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I miss working with my hands

by Tom Johnson on Aug 25, 2010 •
categories: creativitytechnical-writing

A career in technical writing is a sedentary, almost motionless desk job. The greater endurance you have to sit still and keep your hands on the keyboard or mouse pad, the more productive you'll be. I am starting to miss working with my hands, and walking around.

During the past few weeks, the "Mr-Fix-It" section in my brain kicked in. A while ago, I had the idea of fixing everything that is broken with my house. To list what I've been doing, I dug out my window wells, built a dirt sifter to sift the gravel from the dirt, reattached drain tubes, refinished a dining room table, stained a new dresser, bought and cut slats for a twin bed, reattached a chipped Formica piece on a kitchen island, reattached a wood corner to the same island, and glued and nailed a broken dresser drawer.

I fixed a broken crib wall, gathered up all my clothes that need mending, vacuumed inside and under the couches, steam-vacuumed the floor mats and rugs in my minivan and car, had a mechanic install new back brakes and resurface the rotors of my front brakes, removed dozens of stepping stones from my yard to improve water drainage, made a trip to the landfill to throw away yard trash, reattached a missing bolt on a chair, fixed a problematic sprinker (with help from a friend -- thanks Cameron!), repositioned the angle and aim of all my yard sprinklers, reprogrammed the sprinkler timing, and did a few other projects.

Sanding a dresser
This is an old dresser I restained in my garage.

In contrast to more physical labor, working on the computer puts me in another mode. It's the quiet, motionless tapping of the fingers, the almost imperceptible click of the mouse. Others around me assume I'm doing nothing, and I just might be. I can work a full day creating topics for a manual, but at the end of the day, I don't have much to show for it. Progress is slow and under-appreciated, not to mention nearly invisible. I rarely get to see someone actually use the product to find an answer or solve a problem. The sedentary life kicks in, and the blood in my arms and legs slows down to a trickle. Check my pulse -- I may not actually be alive, sitting there so quietly, moving so little, all day long, every day.

As my weekend ended and I returned to work -- reluctantly -- I passed by an old construction worker. Our floor is being redesigned, and there's a whole construction crew clanking and banging away all day. As one older construction worker walked past, he had a slow, tired gait. His eyes looked propped open by coffee. White dust lined his hair, and his hands looked rough and swollen and dirty. He glanced at me with a heavy sigh and continued slowly down the hall.

Yeah, I'm starting to enjoy my desk job again.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist 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.