I have a blog?


It’s fall. For my mom, fall means nesting. For me, it’s always meant change: going back to school, going off to college, starting a new job, having babies, re-entering the work force after three years at home, buying a house, buying a cabin in the woods.

Fall also means NaNoWriMo.

Last year was my first year. It was life-altering, those 30 days of writing at a frenzied pace and knowing hundreds of others were hunkered over their laptops with me. It was the first time I’d written fiction since high school. And I actually met the goal of filling a few Google Docs with 50,000 words, though they are 50,000 words I never want to see again. For someone who has trouble completing big undertakings (unless there’s money involved or a life depends on my efforts), this was an encouraging experience.

Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot, I think, about writing, mostly thanks to Victoria and her many resources and workshops. And while my NaNoWriMo entry will still be 50,000 words of nonsense requiring hours of editing and reworking, I am excited to see how much better I can do this November than last.


Useless Status Update Thursday

I almost didn’t write this because I’d rather see a useless Facebook status update from someone I like than no update at all. And I am certainly guilty of posting useless updates from time to time (all the time). But griping about useless status updates is a hobby of mine. I can’t resist writing about them on Useless Adjective Thursday.

8 Useless Updates, in no particular order

Darlene… is waiting on Tim : I wonder if “waiting on” is even legitimate grammar. She doesn’t mean she’s a waitress and she’s serving dinner to Tim. She means she’s sitting in her car waiting FOR Tim. Also, this is possibly the most boring status update ever, because she’s bored, which makes us bored.

Billy Bob… is glad it’s Friday! (see also: thank God it’s Friday, I’m so glad it’s Friday, it is finally Friday, only one more day until Friday, and only two more days until Friday) : While TGIF status updates are not useless in and of themselves, they are overused — grossly — and therefore their meaning is diluted, rendering them useless.

Jeannie… has a case of the Mondays! (see also: I wish it were Friday, I can’t believe it’s already Monday, I hate Mondays, and why can’t it be Friday?) : Diluted. See above.

Lisa… Wow! It is a beautiful day! : Weather-related status updates are not necessarily useless. But “beautiful” weather could be anything. Give me a visual, people. I like picturing my various friends in various locations enjoying various climates. But one man’s beautiful is another man’s… not beautiful. Throw us a bone.

Jim… is tired (see also: exhausted, sleepy, and needs a nap) : Boring.

Any and every update with “AI” (American Idol) in the text.

Sara… needs coffee (see also: is drinking coffee, loves coffee, wants more coffee, can’t wait to have coffee, mmm coffee)  Alert: writing about coffee and your need for it is overused and flirts with useless.

Any and every update with Yum! appended to it. : Unnecessary. I assume your food is “Yummy!” or you wouldn’t be bothering to update your status with a description of it.

Juno… is relaxed (see also: is relaxing, is chillin’, and my least favorite: is chillaxin’) : I need more (and eliminate chillaxin’ altogether, please). Are you relaxing while watching Rescue Me with a glass of wine? Are you relaxing while sitting on your back porch shooting rats as they run along your fence? Give me something I can sink my teeth into here.

California Technical Writers: Exempt vs. Non-exempt

If you’re a technical writer in California, you should know about an amendment to the labor code that requires employers to classify us as non-exempt employees. Non-exempt means, among other things, that you are an hourly employee with a time card. So far, only a handful of companies have reclassified their writers, but considering that the labor code stipulates, in no uncertain terms, that tech writers are non-exempt, we have to assume that many more companies will follow.

The question is: do technical writers WANT to be classified as hourly employees? Is punching in and punching out even realistic for writing professionals who work closely with engineers and project managers who are not on the clock?

The small sample of writers with whom I’ve spoken abhor the amendment and are deeply unhappy with the new classification. As if technical writers don’t already have trouble getting respect in the computer industry, being placed in the non-exempt category of workers implies that we aren’t professionals.

According to the revised labor code, we are no longer employees whose “work … is intellectual or creative and that requires the exercise of discretion and independent judgment.” We aren’t “primarily engaged in duties that consist of … The design, development, documentation, analysis, creation, testing, or modification of computer systems or programs”, nor are we “highly skilled and … proficient in the theoretical and practical application of highly specialized information to computer systems analysis, programming, or software engineering.”

Certainly, being non-exempt isn’t all bad. You’ll no longer be working for free if your project requires you to stay in the office for 70 hours a week. But your boss must approve of the overtime. And what happens during down times, between releases, when you’re ramping up and your hours are well below 70 or barely 40?

Many people believe that the amendment to the labor code is a reaction to the lawsuits brought by “incorrectly classified” employees whose work is NOT considered highly skilled who were forced to put in long hours doing rote tasks in the computer industry. A lawsuit filed by a Sun employee is probably one of the reasons the amendment calls out technical writers specifically as non-exempt.

But our work is not rote. Our work does require discretion, creativity, and higher learning. We aren’t simply transcribing specs written by engineers. We aren’t documenting how to set up your VCR. If this amendment does not suit the majority of technical writers in California, we need to do something. If we want to maintain our professional status, we need to protest this amendment.

Just keep swimming

Via She Started It, this column is a fun and inspiring read: Rats with Islands.

A Pasty Circus Freak Goes International

In 2007, I went to China. Other than visits across the bridge to Canada — which do not count — the China trip was my first international experience. When I returned, after 9 days or so, I was fairly open about my response to China, or at least to my host city, Nanjing: unfavorable. I freely groaned when describing the air quality, the smell of certain streets (other streets were spotless — most of them, actually), the lack of air conditioning in the office building where we were stationed, the people who gawked at my circus-freak appearance.

I didn’t like China.

After a few months of owning this truth, I woke up to people’s reactions and realized that it is unfashionable to feel this way. It’s cool to enjoy China. It’s unenlightened not to enjoy China. Because I couldn’t get the many variations of duck meat past my gag reflex, I’m considered a closed-minded Midwesterner. I’m hopelessly American because I had assumed I’d be able to find a bag of potato chips and maybe a box of Cheerios in China (I could not). (And when you  see cheese pizza on the room service menu of your “Westernized” hotel, lower your expectations.)

I’m a people pleaser, so in retrospect I kind of wish that I had not been so honest. When people gushed, “How was China?”, I should’ve said, “Amazing!” No harm in that. Instead of cringing when someone asked me if I’d like to go back someday, I might’ve exclaimed, “In a minute!” When anyone inquired about the food, I could’ve said, “Delicious!” But I didn’t. Because it wasn’t. And if you hear one of my colleagues say it was, she’s just trying to seem enlightened.

Perspective: Get Some

As a technical writer, I have a lot of anxiety about releasing documentation with errors. Sometimes I lie awake and wonder if I should have had another person review the godforsaken diagram I’ve been toiling with for two months. The diagram chases me through my dreams. (And I have reason to believe that I haven’t seen the last of that bastard.)

This weekend, I read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. The book is about Krakauer’s disastrous expedition to the top of Everest during which an unusually large number of people died. At the beginning of the story, the author laments that when he returned from the trip — badly shaken, of course — he had to get right to work pounding out the contracted 17,000-word article detailing the tragic adventure for Outside magazine, who paid for the trip. Under the wire, he bungled some facts and made a major error that he says caused a lot of pain to the family of one of the deceased.

Now let’s discuss what’s worse: falsely representing the events surrounding the death a person who perished on Mount Everest during the deadliest season on the mountain vs. incorrectly labeling an arrow on a diagram in a software manual that 27 people might read.

Perspective. I have some now.

Useless Adjective Thursday: A Fun Use of a Boring Adverb

Last night, I was finishing Brave New World and came upon this sentence:

“Nice tame animals, anyhow,” the Controller murmured parenthetically. “Why don’t you let them see Othello instead?”

I love this unexpected use of an adverb that would normally put one to sleep. (Parenthetically is frequently used in this context: “Page references are cited parenthetically in the text.” Zzzzzzzzzz.)

The author of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, loved parenthetically so much that he used it twice within a few pages. The second reference was less entertaining, but still fun:

“There was a man called Cardinal Newman,” he said. “A cardinal,” he exclaimed parenthetically, “was a kind of Arch-Community-Songster.”

For the record, Brave New World doesn’t have a place on my “read it again” shelf. I acknowledge the brilliance and eeriness of Huxley’s predictions for our future, but I wasn’t too engaged in the story, for whatever reason.