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All the skills you mention (usability testing, online help) fall more
in the category of Software Development than Technical Writing. This
cross-categorization is a byproduct of the current Information
Revolution thing. But having SD skills will take you places in this
Enroll in an A.S. program in computer programming at the local
community college. When you apply for a TW job, tell them that you are
working towards a programming degree. This will demonstrate a unique
blend of English and (quickly advancing) technical skills. Better jobs
will soon follow, providing the experience you need.
What about geography and local opportunities? Well, I can't help you
there. I've had to move a few times to get the experience I
wanted/needed to advance. Oh well.
Your posting was so long! If I missed some info while scanning...sorry.