Why is writing the only profession untouched by its tools?

Why is writing the only profession untouched by its tools? Larry Kunz strikes a familiar note in his recent blog post, Tools come and go. I’m still a writer.

I’m a writer. Once I used a typewriter. Now I use XML editors. If I stay at this long enough, other tools will come and I’ll learn to embrace them.

My old typewriter is gone. But I’m the same writer I’ve always been.

The same refrain is sounded over and over again wherever writers gather. It seems almost a badge of honor among writers to proclaim that your work and the essence of what you do is unaffected by the tools you use.

But it is a very strange claim, and I cannot think of another profession that would make it.

Architecture has been profoundly affected by the advent of new building materials and building techniques, allowing architects to design and build structures that would have been impossible with traditional materials.

In engineering, the use of computer simulation and computer aided design has revolutionized how things are designed and build. Calculation and computer modeling have replace physical prototyping and allowed for strong yet light designs based on stress calculations that could never have been made by hand.

Single-Manual Harpsichord Italy 1783

New instruments have changed music profoundly. Why should writing be untouched by new tools and new media?

The software development community is constantly developing new tools and new languages, and it is commonplace for a programmer who has learned a new language to write about how that language has changed the way they think about how they program and how they design systems.

Artists and musicians too have had their work profoundly altered by digital imaging and digital and electronic instruments. They produce radically different work using radically different tools, and I have never heard one assert that they are unchanged as an artist or musician by their new tools and instruments. (Those who want to be unchanged continue to use the old tools; they don’t adopt the new and assert that their work is unaffected by them.)

The practice of medicine has certainly been changed profoundly not only by new drugs, but by new diagnostic and imaging procedures and by new communication technologies that allow doctors to consult remotely. Work is now underway to turn IBM’s Watson supercomputer into a diagnostic aid.

In fact, I think it would be difficult to find any profession today that would reject the notion that the practice and products of that profession have been essentially untouched by the technological revolutions of the last couple of centuries and the last couple of decades — any, that is, except writers, who apparently wish to claim that whether it is done with a quill or an XML editor, writing itself has not changed.

In part it may be a tools issue. Word processors set out to be a tool for writing itself — cutting and pasting, spell checking, outlining, and many other features were designed to make the act of writing easier. But with the advent of the laser printer, development of writing tools seemed to stop. From that point on it was all about publishing. Desktop publishing tools like FrameMaker and PageMaker were not about writing but publishing. To this day, FrameMaker still lacks some of the word processing features that were standard in Word Processors by the early 90s.

The Web provides a profoundly different media which allows for communication to be structured and accessed in profoundly different ways. Structured writing provides enormous capacity to change how we write, and what we produce. But standardized structured writing systems like DocBook and DITA are all about publishing and, in the case of DITA, content management.

Perhaps it is little wonder then that many writers feel that tools may come and tools may go, but writing remains the same. It is because they have not been using writing tools, they have been using publishing and content management tools that make little or no attempt to change the writing process, and, in some cases, deliberately boast about how little they change it.

This is all profoundly baffling to me. Since I first encountered structured writing, I have seen it as a means to change how I write and the kinds of information products I can produce. Since I first encountered the Web, I have seen it as a media that both allows and demands a profoundly different way of presenting, organizing, and linking content in ways that affect not merely the publishing process, but the writing and information design processes as well.

Structured writing and the Web should profoundly change who we are and what we do as writers, and we should be celebrating the difference, not denying it.

Perhaps it is this difference in perspective that leads to many people being baffled by some of the things I talk about. When I say that we need a structured authoring system that does away with maps, I am looking at it from the perspective of how structured authoring could change the whole writing process. When I say that we need to look at ways for reducing the amount of revision we do, I am looking at it from the same perspective. I am rejecting what seems to be the received opinion across the profession that content must be organized statically from the top down, and that revision, often in multiple rounds, is an inescapable and virtuous part of the writing process. If you believe that the writing process and its products are and should be untouched by modern tools and media, these assertions probably make very little sense.

We have brand new tools now, in structured writing and the Web, that profoundly change how content is consumed, which make top-down organization passe, and which allow for a great deal more rigor and discipline in the writing process, which can, in turn, improve productivity, quality, and timeliness significantly, and allow us to produce new information products that simply were not possible before.

So here’s my question: Do you believe that writing as a profession has been untouched by the revolutions in media and tools of the last two decades? And, if so, do you think that’s a good thing?

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36 Responses to Why is writing the only profession untouched by its tools?

  1. Larry Kunz 2013/07/29 at 13:00 #

    Mark, you pose (as always) some good questions here. But you’ve inferred something that I never intended to say.

    I didn’t say that writing hasn’t changed. I said that the fundamentals that make me a writer haven’t changed. I think that most architects and musicians would express the same sentiment.

    By “fundamentals” I mean things like being driven by a desire to share information and help people understand things. We embrace tools that give us new and better ways of doing these things. But we don’t define ourselves in terms of the tools.

    • Mark Baker 2013/07/29 at 14:18 #

      Hi Larry, thanks for the comment.

      You are absolutely correct that the motivations for being a writer have not changed. The same could be said of the other fields I referred to as well.

      It probably was not particularly fair of me to pick on your post to anchor this discussion, because there are so many to choose from which do seem much more strongly to imply that tools do not change either what the authors write or how they write. Your post was just the one that sparked me to write about this issue, which has been stewing in my head for a long time.

      One of the things I have learned in a career as a writers is that people often interpret things they read in terms of the thread that is already running in their heads. In fact, we not only read that way, we write that way — sort of unconsciously assuming that our readers will be reading with the same bee in their bonnets that we have in ours.

      One of the cool ways in which the Web has changed writing is that is allows us the opportunity to discuss and clarify our thoughts interactively, as we are doing now, rather than forcing us to try to anticipate and avoid every possible misunderstanding of our argument.

      In that sense, I think the Web has made me a different writer — has taught me to treat writing as more of a dialog and less of a monolog.

      • Larry Kunz 2013/07/29 at 15:53 #

        Thanks, Mark. I agree completely that what we write has changed – partly because of tools, partly because of changing expectations in the marketplace, and partly (I’m sure) because of other factors as well. I especially like your observation that your writing has become more dialog and less monolog.

        And don’t worry. I don’t think that you treated me unfairly at all.

  2. Tina Klein Walsh 2013/07/29 at 14:36 #

    The tools support the writer. As it should be. Sadly, I have seen an unfortunate number of instances of writers supporting the tools! I enjoyed this post.

  3. John Tait 2013/07/29 at 16:23 #

    Hi Mark

    Could you please kindly describe some of these tools. I’m aware of SPFE, but I’m interested in what else you would recommended. What else, apart from wikis?

    • Mark Baker 2013/08/09 at 21:36 #

      Thanks for the comment, John.

      I think there are a number of really interesting tools out there right now.

      Wikis are interesting because of the collaborative features, even though many are too locked down to really work according to the wiki philosophy. The wiki philosophy was a really good example of how tools change writing.

      Sophisticated usage checkers like Acrolinx can really help if used properly.

      DITA’s approach to reuse has certainly had an impact, some good, some bad.

      Narrative Science is interesting too — we can now start to automate many drudge writing jobs, just as other jobs have been automated.

      The biggest tool change, though, has to be the Web. The whole theory of the book was based on isolation and scarcity. The web is about connection and abundance. That makes all the difference in the world.

  4. Leigh White 2013/07/29 at 17:46 #

    While I would agree that the desire to share information and the fundamentals of good writing have not been changed by the evolution of tools, I would also counter that if you have ever cut a sentence and pasted it in somewhere else, you fundamentally do not approach writing the same way a 13th century scribe or an 18th century casual correspondent did. When paper (or parchment) was precious, writers were forced to compose in their heads, carefully considering phrasing, rhythm, word choice and all sorts of things before committing a single word to paper. Today, we toss our thoughts randomly onto the screen, rearrange them, copy, paste, move, edit and generally massage them into their final, cohesive format–all in a virtual and infinitely pliable environment. I would say that before the advent of word processors and computers, we wrote inside our heads and now we write outside of them.

    • Mark Baker 2013/08/09 at 21:39 #

      Leigh, that is a brilliant insight. Writing inside our heads vs. writing outside them. It immediately gets me thinking about what that means for structured writing. In a sense, at least, structured writing asks writers to go back to writing in their heads. There’s definitely a blog post of two in that idea!

    • Chris Despopoulos 2013/10/25 at 07:21 #

      I was looking for exactly this point. Anybody who thinks that writing has not been affected by the tools needs to talk to Umberto Eco. I saw him present his recent book, “The Prague Cemetery”, and he riffed a decent amount on how writing with word processors has changed the way we write, think about writing, and even think in general. I for one would not argue with much of anything Umberto Eco has to say about writing…

  5. Alex Knappe 2013/07/30 at 06:00 #

    The statement, that writing has not been changed by the tools we use is stretched too far I think.
    I remember the words of my boss last week – “Why do I have to do all this, I simply want to write…” – while he’s been trying to create a new document in a CMS (a badly organized one I might add).
    While there’s still some situation, where a tech writer does what its job title says – write – our actual work has shifted from writing stuff towards managing existing content and rearranging it into new content.
    The emphasis on “tech writer” is more on “tech” than on “writer”. And this also has an impact on how we write.
    Most of us stepped away from writing nice and lengthy explanations to something more manageable.
    We adopted writing styles like minimalism, embraced writing structures like functional design and removed synonyms for the sake of easing translations.
    TMS, CMS, XML and other techniques had an immense impact on how our content looks like. Publishing issues just come on top of that.
    While tools come and go, cognitive sciences, industry standards and other “outside” influences took our writing and wrangled it until a completely new style of writing evolved.
    Even while I write this, our writing is in a constant flux. Old techniques die a slow death and new techniques revolutionize what we will write tomorrow.

    • Mark Baker 2013/08/09 at 21:41 #

      Thanks for the comment Alex. I agree with you completely.

      I don’t think everyone got that my title was ironic. My fault. Playing with irony is playing with fire.

      • Alex Knappe 2013/08/10 at 16:02 #

        iro-what? 🙂
        Irony is maybe the best example of how different our own mental worlds are.
        Use it, and you can be sure that somebody will misunderstand it. Same goes for sarcasm.

        But on back on topic. In my recent research for a scientific essay on single source publishing, I came across some old school theories about language which stroke me like lightning. Ferdinand de Saussure stated in his basic work about linguistics that there is difference between “langue” – the mere information – and the “parole” – the actual spoken or written language (as in how the speaker or writer expresses himself).
        How is this relevant to this discussion, you may ask. It is relevant in the sense, that our writing skills are nothing more than the “parole” Saussure talks about. In this way it can also be seen as tool to transport the information that is embedded in the “langue”.

  6. John Gardner 2013/07/30 at 14:10 #

    Ah yes, the tools versus practice debate.

    As an Enterprise Architect, I do a great deal of technical writing (business, logical and physical architectures) and I have seen the impact of technology and tools upon my profession.

    From a writing perspective, my content has changed over the years (mobile, cloud, SaaS and so forth) and the tools have changed, but the process is relatively static.

    I have yet to see a true content management system, with reusable blocks of content (in my case architecture building blocks and solution building blocks), being used in my writing process (enterprise architecture content and artifacts). There is still a battle between model-driven architecture (MDA), where all content is created in various model notations and descriptions, versus document templates populated using whatever methods the author or internal policy demands.

    I agree with the comment about writing versus publishing. That being said, some tools do impact how we think about our content (document plan). For example, creating wiki content is a writing process/practice with the published output being predetermined.

    I think the opportunity is still there for tools to improve the writing process. For example, some super tool that combines features from Scrivener, Lyx/Latex, single source databases with customizable indices and parsers and filters for multiple (published) output.

    How would this change writing? Over time, with a populated database of content with all citations, research and authoring time could shrink with reusable content, cross-references and so on.

    Similarly, standard and customizable templates for different writing project (or architecture documents) in combination with the single source mega-database, and a content build/compile (like Lyx/Latex) would significantly change how we write.

    I mean, how many of us keep really great opening lines, greetings, closing remarks, and samples of explanatory text for difficult subjects?

    So yeah, many writers haven’t changed their writing process/practice with current tools, but much could be changed if the will was there.

    My two cents… wait, that’s zero cents with the round down/up now that the Canadian penny is phased out.

  7. Faye 2013/07/30 at 14:44 #

    There are whole segments of academia studying the effects of the tools of writing and influences on the writer. Media-centered theory of composition, for example, focuses on how writing is created. I’ve read dozens of papers discussing the act of writing on the writer in the computer age and every iteration since caveman first put a handprint on a wall. The tools are as much a part of the act of writing as the words themselves, they argue. Look at single-sourcing. The act of communication is tied to being able to be stripped away from deeper context by the tool itself.

  8. Marcia Riefer Johnston 2013/07/30 at 16:18 #

    Point well taken, Mark, that “structured writing and the Web should profoundly change who we are and what we do as writers, and we should be celebrating the difference, not denying it.” There’s no question that “the Web … both allows and demands a profoundly different way of presenting, organizing, and linking content in ways that affect not merely the publishing process, but the writing and information design processes as well.”

    Well said. To write well in business today means, at least in part, to have a facility with tools (publishing tools, to an extent, and writing tools, ideally) and to understand the new things that these tools enable writers to do. No doubt.

    What I would find especially helpful in your discussion would be an additional note on the issue that my writer colleagues and I experience in the job market–to no one’s benefit. I’m talking about the logic-flipping assumption that some employers jump to: to have a facility with tools (publishing tools or writing tools) is to write well.

    • Alex Knappe 2013/07/31 at 03:03 #

      Marcia, what employers want is (at least in Germany) the infamous “Wolpertinger”.
      If I read job offers around here, they usually want a university degree tech writer, who is also an engineer and programmer, 25 years old, with at least 6 years of job experience in all of the 3 fields, who can singlehandedly do a CE certification and translate their work into at least 3 languages, who has perfect knowledge in legislation of every country the product might be used in and knows every CMS, CAD, TMS and publishing engine ever released. And besides all that you have to know about the black magic that is used to create all needed documents within a few days and needed to administer the company terminology. Oh, and did I mention that you nearly always have to be an expert for exactly the product family the company produces?
      This may sound bitter, but employers around here have no clue about what we are doing at all.

      • Marcia Riefer Johnston 2013/07/31 at 19:27 #

        Alex, I wonder what those employers expect to pay these “Wolpertingers” (love that term)!

        • Alex Knappe 2013/08/01 at 04:05 #

          Marcia, that ranges from:
          500US$ (which nets to 360US$ after taxes) to
          1400US$ (which nets to 800US$ after taxes)
          per week, with an emphasis towards the lower end (depends where you work and if you’re in a unionist pay scale).

    • Mark Baker 2013/08/09 at 21:48 #

      Thanks for the comment, Marcia. It is a logic flipping assumption. A professional writer should have mastery of the tools of their trade, and in the desktop publishing age, that means publishing tools. But mastery of publishing tools does not indicate writing skill.

      Much of it, I expect, arises from the fact that most people (correctly or not) don’t feel they can judge writing skill well. So they judge the thing they think they can judge.

      Judging writing skill ought to be easy. Read their work. If you understand it, its good. If not, its bad. But people have had a lot of grammatical and stylistic shibboleths shoved down their throats that have made them distrust their own judgement.

  9. Vinod 2013/08/01 at 06:11 #

    Writing styles have evolved over time with writers moving from type writers and taking print outs of large books during publishing to the more evolved usage of authoring tools, single sourcing, videos, media and cloud.

    The basic skills of a writer though is to write and that may look like it has not evolved over time. People can use all the latest tools in the market to make cosmetic changes to their content, but if their writing which can compare, say, to the bone structure of a face is perfect; it will look great with or without the cosmetic changes.

  10. Marcia Riefer Johnston 2013/08/01 at 14:13 #

    I keep thinking about this post. I like the analogies that highlight the symbiosis between tools and what we can do with them. Any field of practice–writing, music, engineering, architecture, medicine–evolves as the tools evolve.

    I don’t know any professional writers who claim that our profession is untouched by tools. The people I work with (notwithstanding the occasional sigh for the good old days) wouldn’t have it any other way.

    The refrain that I hear sounded wherever writers gather is that our core skills are untouched by tools. Musicians, engineers, architects, and doctors could say the same. They couldn’t use their tools without having mastered the unchanging fundamentals of their disciplines. Before writers can make the most of structured-authoring tools or write effectively for the Web, they must know how to use words to connect with readers, just as musicians, regardless of innovations in their instruments, must know a major chord from a minor chord. Heart surgeons can do things with today’s tool’s that they could never do before, but only if they first understand the unchanging workings of the heart.

    This is the kind of claim I understand Larry Kunz to be making when he says, “Tools come and go. I’m still a writer.” And I believe that his point easily complements the main theme of this post: that professional writers should celebrate the new possibilities of today’s writing tools. Writers can celebrate all that is changing while also touting the importance of our unchanging skill set.

    I’m writing at length here because I believe that professional writers need to uphold the value of those tool-independent core skills. Why? Because, as Vinish Garg puts it, core skills for technical writers are often overlooked.* This content-driven marketplace is all the poorer for it.

    *http://idratherbewriting.com/2012/08/16/core-skillsets-for-technical-writers

    • Larry Kunz 2013/08/02 at 09:40 #

      Thanks, Marcia. You understood exactly what I was saying, and I agree with you that my theme is compatible with the points that Mark is making about tools.

    • Mark Baker 2013/08/09 at 21:52 #

      Marcia, one of the things I have learned from the debate on this post is that many people have this sense that there are skills and there are tools, and they are somehow separate things, but that people seem to see the boundary in different ways.

      I’ve actually come to a different conclusion, but I’ll get to that below.

  11. Mathijs Panhuijsen 2013/08/02 at 03:14 #

    Claiming that tools have not affected writing is like claiming that writing for actors did not change when moviemaking was invented. When writing for the theater, you knew that your play would be performed in one continuous performance. Writing for movies, you know that your screenplay can (and will) be cut, pasted and reorganized even during production and postproduction.

    I remember that when word processing software first took off, introducing the ability to cut and paste text of arbitrary size, some people were able to tell just by reading a text whether it had been written on a typewriter (or in longhand) or in a word processor. I think you can still tell today if you pay attention. It’s a bit like spotting a continuity mistake in a movie.

    So the notion that the tools don’t affect your writing is false. Even if you manage to avoid ‘continuity mistakes’ by writing in a modular way, the text will still read differently than, say, a typewritten text, because it lacks transitory text like “It follows from the previous paragraph that…” or “…is the topic of the next chapter”.

    On a very basic level, of course, writing hasn’t changed. We still apply punctuation. We still use grammar and correct spelling. The reason this hasn’t changed is because at the lowest level, we use the same tool we’ve always used: language itself. That tool hasn’t changed in any fundamental way, and it isn’t very likely to.

    • Barbara Saunders 2013/09/18 at 15:05 #

      Hmmm … The ultimate goal of the writer, the soul of what she does, is reaching the reader. Writers practice on the tools they have and learn to reach readers as effectively as possible. The artifacts of the tools become invisible to both the reader and the writer. When a new tool is introduced, that tool disrupts the normal writing and reading processes until the tool gets smoother and people can tune out the new artifacts (and get used to the absence of the old ones).

      For example: My childhood happened in the 1970s. A movie was something big enough to take up the room to the point that I am inside of it, participating in the action. A television show was something that happened in the intimacy of my home. I have become accustomed to movies happening in my home, but I still resist the idea of TV shows in my hands (like on my iPhone or iPad).

  12. Mark Baker 2013/08/09 at 22:05 #

    So this post has turned out to be something of a case of post in haste, repent at leisure. It really was not a very well thought through post. (I was in the middle of a big revision push on my book, and several of my best neurons were on strike.) But it has had a happy result, in that is has produced a fascinating discussion.

    Having thought about it more, though, I’ve come to a new conclusion. What I have realized is this — writing itself is a tool. It is a tool for preserving and transporting speech. Ancient scribes were craftsmen not simply with pen and parchment, but with the very fact of writing itself.

    Writing is a tool. Its basic grammar comes from the language itself, but there is a whole system on top of that which is an accommodation of language to the written form. We write differently from how we speak because the reader is not present to ask us clarifying questions. That form is a tool to make up for the distance between writer and reader. And as the Web has reduced that distance, that form has changed again.

    Style is not consistent. The Eighteenth century style was formal and decorous. The 21st century style is clipped and direct. Style is a tool.

    And the tools of form and style are not separate from the tools of paper and ink and keyboards and the web. They work with them and change with them. All skills are tool skills — all of our skills, and all of our tools.

    The desire to communicate, and the willingness to take pains to be good at it, are independent of all this, but everything else is a tool, and all our skills are tool skills.

  13. Marcia Riefer Johnston 2013/08/10 at 04:59 #

    Mark,

    Your most recent replies here (Aug 9) enrich this conversation. Is writing itself a tool? Saying yes tickles the synapses–a hallmark of a Mark Baker post–and may yield some useful insights. As I see it, though, calling writing a tool is like calling musicianship an instrument: true in a way, but of limited use in everyday conversation. If I want to be understood without doing a lot of explaining, I say “tool” when I’m referring to a piece of hardware or software.

    • Mark Baker 2013/08/10 at 11:02 #

      Interesting simile, Marcia. “Calling writing a tool is like calling musicianship an instrument.”

      But you cannot demonstrate musicianship without playing an instrument. Musicianship is facility with an instrument. Music, painting, and writing are all forms of expression, and they are nothing without the expressed form. If I have an opening in the trombone section, I have no use for a cello player, not matter how great their musicianship on the cello.

      In your book, you call the verb “to be” weak and suggest replacing it with verbs that describe specific actions. Not “Tom is a runner” but “Tom runs”. The implication of this choice is that there is no essence of being a runner apart from running. If we accept the theory of essences, then being something is more important than doing something, and therefore the verb “to be” is a stronger verb (since it asserts an essence) than any action verb (which merely asserts a deed).

      Yet in this discussion, you are asserting essences — that being a musician is more important than playing an instrument, that being a writer is more important that actually producing writing (which requires a tool).

      The theory of essences is out of favor in modern thought. Modern thought holds that there are no gifts of the spirit, only actions of the body. Any yet it seems very important to modern people to assert essences, and to assert that the essence of who they are is more important that the product of what they do.

      I realize that I was almost certainly wrong to attribute this to writers particularly. I hear it from writers because I hang out with writers. I bet if I hung out with musicians more, I would probably hear it from them too.

      So maybe that is what this is, not some particularly Luddite feeling on the part of writers, but a more human need to assert the essence of their nature in the face of overwhelming rapid changes in technology. “I am still what I always was” is a cri de coeur in the face of technology changes that threaten to deprive us of the way we have always made our living.

      Some find such changes terrifying; some find them exhilarating; some, maybe, both.

      For myself, while I remain unfashionably wedded to the theory of essences (the verb to be is stronger than any action verb), I don’t think it extends to trade. I think writing is a tool, writing skill is tool skill, and as tools change, those who want to keep making a living writing need to keep up.

      • Marcia Riefer Johnston 2013/08/10 at 21:36 #

        Mark,

        This conversation gets more and more fruitful. I’m glad you got it going and have kept it going.

        In your most recent comment, you interpret “I am still what I always was” as a writer’s “cri de coeur in the face of technology changes that threaten to deprive us of the way we have always made our living.” That interpretation contains truth. The comfort zone comes by its name honestly. By definition, people like it there. Leaping out–even sticking a toe out–takes courage.

        Here’s another interpretation, which I think contains parallel and equally worthy truth. A professional writer who says “I am still what I always was” may also be saying “My value to my employer remains grounded in timeless, unchanging core skills that matter as much to the bottom line as my ability to keep up with changes, and if I don’t assert this ongoing, essential part of my value, it sometimes gets taken for granted.”

        By the way, I enjoyed your discussion of be-verbs in reference to one of the chapters in my book, “Word Up!” I would like to clarify that I don’t call the verb “to be” weak. I say, “We can’t call every be-verb weak.” For example, a be-verb is not weak “when it points to existence itself.” And I say, “In some cases, [even] weak be’s merit keeping”–followed by lots examples. I do encourage writers to see weak be-verbs as possible indicators of opportunity. Usually, chucking a weak be-verb strengthens the sentence, sometimes dramatically. Writers who consider which weak be-verbs to keep and which to pitch have learned one of the most powerful ways to transform boring into brilliant (or at least less boring).

        Anyone who would like to read the chapter in question (“‘To Be’ or Not ‘To Be'”), can find it, excerpted in full, in this recent “I’d Rather Be Writing” post by Tom Johnson:

        http://idratherbewriting.com/2013/07/12/word-up-how-to-write-powerful-sentences-and-paragraphs-marcia-johnston/

        Thanks again, Mark, for this stimulating conversation.

  14. Suyog Ketkar 2013/08/24 at 08:40 #

    Great work, Mark. Thank you, for posting a new, different perspective.

    Yet, for some reason, it is difficult for me to think beyond what Larry has quoted. Deep down, I too feel that as a Writer, I still am the same person I was when I began writing. But, in time, I have grown to realize the power of words. And that’s that. Tool or no tool, it is what and how I do that matters. And, now, to add on top of what Larry mentioned in his reply on your post, dated July 29, 2013 at 1:00 pm, any professional who brings an artistic perspective to the work he/she does (in essence, likes being in that business), say an actor or singer, would agree with me.

    • Mark Baker 2013/08/25 at 21:14 #

      Thanks for the comment Suyog.

      I have to say first that technical communication is not an artistic profession, but a technical one. Many tech writers also have aspirations to be artistic writers, just as sign painters may have aspirations to be artists, but it’s not the same thing.

      Perhaps this cri de coeur comes not from the technical writer but from the novelist within proclaiming that FrameMaker or DITA have nothing to do with the art of the novel, which, indeed, they don’t.

      But I am also starting to think that the desire of so many tech writers to declare their independence from their tools may have a more basic reason: that all tech writing tools basically suck. By suck, I don’t mean that they don’t perform their intended function well, but that they are painfully complex and in ways that have little to do with the actual task of writing. But that is a post for another day.

      • Suyog Ketkar 2013/08/26 at 00:22 #

        Thank you, Mark, for the comment – It has been an enriching dialog for me so far. I agree with you to a great extent. Perhaps, that is why I have used the word Writer, and not Technical Writer, to intend what I meant. Technical communication is no doubt technical, but it still is writing! Therefore, for me, it is a part of my profile as Writer.

      • Barbara Saunders 2013/09/18 at 15:08 #

        I had a technical writing contract with a large company. My contact passed me along to other departments, and I ended up writing advertising. I was surprised (pleasantly) to find that, purpose aside, advertising felt like art!

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