I know many of you who write fiction are probably cringing at the words technical writing, but hear me out. Though fiction and technical pieces are very different and require unique skills, they also have a remarkable amount of overlap. I’ve been writing fiction most of my life, but I’ve actually spent much of my career working as a technical writer. I’ve worked on brochures, manuals, newsletters, you name it. It sounds pretty drab, but there’s something beautiful to me about meticulously crafting words into an artistic yet technical document. It’s not for everyone, but I enjoy it. So why am I insisting that all fiction writers learn it?
1. You will learn to write concisely. Yes, fiction writing is an art and a creative process. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a method to it. By learning to write concisely, one of the main skills of technical writing, you can learn to get your point across quickly and efficiently without filling your story with a bunch of fluff. Too much fluff, and your readers will be removed from the story and might be less likely to continue reading. Just look at all the books out there about the craft of writing fiction. If there was no method, there’d be no reason for those books.
2. You will get better at line editing. Technical writing focuses a lot on taking apart sentences and reconstructing them, especially since you often have a limited amount of space to fit the text. That knowledge will easily translate to line editing, where you’ll focus on the flow and wording of a sentence to make sure it doesn’t break from the style of the narrative; you’ll also learn to pick out more redundancies.
3. You will improve the structure of your plot. Good technical writers are masters at structuring the content of their work in a way that will both inform and propel a reader through it. By learning that skill, you’ll gain a critical insight as to what works in a story and what doesn’t. You’ll be able to better see if a scene is inappropriately placed or if it needs to be cut altogether.
4. You will get a taste for another genre and develop experience and skills while doing so. For those who have dabbled in tech writing or have perused manuals and instruction booklets, you know that technical writing is a whole different beast from writing fiction. (That’s also part of the reason there are so many poorly written manuals.) Well-written manuals include only the essentials. They have one job: to give the reader knowledge about a particular product. They don’t—or at least shouldn’t—be wishy washy and open to interpretation. Gaining experience in tech writing will help you to establish a clear path for your story and give it a purpose. One of the biggest indicators of amateur writing is ambiguity. Tech writing skills can help you avoid that.
5. You will gain a better understanding of which questions to ask and how to find the best editor/agent for your manuscript. One of the main tasks a technical writer has to undergo is to research and ask questions. Loads of them. Tech writers are jacks of all trades; they acquire knowledge about many different subjects, and if they’re writing a piece on a subject they’re unfamiliar with, they are expected to track down those who do, interview them, and then translate that knowledge into words the average Joe can understand. Having the skill to do that gives you a huge advantage as a fiction writer. It gives you the ability to know how to approach potential editors, agents, and publishers and CONNECT with them—a must in the publishing industry. It can also help you gain efficiency with your research.
6. You will get a chance to dip your toes in graphic design. It’s true that you can hire a professional to design your book cover (and I highly recommend doing that), but becoming familiar with the basics of graphic design can be very beneficial for you as an author. Apart from your cover, you’ll have to consider all the graphics you’ll need for marketing your book. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve published traditionally or independently; either way, you’ll be responsible for most of the marketing. If you’re a self-published author, having the skills to market your work will make or break your success. So how does tech writing play into this? As a technical writer, you learn that aesthetics of font and layout. You learn what draws readers’ attention, how to make focal points on a page, and how to create text-based designs in a limited amount of space.
7. You will learn how to analyze your manuscript and take a critical approach to it. Since technical writing is all about writing, rewriting, and assessing your own work, the experience you’ll gain from learning the techniques involved can be invaluable when it comes to editing your fiction. Getting the first draft done is an awesome first step, but being able to see the bigger picture and reevaluate your work is crucial to its growth. I’ve read plenty of books that were published “as is” because the author didn’t want to change it, and I’ve read books that have been through hundreds of revisions because the first twenty times weren’t quite right. Believe me, I’ll take a thoroughly edited book over the others any day, and I’m betting you would too.
8. You will acquire more marketing skills. In additional to the marketing benefits you get from studying graphic design, you can pick up even more through learning to write for a target audience. In a technical piece, it’s vital to first know your audience and then cater that piece to fit your audience. And while most of us fantasize about readers appreciating the artistic beauty in our books and the sometimes-flowery language we might use, the truth of the matter is superfluous wording doesn’t sell 90% of the time. The ideas behind your book might be genius, but if the writing isn’t well executed and you can’t market it well, you’re still sunk.
9. You will learn how to view your manuscript as a beta reader. Technical writing is all about trial and error. You write the document, test it to see how well it captures the use of a product, then revise it. You’ll likely have others reviewing it as well. Beta readers will do the same thing for your story. They’ll tell you what worked for them and what didn’t and what other readers might find confusing. Working in the technical writing industry can give you a better feel for that process, and it’ll teach you to view your own through the eyes of a beta reader.
10. You will get more experience with research. Tech writing is all about research. Like I mentioned before, most documents that are written in the tech industry are manuals, brochures, and articles that explain how something works. And since most of us don’t have extensive knowledge in science, math, engineering, medicine, etc., a lot of research would be required. Familiarizing yourself with the various methods of research and knowing how to apply what you find will have a tremendous effect on your ability to incorporate outside information into your novel. You’ll become well versed at weaving in facts and making them flow with the rest of the manuscript.