Re: Post about a creative writer who went into tech writing for a spell

Subject: Re: Post about a creative writer who went into tech writing for a spell
From: James Jeffries <hjjeffries -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 25 Oct 2015 19:14:26 -0400

I would add Robert Pirsig as a literary writer who did technical writing --
he at least writes about technical writing in *Zen and the Art of
Motorcycle Maintenance*. That book was quasi-biographical, though I can't
find any mention of technical writing in his history on Wikipedia (not very
thorough research). There's more than this, but here's a passage early in
the book:

DeWeese brings over some instructions for assembly of an outdoor barbecue
rotisserie which he wants me to evaluate as a professional technical
writer. Heâs spent a whole afternoon trying to get the thing together and
he wants to see these instructions totally damned.

But as I read them they look like ordinary instructions to me and Iâm at a
loss to find anything wrong with them. I donât want to say this, of course,
so I hunt hard for something to pick on. You canât really tell whether a
set of instructions is all right until you check it against the device or
procedure it describes, but I see a page separation that prevents reading
without flipping back and forth between the text and illustration...always
a poor practice. I jump on this very hard and DeWeese encourages every
jump. Chris takes the instructions to see what I mean.

But while Iâm jumping on this and describing some of the agonies of
misinterpretation that bad cross- referencing can produce, Iâve a feeling
that this isnât why DeWeese found them so hard to understand. Itâs just the
lack of smoothness and continuity which threw him off. Heâs unable to
comprehend things when they appear in the ugly, chopped-up, grotesque
sentence style common to engineering and technical writing. Science works
with chunks and bits and pieces of things with the continuity presumed, and
DeWeese works only with the continuities of things with the chunks and bits
and pieces presumed. What he really wants me to damn is the lack of
artistic continuity, something an engineer couldnât care less about. It
hangs up, really, on the classic-romantic split, like everything else about
technology.

But Chris, meanwhile, takes the instructions and folds them around in a way
I hadnât thought of so that the illustration sits there right next to the
text. I double-take this, then triple-take it and feel like a movie cartoon
character who has just walked beyond the edge of a cliff but hasnât fallen
yet because he hasnât realized his predicament. I nod, and thereâs silence,
and then I realize my predicament, then a long laughter as I pound Chris on
the top of the head all the way down to the bottom of the canyon. When the
laughter subsides, I say, "Well, anywayâ" but the laughter starts all over
again.

"What I wanted to say," I finally get in, "is that Iâve a set of
instructions at home which open up great realms for the improvement of
technical writing. They begin, âAssembly of Japanese bicycle require great
peace of mind.â "




--
JAMES JEFFRIES
LinkedIn <https://www.linkedin.com/in/hjamesjeffries> | Exaption
<http://exaption.com/>

On Sun, Oct 25, 2015 at 6:48 PM, Keith Hood <bus -dot- write -at- gmail -dot- com> wrote:

> Kipling could have included it in The Gods of the Copybook Headings:
>
> Stick to The Devil You Know
>
> The Wages of Sin is Death
>
> Don't Quit Your Day Job
>
> On Fri, Oct 23, 2015 at 12:18 PM, Janoff, Steven <
> Steven -dot- Janoff -at- hologic -dot- com>
> wrote:
>
> > Tough way to make a living (creative writing, that is).
> >
> > Steve
> >
> > PS - I don't trust anybody who wore a mullet in 1986. :)
> >
> > On Friday, October 23, 2015 8:20 AM, Cardimon, Craig wrote:
> >
> > Passing this along.
> >
> >
> http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/my-writing-education-a-timeline
> >
> > Cordially,
> > Craig Cardimon | Senior Technical Writer Marketing Systems Group
> >
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