Writing on the Job

I’ve been writing this last while – but not for fun.

The writing in question is what people in government call a Memorandum to Cabinet. Basically, it’s a proposal to undertake a major program, usually with an attached budget, and ultimately requires approval by (you guessed it) the federal Cabinet in order to go ahead. The process for approving such a document normally takes about five months, but our particular file is on a fast-track and so we’re maybe looking at five weeks.

I was involved in such a process a few years back and found it quite challenging. This time, it’s not so bad. When I thought about it, I could see several areas where my growth as a fiction writer is influencing my ability to write the work documents.

The first thing I noticed came before I even started writing. Rather than launch into it right away, I sat back, asked myself what exactly I needed to put into this document, and then outlined the proposal, the background, the considerations, and the various other bits that would be required. I ordered everything so that the flow made sense and led to the conclusions and recommendations I wanted to make.

Then I started writing. Being government stuff, I’ll admit that certain parts of the document were more of a slog than others. Rather than let myself get hung up on specific paragraphs that wouldn’t come, I knew – thanks to my outline – the generalities of what that paragraph would contain and skipped ahead, maintaining momentum by writing other parts of the doc. It was simple enough to come back to the unwritten bits later, after I’d let the subject matter roll over in my head a few days, and deal with them then.

I found myself editing on the go. This included the obvious correction of spelling errors but also whittling down over-long phrases or replacing complicated lingo with simpler terms. This had a couple of advantages: First, it helped ensure I was staying within my page limit (because there was one, and people often struggle with it). Second, it meant that as soon as somebody higher up the food chain wanted to have a gander, I could immediately give them something that wasn’t a super-rough draft.

I’ve also discovered that I’m doing better at accepting edits, including edits I don’t agree with or think are particularly useful. That’s an ongoing thing when there’s several layers of management between me the writer and the folks in Cabinet – everybody has their view of what should be included, excluded, and different. Often times, changes requested by one layer of management will be contravened by a higher layer. But it’s all good. I’m accustomed to receiving critiques back on my stories and I don’t take it personally. I make the edits and I move on.

So there you: Writing fiction is helpful in writing non-fiction.

I have managed to spend a bit of recreational time on editing some stories. There was an extensive edit of One Last Dance to bring it from 6,000 words to under 5,000 for a market – I was surprised to be able to do that without losing much substance. I’ve also started editing a larger story called Into Exile, which is an Arab Spring-inspired adventure piece. It’s over 8,000 words and while I think it has some promise, there are sections of the story that really need some work.

Couple other things have come up, but I’ll post on them soon enough.  Happy Victoria Day!

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