A Tribute to Julia Child, Technical Writer: Resourcefulness in the Kitchen and Life

On occasion, I’ve wanted to share here one of my more personal past-times–that being cooking, and collecting recipes, from the various family and friends in my life, who are part of me, and are represented in an evolving tome, known in my family, as “the recipe book”–really more of a life scrapbook. It contains stories about everyone most important to me, as well as the continuing adventures–sometimes mishaps–that I’m sharing with my own kids, in the kitchen.

I couldn’t think of a way to occasionally tie these recipes back to a blog on technical writing, but Thanksgiving seems like the perfect opportunity.

I also recently came across an article I’d saved years ago from Intercom, the Magazine of the Society of Technical Communication, on the occasion of Julia Child’s passing. It was called, “Julia Child, Technical Writer” (September/October 2004), and was a reprint of the tribute by Sheila Jones, that originally ran in the June 1998 issue of Intercom.

At the time, I so appreciated Jones’ description of Child’s cookbooks:

The model she set with her cookbooks intuitively incorporated the most important guidelines in organization, conversational writing style, easy-to-follow page design, strong indexing, clear illustration, and step-by-step directions. She separated nice-to-know information visually, so when you returned to a recipe, you immediately knew where to look for direction. She had it all.

The Art of Improvising

In the original article, Jones described seeing Child at a bread-making demonstration for the Culinary Institute of America in Vancouver. Jones reported:

In preparation the day before, she reported, nothing went right. The Canadian wheat didn’t produce the expected effects, and the hotel’s gas ovens were totally inadequate. She and her team had worked until midnight, retooling the recipes, making adjustments and substitutions. Julia wasn’t complaining: she was explaining how to manage under difficult circumstances to get the best results. After the show, she stayed. Hundreds of us lined up to talk to her—she gave each of us time, asking questions and listening carefully.

Jones further noted, “Julia is the best of all possible models of technical writers: adventurous, humorous, outspoken, able to admit mistakes and get on with the job, disciplined, and precise.”

Qualities of a Good Technical Writer

Jones provided the following ways, we as technical writers can still apply Child’s example and attitude to our own work:

  • Understand quality and work to achieve it, regardless of the conditions.
  • Listen to your audience.
  • Communicate the good news and the bad news, forthrightly.
  • Respect your tools and resources—human and otherwise.
  • Pay attention to new techniques and innovations and incorporate them efficiently into your work.
  • Encourage the expertise of your team.
  • Credit and assist new professionals.
  • Enjoy your work; confidence and competence are contagious.

Jone’s insightful tribute still inspires and reminds me of the technical writer’s essential resourcefulness, versatility, and helpfulness, in the midst of changing circumstances and multidimensional objectives.

Julia Child, In Her Own Words

In conclusion, here are few recipes for life, in Julia Child’s own words:

On Living:
      “Life itself is the proper binge.”
On Art:
“Noncooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet.”
On Work:
      “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”

Happy Thanksgiving! And be on the look-out, for the occasional Mulligan recipe, in celebration of all that I’ve learned and enjoyed, from cooking…


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3 thoughts on “A Tribute to Julia Child, Technical Writer: Resourcefulness in the Kitchen and Life

    • Thanks for the kind wishes, Karen. My post doesn’t do justice to the full Intercom article, but I’m glad you caught some of the spirit. Happy Thanksgiving!

  1. Great post. My takeaway from this is the part about learning “how to manage under difficult circumstances” — that’s life in today’s business world.

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