Do you do any real writing?

I was once invited to speak to junior high students about my writing.

At the time, I was writing primarily for clients who needed informational texts generated quickly primarily on topics in the sciences, technology, engineering, and medicine.

I told the students I was usually hired when a company had some written project they wanted to do but which wasn’t a top priority.  Around November, if the client had some money left in the budget, I’d be hired to write the manual or instructional package they wanted before the end of the year when the funding would disappear.

A technical expert from the client’s company would brief me about the project. The most important information was a detailed description of the audience. One project I did, for example,  was a manual for mechanics in a third world country who have minimal formal education and whose first language is not English.

The client’s representative would hand me a stack of source material—journal articles, pamphlets, photocopies of images available as illustrations, the company’s previous publications on the topic, etc.—and an outline. We’d agree on some interim checkpoints, shake hands, and I’d be on my own until the first checkpoint.

At the first checkpoint, the client’s representative would make sure my work would be readily understood by the intended audience and that I was meeting or exceeding the output requirements.

When I finished my presentation,  a blond kid in the front row raised his hand.

“Do you do any real writing?” he asked.

I quickly thought of several responses, before settling on one suitable to the situation.

“No,” I said. “I don’t do any real writing.”