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Technical Writing Is Not for Everyone

Technical writing and editing are not for everyone. In fact, the majority of technical writers I’ve worked with over the years either fell into technical writing or wanted to write fiction. Let’s face it, technical writing is boring, dry, and uninspiring, unless you’re crazy about computers and how they work. Then technical writing is interesting, even fascinating because you’re often writing about products that are new and about to change our lives.

I was one of those who fell into working in the high-tech arena. You might say I entered it with more than a little trepidation, even kicking and screaming a bit. I credit the legendary Stewart Alsop II, with helping me overcome my aversion to computers.

We started working at InfoWorld magazine within a day of each other. Stewart was our new editor-in-chief. I was an editorial assistant and knew nothing about computers except how to make them crash (although I didn’t understand just how I managed to do that).

Stewart met with each member of the editorial staff in an effort to get to know his new team. When I confessed my love of publishing along with my deep reservations that I may have chosen the wrong magazine to work for because of my strong aversion to computers, Stewart encouraged me to give InfoWorld a chance. He told me that as long as I knew how to write, he could teach me about computers—if I’d just give him six months. I was doubtful, considering my strong aversion to computers.

That was August. It took only three months before I was explaining computers to anyone who would listen, thanks to Stewart and his faith in me, and the Apple Macintosh, which was introduced the following January.

InfoWorld’s editorial staff received a Macintosh to review prior to its release, so we could write about it in time for Apple’s big announcement. I fell in love with the Apple Macintosh immediately. I’d finally met a computer I could understand. It spoke my language. And it didn’t crash.

A year and a half later, I opened my own editorial consulting business working as a technical editor at such high-tech companies as Apple, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi America, and many more—and I never looked back.

5 Things Editors Should Never Say to Writers

Some editors work closely with the writers they hire. Others only speak with their writers when they absolutely have to. And still other editors evolve into a mentorship relationship with some of their writers. No matter what type of relationship an editor has with the writers who work for her, there are some things an editor should never say to a writer:

1. Never Talk About Another Writer’s Faults.
It’s not ever right to talk about another person’s faults. It’s unprofessional and the writer you’re confiding in may begin to wonder what you’re saying about him behind his back.

2. Never Promise a Writer an Assignment in Advance.
Never, ever, ever promise a writer an assignment in advance because it if doesn’t come through, your name will be mud with that writer and with every writers he knows.

3. Never Say You’ll Let a Writer Review Her Work Prior to Publication.
Most editors already know this, however, sometimes they get chummy with their favorite writers and try to do favors for them. Most publications have an unwritten rule that writers, especially freelance writers do not get to review their articles prior to publication. They have this rule for a reason. Adhere to it.

4. Sure, I’ll Give You a Raise.
Only promise a raise if you are certain that the company is going to back you on this.

5. Do Not EVER Promise a Writer a Specific Amount of Work Every Month.
Not only with the writer believe what you say, he will depend on that income and be very disappointed if he doesn’t receive the assignments and the income.

A Cure for Writer’s Block—Part 4

I often find I do my best writing when I’m speaking. It’s easier to tell a story verbally than to write it. There’s something about having an audience that makes the words just flow. My listener laughs at all the right places and I’m infused with enthusiasm.

So when I run into a bout of writer’s block and can’t get the words to flow, I tell my story aloud.

The catch is that there’s not always someone nearby to whom I can tell my story. Fortunately, I use a Macintosh computer, so I have a built-in recording studio in the form of GarageBand. When I’m traveling, I use an old-fashioned, handheld tape recorder. But my favorite mode of breaking through writer’s block is to tell my story out loud.

I’d love to hear how you eliminate writer’s block.

5 Things Writers Should Not Ever Say to Editors

Writers often develop business relationships and even friendships with the editors they regularly work with. However, there are some things that writers should not ever tell editors, not even editors who they consider friends. Here are 5 things writers should not ever tell editors:

1. I Hate Writing About This Topic.
Editors appreciate writers who are enthusiastic about their assignments. Although editors know that the most successful articles are written by writers who are passionate about a topic, sometimes they just don’t have a choice. They have to assign a topic to someone who probably is not be interested in it. That’s when they ask one of their trusted writers to help them out. If the writer tells the editor that they dislike or hate the topic they’re going to write about, when the editor needs to assign future articles, the writer may only receive assignments that are in his specialty area.

2. I’m Only Writing for You Until I Get Published Elsewhere.
No one appreciates knowing that they are second choice. Editors know that every writer is looking for their next writing gig. However, only those who are indifferent to others’ feelings would say so out loud. Make each editor you work with feel like they’re the best one.

3. I Only Write Because I Have To.
Editors love what they do and they know that the best writers are those who love to write. They also know that the best writing comes from writers who are passionate about writing and about what they write. So do your best to be enthusiastic, even if you’re only pretending. Who knows? You may talk yourself into liking writing.

4. I Earn More Money Than You Do.
Editors already know this. They don’t appreciate you reminding them. And although technical editors earn more than most editors, they still earn less than technical writers. In spite of the fact that editors already know that writers earn more than they do, they prefer to work with you as part of a team and not think about how much more you earn.

5. Don’t Change What I Write Without Letting Me See It First.
Editors work with many writers. They do not have time, nor do most publications permit their editors to provide writers with a copy of their articles prior to publication.

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10 Writing Warm-Up Exercises

I’ve written before about how writers need to treat writing the same way they treat exercise. Do it regularly—everyday, if possible, because the creative muse easily grows rusty and stiff when it’s not used.

To that end, I’ve developed a series of Writing Warm-Up Exercises you can do to get your creative muse revved up.

If you were following me on Twitter (@writersinkwell) several months ago, you have probably done these 10 Writing Warm-Up Exercises. Try them again because this time you’ll write even more. You should know, however, that these 10 writing exercises are only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. I have developed more than 100 of them over the years. Someday, I’ll make all 100 available. Until then . . .

I’ve collected the 10 Writing Warm-Up Exercises I posted on Twitter and now you can read them here in one place. Print this post and keep it on your desk to help you get warmed up each morning.

These exercises work best if you can do them at the same time each day. However, if you can’t, just doing them daily still helps get the creative muse working more easily.

Writing Warm-Up Exercise Guidelines

Remember to set a timer, so your thoughts and your writing are not interrupted by you having to look at the clock.

1. For each exercise, write in what I call ‘Stream of Consciousness’ and do not edit anything. Just write.

2. Select an object on your desk & write about it for 2 minutes.

3. Look out the window and write for 3 minutes about the first thing you see.

4. Write for 5 minutes about the last book you read.

5. Write for 5 minutes about your favorite recurring daydream.

6. Write for 5 minutes about planting a summer garden even if you’ve never done it

7. Write in the first person for 7 minutes about what it’s like to be a pirate.

8. Write 7 minutes about yourself from your pet’s perspective.

9. Write 8 minutes in the 1st person about your life in an 1865 log cabin.

10. Write for 9 minutes about your first day of school.

Write 10 minutes about when you realized you wanted to be a writer.

If you want to be a good writer, whatever you do, don’t stop writing!

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Laughter Feeds the Writing Muse

It’s one o’clock in the morning and I really should get to sleep. Yet, I can’t stop smiling and I’m still laughing. I have to write. Now. Why?

I just finished a rather long conversation with a technical support person from Amazon. I can honestly say that it was the most enjoyable tech support call I’ve ever experienced. And when you have something to write about, it’s best to write while the experience is fresh in your mind.

What does this have to do with writing? Nothing. And everything.

Nothing because I initiated the call due to a problem using my Kindle. Everything because after the man helped me figure out how to download the books I wanted, I asked him how I could publish my books on Amazon and he told me how to do this.

The man who answered my call for help had a lovely British accent, or so I thought—it turns out he’s from Capetown, South Africa—not British at all. And he had a sense of humor, which is much needed by any tech support person who helps me because by the time I contact tech support, I usually am so lost that I’m not very coherent. To each of his questions, I could only answer, “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” laughing giddily at myself. He took my answers in stride and even laughed along with me. I was impressed.

He gently and patiently guided me through the Amazon web site, encouraging me at every step by saying, “Brilliant,” in such a way that by the end of our conversation I actually felt brilliant.

Here’s what I learned and now want to share with you.

If you decide to publish your book on Amazon’s Kindle, it will be available to an audience of millions of potential readers because books published on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) are not only available on Kindle devices, they are also available on Kindle apps for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, PC, Macintosh, Blackberry, and Android-based devices. Think about the possibilities.

Have I captured your interest? Roused your curiosity? Whetted your appetite for a broader audience? Good. Read on then.

How to Publish Your Book on Amazon’s Kindle
When you are on the Amazon.com web site, click the Help link in the upper right corner of the window. In the Search Help box, type the words ‘Kindle Direct Publishing’ and click Search.

All you need to get started is a digital copy of your book, a book cover page, and a description of your book. You can also access the Getting Started & FAQ page and a video that explains how to get started publishing your book on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing site.

There’s more, however, that is for my next post when I’ll take you on my journey publishing a small book on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.

Until then, I am grateful for that wonderful conversation with a brilliant man halfway around the world in Capetown, South Africa—Thank you!

You made my day!

Why Is Writing Difficult for Writers?


“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann

Writing is often more difficult for writers than it is for other people because writers, by nature, are perfectionists. We craft our words to put our thoughts and feelings on display for the entire world to see. We bare our souls and that makes us feel vulnerable, so we want to make sure that what we write is perfect although it rarely is.

Perfection, of course, is an elusive concept. The printers who used Gutenberg’s first printing press were very aware of that. And, although the works they printed often were riddled with typos, they still would deliberately misspell one word in each book they printed because, as they said, “Only God is Perfect.”

Whenever I find myself laboring obsessively over something I am writing, I find it helpful to recall this story about the first printers. It helps me to relax and just write. It comforts me to remember that I am only human and that my job is to put those words down in a legible format, so that a good editor can polish my words and make them shine.

The Writing Life, Part 5—Finding Clients

In The Writing Life, Part 4—Finding Clients, I covered how to find clients using cold calls, warm calls, and serendipity. In this post, I’ll cover how to find them using public speaking gigs, published articles, and networking.

Although there are probably as many ways to find clients as there are writers, these next three are quite popular with writers who are outgoing and find it easy to talk with people:

Public Speaking Gigs
Make it a point to accept and even look for opportunities to speak in public. Local writer’s groups, seminars, conferences, chambers of commerce, and other organizations often need speakers for their meetings.

These are opportunities that provide you with exposure to a wide variety of people in many walks of life. You never know when you may get a new client just because they or someone they know heard you speak. At the very least, you may find fodder for your next article or book.

Published Articles
I’ve gotten several clients as a result of articles and columns I’ve written that were published in newspapers and magazines. Oftentimes a person reading an article may be looking for someone with your specific expertise or they may know someone who is. The enterprising readers will call the publication or contact you directly if the publication includes your contact information in your byline or bio.

Networking
Joining local groups and organizations may provide you with networking contacts in fields you are interested in working in. Now, I don’t mean, join an organization only with the intention of finding work.

I mean join an organization that you are interested in and participate in it as an active member. Other members will see you in action and appreciate your contributions. That type of networking is a soft-sell form of selling and usually results in the highest yields of client leads. Furthermore, it often results in potential clients approaching you, so there’s no selling on your part at all.

The Writing Life, Part 4—Finding Clients

How do you find clients?

This is the most-asked question of new freelance writers and probably the most reasonable because without clients you’re obviously not working or earning. There are several ways freelance writers use to find clients:

• Cold calls
• Warm calls
• Serendipity
• Public speaking gigs
• Published articles
• Networking

Cold Calls
Although cold calling is the least favorite way to find clients, I must admit it’s one I’ve had a good deal of success with. Which is odd when I think about how much I dislike doing it. Still, I’ve worked on some interesting projects which I found just by picking up the phone and calling someone I didn’t know and asking for the work.

Warm Calls
Warm calls are much friendlier than cold calls because the person you’re calling either already knows about you and is expecting your call or because you’ve been referred by someone they know. In many instances, you know that the person you’re calling is looking for a writer because the person who gave you the lead provided that information.

Serendipity
My first gig with a start-up company happened purely as a result of serendipity. I was in a store making photocopies and I struck up a conversation with the man at the photocopy machine next to mine.

He was the president and CEO of a start-up company. When he learned that I was a writer and editor, he asked me to work on the marketing materials for his new company.

In The Writing Life, Part 5—Finding Clients, I cover finding clients through public speaking gigs, published articles, and networking.

The Writing Life, Part 3—Why Freelance?


I was scared when I decided to take the leap from a full-time position as member of the editorial staff of a magazine to freelancing. But I was more scared not to.

That probably sounds odd, however, the thought of never experiencing the thrill of working for myself, of living my life only working for others terrified me more than the uncertainty that goes with not having a steady paycheck.

When I was growing up, most of the adults I knew—family, neighbors—owned their own businesses. I had difficulty understanding what my classmate’s fathers did for a living because they had to go to work at some destination called an office or a factory or a construction site.

At sixteen, I got my first ‘real’ job. I felt like a captive because I ‘had’ to be at work at a specific time each day. That feeling continued as I graduated college and entered the workforce. Even when I got my dream job working on the editorial staff of a magazine, I felt like a captive. I loved my job and the people I worked with were terrific. Still, I felt constrained by the requirements of being in an office for a specific length of time each day. I felt like I was missing out on my life.

In my mind, freelancing offered me the perfect mix of focused work time and flexibility. Sure, sometimes I had to be on site to work with a client. However, there were a lot of other times when I could work from home in the comfort of my own office. And those were the times that more than made up for when I needed to be on site.

They still are and they still do.