I’ll go over this over the course of my writings here, but I suppose an introductory explanation is in order. A friend asked me, when I stated the title of this blog, “Are you wearing a cape while writing?!?” No, not quite.
However, I do take a heroic attitude toward my work. For an excellent articulation of what “the heroic” means in practical or literary terms, I recommend reading Ayn Rand’s The Romantic Manifesto, her nonfiction treatise on art. My mental shorthand for Rand’s romantic take on heroes is simply this: a hero believes that his cause is just and worth fighting for. A hero sees challenges and believes himself brave, strong, intelligent, or capable enough to overcome them.
The historian Arnold Toynbee, while he wrote one of the longest, and quite possibly dullest books ever on world history, nevertheless had an excellent thesis to his work: civilizations rise and fall through a cycle of “challenge and response.” That is, civilizations arise in response to an initial challenge; if they succeed in responding to that challenge, the response creates a new challenge, which the civilization must then overcome. The same theory could be applied to individuals, and it’s a challenge to the individual to keep learning more and building on what one has learned to take on the next big thing.
But to tie this back to heroic technical writing, why do we read about or watch movies about heroes? Because we want to see people succeed and we want to think that, if Hero X can do something, then so can we. In my day job, that means helping a scientific or technical team communicate a proposal, a success story, or a program so the progress of civilization can continue. If that seems a little hokey or on the egghead side of the thought scale, I’m cool with that. I happen to believe in space exploration as a good in and of itself. I am not an astronaut, engineer, or scientist, but I want the effort to succeed.
As a “heroic” writer, that means giving them my best prose to help those more technically gifted achieve their goals. It means I want to learn what’s going on in this world, technically and managerially. It means I will ask a “stupid” or uncomfortable or difficult question if I have a doubt about a course of action because I believe in integrity and want all data in the open. Being a hero means doing a good job, but it means more than that. It means trying to write things I’ve never written before. It means if my efforts don’t succed, I try again until I get it right. It means pushing myself to keep doing better. And it means working hard for a cause I believe in.
It’s a good way to live, but no, I don’t get to wear a cape.
Nice post! Oddly enough, I found it by doing a Google search for my novel, ‘Technically Heroic’. I checked it out and found the post quite interesting, relatable, and well written. Thanks 🙂
Tech writers should seek to make heroes of others, not ourselves. As you say, we provide a service.