A few months ago an acquaintance of mine put out a public post on a message board over at Codeable asking if anyone would be interested in writing articles for Jetpack. I was looking to improve my personal cash flow and that sure as heck sounded like a better fit for me than driving Uber. I already shoot videos and write articles about all kinds of tech stuff. A technical writing gig should be easy. Or so I thought.
Writing for someone else is hard
Unlike writing articles for my personal blog or for Store Locator Plus, writing articles for someone else comes with expectations. The problem is that the expectations are not mine. It doesn’t take long to realize that sometimes your viewpoint may not be the same as theirs. You also realize that you should be following the feeling THEY want to convey with their blog. It has to match their style and online persona. Sure, it is expected to reflect your personality but much like you’d act differently at a black-tie affair than the neighborhood barbecue, your personality has to reflect the style of their site.
Turns out that this is harder than it looks. I personally found myself second-guessing what I wrote. I’d edit my content several times to follow their writing style. Then edit it again.
Having managers is cool and not so cool
One of the things I like about being a “professional technical writer”, which I can call myself now that someone has actually paid me for my writing, is that someone else checks my work. Those silly typos that actually turn out to be a word but the WRONG word? They usually are caught before the article is made public. My sometimes-unique grammar and word use is often reworked to be more “main stream”. Having someone review and edit my work with a more critical eye is a good thing.
It also means that other people are hacking up my writing. Sometimes they change entire sentences to make it easier to read but in doing so change the message I was trying to convey. Or the message remains but comes across in a tone that does not match “how I’m saying it”.
When writing an article it is sharing a part of myself. Now people are changing who I am. Unlike writing for my own blog I quickly realized I need to be detached from my writing. It keeps me from taking it personally when things are changed.
Publishing with an agenda can mangle the message
Search engine ranking is important. I get that. One of the best ways to improve your ranking is to publish quality content relevant to your topic. However with professional writing that involves several people from different organizations the checks-and-balances put in place to boost search rankings can get in the way.
Put in too many controls on “hitting the mark for a search phrase” can get in the way of crafting quality articles. Force a specific phrase to be used in a title, paragraph, and appear n-times in an article and you can easily end up with an article that sounds stilted and too much like a marketing pitch. Leave it out completely and you end up with great content promoting “African pigmy zebras” when you are writing about web apps. It is a tough balancing act.
Being a professional technical writer has been a great experience
At the end of the day my first professional writing gig has been an enjoyable one. It is good to NOT be the boss sometimes. I’m re-learning how to work with a team and deal with different personalities. The biggest benefit — I’m learning new skills in another segment of the tech industry.
Expanding your horizons is always a valuable experience.