Being paid to write–for the first time!

Snoopy and Woodstock are writing the copy deck. It's a lot of work, but they are learning a lot!

Snoopy and Woodstock are writing the copy deck. It’s a lot of work, but they are learning a lot!

While I’ve spent years blogging and talking about being a technical writer, I haven’t actually been a technical writer except for doing projects in grad school–until now.

In the last two months, I’ve started a position as a content/technical writer for the UX/UI Design team of a large company, working on their global self-service portal. The position was available shortly after my last contract gig ended prematurely. While I’m not enjoying the extra long commute, and I took a pay cut to remain employed, I have to say that I am learning a lot while applying a lot of the “theory” that I know.

Up until now, I’ve been more caught up in content strategy, creating the UX of websites, and making suggestions about how to utilize content rather than actually writing it. This new position has taken me in a completely new direction that I’m sure most of my readers are already familiar with, but it’s new territory for me–at least in applying what I know about it. There’s an outside vendor who creates the business requirements, who passes those along to the UX and graphic designers to create wireframes and the UI designs, and then another writer and I create the copy decks based on those.  The project we’re all working on is the Company’s global self-service product (the image above is a hint of where I’m working), so there are a lot of details to consider.

My time as a knowledge management specialist in my last position was not as pleasant as I would have liked simply because I wasn’t doing that much actually related to knowledge management at all.  I was brought in to do one thing, and ended up doing something completely different and something that didn’t play up to my strengths.

This is the complete opposite of that.  While I will contend that I’m still very much in the learning curve of understanding my responsibilities and their expectations, the environment is much more in line with what I need to be around. Our manager has been talking about the idea of creating consistency throughout the product’s content. I’ve suggested looking into single-sourcing tools that might help us with that, but they don’t know how to wrap their heads around that idea yet. Even so, the other writer of the team and I have had some lively discussions about it.  I appreciate having a voice when asking questions of why a UX designer went in a certain direction, and I get a vote when the team discusses how customers think and how they should direct the customers on the site.  While I’m still learning by doing when creating new copy and editing old copy, I feel like I’ve been well-trained for this at grad school as well as from various presentations I’ve attended over the years at conferences.  I’ve even had the chance to share my localization/globalization insights to the company in the hopes that we can be sensitive to better copy when the product is ready for translation.

So, this is certainly a new adventure. It’s not the direction that I thought I’d be going into, but I’ve definitely been learning a lot over the last couple of weeks, and things are just getting started.  We’ll see how this progresses in the coming weeks. I finished my first copy deck last week, and I was told that I did a pretty good job for a first-timer. However the second, much bigger and more complicated deck I just completed with little guidance was ripped to shreds after spending a month writing it, with only a day and a half to fix everything. Needless to say, I was unhappy about that (spent the afternoon in tears), and it made me put all my education and self-confidence as a technical writer into question. As I said above, I know they need better processes that probably involve a way to write single-sourcing information, but the problem is that it’s not the kind of information that would eventually be published as a website, ePub or other documentation. It’s complicated to explain, but it’s a bad process. All the copy is done in Word. Need I say more?

My husband has said that there’s one thing that’s been for sure during this last year or so–I can’t say that as a contractor that I haven’t had an opportunity to learn new things, and to have very different experiences in the process. He’s certainly right about that! This latest position is one that I think will provide me with better insights into writing and developing content, and how it integrates best for a good user experience for the customer. I’m used to receiving content written by others, so it’s a great chance for me to be on the “other side” of the equation. It’ll also provide me with insight as to whether this is the kind of job for me. (I’m thinking right now that I like content strategy and management better.)

Where will this take me next? Good question–I don’t know.  But there’s still a lot to learn, and it definitely contributes to my skills as a technical communicator.

What was your first writing gig like? Share your experience in the comments below!

About TechCommGeekMom

Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who has recently started her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, and BASF North America, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog, TechCommGeekMom.com, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/daniellemvillegas, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog.
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8 Responses to Being paid to write–for the first time!

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    I have to hand it to you, Danielle. After a very tough afternoon in which your work was ripped to shreds, you bounced back and wrote a blog post that’s hopeful and optimistic. That couldn’t have been easy. But it shows the kind of attitude that’ll make you a success.

    You probably won’t be able to change the tools and processes that are in place, no matter how bad they are. Perhaps the best path to consistency is to encourage the team to develop a style guide. The guide can evolve over time, as the need arises for consistent terms and phraseology. Even a rudimentary style guide can make a big difference. Best of luck to you.

    • Actually, here’s a disclosure: I wrote 98% of this more than a week ago. It occurred to me that I still needed to publish this, and so I reviewed it, made a few tweaks, and published. I know this is a learning experience, still, and as my husband reminded me, it helps me learn what kind of work I prefer to do–or not do. I had a meltdown this afternoon, and when that happens, I lose any sense of self-confidence–what little I have (I am still of the “fake it ’til you make it” phase of my career, as far as I’m concerned). On so many levels, I recognize what’s wrong here, but being the lowest man on the totem pole, and not having the complete and experience to know how to find and present a solution, I feel helpless, and thereby, I’m very frustrated. But, I need to move on, figure out how to make this work. It’s not going to go away, so in the words of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, I need to “make it work.”

    • Oh, and we are trying to deal with style guides. There are several floating around, but the one I need to work from generally sucks. While we are trying to create out own, it’s still a difficult process to determine what to include, what to leave out, and how to compile it. I’m mentally exhausted from it all.

  2. At my company, too, I have been drafted into the UX side of things. I am now collaborating with our UX designer to create consistency across all product lines. I like this because the writing falls to me. That’s what I do.

    • This is falling to me and another, and part of the problem is that with past copy decks, she has admitted that she was not consistent. I have to rely on her in most instances because she set the initial standard. If this was from scratch, I would’ve done it differently, it I’m trying to go with the flow, y’know?

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