Let’s Get Technical

By Carlton Hughes

If I asked, “What is one thing you have written that would surprise others?” I would get numerous answers. What’s my answer?

I have two: standardized test questions and an instructor’s manual for a textbook.

Sounds thrilling, I know. Here’s the deal: they remain the highest-paying freelance jobs I have ever completed, by far.

First, how did I get into writing standardized test questions (and who would want to write those?). A friend’s mother knew a guy at a well-known company that needed writers. I submitted samples, and bam! I became that guy.

My job was to research any topic I wanted, provide some facts, and then write a summary in three different skill levels as a rubric. So I got paid to write on a scale from excellent to POOR about pot-bellied pigs, Babe Didrickson, and the history of radio. Good work if you can get it.

The textbook job was a bit more complicated. I’m a teacher by trade, and we get emails all the time from publishing companies. To be brutally honest, I usually ignore them, but one subject line caught my eye: “Take survey, get money!”

This company wanted feedback on the Interpersonal Communication textbook I have used for years. The survey required me to share my opinions in different areas. I provided highly detailed answers, probably longer than they wanted, but I like big sentences, I cannot lie. I hit “submit,” and, a few weeks later, I was twenty bucks richer.

A month later I was at a WRITERS CONFERENCE taking a continuing class on FREELANCING. Warning: irony ahead!

One morning I checked my email before class, and I had a message from this same company, offering me a contract to write the instructor’s manual for the new edition of the communication text. The money offered was ridiculously good, so I jumped at the chance. The work wasn’t exactly easy, but I did get to use knowledge I already had.

Here’s what I learned from my technical writing experiences:

  1. Write what you know. Most of us don’t sit around writing creative stuff all day (If you do, great!). You might work a public job or have hobbies or skills that could translate to the technical market.
  2. When opportunities come, take them. I took that seemingly innocent survey that led me to my biggest writing job ever; I heard a guy was looking for a question-writer and went for it.
  3. Don’t be a writing snob. Sure, I would love to write award-winning literary works that appear on bestseller lists. But I’m not going to dismiss other opportunities that will sharpen my skills (and pay really well).

So, if Johnny takes the train 200 miles south and then switches trains and goes 80 miles east, what topping will he choose for his pizza for supper?

I’ll wait for your answer . . .

 

Click-To-Tweet: #HowTo break into technical writing! Let’s Get Technical with @carltonwhughes via @InspiredPrompt #freelancewriter


Carlton Hughes wears many hats. By day, he’s a professor of communication at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College. On Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings, he does object lessons and songs with motions as Children’s Pastor of Lynch Church of God. In his “spare time,” he is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including Chicken Soup for the Soul and several devotional books from Worthy Publishing—The Wonders of Nature, Let the Earth Rejoice, Just Breathe, So God Made a Dog, and Everyday Grace for Men. His book Adventures in Fatherhood, a 60-day devotional co-authored with Holland Webb, will release in Spring 2020. Carlton and his wife Kathy have two sons, Noah and Ethan, and a daughter-in-law, Kersyn. He is on the planning committee for Kentucky Christian Writers Conference and is a year-round volunteer for Operation Christmas child. Carlton is represented by Cyle Young of Hartline Literary Agency.