Like many technical writers, I am constantly looking for ways to improve my writing skills. I don’t think there will ever be a time when I think “Okay, that’s good enough” and stop criticizing my own work.
I am constantly in awe of other authors, particularly those that have published great works. I seek out author interviews on scholarly websites, and places like Galley Cat, in an effort to glean small insights into the life of an author.
I started out by reading author interviews for any morsels on how they organized their day and their writing space. This accelerated once I started working from home. This is a futile project – each author, if they mention it at all, has a completely different day structure and writing space than the author before. Some write early in the morning (impractical for me), some write late in the night (I’d love to, but I have a 2.5 year old who says “close eyes” and means it); some write in glorious writing palaces redolent in over stuffed furniture and old books others write in long hand at the local coffee shop or library. No two are the same. Sigh.
The one common theme is that they write every day. Iain Banks, one of my favorite authors, writes for only part of the year and takes the rest off, but still manages a punishing schedule and daily word count to pump out beautiful works of art.
Another common theme is supportive family and friends. I can attest to that – my cats led a lonely life whilst I was tapping away at the OWASP Guide 2.0 for several months. I don’t think I could ever do that again – not least for family reasons.
Technical writing for web application security is far different from any form of fiction. It’s different from most non-fiction – and it’s dramatically different from sports writing. We’re expected to dumb down (“communicate”) with our peers in a way that nearly no other technical field would allow. In my field, respect is paid to those who can communicate highly technical, very advanced concepts in a way that could be understood if they were on the back of a “Fantale” wrapper.
I am not disparaging my field, for I love it, but I do object that our terms of art – our short hand – is so easily sacrificed. I need to learn how to write dumber, become one with my inner dumb writer, and make sense even when it makes no sense to write for the average tabloid reader. I think we underestimate our reader’s intelligence and insult them terribly every time we pump out a report in basic English (that is – using only the 500 most common words).
Viva la revolucione! Whoops, that wasn’t basic English. My bad. As for more author interviews – it’s like reading a good autobiography – hard to put down. I think I will continue to seek out author interviews, even though I think they will in the end not shape my writing style nor my work space to any great degree.