Kathryn Showers

The 2008 CIDM Best Practices conference—held in Santa Fe, New Mexico—was magical. Maybe it was the locale. Maybe it was the company of my fellow DITA enthusiasts. Maybe it was that the conference provided me with the information I needed, just when I needed it. In a haze of euphoric DITA bliss, I went down to breakfast that last morning, excited to explore new ideas and connect with more DITA supporters.

I joined a lively discussion with a group sharing their diverse experiences. Imagine my surprise when two ladies at the table both stated that they weren’t going to use the DITA model because “we just don’t have any reuse.” My eyes grew large and I could barely keep my jaw from dropping. Really?

My inner DITA Diva, arms akimbo, screamed at me to prove that they did so have reuse. The Diva continued ranting, but I ignored her and instead asked the ladies questions and listened to their responses.

The discussion regarding their document set, and how reuse wasn’t a compelling enough reason to implement DITA, haunted me as I drove my rental car to the airport. The conversation stayed with me long after I boarded the plane and settled in with my book. I couldn’t let it go. I find reuse everywhere!

I tried to focus on my novel, but my subconscious never stopped percolating possibilities. Questions and ideas bubbled up to my consciousness. What kind of written material doesn’t appear to have one iota of reuse? What would be so remote an idea that just attempting to pull it off would be a feather in my cap?

The vehicle with which to accomplish such a feat was within my grasp.

What about that thing in my hand that I was reading (the third in a series of eight)? That’s it! I could write a novel! My inner DITA Diva did a backflip.

That would be so cool! Could I pull it off? Could I really figure out how not only to write a novel, but design it so that I could leverage the power of reuse à la DITA? Did I have it in me? What kind of a book would I write? What do I know about writing from a third-person point of view, foreshadowing, plot devices, and the myriad things that go into writing a novel? Not a darn thing. Further, when would I find time for such a venture? I couldn’t do it during work hours or on work equipment.

I could find time to write at home, but the thought of hand-coding XML tags on top of generating the essentials for a romance novel was a tad overwhelming to me. I wondered if the folks at JustSystems® would let me install a copy of XMetaL on my home PC to see if I could actually get this venture off the ground. My inner DITA Diva hounded me until I called my sales associate and pitched my idea. Within the week, she sent me an email with the license key included. Yes!

I joined both the Romance Writers of America and its local San Diego chapter. I attended meetings and took classes. I signed up for basic grammar refreshers, character development, and understanding the differences between male and female brains. Why romance? Aside from the fact that my inner DITA Diva loves nothing better than curling up with a good romance novel, I did my research. At the time I began my adventure, I found that 80 percent of book purchases are made by women and 68 percent of those purchases are romance novels. I followed the money trail.

It made sense that if I was going to put this much effort into my project I might as well see about self-publishing it. I chose the romance genre, urban fantasy as the sub-genre; I selected a mystery as the primary plot device; and then wrapped my head around how to throw the hero and heroine together.

It took me a month to pull a storyline out of my head and figure out how to apply DITA structured writing principles. It took another month to figure out how to write the character profiles as a software company might document their records. I learned that the setting and the rules of the fantasy world I created were very much like documenting parameters. I must say that the whole process was exciting. I spent every waking moment (when I wasn’t at work, being a wife, being a mother, or filling the role of chief bottle-washer) writing and coding.

Everything compiled beautifully. Everything worked exactly as I predicted it would. I plotted enough characters that I could, if I wanted, pull at least a trilogy out of the material. Should I decide to dream big, perhaps even a multi-volume series? I thought about a way I might cross-index the final deliverable so that if readers downloaded the entire series, they could tap a character link and see every scene in which a character was featured. That would be so cool!

Creating the structure, the story line, the characters, and the first draft was fun and the writing went quickly. Here’s the trippy part: everything I learned from this self-assigned project I applied to my day job as an information architect. My inner DITA Diva felt so proud.

I’ll bet you’re burning with curiosity right about now, wondering if the book is available for purchase. Not yet. Maybe someday I will complete the series and self-publish. Perhaps when I find time for a re-write or two or five, and a few rounds with a professional copyeditor.

It could happen.

DITA is still in its infancy. There is so much undiscovered application waiting for the kind of structured flexibility DITA offers. I can see all kinds of DITA structured application writing; what’s in your imagination?

About the Author
A six-year DITA veteran, Kathryn embraces all things DITA with great enthusiasm. A mother of three children under 13 and married to her wonderful husband for over 19 years, Kathryn spends her “down” time enjoying her beautiful family.