003. Writer’s Block, Lack-of

Is the blog looking better yet?  When Bryce set it up on WordPress.com, he only had time to establish it in all its nudity.  I figured I could just go in, read the user manual, and then give it some sparkle.  That was before I discovered that the manual is actually about 2,000 pages long. That doesn’t constrain intuitive computer users but I am not among their ranks.

Before I can utilize any software product I first have to read its manual.  Three times. That means that I probably can’t finish the blog’s makeover until Christmas or so.  There is a very good reason for this.

About the time daughter Judy started third grade, I got hired in my first data processing job.  As a Procedures Writer.  For Seattle Community College. At the time, I had carefully failed to reveal that I had no idea what a procedure was supposed to be, let alone how to write one.   So to prepare, I did what any red-blooded under-qualified new hire would do. I went directly to the Public Library. There I found a book called “Playscript Procedures”  I feel it was a life-changing moment.   It was the answer to my prayers.

What followed was a paper explosion the likes of which the college – and the city’s taxpayers –  may never recover from.  I still feel bad about that.  Never put such an assignment as I was given into the hands of someone who believes that anything worth doing is worth doing to excess.

Every day I was cranking out a quarter of a ream of paper on an IBM Selectric typewriter. As soon as the pages were hot off the press, they would be taken to the print shop where they would be printed, collated, bound and delivered to everyone in the college and probably all of the residents of Seattle’s central district.

This went on for two years.  I wrote procedures.  Did I ever.  They finally had to promote me to systems analyst to get me to quit writing them.

That was forty years ago.  I have quietly harbored a secret ever since.  I am convinced of this.  In spite of their outstanding readability, construction, presentation, and spiral binding, not one single word in those manuals was ever read.  By anyone but me.

I have proof.  I started laying relatively harmless traps in the procedures.   Like, I would insert irrelevant statements like:  “For a good time, call 326-2111.  (The number’s  been changed since then; now it’s 1-877-421-1919).  Or another I remember was “Fed up with paying taxes?  Get revenge.  Call 1-202-456-1414.”  (Don’t try this at home, kids.  They get cranky at the White House.  Use a pay phone.)

Well, I didn’t actually expect the vice squad or the Secret Service to show up, but I thought SOMEBODY would at least comment. My boss,  the president of the college,  somebody.  They didn’t.   Because nobody but me was reading and appreciating my fine work.

So you can understand why, when it comes to user manuals, I might be a little sensitive.  To this day, if I were to find on the bus, say, an operator’s guide for the installation and maintenance of a septic tank, I would feel duty-bound to be up all night reading it cover to cover.

This has its positive side, though.  If you ever need brain surgery, get  hold of a good neurosurgery manual and call me.


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3 Responses to 003. Writer’s Block, Lack-of

  1. Elizabeth says:

    This is so funny! Sean and I are enjoying your blog! I can’t believe nobody noticed those phrases you slipped in. What were your procedures about?

  2. Linda Atkinson says:

    Pat ~ I just LOVE reading your words! So glad you are taking the time to share them with us! Keep it up!

    Love, Linda

  3. Linda Lewis says:

    I think you are the ONLY manual reader on earth! That’s one of the reason’s I’m so crazy about you. AND that you actually remember what’s IN the manuals!! No one else would have the patience to edit all my details and put them into a lively presentation. You even got an award for TypeDancing!

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