A long-time member of the Shenouda Associates Inc. team, Donna Muldoon shares her entry into the technical writing business. Reluctant or not, her writing skills are strong and solid, and her editing skills are impeccable. — Judy Shenouda
I am a reluctant writer.
From my first aptitude test in junior high to my last career counseling tests as an adult, I was told that I should be a writer. Even Mrs. C, my high school English teacher with the feared red pen, commented that I should be a journalist. But I always disliked writing. It was painful, a dreaded chore, whether it was a simple thank you note or a speech to be presented. Sometimes the words came easily, but other times, they wouldn’t come out of my pen no matter how soon that assignment was due.
But here I am—after 22 years as a technical writer—still reluctant to do any real writing. I’m defining real writing here as creative writing—the opposite of technical writing. For me, creative writing requires thought, imagination, attention-grabbing sentences, interesting characters, and maybe some human emotion. None of that is in my wheelhouse.
So, when a career counselor suggested that I consider technical writing, I needed more explanation as to what that entailed. The counselor set up a meeting with someone in the field, with the warning that this was not a job interview. With a business writing sample in hand and absolute certainty that no amount of information would convince me that writing was for me, I went to the meeting. The expert in the field turned out to be Judy Shenouda! Over the course of two hours, Judy explained the concepts of technical writing and showed me some examples. The sight of 200-page finished publications did not fill me with waves of excitement, anticipation, or confidence! But Judy made me an offer that very few people ever receive: I could try out working on a technical writing assignment for a month to see if I liked it. If Judy was willing to take a risk, there was nothing for me to lose.
The first 10 years, the next 10 years, and still counting
I tried out that job for 10 years, becoming the sole writer for one complex product that encompassed over 50 manuals, totaling more than 2,000 pages. In addition to becoming familiar with the product, I learned how to write using a controlled language, how to publish on FrameMaker, and how to build periodic CDs for the distribution of the manuals.
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