Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Technical Side of Creative Writing

I had shoulder surgery 4 weeks ago. Arthroscopic Sub-acromial Decompression. That basically means keyhole surgery. Three holes were made in my left shoulder and part of my acromial bone that impinged on muscle in my shoulder was removed. So I’ve been in a sling on and off all day over the past few weeks. This (the surgery, not the sling) has limited the things I can do. I’m back at work, but it has been challenging using a computer and I’ve typically had to pay for using my arm at night. Not fun. Not surprising I haven’t done much writing, apart from work.

In my day job, I am a Software Trainer/Technical Writer and I had a coaching session today, where the coach asked me what goal I wanted to work on. Seeing as I recently had surgery and am slowly recovering, I am not as busy in the evenings as I normally am. I can’t go to the gym or Pilates studio. I can't drive far as you don’t realise how much your shoulders are involved in practically every movement you make until you’re not really able to use it. I mean, who knew that your shoulders take part in your sneezing and yawning?!

So with some free time in the evenings I want to get back to more consistent writing. But the point I’m at in one of my writing ‘projects’ is the editing phase. When I first started writing I absolutely loved the wonder of writing, getting to know the characters and learning their voices. I was so in love with the creative process that it didn’t even occur to me that there is a technical side to creative writing until I went to my first writers’ conference.

Learning about the various aspects of editing has been a long journey and I am still struggling to edit my massive manuscript. Recently, and I don’t know why this did not occur to me sooner, I thought about using my experience as a technical writer to help me with this technical side of creative writing. But what could the 2 possible have in common? After all, one is fiction and the other is about telling people how to use software!

• When designing or planning any piece of documentation, one of the first things I do is think about the audience or users. What is their skill level? Do they need some background conceptual information in order to understand any procedural information? What assumptions can I make?

This makes me think of fiction genres. As writers, we have to be clear in our minds what genre we want to write in. In order to be successful, we also need to understand some things about readers of our chosen genre. What motivates them to buy the books they do? What other writers do they read?

• Voice. This is especially important when working in a technical writing team. Although a lot of people tend to write as they speak, when writing user manuals we all have to use one voice, to meet company standards. Understanding voice is important and is critical to the authenticity of both the writer and the characters in a novel.

• Continuity. A good technical writer knows that you do not introduce new concepts or terms without first defining them. You build on previous knowledge and that is no different in fiction writing. To some degree. The story has to flow, yes there can be flashbacks, but things have to make sense

• Facts. You can’t make things up in technical writing. Everything has to be accurate and true. Fiction is based on making things up, but there are certain areas where you have to be factual. For example, if you’re writing about actual events like wars, there is a fine line between making up the lives of your characters and the documented historical facts of the era.

The more I think about it, the more I feel I can really use my strengths as a technical writer, to help bolster my creative writing. I wonder if there are areas of your life that have made you a stronger writer.

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