RE: What's the most fun/creative project you've ever worked on in your career?

Subject: RE: What's the most fun/creative project you've ever worked on in your career?
From: "Janoff, Steven" <Steven -dot- Janoff -at- ga -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2013 16:07:09 -0800

First tech writing job was in late 1984 for a laser printing software/hardware startup. This is before Word, and their software allowed "text and graphics merging" and used TeX as the computer typesetting language on, I think, a DEC VAX/VMS minicomputer.

Couple months into the job my manager said, "We need a newsletter. See what you can come up with."

I had just come off some initial success as a freelance creative writer, getting published in some B-level national mags. I developed a full-blown "newsmagazine" describing the company's products, how they worked, used lots of humor, poetry, sophisticated graphics provided by customers. I used the company's products to develop the whole thing, as sort of a proof of concept -- writing, editing, graphics, layout, etc. I'd spend late nights laying out the pages on the office floor, checking arrangement of everything. Contracted out printing with a local firm. Nice covers.

First issue was 32 pages, second was 40. The thing was incredibly successful. Total of 30,000 copies of the first 2 issues were printed and distributed by request. Salespeople would use them as drop-off pieces, and the newsletters were given credit for singlehandedly selling several of these $20-$30k systems.

Lots of other follow-up stories but I'll opt for brevity here on that -- except for a couple (in a moment).

Manager confessed to me that she was jealous of my success, and soon after took over the project and demoted me to working on "font tables." Admittedly the newsletter had been taking too much of my time. She took charge of the project and got the whole company involved in the writing. I was flabbergasted when I realized that in their minds, it didn't matter who wrote the thing or how; all that mattered was that it existed. *That* was the missing link: they just hadn't done a newsletter, and now that they'd started one, just its existence guaranteed success -- anybody could do it.

I ended up leaving the company. They did a few more issues, and it died out. (I saw the 3rd and 4th -- 3rd was decent but 4th was not.)

About 4 years later I had two separate encounters with long-term engineering professionals -- one from NASA -- who had been customers of this firm, and they each mentioned that it was the best thing they'd seen in their respectively 25 and 30 years in the industry.

The best one: 8 years after this experience I was interviewing for a job, and pulled out the two issues as samples. The woman's eyes grew wide and she said that only a month earlier they had finally disposed of their copy of the first issue -- they'd been a customer back then -- and only because the room where they'd kept it was being cleaned out to make room for server storage. She said they'd kept their copy for 8 years because they liked it so much, and periodically took it out and read it again.

Yeah, horn-tooting, but there it is. The most creative, enjoyable thing I've ever worked on in the entire 28-year-plus career. Have not even come close since.

Oh yes, back then the CFO told me that there was a tech writing trade group called the STC, and they had an annual competition, and that I should submit those documents to the competition because she thought they'd do very well. Being young and proud and thinking of myself as a creative writer (and tech writing as a "temporary" thing just to make a living), I scoffed at the idea -- I wouldn't dream of entering something so low as a tech writing competition. I was a creative writer! Haha. Years later I looked back and could have kicked myself -- I'm almost certain that publication would have swept the award for that category that year. It really was that good.

Oh well. A couple other good, creative projects over the years but that was the top. It amazed me over the years that that remained the only project of its kind in my career. But I was lucky to have that opportunity at all. I've since seen that attitude many times, in corporate life, that it doesn't matter who executes a project, rather the idea of the project is all that matters -- never mind that the person who came up with the idea might be the best one to execute it.

People. I'm telling you.


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