re: on technical writers

Subject: re: on technical writers
From: Sean Hower <hokumhome -at- freehomepage -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 18 Mar 2002 09:29:30 -0800 (PST)

Disclaimer: from an unpublished fiction writer

I've always enjoyed writing, especially fiction writing. When I was growing up and while I was in college, I took a variety of fiction writing courses. I've also participated in a couple of writing workshops, even tried to start one up when I moved to Sacramento. I wanted to, and still want to, publish short stories and novels. I write fiction when I have the time. So, I guess while I haven't been published, I _kind_ of fall into the category of person you're talking about.

I got into this field, more or less, by accident. I've posted the story before, so I won't bore again. :-) Here's how I see it, for what it's worth:

Technical writing teaches facts, fiction writing relates a fictional event (good fiction writing entertains you while it's relating that event). I'm not saying we can't learn from fiction. Fiction teaches us a lot about the human condition, morality, life, etc etc etc. But I wouldn't read Jurrasic Park to learn about DNA and cloning. I'd buy a book on genetics for that.

Technical writers don't own their work in the same way fiction writers do. Technical writers write for someone else, fiction writers write, more or less, for themselves. Technical writing is an exploration in fact and procedure, produced outside of the "self" (we're just describing something as it exists). Fiction writing is an exploration in life, produced within the "self." Fiction writing is an exploration into one's inner workings, one's beliefs, one's trauma and one's life experiences. Technical writers work with a variety of people to complete their work, including SMEs. While good fiction writers contact SMEs and ask for technical assitence for their fiction when necessary, the input a fiction writer gets is qualitatively different, and the input is used to provide authenticity, not relate fact. (Granted, bad fiction writing digresses into what could be construed as technical documentation, but that's to either impress the reader or to prove to the reader that the events the writer has created are indeed plausible, than to really relate any fact.) Technical writing is done in the presence of others, fiction writing is often done in a secluded location, away from others who would disturb your train of thought.

I see technical writing and fiction writing as two different exercises. I have adopted two different voices, two different procedures, and two different sets of expectations. They are, and should be, separate. I rely on the narrator of a story to be honest and thorough in their representation of events. demand that my technical documentation give me the means to accomplish my tasks at hand. I want authenticity from fiction, I want accuracy from technical documentation. I write with that in mind.

Sean Hower

technical writer

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