Re: Tech writing situation--keeper of the flame

Subject: Re: Tech writing situation--keeper of the flame
From: "Sella Rush" <sellar -at- mail -dot- apptechsys -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "Emily Cotlier" <Emily_Cotlier -at- cardlink -dot- co -dot- nz>
Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2000 18:20:20 -0700

Emily--As a lone writer for a small software company (<20 people), I've been
in similar situations, and have a couple of comments.

The first is that assigning a paper/document is a popular way to get a new
employee up to speed on the company's product or technology. (I wonder if
this was the brainchild of a stingy CEO who knew an employee needed to spend
the first 40 hrs reading, but couldn't bear to pay out the salary without
getting something in return!) Regardless, it turns out that writing a paper
is an excellent way to assimilate that first mound of reading because it
forces the person to try to make sense of what they're reading and it gives
them a goal.

My second comment is on your use of the phrase "manage the project". I'm
not sure why you equate managing with doing the writing. As a lone writer,
I serve as a resource for every other person in the company. Often others
"manage" the project (i.e., oversee the budget, set up parameters, review
results against their expectations). These projects can range from
marketing brochures to business plans, web content, user guides, etc. In my
company, it would be perfectly acceptable for NMG to enlist me to produce
the document. At the same time, no one would think it extraordinary if he
produced it himself or asked me to edit or contribute content. I am a
*resource* for my company--people can use me in whatever way works best for
the project and for their personal preferences. Of course I also have my
own projects where I make most of the decisions, and when I need help with
something I'll tap a programmer, testing or UI people. (Note--re credit, in
my company the COO tracks everyone's work, it would not be possible for me
to contribute significant work on a project without him knowing about it.)

My point here is that the CEO might well have expected the NMG to work with
you, just as the CEO himself might. That he wants the NMG to have a project
of his own but that doesn't preclude the NMG from tapping any resource he
needs in the company. That in fact it is more the management rather than
the actual work that is the point.

Generic stuff that doesn't necessarily apply to Emily's situation:

I have to admit that I did freak out the first time our CEO asked a new
programmer to write an informational handout on our technology. I felt
uncomfortable with others (non-writers) producing written material because I
felt that my job was being encroached on, that it was a statement about how
much I was valued. That they either didn't trust me for the job or that I
was somehow falling down on the job because I hadn't already noticed the
need for the document and already produced it.

I wish I could give you an easy fix, but I think it has something to do with
self esteem and also learning to work within your team. I discovered that
the new programmer had won academic awards for his writing, enjoyed writing,
and was in fact very good. (This is obviously not your current situation!)
It made me recognize that lots of people are capable of writing well and
actually like to write, that writing is not the exclusive domain of the

Re working within your team, it depends on the work environment you're given
as well as what you make of it. Is the work culture particularly rigid,
with very well-defined and non-overlapping job descriptions? Or is there
that fluidity characteristic of small companies? And what kind of
environment and work relationships do you build around yourself? Do you
want to be the keeper of the writer's flame, barricading yourself in even as
you keep others out of your domain? Or do you want to be approachable (and
sometimes put upon), someone people feel comfortable working with?

By being approachable and encouraging others to write, I reap several
benefits: (1) they like and respect me because I'm exhibiting liking and
respect for them, (2) as lone writer I get sick of my own style and tired
phrases, so other written material freshens things up and gives me a new
perspective on things, (3) when I'm taking C programing 101 I have access to
programmers who'll help me sort out my mangles recursive algorithms.

Sella Rush
mailto:sellar -at- apptechsys -dot- com
Applied Technical Systems (ATS)
Silverdale, Washington
Developers of the CCM Database

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