The Science of Writing Science
Nature.com has recently compiled Q&As with five successful science book writers, giving advice and tips for budding science writers.
The five authors all write in markedly different genres, and yet all of them alluded to the same core ideas about what makes a good a writer. And not just how to be successful financially, but also successful on a more personal level. Their advice all boils down to a few key, salient points that are essential if you wish to be a successful writer yourself.
The first point is a simple one. Do your research. This of course means research on your own topic. This is essential, as the world of writing is a dynamic one where your work, once published, is no longer protected from scrutiny by your peers and business associates. Your entire professional history has been published and is now in the public eye, so you have to know what you’re talking about.
But this also means you should research your field. This includes your audience, your associates and your market. You must know who you’re writing for and adjust your writing appropriately. You should consider getting an agent and an editor to help you. But do your research on them, too. Make sure your writing is compelling and relevant to your audience and be sure there is demand for your work.
The next point is that you must know when to listen to others and when to stay true to yourself. Criticism is absolutely vital to developing your skills as a writer and you must be able to heed it without being offended. But there is a fine line between good, constructive criticism and useless commentary. You must simply ignore meaningless insults and flattery. Sometimes you are right, sometimes you are wrong. Joanna Cole said, “[t]he first reaction from the sales representatives was that the books were too cluttered. But that’s what kids like about them”.
An important yet often ignored point is that you need to be willing to put in an immense amount of effort into your writing. A single book can take years of work before you get a single cent, and even then the financial rewards can be slim at first. As Carl Zimmer said, “[f]ind a subject you love so much that you could spend two years writing about it — even if nobody bought the book when you were done. That way, if people do buy the book it’s a bonus. Love for your topic is very important”.
Which brings me onto my final point: love writing, and love what you’re writing. If you don’t you may find yourself going down a miserable path doing something you loathe with little reward. The reward must be in the act of writing itself.
Are there any points you think are also important to a budding writer that I haven’t covered, or have writing experiences of your own? Share them, for the betterment of humanity.