Making it as a lone writer

Lone writers have their work cut out for them. But the lack of processes and resources also gives them flexibility and freedom to work towards improving both, the documentation and their situation.

The plight of a lone writer

Life’s difficult for lone writers. They are usually the only person in the company who creates and maintains documentation. They are tucked in with the marketing or development department. They often operate without a dedicated budget or specific managerial guidance.

(Photo by jc-pics)

However, such “benign neglect” which treats documentation as an afterthought also offers opportunities – which are best exploited by the tech writer. After all, part of the problem is that many managers don’t fully understand what tech communicators could do if they let them. And change management is much easier when you only have to worry about management buy-in and not employee buy-in, too.

The promise

It’s a lot of work for a lone writer to re-invent how documentation is done and perceived at your company. It once took me a couple of years to get from a shaky reputation due to unmaintainable Word manuals to appreciated documentation written with MadCap Flare and delivered as web help as well as printable manuals and tutorials in PDF.

But if you’re up for it, it can be very rewarding, too. It can

  • Increase the value and raise the profile of documentation
  • Make your job more interesting, more diverse
  • Secure your job in the mid-term
  • Secure your career in the long term

A matter of type

There’s no one sure-fire way to do it. To give you the best odds, take into account your personality: Many of us tech writers are introverted types (else we might have gone into marketing or training… 🙂 ) If you are introverted, focus on your work, and let it speak for itself – but put it somewhere your colleagues can “hear” it!

If you are a more extroverted type, consider giving documentation a face – your face! You’re it, anyway… If you know you do good work, you might as well reap the rewards rather than amble along in anonymity.

Focus on your work and your strengths

Regardless of your type, I’ve found that these four strategies can contribute to raising the profile of documentation:

  • Manage your work efficiently
  • Make your work easy to use
  • Know your strengths
  • Leverage your strengths

These four things are basically what a good manager should be doing for you. But none are so difficult that you can’t learn them and apply them for yourself.

Learn more…

To learn more about making it as a lone writer, especially about implementing the strategies, check all posts about “lone writers”.

Update: Two posts about buying yourself time as a lone writer have appeared since this post was published. Check out part 1 and part 2.

If you’re attending the TCUK conference in September, try to catch my session “Getting ahead as a lone author” on the morning of Wednesday, September 22.

Your turn

What are your experiences as a lone writer? How have you been able to raise the profile of your documentation? Can you imagine that the strategies above could work for you? Leave a comment!

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