Graphic Language


It’s not that I didn’t have any interest in becoming a writer. It’s just that it didn’t seem like a realistic goal. And that’s why it happened completely accidentally.

I enjoyed writing stories from very early on, and even started my first novel when I was in middle school. Granted, it was a Star Trek book, but I got a decent ways into it for a middle schooler, as I recall. In high school, I went for a more serious literary approach and dabbled with short stories, and even wrote some poems, as unlikely as that may be now. (That said, I’ve been really considering writing a poem on here before too long, inspired by Kyle, from my Journey Group.)

But I never considered writing as a career. I’m not sure why. I wanted to write, but always figured I would get a different job, and write as a side. I think maybe I thought being a professional writer required a level of talent I didn’t have. (This mindset would continue for quite a while. When I first had the idea to work with Owen on Homesteading, my first reaction was that was silly; it was the sort of thing professional writers did. It was literally months before it occurred to me that the fact that I write for a living arguably makes me, you know, a professional writer.)

From the time I was old enough to start seriously considering a career, I wanted to be an aerospace engineer, a desire that stayed with me until about halfway through high school. I joke that it was at that point that I realized that it involved math and science; that I had always thought I would just be drawing pretty pictures of spaceships: “OK, we’ll put the warp drive here …”

The truth is that I had a couple of math classes that I could have done better in, and at the same time I first got involved in my high school newspaper. Again, completely accidentally. I had been operating a computer for the guidance counselor, they needed someone to use the computer, so i was drafted. One could make the argument that operating a modem terminal and doing computer graphic arts aren’t really the same thing, but in my teenage arrogance, I figured, sure, I could do that.

And, of course, I could. At the time, newspaper computer graphics and design was actually a pretty decent fit for me, taking advantage of the fact that I’m about equally left- and right-brained. I loved it, and had an aptitude for it. During my senior year in high school, I even worked an internship at The Huntsville Times as a graphic artist, doing some work that I’m still proud of to this day.

By graduation, I knew that this was what I wanted to do professionally, which was where I ran into a problem. I was pretty decent doing graphics on a computer, which was pretty forgiving if you knew what you were doing. Working in physical media, however, I was not nearly so talented. Give me pencil and paper, and, on a good day, I could do competent work. Majoring in graphic design, however, was going to require doing good work consistently.

The solution was obvious, though — I didn’t just want to be a graphic artist, I wanted to be a newspaper graphic artist. So instead of majoring in graphic arts, I could major in journalism. Plus, being the ambitious guy that I was, I had the idea that I might someday work my way up through the ranks from graphics and design to being an editor. Oh, sure, that’s completely not the way it works in real life, but only because I hadn’t done it yet. And clearly my journalism degree would help me make that transition.

And so, I started working toward a degree in journalism, and I started working at the student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, as a graphic artist.

But a funny thing happened on the way to graduation. Somewhere along the way, in the midst of taking reporting classes, and being encouraged, primarily by fellow DM staffer Joe Gurner, to do some writing, I stopped being a graphic artist. By the time I graduated, I was a reporter.

Oh, sure, I still dabbled a bit, doing graphics every once and a while for papers, with less and less frequency as time went on. And, ironically, I did ultimately make the transition from graphic artist to editor of a weekly newspaper in about seven years, just with a long detour through reporting.

When I took my current job, I dropped “newspaper” from my role, and became strictly a writer. The last vestige of my original (well, post-engineering) career goal was gone.

It’s been interesting, though, because the team I work on for NASA is composed primarily of former school teachers and former newspaper reporters. And, generally, the companies that win our contract don’t tradionally hire former school teachers and newspaper reporters, so they have a hard time matching us to their existing job title choices. At one point, I was a word processor operator — oh, sure, I’m an award-winning wordsmith, but, more importantly, I know how to push buttons on a keyboard! My eighth-grade keyboard teacher would be so proud!

Comparitively speaking, the “tech writer” title I wear today, while not entirely accurate, is far more appealing. But, as of next month, I will no longer be a tech writer.

Today, I got my job offer from the company that won the new contract at work. And, once again, they had a hard time matching what we do to their existing titles.

So, in a curious turn of events, as of February 1, my offiicial title will be — graphic artist.

2 Responses

  1. I love the irony. Glad you just got a new boss And title and not the need for a new job.

  2. Well, it’s not as glamorous as comics page editor or campus calendar editor, but I guess it will do.

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