Writing a Book (Part 2)

The past few months have been pretty busy. Then suddenly it all stopped, with the exception of one book review for Science.

As I wrote last week, I’d been having a ‘high’ mood, so I was able to juggle a couple of deadlines and projects. But, as always happens after a high, I’ve now fallen into a ‘low’ mood, which makes even writing a paragraph sometimes an excruciating exercise.

In the absence of deadlines, however, I can feel my mind expanding to fill the space that was previously employed by anxiously fretting about projects. I spend more time sitting out in the sun with my dogs, thinking about books I’ve read or am reading. I’m reading more – there’s a pile of 6 books next to the bed that are in various stages of reading, and I’ve just started reading Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider – an entirely new genre for me. So far my favourite quote is:

“What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?”

I also recently read Jan Redford’s End of the Rope, which came out of the Banff Centre’s Mountain and Wilderness writing program. I can’t say I was impressed.

Redford’s book is billed as a memoir but is probably more accurately an autobiography. It’s in completely chronological order, from when she was a child to the woman she is now. There’s no moving back and forth in time, no change in the author’s perspective. You don’t get a sense that she’s learned much from her journey, as the book is completely self-referential – there’s no mention of anything happening in the larger world around her during the time period she writes about, and Redford makes no attempt to place her experience into the context of others, whether that’s other female writers, female climbers, etc. It has a cliquey vibe to it, much like the way climbers are a cliquey group. Honestly, I got tired of reading just about her ordinary life, as she made no attempt to interpret life events or link them to broader themes that touch all human lives. Unfortunately, the writing style didn’t make up for the lack of content – it was pretty pedestrian, with no luminous or quotable passages. I only marked one quote as interesting.

Redford’s book made me realize how I *don’t* want to write a book. And I definitely want to write one.

Back in February I mentioned that I’ve been thinking about writing a book. I even purchased a resource recommended by one of my colleagues: Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction and Get it Published. It has a ton of great tips on how to decide whether or not you have a good book idea to write, and how to sell it to an editor/agent based on a quality book proposal.

Lately I’ve been getting compliments on my blog, which is nice and also makes me feel that I’m developing a writing ‘voice,’ which is critical for personal essay writing. When I’m working on articles for specific clients, I have to write dispassionately and factually. So it’s nice to know my regular blogging has helped develop a voice that I can carry over into book writing.

In that February post, I mentioned that I had two science book ideas – one of which was to write a book about science communication. I argued that such a book was the easy way out. Not that writing a book is easy – far from it. But writing a book on a technical subject that doesn’t require you to interrogate your own inner life and life history is easier than writing a memoir, for example, which would be much more difficult because I’d have to write about my life and history – something I even have problems talking about, let alone writing about.

As I’ve thought more about books, however, I think I only want to write one science book, featuring women in science.

The second book I want to write definitely incorporates science communication, but not in the sense of providing a how-to guide. I don’t want to talk about podcasts and videos, or the best time of day to post your info to social media. I want to write about my journey through academia and illness and out the other side, not to where I’m cured, but to where I’ve found a way to manage my illness and have meaning in my life – i.e., via science writing, and the aspects of it that are most intriguing to me.

I want to write about the theory behind science writing, such as the importance of language – both the new words we’re inventing to reflect our new environmental reality (e.g., solastalgia, endling), and the existing words that Indigenous peoples use to describe place. As Robert Moor writes in On Trails,

“Cherokee has seven cardinal directions that continually situate speakers in space: north, south, east, west, up, down, and (hardest of all for us outsiders to grasp) here.”

As Krista Tippett writes,

“The words we use shape how we understand ourselves, how we interpret the world, how we treat others. Words make worlds.”

I’m also interested in the importance of emotion – should we be hopeful or despairing about our environmental future? How do we communicate these complex emotions to achieve the best outcome? How do relationship-building and community building help with science communication (the types of things that Faith Kearns and Lou Woodley are already working on)?

I’m not interested in doing exhaustive research into the technical ins and outs of different approaches to science writing, though I do realize I’ll be doing research of some kind or another. I want to talk about what science writing means to me, what I’ve learned about it, and how I employ it.

I see this book as a memoir about life-changing events, career shifts, mental health, and writing. It would nicely blend my writing and editing background, because editing is as much about words as writing is.

Anyway. That’s what I’m thinking about. Doing it is another prospect altogether. But if I just plug away at it day by day (now that the days are less prescribed), I’m sure it can be done.

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6 thoughts on “Writing a Book (Part 2)

  1. Sarah, as I’ve said before, you can do/be anything you set your mind to. And I’m so looking forward to read your first book.

  2. Thanks for your commentary on the books you’ve read. I looked up “Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction and Get it Published” and I’ll buy it. I’m definately NOT buying “End of the Rope!” Thanks for the tip there not to waste my time.

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