Every good tribe has a creation myth
. Our myth is that SciLance was created in a hot tub. That conjures up images of drunken writers clad in bikinis, or worse, birthday suits. But, I assure you, it was more nerdy than naughty.
We were really just soaking our feet in a large bathtub at the hotel hosting the NASW meeting in Pittsburgh in 2005.
Red wine-fueled sparks flew that night, but only on a cerebral level. Robert Frederick (bio), Andreas von Bubnoff (bio) and I brainstormed about a way for science writers to keep in touch during the rest of the year, to talk shop, lament late pay or just encourage each other from afar.
I wouldn’t have called it this at the time, but I
envisioned a social network. However, it had to be a relatively private one where I could moan about bad editor behavior one day and recommend a gem of an editor to others the next–without fear that either bit of sharing would come back to haunt me.
Two weeks later, I started a Yahoo! Group called SciLance, smushing together Science Freelance. I invited a dozen writers that I felt shared common ground in terms of career stage and writing markets. And then I posted the first message to kick off conversation:
1. How do your organize your home office so it doesn’t become a sea of paper piles? Especially, how do you keep on top of pitches or material for current or future stories?
2. How to motivate yourself to move beyond comfy clients when the money is so good/easy?
3. What recourse do you have when a press office screws you on a story?… Is the moral of the story, always have a back-up for every ‘voice’ in the story?
Or post your own pressing issues….
You can see I
personally needed some colleagues whose ears I could bend.
It turns out that writers don’t need much prodding to get an email conversation (over)flowing. Over eight years we’ve come up with all sorts of virtual water cooler tricks. We grew to 35,
decided to stop there to keep things personal and private and created SciLance Rules, the guidelines for our community. In January 2008, Anne Sasso (bio) half-joked we should write a book compiling all of our collective wisdom about the booms, the busts, and even the mundane, but key, details of the business of science writing. And then she said, “No, seriously.”
And 24,767 posts later, here we are. Although our start wasn’t sexy, some of us have careers that are downright racy at times. One of us has sparred with E.O. Wilson over the nature of nature, one of us is currently in Antarctica riding glaciers, several of us have won fellowships that make serious authors drool. But there are plenty of blah moments too, like me toiling away in my home office, unshowered, wondering if anyone will even read the sentence I’ve slaved over for 20 minutes, attempting to convey the fascination found in a flatworm that can regenerate its entire body from a 1/18th slice.
Whether we are travel-adventurers or toilers, we share the exhilaration of finding le mot juste that puts scientific discovery in terms that anyone can appreciate or even revel in. We are also grounded in reality, remembering, as Samuel Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” Sharing thrills, insights or financial breakthroughs keeps us a tightly woven community. We are part of the larger clan that seeks to leave the world a more literary place, one science writer at a time.
Image credit: Sarah Webb