A technical writer’s journey into creative writing

So…I haven’t published a blog post for a long time. If you only follow me on this platform, you might assume that I’ve stopped writing.

In fact, writing now dominates my life more than ever. After faffing about the tech industry for a few years, trying product management, project management, UX design, UX writing, and software engineering, I started a technical writing job at Google in 2019.

The stable position at a tech giant, plus the forced quietude of the pandemic, gave me space to remember my dream. 

I’ve wanted to be an author for years. I wrote silly detective stories as a child and took creative writing classes in high school and college. But after receiving a few bad critiques on my experimental short stories in college, I caved to self-doubt and turned to non-fiction for solace. I was content to build my writing career on hard facts rather than creative expression.

That changed when I attended a 2020 talk by Abigail Hing Wen to promote her novel, Loveboat, Taipei. Hearing her story brought my latent dream to life: woman in tech/novelist on the side, inspiring the Asian American community through her writing. She said it took 10 years of writing to publish her first novel. My first reaction was it’ll take 10 years? I better start now.

So my life for the past two years has been technical writing by day, creative writing by night.

And I love it. 

You might wonder if I get burnt out by all the writing. Yes, of course I need breaks from my churning thoughts.

However, technical and fiction writing are different types of careers. At work, I have a specialized role as a technical writer. Others lead the product design, engineering, and marketing. I focus onclean, precise, and accurate documentation. I nitpick at formatting, style, and accessibility.

My fiction writing world is infinitely more expansive and daunting. I’m the sole creator and decision-maker for the products: short story or novel? What genre? I orchestrate everything from plot structure to character development to pacing. I need to HAVE FUN with my story, because readers can tell when I don’t enjoy what I write. I decide which stories to edit, share with my critique partner, and submit for publication. The stories I deem unworthy of my energy gather dust on my hard drive. If I take a week off, all progress comes to a halt.

The writing itself is fun, but I’ve discovered how much work goes into building a creative career from scratch (the “getting published” and “making money from fiction” part).

Behold the multiple departments of my fiction business, with an employee of one:

  1. Write. I produce new words. Some days I write more; other days I’m distracted or tired. Most of my ideas are contained in a short story I can finish in a week. But sometimes I disappear into a novel and don’t emerge for months.
  2. Edit. I comb through first drafts, sharpening imagery and plugging plot holes.I do a final pass at the end for typos. If I have little enthusiasm for a story, I scrap it, mourn, and move on.
  3. Study.
    1. Workshops: I paid $1500 for a lifetime subscription to a series of workshops. I’m taking them one by one, at my own pace.
    2. Self-study: I study how other authors use the techniques I learned through the workshops. I research categories of details like “sky colors” and “architectural styles” so I can improve my setting descriptions.
    3. Reading for fun: Essential for keeping up with other authors and improving my own writing.
  4. Share.
    1. Send stories to my critique partner for review. Her reactions help me refine plot and character development. Since partnership is a two-way street, I also review her writing.
    2. Submit stories to magazines.Each magazine has different requirements and preferences, so the process is time-intensive, even after I paid for a Duotrope subscription ($50 a year).  
    3. If a story gets published, I share the link on social media. The process of posting is time-consuming, but this is my only form of marketing.
    4. Research writing groups and other authors. Writing can be isolating, so networking and getting moral support is important.
  5. Mental maintenance. This applies to any artist, but I must remind myself that a healthy mental state is a prerequisite for creating.
    1. Overcome self-doubt. Stop comparing myself to every successful writer in the world. Battle the mental toll of receiving over 100+ rejections from magazines. Crawl back out of the despair.
    2. Go outside and touch grass once in a while. Play games and talk to people. I need to be in tune with my world in order to create new worlds.

Expenses so far: $1550 for education and organization tools.

Revenue so far: $330 for selling short stories.

All these tasks constantly overwhelm my thoughts. Ideally, I would make progress in each department every day. Sadly, as a mere human, my time and energy after work are limited. I have to let go of my need to be supremely productive all the time. This means I have to prioritize editing some days and studying or submitting on the others. Sometimes I even write new stories!

Through it all, I acknowledge my privilege of having a steady job, which means I can invest money and spare time in my creative career.

In order to endure the unpleasant side of my endeavors (constant rejection), I have to know precisely why I pursue writing. I’ve wondered why I drag my mind to the empty page over and over again, rather than relax with my favorite vices of Netflix, YouTube, and video games.

The answer is obvious if I listen to my body. I develop a gnawing ache in my bones that festers if I neglect my creativity for too long. My heart twists with longing when I see novelists promote their new book, or when I read remarkable stories I wish I’d written.

Though my level of focus can vary based on personal life events, my love for writing consistently pulls me forward. Even if luck evades me and I don’t become a wildly successful author, I want to look back on my life and know that I’ve done all I can to pursue my dream. At the very least, I will be infinitely more confident in my abilities than I was at the beginning of my journey. Already, I delight in seeing my improvement day by day, story by story.

In my past life as a classical percussionist, I saw how years of commitment to my craft offered me rewarding opportunities and a sense of fulfillment. 

I can’t wait to see what kind of writer I will become.


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