Creeping Specs

I first learned the expression “creeping specs” while I was living in Montreal. Someone who was then a friend of mine got me a tech-writing job. Well, sort of a tech-writing job, but with more graphics stuff, something I was not then, and am not now, qualified to do.

(I could bitch about how the “learning curve” was one I was not interested in climbing, but the honest truth is I needed the money, and didn’t turn the work away. I am only bitter because, while he extended the job for as long as he could, he also didn’t warn me about how it was going to be suddenly cut off; he was certain I should become a freelance tech writer and I suppose not telling me was his way of “giving me a little push,” regardless of how unwanted it was. We’re not friends anymore, though he still has my copy of Iain M. Banks’ Consider Phlebas… let this be a warning!)

Anyway, the creeping specs then resulted from the company not knowing exactly what they wanted. First it was charts done this way, then it was charts done that way, and every time they changed their plans, that meant a few more hours of work for me. Hours were billable at that point — well, sort of, because my friend said I should go easy on them since I was climbing up the learning curve and all — but it was so frustrating doing the same things over and over because someone else didn’t know what he or she wanted.

Well, let me just say, I hate creeping specs.

And of course, you know I had some dropped straight on me today. But that’s all I’m going to say.

11 thoughts on “Creeping Specs

  1. Did you work with Adobe InDesign on the project? I’m not bad at manipulating the frames, but doing somthing from scratch is tough.

  2. Nope, it was graphs in MS Office, using Excel. (I think… I haven’t used MS Office so it might have been Excel plus something else, I just don’t remember too well.) The stuff looked horrible, I was the first to say so, but that’s what I was told to use, and I didn’t know any better.

    (Apparently, after me, they just hired a graphics guy like they should have in the first place.)

  3. A small part of the problem might have been the tools they expected you to use. If you want something slick, Microsoft Office Suite isn’t up to the task. You have to be prepared to cough up the case for Quark or InDesign.

  4. I’m going to post on one particular item in your entry. I just read “Player of Games” by Banks, and liked it. Which of his books did you like? It’s harder sf than I normally read, but I think that Banks is such a good writer that I sort of forget that I’m reading harder sf.

  5. Mark,

    Yeah, I know. I didn’t have the cash, though — I was very poor on my exit from grad school — and they told me to use MS. shrug

    Alexis,

    Oh, you should have read Player of Games *after* Consider Phlebas. I’d definitely read that next!

    Also, it’s funny… I don’t consider Banks very “hard” at all… it’s wondrously fantastical, but there’s very little science in those books, at least physical sciences.

    (For a taste of some truly hard SF, of the kind that makes SF fans’ brains ache the weigh muscles do after visits to the gym, there’s this novel free online.)

    Anyway, the only Banks I’ve read are a few of the SF novels, which are clearly marked as thus by the author’s inclusion of the middle initial M. in his name (he only does that on SF books) — Consider Phlebas, Player of Games, and State of the Art (a short story collection with some stuff set in The Culture, and some elsewhere). I have lots of Banks to read, actually… so far behind on him. It’s my day job, I swear!

    Lots of people like Banks’ non-SF books too. I’ve only read The Business and it was fun but forgettable.

  6. Jeez the company was too cheap to pay for the right tools? Definitely a place you wouldn’t want to work for full time. Adobe InDesign would be prohibitive for a freelancer, it’s the sort of tool the company should provide.

  7. I read “The Wasp Factory” which was pretty sick and twisted, but so well written that I couldn’t put it down.

    I guess it’s not really hard sf; it’s more space opera. But I still really dug it.

  8. Mark,

    Well, I was never a long-term thing anyway. But I suspect they probably just should not have come to me with the job.

    Alexis,

    Yeah, space opera to the max. I’m thinking you might get a kick out of some of these books:

    • Schismatrix, by Bruce Sterling
    • Celestis, by Paul Park
    • The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
    • Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, a collection of short works by James Tiptree, Jr. (a pseudonym of Alice Sheldon)

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