Home » Technical Writing » When you Must Write Outside Your Comfort Zone

We’ve all been there. We can draft a great technical document, or whip up a business letter that will win over the most skeptical client, but give us something to write that isn’t in our genre and we clam up, dawdle, claim writer’s block and surf the web avoiding the inevitable.

So when we found blogger Rikki Endsley’s post on how to approach this issue – before you tap out the first word, we thought we’d share. Endsley found inspiration in novelist Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft. What could a horror novelist say that could help a frustrated writer? As it turns out, quite a lot.

King says aspiring writers need to read and write, a lot. We think that’s sound advice, but what does it have to do with writing about something you don’t normally write about?  Plenty.

“If you’ve been given a writing assignment, be clear on the expectations,’’ writes Endsley. “Reading examples will help. For instance, if your manager wants a project status update, reading an example update or a list of what information to include will help you meet expectations. If you are expected to contribute an event report to the company blog, read previous reports on the company blog or similar sites. Before writing an article for a tech publication, read several similar articles to get an idea of what the editors are looking for and what the readers expect.”

Endsley adds a number of outstanding examples in her blog of writing for different audiences and some additional resources.

We’d like to add one additional bit of advice: Don’t be afraid to ask for examples. Some of our writers tell us supervisors are often momentarily confused when they ask for an example (and then pleasantly surprised). But you can’t read your boss’ mind. If no example is forthcoming, at least search for examples and then present them to the manager to find out which style they prefer. For managers who are exceptionally vague, we have one writer that always writes an abstract or introduction in the tone she thinks the company is looking for and gets sign-off on it before proceeding. This is a better approach than just submitting an outline, because outlines usually don’t have a tone or voice.

So when facing the daunting task of writing the unfamiliar, remember that the “the scariest moment is always just before you start.”

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