I worked as a writer/editor and proposal manager in the aerospace business for a total of twenty-eight years. I had a reputation for being a good writer so I got some of the plum jobs – working on newsletters, websites, award applications, and even ghostwriting letters for top managers, but the writing style for any of those tasks was nothing near creative.
However, I learned a lot about writing and revision while working on deadline-oriented, and super stressful proposals. We wrote a little, we edited, we reviewed, and then we revised. And we’d repeat that sequence many times throughout a typical three-month proposal effort. I also taught proposal teams how to write their text, emphasizing the importance of keeping their fingers moving until the writing is finished, then stepping away from their prose for a bit before editing it. I think that advice works for all kinds of writers. If you don’t have another person’s eyes to look at it and edit it for you, leave it be for a while, make yourself a hard copy, take out a red pen, and move to another location in your house. It will be like having a fresh pair of eyes looking at your work.
All that is practical advice. But the actual difference in writing to address technical requirements and writing a creative story or poem or essay is harder to address.
I think the main requirement – at least for me – is that I wanted to make the transition. I had wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school. I studied journalism in high school and wrote feature articles for the high school newspaper. Then I took all the course work toward a degree in journalism in college though I ended up with a degree in English because I transferred schools just before my senior year (that’s a story all its own). So, when I got out of college I wanted in the worst way to write for a magazine or newspaper. After a few attempts I turned to the aerospace industry. I got a positive response after one call and asked, “Do you ever hire people with a degree in English?” Easy, right? But hard on my dream to become a “real” writer.
And though I never gave up on that dream, for the next several decades I took creative detours. I learned to draw and paint, I learned to sew, I made needlepoint pillows, I quilted and gardened. And, I co-authored a non-fiction book, Blue Collar Women: – a little less technical than my work in aerospace. Anything to keep my hand in creativity, until finally I could stand it no longer.
I took a workshop called, “Writing about Our Lives” at Esalen in Big Sur, California in the late 1990s. It was there that I wrote about my misgivings about ever being able to make the transition. Here’s what I wrote: “My writing is so factual, so plain, so devoid of descriptors, feelings, and imagination.” Later I learned that was okay. Once I discovered a private instructor in Los Angeles who taught me to “write like you talk,” I knew I was on my way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Although Madeline Sharples worked most of her professional life as a technical writer and editor, grant writer, and proposal manager, she fell in love with poetry and creative writing in grade school. She pursued her writing interests to high school while studying journalism and writing for the high school newspaper, and she studied journalism in college. However, she only began to fulfill her dream to be a professional writer late in her life.
She co-authored a book about women in nontraditional professions called Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994) and co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1 (Muse Media, 2004) and 2 (August 2010). She wrote the poems for two photography books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy (Paul Blieden, photographer). She is pleased that many of her poems have appeared online and in print magazines in the last few years.
Madeline’s memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, about how she and her family survived her older son’s suicide, as a result of his bipolar disorder, will be released by Lucky Press LLC on Mother’s Day 2011. She and her husband of 40 years live in Manhattan Beach, California, a small beach community south of Los Angeles. Her younger son Ben lives in Santa Monica, California with his bride Marissa.
Buy Leaving the Hall Light On
Have a question for Madeline? Leave it in the comments section and she’ll post her reply!