I’m not sure if there’s a such thing as “Driving Improvement School.” If there were, I’d be recommending it to every driver I know, since I’m the only one who knows how to drive on the roads here, there, and everywhere. But with driving improvement, there’s a presupposition in place: you have to know how to drive.
Same thing with writing improvement school—oh, wait, people opt for this when they don’t know how to write at all. If you’re looking to improve writing, you’d better know how to write first, whichever way you go about it.
That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.
I recently retired from a career in technical writing, but I’d like to try writing fiction for a change, just for the sake of doing it. How would you recommend making the transition from the technical background to fiction writing (or something similar)? I feel as if my writing experience would be helpful, and I’d like to make it work for me.
—Arthur Reeves, Roswell, Ga.
Throughout my infanthood and childhood, I often wondered how I would come to the craft of creative writing from a technical writing background. Ok, that never happened. I’ll admit though, there’s a fair bit of cognitive downshifting and upshifting needed for such a change. But just as flooring the gas pedal and shifting from first gear straight to seventh gear would wreck your transmission (I think), I wouldn’t recommend too drastic a change right away.
Here’s your solution: Write some technical documents and manuals through the lens of magical realism. Use a familiar form to bridge to the unfamiliar.
How about The Human Cookbook: Creative Recipes for a Cannibalist Kitchen? Set in an era of postmodern post-tolerance, you’d have an influential guide to making comfort food classics like “Oven-Roasted Tibilalus Anterior” (served with a piquant au jus) and “Chianti Braised Latissiumus Dorsi.”
Or you could go for something with broader appeal: 100 Great Theoretical Science Fair Projects for Kids (and their Parents!). In the bizarro future, I will have bizzaro wanted my kids to try out live-action cross-species genetic mutation (transmogrifying a pet hamster into a pet flying Nile monitor), and homemade hydrogen bombs (involving a microwave, a trashcan, non-dairy powdered creamer, Wonder® Enriched Uranium, and [REDACTED]).
Then again, if you’ve spent your career writing documentation, you could draw up a manual for the RainbowTronics™ Unicorn Sentinel 5000 20xV6. There will come a time when the unicorn will no longer be the hunter, but the hunted. When we deploy Sentinels to mow down these unicorns, we’ll need a practical guide on hand for Sentinel operators. It’d range from basic use (changing the viewscreen from the visible spectrum to the unicornvisible spectrum for hidden forest tracking) to advanced operations (alternating the frequency of the anti-ROYGBIV phasers, preventing the target unicorn[s] from adapting to the phaser fire). Since the impact of a unicorn’s horn registers over 9,000 pounds of force per square inch (at ramming speed), a primer on defensive protocol would be paramount. You could round it out with sections on maintenance and modular additions, especially for those bicorn encounters. Dangerous creatures, those bicorns.
Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and reassembled using the steps on pages 56-57 in Hodge Kvorak’s “Miss Assembly’s Guide to Blog Assembly.”