Learning to write all over again

Network News Summer 2014, Vol. 27 No. 2
Network News

We all learn to write to scientists at some point in our academic development, but it takes some extra effort to learn to write for non-scientific audiences.  I participated in a recent writing workshop for scientists sponsored by The Kavli Foundation and held at New York University, and I quickly learned that effective writing for the public requires much effort.  Gary Marcus, a cognitive scientist and best-selling author of Guitar Zero, and Steve Hall, a contributing writer and story editor for the New York Times Magazine, taught the course with the assistance of a bevy of award-winning writers and editors.  The course included traditional lectures, panel discussions with invited guests, and innovative approaches.  In one exercise, we were asked to write a poem that encapsulated the points we wanted to make in an essay, an excellent way to strip away unnecessary detail. 

The list of invited guests was spectacular.  In one session, three Pulitzer Prize winning authors and the editor of Moonwalking with Einstein discussed their work and provided insight into the process of writing and publishing popular books.  Writing a popular book takes a long time and requires many painstaking revisions.  Many authors founder before they can complete a first draft.  The panel suggested that the principal goal of a first draft is to get words on paper; polishing at that stage often leads to stagnation. 

The course will be repeated three times in 2015.  Although the application process is not yet open, you can get on a mailing list for further information at http://www.nyu.edu/as/ksw/workshops.html.  If you are interested in writing for the public, I recommend this experience highly.