Tuesday, December 21, 2010


“I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow.  - Scarlett O’Hara, the indomitable but flawed heroine of “Gone With the Wind”, Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 historical novel of the old South.

Writers’ block does not just afflict creative writers.  It hits technical writers like yours truly, too.

When I get (spec) writers block, it’s not that I can’t write, really.  I don’t do much real writing anyway.  I mostly edit, and tweak, and modify language from master specs, and attempt to coordinate with project drawings.  No, my writers’ block takes the form of difficulty in getting an angle, of figuring out the overall strategy of the documents. 

CSI’s platitudes about making specs “clear, complete, concise and correct” are only indirect guidance when I’m trying to produce construction specifications for unusual projects (of which we seem to have quite a few). The specs may have to accompany drawings that are still in progress, making final terminology coordination difficult.  It may be tough to get the client’s attention, even though that’s vital to understanding his or her objectives.  There may be little or no documentation of project decisions and other needed data.  Key AE decision makers may be unavailable or have extremely limited time to give me the lowdown on the project.  All the while, project deadlines loom.

The biggest challenge is always to make the documents change-order proof and loophole proof, and that’s where the strategy, the angle, the AE business creativity if you will, comes in.

As a spec writer, I have come to take Scarlett O’Hara’s coping strategy - I'll think about that tomorrow - as my guide.   Whenever I’m stumped by a spec writing project, I put the project out of my mind, go home, and get a good nights’ sleep.  For years I thought I was just procrastinating, but now I realize I was on to something.

The next morning, usually when I’m tying my shoes of all things, an answer often comes to me.  I may think of someone from whom I can get good advice.  I may realize the current project is analogous to another from the past.  I may think of some way to coordinate better with the project architect even though he’s still detailing the project.  I may figure out a way to set aside other projects for a while so I can concentrate better on the current one.  The answer can take many forms.

Thanks for the advice, Scarlett.

1 comment:

  1. I have a friend who says, "If it wasn't for procrastination, the rest of the stuff wouldn't get done."

    Thanks for giving me a new excuse for putting things out of my mind.