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True life: I’m a technical writer.

September 23, 2011 \pm\30 12:26 pm

I am a technical writer at an IT company. Before today, I never told people that know me as Ani Smith (not my given name) this fact until I was sure they weren’t total dicks. I think I have been ashamed because I am easy to shame. At first I justified it to myself this way: I won’t say I’m a tech writer publicly to, y’know, safeguard my anonymity! so I can write about my orifices fearlessly! But it’s more like: Being a tech writer is disdained BY EVERYONE and being aloof and evasive is your heart’s armor so keep schtum, dumbass.

Your make-a-living choice says to people you’re a tech nerd that’s not good enough to be a programmer mixed with a grammar nerd that’s not good enough to be a REAL WRITER (i.e. a novelist). Or you are too lazy and disaffected for journalism or something. Probably you work for a corporation which means you’re soulless, your dull life a black hole for meaning. You take orders doggie-style or pussyfoot around everything. Plus tech writers moonlighting as poets are a common cliché and what writer wants to be cliché?

So yes, I cared what you thought of me, but I am so beat down from caring. Maybe I am getting old. I just want to write. Mainly about myself. I think, now that I am being more honest, that the main reason I write is that I feel unheard. So if I write something and a person reads it, even just one, then I feel better. The anxiety things create in me (see previous paragraph) dissipates in the writing but more thoroughly it disappears in the reading. That is selfish and not selfish because if something happens in me, maybe hopefully through that same action something happens also in the reader.

Tech writing is the lowest rung of both the writing and the tech job ladders. As far as writing for money goes, tech writing is at once easy and hard. There are people willing to pay actual legal tender for you to write all day, but the things you’ll be writing, pretty much everyone will consider them boring and unnecessary. For the first few months, the word ‘writer’ in your job title will make your ego purr, but after that you’ll come to see it’s at best a liability. At work you’re considered a ‘cost center’ and ‘expendable’ so when the ‘hard times hit’ you’re first in line to be ‘let go.’

You know how if you tell someone you write fiction they tell you about that novel everyone has in them, and how theirs is clawing at the back of their eyeballs just itching to get out? Imagine spending Monday through Friday with those people. A whole office full of people that think they can do your job just because they are literate or even well educated; having to constantly explain what exactly it is that you DO because they are the experts on the system so surely they are the most qualified to document it. And you can’t really fault their logic nor blame them for ignorance. Some of them are even excellent writers.

Writing for a large company sucks in the smallest ways. You do things like read people’s automated out-of-office reply emails (no one else does that) and work out that 99% of them contain grammatical errors or typos. Typos that make the people who wrote the emails sound like ADHD-afflicted chimpanzees. From impossible dates like returning on the 30th of February or Christmas day, to just funnybone-ticklers like ‘I will so be accessible via email at this time’ from like head honchos who are clearly not valley girls. I mean, you know typos are life’s facts, sure and irksome like, I don’t know, menstruation, but you effing can’t stop yourself mentally rewriting everything while a little voice inside you squeaks OW MY EYES. You pay these things attention without wanting to, it’s in your nature.

Still, I enjoy tech writing. Daily I ride to a glass tower filled with people I don’t care for, with institutionalized lying/cheating/stealing, with time-wasting illogical processes, to punch a clock, to make money for and from ‘the man,’ to keep the horrible cogs of this shitty world spinning. Just doing my little thing, being a tiny part of the monster, like a nose hair or a blackhead. Little and functional.

But fuck it, I enjoy structuring information, categorizing things like Big Bird. I enjoy learning about a computer system and writing down what I learned in a way that anyone who bothers to read will understand. I enjoy spending hours thinking about the minute differences between the terms ‘process’ and ‘procedure’ or how best to present a long and boring list of numbers and bullshit and it’s not always a paper document as you know it and sometimes that’s fun. I enjoy being paid to use a keyboard, that the tool of my trade is the computer with all its letters and logic. I enjoy learning and writing about systems that are used to put people on planes, to make those planes fly places, to put money in banks, to throw the whole world into crisis, to connect everyone to everyone else. Who knows what I could get paid to write about in the future.

Mostly I think I enjoy knowing there is a place where someone will notice if I don’t turn up that day, a place with rules and expectations, because I am too undisciplined and given to excess for anything else. I know that if I try to sit at home all day and write my little stories or whatever that I will stop brushing my hair. It turns out I do know what’s good for me. So yeah, I’m a tech writer. And that explains this.

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14 Comments
  1. Robin Elizabeth Sampson permalink
    September 23, 2011 \pm\30 12:42 pm 12:42 pm

    I <3 you Ani!!!!!

  2. Aaron permalink
    September 23, 2011 \pm\30 1:02 pm 1:02 pm

    Damn. I share so many of these feelings except I am a corporate lawyer so I feel my stigma is even worse.

  3. September 23, 2011 \pm\30 1:36 pm 1:36 pm

    I never knew this about you. A technical writer. Gosh. Can you, like, help me understand the instructions for using my washing machine, then? I think they’re written in Korean.

    Anyway, serious comment. This was a fantastic piece to read, especially when one hears and reads so (too) many ‘writers’ (as in, er, fiction writers) talking about how much they enjoy writing and what they get out of it. It’s good to read something by a writer who also writes in a different sphere, for a living, and what they get out of that, how it affects their other writing.

    I write for the web as my 9-5 job, and there the messages are to be clear and concise, to get to the point, short sentences and short paragraphs, use of keywords for search engine effectiveness, etc. I’ve wondered, too, how it affects my (increasingly rare) fiction writing, and I think I’ve realised that I tend to react against the day job by going wilfully in the opposite direction. Not always a good thing.

    • September 24, 2011 \am\30 11:41 am 11:41 am

      the weirdest thing i realized is that though i rebel so much, i actually like those rules and constraints, like they give life/writing boundaries or something so it’s not so vast and disorienting all the time

      (thanks for liking my thing)

  4. September 23, 2011 \pm\30 3:00 pm 3:00 pm

    Gold star for bravery!

    If it helps, I once earned a living proofreading life insurance documents. Your pain is my pain.

    • September 24, 2011 \am\30 11:43 am 11:43 am

      my first gold star, thanks, patrick :)

  5. September 23, 2011 \pm\30 7:26 pm 7:26 pm

    I love this. I was a tech writer for some time — not a very good one, but it was how I made some money to supplement and subsidize my teaching habit. I would say it helped my writing, but not the way I used to think. I think it just gave me the opportunity to call myself a writer, of any type. This is still important to me, but back in my twenties and early thirties, it was necessary to even look at myself in the mirror and not feel useless. I’m a teacher now, and it’s a job, and it has to do with my writing, and I still wrestle with calling myself a writer. Thanks a lot for writing this and for for writing this here.

    • September 24, 2011 \am\30 11:49 am 11:49 am

      i hadn’t considered that angle but now i think about it you are right. having ‘writer’ in my job title and getting paid for it did help strengthen my foundation a bit, like okay lower middle class, english as a second language kid, it’s okay for you to like books.

  6. Roxane Gay permalink
    September 25, 2011 \pm\30 10:05 pm 10:05 pm

    I teach technical writing and used to do it for a living. You’re very right about the stigma but one thing I’ve learned is that writing is writing. Great post, Ani.

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