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'Lost the Fire – How to Rekindle It' – A Second Response

by Tom Johnson on Nov 7, 2008
categories: technical-writing writing

Jayant writes,

I am a technical writer from India. I just moved to the UK and find the scenario very different from India. Here technical writing jobs are not easy to come by – I understand this is due to the recession. I also have found my desire for technical writing waning away a bit. This could be because at my previous office, technical writing had been reduced to merely doing language edits of 500 pages in three days.

How do I rekindle my technical writing fire? Your guidance will be tonic to my current state of mind.

Your question about how to rekindle your enthusiasm is relevant to any career, but perhaps especially with technical writing. Let me reply with a story. At a previous company, one of my colleagues told me she used to be more active in the field, like me, but that her interests changed.

Several times I tried to get her to attend the local STC meetings and events, but without any success. When work ended, she left her technical writer hat at the door. Actually, she'd stopped writing technical documents altogether and had become our designated editor, resigning herself to marking up others' content only.

Rekindling the fire
Rekindling the fire

Her comment to me one day, "I used to be like you," made me wonder whether twenty years down the road I too would hold her same attitude, looking at new, enthusiastic writers with a certain apathetic smirk.

The question of how you stay passionate in your field is a universal concern. Even if you're a best-selling novelist, you probably have days where you wake up and think, I'm so tired of writing. No doubt the president of the United States sometimes finds himself thinking, I wish I could do something else. Maybe fighter pilots also think, on occasion while ascending, Not again, this is getting dull; what else is there for me?

In my initial response to you, I offered him five activities you could do to rekindle your fire. I wrote,

  1. Start a blog and publish at least three posts a week about technical communication.
  2. Follow the conversation threads on TECWR-L (or some other active listserv you like).
  3. Attend one or more technical writing conferences a year (e.g., the Summit in Atlanta).
  4. Get involved in your local STC chapter.
  5. Experiment a bit. Try new things, new deliverables, methods, techniques, etc.

My advice seemed a logical quick fix to career apathy. But you later responded,

I have started trying to post content. But have not found it easy to write on technical communication. I guess it will require constant effort.

I have been following TECHWR-L, though have rarely made any posts.

Your response made me think more about my advice. I thought about what my father once told me when I was in the fourth grade. When I was about 10, one day I came home and complained to my dad that what I was learning at school was boring. I can't remember the subject details –- probably math or social sciences.

My father made a big deal about my comment. He said (and would say on other occasions), "It's not the subject that's boring, Tommy. It's the teacher!" That idea has stuck with me all my life. It suggests that you can potentially be enthusiastically engaged in anything, if you look at it from the right angle. Even if you're nothing more than a bus driver, perhaps you can become fascinated with traffic flows, weather conditions, routing patterns, social interactions in public spheres -- whatever.

Still, the question is how exactly you do this. With some reflection, I've come to a conclusion. Reading is a trigger for thought, but in my experience, writing is the core activity that produces engagement. So I would now change my advice to you as follows: To rekindle your passion for what you do, write.

The advice is simple, but everything else hangs on it. Writing involves thinking, analyzing, experimenting, researching, reading. Writing is the one key activity that gives rise to everything else. It doesn't matter whether you post on a blog, keep a private journal, or write articles for a magazine or journal –- writing itself is what keeps your mind active and engaged. It gives rise to enthusiasm.

But you find it hard to write about technical communication, you say? That's because you're not writing about what's relevant to you. Find an issue or trend in the field that you struggle with, or that you're curious about. Read about it, think about it, ask yourself questions about it, and write out the answers. Eventually your muse will begin to speak.

When you blog about it, others will respond. Comments will enrich your thoughts and require your response. All this will contribute to your level of engagement. Writing lends itself to new ideas and transforms your world views. It encourages experimentation and evaluation. The mere act of writing leads to a more active involvement with life in general. This is probably why you became a writer in the first place.

You may not feel the muse speak initially. That's okay. Keep writing and reading until you find some momentum. When it does occur, everything else will follow. You'll naturally get involved in local groups such as the STC. You'll naturally begin to follow listservs that interest you. You'll naturally be asking your employer for funding to attend conferences.

To jump start your writing engine, try doing the following five activities:

  1. Listen to a podcast, and then write a post reviewing the main ideas you hear.
  2. Read a few articles from STC's Intercom magazine and write a post in response to something that intrigues you.
  3. Read a tech comm blog and write a post in response to something that caches your eye.
  4. Try something new with your deliverables and write about it.
  5. Attend an STC event (chapter meeting, webinar, conference) and write about your experience.

Let me know how it goes.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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