Science. Communication. Community.
In a small San Francisco cafe, five science writers share stories of their pasts, discuss possibilities for the future, and explore what it means to be a science writer today
Scientists are maddeningly familiar with the adage “publish or perish.” Science writers, on the other hand, have the opportunity to consider a different possibility: What about publish and prosper? That’s the promise, at least, of The Science Writers’ Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Pitch, Publish, and Prosper in the Digital Age.
The book, which comes out of a group called SciLance, addresses topics including introductory statistics, story structure, and a freelance writer’s social life (or lack thereof). This past Friday, five of the book’s 35 contributors got together in a packed cafe in San Francisco to share some of their accumulated wisdom in person.
Co-editor Thomas Hayden started the night with a theme that came up over and over: the incredibly supportive community of science writers. You might think that even such established writers would have some concerns about increased competition for precious stories, but throughout the night he described the book as a way to evangelize and recruit more science writers.
“Come on in,” he said. “The water … sometimes it’s rough, but come on in.”
Robin Mejia addressed the concern head-on. “In a way we’re always competing, but it never feels that way,” she said. “Your colleagues are one of the most amazing parts of this job.”
The writers also discussed the wonderful serendipity that influences their careers. Monya Baker was riding an escalator when she ran into an editor from The Economist, one of her favorite magazines; she eventually turned that meeting into a story about methane-producing bacteria. When Liza Gross went to see the condors at Pinnacles National Park, she didn’t realize it would be a story until she told her nephew about her experience. Douglas Fox reminded everyone to just pay attention, keep talking to people, and keep listening. “The best stories sometimes come from the most mundane places,” he said.
The night was mostly filled with useful tidbits and funny stories, but there was also a reminder that what science writers do is not only fun, it’s crucially important.
“There are so many stories in science that the world needs to hear about,” Hayden said. And one of the messages of the book, it seems, is that there are plenty for everyone, so you better get started.