A technical writer looks at fiction…

A few years ago, at a Society for Technical Communications (STC) conference, I ran into a colleague who has achieved a good deal of success in the field of technical writing. My friend started her own technical documentation business, and the last time I spoke with her she had a number of writers on staff at her Atlanta, Georgia office, offering not only technical writing services but technical training as well. She had clients from Fortune 500 companies, and provided in-house training classes to clients around the world. In addition, she had gone on to author a number of commercially available books directed at technical writers.

On the last day of the conference, we met for coffee at an outdoor cafe at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. After talking about her most recent project, which was authoring one of the famous ‘____ for Dummies’ books, I told her about my latest fiction writing project. Awkward silence descended upon the espressos.

“So, how is your project going?” she asked.

I told her that I had done an outline of the opening chapters and I had found some good info on the internet on how to format a novel. Then I told her that I had started a milestone chart in Excel and that things were on schedule. After that, I noticed that she was smiling at me.

“I’ve never been able to do it,” she said to me (finally).

“Write fiction?”

“Yes,” she said. “I have tried many times but I just can’t do it. I go for one or two pages and then I start formatting, and then I go back and read it and I don’t like it. Finally, one day, I gave up. I realized I couldn’t do it. When I went back to writing technical documentation, I felt…so at home. I need bullet lists and procedural steps…you know, don’t you?”

I said that I did understand, but needed to press forward writing fiction.

“You are wasting your time,” she said to me as she got up to leave. “But give it your best until you get it out of your system.”

A few hours later, I flew home to Florida, reading Alice Orr’s book, “No More Rejections” the entire way.

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2 thoughts on “A technical writer looks at fiction…

  1. your tech friend projects onto you her own inability to write fiction as if all tech writers are the same — can’t write fiction. Her mechanical and linear thought processes will never allow her to write out of the tech box because she lacks the intuitive, spontaneous ability to see life in a multi faceted way with all its’ angles and nuances and have a wish to capture same or ,at least, try. I suspect that today you wouldn’t need the reinforcement of rereading the Orr book.

    • That is a pretty good analysis, and thank you for it. I haven’t spoken to my friend in several years, so I don’t know if she ever gave it another try. In a way, I hope she did. She was a very creative person. In any case, fiction writing is a different animal, and I hope to find time in my own technical schedule to do more of it. My latest effort, titled “Big Torch Key” is well underway, and I hope to be blogging more about it as time goes along.

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