Saturday, August 26, 2006

An Uncontrollable Urge to Dance

I have taken on an impossible task. Details don't really matter, but it's an amazing bit of egocentric bravado that I agreed to do it, in fact volunteered to do it.

Not that I can't or won't do it, it's just good for me to write 'this is impossible' so that I can avoid working on it for a few moments.

The Word-A-Day is one of my private passions, and yesterday's word was Tarantism, which Anu Garg defines as "an uncontrollable urge to dance." Oddly enough, this strange word related both to tarantella and tarantula more or less sums up my present state of mind: being bit by the spider of ego and dancing until I drop dead to meet the challenge.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Science Writing and the Scientist

I've taken a bit of a respite here, although I've been blogging like mad on my About site. I guess, I've been trying to figure out what kind of science writer I really am. I discovered (if you'll pardon a bit of navel-gazing) that I don't do very well as a standard science writer for a number of reasons.

First, the process is too slow for me. To get an article into Science or any other traditional venue for that matter, one must pitch a story, and then wait for an editor's okay to proceed. My science writer pals (lucky me, I get to say that now) assure me that only a chump starts a story without a paycheck in the offing. So, I wait a couple of days for the okay, then I start reading, making phone calls and mulling it over in my little brain. My oeuvre of choice is 500-800 words, that's where I'm most comfortable, but Science really only wants 250, so I whittle and whittle and whittle and then submit, and the editor says "I don't really understand" so I send them the long version and then they edit it down to 250 words that no longer express the story, so it's back and forth for awhile until everybody hates everybody else.

Now, if I post on my own website, I hear about the story and get right to work, it can be as long as I like and I can go with the comments I can get. Not as much status (I write for Science! makes for good bragging), and working with an editor is a great pleasure and a relief to share the burden I have to admit; but you know what, I've been spoiled by my About gig.

Secondly, I don't think I'm detached enough from archaeology to write well as a standard science writer. Which is definitely counter-intuitive, don't ya think? Science writing is all about putting things in the simplest format, in the shortest, punchiest format, and because I'm an archaeologist, I don't think the majority of archaeology does really well in a sound byte. In fact, that's why I got interested in doing this, because I'm sick of sound-byte archaeology stories.

It's as if you're doing a crossword puzzle, zipping right along, and then there's that one clue that's in your field of expertise, like 'artifact' for me, and there are so many possible answers you have to fill in all the adjacent spots before you get to the one simple five-letter word that the puzzle master had in mind: sherd.

Most archaeology issues are too complicated to express in 250 words. At least I think.

Anyway, enough navel-gazing. Back to work!

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