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Introducing technologies into effective writing

Introducing technologies into effective writing

Moving Your Writing into the 21st Century

February 9, 2017

On being left behind.

There is an ongoing news story about a segment of the economy that feels left behind. They entered the workforce when we were in an industrial (manufacturing) economy. There were a lot of good paying jobs that required minimal education. Over time, however, industry moved about 10% of the jobs to countries where they could get cheaper labor, and they automated most of the 90% of jobs that were left.

More importantly, the economy evolved. The kind of careers we could move into changed from manufacturing to technology and information, and  now that we are in this new century almost all the needs of employers are different. While there are jobs where someone can have a well-paid career with limited education (e.g., plumbing, electrical work, carpentry, etc.), there aren’t nearly as many as there were in the past. Those people who feel left behind, weren’t so much left behind as they fell behind. Their mistake was to maintain a 1960s mindset and skillset while their jobs moved into a 2017 expectation.

Changes in writing through time.

That “left behind” group is now beginning to include professional writers. In 1440 Gutenberg printed his first flyer with a printing press. In some respects, writers who are still writing for print are following that 15th century tradition with a 15th century mindset. But Tom Peters’ book Thriving in Chaos  describes a world in a constant state of change, where employees (including writers) need to work proactively to keep their skills updated (this book is pretty long in the tooth, but it is still an important read). Writers in the 21st are following the model Peters describes. They are living in a new paradigm where they are constantly updating their tools. By and large, more and more successful writers in the 21st century can, at the very least, read code, and many can write HTML4, DHTML, XHTML, HTML5, CSS, CSS3, XML, and JavaScript. They can also work in database systems such as DITA and ASP. These are the new tools for successful writers in this century. 

Why is knowing how to code important?

I know of no companies that do not have websites. That means that any writers working for any company will probably be writing for the website along with whatever else they might be expected to do. Writers who simply write and edit, are held in relatively low esteem by their technical colleagues. Writers are seen as technicians who write. But in the minds of IT, engineers, and the like, anybody can write, so any contribution to the project is seen as modest.

In contrast, writers who can work their texts into the code, writing much of the code themselves, and writers who can participate in usability studies and propose studies the IT pros never heard of are much more respected. I promise you this . . . any writers who can put this on their resume . . .

Proficient in
HTML4 and 5, CSS and CSS3, XML, DITA, and eBook development

. . . are employable. Moreover, the ones who are truly proficient can demand huge salaries — $100K or more. On the other hand, those who cannot put that message on their resumes are in the same position as those manufacturing employees of the 1960s.  

For those of you who are interested in writing fiction professionally, you already know that it is nearly impossible to get fiction published without an agent, and no agent will touch an unpublished author. Many contemporary authors are producing their work as independently published eBooks. This gives them a chance to publish, and if their work is good and they begin making good money, they have a good chance at getting an agent. In the past, independently published books were frowned on, called “vanity pubs.” Now they are considered smart. eBooks, however, are really XHTML-based websites bundled into a zipped file. That means that people who independently publish eBooks have to know how to work in code, or they have to pay a publisher to publish the eBook. Moreover, EPUB 3 is now available as a tool. EPUB 3 is an HTML5-based website and is very much more interactive and exciting as an opportunity. This is an area of huge opportunity that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

My point?

Organizations hiring writers, expect those writers to be able to use contemporary software and coding languages. Like those left behind in the industrial age, writers who cannot use these contemporary tools can expect to be left behind.

The solution . . .

Learn to use the technologies, They are not hard. They seem difficult to writers who know little about them, but, in reality, code is pretty easy. For example, <h1> means first headline (the biggest and most important one). Knowing that, <h2> and <h3> becomes easy. “Start a paragraph” is <p>. That is what HTML looks like all the way down the page. Moreover, there are only about fifteen, or so, commands you use over and over again. When you run into something you don’t remember how to do (I run into this with CSS all the time), you simply copy/paste from a “snippets” page you keep with you. 

When I see enough interest (8 or 10 people), I will start a class on how to integrate HTML into your writing. The class will be free and will be done online in an asynchronous model (I have taught graduate students that way since 1997).  If you are interested, let me know in the comment section.