Why I Don’t Want to be a Technical Writer Anymore

It’s been a busy beginning to the year. I think it’s just a sign of things to come.

You’ve probably been wondering where I’ve been — didn’t I send all those logs during Christmas? Where are all the ones from January? Well, truth be known, I simply didn’t get around to them.

Like I said, it’s been a busy beginning to the year. Upon returning to the Lower Mainland, we had to take Allison to the hospital again. This time it was for a possible infection in her surgical wound, which we had noticed on New Year’s Day. Allison was also beginning to run a temperature, so the viral experts wanted to keep an eye on her. As it turns out, the panic was for not — she had the flu. A rather nasty case of it, too. Luckily, Lorna graciously came over and kept an eye on her (and cleaned our apartment stem to stern) while I went to work.

The following week, I started my night course. Once a week for two and a half hours, I go to SFU’s downtown campus for a class on “Concepts and Practices of Technical Communication”. Sound like a beginner’s level course? It is. My manager suggested it. I feel insulted. I slept for the first three classes, and it was only with the help of caffeine that I’ve made it through the others. I’m learning virtually nothing and I’m the youngest in the class.

Which brings me to my impending change in profession. Technical writing is … uh … technical, and … important … ah, who am I kidding? It’s boring me to tears. I can’t stand it anymore. I want out. Luckily for me, I’ve had side projects going to keep my skills up in the web. It seems like I’ve got the right skills at the right time.

I’m declaring to my manager today that I want out of technical writing. I’m hoping to become the new web guru ’round these here parts. We don’t have one, and as recent history seems to be indicating, we could use one. There’s only one issue — whether the company thinks this is a good idea.

If Radical chooses ‘no’, I’m in a little hot water. It basically means that I either stick to the old tried and true (i.e. what I’m doing now), or I bail out of the company and go somewhere else. Now, if you’re Radical, and you just denied me my change in career, how long do you think it’ll be before I leave? There’s a huge can of worms here just waiting to be opened. (And I just found out that my execution has been stayed ’til this afternoon, when my manager finally gets in.)

I’m not the only one looking for a change. Last Thursday, Jane dropped by for a brief visit … a visit with a purpose. She was hoping to talk with a company in North Vancouver about a Customer Service Representative position. The company is Hospitality Careers Online, and they provide a list of jobs in the hospitality industry across North America. Jane had already talked to them over the phone, but her current job called her in on the day she was supposed to clinch the position. So she came over to finish the job (no pun intended).

She called the company early the next morning, but couldn’t get an interview until 5:30 that evening. Allison and I would pick her up from North Vancouver and take her to the ferry so she could get back to Nanaimo to get to work the following day. Jane performed admirably at the interview, telling them exactly what she wanted and how she felt about moving to North Vancouver. Allison was a bit surprised that Jane had said she wanted to move to North Vancouver to be closer to a good snowboarding hill. No worries there — the company’s owner moved there for precisely the same reason. Saturday morning, we learned that Jane got the job.

Last week, Allison took her first night course of the year. She’s taking French lessons at the Francophone Institute on West 7th. First off, she wanted to take a course in something, so she had something to look forward to each week. Having the ability to improve her French was the sort of thing she wanted.

So three weeks ago, I took her over for an entrance exam, where one of the Institute’s staff asked her a few questions … in French. This, unfortunately, was Allison’s weak point — she has problems “hearing” French. She can read it and speak it quite well, but that wasn’t the test. As a result, she ended up a level lower than she should be, as was proved in her first class last week.

The amusing part was that prior to her class, Allison was very nervous about being out of her league, that she would be the worst in the class. She couldn’t have been further from the truth. She’s sticking it out though, mostly because it lets her practice speaking and listening to French in a comfortable atmosphere, and she’s already made friends.

Speaking of friends, Stuart appeared here two weeks ago. I got a call on the 28th where an all-too-familiar voice said: “Hi, I’d like to order a pizza.” It was Stuart, informing me that he was coming to Vancouver to take pictures at a private school. He was coming on a short-notice photo shoot for a client, which meant he was also coming alone — Therese was staying in Calgary.

We didn’t see Stuart until after 6pm on Sunday. I picked him up at the corner of Davie and Granville, so he wouldn’t get turned around on my directions (which I was having severe problems making simple, for some silly reason). We went to dinner and played video games at Playdium. It was almost like old times.

The next day we did lunch, prior to his return to Calgary. It was then I concluded that I was going to Calgary myself — I had to see my friends again. It’s been over a year since I last saw Therese, and I miss her dearly (as I do all my friends). I’m going on Thursday evening.

After a lot of debate, we finally bought a new computer. This was the first computer I bought (or at least had a part in buying) that didn’t come from the store I worked at. It was from a place called Addax in Richmond that Allison recommended. It was a good deal, and allows Allison to work a bit more efficiently than before. It also gave us a good reason to buy SimCity 3000. With luck, we’ll turn the old computer into a Linux server. That’s a project on my lengthy list of projects.

I guess that brings me right up to today. Not much else going on, although you can expect another log this time next week.

Until then…

6 Replies to “Why I Don’t Want to be a Technical Writer Anymore”

  1. Hi Geoff!
    You don’t want to be a technical writer anymore, however, I want to be one. I think? LOL. I am a school librarian by trade and am plugging away at a single parent guide I hope to publish soon. I am a wordy girl lol but have been told I have excellent writing skills. Persuasive or eloquently put that is..Is there a way to start a career? (since libraries are dying a slow death) in writing either technical or medical? What courses do you recommend I take to improve my skill set? Please help! Thanks!

  2. Hey Joanne,

    Well, the first thing about technical writing is (and believe me, I get the irony in this statement) brevity. As strange as it sounds, people hate reading, so the shortest possible way to write out something is the best way.

    The second is strong comprehension of the topic at hand (doesn’t matter if it’s software, medical transcription, legal, etc.) — you need to understand what you’re writing about, because at some point you need to effectively translate your topic into something a “regular” person can digest.

    And that gets into the third thing: ability to use analogy effectively. Difficult concepts (say, fifth normal form normalization in databases) require an ability to convert expert-level information into a simple(r) concept. It’s a tough skill, and the effective writers do this very well.

    Finally: consistency. This is the hardest one. Consistency in language, structure, and formatting. You violate any of these in writing documentation, and you’ll lose your audience. It requires you to be very details-oriented, and being a bit OCD probably helps. 😉

    Good luck on your career change! I can be rewarding, if you find the passion in it.

  3. Hi Geoff,
    I Googled “don’t want to be a technical writer anymore” and the found your page. As you might have guessed, I’m also a technical writer interested in moving into a different field. Not entirely what that looks like just yet. UX-type stuff? Web-type stuff? I still need to find out the requirements and job market for both, and whether I have an aptitude for either.
    About French: I’ve always had an easy time reading, writing and speaking it. Hearing? Well, as a former French instructor once told me, I have slow ears. 🙂
    Hope your career change works out!
    Cheers,
    Jason

  4. Jason, I hope you don’t mind if I giggle a bit at the irony… 😉

    My career has gone fairly well in the grand scheme of things post-tech writing, so I can’t complain. With luck, yours will, too!

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