In this post, I interview Signe Cane, a Sydney-based freelance science writer and journalist who recently started ‘A Common Year – a Daily blog of 365 science stories’. Since I’ve been interested, through my Ph.D. research, in understanding how and why science bloggers do what they do, I decided to ask Signe about her blogging project and her motivations to do it.
Me: You've taken on a project that involves blogging about science every day for a year. Can you tell me a little bit more what motivated you to start this project, and why you decided to post every day?
Signe: The best way to get better at what you do is to practice it as much as you can. Any writer will tell you that in order to become a good writer, you have to write. As much as you can. Every day, in small stretches, for long periods — whatever works, just keep writing. Professionally I’m a science writer and journalist, and even though some of my work currently involves radio broadcasting on topics other than science, one day I do want to write about science full time. Meanwhile, I want to keep writing as much as I can, and build a science writing portfolio while doing so — preferably through paid work, of course, but also through highly motivating personal projects, like this blog.
Me: You talk on your blog about having been inspired by Australian science writer Sarah Keenihan's 365-day science blog project. Can you tell me a bit more about that, how you came to be inspired by her project, and how yours is similar or different?
Signe: The reason I came up with the idea to do a daily blog was entirely because I saw Sarah’s blog a while ago. She began hers during Australian National Science Week 2012, attempting to inject more science celebration into each day, without focusing on “equipment, displays, lectures and laboratories.” A few days before this year’s science week arrived, I decided I wanted to do something big and challenging to mark the occasion. Replicating Sarah’s daily writing experiment fit this bill perfectly, so I set up the blog [http://www.signecane.com/2014/08/17/about-blog/] and took the plunge! However, when it comes to differences between the projects, that’s up to readers to judge. In my blog I attempt to focus on storytelling techniques, as well as experiment with different approaches to a topic, and try to employ a strong voice.
Me: How long has your project been running so far?
Signe: As of writing this sentence, it’s day 86!
Me: What is it like to blog about science on a daily basis? Have some days been difficult? What have you learned along the way
Signe: It’s absolute hell, and blissful heaven. Depends on the day, how easily the idea comes to me, whether I have enough time that day to do the research and make the words flow nicely, or whether it’s only one or the other. I’ve learned that I can write while half-drunk, while half-asleep, on topics I didn’t know anything about an hour earlier. I can cover a science news story in three sentences and I can write a ‘listicle’ even when I have no other ideas. The most difficult days are the ones when I’ve been swamped with other work and haven’t had time to do any blog planning, and I sit down by the computer at bedtime and conjure a story out of thin air. However, if the result is good, that can be quite exhilarating, too.
Me: Do you feel your blog evolving as you blog day-to-day? Do you think you'll blog differently at the end that you did at the beginning?
Signe: Beyond doubt, every day is different, and my writing constantly evolves with practice. With more and more blog posts under my belt, a lot of the writing basics are becoming easier to achieve. As the year progresses, I hope to come up with more within-project experiments as well, such as the week when all I wrote was three sentence science like they do on Nautilus.
Me: How do you choose what to blog about? What inspires your blog post ideas? What do you consider "blogworthy" - or what is interesting "enough" to make it into your blog post of the day?
Signe: Ideas come from everywhere — a colleague mentions something interesting at lunch, I read something cool in science news or embargoed releases, I cut my finger, or spend a day reading a sci-fi novel and decide to write about that. Anything that interests me enough to sit and write about it qualifies as blogworthy. I started out with free rein on what could count as a good topic, because constraints can make it very difficult to generate ideas. With the daily requirement to write a new piece breathing down my neck, sometimes I can’t afford to be too picky about the subject, so I just choose something and try to shape it into a story. A lot of the consideration for what qualifies is implicit — I’ve sort of developed a gut feeling for what I can turn into a blog post, and which ideas won’t work.
My only real constraint is the theme — the post must be somehow related to the broad realm of science, regardless of whether it is about new research, about beauty products, or misconceptions about a certain topic, such as GMOs. And I do have one rule: I’m not allowed to cop out by posting a science-themed video or art. If I absolutely can’t help myself and the blog post relies on visuals, then I still need to generate a decent write-up, and the video or image(s) need to be an accompaniment to the text, not the other way round. However, this is not so much a constraint of content as it is one of method — to me this project is all about writing, and even if I’ve just sat down for 40 minutes before starting dinner to update my blog for the day, I’m not allowed to be sloppy. It has to be original work, no matter how hard it is sometimes to stumble upon an interesting enough idea.
“I’ve sort of developed a gut feeling for what I can turn into a blog post, and which ideas won’t work.”
For more about my investigation into science blogging practices, search #MySciBlog on Twitter or visit my Experiment.com page.