The Author

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About the Author

Giving Thanks

Spells and Software

What's up with the Teapot?

The Nature of Inspiration

Degrees of Creativity

Contact John

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Talt Tales and Magical Misadventures




Spells and Software: Writing for Two Worlds

It often surprises people that I have a day job other than writing... well, other than writing stories about teapot shaped islands. I’m an award-winning technical writer--one of those people who studies the user interface for a software application and writes help files and instructional materials to help users complete tasks with the software. (If your eyes glossed over just then, don’t worry about it... most people look at me funny when I tell them what I do for a living.)

Why the surprise? I suppose it has to do with how different technical writing and fiction writing seem to be.

With technical documentation, I write according to a structured writing style that organizes information in a particular way and uses design elements to help the reader find and remember information more easily. The content is objective in nature and based on fact.

With my fiction, I’m using words to tell my version of a story. I may use factual information to support the events (for example, I might include details about a particular type of plant or animal), but for the most part, I make it all up... the sassy characters, like Miss Lavender Pie... the fantastical settings, like Eilloena’s secret room... and the crazy happenings, like the Queen’s secret plot to... (well if I told you, it wouldn’t be secret anymore, would it?

I think most confusion about how I could stand to be so structured on the one hand, and so creative on the other, comes from a misconception about writing. People seem to think that the ability to write fiction is this magical gift. You put your fingers on the keyboard, the words are formed with almost no effort, and you have agents and publishers knocking down your door to get your work (talk about a fairy tale).

For me, writing fiction uses many of the same skills that writing technical documentation does. It requires the discipline to write even when you’re not motivated; it requires the skills to communicate effectively so that your readers understand what you are trying to tell them; and it requires meticulous planning and revision to make sure your story is the best it can be.

That’s not to say that there’s no creativity or passion involved. Fiction allows me to use my craft to explore any topic that I can dream up. The fearsome effects of magic from the story Eaten Out of House and Home, the large-and-in-charge frog from A Time to Croak, the troublesome fireberries from Mother Knows Best. I couldn’t have created anything of these things without my overactive imagination. But fun ideas don’t translate into fun fiction unless you have the skills as a writer to make that happen.

In that sense, writing professionally for the past 10 years has helped me to improve all aspects of my writing--which to be honest aren’t as different as they seem.

For both worlds, I plan out or outline what I’m going to write. Then I create my first draft. After personal review and revision, I submit my work to others for review (as a technical writer, I send my documentation to my subject matter experts; as a fiction writer, I send my stories to readers/writers to look at). Once finished with that, I incorporate any feedback I receive, look the piece over again, and polish the writing. Depending on what I’m working on, it may be a bit more complicated than that; but you get the general idea. Writing is an involved and lengthy process.

And that’s what makes writing so amazing. When you complete a finished product, you have something tangible to show for all your effort. Not only that, but most often, it’s something you can truly be proud of.

In my technical writing career, I’ve received praise from customers and recognition by my peers, winning several awards in the Online Communications and Technical Publications Competitions sponsored by the Washington DC Chapter of Society for Technical communication. (You can learn more about the STC and the competitions by going to their website:

In my fiction writing career, my web site was a finalist in the 2005 Best Writer’s Web Site contest sponsored by Writer’s Digest... I've had five stories published in AlienSkin Magazine and one published in Wild Violet... and numerous visitors to have let me know how much they enjoy what I’ve done.

What more could a writer ask for than to connect with his readers?

In closing, there’s no magic involved in writing for two worlds. All you need is a love for your work, dedication to your craft, and a passion to share your words with others. And if you’re successful, the magic happens for the reader when they turn the page.

Thanks for stopping by, and until next time... Happy Reading!