technical writing

Case Study – Professional Writing

Years later, after already being lied to by financial aid, I soon discovered the head of the professional writing department resigned from his duties due to being charged with sexual assault. Apparently, this had been going on for thirty plus years, with multiple accusers, and they failed to mention it in the brochure. It makes for an intriguing conversation starter, but what exactly does professional writing look like?

First, my “writing career” has gone in variety of directions. I wrote award winning short stories while in school. I spent a decade getting articles and reviews published in over a dozen publications. I earned a bit of change as a freelance writer. I even did work as a ghost writer. I made some money, so that makes me a pro, right?

I’ve written detailed essays on retroviruses, award winning poetry, and scripts for television, commercials, game shows, graphic novels, comic strips and even an award winning indie film. On the creative side of things, I also managed to write and self-pub a novel that hit #12 on Amazon. Cool, cool.

I believe the problem with my writing career is just that: for years I played the role of professional writer. Such a generic term. Think on this. On top of everything I’ve listed, I also wrote business plans, marketing plans, press releases, training manuals, legal reports, and code for databases. In fact, I’ve now studied VBA, MySQL, HTML, JavaScript, and Python. Did I mention I’ve also written songs? And I don’t even remember the hundreds of other things I’ve tinkered with.

In one sense, it’s great that writing can be transferred to a number of incredible occupations. I’ve even done copy editing, proof reading and developmental editing. On top of video editing! Yes, the ability to communicate is an essential skill. However, did you see the problem? I sure did. I guess I had been blind to it for far too long.

Yep. Jack of all trades but master of none. Consistently distracted, continually learning, but never coming to a place of sheer satisfaction. And that’s the interesting thing about this case study. Despite the successes, all I hear is the sound of failure.

For a long time I lived life as a conquered of molehills. I hear someone exclaim, “I do sales!” So I go and spend two years, win eight awards, and master the art of sales. Then another guy shouts, “I am a graphic designer!” And I charge into battle, designing 180+ billboards. Then another guy says, “I’m a beast at customer service.” Oh yeah. Well I have six awards and a handful of employee of the year awards at various companies! And that’s how I went about life. Hilltop to hilltop. Conquest to conquest. A pile of worthless rewards and a burned out attitude lacking much passion.

Yeah, I went about writing that way too. Ghost writer, technical writer, copy writer, copy editing, proof reader, marketing, business, publication relations, coding, film, poetry, novels, manga…well, you get the picture I suspect. When you continually hop from discipline to discipline, it’s difficult to mature, to grow, to come to any sort of sophisticated level of understanding.

The haze began to clear when I finished my graphic novel script. It was the proudest I have been of my writing for years. I started to think: man, writing manga, writing novels…those are things I genuinely love. Not so much film or technical writing or any host of things I had worked on. Sure, I could do those things. But I didn’t have the passion for them like manga and novels.

Then I had a talk with a bigwig at a company. A guy who had significant military and business experience. He pointed out my main weakness, perhaps my only weakness, had always been focus. I could do anything…but I lived life like I had something to prove. And I needed to prove it to anybody and everybody. It’s true. I grew up in abusive home. I guess I always felt like the underdog in every situation. When in reality, I need to stop, consider, and focus on on the things I’m truly passionate about. Then set out to master those things.

It doesn’t mean I don’t have hobbies. Martial Arts. Guitar & Piano. Learning foreign languages and gardening. Working out. Fantasy Football. Reading. Gaming. But when it comes to passion, what four things would I narrow it down to?

Well, writing, of course, is number one. I don’t care if I’m never famous. I love it. And I want to focus on manga and novels and maybe a video game one day.

Problem solving is number two. I love investigations. I also love math and data. Teaching is number three. With critical thinking and creative freedom tied at four.

Where does that leave me? Well, I love data analytics and want to master data science. I love investigative/intelligence analyst, and want to continue to master it and possibly teach it. And if I can master the art of being an author, I believe I will accomplish a portion of what I was created to do.

To me, loving what I do will always be more important than the amount of money I make or fame I incur. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll hear those words one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Well, I can hope at least. In the meantime, here’s to being a master of a handful of skill sets as opposed to being a jack of all trades.

Case Study – Security Audit

If you don’t know what a SOC 2 Type 2 Audit is, don’t worry because I didn’t know either. I had turned down a position as a permanent copy editor (I wrote the manual for the department and trained a person for the position), instead opting to take on the role of a project manager. It wasn’t long before I had my first massive assignment – do whatever it takes to pass the audit and achieve compliance.

My specific task was twofold: first, I would be writing the bulk of the actual report. A simplified process at this time because I knew all the ins and outs of the company. I wrote training manuals for multiple departments, and had cross-trained for almost every single position. With a strong background in writing, compiling a slick, detailed report turned out to be a breeze.

The second major task proved more daunting: build an internal database for the purposes of housing the HR and IT departments. My background in coding was limited to HTML I played with in high school on notepad and MS FrontPage. I was given no budget, no team, and no guidance for putting together the database. Just a three month deadline. No pressure, right?

The first program that popped in my mind was MS Access since it had sat there on my desktop, collecting dust for years. Access = database, I thought. I discovered I needed to know two programming languages to get this right: VBA and MySQL. I immediately purchased a ‘Dummies’ book, located a handful of forums where database conversations were taking place, and got to work.

I remembered a simple trick clockmakers would use in order to master the craft: take apart the clock and then put it back together again. So, I grabbed a database off the interwebs, broke it apart, examined the coding, and put it back together. This built my confidence up.

Looking back I wish I had done some wire-framing. Although, at the time, I didn’t know what wire-framing was. Regardless, I built a database, from scratch, that housed both the IT and HR departments. I did it in three months while also compiling the SOC 2 Type 2 Audit report. Best news of all? We passed the audit and were granted compliance. At $20k+ you could say it’s the most expensive exam I’ve ever passed.

This would become the foundation for my present study in Python and R programming. It also proved to me that with dedication, discipline, and a deadline, I could accomplish just about anything. Well, almost anything. Lastly, I really don’t like VBA, but it is what it is.