There are a lot of words out there these days, and someone has to write them. From film reviews to company blogs to car commercials, there are humans coming up with those words, and there’s a story behind each of those people.

We put out an APB asking people about their unexpected writing jobs. Here are a few of their stories — what they write, who they work with, the strangest writing task they’ve ever received, and how their past work led them to their unexpected writing job.

Kimberly Dimicco, Sausalito, California

Kimberly Dimicco is the content marketing manager at Scout RFP, a digital platform dedicated to procurement. “If you told my high school self I’d be making a living writing marketing content for a procurement audience, I’d probably have replied with, ‘What? No! ….What’s procurement?”’, she says.

What did you study and what did you think you would do? How did you get from school to here, and what have you learned?

I went to the University of Southern California, where I studied international relations and global business, with a study abroad year at the London School of Economics in political science.

When I started my career I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and now I’m a content marketing manager, building out our content team at a software startup. I’ve learned there’s no substitute for experiencing things for yourself, so try to gather diverse experiences early in your career.

Who do you work with?

I work closely with Scout’s customers to amplify their stories through webinars, event speeches, case studies and other content. Within Scout, I partner with marketing team colleagues as well as with our sales, product, sales operations and executive teams. Scout also has a trusted network of agencies and freelance consultants that I team up with to produce content.

Where does your writing show up?

My writing shows up on Scout’s website via blogs, white papers, landing pages, product copy and more, as well as in press releases, news articles, industry outlets and other channels.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve had to write for your job?

In a previous role, the CEO of the company tasked me with writing a college recommendation letter. It was to be from one of the CEO’s wealthy friends in support of the CEO’s girlfriend’s daughter. Had his friend ever met this daughter? No. Had I ever met this daughter? Also no. Had I ever met the CEO’s friend? Still no. It was the last in a string of similarly absurd requests, and in many ways the straw that broke the camel’s back, prompting me to pursue opportunities at other organizations.

What have you learned that has made you a better writer?

If you’re having a hard time putting words to paper, you probably don’t know enough and need to do more research. When you’re very informed and confident in your knowledge, it’s easy to write in an educational and inspiring way. So when in doubt, do more research.

What advice do you have for other people trying to get into writing?

Practice and volunteer. Today it’s extremely rare to get hired to do something without proven experience and results. Seek out every opportunity you can in your current role to contribute content — ghostwriting, guest posts, newsletters, etc. — and when you’ve exhausted those possibilities, check out volunteering opportunities to practice your writing skills even more and support a good cause.

Matt DiVenere, Franklin, Massachusetts

Matt DiVenere is a former sportswriter turned content producer at naviHealth — with quite a few pit stops in between.

What did you study and what did you think you would do? How did you get from school to here, and what have you learned?

I studied journalism and mass communications from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont.

I always thought I would be a sports reporter, and I was for a short period of time. I was on the sports desk part-time at the Burlington Free Press my junior year. I got hired as a sports editor for two weekly newspapers and was there for two years.

Once my wife and I decided to move closer to family, I decided to give this “content marketing” world a chance thanks to a few conversations with fellow journalists. I worked for an email marketing company for many years, crafting content around a number of industries, such as automotive, health care and finance, for B2C and B2B clients.

Then I was given an opportunity to get back into journalism — but this time in the automotive space. Unfortunately, the company I worked with became unsuccessful and ended up clearing house very abruptly.

From there I decided to pursue the content marketing world full time. I decided to go after the most stable industry available: health care. I was fortunate enough to be given a shot and spend a couple years at a health care IT company in Massachusetts.

Today I work for an amazing company called naviHealth, where I am a content producer for their thought-leadership blog and newsletter vehicle called naviHealth Essential Insights (NEI). I’m over six months in and I couldn’t be happier. When I came on board at naviHealth, it was like being given the keys to a Ferrari and shown a wide open road.

I still do some automotive writing on the side as a freelance promotional script writer for a video company based in California. But these days you can find me in health care.

Where does your writing show up?

These days my writing is shown on NEI. I’m also on Twitter a ton. And yes, Twitter can be awful, but there are pockets of good out there. It just all depends on what you’re looking for.

But if I ever get the creative itch, I do write for my friends at Writer’s Bone.

For the car scripts, you can’t really see my writing. But hearing it is pretty cool too.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve had to write for your job?

While I was at the email marketing company, I had to write an article for a fashion company. The subject was “How to Get the Taylor Swift Look.” Needless to say there was a ton of research needed.

What have you learned that has made you a better writer?

Simple is better. Too often you see writers have these long-winded sentences. The written word is battling video content in an “Endgame” type of war. We need to keep it short to keep people’s attention. There’s no CGI in writing (yet).

What advice do you have for other people trying to get into writing?

Write everything. Anything. And as often as you can. And better yet edit everything too. See if your writing friends need some peer editing. Don’t become one-dimensional and get stuck in one style in one industry or focus. Being an editor helped me be a better writer. And writing about a variety of topics helped me better understand that it’s not about me — it’s all about my writing.

Caroline Cao, New York, New York

Caroline Cao is a film critic and freelance writer. You can find her writing at Slashfilm and Birth.Movies.Death, and on many other platforms.

What did you study and what did you think you would do? How did you get from school to here, and what have you learned?

I wanted to be an astronaut in kindergarten. Then I wanted to be president in fifth grade, then a criminal lawyer, a writer, the next Spielberg — it’s a lot.

I have two degrees, in TV production and creative writing fiction, and I just got my MFA in nonfiction from The New School. Right now I work as a freelance writer. I’ve been writing a lot about movies and interviewing people. I’ve been writing about the theater too. I also recently signed a contract to do a feature-length screenplay.

I don’t know a lot about the process of reviewing a film. How do you take notes and organize your thoughts?

Sometimes when I watch a movie I might have a notepad out and scribble things, but honestly I don’t use those notes much. Well, not as much as I’d like, because when you’re writing in the dark, it’s impossible to read your own handwriting most of the time!

Mostly I write by memory, and if I need more information I have to reach PR to clarify. There is a quick turnaround too. Writing reviews at the Tribeca Film Festival taught me to write reviews quickly and on a time crunch. I used to be a bit slower. But freelancing also gives me the time to polish and review what I want to say.

What advice do you have for other people trying to get into writing?

Don’t be afraid to make a mess at first. Put things down on paper. It’s OK to write scraps and figure out how to organize them later. Really, it’s a mess that you’re going to organize later — and because you have a mess that means you have a lot more on hand too. You just have to train yourself to work with it.

Also, your health is very important. Treat yourself to a massage every once in a while.

Mary Lou Brady, Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania

Mary Lou Brady is the social media manager and digital content manager at Pfizer. But during her journey, she’s written everything from user manuals to customer service scripts — and almost everything in between.

What did you study and what did you think you would do? How did you get from school to here, and what have you learned?

I started out with a focus on IT, later changed to Accounting and Finance, and finally settled on Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing.

My career began in technical support for a software company in the pharmaceutical industry. I enjoyed the challenge of technical support, but I quickly realized that I often answered the same questions for our clients. In the more complex areas of the software, I found that I was confused by the client business requirements, since I had no business experience. The ticketing application that the company used included an unused knowledge base. I populated the knowledge base with common questions and canned responses and I began detailing the more complex reporting scenarios that I struggled to understand. The act of organizing my notes helped me to understand client business requirements and I was able to deliver reporting templates for complex tasks directly to our clients. Additionally, since the company now had a knowledge base, I single-handedly shortened help desk employee on-boarding time from 3 months to 2 weeks.

The 5 Ws (and H) are the basis of all my work.

  • WHO is the audience?
  • WHAT problems are we trying to solve?
  • WHEN is this needed, or how does timing affect the topic?
  • WHERE is this being published?
  • WHY are we doing this? Determine the purpose!
  • HOW do we deliver value with this?

I have carried those lessons to every role that I have taken on since then. It’s one thing to understand the product functionality, but the real magic lies in understanding the actual needs of the client. By consistently taking the time to interview clients in different segments of an industry to understand their specific business processes (and the WHY behind the process), I can deliver a better client experience on every level. I can empower the company to become a partner to their clients, transcending the role of a typical vendor and developing customer loyalty along the way.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Typically, I fulfill a hybrid role: writer, business analyst, internal/external marketing, and project manager. I work to bridge gaps in the business process. I often find:

  • Marketing is unsure how to relate product features to customer needs.
  • Technical teams do not understand how to build a product that solves actual business problems.
  • Customers think they know what they need (but they don’t).
  • Tech teams will agree to timelines without understanding that they have over-committed.

Where does your writing show up?

External marketing emails, some industry publications, company blogs, company knowledge bases, executive summaries, internal marketing emails, IVR systems, sales videos, customer training videos, internal training documents, newsletters, responses to RFPs, canned responses for customer service and technical support teams, and occasionally on billboards and lobby advertisements.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve had to write for your job?

An apology letter from a customer service representative to a customer after an unfortunate… incident.

What have you learned that has made you a better writer?

Research: ask a lot of questions, talk to everyone who has an association with the topic (even if it appears to be tertiary or ancillary).

Question everything. Dig deep into the topic. You can build a story arc even for the driest of business topics.

What advice do you have for other people trying to get into writing?

Be willing to take on small, seemingly boring assignments. These are wonderful writing challenges! If you can write compelling copy to excite a customer about a drain stopper, then imagine what you will be able to do for a fun topic!