Thursday, November 18, 2010

What it's like to write in a vacuum (with cartoons!!)

I am going to describe a cycle to you.

It's a pretty pathetic one, but it's worth documenting, because it keeps repeating.  Yes, I know that's what cycles DO.

But I don't want this cycle to continue.  It's happened to me four or five times over the past two years and I just don't like it.

I want to see how to stop it.
And one way to stop a cycle is to actually understand the cycle.

So, here's the cycle...

(Hmmm... I think it needs illustrations.  I get working on that.)

Scott's Cycle of Attempting to Develop His Awesome Science Communication Writing Skills and Ultimately Giving Up on the Whole Thing Forever, Until the Next Time:

1) The Excited Phase:
I see some bizarre misunderstanding of something going on in science, medicine, or practically anything else: the endless deceptions of anti-evolutionary and anti-vaccination groups successfully permeating the mind of the public, the genetic engineering ruckuses, or that scientists have stolen Pluto without asking anyone else.

Or maybe it's just something interesting I've been mulling over: "light is both a narrow prison and a super-powered rocket to explore the universe," or, "to our knowledge we, as humans, are undeniably not-special but also incredibly rare".

You know, heady stuff that no one gives a shit about.

And then I says, I says to myself:
"I want to talk about these things!  I can do it!  I can help fix the confusions and broaden understanding - not on a deep technical level , but with an ear for piquing the interest of everyone: family, friends, the public... I have the scientific background AND the communication skills!  I can explain it all - and I know JUST the way!"

The words and concepts begin to swarm and coalesce in my head - and I can almost feel the words laying themselves down.   Genius!

Carl Sagan would be proud!!

(more fabulous illustrations to come. 
As you can see: Skillz!  
...are something I do not have)

2) The Depressed phase:
At some point, a cluster of thoughts interrupt my glee and reverie.  These thoughts differ greatly but all lead to the same end... "don't bother."

I'll give the thoughts names, because they are almost like the voices of types of people.  Ah... but, I should make very plain: THESE ARE NOT "VOICES".  Ok?  Got that?  It's just a structure to make sense of the different trains of doubt.

(It's important to say that because, as I found in my old social blogging days, there's always someone who seems unable to understand metaphor of any sort.  This person would then assume my voices was rather literal and show immense concern.  I find this extremely annoying)

Here's some examples...

The pure scientist who now blogs:
What you're thinking of writing is dumbed-down tripe!  No one will read it because it's all baby talk.  How can you possibly write about science if you don't dive right in to the technical details?  If people are too dumb to know what some of those concepts and words mean, tell them to read a college-level textbook!  And if they can't find one lying around or the text is too advanced to absorb in 10 minutes, then they're stupid and don't need to know this stuff anyway.

The former graduate thesis committee member:
You could have done so much better than this in your life.

The critic:
Your writing sucks. You suck.

The friend:
Er... Science?  Don't want to know about it.  Science is  (a) Scary.  Or (b) Hard!  Or (c) BORING!

The public:
Too long didn't read.  Also, too: Boring!

The crazy person who trolls blogs:
Big Pharma is EVILE!  And then, one time some con-artist made a fake fossil, and that PROVES science is a lie!  Plus, f*cking magnets, how do they work?!?  Also - [a 50 page screed in mix of ALL-CAPS, MIxEd CAps, random punctuations, and possibly multicolored text, that appears to have been formed by a random sentence generator using sources from philosophy, the Bible, and quantum physics books as interpreted by Deepak Chopra.].

The only commenter that would actually comment on a post:
This be quite interesting to blog about.  You writing funny and happy. You maybe right book?  You be interest in my web sight and also see I agree all things well.

Hence, "don't bother"

3) The Threshold-crossing Phase:

One in a while, after long periods of being deterred from writing by such internal negativity, I give myself some massive heave, using reserves of fortitude I still can't find when I'm actually looking for them.

I start typing.

This, I have to say, is the most critical moment.  Nothing like a blank page to let those nasty little creep-voices (again, NOT REAL!) fill in the emptiness with their words. 

And then I keep going.  Maybe what I'm writing works, maybe it doesn't and I chuck it.
Once in a while I make it through to an ending.  A first - very rough - draft is made.

And then I edit.  I find I'm totally fine re-working whole sections if I think they need it.

I'm productive.  I like what I'm producing.  I'm feeling good.

Yes. This is kind of what I was thinking of all that time in my head.

I'm happy with it, as a start.

4) The Contentment Phase:

I seem to like this enough to ask people to comment, critique, suggest thoughts, and so on.

I ask some friends if they are willing to look at my writing.  I'm not asking for lots of work.  Not proofreading for spelling and punctuation.  I just want to know: does this make sense, am I going in the right direction, is it engaging, is it persuasive?

I totally make it no pressure - you know, just asking!

A few folks say, sure!

I send them a word file or, more recently, a link to a blog.  (I've attempted this blog approach 3 past times.  This is the fourth.)

5) The Second Depression Fused with Sad Reality Phase:

I wait a week or so.  Who knows if they had time to even read what I've written.

On the other hand, maybe they hated it.

Maybe it was absolutely un-redeemable shite!

I decide to look at the little blog statistics meter, you know, just to see how many of the folks who agreed to help may have taken a look.  Since I had blocked my own computer from the statistics readings, my own editing and viewing would not be recorded.  The numbers would all be people I know, most likely.

Scott's Awesome Creative Persuasive Smart Blog that will Change Everything
Week 1
Sunday: 0
Monday: 1
Tuesday: 0
Wednesday: 1
Thursday: 1
Friday: 0
Saturday: 0

Hmmm...  Well, at least one person took a look!  Oh... wait, that's my IP address, before I blocked my computer from the statistics engine.

So I wait another week

Scott's Awesome Creative Persuasive Smart Blog that will Change Everything
Week 2
Sunday: 0
Monday: 0
Tuesday: 0
Wednesday: 0
Thursday: 0
Friday: 0
Saturday: 0

The equivalent of a trembly-lipped whimper stirs inside of me.

And then, as a new empty space opens in my head, those Ambassadors of Crap Feelings  - save the crazy troll one who's quite busy screeding all over other peoples blogs - all return to say: "I told you so."  Man, I really hate them.

6) The Frak-It Phase

I head out to the bar, order a double martini, and forget the whole dumb idea of mine even came up in the first place. 

7) The Charlie Brown and Lucy Phase

Months pass.

Then, with the details of the past somehow gone fuzzy, I says to myself, I says:
You know what?!  This time it'll be different!  THIS time I will write more better, more persuasively, more everythingly!  This time, someone will actually SEE what I wrote.  It'll happen.  Because I have something to say, dammit!   I can help make a difference. I want to talk about these things!  I can do it!....

(Go To Phase 1)

So, there it is.  All written out.

It's not all bad, really.

I mean, I get a martini - so there's that.

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