Few things are as terrifying as a blank page. As a follow-up to my suggestion about writing a personal history I offer these leading questions:
- When did you start working?
- How long did you do it?
- What training did you get?
- Where did you work?
- Who did you work with?
- What was your favorite project?
- What was your worst assignment?
- If you could go back to that time what would you do differently?
- What was the most important thing you learned from it?
- What advice would you give someone starting a similar task?
As the author of some terrible novels and short stories, I chuckle at the financial planning advertisements where someone reveals their wish to write the “Great American Novel” some time in future. Why wait? Other than the time involved what would it cost you to write that novel or memoir right now? What will change between now and that future time except your memory? Write a little each day and before you know it you have a story or a book or a history.
This same technique works for technical papers. Make a list of questions for yourself about the topic and answer them. Think about the subject from the perspective of someone reading your paper who is not familiar with the topic.
While preparing a paper some years ago I read a bit in engineering magazines from the early 20th century. I was struck by the immediacy of the writing, the passion expressed about the topics being debated. Modern technical writing seems to have lost that edge. We are so afraid to offend, so worried about someone disagreeing, that we write inoffensively in a passive voice.
Passion is a good thing! Who wants to work with people just going through the motions? History books tend to gloss over the personalities involved. Edison hated Westinghouse. Other inventors hated the Wright Brothers. The Harley-Davidson founders openly feuded with the Indian and Excelsior people over the future of motorcycles. How do we know this? Because they wrote it down.
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