Saturday, September 10, 2011

Online Therapy

I apologize for missing all of my posts this week, I have been struggling with my writing. Not for my game or for my blog, but for work...which comes first. That's why I decided to join Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group (Though I question his choice of apostrophe placement). Members of the group will post on insecurities that stem from writing on the first Wednesday of every month. Yes, I know it's Saturday! I was feeling insecure!

On to my insecurities!

I research and write museum exhibits for a living, which is both the most awesome job in the world and one of the most frustrating and odd writing beasts I have ever wrassled.

Insecurity the first: The Illusion of Expertise
When writing for a museum, the first thing you do is go out and acquire an advanced level of knowledge on a particular subject. Sometimes the subject is something in which you are really interested, sometimes it is not. Because museums are culturally perceived as trusted sources of knowledge, outside observers begin to treat you as an expert on the subject you just scrambled to learn. While the attention is nice, this perception is entirely illusory. When writing an exhibit, you rely heavily on actual experts and feel like a bit of a charlatan when asked to field questions as someone who knows about stuff.

Insecurity the second: A Rare Beast
Museum text is a very strange writing format, due in large part to how it is read. The reader is typically looking for some combination of learning and entertainment when they visit the museum. he or she is also likely standing while reading your text and often juggling children, talking with their in-laws they brought along and otherwise being distracted. This means that you have to keep things short and snappy -my museum tries to keep things under 250 words per panel and we are verbose among our peers. You also need to account for the fact that many people do not read the whole panel -again, lots of stuff to distract. Therefore, it is important to include the most important information first. Since the reader is standing, you also need to make the text easy to scan quickly. This means short sentences (under 20 words is best), with active verbiage, few subordinate clauses and with the main clause coming first whenever possible. Oh, and it is also important to be incredibly accurate in your subject matter but interesting/entertaining at the same time.

Insecurity the third: Design by Committee
Museum writers do not just have one editor to please. You get opinions from EVERYWHERE. Your boss, other members of the exhibit team, subject matter experts in the field, members of the board, members of other departments, volunteers, and (after it's open) the general public. Further, the less connected with the project these people are, the more adamant their opinions. Your teammates might say, "hey, what if you did this?" beyond that circle, opinions generally come in as, "You need to make sure to include this." or "I noticed this egregious error in your text while visiting from Walla Walla last week." But in the end, the content quality of the exhibit falls on your shoulders... at least in your own mind. If the exhibit does poorly, or the public hates it, there is little comfort in saying, "well, I had to compromise here and there." You still feel lame.

Anyway, I am in the middle of a major project scheduled to open next spring. I already feel behind the curve, but can't push back the deadline (people at higher paygrades have made up their minds) and seem to have a heck of a time getting a moment of peace to actually write. All those opinions want me to produce extra documents and go to endless, rambling meetings to keep them in the loop about what they are not giving me the time to do.

Sigh. I promise to only dump work stuff in my single insecurity post each month. The rest is all fun and games.


  1. Sounds like more stress than I would've expected in museum work.
    And the apostrophe is set to imply this group belongs to each individual writer. It wasn't a mistake.

  2. Hang in there, babe! You can do it! :)


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