15 May 2014

#MyWritingProcess Blog Hop

Fellow writer Shelby Settles Harper asked me to participate in this blog hop about my writing process. It comes with a standard set of questions to answer and the instruction to then "pass it on" to three other writers who will answer the same questions next week. But I'm a lazy rebel, so I'm just going to link to three other people who have already answered the questions. DON'T PANIC! These are froods who really know where their towels are, so I'm doing you a solid by not making you wait a WHOLE WEEK for their answers. (Also one of them is Shelby, so I'm cheating even more!)


1. What am I working on?

Well, there is that secret project I mentioned once sometime last fall and have NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN until just this moment. Okay, fine, I'll tell you: my friend and fellow Johns Hopkins science-medical writing grad Sarah Lichtner and I are trying to develop a nonfiction science-focused literary journal. This scares the sweet bajeezus clean out of me sometimes, particularly as things are actually sort of going forward. We might actually do this thing, maybe. Please find wood immediately and knock on it.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I'm not entirely sure how my science writing differs from that of other science writers. I'm not as funny as Erik Vance, as thoughtful as Ann Finkbeiner, as clever as Virginia Hughes, as beautiful with words as Carl Zimmer. But those guys are damn superstars, so that's okay. (They're kind of my writing crushes. Shhh.) It's something to aspire to. I think my answer to this question is: yet to be determined.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Ah, this one I can do. I write about science because I get excited to write about science. I know that sounds crazy given that earlier I said that I'm not working on writing anything much at the moment. But I do have a full-time job and am working on developing another writing-related project, so cut me a break! Let me tell you a story. My good friend Thomas McCarthy (he does science) recently published a paper that he's rather proud of. Here it is. There's some free linkage for you, Thomas. Anyway, I started trying to understand the paper because, well, my friend did a science, and I wanted to know what it was. I started having quite an enjoyable time trying to break down the abstract, and I might use it as an example in a later post of how science writers might approach a scientific paper. I told you that story to illustrate that I still get excited about these things, even though I'm not necessarily actively pursuing and writing science articles. I still want to write about science because gosh durnit this stuff is neat!

4. How does your writing process work?

Usually how I go about a story is that I have some interest in a thing. 
Some real examples: 
  • I wondered why those people had so many antennas on their cars
  • My sister sent me a list of creepiest abandoned places and I became fascinated with underground coal fires
  • I was obsessed with the Oxford comma
  • My cousin posted a picture of a miniature panda cow on Facebook and I needed to know why tiny cows existed
  • After discovering Madeleine L'Engle had not invented mitochondria in her science-fiction books, I had always had a fascination with mitochondria
  • I got sucked up in the hype for the Mars Rover launch and have maintained an interest in the mission
After I have some general interest, I start talking to people about it or otherwise learning about it through books or research papers. Eventually I identify people to interview. More often than not, the story changes dramatically after the interview stage, either because of something that turned up during the interview(s) or because of the simple fact that an expert is nearly always going to know more than I know even after pretty decent research.

At this point, I usually can put out a first draft. I might be able to put out a first draft before an interview, but it is usually not worth the effort because of how dramatically information/quotes from an interview is likely to change whatever I initially think the structure or focus of the piece is going to be.

Then I go through a few more drafts, sometimes with feedback from a trusted reader. I may entirely restructure the entire piece one or more times.

And now for other writers!

I now take this opportunity to brag on some of my fellow Johns Hopkins Masters in Writing alum. If you click on their names, you'll see their much more eloquent responses to the same questions I have just stumbled all over.

Shelby Settles Harper is an awesome writer who is currently working on a novel in a genre she is calling "literary American Indian." Shelby also holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Colorado and is a citizen of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma. Her list of publications is ridiculously extensive, but I have particularly enjoyed her recently published short story Peyote Spirit, which is an excerpt of her upcoming novel; this is a good thing, as you will read Peyote Spirit and immediately consider writing a strongly-worded demand for more.

Kelly Ann Jacobson is the Poetry Editor for Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine. Kelly is the author of the literary novel Cairo in White and the young adult trilogy The Zaniyah Trilogy, as well as the editor of the book of essays Answers I'll Accept. She also currently lives in the town I used to live in: Falls Church, Virginia. I don't know how we didn't cross paths.

Caitlin Sinead has been writing since the second grade, when she drafted a riveting piece about witches who turned out to be friendly. Her writing has appeared in multiple publications. She currently works as an editorial manager.