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paying the rent:
technical writing as an option
by lucy lediaev
12.31.07
writing

Recent discussion with some “starving writers” made me think about the fact that I’ve made my living as a writer for the past 25 years with almost no interruptions in income. In fact, it was writing that saved me financially when the company with which I was in management went under in the mid-90s. I was able to find a new job, using my writing skills, unlike other middle management people with no special skills.

At that time, I was able to find a good job, because I had a background in technical writing—something I fell into backwards during the 1980s. I’ve always had excellent expository and essay writing skills, going back to high school where I was tapped for advanced placement writing classes.

I’ve never claimed to be a creative writer—the closest I come to creativity is the occasional humorous (I hope) essay. The fact that I’ve always readily admitted that I’m not a creative writer—I’m not likely to ever be a short story writer, a novelist, or a poet—likely made it easier for me to become a technical writer. Through the years, I’ve had colleagues who are in denial about their technical writing jobs—seeing their positions as detours on their way to the next great novel!

I’ve always been a generalist who is interested in many things. I absorb, digest, and synthesize new information quickly and spit it out in reasonably precise English. My degree in Russian language and literature has contributed only to the discipline to digest and write technical material. The other factor in my favor is my lifelong interest in science and technology. Although I took no science classes beyond high school, I’ve always read in the field. I’ve never met a computer that I did not like, and I am fascinated by technology. I have as many, maybe more, electronic toys than my young male colleagues.

In 1982, when a family member suggested that I might be a fit for one of the technical writing jobs at the computer-assisted design software company where he worked, I took a risk and applied. My only writing samples were school papers, but they were acceptable and got me the job. I started writing on mainframe computers and then graduated to engineering workstations running UNIX. Finally, I began to use early Macs and PCs. I was fortunate enough to have a supervisor who acted as a mentor. My writing and editing skills were stronger than hers, which she appreciated, but she taught me project planning and other business skills that let me qualify for increasingly responsible positions in the field.

I now work for a successful biotechnology company where I have reasonably flexible hours, a lot of autonomy, and do many things other than technical writing. I taught myself HTML, and I’m now responsible for the programming and contents of our corporate web site. I also do a lot of writing that is not really technical writing, including ad copy, reports, proposals, and our annual marketing plan.

Because of financial rewards and potential for versatility, I urge starving writers with an interest in science and technology to consider technical writing. While technical writing rates are comparatively lower than they were during the hay days of the Internet, computer companies, and aerospace, they are still considerably higher than for copy writing and editing. I’m not ashamed, as some of my colleagues have been, of being primarily a technical writer and not a “creative writer.” It pays the bills!


ABOUT LUCY LEDIAEV

A freelance writer and full-time grandma, Lucy Lediaev retired recently from a position as web master, tech writer, and copy writer in a biotech firm. She is enjoying retirment more than she ever dreamed and is now writing about topics that are, for the most part, interesting and fun. She also has time to pursue some of her long-time interests, such as crafts, reading, sewing, baking, cooking, and the like.

more about lucy lediaev

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COMMENTS

robert melos
12.31.07 @ 12:48a

I've always considered writing in any form as creative. Granted a technical manual might not have the excitement or sex appeal of a Jackie Collins novel, but it still has to be interesting enough and concise enough for the reader to comprehend the details. If I could get a job as a technical writer I'd be very happy. I'm applying for every tech writer position I can find and crossing my fingers.




k. t.
1.2.08 @ 9:39a

I must heartily agree with what Lucy presents here. While a starving writer, myself, I taught a writing techniques class at a local college, where a student's spouse--an established, local technical writer--suggested I could make a good living doing what he was doing. He kindly shared with me his resume as a sample and pages of companies that were currently known to hire tech writers. Neil generously gave me my start (for which I owe him eternal thanks), and I've been working as a tech writer ever since. That was in 1991. I stuck with it during the hard times (the dot com meltdown) and have now been amply rewarded by being hired into a forward-thinking company that allows me to telecommute 100% from my home office and gives me lots of creative latitude. Considering myself a creative writer and poet, I've learned over these years how to bring some of that creativity into the technical writing I do. As I stated many times to the students in my writing classes, if one has a good, solid foundation in the English language and can think and articulate clearly, technical writing might just be that way to earn a good living, while still having opportunity to wordsmith. It's well worth considering.



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