Book Introductions

One of the more useful things I learned from The Book in a Box Method was how to write an interesting introduction. I confess that I had not been doing things in a particularly engaging way. What was I doing wrong? Read on!

Here’s how Tucker Max puts it:

Most authors think the purpose of the introduction is to lay out and explain everything the author will talk about in the book. That is boring and wrong.

The actual purpose of a good introduction is to engage the reader and make them want to read the book. It should be framed more as an interesting sales pitch rather than an information piece (though it does serve both purposes).

After realizing that I was getting bogged down in my competitive research, I discussed the situation with Kate the coach and decided that it was better to just get to writing. With Tucker Max’s thoughts in mind, here is my second draft. Inputs welcome.

The Wise Guy on the Next Bar Stool

I can see you now: you’re in your early or mid-20s. You’re on the verge of graduating, and reality is setting in. School’s over. You’ve got that deer-in-the-headlights expression that creeps up on individuals who realize they have no idea what they’re going to do with their lives–and worse, don’t even know what to do about it.

Whom do you ask?

Perhaps your family wasn’t thrilled with that English Literature or Liberal Arts degree you pursued. They all took practical jobs: accountant, doctor, lawyer. The advice you’re getting sucks: “Have you considered teaching?” a well-meaning friend asks, not understanding that you’ve seen the teacher’s job up close and you don’t want it. Your mother asks, “Have you considered writing children’s books or romance novels?” and you groan, knowing that you will not get anywhere with that sort of advice.

You turn to your professors and discover that a lot of them have spent most of their time in academia. Some of them have a negative attitude about the private sector and lament the necessary evils of work and money. They suggest you pursue a master’s degree until you figure out what you want to do. Or maybe they know a friend who might be hiring a junior assistant editor on a nonprofit literary magazine.

Leaving your professor’s office, you shake your head in dismay. You’ve got a pragmatic bent to your thinking. You want a life: one that pays the bills, lets you get a car that’s less than ten years old, and a home that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to show to a prospective significant other. There is another option, of course.

Perhaps you took a technical writing elective and realized that some people actually pay their bills writing things like proposals, reports, raining manuals, product sheets, or online help. You could do that, right?

But (and it’s amazing how buts get in the way of a good plan): you didn’t get your degree in technical writing. Can you still get a job? More importantly, once you get that sort of job, what are you really in for? What’s the life like?

Your technical writing prof indicates that there’s a technical writer who hangs out at one of the bars on Disney property. “He’s easy to spot: gray hair, gray Van Dyke beard, and horrendous Hawaiian shirts. He give advice pretty regularly. He can answer the sorts of questions you’re asking.”

So you head for the designated saloon, deciding to dress in business attire so your university sweatshirt doesn’t stand out too much. And there he is, as advertised, wearing an orange-and-yellow Star Wars shirt so loud your ears hurt to look at it. He’s at the bar, nursing a bourbon on the rocks and scribbling furiously in a journal with a replica of Fenestra Aeternitatis etched into well-traveled leather cover.

You take a breath and take the plunge: “Are you Bart Leahy?”

“Most days. How can I help you?”

“I need to know what the technical writer’s life is like–the business world, the job, the people, networking–well, everything!”

The man’s square, florid face breaks into a wide grin and he closes his journal. “Sure, pull up a chair. You do, and he asks, “What’ll you have?” You play it safe and order a beer and a water. Leahy orders the beer, waits for it to arrive, then turns to you and asks, “Where do you want to start?”

In reality, I’m not this easy to find. I don’t go out much. The Hawaiian shirts are real and ugly enough, as is the fancy journal cover. However, I don’t often get the opportunity to offer career or mentoring advice in person. Instead, for the past six years I’ve shared advice about the real world of technical writing on a blog called HeroicTechnicalWriting.com.

The idea was (and is) to help students, young professionals, and even peers navigate the challenges of the professional working world because while I respect my university professors greatly, such advice is not often provided in a classroom setting. I offer up experiences from the field based on a career that has ranged everywhere from large organizations like Walt Disney World and NASA to small nonprofits like the Science Cheerleaders. The book you have in your hand is a distillation of the important stuff they don’t teach you in school.

Since I can’t be everywhere or spend all my time answering questions about the tech writing life, I have written this book, which I hope you find helpful. It shouldn’t cost more than a couple drinks, and it’s available anywhere, any time.

So, you want to know what the tech writer’s life is like? Great! Pull up a chair.

About Bart Leahy

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