An Interview with Catherine Dmuchovsky
Written by: Katya Cummins

I am very pleased to continue our new profile series, Careers in Writing, with advice from Catherine Dmuchovsky.

Catherine Dmuchovsky is the director of marketing services for a U.S.-based global company. She is the author of a number of notes scattered around her house, and she is working on turning them into a work of fiction. She graduated from McNeese State University with an M.A. in English and an M.F.A. in creative writing.

NICHE: How did you get started on your particular career path?  In effect, can you tell us a little bit about the years after the MFA? A lot of graduates have told me that they  feel uprooted from the literary community. Was that the case with you, and did this feeling in any way influence your choices?

CATHERINE DMUCHOVSKY: I did not lay nice wide, flat paving stones for my career path. It’s more like I picked up random rocks (some of them very pointy) and quickly kicked some dirt around them so I could put one foot in front of the other.

After the MFA, I did temp work for a couple months before getting a job as a writer/editor at a magazine for insurance agents. This was not a path that I had envisioned for myself. I had no dreams of learning about the federal flood insurance program as I wrote my thesis at McNeese. However, I needed a job and this was a good one, and I learned about how to produce a monthly magazine., how to meet deadlines, how to separate my own style from what the publication needed. I later worked at another magazine owned by the same publisher, but was laid off after a while there. That was when I got a job at a university, first as an advisor in its graduate school and later in the communications department of its law school. I’ve been back in the corporate world since leaving the university, now in a marketing role at a global company. My goal has always been to earn my living writing, if possible.

After my teaching experience at McNeese, I knew I didn’t want to continue with it. I enjoyed it a lot, but I didn’t love it in the way that great teachers do (and I suspect I was barely mediocre), and I respect and value the profession too much to half-ass it. That decision is probably the most significant in separating me from the literary community. It’s not one’s day-to-day life anymore. So yes, I felt–and still feel–uprooted from the literary community. A kind of self-imposed but necessary exile. At first I didn’t notice it as much because I was focused on supporting myself and wondering how the fuck I was going to do that, and building my life, but the feeling is always there. It takes more effort now to connect in a meaningful way to the writing world, both the one inside of myself and the one outside.

NICHE: How does editing in academe differ from corporate editing? (That is, what kind of corporate and academic editing have you had experience with?)

CATHERINE DMUCHOVSKY: In my mind there is no difference. Good writing is good writing, and good editing is good editing–always and everywhere. What can change are the purpose of a piece and its audience. Those factors influence the kind of choices you make while you’re working on something and how “creative” you can be. And depending on the industry, in corporate writing there can be compliance issues you have to be aware of, some things you legally can’t say.

In my own experience, I’ve written and/or edited long and short articles, brochures, video scripts, web copy, proposals, newsletters, and even people’s emails. And on and on. Grammar and style decisions are mostly driven by Associated Press guidelines in corporate communications (with some variations, of course), and I use CMS and Strunk and White as reinforcements as well.

NICHE: What are some of the particular pleasures or challenges associated with your job?

CATHERINE DMUCHOVSKY: I like collaborating with other creative people, and I like the international component of my job–it’s something new in my career. It’s cool knowing that ads I wrote are now being used in South Africa, or working on a high-pressure project with people in our Australia office. I also enjoy writing scripts, which is not often, but seeing the CEO (once or twice) and other people speak my words–and having the audience respond how I intended–is gratifying.

So many challenges, so many…. One of the biggest is time. There’s never enough of it to complete a project the way I’d like because the workload is pretty unrelenting. And I’m not a fan of the stress this causes (nor of the repeated, tiny comma-sized blows to my perfectionism). My mind starts to turn in tighter and tighter circles and won’t stretch like it should.

Managing people is another challenge–or, more specifically, doing it well is a challenge. As with teaching, the decisions I make can have a direct impact on another person’s life.

NICHE: Have you noticed any new style and grammar trends in the last five years? 

CATHERINE DMUCHOVSKY: I’ve noticed that now people use “around” when they should use “about”–as in, “there’s been a lot of conversation around strategy.” Stupid. Just stupid. I always picture a bunch of people standing around in a circle, hands in their pockets, staring at a lump of of something with the word “strategy” on it, or whatever it is they’re talking about. “Yup, that’s strategy. See it, Bob? That’s strategy right there.”

NICHE: What were some of the trials that you’ve experienced? A friend of mine, who is in the early stages of an editing job now, is actually interested in how the quintessentially “dreamy” writers have gone through disillusionment about careers in writing [publishing] and come through the other side to build strong careers for themselves. How does one managed to balance the dream with the reality?

CATHERINE DMUCHOVSKY: Embrace the disillusionment! It’s fun. Seriously, though, what are you really losing? Just an idea, a fiction of what you thought an experience would be like, one with no more value than what you choose to give it. If you’re paying attention, you gain knowledge and judgment in return (whether you use that knowledge to make different choices for yourself is another topic). And as writers, we of all people should be prepared for this–we should not be surprised. The passage from innocence to experience is a popular theme in the canon, after all. We’ve devoted years of study to the human experience, and yet it’s a total shock when it happens to us.

I don’t believe anymore in the false dichotomy between the “dreamy” artist/writer and other people. It’s cliché and it strikes me as ego-driven. Everybody has to learn about their own profession, and get better at it, through trial and error. You can’t avoid that process or go around it. Your dream may take a beating or go dormant for a while, but that is OK.

NICHE: What do would graduates, who want to pursue your line of work, need to be aware of?

CATHERINE DMUCHOVSKY: As a good communicator, you have skills that are becoming increasingly hard to find (believe me–I’ve seen the shitty résumés), so you have more options than you think. Also, you won’t always be the smartest person in the room, so read, read, read and keep learning.

NICHE: Have marketing strategies evolved due to social media, and if so how? How have companies had to accommodate? It might seem like an obvious statement, but there seems to be more variables involved than people think. Otherwise, all advertisements would catch on, authors and companies wouldn’t have to hire their own publicists,and every single video on youtube would go viral, right? It is also well accepted that someone could have written the best book in the world but if the book is not marketed properly then the book will likely never be known or receive the attention it deserves. What advice do you have for those seeking to market themselves or their work?

CATHERINE DMUCHOVSKY: Yes, marketing has changed since social media has become more popular and widely used. Companies have to communicate their message in more and different formats than before; they have to reach consumers where they live, which is of course on their phones, on all of the various channels (facebook, twitter, instagram, blah blah). The air of making-it-up-as-you-go-along is thicker in the social media sphere because companies are really just following a nanosecond behind what consumers are doing–it’s like watching a school of fish flash in the water. (Although clever marketers have designed the desire to have the devices that foster this connectivity to everything, all the time.) The process of marketing hasn’t really changed, though. New ideas and messages are simply produced in greater quantities and failing and/or disappearing faster than was possible in traditional formats.

As to the second part of that question, about marketing oneself, I don’t know that I can offer much advice here, certainly nothing you couldn’t find in Poets & Writers. I’ve been out of the game for a while. But I think the scenario you describe will always exist–any number of authors will write great books and never get recognized, and that’s not something that marketing can solve. It’s tempting to chase after the experience of someone who got a book contract because of her blog, which she started while working on her novel (you get the idea). But that’s luck, not a realistic plan. (And if you constantly humble-brag on your social media outlets, people will start to hate you.) It’s also worth considering what kind of recognition you’re after. If it were me, I would still leave the marketing to the publisher.

Advice for managing others: The qualities that make someone a decent human being also make that person a good manager–honesty, kindness, integrity. Follow through on what you say you’re going to do, ask your employees how you can help them, and never, ever micromanage. Seriously. Never. Managing people can be an odd mix of the intimate and the corporate. You learn things about your employees’ personal lives that you probably wouldn’t if you were just their coworker, so of course you must also be discreet. And don’t feel you have to put on a different “boss” personality in order to be effective, which can happen if you’re insecure about leading someone else or if you’re new to managing people. Just be honest and admit you’re learning as you go. But you also have to learn how to have difficult conversations, and in those instances it’s better to be direct without being harsh, and to be specific about the problem. And be prepared for it to feel uncomfortable. Because it does.

NICHE: Is there anything else you want our readership to know?

CATHERINE DMUCHOVSKY: Your readers probably know more than I do.