumph and Mini Cooper, as well as for the Japanese Mazda Miata.
What problems do you solve?
Content curation is a big part of my profile. Understanding the audience/market and being able to deliver what they demand brings in more engagement and is good for long term business relationships.
What skills are needed in your role? How did you acquire the skills?
The transition from editing kids’ magazine to writing for an automotive company was not easy, to say nothing of the gap between the two full time jobs. They are both completely different worlds with different demographics. There are two aspects to my job, one involves technical writing that is heavy on specs and another involves indulging classic car enthusiasts (a very niche audience) through a variety of social content.
My current job requires copywriting, editorial skills, social media marketing skills, and a clear understanding of the differences in content dissemination for print and online mediums. It requires me to be updated about the latest copywriting and social media trends, create strategies that deliver increased ROI, and involves working with graphic designers, photographers and influencers for organized campaigns.
To be able to deliver quality content, I realized I had to understand the whole mechanism instead of just focusing on the component I was marketing. So, I spent months learning about the car parts we manufacture and how they compare to the OEM parts that are no longer manufactured by the big companies owing to the vintage status of these beloved roadsters. I visited our machine shop and warehouse, talked to our customer service division, the veterans in our tech department who have been in the company for over three decades, and took time from my schedule to learn parts photography in our studio. All of these things coupled with relevant online courses helped me do my job well.
What’s a typical day like?
A typical day includes writing/editing copy for the many automotive parts that we sell, curating new content, managing social media channels and monitoring their growth, as well as working with influencers and car clubs looking for sponsorship for their events. We publish over ten catalogs and a classic car magazine full of stories. A key component of my job is writing, proofreading, curating and editing that content.
What is it you love about this job?
Sharing people’s stories on our social media platform is definitely my favourite part of the day. Reading the heartfelt experiences of people from all over the world and editing them to get that published and available to read delights me every time!
How does your work benefit society?
Through the stories that we share, the parts we sell to restore vintage cars, the contests we organize and the car clubs we support, I am part of a system that is helping build a strong community of classic car enthusiasts.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you?
I started writing verses and prose poetry in 2018. Writing something introspective, motivational, and exploring the nuances of relationships is what I like doing best. It is certainly a work in progress, and I hope to compile my collection into a book someday.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Here are some DOs and DON’Ts that worked for me.
- VISUALIZE: Close your eyes and imagine how you would like your life to be. Let this be an image that gives you satisfaction. Set up a mood board. Paste pictures of the sort of work life you want, think about the kind of people you want to surround yourself with, the things you crave and write down the feelings you want to experience. Revise these images from time to time.
- EXPLORE: Talk to people working in the field you want to be in, and chalk out a path to get to your goals. Having a mentor is so important because their experience will help you take the guesswork out, letting you focus on what really matters.
- LEARN: Remember learning never stops. So, stay humble and be like a sponge absorbing everything around to become better at what you do.
- DO NOT compare your life with another’s, instead focus on yourself and the journey you want to take. We all have different stories and backgrounds. That’s what makes us unique. What worked for others might not work for you. So, comparison is unhelpful.
- DO NOT underestimate yourself. You are capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for.
- DO NOT be afraid to make mistakes. Our mistakes are our best teachers. I wish I had a mentor though; I would have made less mistakes 🙂
I am currently working on the biography of a well renowned Indian Track and Field star and hope to see it hit the markets soon!