04 July 2012

IWSG: What I'd do for a story

This post is in participation with hundreds of insecure writers who dedicate the first Wednesday of every month to post about insecurities: doubts and fears that we have or have conquered. Check out the Insecure Writer's Support Group for more information and a list of the other participating writers.


I am at a writing conference in Maine right now. It's a 10-day conference, and I am taking a science-medical writing class called "In the Field." Several days throughout the conference, we go on trips to see various scientists in their natural habitats. On Monday, we went to the Jackson Laboratory for a morning packed with scientists studying all sorts of things. On Tuesday, I had my hands in a dead seal's chest cavity before lunch.* So we're definitely getting up close and maybe a little too personal with the science.
*Yes, Sarah got two rather lovely pictures of this. For the sake of those who may be  reading over lunch or coffee break, 
I won't be including pictures. You're welcome.

How is this related to the Insecure Writer's Support Group?

I'm so glad you asked! Let me answer that question with another question: Have you ever been around a group of writers for an extended period of time?

I'm twenty-four years old. I just got a BA in Professional Writing a mere two years ago. I went straight to work for an IT company, and now I'm almost completely through a graduate program in science-medical writing. And I'm surrounded by writers with much more experience in writing or in science, who may have been published already, who have already had a career in science, who know more about some facet of science than I will ever know. It's both inspiring and incredibly intimidating.

This morning, the sun was beating down and we were observing two researchers performing a necropsy (animal autopsy) on a seal. We were outside and the sun was beating down and it stank to high heaven. We were in these disposable plastic jumpsuits that might as well have been personal ovens for the way they intensified the heat. Frankly, I'm amazed nobody fainted. And I knew almost nothing about seals, so I wasn't sure how I might get a science-medical story idea out of this experience.

But you know what? At some point, I thought, "The only thing I can do right now is get as much out of this experience as possible. And if I was writing a story about this, I'd want to know what it feels like to cut through that blubber, how resistant the pelt is to that scalpel."

I'd already been pretty psyched about the dissection (I'd never gotten to participate in a dissection of anything larger than a cat) but I'd been pretty off-put by the unexpected combination of the heat and the blood. (All dissections I've done did not involve blood.) But when I got a grip on that, I thought, "I just have to do what I'd have to do to get the story."

And yes, I ended up with gloved hands in the rib cage. And yes, I could describe that pretty vividly**, but I don't think any of you would appreciate that, so I'll refrain.
**I have some truly fantastic descriptions that it's really painful to not share.
 Email if you want the details, in the event you're as geeky as I am.

The point is that that's what I have. I'm willing to do what I feel like I have to do to get the story I want to tell, whether it's driving two hours one way to interview a farmer or...doing something bloody. 

I certainly wasn't the only person to get involved, and I'm not in any way implying that sticking your hands in a seal's rib cage is some kind of litmus test for writer badassery. It was merely a moment of self-revelation for me. Maybe something I can feel less insecure about.

Now You!

Have you had a self-revelation lately?