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
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.