Choosing Email

We need to stop thinking of email as some strange beast. Email is written communication - nothing more, nothing less. The primary difference between email and any other form of communication comes down to one thing: email doesn't require a human delivery agent. That's it. That's the difference.

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March 22, 2007 in category Language Arts, Life, the Universe, and Everything | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Frame of Reference

I enjoy "collecting" personalized license plates. Some, I "get" right away. Others, I figure out over time. And some, I never understand.

Of the latter, I have decided there are two types. First are plates that I, or someone else, can readily understand out once we discover the "trick", such as the one that was meant to be read in a rear-view mirror (YWYMTUO) or the one that was in French (QUOI SUR). Then there are the plates which, I assume, convey an "inside joke" for the person whose car it's on.

The thing you need to understand what you're seeing is the proper frame of reference. With the license plates, I'll never understand the "inside jokes" because I don't have (and can't acquire) the proper frame of reference.

This came back to me in a recent conversation I had.

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August 10, 2006 in category Language Arts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Passion for Writing

Insanabile cacoëthes scribendi   *

I recently interviewed a possible technical writer candidate. When I asked her "Why do you write?" she said "I enjoy it... and the money's good". It was an honest answer. It wouldn't have been my choice.

I write because it's part of who I am. I have always had a passion for writing things down.

Writing is just something I do, all of the time. I make notes, I make lists. I write snippets of poetry. I write essays. I write letters. I conduct most of my communication via email (email conversations are self-documenting :-). I keep "lab notebooks" of my projects for my job.

I kept a journal through College, then stopped except for trip journals. I discovered the web in 1994 and started my own pages that have spread to several sites. I write articles for technical publications.

This past December I celebrated the one-year anniversary of restarting my daily journal. I've been keeping (multiple :-) weblogs now for over two years.

Writing isn't involuntary, like breathing, but it's automatic for me, like taking the stairs even when there is an elevator. I am a writer as I am a techie or a programmer or a person with red hair. It's just what I am.

It makes sense that I find a job to "support my writing habits". :-)

Five years ago I did a stint as a technical writer for Apple. I enjoyed the writing, but there were some problems with the job (documenting vaporware is frustrating) and some serious stresses in my life at the time. So after a year I went back to programming. But it wasn't the same somehow. I'm not really a "developer". My preference in programming is for small tools and data filters. There's not much call for that in jobs. And even as a programmer, I write constantly. I write comments and READMEs and proposals and memos and email. I document my code. I document my processes. I take close-to-verbatim notes in meetings.

So, when I was looking for work again this last time around, I looked harder for technical writing jobs than programming jobs. I managed to find one and I'm currently doing "internal technical documentation" — writing how-tos and overviews, reviewing docs of various types, assisting with the user guide, helping with design specs.

It feels right. It's what I do.


  * An incurable passion to write (Juvenal, Satires)

February 5, 2005 in category Career Center, Language Arts | Permalink | Comments (0)

What Do I Write About?

Recently, a similar topic came up on two different list groups I'm a member of.

First, one list posted this writing prompt:

I find that, unless I *force* myself to write something meaningful in my journal, I tend to just regurgitate the events of the day with little comment or insight. Is this a problem for you? How do you overcome it?

Then a fellow group member made this comment on a different list

[my diaries] mainly record the hard facts of a day i.e. "Got up, went to work, had ... lunch, came home, temperature was 72 degrees, nice day...

Synchronicity strikes again (but then, that's what synchronicity is all about).

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March 23, 2004 in category Language Arts | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Lazy Way?

I ran across the following entry on a fellow blogger's site. She's also a fellow Victoria, so she must have sensible things to say :-)

One of my favorite bloggers called memes "officially the lazy bastard's way of filling a blog", but I beg to differ. As someone who uses my blog as a push to write, since I truly want to write for a living, I find memes to be simply writing prompts. I only do ones I think are relatively interesting, and I do them when my mind seems otherwise empty. If I was lazy, I wouldn't write anything. Instead I find something that makes me think enough to respond and I respond. I've been been feeling really empty lately, and the memes keep me writing.

I agree emphatically with everything she says, except perhaps for the last sentence, and that only because this week I've managed to have a bunch of ideas on my own. Other weeks, it's the memes that keep me writing,. Come to think of it, at least one of those "ideas of my own" was inspired by a conversation on a journaling list I belong to.

Unless, perhaps,. you're writing fiction (and even then I'm not so sure) I think most of our writing ideas come from outside — from something you heard or saw or remembered or thought of based on some peculiar chain of reactions. If a meme does it for you, write to the meme!

Like Victoria (above), I pick the memes that interest me. From those, I choose the questions to which I respond. Sometimes, I'll skip a question — even on a meme I generally follow — because that week's question didn't prompt anything from me (or I simply decline to answer). At other times, I may initially think I have nothing to say; however, sometime later I often discover that I have a whole page of material to write.

I also subscribe (at this moment) to seven different journaling discussion lists (with weekly writing prompts), one writing prompt("read-only :-) list, and a handful of journalling newsletters. I really enjoy this awesome source of ideas called "writing prompts and "memes".

Whether I've been feeling empty lately or writing up a storm, the memes and the prompts keep me writing. And writing, for me, is the goal.

February 26, 2004 in category Language Arts, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Writing Prompts Epiphany

I've been working on a lot of writing prompts; I find that I enjoy them greatly.

I treat them as "essay questions"; I try to respond in complete sentences, preferably several complete sentences. Also, I try to put some thought into my answers. If there are several questions, sometimes I respond to them one at a time; lately I've been mixing my responses together into one entry.

As I've been doing this, I find it's getting easier. I am also noticing that that my responses are changing. Initially, some prompts just wouldn't "do it" for me. I'd look at them and think "I have nothing to say". Or "I have a few one word answers". Then I'd go away and do something else and my mind would noodle on the prompt... and I'd come back and write a page and a half.

As an example, my first reaction to the Friday 5 prompts for January 23 was "This doesn't do much for me... it's 5 simple answers and I don't even have an answer for most of them anyway". Then I thought about it and wrote my 1-page response which begins:

This week's Friday 5 is about "current favorites". It doesn't do much for me, but I'll take a stab at it by answering in my own perverse fashion.
and ends with
Isn't it amazing how much you can write when you don't have anything to say? :-)

I've had similar reactions to a number of prompts... each time I end up writing something that, for me, responds to the prompt (which is what they're really for after all), even if my response isn't, perhaps, quite what the prompt writer "had in mind".

The most recent was the latest (and last) Past, Present, and Future Meme. My first reactive thought was "I have nothing to say". My second, somewhat facetious, thought was, "here; there; where".

Then I sat back and let my mind wander... Three simple questions lead to a 900 word essay in response.

Do you like writing prompts? Do you find yourself discovering how much you can (sometimes) write when you initially thought you had nothing to say?

February 18, 2004 in category Language Arts, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

How I write (3rd in a series)

I enjoy writing prompts; one of the places I visit frequently for ideas is Diarist.net Spark (they post a daily prompt). When I first saw the prompt for January 30, I was interested:

Voices in your Head — 30 January 2004
List the things that are hanging over your head right now — back entries, school work, personal projects, hobbies, or whatever you're really wanting to get done, but don't have time for.

Then I read the rest:

Give each a voice and character, and script a conversation between them.

Ummmm. Wait...

Give your finals project an Italian accent and the disposition of a gangster, for example, and let it argue with your German gestapo report for work. This exercise is really fun, and can be very relieving.

Oh... Ick! That is so not me.

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February 9, 2004 in category Language Arts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Why I Write (revisited)

Back in December, I wrote a weblog essay entitled Why I Write. I've been having a lot of fun writing since then. I've been averaging two weblog entries a day in my regular weblog (aka my "other" weblog) as well as several per month here, in my "family eyes-only" weblog, and in the cats' weblog. I've also kept up with my daily online/offweb journal.

One of the things I've discovered that I really enjoy is the wealth of writing prompts and memes available on the web and through mailing lists. If you read my regular weblog, my growing interest in these should be patently obvious :-) But... (there's always a "but").

I don't like all of the prompts and memes. I have far more choices than I choose.

Back in Grad School, I took a course in Expository Writing as a required humanities elective (the elective was required, not this particular course). I hated the course. I disliked the instructor intensely. I enjoyed the requirement to keep a daily journal but loathed the requirement to hand the journal in every two weeks for critique and grading! (Not to mention that during the few days the instructor had the journal, I didn't.)

The most wonderful thing about all of the writing prompts and memes available on the web is

There will not be a quiz.

There is no grade. There are no requirements. There is no minimum (or maximum) length; I can write a short essay or a long one. I can use complete sentences or not. I can include topic sentences, 3 distinct supporting ideas, and a concluding paragraph... or not. No one (but me) cares if I choose or ignore a given prompt. If I want to, I always have the option to say "Ick! No. Not that one." The freedom is refreshing and empowering. It's all my choice — what I write, how I write, and if I write.

This entire realization crystalized for me yesterday when I tripped over The Five Paragraph Essay site (subtitled: Everything you need to know plus practice writing prompts). The site was created as a resource for teachers. It's full of useful teaching ideas and links to writing prompts used by various schools and tests. It's full of prompts that made me say "Ick!" :-)

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed and did well in school. I was a smart kid who got good grades. I liked most of the exercises. I attended some form of school for 19 years (through a Masters Degree program). But (again, but) after I finally got out, I discovered that I have zero interest in ever gong back. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

I've come to hate "assignments". I detest homework. I loathe tests. Even when the subject is related to something I enjoy (e.g. writing) if I don't like the specifics... I stall.

But that's all behind me now (except, of course, for jobs. But I digress). On my own time I can write. I can enjoy writing. I can write without worrying about assignments, or grades, or essay tests. I can write for me, and I can have fun doing it.

January 20, 2004 in category Language Arts, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Why I Write

I've always liked to write; when I was much younger, I wrote a lot of poems and short stories. For several years in Junior High and High School I did a periodic "newspaper" for my family.

I don't recall keeping any sort of diary or journal during elementary school or High School. I did keep a regular journal through all four years of College. I can't remember what triggered that, but I wrote in it most every day. I still have the first volume of that journal (discovered recently in a box with my HS yearbooks and a couple of photo scrapbooks). If I still have the remaining volumes, they are stored in a place so safe even I don't know where it is. To be honest, I'm not sure I would want to read those journals if I could find them again. Perhaps they're better off in that "safe place".

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December 21, 2003 in category Language Arts, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)