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December 15, 2002

Guest Posting -- Yvonne Harrison

Friedrich --

Yvonne Harrison, who lives in New Zealand and makes a living as a technical writer, got in touch a few weeks back. I asked her what it's like to work in her field, and I asked for her reflections about how it affects her experience of (and pleasure in) writing. She wrote a wonderful and informative note back, which she's agreed to let me reprint here.

So, a guest posting, by Yvonne Harrison:

Every writer dreams of earning their living as a writer. Getting paid for their prose is up there with the thrill of getting published for the first time. For many the lifestyle of the writer holds much appeal as well. The prospect of never setting foot in an office, of being able to set up your own writing schedule, of having your very own writer's study usually occupies a considerable chunk of the writer's romantic and long-held dreams about writing.

If they're anything like me they discover that it's not that hard to make a good living out of writing. The only problem is that it's not creative writing. There are a myriad of jobs out there that involve stringing words together to form a sentence but as many a (non-creative) writer learns, the job of being a writer can quickly kill any ambitions to be another type of writer.

Unfortunately being a non-creative writer also tends to scupper any illusions about living the solitary writer's life of writing for four hours in the morning at the local cafe while nursing a latte. The problem is that earning a living as a writer usually involves office politics, and a nine-to-five day in a Dilbert like cubicle all of your very own...

Just take my career (job) for instance. I'm a technical writer. There are many good points to this job. I'm a contractor so I can happily pay my mortgage, buy food and other essentials of life as well as save for holidays or the new computer. I've just started working from home for a lot of my contracts, so I really am living the writer's dream of typing away within my very own writer's study.

A big component of technical writing is analysis, so it forces me to think logically and clearly so this helps with plot construction in stories. Additionally, users don't have time to wade through stylish prose or convoluted sentences so it teaches writers to get to the point. Quickly. With as few words as possible.

Unfortunately the big down side to the job is that it makes creative writing a tough challenge. I wrote a novel while I worked as a technical writer. The technical writing project was under some tight deadlines. So I would get to work at 5.30 am in the morning, write all day until about 3.00 pm then get home and try to work on my novel until about 8.00 pm. Quite frankly it was an idea born of stupidity.

By the time I finished the novel (three years because I did so many drafts) I was a wreck. I haven't attempted anything serious (or long) since I finished and went and hid the manuscript in my sock drawer. I continue to be a technical writer because I get good money for something I enjoy but my one ambition to be a creative writer is being slowly eaten away by the sheer grind of spending (literally) all damn day writing.

So for those considering careers as writers so they are earning money as writers (but not as creative writers :-) my advice would be to carefully consider this seemingly brilliant plan before proceeding. Yes, the initial thrill of writing and getting paid for it will be quite heartening and flattering to your ego.

The fact that you may find it tough to face something as simple as replying to your e-mail with any joy is a definite downside. Additionally the amount of self discipline you have to summon up to complete a creative project may just be the thing that finally drives you stark raving mad....

Many thanks to Yvonne.



posted by Michael at December 15, 2002


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