Technically, still Creative in a Lean, Mean, Agile Machine

Technically, I’m still writing, as a Technical Writer that is, and facing the same challenges, as a creative writer, as I have since graduating University; trying to balance work and creative work with all the other daily needs and finding that the work world always manages to trump.

In the past, I would make the day job easier by finding opportunities to use creativity and a heightened attention to style and structure wherever possible, even if it’s just for a guide on how to use a piece of software.  And it is possible to strive for communication that is meaningful, powerful and beautiful in a well-written guide especially when I am motivated to prove to non-writers the difference that it makes.  These qualities just take a different shape than they would in a creative piece.

It is charming to see non-writers react to writing methods that are common-place for me. They remind me that, yah, it is pretty cool to dig out the essence of an idea buried under a few feet of text; like finding the lost toy in the sandbox.  In return, I’ve learned to adore the idealism of work methodologies, such as lean six sigma and agile, in ways that probably bewilder the business and tech teams that I’ve worked with in the past.

Can an agile software development environment teach a girl how to write a novel?  And, at the same time, can a would-be novelist show the IT solutions industry the power of well-told fiction?

When I am working on larger communication pieces in a non-creative environment, my mind can objectively settle on the ideas, words and logic like architectural design.  ‘Personal’ has nothing to do with business and tech writing.  I recognize how this practice could be extremely valuable to creative writing.

My biggest problem as a creative writer is that I am daunted by the larger task: the novel.  I know I have the talent to write – at least as good as the worst published ‘bestseller’ – but I don’t know how to manage the work and time to get there.  Every time I have tried any BOLD and FAST writing plans, like ‘a novel in 30 days’, I am quickly stunned by it and fail to meet my deadlines.

Agile and lean six sigma work methodologies are very popular, mainly with software development teams, for their ability to improve work processes, to save time, energy and resources, and to guarantee results.  Their ideas and processes, however, are applicable to any project-oriented work, such as a novel.  Some creative adjustments required: it is difficult to be a one-person team.  And I should be truly morose if I accidentally end up with a piece of software instead of a novel.  That would be funny, though!  Eventually.

While my work in technical writing has sometimes felt like I was speaking two different dialects, in English and logic, my day-jobs have taught me that:

  1. If I continue to fail deadlines, I must make my work-in-progress smaller and simpler.  I don’t need to abandon the whole novel and assume that I suck.  Just give myself smaller pieces of the product/novel to chew on at a time.
  2. Failure in the smaller goals is manageable. However, not having a product/novel, by the end of my project, is NOT an option.
  3. Once I have some success in the smaller and easier ‘sprints’, I can work up to harder ones.
  4. I must always have something done – and done well – at the end of each ‘sprint.’

There is a risk of getting too focused on the tools and thus losing the bigger purpose, however, ultimately, any which way a writer can mess this up, by the end of each week, the writer can evaluate what isn’t working, and fix it: one week wasted is better than a year.  If the business world is going to give the creative world a boost, it must be a disciplined plan balanced with the creative fire needed to sustain the reasons to care about it.

On the flip-side, having a steady day-job allows me to give back as much as I choose to get.  If I want to advocate the literary arts, there is no better place to do that than in business/office environments, where most people have too much to read and most of it isn’t well-written or engaging.  I have an ongoing ambition to prove to my colleagues that there is more truth in fiction than non-fiction AND that the best non-fiction understands that it must, because it can only, present a version of the truth.

In business communications, we tell the truth in the best manner possible; NOT because we want to encourage lies or false news but to TRANSLATE the truth into a form that is easier, more accessible, and most relevant to the target audience.  Aesthetically, too, though readers never fully appreciate these things until they’re missing, writing is easier and more accessible because it is composed of sentence, paragraph and document structures that are clean, sharp and logical.  It makes me sound so rigid, doesn’t it?  But I’d rather be rigid than let the writing be made rigid by excess and lots of ‘huh?’  Or worse: ‘that sounds great but what are you trying to say?’  A luge sled must be polished if we want to go at highly ill-advised speeds, right?

It’s a choice that a writer can make.  I could continue, like Martin Eden, to just keep writing, in my own brilliant way, until I either die or ‘make it’ — and then become so disillusioned with success that I …. ok.  OR, I can balance myself.  Contribute my talents to whatever job will have me, and in return, allow the job, and the society that I work with, help me develop my oh-so-brilliant ways.  The results: literary writers who are optimistic.

Nice idea.  Now, I just have to do it. (1. Work-in-Progress: Optimism)

© lyw 


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