After many years of blogging, and consistent with my desire to move toward retirement, we have ended the Insights blog. Thanks to Doug Bedell for his years of blog support.

Persistence Rewarded M.J. Hurley

Posted on September 12, 2013
Filed Under Business, Communication, Technology, The Writing Life | Leave a Comment

Dennis Owen and I admire greatly M.J. Hurley, a technical writer whose accomplishments we read about in a Washington Post column by Thomas Heath.  M.J. has built a technical writing business that earns her $400,000 annually. She did it through persistence and inspired toil, inherited from her mother, who was killed when she walked into a robbery at a 7-Eleven store in North Carolina 38 years ago.

pam_resized1378068610-1After teaching and working on her PhD, M.J. decided to go into technical writing and landed her first contract at PPD, a pharmaceutical company in Wilmington, N.C. She landed that work out of sheer tenacity. “I called anyone at PPD who would listen to me,” M.J. recalled. She finally got a contract that “included teaching all new PPD employees to write internal documents.” One of the women at PPD took her aside and told her she wasn’t charging enough, so she upped her rate, in light of the value her technical writing services were adding to the company’s functioning.

“I don’t teach grammar,” M.J. says, “I teach critical thinking. You always have to think about the point you are making. Whether you are writing a user manual, an engineering report or telling your boss what you accomplished on a trip, you have to remember what you are trying to accomplish. You are writing for the customer, not for the person next to you in the pod.”

That’s the aim of any good writing – its impact in the context of its intended use. Technical writers, like any other writers, need appropriately high horizons. M.J. is in demand by managers “who find themselves spending too much time rewriting the reports handed in by their staffers.”

That registers with Dennis. “I basically got my start as a technical writer,” he recalls, “when one of the managers I worked for in Idaho noticed I could write and started giving me reports from other engineers to fix so he didn’t have to. That seems like eons ago.”

“My favorite all-time edit (I’ll never forget it),” Dennis adds, “was when an engineer was writing about a calculation and instead of writing ‘multiply the value by six,’ he wrote ‘the value is augmented by a multiplicative factor of six’…I love that.”

M.J.’s work and the recognition it’s been receiving, Dennis notes, “illustrates how valuable good, concise writing is to a company.”  It surely does. – Doug Bedell

(Photo of M.J. Hurley)

A Versatile Writer, Based on a Boat

Posted on September 5, 2013
Filed Under Technology, The Writing Life | Leave a Comment

Now here’s a technical writing colleague we might all want to emulate!  Remember John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee novels, in which the detective hero lived on a houseboat, The Busted Flush (named after a poker hand he won)  in 1960s Florida? Well, meet William Hutchinson, a sure enough technical writer based in Redondo Beach, California, who lives  on his boat in the harbor there.

52140f3ac27a9.preview-300Hutchinson started writing fiction as a respite from the “dryness” of technical writing. “Technical writing is a lot more exact and it’s a lot more dry,” he says, “You don’t get the creativity so I started writing this book, “Sigma One,” right after the Soviets and the U.S. came to an arms agreement. I hypothesized why that might have happened in spite of what was in the press…”

You don’t hypothesize, of course, in technical writing. But however you get  your writing juices flowing, and it may take a while, they might just stream away. It’s nice to have an alternative channel for more creative stuff. Hutchinson is to be envied in that respect. He has a discipline,  and attempts to write two or three fictional pages a day. He’s a movie fan who tends to think in pictures and writes what he sees in his mind. Again, that’s on his imaginative, not so much technical, side.

Not surprisingly, technical writing comes easier for Hutchinson than creative writing, and not only because he’s spent all those years as a systems engineer. “The hardest part of creative writing,” he says, “is getting the conversations correct and getting in(to) the head of the characters.” In technical writing, it’s describe it as it is, with no head games.

We salute a truly versatile technical writing colleague out there on the West Coast! – Doug Bedell

(Photo of William Hutchinson from The Beach Reporter, The Beach Cities, CA)

Email Subscribe