The Right Stuff

Subject: The Right Stuff
From: Yvonne Harrison <yvonne -at- IHUG -dot- CO -dot- NZ>
Date: Sun, 8 Sep 1996 16:12:30 +1300

Righty ho - -

Well I have been a creative writer (e.g., poetry and TV work which was
mainly sketch comedy) for way longer than I've been a technical writer. It
just so happens that creative writing never paid very well, so I used to keep
myself afloat doing programming and stuff. One day I thought - well I should
try and combine my computer skills and writing skills - and became a
technical writer.

Word of warning to would be creatives who see tech writing as a convenient
way to write *and* get paid for it on a regular basis... Technical writing
is a whole different ball game. There are several things you should consider
that are major differences between what you're doing now and life as a tech

1) First and foremost there are other skills you need beside being able
to write. Not only do you have to be able to take technical information and
write to your user audience but you need other skills. You need project
management skills (as in: I estimate that this manual is 300 pages long and
will take 8 weeks to write depending on these assumptions and factors being
met). You need a high degree of people skills (as in: Look, I really need
for you to tell me about the XJ300's input module. You can't keep avoiding
me. If I have to beat you to a bloody pulp I will... :-) You need to put up
with a lot more people having input into your work than you ever will
creatively (as in: SMEs, editors, middle management, upper management,
project managers, team leaders, team members and anyone else with a vested

2) Technical writing is not exactly fun on the language front. You're
not there to prove your skill with the language. You're there to tell
someone how to perform a task. If you're style tends towards sounding like
you swallowed a thesaurus, you're going to have to make some adjustments...

3) If you think you get no respect as a writer *now*, try being a
technical writer.

4) You will have your work edited by people who still don't know what a
possessive is (I'm thinking of my SMEs here). They will offer such helpful
adivice during their technical review (despite being asked a billion times
*not to*) as "Well there were too many words." "I don't like tables so I
crossed them out". My all time favourite (and true story) is a SME at a
client site who, after we had left, proceeded to re-edit the manuals by
taking out 'the' from the text because 'she never liked it as a word.' (I'm
NOT kidding).

5) You will go into sites where the you are caught between oppossing
factions. Those who want manuals and those who see it as a waste of time.
You will frequently become the sacrificial lamb in the proceedings...

6) Your creative writing may suffer. This is a *serious* drawback. I
find it extremely difficult to spend all day writing at work and then sit
down at my PC at home and try and write something creative. So far I haven't
quite sussed this one out but it looks like I'll be doing things such as
working on contracts, then taking a break to write creatively full time.

Of course, there are the good points. A steady paycheck. Actually finishing
a manual and having that after glow of satisfaction. Having a manager
actually praise you in meetings as the next best thing since sliced bread...

Overall, you can be a creative writer and a technical writer. I certainly do
it. You just have to be aware of the fact that although they both involve
writing, they aren't necessarily the same thing...

Yvonne :-)

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