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Engineers and Creative Writing

Deviant Acts by J.J. WhiteThe following is a guest post by J.J. White, author of Deviant Acts.

It seems incredulous engineers could be competent as creative writers, considering they deal primarily with technical issues in the workplace, but the literary world would disagree. Many great and not so great engineers have gone on to successful careers as authors of short stories and novels. Fyodor Dostoevsky spent many years toiling over schematics and conversion tables before tackling Crime and Punishment and The Idiot. And he wasn’t the only one. The great Russian was followed by: Nevil Shute of On the Beach, Stewart O’Nan of Last Night at the Lobster, Aileen Schumacher of Rosewood’s Ashes, and Homer Hickam of October Sky.

I also am an engineer or was an engineer, now working only on novels, short stories and the like, but the fact is, once you’re an engineer, you’re always an engineer. As a small child, my little brain overflowed with creative thoughts. I spent hours molding and eating Play-Doh, scissoring construction paper, and drawing dogs with seven legs. But all those creative yearnings were stifled early by an overwhelming desire to take things apart to see how they worked, like toasters, toys, and much to the consternation of my parents, TV sets. This led to a successful career in engineering, and to my surprise, a prolific stretch of creative writing.

Why is that? Why is engineering a conduit to the creative muse? The simple answer is that despite the obvious dissimilar natures of creative writing and engineering there are clear links between the two. Literary output can be compared to industrial product output, both conceived of an idea, structured to follow an outline, and driven to a satisfactory conclusion.

Engineers, by design, must pay attention to every detail when designing bridges or printed circuit boards, otherwise chaos and litigation would ensue. It’s the same for a creative writer. If they don’t pay attention to the story arc, create escalating danger for the protagonist, and writing a satisfying conclusion, the reader will bail out on them fifty pages in.

J.J. WhiteEngineers make good creative writers because they’re able to utilize the analytic processes they learned in their workplace for the discipline and troubleshooting needed to produce a creative work. From my own experience, I know the thousands of hours I spent with the minutiae that is engineering, helped tremendously when it came to researching, writing and editing my novels. Anyone can have a great idea for a novel and anyone can learn how to write effectively and correctly but few have the tenacity and persistence to write a three hundred page book, edit it fifty times, send the manuscript off, and then start another one before the printer ink dries. Copy editing seems effortless after wire checking thousands of electrical circuits on a schematic.

In my latest novel, Deviant Acts, that engineering discipline became most helpful to me when organizing the logistics of combining two novellas into one book while keeping a cohesive story arc over twenty states and two countries.

So, if you are an engineer and feel a burning desire to put pen to paper and release the inner writer lurking behind your calculator, go for it. I did and don’t regret it, but whenever I have an urge to read a schematic or use the Quadratic Formula to determine the flight of a moving object, I eat a little Play-Doh and draw dogs with seven feet.

More about the author and his work: J.J. White’s Website.