A true son of nineteenth century America’s lyceum culture, the great poet once sat down in a university lecture hall with high hopes that a certain professor (mercifully left nameless) would open the secrets of the stars to an audience that would hang breathless on his every word.
Instead, what Whitman got was a tedious review of column after column of data divorced from any discernible meaning or relevance. Disgusted, he left the hall and spent his evening looking at the night sky. Later, he immortalized the professor’s pedantry in his poem, “When I Heard the Learned Astronomer.”
So, what did the poor professor do to earn his place among the pantheon of the dull, dry and dusty? In delivering his findings, he failed to find the story. He forgot that people are wired to look for drama and conflict. He forgot that they want to connect with the personalities solving these mysteries and find ways to connect the results to their lives.
The best freelance science writers always keep these facts in mind when they sit down at their word processors. The results are often brilliant, engaging prose that is compulsively readable.
If you want to see how it’s done, there’s no better place to turn to than “The Best American Science and Nature Writing” series from Mariner Books.
Published annually, each new volume “The “Best American Science and Nature Writing” series brings together some of the year’s most compelling science journalism and essays from the nation’s most respected periodicals. These are not reports written for “learned astronomers,” but rather stories and essays that keep educated lay readers turning pages until the very end.
Recent contributors to the series have included such notables as biologist E.O. Wilson, neuroscience writer Dan Arliely, and many others. Each of their works masterfully demonstrates how even the most complicated and arcane scientific pursuits can be transformed into amazing prose tailored to the needs of non-specialist audiences. Each tells a story, and each provides context and meaning.
Invest in this series and pull the latest volume off your shelf whenever you need inspiration. You’ll remind yourself of how amazing the best science writing can be. And if you internalize the approach and style of these writers, you can be sure that no one will ever put down your article and write a poem about how dreadfully boring you were.
Matthew R is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.