Saturday, December 03, 2011

Reflections on Writing Blog Posts in the First Person

Nearly all the writing I've done over the last three decades has been either technical or business-related. I can tap out such writing projects from my keyboard easily. How-to guides and press releases fly off my fingers. I do believe I've perfected the craft of telling people what to do (one of my favorite things), describing events, and even building motivation and consensus. I'm a decent persuasive and narrative writer.

My Old Comfort Zone
Essential to this kind of writing are both objectivity and empathy: You must put yourself in your readers' shoes in order to understand what they need so that you can deliver to their expectations. I'll never forget the minute, the hour, the day, the year, and the documentation project where this lesson hit me like a thunder bolt. My job was to document how to use a computer system to record quality control checks in an assembly line. This new system took away the familiar pencil and paper, replacing them with mouse, keyboard, and screen. I thought my completed documentation was flawless, until I learned that I had not described one small but critical element: The Mouse. You've probably heard stories you might think are in the class of urban legends, about new computer users putting a mouse flush to the screen, clicking, and expecting something to happen. This is not a legend. It happened. Over the next years, I honed my professional writing skills so that I never made that unempathetic, subjective mistake again. For non-techies in those early years, a mouse was a critter who liked cheese and maybe gnawed at your walls.

Taking a Step out of that Zone
A few years ago I started writing online for my own pleasure. I liked the idea of sharing my passions with a broad audience. I wrote recipes, travel articles, explorations into food science and culinary arts, some opinion pieces, and how-tos on the things I know well as a matter of everyday life. When I look back on those pieces, I see the struggle I had moving from the impersonal style I'd cultivated for so long into the more casual first and second person dialogue. I don't think the casual reader would ever see that struggle. An English professor or a psychotherapist would. But for now, I am happy with that transition from the impersonal to the more personal. It was a step toward writing in the first person.

Reconciling Me, Myself, and I
These days I'm attempting to move into another writing dimension: the world of Me, Myself, and I. Arriving in this place of three unique characters who are intimately related means that I must not only reflect on my past writing styles, but I must also ask and answer questions about who Sherri is at the core. For a few brief moments early on in this exploration, I thought poetry might be an outlet for these three aspects to express themselves. Perhaps in the future poetry might be that outlet, but somehow the challenge of poetry seems too daunting: Me, Myself, and I, or one or two or all three of us, would have to view the world with fresh eyes to write poetry, while right now we are stuck in a bit of a rut. And I mean "a bit." It's not like getting stuck in a snow bank or mud field with a car that doesn't have four-wheel drive, I know we have four-wheel drive. It's a matter of mastering the way to use it.

Going Forward with the First Person
I decided a few short days ago to put my fledgling first person voice to use in a new blog about meal planning for one person, a subject I love. This new blog's voice will have its ups and downs as this composite of Me, Myself, and I finds its way to harmony.


William Powers said...

That was a great post. As a writer who has done some technical writing--YUK--myself, I totally understood your point. I`m glad I found this blog and I will be back--WP

William Power

Daniel Milstein said...

That is true. As an author and business man, I can relate to how you said, "My job was to document how to use a computer system to record quality control checks in an assembly line". I hope more people discover your blog because you really know what you're talking about. Can't wait to read more from you!

Sherri said...

Daniel, thank you very much for the praise! I get a tremendous kick out of making sure others get the information they need to always excel in the work they love.

Sherri said...

William, thanks for this comment. I've been to your Two Drops of Ink blog and am looking forward to sharing ideas and thoughts with you.

About the YUK...technical writing, or technical communications as I prefer to label it...I see this discipline as bridging a gap between brilliant designers and the people who need to use those designs. I know you know what I mean. :) With rare exceptions, the designer can't make the empathetic connection needed to communicate effectively with the end user. LOL, there I go, stomping right over the first person voice. It's so easy to relapse!