“Essays allow writers to examine the mind and heart, and speak to both,” SciLancer Michelle Nijhuis writes in her new e-book. “They allow science writers, in particular, to go beyond the simple translation of scientific results in order to engage with science as a human endeavor, one that affects and is affected by our complicated world. They’re deeply satisfying to read, and often a pleasure to write.”
The science essay dates back at least 400 years, but in The Science Writers’ Handbook, Michelle proves that the form is more relevant than ever. Essays forge an intimate connection between a reader and a writer that borders on conspiracy. They show up in standalone pieces, deeply reported features, and colorful profiles. They take the reader on a journey to unexpected ideas and places; they follow archetypal patterns of storytelling.
Michelle weaves together personal reflections with indispensable advice on finding essay topics, conducting research, revising, and shaping a story. The book direct and conversational. Her influences run deep: She pulls not only from the conventional tools from the science writers’ handbook but also digs into the craft and art of poetry and screenwriting, as well as the pursuit of science itself. The essayist and the scientist have a lot in common, she argues: “They begin not with a thesis but, more tentatively, with a question.”
Is this post a shameless plug? Hell yes! We SciLancers are thrilled to celebrate one of our own, especially when she creates something as useful and elegant as this guide. Dedicated readers of this site already know that Michelle co-edited The Science Writers’ Handbook, and she wrote this e-book as a followup companion guide. It’s for beginners and veterans alike. It’s for essayists of every stripe, even those averse to all things science. It’s for scientists curious about the complexities form, and writers who want to add depth to their work — or figure out how and where to sell their opus. It’s for anyone who’s ever facemessaged or instatweeted a friend to say “drop everything and read this now!”
If you’ve made it this far in my post, it’s most likely for you. It’s a guide, a meditation, and an argument for the immediacy of this old and vibrant art form.
“As science writers, we can’t just insist that people act more rationally: We have to meet them where they are, which happens to be where we are, too,” she writes. “I believe that essays are one way to do this. Essays allow writers to not only explain the facts but also explore the complicated process by which knowledge is created and spread, observing how reason and instinct operate within us all. By doing so, essays help us see science and ourselves more clearly—and better understand the flaws and the beauty in both.”