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Crossing Boundaries: Connections Between Technical Communication & Fiction
Published
October 24, 2016
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By S.E.M. Ishida

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Technical communication and fiction may seem like total opposites on the writing spectrum. However, as both a technical communicator and children’s book author, I’ve come to see that these two kinds of writing have more in common than one might think. If you're a technical communicator itching to break into fiction, take heart that technical communication can help you write stories in the following ways:
  • Detach yourself from your writing. Some authors think of their novels like their babies. But what happens when your publisher asks you to remove your metaphorical baby’s arm and replace it with something different? Technical communication prepares you for writing with a cool detachment from your topic and your words. When my publisher asked for changes to my manuscript, we discussed the alterations, but I went along with them—and eventually signed a book contract.

  • Learn to collaborate. Despite the romantic notion of an author putting prose to paper alone by candlelight, the modern fiction author who tackles traditional publishing should be a team player. Authors may receive help from an agent, an editor, an illustrator, design, and marketing before their book reaches readers. Technical communicators will also likely work with others, such as fellow writers, subject matter experts, management, and graphic designers. Fiction and technical communication can both benefit from teamwork.

  • Remember your audience. When writing technical documentation, you likely have a predefined audience, such as users of a particular product. But successful fiction authors also keep their audience in mind. What age group are you writing for? What genre is your story, and what other books are its fans reading? Knowing your audience can help you find the right publisher and make your work more attractive to them. Whether your audience consists of business professionals or elementary school students, consider why they would be interested in reading your writing and how to make it accessible.

  • Write clearly without wasting words. The nine-year-olds reading my fiction don’t have particularly long attention spans. Neither do the engineers reading my technical documentation. Clear and concise writing might not be a priority for some styles of fiction, but it’s invaluable to me as both technical communicator and children’s book author.

  • Stock up on story fuel. Story fuel is the intangible substance that infuses everything around you, even your technical communication classes and work. If you find yourself in the role of technical communicator, take the opportunity to seek out the story fuel right where you are. Who knows, maybe an abstraction associated with the product you’re documenting will inspire your next sci-fi story, or maybe those quirky SMEs down the hall will be the basis for your next novel’s protagonist.
Technical communicators interested in fiction and fiction writers interested in technical communication can use their abilities in one type of writing to strengthen the other. Thus far, my fiction writing and my technical communication build one another up as I pursue them both. Not only am I beginning a career at a large multinational technology company, but you can also check out my first fiction book, Nick Newton is Not a Genius, on the publisher's website and on Amazon.com.

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S.E.M. Ishida can be reached at sishida@ncsu.edu. Read more articles by S.E.M. Ishida. End of article.

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