What Poetry and Resume-Writing Have in Common

On the surface, poetry and resume-writing may seem quite different: the former is a type of creative writing, while the latter is a more professional endeavour. But there is one crucial point of overlap — both mediums are predicated on the art of being concise.

Striking similarities between the two forms of writing

In general, poems are short — and so are resumes. Sure, there are different styles of poetry — some lengthier than others — but poems are typically no more than a page or two each. The same goes for resumes; if they’re done well, the candidate has condensed their key features within one or two pages max.

Both forms of writing call upon the author to keep things short, snappy, and (most importantly) engaging

A 2018 study from TheLadders.com found that: 

Despite operating in the toughest hiring environment in decades, many recruiters are still skimming resumes for details—with the average initial screen clocking in at just 7.4 seconds.”

When a recruiter sees your resume, then, it’s your job to impress them in mere seconds. The process of engaging a poetry reader is remarkably similar. 

Oftentimes, a potential reader will come across your book at a library or bookstore. It’s your job to create a piece of art that is so engaging, it pulls people in. 

Even though the expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover” seems great in theory, the truth is that many readers will judge your book solely based on its cover (at least as a knee-jerk reaction). That’s why book design is so important — as is the art of choosing the perfect title. 

Once a potential reader picks up your book, they might spend a few seconds glancing at the first poem or two. And, within that very short time-frame, they’ll make a split-second decision on whether your work seems interesting enough to read in more detail. Then, they’ll either put the book back down, or end up purchasing it.

In either scenario (as a job applicant or author), your reader is basically saying: Impress me. Show me what you’ve got. And succeeding means keeping things concise. 

Even stylistically, poems and resumes have a lot in common. In either medium, there’s an art to the way you display words on a page. The formatting, punctuation, and line length all matter.

Your font style, size, and line spacing are all deliberate choices. Your use of em dashes, semicolons, and italics become more powerful. Your choice to keep lines short is methodical.

How to succeed at either art-form

Now that we’ve established the similarities, you’re probably wondering: How do I put this knowledge into action? 

Here are some tips that apply to either genre:

  • Keep things clean. The design of your page should appear sleek. Don’t overcrowd the page with information (especially in a resume). The reader wants to feel informed but not overwhelmed.
  • Recognize the added weight that each word carries. When writing in shorter formats, your words are so much more precious. You don’t have time to flesh out concepts and ideas; you need to make your point, and you need to do so efficiently.
  • Dig into the minutiae of your writing. Pause before choosing a semicolon vs. an em dash. Assess the length of each individual line or sentence. Pay attention to the aesthetics of each page. 
  • Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Imagine if you were reading this particular resume or poem: What would it take for this piece of writing to truly catch your eye? Meditate on that.
  • Don’t be afraid to trim, trim, and trim some more. Many resume writers in particular try to cram as much information onto the page as physically possible. The recruiter does not need to know about every extra-curricular activity you’ve ever done, or every single task you carried out at a particular job. Challenge yourself to cut more words than you think you need to. The same goes for poems — you don’t need to include every little detail. Just the important ones.
  • Always ask for the opinion of others. Pretty much any writer would benefit from getting outside feedback. Have your friends, family, or colleagues read over your work. See what they think. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own heads that we don’t see our work clearly. 

As you can see, either form of writing requires reflection. 

Writing in 2020

With many of us now looking for jobs, the art of resume-writing has never been more relevant. The precariousness of work right now (across the globe) has stirred up anxiety surrounding our careers.

Even if we still have a job, we might worry: What if I don’t have it in six months? Keeping your resume polished is always a good idea.

And as I covered in a recent article, When Hobbies Become Everything: Finding Comfort During a Pandemic, the practice of creative writing is also more valuable than ever. Poetry is a very healing thing.

I hope you found these writing tips helpful! Be sure to subscribe to the blog to stay notified of each new article. And if you have the time, check out a little survey I recently put out for readers of the Writing Advice blog to give feedback about the site (linked here).

Happy writing!

The Importance of Keeping an Up-To-Date Writer’s CV

For most people, the idea of keeping a resume is pretty par for the course.

Whether you’re looking for a new job or just trying to stay organized, keeping an accurate record of your employment history, level of education, and key skills is a common thing for professionals to do.

But what about a writer’s CV?

Well, if you’re embarking on a writing career, this lesser-known record of achievement is extremely important. And for many years of my career, I skipped this step altogether.

Let’s break down what a CV is, why you should care, and tips for keeping yours up-to-date.

What is a writer’s CV?

CV stands for curriculum vitae.

It’s kind of similar (in nature) to a resume, but is generally a more streamlined list of one’s professional accomplishments.

And as an author, your creative CV will be specifically focused on your writing career.

You’ll usually need a writer’s CV if you’re applying for contests, grants, or residencies. You may also be asked to supply one if you’re submitting a manuscript for publication or trying to get booked for a gig (i.e. a poetry reading).

In essence, your writer’s CV serves as an easy reference for all of your career highlights.

Why should I care about keeping an accurate writer’s CV?

As I mentioned, I actually went many years without keeping an up-to-date writer’s CV. I was still in the early days of my creative writing career and didn’t understand its importance.

I eventually had to draft one up when applying for an editorial position several years ago.

The problem was, I’d been writing for many years and hadn’t been keeping track of every little accomplishment, so I sort of had to scramble while putting my CV together.

The risk that comes with hurriedly drafting a writer’s CV is that you may end up forgetting important accomplishments. If you’re not maintaining a running list of your achievements, you’ll likely forget some.

So, I’d recommend keeping a CV as soon as possible — ideally from the beginning of your career. If you’re a new writer, this should be one of your top priorities!

This will help you stay organized and ready for any exciting opportunities that come up; you’ll be able to easily send one over when applying for a contest or residency. Keeping an up-to-date writer’s CV will help you look polished and professional.

Applying for such opportunities is the main way you’ll grow your career. Especially when you first start out, you’ll want to take every chance possible to get your name (and your work) out there.

An accurate CV will help you put your best foot forward.

How can I draft my own writer’s CV?

Now that we’ve established the basics of what a writer’s CV is and why it’s important, we can go through the steps of actually writing one.

I’d say that your first priority should be creating a detailed list of every single literary accomplishment you’ve had. For this, I’d write a simple list either by hand or in a blank Word document. (You can worry about the design later.)

Remember that, especially as a new writer, no accomplishment is too small! Even if you’ve only been published in small student journals or maintain your own blog, that counts, too.

As a general rule, I like to break my writer’s CV into three sections: publishing credits, notable appearances, and awards/distinctions.

Now, I’m primarily a poet (in terms of my creative career), so this format may not necessarily apply to your genre. For example, if you write personal essays, you may not give many performances (as opposed to poets who regularly give readings).

Be sure to write down every little detail that would make you look like a qualified writer. Every minor publication, performance, or contest you’ve won will help.

If there are particular accomplishments that stand out, consider highlighting them in a separate section.

For example, I have a section titled “Of note”, where I mention the fact that my book is held at the University of Toronto Libraries. This helps the reader zero in on a particularly important achievement of mine.

Once you’ve got a basic list done, you can fuss over the design. I like to use Microsoft Word templates, but you could also use one from Google Docs.

Plug in all of your accomplishments and spend some time playing around with the layout. I’d recommend making it as visually appealing as possible, so that it’s easy to read and gives off a professional look.

One last important tip: regularly update your writer’s CV. A CV is of no use to you if it’s no longer accurate. At least once every few months, take stock of your recent writing achievements, and add them to your CV.

An added bonus? It feels nice to reflect on how far you’ve come, so this process can also give you an added boost of confidence in your career!

Wrapping up

Hopefully, now you’ve got an understanding of why it’s important to keep a writer’s CV. Remember to start small and stay organized.

This simple practice of drafting one can help you give a good first impression to potential editors or contest judges.

Just as a job hunter needs an impressive resume, so too does a writer need a professional CV.


As always, thanks for reading the Writing Advice column here on my site. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to follow the blog to be notified of future articles.

(I had to skip a couple of weeks, but we’re now back to our regularly-scheduled posts.)

Happy writing!