It’s a funny thing to be a writer by passion and profession.
There are a lot of us. English majors who dedicated their academic lives to poetry, essay, criticism, fiction, and memoir, people who write to express our opinions, ideas, and ideals, to display our talent or simple affection for creative and carefully constructed stories… and who then got jobs writing for banks, auto-trade magazines, corporate real-estate offices, and–comme moi--tech companies.
I wouldn’t call it a replacement of ideas and ideals… at least not in most cases. We write what we have to during the day, and hope we have the time and energy (and willingness to stare at a screen for even more hours) to write what we want later.
And yes, when you slip on that workplace persona, there is a shift of focus and a thickening of skin. But it comes much more easily than you might suppose.
At work, I have no vanity for my writing. When you are a technical writer for a company like mine, it’s not only not your words, but it’s also not your ideas. You are the mouthpiece, the translator, the amalgamator of other people’s brilliance and discovery and research and theories. Your job is to make it clearly understood. A technical writer is part of a support staff.
Sure, there are a few marketing pieces and chunks of web copy I can point to and say: “I wrote that!” But for the most part, by the time a document is finalized, I often can’t tell what words came from the subject matter expert, me, the BossLady my editor, and our reviewing BigBosses.
Now, in my personal writing life, I have spent hours, days, and even months agonizing over the word choice or organization or the way to just get an idea across in a poem or an essay… or even in this silly blog. I have called in outside resources for help (thanks, Mom!) and then defiantly ignored their suggestions because I just love this passage or that phrase. Clearly I have yet to learn to kill all my darlings.
Ah, but that’s just it, isn’t it? They’re mine.
My professional writing is completely based on input from other sources. If I’ve done my job correctly, even the style and tone of the writing is not mine, but the company standard. So, how can I possibly become attached and protective of something that I never even created? Which is why the vanity disappears.
Well… it almost disappears. Working as I do with and essentially for a lot of brainiac software engineers, I have to admit the slight, yet ever-present spine-straitening effort to continually remind and convince many of my colleagues of two simple things:
1) Yes, the work I do is a necessary part of TheMachine and it is the result of education, training, intelligence, and yes, some degree of natural talent.
2) No, actually, not anyone can do my job for me on this or that project. Before you think I’m being snooty, please know I mean that in exactly the same way I don’t assume I could design and make a new software application… at least not without the education, training, intelligence, and natural talent.
I hear this may be a common concern for us “creatives” gone tech.
Which is why it makes me giggle a little when someone I’m essentially “working for” doesn’t want to hurt my tender creative feelings. I elicited an honest to goodness gasp this week for savagely red-lining through a whole page of text.
“Oh no! You worked really hard on that!”
“This? Nah. About 15 minutes. Anyways, this is your paper. What do you want me to say?”
And he told me… and I applied the invisible patina of totally anonymous, company-standard, common-sensical, and just-a-touch-of-Emilie style which the BossLady quickly edited out.
But man, it sounded good. I’m just sayin’.