The exercise of writing
I initially started this blog with one goal in mind: get better at writing. Writing has never been a strong suit of mine, and I’ve always felt dread when I had to do it. For me, I tend to get in my head about these things:
Will people judge me and intelligence on my crappy writing style? This is an internal question I used to/still struggle with a lot, this idea of projecting intelligence.
Will people understand the message I am trying to get across? I usually have the messaging down in my head but when it comes time to write, it completely escapes me.
Will I ever get better at it? I have been in school for almost all my life and it hasn’t gotten easier. My thoughts often turn to say, “maybe you just don’t have the skill and the passion to be a better writer”.
What I have come to realize is that the mark of intelligence isn’t the vast knowledge of facts you know, but it’s being inquisitive, it’s about being able to think critically, to find ways to answer your questions, and feeling confident in your ability to do so. I can’t control the value judgment that others have of me. The best that I can do is be as clear, thoughtful, and as true to myself as possible.
I realized that this blog is supposed to be my exercise in writing. I keep reflecting on the words of two of my mentors who have independently told me that writing is hard, especially scientific writing, and the only way you get better at it is by doing it, over and over and over again. Also that I should write everyday. I have always thought that great writing was a skill that some people just had a knack for, where the perfect words just flow from their fingertips and it is done all in the first take. I have often panicked with academic writing, trying to save it all for a single session, trying to get the words write at that moment. This debilitating urge of perfect message crafting even affects me on Twitter, the medium for just short, in-the-moment thoughts. I painstakingly fumble through each word I write; I often let perfect be the enemy of good.
Some people do have that skill of eloquent flow, that ability to select the ideal words with clear delivery from the outset, and that is great. That ain’t me and I am finally getting ok with that. After the thesis writing, which was one of my lowest points (reflections on that in the future), I realized that I am no longer in school and no longer being graded and that I should write for the pleasure of writing, not just for work or required reasons. I just need to practice at it and write often, regardless of how bad I think it is.
I recently finished reading Oliver Sacks “On the Move” and he really ignited in me a passion for writing. He was obsessed with writing, seeing it as his true passion. He didn’t just write for the consumption of others, he wrote as a way of working out problems he was struggling with, to get his thoughts aligned. For him, it was key to his process. He filled journals after journals just to work out his thoughts, rarely returning to them afterwards.
This book, which I hope to elaborate my thoughts on later, was also important to me because he discussed his life not only as an scientist and a physician, but as a gay man. He was very revealing as he wrote of his angst with his identity, his sexual misadventures, and also his problems with drugs.
We often divorce the person from their work but after reading his autobiography, I gained a richer perspective of how to be a better scientist, how our experiences can help enrich our understanding of the science we study, and that our work as scientists extends beyond the academy and can be done outside of it.
So, all this to say, I will be writing more often and it’ll continue to be a mix of my reflections, of science and tech, and of my travels :)