We Are All Content Providers Now

My final “Managing Up” post for Steyer Associates offers an abbreviated look at earlier trends in technical communications. Here’s a longer meditation on being in the trenches over some of the most life-changing technical advances in the past quarter century.

Photo of Lascaux painting by Prof saxx from wikipediaA decade out of college, I first asserted in a job interview that I was a writer. Previously, my job roles had included editing—for solar energy designers, conservation policy advocates, and a couple of dyslexic physicists. During that “editorial” apprenticeship, I typically tossed 90 percent of what I received and rewrote it. That made me a writer, correct?

I faked my way through that interview and went to work for a local power utility, where I learned the basics of tech writing, before the profession had degree programs or professional associations.

The tech writing basics? Forget what your English teacher said: There is no practical use for creative, complex sentence structures in tech writing: Continue reading

DIY Tricks for Writers

My blog post, 5 Pet Tricks with Spreadsheets, suggests some tricks for project tracking for tech-comms professionals. For balance, here are some pet tricks for fiction writers:

“Author as Publisher” Task Lists

Author as Publisher: Planning Tasks [MS Word]
Author as Publisher: Market Planning Tasks [MS Word]

Book Scheme in a Spreadsheet
dramatic arc

Whether part of an initial plan or in the middle of an attempt to untangle spaghetti 2/3s through the draft, you can use a spreadsheet to map the plot points, action, character development, time scale, and so on.

Here’s an example of how I analyzed plot and pacing problems during an early draft of Artemis in the Desert (if you haven’t read the book, this example doesn’t contain spoilers). The top row maps chapters against traditional beat sheet goals for plot and pacing. Continue reading

Quick-n-Dirty Audience Needs Analysis for Tech-Comms

ThinkingMy post in the Managing Up series offers quick tips for how to do a quick audience needs analysis when you don’t have good info from product managers: “Who Are You? Who? Who?”

These tips work for assignments to document a small tool or app when you receive only a broad-brush statement about the target audience for the software.

My basic guess? For these kinds of (typically free) tools and apps, there’s something out there that’s similar. You can pretty easily find out who uses such software and identify the nature of common problems.

Book Reports IV: Watchin’ the Detectives

This is my favorite reading category, and through friends’ recommendations and the wonderful AlsoBot, I discovered some new writers that I’ve been exploring. Here’s the last of my winter book reports.

My favorite new mystery author: Olen Steinhauer.
I started with his Milo Weaver series:
The Tourist (Book 1)
The Nearest Exit (Book 2)
An American Spy (Book 3)
… and I’m now am exploring his backlist.
A lot of reviewers will compare him to John le Carré, because of the emotional depth and turmoil of his professional spies, the details about trade craft, and the convoluted plotting. But Steinhauer’s voice is of the next generation. (I’m not dinging le Carré on anything; he’s set a standard almost no one can reach.)
The lead character is captivating, and the criss-cross nature of the stories kept me would up to the very end of the series. Continue reading

Book Reports III: Historical Fiction

Another installment, reporting on my winter’s reading adventures. I write historical fiction (as E.A. Stewart), but I didn’t do a very good job this winter of reading deeply in the genre. Instead, I got hooked on a few series and read compulsively.    

__ChisolmP.F. Chisolm’s Sir Robert Carey Mystery series:
I didn’t stop to breathe while consuming these Elizabethan period mysteries—and generally I loathe reading anything in that period.
A Famine of Horses (Book 1)
A Season of Knives (Book 2)
A Surfeit of Guns (Book 3)
A Plague of Angels (Book 4)
A Murder of Crows (Book 5)
An Air of Treason (Book 6)

Continue reading