Chris Dews – Writer

Engineers can write!

Since I began my writing career three years ago, I’ve often been asked how I can transition from the disciplined field of developing firmware (a form of software) to the creative field of writing fantasy novels.

Well folks, they’re not as different as you might think.

Certainly, developing firmware is disciplined and hard work, but writing is both of these. Developing firmware requires you to be persistent, striving towards your goal, treading a path, which in many cases, has never been trodden before. Sound familiar?

Developing firmware, I often (too often) spent weeks on a particular area of code, polished it, tightened it, made it lovely, then found, as I proudly considered it ‘done’, that it didn’t work. Either the approach wasn’t good enough, or the requirements had changed. I would throw the last month’s work away and start again, often based on what I’d learned writing it the first time. ‘Killing your babies’ refers to firmware just as much as writing.

Developing firmware requires a feeling for the big picture as well as the minutiae. Everything has to fit. There’s no dead ends allowed, no unfinished paths. The whole must hold together as a sum of its parts. The earlier work must allow for the later, or the earlier must be reworked.

There is one big difference between developing firmware and writing a fantasy novel. The firmware developer can write the most brilliant code the world has ever seen, be incredibly creative, solve problems with a flair that should win prizes, attract pretty girls (or handsome men), but nobody will care. If it meets requirements, it’s good. If it doesn’t, it’s bad. Now you know why software developers have a reputation for being a little weird. They don’t get no appreciation!

Firmware just has to ‘work’. It has to fulfil the need. There are rough quality guidelines of space taken in memory, run time, and development time, and if it meets those, it’s good. Nobody cares how you did it.

“How you do it” is all that a novel is. How you get from the beginning to the end is what makes it work. Pretty much any fantasy novel can be reduced to: “The good guys fight the bad guys and the good guys win”. But try selling that on Amazon. What makes a novel a good read is the fight, the people and how the good guys win.

So, developing firmware and writing a novel requires a lot of the same skills: creativity, persistence, an eye for minutiae. The difference is, writing a novel gives you the chance to hear that people like how you did it!

2 thoughts on “Engineers can write!

  1. Nancy G

    Hi! Love this. I think you’re right. Much of the work we do often goes unnoticed and is unappreciated. But when you tell a story that makes someone laugh or cry or think beyond their usual box, you’ve done something very special. And sometimes you even get the kudos that go with it!

    1. Chris Dews Post author

      Thank you Nancy!

      I think there’s a general belief that people who specialize in STEM subjects are fundamentally different from those who follow more artistic pursuits. Yet, as I said elsewhere, STEM subjects require a great deal of creativity for success, and artistic pursuits require just as much rational thought.

      We’re all creative – and even the most disciplined engineers can write novels, paint or, I guess, dance ballet (please don’t ask me to prove that personally).

      It all depends on what we turn our minds to, I think.

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