Featured Image: A Page Out of Time, by Heather Lee (Creative Commons License)
I am a writer.
That sentence is difficult to say because I always try to qualify it with something like, “I want to be a writer.” I’ve been writing since I learned how to put pen to paper. You can ask my mother; she still has all the stories I left around the house for her to find when I was little. I wrote for school assignments, I wrote between classes, I wrote during the summer, I wrote for fun. And then I stopped.
After my second year of college my brain ceased to function and told me to go right ahead and get married because that was a great freaking idea. (Spoiler: It was not.) My brain eventually refired, though. I went back to school a few years later and settled on what looked like the perfect career for someone with a creeping dread of human interaction: technical writing. I thought I could write novels at night while making a living writing about cool tech during the day, all without ever having to talk to anyone. If you’ve been a technical writer, you’re laughing right now. If you haven’t, I’ll explain.
Technical writers do have to talk to people. Constantly. They have to talk to cross-functional project managers, artists, other writers, editors, and subject-matter experts (SMEs). They have to interview, pluck information from the brains of people who don’t want to talk to them either, and do the back-and-forth dance of translating gigantic, fragile egos. If I had known what I was really in for, I would have run the other way and tried very hard to make being a Professional Hermit a thing.
Instead, I believed the college counselors and went to graduate school, which is where I learned how to socialize as well as how to write technically. I can now successfully talk to people while hiding most of my awkward and I can write about anything from oilfields to armored vehicles. Both of these useful skills have paid off as expected. However, I never stopped to think about how well they would transfer to writing fiction.
The recent slow-down in proposal business gave me more time to read, which inspired me to follow more authors, which inspired me to dust off my creative keyboard, which inspired me to research. The information I’ve found on world building and publishing has left me a bit wide-eyed. Apparently, provided my stories don’t suck, I’m better prepared for publishing than I might have been had I gone into a different field, like the Computer Science degree I abandoned for technical writing.
All the corporate wharrgarbl I’ve waded through has resulted in portable experience. Creative projects require a management structure, just like the technical. Working with project teams and customers flows into working with agents and publishers; these are all business relationships. And technical writing develops valuable edit/revision muscles, because stuffing ten pounds of bull into a two-pound sack to meet page restrictions teaches you how to cut unnecessary baggage. It all translates. Realizing this makes me feel like I just found Candy Mountain.
If you wondered why I’ve been posting more lately, this is a big part of it. I’m writing something creative every day now, forming a new habit. It’s like I never stopped, and it makes me happy. Excited, even. That long technical hiatus had a hidden purpose. It distilled all the qualifiers my brain insisted on using (technical writer, proposal writer, copy writer) into a pure statement of fact:
I am a writer.