Yesterday, I was trying to resolve a scheduling problem with our international student home meetings when I suddenly realized something. Easter this year is on March 27. That bears a special significance for me.
My mom passed away on March 26, 2005, after a 17-month fight with pancreatic cancer. On the day she was diagnosed, which is easily one of the worst days of my life, the oncologist advised that she might only have weeks. Despite all the challenges that came with it, that 17 months was a blessing for which I’m grateful.
During her last three weeks, she was in the care of the Hospice of East Texas in Tyler. My mom’s sister lives in Tyler, and that was the best in-patient facility around. It still is, to my knowledge. It’s actually a rather beautiful, special place where all the staff work hard to help the patients and families through one of the most difficult times any of us face.
The evening that she passed was right before Easter Sunday. When we all woke up the next morning, my aunt asked if we wanted to attend the Easter service at her church. I’m sure she would have understood if I had declined. But on that day, of all days, the thought of celebrating the resurrection of Christ and all the promise that it brings seemed more timely and appropriate than ever.
This year, for the first time in eleven years, the anniversary of my mom’s passing falls on a Saturday before Easter. On Easter Sunday, I will again celebrate the resurrection of Christ and all the promise it brings.
And if I’m a little distracted in the next few weeks, now you’ll know why.
For over seventeen years, I have been answering the question of what I do professionally by replying that I am a technical writer.
You can probably guess the question that is frequently spawned by that answer: “What is a technical writer?”
Answering that question can be more challenging. The greatest challenge can be making it sound interesting.
As a technical writer, companies pay me to glean information about a product from highly technical source material and put it into a form that is understandable and usable for a particular target audience. The target audience is generally made up of equipment installers, operators, and maintenance technicians. I will be the first to admit that it is not terribly exciting reading, not even for the people who need to read it in order to do their jobs.
I originally got into technical writing because I liked writing and had a strong technical background. In college, I had majored in physics and spent several years working in a research lab. During that time, I realized that while I still loved science, something wasn’t quite right. The daily grind of lab research didn’t excite me as much as I thought it would. At the same time, the college courses I was enjoying and excelling in were ones that had heavy writing requirements. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work when you are trying to get a doctorate in physics.
Around the same time I was wrestling with the question of how to modify my educational and career aspirations, an older friend suggested I look into technical writing. Ironically, I first asked the question I’ve been answering ever since: “What’s a technical writer?” After learning what it was, and finding out that companies paid technical writers rather well, I completed my master’s degree with a different emphasis: Interdisciplinary Studies. It allowed me to take some courses with heavy writing requirements in order to expand my qualifications.
My first paid writing job after college was as a freelance script writer for a television production company. I got paid to write scripts for five-minute segments on companies which were featured on a television show called USA Corporate Profiles. Strictly speaking, what I was writing was not technical writing. It did, however, enable me to put something on my résumé that said I had been paid to write something. That first writing job helped me get my first actual job as a technical writer.
For someone who loves writing, working as a technical writer can produce some conflicts within one’s soul. In the “plus” column, the pay is good, the work is generally steady, and there is great satisfaction to be had in producing something that is accurate and usable.
There are, however, a few items in the “minus” column.
First of all, few writers dream of writing to a comparatively tiny audience.
Second, that audience will likely never know your name. I’ve never heard of a tech writer going on book signing tour for the latest release of the ACME 321 System Installation Manual.
Third, as a technical writer, the scope of your writing is dictated by the needs of the company. If you want to write the Great American Novel, do it at home. That’s assuming you have the time and inclination to write when you get home.
Fourth, sometimes technical writing doesn’t seem much like writing. A lot of time is spent updating existing product documents, adding new information and deleting old information, editing massive tables and poring over figures and diagrams looking for errors. Depending on the type of document you are “writing”, you can go for days sometimes without actually writing a new sentence.
Anyone who got into technical writing in order to be a writer may need to find a creative outlet or two in order to retain their writer’s soul. Some tech writers get into similar fields, such as marketing writing. Some have a novel or short story they are working on in their off hours. Some may join a Toastmasters club, where they can work on their speech writing skills and practice speaking before a live audience. Some write books about technical writing.
Some may start a blog.
The last time I did a blog, it didn’t go anywhere. Let’s try it again.
Here are some suggestions for your first post.
- You can find new ideas for what to blog about by reading the Daily Post.
- Add PressThis to your browser. It creates a new blog post for you about any interesting page you read on the web.
- Make some changes to this page, and then hit preview on the right. You can always preview any post or edit it before you share it to the world.