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Monday, May 9, 2022

Word is here to stay, at least for now

Whether we like it or hate it, Microsoft Word is here to stay. (At least, for the foreseeable future.) After all these years, I've realized beyond doing basic stuff and slightly beyond that, I would avoid using Word when creating very intricate technical documents. But, I don't let that be the case anymore.

Long ago, when I was younger and stupidly dogmatic, I got into a heated argument at a meeting because someone suggested we use Word instead of Adobe FrameMaker for our manuals. Mind you, the documents were an average of hundreds or thousands pages long. I rebuffed the guy who suggested it and said in an exasperated manner Word would screw up our documents because of the sheer size and everywhere else with it. I dogmatically told Adobe FrameMaker was the tool powerful enough to handle this. 

Oh, silly, silly me. Where is FrameMaker now? It still exists but it's not as widespread as it once was in technical writing circles. The claims I made about Word no longer hold water because it continues to evolve. Word can handle immense docs. I have done them in Word, cross-references and all. (My book was done in Word eventually. I first wrote it in a flavor of Markdown.)

If you want to see how intricate Word can get, try opening the Developer tab. I barely scratched the surface with this function, but I can see how robust this is.

I'm not slighting FrameMaker. I still think it's a great tool, especially with complex technical documents. I used it for many years. But who wants to use a tool that's very overwhelming at first and not very accessible to the average user. (Yes, this can include technical writers.)

Word allows for more collaboration with SMEs and others with comments. Word has an easier learning curve. It's those like me who overthink on how to use it. 

And regarding sheer size of documents, I could have avocating breaking them in smaller documents. Or, if the audience didn't need to know more detailed technical information, I could avocated in removing big swaths of material to what was important to know. Looking back, I would have things differently. But it's not good perserverate over things. I did what I thought was best at the time. The important thing is learning from it and move on to make better choices.

I've learned to appreciate Word. Slowly but surely, I feel more at ease creating documentation in it. What's the secret?

The key is to work with the tool, not against it. We need to accept Word for what it is and not try make it something that's not.

I have seen technical writer conferences advocating for other more highfalutin tools. Something the average person isn't to use. Nor is it cost effective to purchase something like this. To me, it's seems like they're avoiding this simple tool. But what do I know? I'm just some schlub who types words on a screen. 

Now, Word falls short. But so do all other tools on this planet. You just have to decide what's most accessible to use. Word happens to one of the most ubiquitous. So, make the most of it. Why fight against something that's easily available?

But, tools shouldn't make up your technical writing prowess. It should be skills. So, if you only had a stick to write with and the earth is your canvas to create a document, then it shouldn't be a problem. 



Monday, April 18, 2022

Only One King and None of Us are It

Disclaimer: This post isn't the typical water cooler talk for technical writers. For some, such as myself, maybe it is. So if you're looking for a post related to technical writing, feel free to skip this one. Otherwise, read on.

There's only one King and none of us are it. In a time where we can make everything about ourselves, and you don't have to look far to see this, this truth is still radical and threatens the idea that we're the center of the universe. 

So who is this King? This King is no other than Jesus Christ. He said so Himself to those who were with Him sometime after He rose from dead. See below.

"And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." -- Matthew 28:18 NKJV

(If He's King, then why is this world  screwed up? Short answer: it's us. If you think this is all nonsense, that's your perogative. You're entitled to your beliefs and that's fine, but so am I.)

I'm glad He's King and I'm not. I would be a stupid king if I ruled over anything. It took me a while to see that. When I handed my life over to King Jesus, it's been freeing. I don't have to try to play this one-upmanship game with anyone anymore. Or, try to make a name for myself. And for what?! Even if I were a famous writer, it would only be a matter of time before someone else knocks me out and I'm forgotten. The prices you need to pay to get that fleeting place is futile and vacuous, especially if you trample on others or sell out to get to the top. Not worth it.

Instead, Jesus has given me something better. Something that lasts. And He's helping see others differently. Instead of seeing others as potential competitors, I'm seeing others made in God's image, whom I can cooperate and collaborate with. It's far more rewarding when I've worked with others on writing projects. When I've done, it's goes way better than what I can imagine. 

Though I have a long way to go, my ambitions are fading away. I rather seek Jesus's ambitions instead (but I believe I fail at this.) I don't see the point in seeking great things for myself anymore. I once did. I had grand ideas when I first started out. I thank God those never panned out. But it's a struggle, since there's an instrinic egomaniac trap when you become a writer. But to be a good writer, it's a trap you must avoid at all costs.

I rather follow my King by loving and serving others. (Sadly, I wish more who claim they follow Jesus would attempt to do this. But, they'll have to answer to God for this. But, I too have a long way to go.) And, if I can do so through writing for as long as I can, then great. If not, then that's okay too. 

Jesus is the King. I'm not it. And that's okay with me. Maybe if more relinquished their control, especially those who try to have it over others, and gave it to King Jesus, then this world wouldn't be so screwed up.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

When There's a Need, Write, but What If...

"See a need, fill a need."

That's good advice with innovation, providing goods or services to others, and writing, especially with technical writing. 

Whenever I've ran into different things or got into conversations with people whether it was about a user interface (UI), an API endpoint, how to maintenance or install a part, or a procedure, if there were no documentation on them and I was able to do so, I would write something to fill that need. Or, if the documentation was poor and if possible, I would try to improve it.

I took this advice of seeing a need and filling a need when I wrote my novel, The Unlikely Messenger. At the time, I found no one out there who wrote something similar, especially with the challenges the main character had to face. The theological answer for my character's condition were either lacking or weren't really acceptable (at least for me). So what I did I do? I slowly over 10 years wrote a novel. Looking back, I don't know whether I should have written the novel. Maybe there was no need to do so. But what's done is done. And, I'm fine by it. In the end, I'll have answer to God about the book.

But what happens when there's no need to fill? Or, what happens if there's someone else already wrote similar? So they seemingly filled that need.

The short answer: Don't write it.

Yes. That's right. Don't write. You're wasting your time and energy. Why be just another voice saying the same thing, especially if you don't need to? You don't see, or you shouldn't see, two or more documents explaining the same thing about such and such. So, use your writing for things that don't exist yet. 

Besides, you can always look to find needs to fill. It just may not be in the places you're looking at. So, look elsewhere. But if you can't find those needs yet, then wait. If you need to, do something else while you wait. If you also feel like you need to, freewrite or journal. But if there's really no need to write something, then don't write it. (But, if you feel like you have a unique idea, then by all means write it out.) In the meantime, what can you do is observe what's around you and listen to what others say. When you do that, you'll end up writing something eventually.

As for those who've written something already, if you think you can say it better, do so. Otherwise, step aside and just direct or refer others to that piece of writing or documentation if they're looking for such and such. Writing for ego's sake is empty and shallow. Been there, done that.

But I suppose if we only wrote what's necessary, then that would probably eliminate most content out there. Maybe this blog belongs in that pile. Hmm.