Writing Goals

When I want to procrastinate, which is all too often, one of my top strategies is to engage in “career development.”  Looking for jobs that I might be qualified for, poking around www.sciencecareers.org or the Earth Science Women’s Network (www.eswnonline.org), or reading columns on Inside Higher Ed or the Chronicle.  And the blogs.  Oh, the blogs.  So many.

Of course, the advice in many of these resources on becoming a successful academic, or really any type of scientist, boils down to one thing:


Write more.  Write every day.  Every single day.  Treat it like a meeting – have at least a half hour of your day blocked out to write.  Just get in the habit.  Practice, practice, practice.  Don’t get distracted.  Turn off your internet.  And WRITE.

I know this.  I’ve known this for years.  A couple of years ago, I went on a kick of consuming a bunch of books about writing.  I read everything from Anne Lammott’s Bird by Bird to Josh Schimel’s Writing Science.  Stephen King’s On Writing and William Zinsser’s Writing Well.  Strunk and White.  Science Writing and Communication.  And guess what they said you should do?


When I was 17, I tried to do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for those in the know).  Hundreds of thousands of people participating, trying to pound out 50,000 words in the month of November.  That’s 1,667  words a day.  Up through this sentence, this post is 240.  I made it about half way through my novel, then stopped for a couple days and could never pick it up again.  I still argue that November is a terrible month for this – how does anyone write during the chaos that is Thanksgiving?  Nonetheless, every few years I try again.  But I have never been as disciplined about it as that first time.  Sure, I can pound out that much pretty easily on any given day, but not day in and day out.  Establishing that habit, that pattern, is key.  I learned that in high school through my failed novel, and it still holds true.

Writing science is different, of course.  Getting a paper done is not so much about hitting a word count every day, as it is about finishing an idea or section.  That might be the entire methods section (which I did a VERY rough version of yesterday for one paper) or it might be just a short paragraph in your discussion.  Or the carefully phrased research questions in a proposal.  Or the abstract as the cake topper to your (mostly) finished work.  The point is, though, to get through something.

So, that’s my goal for 2015.  Not to write a novel.  Not to get ~1500 words a day.  But just to write.  Every day.  At least half an hour.  For now, it can be anything – a blog post even!  But, especially as I really get down to writing that pesky dissertation, more and more of it will be science.  

Birds, Books, and Biogeochemistry

Welcome to Birds, Books, and Biogeochemistry!  I'll be using this space to talk about, well, birds, books, and biogeochemistry.  Expect stories from the Arctic, tales from Texas, and thoughts about whatever I have read most recently.  

A little about me:  I'm a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at Austin, only I don't live in Austin.  I'm at the Marine Science Institute, about 200 miles away, in Port Aransas, TX.  The South Texas Riviera.  

No, really, sometimes it's called that.

I work primarily in the Arctic on river chemistry.  There will probably be lots of talk about Arctic climate change in this.  I'm in the last year (hopefully) of my graduate work, and I figure writing regularly - of any sort - will be good practice as I gear up towards writing that dissertation.

My friends, back in high school, accused me of being an old lady at 16.  This was all too correct. I like to cook, and read.  I have a cat.  I drink copious amounts of tea.  I go birding.  I knit and crochet.  I want a rocking chair for my porch, to sit in the sun and drink mint juleps.  Mint that I grew, because I like gardening.  I don't understand Snapchat.

On the other hand, I'll go on a road trip at the drop of a hat.  I love traveling, be it to northeast Russia or just to get a couple hours away from Port A.  One of my life-goals is to spend at least a month in the Arctic of each arctic country - USA (check; Alaska), Canada (check; NWT); Russia (check; NE Siberia), Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark/Greenland.  Iceland would be great, too, although it's below the Arctic Circle.  

Well, I believe that's enough directionless ramblings about myself.  Next post, whenever I get to it, will be more substantive!