I hung up my shingle as an aspiring freelance science journalist on July 1, 2002. I had just returned to Corvallis, Oregon, which felt surprisingly remote after a 6-month internship at Nature magazine in Washington DC. These were the pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter days of yore; networking was done face-to-face and the nation’s capital was the place to do it.
I’m not the most extroverted of individuals (Cameron Walker (bio) has networking for introverts tips in The Science Writers’ Handbook), but my efforts to mix and mingle with editors and other science journalists had paid off. I returned to the Pacific Northwest with 3 assignments in hand.
I’ve worked steadily since—while gestating, birthing, and raising two young children. But my “business” received little in the way of nurturing over the years. It’s always been a lean, mean operation: a computer, phone, and a corner of a room.
Working on average 25-30 hours per week, every minute
I had was devoted to assignments or finding the next story. I kept meaning to put together a website. Never happened. Blog? Not a chance. Twitter? Time suck.
As the heavy-lifting of child-rearing dissipated, I realized my bare bones operation needed a boost after I Googled myself and found only random stories I’d done over the years. I was a bona fide ghostwriter—invisible online.
Luckily, my new neighbor was a very talented web-designer. Disconcertingly, however, I acknowledged that carving out an online presence required more than a website. But I still didn’t have the time or energy to craft a “persona”. It was time to figure out how I could comfortably fit into the new media ecosystem.
Here’s how I found my footing:
My first glances at Twitter only confirmed my suspicions: people with thousands of followers tweet a lot. I remember thinking “I’m not after science journalism superstardom, so why bother?” My mistake was thinking of Twitter only in terms of output, rather than realizing its input value.
Although Twitter can sometimes feel insular, I am constantly amazed at how many important science and journalism conversations—ones that I would otherwise be unaware of—are taking place there. It dawned on me that even if I’m not a headliner, I like to be at the show. I’ve learned to use Twitter as a way to build community ties, weigh in on topics of interest, cheer incredible work by my peers—and, yes, as an outlet to share my stories.
Blogging definitely seemed out of reach. I simply couldn’t spare the time to sustain a blog. Marveling at my blogger friends seemed to be as close to blogging as I might ever get. But, look! I’m blogging. Right now. The key was becoming part of a group blog. With many voices, the blog stays fresh and stress is minimized for everyone.
I’ve played around with posting my articles on Facebook. Posting everything seemed shameless and, well, annoying—especially for friends who care little about science. Never posting anything didn’t feel true to my interests. I’ve settled on only posting those articles that have a broad appeal and/or are particularly important to me.
Even just dipping my toes in the social media waters was enough to exorcise my phantom existence. In return, I made new flesh-and-blood contacts, received writing offers, and have tangible connections to my community.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.