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Louis Davidson

Why We Write #8 - An Interview With Stacia Misner

Today's interviewee is someone who is quite a prolific writer, with her most recent book being Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services, having been released in May of 2013; and if you check out her Linkedin page (http://www.linkedin.com/in/staciamisner), you will find 12 other books she has either authored or co-authored. And that is just the start…
 
Stacia has a blog at 
http://blog.datainspirations.com and it is amazing that it has any entries at all considering how busy she is speaking and teaching (her events page on her website doesn’t even mention PASS yet) I met Stacia when I was looking for an MDX and SQL Server Reporting tools training, and while BI tools aren't exactly something I practice, I learned a very large amount from her classes, as did my coworkers.
 
I have asked Stacia to take a few minutes (or, as I learned when I answered the questions myself, perhaps a few hours) to answer a few questions about why she writes. I am a bit concerned that she is going to be my first interviewee that pushes the limits of career writer, but I will publish it in any case...
 
1. We all have influencers that have advanced our careers as writers. It may be a teacher who told you that you had great potential, or possibly another writer who impressed you that you wanted to be like? Or perhaps on the other end of the spectrum it was a teacher who told you that you were too stupid to write well enough to spell your own name, much less have people one day impressed with your writing? Who were your influences that stand out as essential parts of your journey to the level of writer you have become?  

 

I don't remember the details anymore, but I have a vague memory of participating in a writing contest when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. So I definitely had teachers that encouraged me. I didn't win the contest, but I did get an honorable mention and the award was no doubt a book. I was surrounded by books when I was young, having parents who were prolific readers. My punishment when I misbehaved was to go outside and play. Otherwise, I was quite happy to sit inside and read all the time. Not only did I read fiction, but also the encyclopedia and even the dictionary. I think reading a wide variety of books is essential to developing the ability to write. Later in life, I discovered my mother was secretly working on The Great American Novel. In many ways, I have followed in her footsteps in my career as a woman in technology, and have outpaced her in the publishing field, although my genre is technical books. I only know that she was (is?) working on a piece of fiction, which is not something I feel I have enough creativity to do. Nonetheless, I have always been keenly aware of my mother's writing skills and have sought to measure up. I don't think she knows how much she influenced me in that regard. I was never told what career to pursue, just to pursue it well. 


2. As the years pass, how has your writing changed?  Do you feel like it is becoming a more natural process? Or perhaps you get more critical of your own writing to the point that it takes you longer?

 

Having worked with a number of copyeditors over the years, I see a difference in the amount of work they do (or don't do) to clean up my writing. I have this insane goal to submit the perfect manuscript, but then deadlines kick in and I reluctantly submit my work. Consequently, I can see that I am definitely more critical and it does take longer to write than I would like. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing! 


3. From what I know about you, you are quite busy teaching, speaking, actually creating software, as well as writing. Do you find yourself favoring any of these tasks over another? 

 

Correction - I do not create software unless you know something about me that I don't! I do stay quite busy. I like all aspects of what I do, and especially the ability to switch gears. That said, when I'm teaching, I really love teaching. When I'm speaking, I really love speaking. When I'm writing, on the other hand, I really hate writing and wonder why I set myself up for this again! But then I look at the finished work and I hear from readers who appreciate what I've created, and then it makes it all worthwhile. It pushes me to learn more and think about how to communicate complex ideas, which in turn helps me in the classroom and at speaking events. 


4. Assume a time machine has been created, and you are scheduled to speak to a group of potential writers, in which you and I are in attendance. Without concern for the temporal physics that might cause the universe to implode making the answer moot, what would you tell "past us", and do you think that your advice would change where you and I are in our careers now? (like would you tell yourself to get excited for the day you will be sitting here for a rather long period of time answering interview questions and not getting paid for it, instead of feeling the warm sun on your forehead?)

 

Ok, that question just made my head implode thinking about what to say, especially because I know the outcome for the present "me" and there's not much I would change. In retrospect, I think I would say don't worry so much about how cleverly someone else writes. You have your own voice and perspective to bring to the writing that readers appreciate. Therefore, my advice is not one that would be career-changing, but one that would hopefully inspire a bit more confidence. 


5. Finally, now the big question I am trying to get answered. As my earlier questions have made clear (plus I am guessing you have some non-work things going on too!) there are no doubt tremendous pulls on your time. Why do you do write? 

 

Because I'm crazy and I can't sleep anyway! Besides that, I find it really helps me dig more deeply into the technology in which I specialize. I can work with a product for years, and still discover nuances about it that no else has mentioned. When I approach the learning by writing, I find I can articulate my own questions better and then go on a quest for the answers. As an example, my editor let me go much deeper with my last Reporting Services book. It's a giant book, and yet you should see the notes for things I wish I had added. It could potentially be twice its current size. I wanted to create something that went beyond the traditional Step by Step series I had done before in order to help people of all skill levels, including myself. 


Bonus. Are there any projects you want to mention that you have coming up that you want to specifically mention?

 

You can expect more book projects, one just spinning up and another still in the percolation mode. The main focus of the remainder of my year will be producing several new courses for Pluralsight. Meanwhile, conference season is not far away. I'll be speaking at IT/DevConnections in Las Vegas in early October, at the PASS Summit in Charlotte in mid-October, and at SQL Server Days in Belgium in November. Of course, there are several SQLSaturday events that I am eyeing, so you never know where else I might show up this year! It's always an adventure!

--------------------------

Thank you Stacia for taking the time to answer my “little” interview questions. I love hearing from my fellow technical writer types to find out about their process, history, etc. I must admit that by far, my favorite answer is the one she gives there she gives is here:

“…when I'm teaching, I really love teaching. When I'm speaking, I really love speaking. When I'm writing, on the other hand, I really hate writing and wonder why I set myself up for this again!”

I feel the same way too, but kind of inverse. When I writing, I am happy, and I find that teaching, speaking, and writing are all very much writing tasks. I spend scores more hours preparing presentations than doing them. That part is fun, going over and over it, finding mistakes, flow problems etc.

But I have never felt comfortable in front of people, so I get nervous and don’t really start feeling good about things until about halfway through.

I do sometimes wonder why I start writing when I could make a lot more money doing other sorts of side work, or to be honest, the same amount of money watching reruns of “What’s Happening?”

Admittedly, her answer to the “Why” question does mirror mine very much: “Because I'm crazy and I can't sleep anyway!” Well put.

Published Tuesday, August 27, 2013 3:08 PM by drsql

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