Becoming a better writer – an update

Every once in a while I use this blog as a sort of diary – to document my journey of (hopefully) becoming a better writer. Given the imminent changes in my life: becoming a mom and with that a one-year long break from lab work (perks of living in Germany), I have been pondering my way so far and my future.

With good excuses at hand – a paper to finish before my maternity leave started and simply being pre-occupied with the changes ahead – I have not been writing an awful lot over the summer.

Not great. After all I have learned before that the key to improving is practise.

My goals have not changed. I want to write for a living. Growing up with a working-mom, I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. While I am looking forward to spend the first year of his life with my child, I also know that sooner or later I will want to work again. I want to have something that is (just) mine and to not be solely defined by my child. I am lucky enough to have my work for that, something I am passionate about. I want a career. I want to write. So admittedly I feel guilty about not writing more this year.

But has this year really not helped me improve as a writer?

Earlier this year I wrote down my “Writing New Years Resolutions”. It’s time to review them. What did I achieve, where did I fail?

  1. Read more! I actually did quite well on this one. I read more. Background papers for the paper I wrote over the summer, but also quite a few novels. I just finished Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”, which I can only recommend. I am also reviewing my first book – Karin Bodewits’ “You must be very intelligent”, a tale about PhD life. I am very much looking forward to dive in – it promises to be a fun read. I will post the review on here – so look out for it!
  2. Making a habit of writing. This worked for a while, early in the year. But over the summer it died down. Sure, pregnancy slowed me down – believe me pregnancy brain is real and makes concentrating hard. I also wrote a paper over the summer, which I submitted just before my maternity leave. I felt drained. But in the end these are just excuses. I simply failed on this point.
  3. Improve my self-editing skills. This point is somewhat hard to judge, but I feel I am getting better at this. I am getting better at cutting out unnecessary words, phrases and sentences. Feeling less guilty about I used to think I need to include all the information I gathered in my final articles, but the truth is I don’t. Not all info is equally important. The flow of a piece is more important in terms of story telling. I guess this idea of including as much information as possible is my inner-scientist. Scientists are all about information. We need to know everything in detail. I am also less afraid to re-write whole sections if I do not agree with the style anymore. I used to feel bad about this; it seemed like an unnecessary doubling of work. It is not. Sometimes you get a thought onto paper – but not in the best style. Style is for the re-write and edit.
  4. Get out of my comfort zone and try out new styles of writing. I certainly tried – I wrote more pieces from a personal point of view (e.g. the letter to my younger self and my views on Brexit and Trump). The upcoming book review is another thing I am trying and excited about.
  5. Spreading my work to a bigger audience.The blog has seen an increase in clicks over this summer – so I guess I succeed with this. I also wrote a piece for Women of Science, Tipbox and Real Scientists Germany. For the latter I hosted their twitter feed for a week – which, while I also use Twitter on a personal science communication account, was a new experience and a lot of fun. I can only recommend doing things like that to improve your science communication skills. Having to express views in 140 characters is very different from having unlimited words in a blog!
  6. Publish and actually get paid for it. Fail. I did not manage this. I also did not really try. With the next year off, I knew that any contacts I may make this year, will need to be put on ice again – so I thought what’s the point? That may be a bit lazy, but next year will be the year!

Overall I think I didn’t do badly. But there is always room for more goals. During my year of maternity leave I hope to improve my writing further. I bought a few books on writing and style – see the cover picture. Reading those will (hopefully) help be refine my writing style and as someone writing mainly in a second language I am sure I will learn a lot. It may be a while, but I will post reviews of those books on here as well!

Once my maternity leave is over I will be back in the lab for the remainder of my contract, a full two months! After that I am going for it – I will write, edit or scicomm for a living. In which form I am not sure yet. I would love to try and freelance as science writer, but I am not sure I can live of that. But if I don’t try I will never know, right?


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