December 17, 2007

Thoughts on Writing

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Whether you knew it or not, I used to write fiction and poetry. Avidly. Like several stories a year, worked on several novels (almost finished one). I’ve always loved writing — that’s why my degree is in writing (English with a writing emphasis, technically). Ever since I started working as a full time technical writer, my fiction and poetry slacked off. In the past five years, I may have completed three or four poems and one or two short stories.

I decided I wanted to do something different. Something I haven’t done before: fan fiction. Yeah I know, it’s working with other people’s copyrighted materials. Here’s the cross over from technical writing: you have to work with a very restricted set to create something unique. In some tech writing you use conditional text and single sourcing — where the same paragraph may be used in multiple manuals (with some words modified depending upon the context). You have to write in chunks. Headings are the transitions.

In fan fiction, the limiting factor is that the world and characters have already been created. In other words, the operating system and user interface are established. You have to provide a believable workflow for readers who know and love these characters. If the UI is not true to what is expected, then readers will balk. You’ll lose the suspension of disbelief. In other words, people will gripe about your documentation.

This is very different from writing fiction where you have to be aware of the characters thoughts, motivations, and scene-to-scene flow. You are in complete control of every aspect of your characters’ story (well some times… I’ve had characters gripe at me until I wrote their story). Going between the two forms pushes you to think outside of the box you might use during the day.

Now, on top of this consider scholarly writing. Not only are you considering flow and leading the character (your reader) through the story (the premise you are proving), you also have to provide supporting evidence from respectable sources.

Being intimately aware of each art form (yes technical writing is an art form) makes you a better writer overall. Writing short stories has enhanced my technical writing because I’m more aware of characterization: how users approach a piece of software. I write with my “stupid user hat” on so I put away my technical knowledge and pretend I have just received my software.

Where did I learn to edit? Not in the editing class I took. Nor in the myriad fiction, journalism, expository, and technical writing classes. I learned how to edit in the poetry writing class — where the weight of every word was critical.

I think it’s the cross pollination of writing genres and styles that makes me a strong writer. It also gives me different insights when I edit.

I’m considering posting some of my writing here. I have a ton of stories saved up from college and before, as well as more recent stuff. I’ve been torn about posting things online, but you know the stories have collected a pretty good set of rejection slips. A few have been published, but trust me, you’ve never heard of the ‘zines (Concatenations of Doom, any one?).

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