Re: novelists part II

Subject: Re: novelists part II
From: tara -at- BARBER -dot- CTEXT -dot- COM
Date: Wed, 2 Apr 1997 12:11:57 EST

Due to work pressures, it's been a while since I contributed to this list, or
even had time to read much of it. But a friend of mine pulled me into this
discussion, since I actually *employ* a published science fiction writer as one
of my technical writers.

Below you will find my response to the issue, followed by my writer's response,
which she asked me to post.


Date: Wed, 2 Apr 97 09:42:25 EST
>From: tara -at- barber -dot- ctext -dot- com
To: Becca
Subject: Re: novelists part II

> since you're the only person I know with a published author on your team,
> all things being equal do you consider that a plus or a minus? If someone
> came to you applying for a position, and had good tw qualifications plus
> was either a wannabee or published author, would that be a point in his/her
> favor or agin' them?

A) I knew Sarah was a published author when I hired her. I viewed it as a
plus; it meant that I could be reasonably sure, knowing the publishing industry
as I do, that she was capable of constructing a good English sentence.

B) Again, knowing the fiction publishing industry as I do, it meant I also
*knew* that she knew how to accept criticism and editing "suggestions".
Unless you're one of the "big" boys and girls, you don't GET published these
days unless you're willing to change things *exactly* as your editor wants.

C) It also meant that I knew she had creativity, and sometimes, when dealing
with HOW to handle our convuluted information, that's a imperative. Besides, a
lot of the specs we get from engineers read like science fiction as it is.

D) Yes, she does have to do a certain amount of personal business, in the form
of talking to her agent, editor, and publisher, on company time. So does
everyone else in the department. So do I, for that matter; let's face it, the
rest of the world doesn't wait for you to finish business hours before they can
take or return your call about your doctor's appointment, your bank loan, your
sick kid, your appliance repair appointment, etc. That's why we have flex
time. My view, and my company's view, is that so long as you don't abuse it,
make up the time, get your work done, and toss money into petty cash to cover
any copying or long distance phone calls, it's not a problem. We hire adults
here, and understand that we all live in the real world.

Now the bottom line is this: I don't hire anyone as a tech writer unless I've
seen technical writing samples from them that I consider acceptable. I'm not
going to hire someone who's never done tech writing, just because they're a
published author. Each type of writing requires its own skills.

BUT! It's also perfectly possible to do both, and if they can, more power to
them. As long as they're a good tech writer and a good employee, I don't care
diddly about what else they do.

- Tara.


Hello. My name is Sarah Zettel. I have 2 novels (published by Warner =
Books) on the shelf right now and am working on my third. I have been =
employed full-time as a technical writer for various software companies =
since 1988. I write all day for my employers and then I go home at =
night and write some more for the editors. My major fiction =
publications have all been realized while I was also tech writing.

Is this a tiring way to live? You bet. Do I have energy to do both? =
Yes. Fiction writing is my hobby. It is no more draining than =
historical recreation, model train building, dance class, knitting, =
skiing, or the other hobbies that people engage in to revitalize =
themselves from their jobs.

Am I more attached to my words because of my fiction? No. Now, there =
are writers (as cited) who cannot take criticism well. They are almost =
universally bad writers, whether of fiction or non-fiction. As a tech =
writer, especially as a consultant, I learned my job is to write for my =
client, to their needs, in language they can understand and in ways they =
find useful. I've written manuals for nurses, chemists, bankers, =
engineers and first-time computer users. Part of my job was not only to =
identify different approaches for each audience but to modify the =
material based on the feedback from my managers, clients and audience. =
In fiction you must write to and for your target audience. You must do =
the same thing in tech writing. In fiction, you have to take into heavy =
consideration the comments and needs of your editor and publisher. In =
tech writing you must do the same with your supervisor, company and =

My current company permits me some time to receive and make personal =
phone calls. I use it to talk to my editor, publisher and agent. I =
have at other times worked for companies that did not permit this. In =
those circumstances, I did my business calling at home. I cannot live =
off the money I make from fiction. I need my day job. I would be a =
fool to break company rules and policy or leave work undone to conduct =
personal business. In this, writing is no different from any other =
personal business.

My current supervisor did ask me in my interview if I intended to some =
day become a full-time fiction writer. I was straight with her. I =
would like to, but this is 5 to 10 years down the road for me. She =
judged this acceptable and hired me.

In terms of skills, my fiction and tech writing feed off each other. =
>From tech writing I learn how to present information in a =
straight-forward, coherent manner. From fiction, I learn careful word =
selection, how to sort complex information and identify key points, as =
well as research and editing skills.

Mileage may vary. I'll be the first to say writers can be very odd =
ducks. HOWEVER, most of us have held, or do hold, day jobs that we need =
to pay the rent as much as anybody else does. To say that being a =
fiction, or any kind of freelance, writer, disqualifies someone from =
salaried employment as a tech writer before you've ascertained in an =
interview the person's skill level, experience and attitude is, IMHO, =
flat-out ridiculous.


Our 2.5 cents, for what they're worth.

Tara Barber
Documentation Manager
CText, Inc.

Since my opinions belong to me, anyone stealing them deserves what they get.

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