TECHNICAL WRITING CAN BE REWARDING By Susan Bilheimer

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Would you like to earn a great living as a writer on a steady basis?

If you answered yes, consider technical writing. It isn’t sexy, and it won’t make you famous. But working as a technical writer has provided me with a terrific income, and exponentially increased my creative writing skills. Furthermore, I’ve enjoyed my freedom working in contract jobs, often working from home!

The field of technical writing is exploding, due to the need to keep up with advancing technology, so there ar plenty of opportunities. After all, SOMEBODY has to write the instructions for all this stuff! And age is NOT an issue! I began my tech writing career in my 40s, and know plenty of tech writers who began in their 50s!

In this industry, freelance work is called contract work, which means that a company hires you for a specified project, lasting, generally, between three months to two years. Often, contractors end up being hired permanently! (It’s like dating before marriage.)

According to the Society for Technical Communications (STC) 2001 Contractor survey, hourly rates ranged from $32/hour to $75/hour. Lately, I’ve seen jobs at only $25 per hour. But that still means you can earn between $40,000 and $50,000 a year, even in your first job!

Here’s the best news: more and more, technical writers telecommute … every writer’s dream. While it’s possible to be hired as a telecommuter, it’s more realistic to expect your client to allow this only after you’ve worked for them for a while.

I’ve telecommuted in four different jobs, having to come to the office only occasionally for meetings or to organize and print documents. If the client is located out of town, work is generally sent via email. Some companies will allow access to the company’s Intranet, or internal file system, so you can actually work with documents located at the office!

The most difficult part of contracting is developing the discipline to get the work done on time! You must treat this as a real job and ensure that you put in the committed hours.

So, how DO you break into the field as a contractor?

First, look at existing examples of technical writing, such as the Help sections of programs you use, or even your car’s owners’ manual. You’ll soon find that technical writing is simply documenting steps clearly.

Next, think about instructional writing experience you may have. For example, maybe you’ve published some recipes. That’s technical writing! On your resume, reword that to, “Wrote instructional text for baking.”

If you’ve never written instructional material, do some on your current job. Volunteer to write instructions on office procedures, a quick-start guide for the voicemail system, or a how-to article for the company newsletter.

Next, rewrite your resume, adding in this new experience.

You will need two copies of your resume. One will be nicely formatted. The other must be saved as “Text Only .txt.” This is the copy you will place online. (TIP! Use asterisks [*] instead of bullets in the Text Only copy.) If you need a resume template, email me at sbilheimer@techwritingmkt.com and I’ll be happy to send you one.

Next, the job hunt begins. Most openings are located online (see listings below), but newspaper Help Wanted sections are also a source. Here are some suggested web sites:

www.careerbuilder.com
www.monster.com
www.dice.com
www.flipdog.com
www.technicalwriterjobs.com
www.computerwork.com
www.1-allusjobs.com
www.guru.com

Since these are technology-oriented sites, entering “writer” in the search box will return technical writing jobs.

Many sites allow you to place your resume online. Be prepared to spend some time (about 45 minutes) filling out questions on the forms. Once your resume is online, it’s likely that you will receive calls or emails from recruiters requesting more information, and maybe an interview … even if you are just starting out! Recruiters make money by getting you hired and are hungry to find good talent.

Expand your writing skills and increase your income, by following these instructions … and give technical writing a chance!

For more details about becoming a technical writer, check out Susan Bilheimer’s best-selling ebook, How to Become a Technical Writer, newly revised for 2003. You can also find more helpful information on her website at . Or email Susan with questions at sbilheimer@techwritingmkt.com.