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 you 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

I’d write less, but there wasn’t time in the schedule

This month’s Managing Up post “You Want How Much Done? By When?” introduces scheduling fundamentals for contract #tech-communications workers.

Work Breakdown SchedulePatty at Steyer Associates reported that their research showed that ~300 words was the right size for a blog post. So I had to pare from the 950 words I’d already drafted. I’m providing the whole article here—since scheduling for a program manager is a whole discipline. A 300-word peek won’t give you much insight into a manager’s compulsive, continuous thinking about schedules.

This topic is of interest if you are anywhere in your technical communications career where you need a deeper understanding of the scheduling processes. Continue reading

Stage Fright: Your Sample & Your Back Cover Text

My blog post for Steyer Associates — Stage Fright Part II: Your Writing Sample — examines how a tech-comms manager reviews writing samples when hiring a tech-communications professional. I discuss solutions for common problems, like when your current work sample is still under non-disclosure agreement.

FacePunchI like to describe a parallel effort here on my blog for fiction writers, but the cases differ significantly:

  • Your writing sample online is the first 10% of your ebook on Amazon. 
    Tip: Did you move the front matter to the back of your fiction ebook, so that a significant portion of that 10% is not copyright, dedication, and table of contents?Your “sample” should start as close to “a name=start” as possible.
  • Your description / back cover text is what lures your reader.
    Did you write a Fourth Grade book report or a marketing enticement that will help you “close” a sale with browsing readers?Most writers I’m met hate writing the back-cover text. It calls for an entirely different view of the story than what you just spend hundreds of hours writing. I’ve struggled with this 250 words more than any other text  I’ve drafted, and don’t feel anything like a journeyman, must less an expert. Yet it’s not something that DIY writers can readily outsource.Here’s the most succinct guidance I’ve found, for staying on track in back-cover descriptions:

Continue reading

ch-ch-ch-changes – dubstep version

My July post for Steyer Associates plays on the David Bowie song — so if I’m going to risk an DMCA takedown, I might as well double-up and use the same headlines.

“every time i thought i’d got it made”

My Managing Up tips for TechComms professionals this month tackles the challenges of organizational and technology changes:

For those of us who’ve been around for a while, we turn over every rock labeled “new,” wondering: “Have I seen one like this before?”

Check the post for my best ideas on how to cope when management shakes the dice at your workplace.

“you’ve left us up to our necks in it”

Nine Volt Heart - A Rain City Comedy of MannersTwo “Rain City Comedy of Manners” books:

Artemis in the Desert

Nine Volt Heart

The Grrrl of Limberlost .

 

Continue reading

Docs Ready for Tech Review?

Show MarkupPenny Orwick and I completed a series of posts for Steyer Associates on peer reviews for technical documentation.

A point we both made in our example peer reviews was that the original draft content wasn’t ready for review, much less for publication. To wrap up our series, Penny suggested a checklist.

Today’s Ready for Review? A Checklist provides the basics, plus some cautionary notes about what you risk losing if you send poor docs for tech review:

  • Discrediting yourself with your technical experts
  • Discrediting yourself with your peers

Typically I link to my tech-communications blog topic with a parallel for fiction writers. But it seems like there are a lot of models out there. So this time I’ll just link again to my Checklist for Writer/Editor Collaborations.

Other topics in our “peer review tips” collection:

 

You Get What You Measure: Technical Communications Edition

You Get What You MeasureMy Managing Up post for Steyer Associates this month — You Get What You Measure — touches on the difficulty with most metrics for productivity and quality in technical writing. I offer ideas for how to create personal measures to increase your satisfaction as a writer, editor, or other working in the content publishing chain.

Making progress on quality goals, working toward expertise—I believe these are fundamentals for personal ambition.
Sure feels like metrics for corporate tech-comms consistently undermines those personal metrics these days, doesn’t it?

What can we do, oh noble content providers, but go forth and meet our daily word count?
My related post on metrics and productivity in fiction writing is here.

Editor/Writer in Tech Comms: No fighting, No biting

I have a new Managing Up post up for Steyer Associates that reflects on editor/writer relations in technical communications: Writer vs. Editor = Spy vs. Spy?

SpyvsSpyThis time, I’m emphasizing what a manager wants to see—and yes, I’m brutal:

  • Tech Writer: Your Job #1 is to please the Subject-Matter Experts who own the technology you’re writing about (or who own the business strategy) by preparing correct, clear content. Job #2 is to follow the style guide. If you’re worried about the editor marring your personal voice and style preferences, you aren’t doing your job.
  • Tech Editor: Your job is to drive the corporate voice, enforce consistency in terminology and presentation, complete the legal edits, and serve as first, best reader to ensure clarity.

Read on for my specific guidelines in relation to the basic rules of collaboration: no fighting, no biting.

…and if you missed it, earlier notes on fiction writer vs. editor relations:
Is that Blood on My Manuscript? Or Are You Just Happy to Ream Me?

Preplanning? Si! Procrastinating? No!

My post for tech-communications professionals is up today at Steyer Associates web site: Procrastinating … or Preplanning?

I propose in that piece that for professional communicators, most “procrastination” is your brain begging for more preplanning time… though that begs the question:

How is “preplanning” different from regular old planning?

If You Want to WriteIt’s a question of being ready to commit.
I’ve long posited that for any tech-writing project, there’s probably 25 solutions, and you want to concentrate only on the best 3 — then pick one and commit to action.

However, that’s not always so straightforward, whether for tech-writing, fiction, or other projects. Brenda Ueland, in If You Want to Write, presents critical ideas in her chapter, “The Imagination Works Slowly and Quietly.”

Following the “slow imagination” concept, preplanning is: Continue reading

Let’s (Not) Be Friends: Manager-Team Relations

My new blog post at Steyer.net explores Manager motivations around setting boundaries, focusing on issues for contract workers in technical communications.

A little medieval advice sharing

I believe the issues in this post make sense for other kinds of Manager/Team Member relationships. However, the Steyer.net post offers guidelines for workers. Here are some watch-the-line recommendations for managers:

  • Be aware of cliques in your team.
    Avoid joining or encouraging them.
  • Be 100% inclusive in all social invitations, whether for morale-building exercises or holiday parties.
  • Recognize “over sharing” situations.
    If you’re uncomfortable with what you’re hearing about your team member’s personal crisis, it’s time to draw the line.
  • Know how to handle “over sharing”:
    “I’m sympathetic. But  I’m not comfortable knowing more than I should as your manager.”
  • Don’t play psychologist or doctor.
    Know how to refer outward to HR or Benefits resources.
  • If you have doubts about anything, discuss it with your HR partner:
    — Accommodations that are appropriate to offer.
    — How to change repeated conversation from sympathetic listening to active direction.

Me? I’m retired from management and now only provide direct services or consultation. I’m grateful that I no longer have to shoulder the manager’s burden of both caring for and setting boundaries for people that I manage.