Jumping into Technical Writing

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I have been encouraged to write here of my somewhat unusual way of entering into the field of technical writing. That's right, I am not a technical communication professional, but am trying to enter the field—by just jumping in. Some of you might find my approach and my experiences—and my success (?)—interesting.

Let me introduce myself by my elevator presentation. It was interesting when I gave it to a gathering of about 40 technical communication professionals at a recent evening event of the WDCB chapter:

  • name: Steve Jolivette . . .
  • trying to break into the field of technical writing . . .
  • have done a great deal of technical writing, but in the capacity of an IT programmer/analyst, not a technical writer . . .
  • have also done much writing as an historian (have a Ph.D. in history) . . .
  • so I have done a great deal of writing, but I do not have expertise in the software tools of TW . . .
  • in order to break into the field I am willing to start at a very low rate . . .

Wooh—I got quite a rise from this last revelation! I had hardly finished pronouncing the last word (“rate”) when everyone laughed, some gasping with shock. The laughter was not exactly because it was funny—it was more the laughter of surprise at the unexpected-incredible, i.e., at a supposedly big-time gaffe.

Now, I am not exactly a spring chicken—but I was more surprised than my audience. Naïve? Hmmm . . . Well, then again . . . To hell with it! I defended my stance then and I defend it now. How else can I show my talent and my determination to do quality work? I'll work for nothing (for awhile—however long it takes) to prove myself. I'll even volunteer for a good long stint at a non-paying job if that is what it takes. (My idea is that I can be highly productive writing solid text—to pass to others to format and graphically enhance—while gaining expertise with the tools.)

This hire-me-on-trial, let-me-train-on-the-job tactic is how I first entered into computer programming years ago. With a B.A. in history, needing solid employment, and with no programming education, training, or experience, I went to the Yellow Pages and started dialing the "Data Processing" numbers and soon found a small company which gave me a two-week trial (I passed) which was the beginning of a satisfying career in IT. (It was a fine career in its own right, and in later financing my way through graduate school in history.) So something like that can probably—almost certainly—work for me a second time. I'll give it a try.

Anyone interested in trying me?

In any case, I'll post here from time to time, at major events or major epiphanies, to let those who are interested know how it is coming along . . .

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