Re: Article: "Living Documentation"

Subject: Re: Article: "Living Documentation"
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 05 Apr 2003 15:34:06 -0800

Jeff Hanvey wrote:

However, most of us DON'T. We work in an environment where we have to do what other people tell us to do, where we have to shunt aside our personal feelings and biases and do the job the way we're told to do.

Many employers are only too happy to have a writer (or any other employee) who takes initiative. Of course, taking the initiative does not mean being a loose cannon, or being undiplomatic. Nor am I suggesting that you can refuse an assignment. But if you can find more efficient ways to produce a document, or ways to improve it, I don't think that many employers are going to object.

More to the point, initiative can lead to more varied work or promotion. A case in point: I've just finished a brochure for a client. As we were discussing the final changes before it goes to press, I made a few suggestions about the campaign that will use the brochure. Now I'm helping to organize the campaign, too. If I had just kept my mouth shut and done what I'd been hired to do, I wouldn't have that extra work. Similarly, at a full-time job, I talked so much about product direction that after six weeks I was made product manager. The same thing happened at another full-time job, too. Whether you're full-time or contract, initiative is always appreciated, so long as it's not accompanied by arrogance.

And this is exactly the type of bashing inherent in your attitude - I'm just a hack because I have to work within the system to do my job.

I don't mean to offend, but that's exactly what a hack is: someone who works within the system. A hack is a writer who can churn out endless romances for the product lines that have six slots to fill every month, or a journalist who can produce any type of story with any sort of bias. Despite the fact that the word is always used negatively, being a hack requires a certain amount of skill, versatility, and discipline. I even remember one writer whose chief claim to fame was that he was once one-sixth of Phyllis Whitney (meaning that for a while, one in every six books that went out under that name was written by him), who used to introduce himself by saying, "Hi, I'm George. I'm a hack" because he was proud that he had these talents. He never mistook those clients for being a great writer, but he knew that, within his limits, he was a competent hand at his trade.

However, being a professional means more than that. Andrew's definition is clearly idealistic, but it resonates with me: I like to think that I take responsibility for my mistakes, and that I always do more than a job requires. Probably, the reality is sometimes different, but that's the sort of standard I want to live up to. Anything else is playing tennis without a net - there's no challenge or interest, and I just get bored.

And, for the record, I should add that, by Jeff's description of the way he works, he is NOT a hack. Which makes his irritation at the ideal presented by Andrew all the more mystifying to me.

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

"There'll be tears in the eys of the weak,
And in the eyes of the most strong-hearted,
Tears in the eyes of the miners and wives
When these coal town days are through."
-Jez Lowe, "These Coal Town Days"

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Re: Article: "Living Documentation": From: Andrew Plato
Re: Article: "Living Documentation": From: Jeff Hanvey

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