At a college reunion party recently, someone asked me what job I’m pursuing. On replying that I’m a writer, a friend jumped in to clarify that I’m a ‘technical’ writer. My friend considers that technical writing has nothing to do with creativity, contrary to ‘plain’ writing which is a highly ingenious endeavor. To be honest, I was of the same opinion when I was still exploring the opportunities in the field of writing. But contrary to my friend, I do not hold the opinion anymore. The change of opinion has a story that I think is worth writing about.
At the verge of graduation a year ago, I was facing the same ordeal as all would-be graduates do; the ordeal to decide what you want to do in life! I was about to finish five grueling years studying IT, and even after majoring in the subject I did not feel that I wanted to become a software developer. I did not detest IT but I felt I was not someone who could write endless lines-of-code. The voice within me kept whispering, “Do what you love doing most”. I loved writing but I had no idea of how to make a living out of it.
In the final year of graduation we had a paper on Component Object Modeling or COM as we commonly call it. It was a tough paper to deal with and the fear of flunking had set in deep. As a prudent measure I bought the book at the beginning of the semester! I was a bit scared to open the book as it had been rumored that the author had filled the book with jargon and the component flow diagrams were nothing but jumbles that were best left unsolved! With great courage I opened the book and plunged into the first chapter. After two days of thorough reading I was ready with my notes and illustrations for the chapter. When my friends came to know about it, they said, “You made notes out of that complex waffle. How crooked is your brain?” 🙂
I started teaching COM to my friends, making notes, drawing simpler diagrams and deciphering code. I had done this so many times for myself; only this time I had started teaching my friends. Did it ring a bell? Yes, it did! It was my solemn realization of what I was best at – figuring out how things work, structuring and organizing information, and presenting it in a way that is easy to understand. This called for a job that brings together all these aspects and that is when I felt technical writing would be a job where I could fit in well.
Realizations can often put you in a state of unrelenting contemplation. My realization had now dwelled another question in my mind, “Is technical writing creative?” Few people told me that it is nothing like writing a book where you can let your mind wander into the wonderland, and that I would have to stick to specific styles and standards while writing. It would in no ways be similar to what I write in my blog, and I may actually be left with no time to write any other stuff. I did not want to get into a profession that would make me quit it soon after joining. As much as I love writing I had to keep in mind that I could not afford to write blogs and get paid for it. There is no end to daunting thoughts, and so having faith in my abilities I appeared for an interview for the job of a technical writer and got through.
It has been a while since I started working as a technical writer. I am now in a position to answer the question – is technical writing creative? As a technical writer you have to present information in a manner that helps someone get it in a jiffy, and by no means can it be done without creativity. You have to think like the person who is going to use the content written by you and most likely on occasions when the user is stuck at a point when clear instructions are life savers. Right from the design and look of the document to the illustrations, videos and screen casts you need to take care of every little detail that helps make the user’s life easy. You have to think of new ways to convey information if the traditional approaches do not work for the user. On many occasions, you have to make sense out of bedlam, bring order to haphazard chunks of information, and organize random facts. On other grounds, when the document is aimed to draw the reader’s attention, you need to design and draft engaging content for the reader.
I am quite new in this industry but I’ve realized that there is a huge learning curve here. There is a lot of opportunity to explore new technology. It also breaks the monotone as you get to learn something new in each project. In a short span of time I got the opportunity to be involved in a variety of writing projects, covering the span of software, marketing and academics. It is interesting to pick up and master different styles of writing. It is fun to fidget with new applications and authoring tools, and figure out how stuff works. It helps me to face my deficiencies and motivates me to understand my thought process better. When I get my hands on an application, I also get down to the intricate details of it and discover functionality that are not told by the developers. Being a technical writer has also helped me bring in more discipline to my writing style, in terms of structuring and planning the content. It has helped me improve my flow of thoughts in a write-up and aptly choose between elaborateness and brevity. It has also enhanced my word choice, especially in situations where I need to opt for simple words over complicated. It constantly refines my creative abilities.
Do I suffer from writer’s block? Well, it’s easier to deal with it now. Thanks to my new-found ability to churn out words at the drop of a hat! Sure, there are times when I write in dribs and drabs. Sometimes the pressure at work takes a toll and the sentences are oddly formed, no matter how hard I try. At times I get engrossed in content research so much that when it comes to writing my mind is in a state of moribund. But I do not remember a time when I stared at the monitor and said, “I’ve nothing to write and there are absolutely no thoughts to pen down.” Technical writing has cured me of the pandemic that writers are most worried about. It involves a lot of reading, which eliminates paucity of thoughts. It also provides the opportunity to interact with other writers and know about things they are reading and stuff they are writing. This in turn stocks a lot of ideas for writing. Over the time I’ve realized that there is no such nothing as a writer’s block. You needn’t put up a masterpiece every time. You just need to let yourself go and allow even drivel to come up on paper. It is from this twaddle that you build your masterpiece.
To conclude I would say, writing whether technical or not, is a creative activity. I am happy that I get a chance to indulge in both! I believe writing fluently is a gift and I hold it close to my heart. I am living my dream of being a writer and each day I am getting better at being the writer I always wanted to be 🙂