There are plenty of articles gracing on the internet about writers who happen to have a daily job; some of them are 9-5, and the others are freelancing jobs that do not provide writing opportunities. What can we say about such a situation? People still have to pay bills, while the income from writing is not steady. Or worse, there is no income yet.
I pinned an infographic about famous authors who had regular jobs but still kicking arse. Also, all authors we know must have had started somewhere while juggling between their priorities. They weren’t born immediately into glamorous author lives. As in everything else in life, such as business, those ideas start as a side hustle. So, what is the best practice to maintain your writing routine while keeping your performance at your bread and butter job?
I work in product management as a product manager (PM). The digital product management, I must add, to distinguish it from physical product. It means I work in the ideation process, design, and life cycle of a mobile or web application. Since my products revolve around e-commerce and O2O (online-to-offline) business model, those are the realm of my management scope.
What I like about working in product management is the plentiful opportunities to write. I write, for instance, product requirement documents. It is a document stating the what, why, when, how, and even who (the team member names) of a service or an app. It is a document you can peruse when you need the information to build the products or evaluate them after the launching. The users of this document vary from my boss the manager of a team, the UI/UX designers, the developers, end users of the product, or senior management level who are evaluating their quarterly product roadmaps. It is writing for different biases, different priorities.
A product manager has to add other supplements to the writing, such as sales chart if they expect the product to improve the existing sales trend, a flowchart for people to understand the user journey from login to purchase, or even some screenshots of the design. This is why a PM has to be fluent in relaying information visually because every chart or diagram they make has to convey the message. Chaos ensues if the stakeholders find difficulties in understanding the document, entailing the miscommunication during product development. The end product could have discrepancies with the specification a PM explains in the document if the clarity has not been obtained right off the bat. And the cost of revising the mistakes, phew, don’t even get me to start panicking. The launch could be delayed until weeks to get back on track.
There are several writing skills in product management that display similarities to my routine writing.
Product design = Worldbuilding
Before the stakeholders agree on what to develop, what features to prioritize, how much budget is flowing, all parties have to agree on what the product is and what pain points of a user it solves. Every minutia counts because as I mentioned above, I want to minimize miscommunication. Some overlooked details can become release blockers in the later stage of development. Some unestablished requirements can delay the whole testing process.
Despite I mostly write stories of which setting is a common daily life in my country, I still need to build the world logic. For instance, what this character does as a daily job, what his or her relationship to the parents, so on and so forth. Later on, when I want to devise my plot, I can always refer to the guidelines or rules so each character or scene stays true to their world. I can achieve this if my worldbuilding is clear.
User Journey = Plot
In designing a product, a PM has to minimize the loophole, or a situation where the user journey is not smooth. There should not be any conflicting scenarios. Each nook and cranny of possibilities have to be thought. Example, to make a successful journey for the checkout process, a PM has to define the checkout journey for common payment methods. However, what about the less common cards, or e-wallet? What to do to collect payment for users who prefer the CoD (cash on delivery) method?
I admit I still make mistake in the holistic design process, and this is the area where I have to improve. Similarly, we know a thing called plothole in a written piece. The basic fix for this is to start right since the beginning. Define cards of storytelling, create a flow chart. Present this to people, so what we can’t see is soon visible to a newcomer. Sometimes, all we need is just a fresh angle. Hence, the beta readers.
Analytics = Storytelling
I had a boss from a management consulting company. I learnt a lot from this mentor about storytelling in the presentation. Whatever reading material it is, be it a middle age fantasy novel or an analysis of the declining sales trend, the presenter or the writer has the story to tell. You can find tons of articles of how you structure your analysis or presentation, but the principle is rooted in writing storytelling.
We have a character with the situation, and this character wants to achieve something. The character then faces obstacles. The obstacles can be presented in running up the hill until the climax, which is the biggest obstacle. After all the obstacles are down, the character faces a happy ending. Well, it could be a cliff-hanging ending, as well. But, in the principle, we have the flow. Creative writing tends to play a lot in this structure, so some writers start in the middle of the story, like Deadpool 2 movie.
Product management analytics can be structured into a normal exposition flow. We can start displaying the exhibits that show metric A declines in a certain period of time. Then, we can propose our hypotheses and validation of those hypotheses in the following slides. And lastly, what we propose to rectify such decline. It is like writing an essay, but the visual form is a deck of slides. Hence, the word ‘deck’, because we can shuffle the deck like shuffling a deck of cards to create a better flow to convey your message.
Similarly, in writing where we can be more flexible in structuring the story, each storytelling style delivers the writer’s voice, the suitability with the setting, and the message that we want to sink in our readers’ heart. This is a technique that comes with experience, and I haven’t mastered it. Therefore, the only way to achieve such artist level is to continue writing and read from diverse genres.
The bottom line is regardless of our job, we can always find something contributing to our writing habit. Perhaps, it’s the job itself that we want to write. Or, there are real-life people as the source of characters building. Maybe it is the scenery during our daily commute that gives us peace of mind to think about our plot. Love your day job more, not only because it is your bread and butter, but it may also serve you in your writing commitment.
Can you relate to this post? Please share your experience in the comment below.