Writing Science… progress report

Field trip to Bandelier National Monument.
Field trip to Bandelier National Monument outside of Santa Fe.

My last post was written in Santa Fe on the eve of attending the Santa Fe Science Writer’s workshop. I shared “I have a great passion to help people not only understand but to be a part of the scientific process, to share in the discovery of new places or celebrate the innovative spirit of scientists trying to understand the world we live in.”

My brain is fatigued and I have typer’s cramp. A week of the workshop attending lectures at 6500 ft above sea level, dealing with dry sinuses and constant dry throat, revising a story about four times, when I thought it was”done” before I went to Santa Fe, left me questioning my life’s passion.  Moving paragraphs around or deleting one or two sentences that just didn’t fit, felt like I was juggling elephants with one arm…  Why is it so hard to mold a piece of writing into something – tangible, understandable, logical and interesting?

I persevered. Writing is hard. If it wasn’t then everyone would be doing it. So forward I went. With each rewrite the story sounded better and better.

Today – the story is finally posted on the website of my employer. I have a second story in the hopper that I hope will be posted by next week.

The more I write, the less intimidating the process, the more fun it is to see the results. Revisions are becoming my friends. Now when I begin a piece I yearn for the moment I get to revise it because I know it will always be better than the first draft.

 

Writing on the Santa Fe trail

Writing is hard.

Map of Santa Fe trail. Credit: wikipedia

Riding a horse on a dusty trail for hundreds of miles, in oven hot temperatures, with dust devils threatening you, as they did on the Santa Fe trail almost two hundred years ago, is hard too.

Writing story, whether it be about fictitious werewolves on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State or translating cool scientific research projects or findings, has to be made interesting.

How one does that is through learning the craft of writing. Few people are born with the gift of excellent writing skills. For most of us, we take our basic writing skills (learned in high school or college) and build upon them through attending workshops, seminars, classes or retreats. Some of us are hobbyists who have project ideas in mind – such as a book or magazine article – but have little time to work on them, then there are others who want to learn as much as possible about the different writing genres (e.g., young adult, mystery, creative non-fiction, screenwriting, etc.) where schooling never ends and then there are those of us who want to write as a career.

There is a glamor associated to being a writer. One envisions journalists covering stories in exotic places, of lone writers sitting at their desk in front of a colossal window looking upon an inspiring landscape outside their oceanfront villa or NYC apartment, both composing the next Pulitzer Prize winning article or National Book Award.

Far from this vision is the reality of hands cramping, brain fatigue, constructive critique, and editing, like toothpicks under fingernails, leading to the neural cell crushing rewrite. We only see the sigh of relief, of being set free from the prison of the writing process, when the project has become the final product.

Today I set sail on an adventure to learn how best to translate science for the everyday reader. This is for my “real job” as well as for my “hobby.” I have a great passion to help people not only understand but to be a part of the scientific process, to share in the discovery of new places or celebrate the innovative spirit of scientists trying to understand the world we live in.

I look forward to the lessons I will learn. I am open to receive the wisdom of the science journalists from the NY times, WA post, Nat Geo, who will be our instructors. I am ready for the hard work.

This blogpost from one of  the instructors, Joel Achenbach, sums it up best. He ends his post with these words of wisdom: “A writer is just someone who writes. You don’t need a credential or a fancy resume. You don’t need a lot of special training. You don’t need connections. Just put your hands on the keyboard and start typing. And don’t stop.”

When my head is about to burst while I translate knowledge into story, and when my fingers cramp on the keyboard, I will remember those lonesome riders traversing the Santa Fe trail from Missouri to Nuevo Mexico and remember… there is payoff at the end.