Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Nerd or Novelist: A Bit of Both

By Richard Gutkowski

As civil engineering professor, my academic career required some necessary writing traits. They were basic, generic and pragmatic though valuable. Engineering and academic writing are both stylized in specific ways. APA guidelines and writing manuals provide sparse background for fiction writing.

After earning my degree, my formal education in literature ended. An excellent high school English teacher had honed basic writing skills, tools and SAT essentials. She challenged me with Ulysses. Superb professors in literature and drama kept this engineering student in the world of fiction.

Even Though Most Laymen Would Say Technical Writing Is Obscure, It Shouldn't Be.

The next four decades got me advanced degrees and a career, and daunting consequences to my present aspiration. Methinks it took me closer to nerd than to novelist.

Once familiar distinctions between literary terms faded. Simile or metaphor, alliteration or assonance, onomatopoeia or figure of speech, I needed to dust them off. Dictionaries, Thesauri, Chicago Manual of Style, all lay virtually untouched. They took a back shelf to the Manual for Writer's of Research papers and The Handbook of Technical writing.

My skilled college kid sidekick, Nicole, helps reconcile my past with my present. A part of that younger me has returned. Nicole reads drafts, edits like a caring critic, and provides lost pieces. Need a synonym? She provides a link to contemporary on-line tools. Erred in punctuation. When did they drop the double-space after a period? Nicole knows.

We joust on wording. Nicole would never say swell and I'm struggling with LOL. My characterization skills improve. Generationally challenged? My advice? Hire a college kid at affordable cost to help get the manuscript ready for professional copy editing. For me it’s easy, I’ve worked with them for a long time. It's a bargain.

I read a variety of fiction. I jot down phrases that include words of unknown or forgotten origin. Once in a while, I look a few of them up and see if memory serves. 

I take a classes, self-editing, dialogue structure, and planning. I will face the music of mediocrity on social media. My present shot at blogging tests the water. Website, author page, Facebook page, I have those, barely. I'll look for classes on the media age. Or, I can hire a college whiz-kid to tutor me.

For Those of Us Who Feel Social Media Challenged. 

I'm overdue with my active engagement in the lively NCW network. It's time to talk writing jargon face to face with other writers. NCW led me to my writing coach and I know it offers so much more. 

Richard Gutkowski is an emeritus professor of civil engineering at CSU. In 2014 he started a series on debt management. The first book in the series deals with student loans and credit cards. 

Coming soon, his second book  deals with that dreaded of all experiences---financing a car.


Ronda Simmons said...

Richard, as a fellow former technical writer, I relate to this post. Isn't it liberating to just make stuff up?

Richard Gutkowski said...

Ronda, Indeed it is. For now it's semi fictional semi real (technical). I suppose we all make stuff up in wandering minds, but keypunching it is quite more important.

Laura Mahal said...


Writers with backgrounds as diverse as yours lend marvelous depth to Northern Colorado Writers. The fact that NCW consists of people who are devoted to (or dabble in) children's picture books, YA, NA, romance, historical fiction, mysteries, thrillers, magazine writing, blogging, poetry, and much more strengthens our community.

Best of luck to you! I look forward to chatting with you at an upcoming NCW get-together. Cheers.

Laura Mahal, NCW member liaison

Richard Gutkowski said...


You've got me beaming and a tad surprised. Thank you for the confidence and compliment. Dueling grandson keep me busy, too. Toddler and infant. We could all contribute anecdotes from them. Maybe one day.

Brandy, Thank you for the link. I'll dig into it.

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