How technical writing helped me write memoir and fiction

I fell in love with writing in grade school and took journalism and was on the newspaper staff in high school. I attended the University of Wisconsin as a journalism major, then transferred to UCLA my senior year to complete a degree in English.

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Because jobs for women journalists were few in the 1960s in Los Angeles, I began a long career as a technical writer and editor, proposal manager, web designer and content developer in the aerospace industry. And I must say that was a great choice because my job paid very well, and I’m still able to work from time to time as a consultant years after I officially retired (I’m just about to embark on a four-month job to help a group of engineers write a proposal to the U.S. Air Force).

Plus, I’ve been able to transfer what I learned as a technical writer over to my memoir and fiction writing. Here are six things I learned:

  1. Plan before you write. I had an outline before I started my memoir and a list of scenes that guided my fiction book. Of course nothing is set in cement. Be flexible enough to change, add, or delete any of your plans.
  1. Write fast. Get it all down on the page before going back to edit and revise.
  1. Ask reviewers to look at your work several times before you finish. Fresh pairs of eyes are your friends even if they find things you don’t agree with. Of course, never forget that you are the author, so feel free to disregard any reviewer’s comments.
  1. Revision is the hard work. Right now I’m on revision five of my novel and I expect I’ll revise it a few more times before I’m finally through. A novel revision workshop instructor told us it takes at least ten revisions before you can call it a day.
  1. Hire a professional editor to take one last look. Even though I worked as an editor, I never trust myself to edit my own work. You’d be surprised how much you’ll miss if you edit on your own.
  1. Set a deadline. When I helped prepare proposals I always had to adhere to a deadline, so I work more efficiently if I set them for my creative work. My plan now is to finish revision five by the end of this week, give myself a week or two break from the book, and then start incorporating my hard copy red lines digitally into a new version. By the way, I suggest you save all your versions. You never know when you’ll need something you hastily deleted.

However, when all is said and done, I never gave up my dream to work as a creative writer. Before I began dabbling in it in the 1990s, I took a few classes and workshops, wrote grant proposals, and raised funds for non-profits. I also detoured into painting and drawing, knitting, needlepoint, and sewing because I was afraid to take the big step into creative writing.

Journaling really got me started. I wrote to save my life when our oldest son was diagnosed bipolar in 1993, and journaling became my healing balm after his suicide in 1999. My journals kick started my memoir Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicidethat was released in a hardback edition in 2011 and released in paperback and eBook editions by Dream of Things in 2012.

Now I write for several web sites and my own blog Choices, besides my fiction work. I also love to write poetry – I’ve written the poems for two books of photography, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy (Paul Blieden, photographer), and co-edited a poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1 and 2. And I still journal every day.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Madeline, thank you for sharing this excellent advice for writers of all levels. Your points highlight the importance of viewing writing as a process that takes time, patience and commitment to detail. I’m impressed with how you’ve used your vast writing background in technical writing to nurture your creative writing. I’m looking forward to your upcoming novel!

    • Madeline Sharples says:

      Thank you, Kathy. I feel it’s important to stress process in all our writing. I also would like to encourage writers that technical writing is a great option – plus there is probably more money in it than in creative writing endeavors – at least for most of us.
      My novel is so slow going. I’m about to start building a new version now that I’ve finally finished the redlines.
      All best, M.

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