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November 25th, 2008

Writing on writing

A recent wonderful poem posted by papersky on "Unusual Chameleons" (too tired to figure out how to link to it now) triggered a bunch of thoughts about writing and writers...

My first reaction on reading the poem was amazement at how such a good piece of writing could be found in "merely" a LJ post. (Chalk this up to my naivete about LJ and blogs.) When I saw who "papersky" actually is, my reaction changed immediately to, "well of course. It's Jo. No wonder it's great." As if, somehow, wonderfulness from a professional writer somehow counts for less.

I have been doing a lot of writing lately. Two weeks ago I delivered a 300 page popular book about astronomy, prepared for the International Year of Astronomy. I was the editor, not the writer, but that's no less work I discovered (professional editors here, this is your cue to chortle). And the editing was heavy... including two chapters translated (read, re-written) from Italian. I did write one of the chapters myself, along with two photo-essays.

Since arriving in Florence (nine days ago) I have written my column for The Tablet, seven articles on religion and science to be published this summer in the Sunday Bulletins used by much of the Roman Catholic world in the UK, and at the last minute a 500 word essay on The Beatles (again for the Tablet) in light of L'Osservatore Romano's article on the 40th anniversary of the White Album that "forgave" John Lennon's "more popular than Jesus" comment. I think this comes to about 1,000 words a day. If I were to keep this up for three months, I'd have a novel.

All this is stuff for which money will change hands (though I will never see any of it). In addition, I have looming a large chunk of writing, the "popularized" version of "what's news at the Observatory" for our annual report. No payment there, but part of my work at the Observatory.

So, yeah, I am a professional writer, I guess. But mostly I am feeling out of sorts because the thing I really ought to be writing is a lively little number with a title something like "Meteorite density, asteroid porosity, and the stratigraphic sequence of the solar nebula" for a journal that maybe twenty people will read. And which may charge me by the page to publish it.

Dammit, Jim, I'm a scientist, not a writer!

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