Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be tech writers.

2003-11-21 21:37

Here’s the trick. It’s not hard to write about things you know. What’s hard is writing about things you don’t know. To do this, you have to learn things, quickly. You have to beat the self-evaluation problem. You have to know what you don’t know, so you can figure it out, so you will know it. You have to learn to recognize blind spots.

As a freelance writer, I have learned toolkits, APIs, frameworks, library interfaces, system startup routines, and other such things. Generally very quickly. It tends to lead to headaches. But it’s fun, there’s no denying that. There’s something wonderful about being asked to write about a topic you’ve never heard of, and a week later, having a reasonable technical article exploring that topic.

You might think you could just learn things on a normal schedule, and write about the ones you know, but there’s not enough work out there to support all the writers out there. The niche market I’ve found is simple; brand new stuff. Before you could download the final version of Safari, I was learning how to build plugins for it. When there are only a handful of people who know something, and a lot who want to know it, you’ve got a market for someone willing to stay up until 3AM poring over manuals, writing test programs, swearing a lot, and drinking root beer floats for sustenance.

It’s fun work, really. I mean it. It’s just hard, and stressful, and occasionally a little unpredictable. The surprises are reasonably evenly split between upside and downside. Downside can be “oh, yeah, there’s a problem with the company we outsource accounts payable too, sorry, we’re running about two months behind on issuing checks”. Upside can be “can you write a book about OS X? Can you or your agent review a contract by Friday?”

Peter Seebach

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Comments

  1. Yes, i can relate, though i'm in the medical field. Of course i have a brief education on all the system abnormalities, but they can be complicated. Try being a very young medical provider and trying to instill confidence in your patient while looking up their illness without their knowledge. Mostly it's routine, but...

    You tech writers, it's because of you that i know adnexal tenderness is secodnary to salpangitis. Bless you and please, keep on trukin'!

    — Sunshine · 2003-12-13 03:24 · #

 
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