By Richard Gutkowski
Just months after my first self-published book (with a second literary baby on the way), my retirement to emeritus professor of civil engineering has allowed me to step in a new direction – writing for the real world.
My first step was in the backward direction; a return to my youthful wanderlust: writing fictional works. Publishing something fictional, somewhere, somehow was the dream. Now, I had time pursue it.
The clichéd “publish or perish” academic setting spurred tons of writing and editing experience. One learns how to mold a piece to the widely varying technical requirements of many “call for papers” and “call for proposals” encounters with short fuse deadlines. That honed a vital skill. Give me the template and I will fit my words to it; tight in count, tight to the parameters, and on time.
Peer reviewed brings critique; oft constructive, oft blunt, sometimes harsh rejection. I can handle it. Reviewing others’ papers/proposals, atop red-marking theses and dissertations, developed skills applicable to self-critiquing my own words.
Above all, academic work is solitary and self-disciplined. As with golfing, you obey the rules and self-penalize infractions. Until it’s correct and reads well - every page, every sentence, every word - you don’t put it out. At least that’s the mindset.
All these skills inspired me to do it on my own. No endless queries, no long term path from manuscript to in-print. I hunkered down and employed that experience as my base of confidence to self-publish. Then, reality set in.
Confidence to leap to purely fictional form simply wasn’t there. Instead, I undertook writing a personal finance book for young people and their parents, using everyday life viewpoints. I saw it as a transitional move.
Over my career, I had managed research budgets totaling millions of dollars. I had involved students on my research projects in those budgets, And, I had adapted those skills and tools to my domestic setting. I wanted to share those skills by teaching young people to face and manage early life debts. Again, reality followed.
Professors write textbooks. I wrote two. Unwittingly, my intended softer book took on some aspects of being one. By covering everything from credit cards to mortgages, a behemoth was emerging. It was time to recalibrate.
A book series replaced it, separating topics. Fun was added by a switch to narrative, non-fiction. I weaved in my first try at creating characters and dialogue - fictional Dad and his fictional daughter. Along their own sort of “yellow brick road,” they face real life situations drawn from, or similar to, my own.
A writing coach helps me with many other aspects. As juxtaposition, I hired a trusted college student to proofread and advise me. I gave her my red pen. She uses it well. The result: She helped make it fit the intended young reader, her generation.
I'm choosing my steps along my path carefully, but I'm moving forward.
Richard Gutkowski was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1945. Despite a first love for literature, high academic success in such studies and wanderlust ambition to “pursue literature and writing at Harvard University,” he elected a different path. Pragmatism about income potential turned him toward a near equal second interest, but 180 degree reversal path, in engineering.
Retired since 2010 and looking toward the future, Gutkowski endeavors to belatedly fulfill that first love – writing non-fictional literature. Who knows? Perhaps Harvard University will be encountered down that road the path. For now he has taken a side-step from engineering.