Monday, March 11, 2013

One Writer Connection (everything that touches writing)…


March 11, 2013


            I’ve been working the writing racket since I was fifteen. During those nocturnal, lusty days and nights, I wrote teenage pornography for my own amusement, which dealt mostly with high school campus queens and my unpainted, rusty 1937 Ford coupe parked along the banks of the Kern River.

            But we do evolve. Leap frog forward to after retirement and I was picking up obscene money working contract as a technical writer scribing repair manuals for commercial and military aircraft. It was the same kind of work I did just before retirement only without benefits, just money. I had already learned the difference between Simple English and Simplified English.


Simple English: No Parking Ever

Simplified English: No Parking At Any Time, or, No Parking Any Time.


Simplified English appears wordy and often is. We are dealing with a 5,000 word total dictionary. As a language, English is complicated with multiple meanings to many of its words. Words for the manual had to be simple to the extreme with, if possible, one meaning, so more had to be used. The reason why is, a computer translates manuals into foreign languages, from Arabic to Italian to Japanese, so those aircraft mechanics might read our gospel of repair and understand and go forth to fix the plane.

There is a formula to tell grade level of writing. It has to do with how many words in a sentence, how many sentences in a paragraph, and how long the paragraphs are. The longer, more complicated the writing, the higher the grade. On your computer at the end of Spell Check, you’ll find what grade level your piece falls into. My tough, hard crime novels run from fourth to sixth grade, which shows how simple I am. Repair manuals for aircraft had to be written to the eighth grade level for the structure mechanic and twelfth grade level for the cockpit and pilot. After all, pilots were college graduates and deserved the elevated wordage.

Before retirement, I had elevated myself from a technical writer of aircraft structure repair manuals to Senior Editor, Technical Publications. The title was heady stuff for a guy without a college degree who started in the shop as a machinist. Duties were less lofty. Structure repair is boiler plate, that is, whether the crack in aluminum skin is on a B-52 bomber, a C-17, or a 747 commercial aircraft, or a DC-3, the repair is about the same. A crack is a crack, aluminum is aluminum; writing the repair, you fill in the blanks. The new aircraft carbon fiber honeycomb skins create a whole new brand of repair manual, and manual technical writers. I was involved in the preliminary sample stress testing of carbon skins and found the process and product scary.

When the genius tech writer has finished writing the repair, the sequence of steps must be tested by mechanics in a process known as Validation, which often took place hundreds of miles away where the planes were built, not where they were engineered and repairs written. This was where wheels fell off and when too many skin panels were removed, wings collapsed, fuselages bent – all great fun. Most repairs went okay, since most had been validated on other planes. For the tech writer, it was a chance for a few after work beers with the mechanics, and to check out the modern Rosy the Riveter, who were just as good looking as the originals.

My books are available at all online book stores. To see them:



No comments:

Post a Comment