Why Tech Writers Feel Like Bartleby The Scrivener

Sometimes, being a technical writer is enough to make you run screaming for the comparable simplicity of a sales clerk job at Barnes & Noble. Or to a cabin deep in the woods of Western Massachusetts. Mars Girl, a tech writer in Ohio, wrote about her frustrations with her contract job—which has not, to date, yielded the professional growth and fulfillment she’d hoped for. I laughed a lot while reading her saga—laughed out of amusement, empathy, and commiseration. In her paragraphs, most any working tech writer will find something they relate to. The stories we all could tell would keep Scott Adams in Dilbert storylines for decades. Too many folks, not just tech writers, work for companies that seem caught in an endless loop of misdirection and no direction. They have processes and flowcharts that, while detailed, don’t always reflect what’s actually having to be done on a day-to-day basis—many times at management’s own instruction. This Shtikl comic, I think, perfectly illustrates these environments. The sad thing is that the folks who can least afford to be lost are the same ones who are lost—and clueless about the fact that they are. Shtikl comic Similarly, there’s the environments where there actually is a direction—it just seems to take unnecessarily long to get from Point A to Point B. I call it management by cowpath. If you ever read the old “Family Circus” cartoons, you can probably remember the circuituous paths home that Billy would take from school or Jeffy would take from a friend’s house. A Brevity comic strip used a tumbleweed and a flock of sheep for its metaphor; coming to the top of a hill, the sheep leading a flock of hundreds says, while looking at what was in front of them for presumably miles, “Oh brother, we’ve been following a tumbleweed this whole time.” You know you’re headed somewhere. Eventually. We’ve all either been there—or are there. The best you can do is give it a good college try while simultaneously planning your exit strategy. And, in the meantime, when the exasperation runneth over, perhaps another Shtikl comic’s blunt sarcasm will help remind you that you do have comrades-in-arms. And that you’re not the one who’s crazy.


  1. Karen

    Would put that second Shtikl cartoon on my office bulletin board if I didn’t think it might get me fired. Looked around at other comics on his Flickr page and I am pretty sure that guy worked for my company. Too many comics that I can tie to specific people in my company.