Re: Do'ers and Doubters (was observation about engineers)

Subject: Re: Do'ers and Doubters (was observation about engineers)
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 15 Oct 2001 14:20:16 -0700

Andrew Plato wrote:


I think a lot of them come into the profession as a mechanism to earn a
living while they wait to be "discovered" for their creative writing..


[snip]

Many of the schools and organizations
surrouding tech writing tout tech writing as a career where you can make
money off your love of writing. The romance of calling oneself a writer is
much more attractive than the unglamours job of documenting procedure
calls in a NetBIOS interface.


Developing a halfway decent plot or getting a character's voice right isn't very glamorous, either. Nothing is very glamorous that requires a hard slog. All the successful writers of fiction, from the ultra-literary to the hacks, are workaholics. They spend time writing that other people spend watching TV or going to movies.

Which brings up an interesting question: why do so many wannabe writers end up in tech-writing? Does it somehow seem easier than other types of writing?

I suspect that, to the wannabes, it does. Not so much because,in tech-writing, you seldom have to worry about character or imagery - although that may be part of it. But, for writers working at a regular job or in a large company, much of the work is already done for them. They have style guides or other writers to help direct and focus them. Somebody else sets the deadlines. And, in some cases, as Andrew points out, they don't even have to do much writing; besides the editors and formatters Andrew mentions, I've heard more than one writer boast of simply copying and pasting from code comments, then adding an example coaxed from a SME.

If these writers tried to operate at the same level even in journalism, they'd be lucky to keep a job at a local freebie paper. Fiction, of course, they've rarely managed. But, in many companies, the standards for tech-writing are so low that nobody notices their inadequacy, and they can continue to call themselves "writers."

Personally, working at such a level of ignorance would make me hugely uncomfortable, but these writers seem to survive well enough. Being able to call themselves "writers," however dubious their claims, seems to be enough for them.

Why, I don't know. Maybe it's because I sold my first professional work at 16, but the title doesn't mean that much to me. Or maybe I've known too many writers; after hanging out at a university, I'm not very impressed by a doctorate, either. I'm much more hungry to be called a good writer - directly, or by receiving a larger cheque, or simply by knowing that I've done the best work I can under the conditions. Tech-writing isn't quite the stuff of my dreams, either, but, having decided to do it, I'm not going to do it half-heartedly.


--
Bruce Byfield 604.421.7177 bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com

"All rights and all wrongs have long since blown away,
For causes are ashes where children lie slain."
- Stan Rogers, "The House of Orange"



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References:
Re: Do'ers and Doubters (was observation about engineers): From: Andrew Plato

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