How I Went From Being a Technical Writer To a Creative Writer

For many years, I was a technical writer. Squirreled away in a dusty government office, paper piled everywhere, I churned out public policy documents –  research papers, consultation papers, task force reports, statutory reports, Cabinet submissions, industry bulletins, briefing notes, interpretive guidelines. I got quite good at it after 20 years.

I walked away from that world (except for the occasional freelance job) seven years ago. Wow, has it been that long? I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do back then. After several years of searching, a friend suggested I consider creative writing. “You already know how to write.”

I thought about it. I had always liked the idea of writing novels but didn’t believe I had the necessary skill set. Yet I had been writing for much of my professional life. How different can it be?

I can tell you now, it’s a lot different.

Technical writing is about informing and influencing. It all depends on who is your audience. The informing aspect is to educate the reader about a specific topic. Sometimes, these documents are large info dumps. The influencing part involves selling the reader an idea or public policy position. The reader might be my boss, a politician, or government stakeholders. The audience would really vary. I consider academic and journalistic writing to be similar to what I did.

Creative writing is nothing like technical writing. It’s using imagination or invention to entertain. Although I should point out that some fiction authors do use their novels to inform and influence. A historical fiction book about slavery may be informative and intended to influence readers on social justice issues. But for the most part, it has to be entertaining, Technical writing is rarely entertaining.

I finally decided to try writing a novel and had a particular story in mind. I began writing parts of the story down although not in any particular order. Probably because I didn’t even know where the story should start. I thought it would be prudent to take a novel writing course. That helped because at least I had some basic understanding of the structure of a novel, character development, plot, etc.

When I learned about pantsers and plotters, I discovered that during my years as a technical writer, I was also a pantser. I never did an outline for a report, no matter the length. I just sat down and wrote. That seemed to work for me when I moved into creative writing.

The biggest change for me was writing dialogue. I had never done it. I struggled with dialogue for a while until I literally found my “voice.” The structural part of dialogue took me a little longer, ig, the use of dialogue tags.

Several years into creative writing, I think I’ve successfully made the transition. I’ve landed on a style and genre that I enjoy and feels comfortable. Technical writing provided me with a strong base to start from, but I had to relearn how to write. It’s been a fun journey.

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