David Hugh Smith’s Biography
David Hugh Smith is president of Right Writers, a Brookline, Mass., communications company. This means he is a general-purpose freelance writer/editor, with clients as far away as Australia. He has written and edited for: newspapers, for financial-services companies, for individuals, and for non-profit organizations.
He also is editor of publications for the Professional Development Collaborative. The PDC, based in Belmont, Mass., provides education at affordable prices for professionals looking to further their careers.
Dave also is an experienced oral historian, available to businesses, non-profits, and individuals who want to create a legacy from valuable wisdom and recollections. (Dave comments: “You don’t need to be in your senior years to have cause to do an oral history – just the desire to capture what has happened in your life up till now.”). In addition, Dave is working on a movie script he describes as being a “thought-provoking action-adventure film that takes place in airplanes and on an abandoned airfield.” His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW
BSO: Tell us about your work as writer/editor/oral historian. Was this your passion at a young age or did you discover it along the way (since you studied economics at Salem State U.) ?
Writing fiction, in 6th grade English class, was my entrée to writing. I discovered I love to tell a story. Of course most of the stories I tell today are non-fiction. And the topics can range from how banks can better serve borrowers to how an animal refuge was created in central Maine. So I’m not now writing new episodes of Star Trek for classrooms of fellow 11-year-olds, obviously. I do, however, still write fiction, and am working on a movie script.
In my view, a piece of writing is most effective when it is clear and interesting and tells a story. People read it and connect with what is being said. And so approaching topics as one might tell a story, I believe, is an effective way to serve readers – and people who might need you to share a message with these readers.
In high school and college, I wrote for school newspapers. My first professional writing job occurred while I was still in college; during college vacations, I reported for the Salem Evening News in Salem, Mass. After college, I was hired by the internationally respected daily newspaper The Christian Science Monitor. The Monitor also got me started as an editor, and one role I played was working on text from non-professionals who were contributing to a weekly advertising section.
After then working as a writer/editor for a number of years in corporate communications and after that, as a travel writer, I worked for eight years creating an oral history library for the Longyear Museum. This was another job I loved. It combined interviewing people with fascinating stories, editing what they shared with me, and writing descriptions of what I learned.
Yes, I was briefly an economics major at Salem State University. Then, I was a Business Administration/English major at Principia College. I also studied fiction writing at Harvard Extension. These all have helped me during my varied career in communications.
BSO: There is no typical day for an editor of a mission-driven organization, such as the PDC, that’s made a tangible impact on so many professionals in Massachusetts over its 12 year history. We met through the PDC. Share with us your a.m. to p.m. schedule.
Ah . . . my typical daily schedule. It’s not easy being a freelance writer/editor, especially today when so much information is offered for free, online. Publications themselves – both general-purpose and topic-specific (especially printed-on-paper ones) – also are struggling.
There is the expectation writing be entertaining, easily accessible, and free.
But if you have a family to feed, the satisfaction of producing helpful and interesting articles that people enjoy reading does little to, for example, pay for feeding a voracious teenage son. So, three days a week, I work in customer service for the world-famous Mapparium, in Boston. (Google it – it’s a great place to visit, when public places are open again).
So one a.m. to p.m., I could be selling tickets to the Mapparium and the next a.m. to p.m. I could be trying to save the world, or at least help save someone’s career, by helping to write and edit material for the Professional Development Collaborative – the PDC.
BSO: What are your ‘can’t live without’ software apps?
I’m sorry – I don’t have any “can’t-live-without” apps. If there were an app that allowed you to order home-delivered Snickers bars during this unusual time when it’s hard to get to places that sell Snickers bars, that would come close. Oh-oh-oh! If there were an app that would enable me to buy books – I love books and do book reviews – from a bookstore, that would be a “can’t-live-without” app. I miss going into bookstores . . .
BSO: What are your proudest achievements, professional & personal?
Proudest achievements professionally would be the articles I have written about topics that are fresh and interesting that have been prominently published.
Proudest achievement personally would be having an 18-year-old son who is a cool dude – but also a genuinely good person – and is about to embark on college.
BSO: What are your favorite news feeds?
I love reading: The Christian Science Monitor. I rely at lot as well on The Boston Globe. Let me also mention a couple non-news magazines: Writers Digest, and Preservation, from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I also love reading Publishers Weekly.
BSO: What are your most rewarding charitable involvements?
My work for the PDC is largely volunteer, and I love doing that. I also have served my church. It has been satisfying supporting my son’s volunteer work for the Brookline Food Pantry.
BSO: You have a diverse career path at The New England, The Longyear Museum, the Christian Science Publishing Society and your freelance work as Right Writer. Who has influenced your career the most? What stands out the most for you of your Christian Science work? Also, How has Covid19 impacted your work?
I feel that mentors – people in your profession who believe in you, encourage you, support and guide you – are extremely important and helpful.
Alas, I haven’t attracted any mentors. But what has happened is people have hired me and set me loose to do a job for them and that’s been just as important.
I’m grateful to the city editor at The Salem Evening News who saw something in my muddled writing for college publications and brought me on board.
I’m grateful to a former editor at the Boston Herald who was exited.
I’d worked for the Monitor and who started me off as a corporate communications writer for The New England insurance company.
I’m grateful to the folks at The Longyear Museum who recognized I’d be the perfect person to create their oral history library.
And I’m very grateful to the people I work with today – Larry Elle, president of the PDC, and the entire beautiful staff who work for the Mapparium.
Covid 19 has not substantively impacted my work. I can do things from home.
BSO: What is your advice for anyone interested in a career as a writer, editor?
I wish I could offer steps-to-making-it as a writer and/or editor. In fact, my own professional experience has been a continuing, evolving quest to discover these. Meanwhile, the writing profession is very different from when I was in college. Then, you could more easily do some writing for your college newspaper and jump to writing for a newspaper, or at least jumping in as a copy clerk as a first step toward advancement in the journalistic world — which often could lead to other types of communications work.
If I were an aspiring writer, I definitely would find ways to write, even if they weren’t paid. Going old school, you could write for college publications, if you are in college, and/or volunteer to write for your local newspaper. Local newspapers need material because they often can only afford a skeleton crew of reporters. And then leverage what you write to apply for jobs that involve writing. Definitely take communications courses in college. Or out of college, take communications courses in person (Harvard Extension, community college for example) or online.
Social media offers various opportunities to self-publish. Do that, and do your best work. And share the links with prospective employers and/or people who might be able to influence others to hire you, or at least to pay you to write for them.
Perhaps most important, figure out what kind of writing you’d like to do. And orient your efforts toward doing this writing. In the old days publications would want to see your “clips” – clippings/copies of pieces of your writing that have been published. Today, so much is online you often need to self-publish the type of writing you want to do if you can’t find an organization that will pay you to do this kind of writing, or at least allow you to voluntarily produce writing they will publish.
I know of people who write sterling text who are unsuccessful at getting work and ones whose writing is indifferent but who are successfully working in the communications field. The indifferent but successful writers are ones who are confident, and accomplished at self-promotion. The ideal combination is to be an excellent writer who also is willing to do whatever it takes to tell people, “Hey! Here I am! I can help you by writing for you. At least give me a chance to write a (fill in the blank) for you!”