Technical writing and creativity

Day 52. 135 pages, 65,895 words.

Okay, so look. Just bear with me a little bit here, okay? And hear me out.

I work as hard as emotional strength and motivation and the hours in the day allow me to work. Am I a slacker sometimes? Of course! But I also do my best to do the job in front of me – the job I am told to do, how I am told to do it (if a clearly-better alternative doesn’t turn out to be easier), and delivering when I am told to deliver.

That’s the job.

But, as this blog hopefully proves even if you haven’t gone out and bought my book yet, I am a creative writer not only by education, but by lifelong, demented, scary-intense, all-consuming passion. Don’t even get me started. I did already mention that writing is a very, very close second in the Life-Fulfilling Joy category – second only to having a wife and children – right? I did mention that and there’s no possibility of misunderstanding on this score.

Right. So there’s that. And – usually at the start of a project with a customer, or when meeting and getting to know new co-workers – there’s usually a point at which I am asked “so isn’t it a bit stifling, to be a technical writer when you want to write creatively?”

Well. Okay, technical writing by definition is not all that creative. The thing is what it is and there’s no real way around that. You document what’s there and spend no effort in telling tales of things that never were. There are occasional opportunities, but they usually involve marketing – which is just technical writing to a different, usually annoyingly condescending, set of specifications.

Obviously, in my spare time (and by “spare time” I mean “time I really should be sleeping”) I write mass quantities of book and blog and assorted other stuff, which gives me a satisfying creative outlet. But sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes, mid-job, it’s just important to unleash a bit of reckless, unbridled creativity and silliness, just to keep myself alive.

Not in actual documentation or in databases where it’s going to show up one day, for all that that’s tempting sometimes. But … well, here’s an example. I was learning a new documentation tool, and how to create an assortment of different texts and insert figures using the tool. So in order to put my training to practical use (I find that this is the best way to cement information in my head, because writing notes and reading instructions is just a big fat waste of this old man’s precious time), I created a mini document.

Baby's first document (1)


And this is the result.

Baby's first document (2)

Baby’s First Document, or How To Be Professional And Unprofessional At The Same Time.

Of course, shortly after this the entire document creation process and tool set changed, the figures all changed, and I had to learn a whole new thing and at that point there was no time to make an adorable test document. But oh well. Done is done.

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