Is technical writing a calling or a job? Recommended DMN Communications podcast
After a five-month hiatus, Aaron and Scott at DMN Communications returned to the podcasting scene. In this Sep 9 podcast, they discuss whether technical writing is calling or just a job? By calling, they refer to treating tech writing as if you were destined to be a tech writer, as if it was a sacred duty you were compelled by almost a higher power to complete.
Some writers exhibit this tech-writing-as-calling attitude by writing lavish introductions about the tech writing document itself. If you find yourself being too copious in your description of what you're writing, rather than focusing on the instructional content itself, you fall into the tech-writing-as-calling syndrome. In the end, Aaron and Scott say to take your job seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously. Tech writing is only a job -- a potentially lucrative job, and a rewarding job. But not a calling.
My reaction? I agree with their assessment, but it's somewhat a sad observation about our careers. If technical writing is not a calling, why are we engaged in it? Shouldn't we quit and become firemen or doctors or human rights activists (or whatever we dreamed of being)?
I think most will agree that we tech writers ended up in this profession as a second or third choice. I felt that I should go into the writing field -- I wanted to be a nonfiction essayist writing for magazines. But as much as I enjoy creative writing, I can't make a living at it (yet anyway). My three kids depend on me. I'd much rather make a comfortable salary than squeak by on carrots and top ramen, living a spartan, solitary life.
But there are facets of the tech writing job that I find occasionally inspiring. I am fascinated by technology. That's what gets me excited about my job. And working closely with other project members. Plus I have a knack for bringing organization and clarity to complicated and scattered information. I like the rewarding feeling of creating a valuable, true document that makes a complicated interface or concept accessible. It's like a puzzle to solve.
Even if we're not following our true callings, most glamorous jobs turn out to be a bit boring anyway. Even prize-winning novelists approach their work as a job. They don't always feel like writing, but they slug away at the keyboard nonetheless.
I'm so glad DMN returned to the podcasting scene. Thanks guys! You made my morning commute so much more enjoyable. Tech Writer Voices is coming back too. It's been almost 3 months since I published a podcast. But this morning I finally found my wireless FM transmitter (I temporarily lost it), and listening to my favorite podcasts renewed my enthusiasm.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.