Writing Discussion

Tech writing lessons that apply to fiction

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RTFM Coffee Mug by Richard Masoner

Writing technical documents and writing fiction sometimes use two very different parts of the brain, but there are still some lessons that apply to both. Here are some things I’ve learned on the job:

  • There is no such thing as a perfect piece of writing. If you go back to an old piece, there are always some things you or someone else will want to change. At some point it, editing stops being productive and you have to decide call it finished.
  • A good editor is a lifesaver. A good editor will help you sound more like you, and get your point across more clearly, rather than try to change your writing.
  • You know your content best. Some comments are worth ignoring. You need to understand what you’re trying to accomplish and anything that veers away from that that should be ignored or debated.
  • The act of writing is only part of the work. Researching, planning, and editing, usually takes up more time than you wish it did.
  • Always be on the lookout for ways to make your work easier. It’s good to look back at how you do things, and figure out what worked and what didn’t. Improvement is an ongoing process.
  • You’ll spend a lot of time waiting a lot for other people, and the only remedy is patience. Unfortunately, this  also means that sometimes you’ll have to finish things in a last minute rush (that’s just how it goes!).
  • If you don’t have a dedicated editor, a smart cohort willing to give you feedback, can offer invaluable insight into your writing. Hang on to these people, but know when to accept or reject feedback.
  • You can’t control whether or not anyone actually reads your writing, but that part is not your job!

Are there any lessons you’ve taken from your work that you can apply to fiction?

8 Comments to “Tech writing lessons that apply to fiction”

  1. I would add this:

    Know what you’re good at and where you sometimes need help.

    My weakness (as my blog comments sometimes show 🙂 ) is concision. I used to have a co-worker who was good at that, and when I wrote something that was going to be distributed widely I would pass it over the cubicle wall to him, and it would come back with red cuts all over it. He wouldn’t rewrite — he’d just cut unnecessary words and sentences, and sometimes recast sentences to say the same thing in fewer words.

    I think some of your rules apply pretty completely to fiction (I’m particularly fond of the first and last, which I apply on a daily basis), but, for example, I spend almost no (fiction) writing time researching or planning.

    1. That’s a good one too. Our editor is great at that. I’ll send him a long sentence and he’ll shoot it back in 5 words. It really is a skill. Definitely have to be aware of our capabilities. 🙂

  2. Oh boy, that patience one … yes. Outside of the actual craft-related things, I think that’s what writing has taught me the most, how to sit back and wait. That said, it can be nearly impossible sometimes!

  3. My day job doesn’t really translate too well into my writing world. Maybe the fact that I meet with people everyday helps me with not being shy and getting out there. Marketing experience helps too. Sorta.

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