I love science and wanted to be a veterinarian, so I went to Colorado State to study biology. When I didn’t get into vet school, one of my professors told me I was a pretty good writer and to talk to one of his friends in the journalism department (Don Zimmerman), who was starting a graduate program in technical communication. I had never heard of technical communication. So, I applied, and, surprisingly, got in. I planned on going back and reapplying to vet school, but ended up liking tech comm.
I started out using my science background as a technical editor for an environmental consulting company, and for a cardiac pacemaker company. Later, I worked at a financial software company. I got interested in localization when I was pulled into a couple of projects. I’m a Fellow for the Society for Technical Communication, have been a member since 1989, and have held a variety of volunteer positions over the years, including Society President 2014-15. I’ve been doing consulting in content strategy, content ops, and localization for almost 20 years as Principal of Comgenesis, LLC.
Along the way, I’ve also coauthored a book called Managing Virtual Teams: Getting the Most from Wikis, Blogs, and Other Collaborative Tools (2007) and edited The Language of Localization (2017), as well as contributed to industry magazines and presented at conferences. I write poetry and short stories for fun.
I live in Evergreen with my engineer husband, lab/border collie pandemic puppy, and affectionate but psycho cat. We love to hike, ski, play board games, and travel in our spare time.
Do you have a favorite book or favorite author?
Anne McCaffrey, and recently, Patricia Briggs. I also love Agatha Christie, Patricia Cornwell, Terry Pratchett. I will pretty much read anything that’s well written. For fun, I like sci-fi and murder mysteries.
What are you currently reading?
Women Courageous; Tiny Habits; Leading Well from Within; Science News; Mental Floss; Mindful Living; Braiding Sweetgrass; and stuff for work.
Do you have preparational practices to help you get in the proper headspace to write?
A deadline is usually pretty motivating…cup of tea, music. Sometimes I clean or take a walk if I’m still processing what I need to say. I generally think it through before I write it down.
What is it that helps you stay focused when you sit down to write?
Music, mostly. Getting started is the hardest part, so I always try to leave off with knowing what’s next, even if it’s just notes. Once I start, I can be pretty focused.
The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword – do you believe that sentiment? What, to you, is the power that words hold?
Words have the power to make (or break) worlds, and poor communication is often the root cause of much conflict. Words dictate how we interpret our reality, and asking better questions leads to better solutions. For example, is the stone mason placing rocks one on top of the other, or is he building a cathedral? Do you want to fix a problem? Are you creating a stellar customer experience? Do you laugh or cry when something happens that you didn’t expect? What are your goals? What matters most to you?
Does writing energize you, or does it deplete you?
Like many content creators, I like to have written.
Do you prefer to write off the cuff, or do you take a more methodical approach, such as using
It depends. For complex projects, planning and outlining/modelling are essential. For short-form articles, blog posts, poetry, short stories, I write them in my head and then write them down.
What is more challenging to write: an assigned piece, or a creation of your own?
Getting paid is a great motivator. It depends on whether or not the person assigning the work is clear on what they want to accomplish. The hard part of creating your own stuff is making the time and getting started, and getting out of your own way. It’s always easier for me to help someone else than to make time for myself.
Are there certain writing exercises you find helpful?
#sixwordstories on Twitter, writing prompts, Bulwer-Litton contests, haikus, writing challenges, accountability partners.
In what ways do you think social media can help writers? Where does it fall short?
- Great source of ideas and for sharing resources
- Makes it easier to connect with colleagues and friends on a global scale
- Facilitates publishing your work
- The noise-to-signal ratio is high
- You need a good BS detector
- Can be a distraction and a tool for procrastination
What are some of your favorite resources for writers?
- Chicago Manual of Style
- Global English Style Guide
- Writer’s Market
- Professional associations
- Peer groups/accountability groups
What in your opinion are the elements of good writing?
In tech comm:
- Simplicity (KIS)
- Audience focused
- Free of jargon
- Technical accuracy and appropriate precision
- Active voice
What are the biggest challenges in your particular field of writing?
Getting people to think of content in terms of the ecosystem, and not just the particular project they are working on. That terminology management is critical to quality localization, and that it needs to be consistent and managed above the project level. Teaching folks structured authoring and how to manage content across multiple channels. Thinking at the component level, not the document level. Everything needs to be designed with the world in mind. It’s far easier to internationalize from the get-go than to retrofit later, and baking internationalization and accessibility into your content and processes is not more expensive if you start that way.