What Writing This Book Taught Me
[DMS: This was going to be a sidebar in the last chapter of Eloquent Science, but we decided upon removing it to shorten the text. Remarkably personal, this text shows the struggles that I had to go through to deliver text I was happy with (or at least satisfied with).]
14 March 2008: Mary Golden had just sent me her thorough and detailed comments on one of my chapters. As I read through her numerous comments, I was in the midst of writing this book, my brain engorged with the knowledge of the dozen books and numerous articles on scientific writing sitting before me on my desk. All this knowledge I had and I was trying to make sense of it all for you, the audience of this book. My emotions were all over the place. I was frustrated at having to address her comments and revise my text, I felt challenged to write that chapter even better, and I felt a sense of pointlessness to this effort.
How was I supposed to write a book about communication skills when I had so much to learn myself? If I was struggling with my writing, how do others feel who have not even considered many of the things I was writing about?
This Eureka moment arose from that experience. These are the lessons that I have learned while writing this book.
How far my own writing has come. As I drew sample text from my own work since 1991, seeing flaws and weaknesses in my writing that I would never make now, I realized how much my writing has improved. Could Mrs. Soccio finally be proud?
How far my own writing has to go. Even with all my training in writing, the thought I put into improving my own work, and the effort I have spent working with others to improve their writing, I still feel I have a long way to go to be a better writer.
How damn hopeless all this writing guidance must seem. Considering all the rules and guidelines and advice that is in this book, I know I could never remember all of it!
Ignorance is bliss. The more I know about good writing skills, the more I worry about not having it done right.
Your work can always benefit from the advice of others. This is true no matter how much experience you have.
Despite the apparent resignation of these lessons, as I struggle with the rules and guidance in this book, and even as I learn new tricks to improve my writing, these realizations can still be a harsh reality. Real life means sacrifices and mistakes are made in our presentations and papers: deadlines where I submit a manuscript before I am completely satisfied with it, presentations that I have not fully prepared for either by design or by my own procrastination, challenges I face working with collaborators, and limits in the functionality of PowerPoint.
Nevertheless, I am relieved by my insight that the more of these lessons I am aware of, the more I try to implement them in my writing, the more I am cognizant of my list of weaknesses, the more I read, write, and review manuscripts, and the more care I put into preparing my presentations, the better I will become and that writing will come more naturally.