Working in the Little Room

If you ever take a job doing proposal writing, eventually you will spend some time in The Little Room. Okay, maybe it’s not that little, but there are a few attributes to a proposal “war room” that are pretty common, regardless of the company or subject matter.

  • White boards or bulletin boards or blank walls for sticking things to the wall, including drafts of the proposal, brainstorming easel-pad sheets, schedules, and other critical data
  • Conference table(s) and chairs
  • Power strips for laptops
  • Legal pads for note taking or scribbling out thoughts, diagrams, or drafts
  • No windows
  • A soda and/or snack machine down the hall
  • A technical writer or two flanked by one or more managers or subject matter experts (SMEs), who are talking and editing in real time
  • An air of tension because inevitably you are on a deadline

Given these constraints, it’s important to think about those things they don’t talk to you about in college:

  • You need to maintain your energy, mental and physical. Sometimes you can get dragged into The Little Room unexpectedly. Are you feeding yourself? Staying well hydrated on a regular basis? This is important any day you work, but it becomes especially critical during moments of high stress, when you’ll be expected to respond to multiple demands, multiple changes, and often multiple conversations going on around you–all on a deadline.
  • You need to take breaks occasionally. This could be to rest your eyes or relieve your bladder or bowels, but you certainly need the breaks, and if you don’t take the breaks, it will eventually interfere with your ability to think and type well.
  • You need to put your life on hold. Okay, this is my choice, not yours. You might have a spouse, children, pets, or other obligations. You either need to work with them or around them temporarily until your time in The Little Room is complete. I’ve heard of companies that set up cots in The Little Room until the work is done. I’ve never gotten to that point, but I have spent some time in the wee hours making last-minute revisions before the doc was scheduled to go to the printer the next day. If you’re a full-time proposal writer, how the heck did you find time for a social life, anyway? 😉 Okay, I’m kidding, but only partially…if you have issues with being put into The Little Room even for one day, perhaps the proposal writer’s life is not for you.
  • You need to maintain your situational awareness. This includes things like remembering what your deadline is, keeping track of which parts of the proposal still need to be completed, and knowing when you absolutely, positively have to stop typing and submit the document or give it to graphics for final layout and printing.
  • You need to have patience and/or a sense of humor. Stress does funny things to people. Me? I talk faster, my Irish color turns a brighter shade of red, and I talk a little faster. If things get really ugly, I either get very quiet or lose my sense of humor entirely. It’s not always pretty, and I’m not particularly proud of all that–but if I don’t recognize the signs that I’m stressing out, at least my coworkers do. If I start looking particularly stressed, I usually get asked, “Do you need a break?” If someone asks you that, say yes and take the break.
  • You need to remember that your time in The Little Room is temporary. Management might make crazy demands during proposals, but once the proposal is out the door, they’re usually kind enough to give you a break of some sort. I’ve never worked at a place where I finished a proposal and then was thrown into another Little Room immediately. Even if your job is proposal writer and you’re the only one on staff, you can usually be guaranteed 8 hours’ rest after the major effort is completed.

So if you want to be (or end up being) a proposal writer, you should be aware of The Little Room, and keep yourself prepared for that day when you spend a lot of “quality time” with your coworkers. It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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