I’m an engineer.
You may not have known that, perhaps you missed the part where I talked about why math isn’t awful, or perhaps you missed my “about the forge” page, where I talk about that a little bit.
Today, however, I’d like to draw a line between two things that are rarely connected in people’s minds: the telling of stories through novels, and the art of engineering.
The best stories are the ones that matter. When we tell stories, we aim for the stories that matter the most to us and to others because we know those are the stories people will love to hear. Sure, there’s more to it than that, but the underlying goal of our storytelling choices is to tell stories that matter.
When we tell a story that doesn’t matter, no one remembers it. No one pays it any mind, and no one falls in love with it. It sits forgotten on a dusty bookshelf in the clearance section of a thrift store.
Instead of telling those stories, we design better ones: stories that engage the reader and make them care deeply about the characters and the plot and the setting and make us yearn for more of this story and its people and places and emotions.
The best engineering feats are the ones that matter. They’re the types of inventions and designs that make a difference. An engineer isn’t remembered for his long list of mistakes and “nope that won’t work”s, he’s remembered for when his design finally does work.
When an engineer creates something that doesn’t matter, no one takes notice. Instead, the design sits forgotten in the bottom of a desk, slowly chewed away by those two mice that the cat just can’t seem to catch no matter how hard he tries.
Instead of creating those things, engineers design better creations and innovations: ones that engage with our world and the people in it. We strive to flourish the natural world and to understand its workings.
The common thread between storytelling and engineering is design. It’s the art of creating something new and unexpected and exciting and powerful and real.
The Collision of Two Worlds
When people hear me, an engineering student, say “yeah, I write novels”, I get one of two reactions: the first comes from the friends who know me well, and understand that I’m more than just an engineering student. They say “really? How many?” or “cool, what are they about?”. The second comes from people who know very little about me, but enough to respond: “engineering and creative writing? What a combination!”
I, however, don’t find this “combination” strange or weird or exceptional at all. My studies in math and science and engineering don’t point away from creative writing, but toward it. There is creation and beauty in both. There is strength in both.
When I write, I create. Worlds and people flow from my fingertips and onto the page. When I write, I create. Emotion and conflict and thought merge into flashes of color and imagination.
When I engineer, I create. Designs and processes and ideas flow form my fingertips onto the page. When I engineer, I create. Emotion and desire and want and need and thoughts merge into flashes of color and imagination.
As it turns out, the two are very similar. They aren’t a pair of separate entities that somehow managed to come to a compromise about which portions of my brain each gets to use. No.
They’re the same entity; me, working to put my whole brain to work on some creation. Sure, it’s a different creation in each case, but it’s still creation.
Now, obviously, not all of you are engineer. In fact, it’s quite possible that none of you are engineers. Instead, you’re writers wondering how this opinion piece is supposed to apply to you.
Well, here’s the application: you can create more than just one type of art. We’re not constrained to creating just one type of thing. You don’t have to just write stories or paint landscapes or play one instrument.
Art is meant to be explored and invested in and enjoyed and created. You aren’t mean to dedicate your whole life to just one form of art. Instead, invest yourself in many. I don’t mean you have to bury yourself in art and become so overwhelmed that you never accomplish anything, but I mean that having more than one art in our lives makes us better people.
Art brings our emotions and thoughts to life. It awakens us to the beauty and the darkness around us, in us, in others.
Engineering is one of my arts. Writing is one of my arts. Theater is one of my arts.
What are yours?