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We are in the midst of an economic downturn as these lines are written. Things are not peachy for a lot of people right now, including writers. For technical writers, location is important in times like these. For those who do not live in hi-tech metropolitan areas, well-paying jobs might not be that easy to come.
So what should a technical writer do in-between jobs? Such temporary downtimes can actually be an excellent opportunity to work on basic skill sets and build up one’s portfolio.
For example, if you’re a beginner level tech writer I recommend you practice your indexing and TOC skills and write a great 20-page “User Guide” about a software you’re already using. If you do not have MS Office, download Open Office for free and write a sample guide about how to use the basic functions of Open Office. That way, when you go to a job interview in the future you’d have something to show as a proof of your tech writing skills.
You can also offer volunteer documentation work for your church or synagogue or house of worship, a membership club, or a sports or social organization that you belong to. Perhaps it might be the local chapter of your party, if you are into politics? Today you can start writing their Policy and Procedure handbook, handling their office correspondence, or writing a press release for them and doing other kinds of low-tech writing assignments. And tomorrow? You never know…. if and when they need a full-time writer or have the budget to pay for part-time assignments, you would be the first one they would naturally consider thanks to your earlier volunteer work. It’s important to keep networking and keep in touch with such contacts.
If you are an experienced technical writer you can brush up on some advanced-level skills like learning XML, structured authoring and DITA. Enrolling in a graduate degree or certification program is another option to make the best of such temporary bumps on your career path.