Scientific writing: An exercise in the aid of creative writing

As a student of science for five years, I had to write a lot of scientific reports. Most people who have to write them believe them to be the bane of their existence, thirty pages that drown your soul in a suffering hell of jargon and statistics. I took another approach. I used these reports to better my writing, playing with different styles and thinking outside the box to reach conclusions. Here follows several ways scientific writing can aid and hinder your creative writing.

The ways scientific writing can aid creative writing:

Cut unnecessary words
It wasn’t long ago that there was a general consensus among the scientific community that the more words the better in scientific journals. That has changed and now an emphasis is placed on making the article as short as possible. These people have other things to do besides read rambling papers after all. I was taught this same approach in university and it has changed my writing forever. Adverbs? Delete! Sentences that drag on and on until you forget what the point of existence was once you finish? Delete! It creates sharp writing that is easy to read and gets to the point. You want to pack as much story as possible into your creative writing. This means cutting all those words that drag it down, that stagnate the writing. Speaking of which…

Write for the everyman
This was drilled into us from day one. You are not writing for a professor. Your report should be able to be easily understood by anyone interested in the topic. Jargon cannot always be replaced, but it can be written in a way that the meaning is still easily distinguishable. I have read journal articles that are so complicated it is like they are written in a different language. I always give up in disgust and it ends up in the fireplace. That’s not what you want. You want your scientific writing to be accessible to most readers. The same too with your creative writing. If your reader constantly has to go over a single sentence to understand it, or pick up a dictionary, they’re being pulled out of your story. You want them to get lost within the pages, not ponder over the meaning of a single word.

Scientific writing isn’t anything if it’s not structured. The framework is so tight, that sometimes your writing struggles to breathe under all that weight. However, it does teach you the importance of following certain rules to create a result. In creative writing, there are countless ways to structure your writing. Do a google search on writing structure and a billion results will pop up. The benefit of structuring your work? It creates a concise piece that doesn’t have room to wander and allows themes to shine through.

The ways scientific writing can hinder creative writing:

Tell, don’t show
Ever read a method section of a scientific report? It is the most boring thing in the world. Written in third person, it basically lists what you did to achieve the results in the study. Here follows a fascinating passage from one of my reports:

In the blood samples a mixture of proteinase K, 4µl of RNase A, 166µl of PBS (Phosphate Buffered Saline) and a quartered hole punch of the blood sample was used to lyse the DNA. The sample was then incubated for 30 minutes at room temperature. 200µl of Buffer AL was added and then was vortexed for 15 seconds and incubated for 45 minutes at 56˚C. 200µl of 95% ethanol was added to the sample and vortexed for 15 seconds to precipitate the DNA and enable it to be ready to be bound in a membrane. The flow-through liquid was then discarded. Using the DNeasy Mini spin column, the sample was centrifuged at 6000x8000rpm for one minute after 500µl of Buffer AW1 was added. 500µl of Buffer AW2 was then added to the sample and centrifuged at 20,000×14,000rpm for three minutes to dry the DNeasy membrane. The collection tube was then emptied and the sample centrifuged for another minute at 20,000×14,000rpm to remove any residual ethanol. 100µl of Buffer AE was pipetted directly onto the DNeasy membrane and then incubated at room temperature for one minute. It was then centrifuged for one minute at 6000x8000rpm to elute the DNA. The sample was labelled with the tissue type and group initials.

Did you actually read that? If you did, I’m impressed. I didn’t even proofread the method section after finishing writing that particular piece. It was just too boring. You do this in your creative writing and people will be reaching for the Bunsen burner to set your book on fire. Use your senses. Use people’s movements to convey emotion in your story. You can tell me that they’re upset, but hiding their face in their hands after hearing a piece of upsetting news portrays that emotion without having to tell anything. The reader will be able to guess what they’re feeling from actions and words. Never underestimate the reader.

Start your paragraph with a statement, then provide evidence to support said statement
Similar to the above point, this is a way of telling and then showing. In scientific writing this is useful as evidence is needed to back up a point in order to reach conclusions. Creative writing does not need to reach conclusions. You allow your readers to reach their own conclusions.
For example:
Jenny was upset. Her face tightened and she hid it from the others as tears started to slide down her cheeks.
First there is the statement, and then the evidence to back it up. This isn’t needed. You don’t need to tell the reader that Jenny is upset when the evidence shows clearly her emotions. Cut out the first sentence and allow your readers to figure out for themselves what the paragraph is trying to say. Don’t draw conclusions for your readers. Make them do a little work themselves.

Do not write anything that cannot be backed up by reputable sources
The cardinal sin of scientific writing. A statement cannot be made unless it is backed up by other scientific journals, government organisations or experts. Everything you write must be researched thoroughly and if you can’t find a reputable source, then you don’t use the knowledge. I had one lecturer who named and shamed anyone who used Wikipedia as a source. It is the complete opposite for creative writing. Granted, research can be beneficial depending on what you’re writing about, however it’s not the be all and end all if you can’t find what you need to complete the image. Have a military base in your story but for some reason you’re not allowed in to map the area? Make it up. Can’t find what year the wheel was created? I don’t think anyone can dispute you if you make it up. Creative writing is exactly that: creative. Your world isn’t this world and you can do whatever you want with it.
Note: This is dependent on how realistic your work is. If you’ve written a crazy fantasy, it’s okay to say a team of super intelligent emperor penguins invented the car. Historical drama? Not so much. Do a quick google search.

Where do you read?

I’ve already shown you my writing space, so I thought I would show you the two places I like to read in the house:

Cold day

Cold day

Sunny day

Sunny day

Do you have favourite places you like to read? Or are you someone who can just plop down anywhere and lose yourself?

What’s with all the guilt?

Last weekend I had a few friends over for a barbeque. They arrive, a couple handing over some food, then another walked in holding flowers. She had a guilty smile on her face and said, ‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t get you food. I got flowers instead.’

I was delighted. It’s not often I get flowers and it’s amazing how a little bright yellow lightens up my house. Nevertheless, all throughout the day she kept apologising and promising to bring food next time, obviously feeling bad for bringing flowers.

This got me thinking, after they had left, why on earth would she apologise? Why on earth would anyone apologise if they do something slightly out of the norm? I was happy to get flowers, and it’s nice to see them on my coffee table every morning.


So, what’s with all the guilt? Everyone needs to stop worrying so much that they have done something wrong, and start thinking that maybe what they’ve done is a pleasant surprise, helped out or made a difference.

I had my unnecessary guilty sensations last week, when I emailed a fellow blogger when he was going through some troubles. I thought the whole time that I was intruding on his life, that I was making things worse and my sudden appearance in his emails would weird him out. It didn’t (I hope), but it wasn’t until my friend brought flowers that I got over that slight guilty feeling. I realised that it wasn’t a necessary feeling. I had gone about things a different way, and it may have helped. If it didn’t, well I tried.

Plus the flowers look really nice. No one can feel guilty in their presence.

Made my mark

I graduated from TAFE with a Dual Diploma in Conservation and Land Management/Sustainability and university with a Bachelor in Environmental Science with Distinction. I graduated into a world where there are no jobs in my field unless you have at least two years working experience or know someone.

I volunteer, I gain the experience I need in order to be a competitor for jobs, but I still don’t get jobs. Why? Because I’m hopeless at making contacts.

Throughout university, I watched people walk up to the lecturers and researchers and have good old chats with them. How do they do that? I would wonder, and try to come up with any plausible reason to talk to the lecturers. I never quite got the courage to try and engage with them in my three years of study.

When it came time to look at doing an Honours project I found a couple of lecturers whose projects I was interested in. I went and had a meeting with them, they were very friendly but I never heard back from them about participating in their projects. Then I saw who got into the Honours projects. All the people who had had the guts to go up and talk to the lecturers. The people who could talk about anything and everything.  They got in because they made the connections early on. To the lecturers, I was someone who had just appeared out of the blue.

This is my fault, of course. If I had of sucked it up, I could be doing an Honours project right now. Instead, I’m scanning through listings of jobs that require everything that I don’t have and can’t get unless I make contacts.

If you put me in front of these lecturers now, they probably would have no idea who I was, just another face that didn’t stand out amongst the thousands of students they get through their doors. Except for one small thing.

The other day, The Partner went into my university and sent me a picture. It was of me, during one of my research projects. It was framed and placed up in the Science building. So I may not have been able to connect with the denizens of the university, but I’m going to haunt them for as long as that picture is up. And I hope one of them stops and sees that picture and thinks, ‘I remember that girl.’

I'm even giving a thumbs up.  Who would ever forget the thumbs up girl?

I’m even giving a thumbs up. Who would ever forget the thumbs up girl?

How reading blogs can help to develop your characters

Lately I have taken to ever so slightly stalking other people’s blogs. I’m not going after the ones with opinions similar to mine, but ones that against my point of view, from the gentle to the overly aggressive. It has been a learning curve. Blessed with the gift of anonymity, people find the courage to present their views as eloquently or as venomously as they see fit.

As a writer I think this is great. I have access to a resource that can improve my writing dramatically, and not just due to all the available writing tips. Sometimes we just a need a little inspiration to make fantastic characters.

I have spoken before about how blogs are a personal style of writing, that many people find they can get their true voice out without repercussions following them into the real world. This voice, spoken so honestly, opens us up to a world we don’t know exists and could not understand unless experienced ourselves.

People tend to hold back their opinions if they are likely to be judged for it in public. Not so on blogs. The nature of the internet brings out the best and the worst in all of us and that’s exactly what writers need to create three-dimensional characters. Without the censor that blocks most people in their day-to-day life, their voice and true personality shines through. There is no fake smiles or nods of agreement. People will say how they feel and defend it however they like, whether through presenting researched points or through wilful ignorance.

So, how exactly does this help the author? You can’t tell me having access to a person’s opinions and thoughts, no barrier in place, isn’t the best way to create a character. You need someone who is violently racist in your novel, a person that is so unlike you that you can’t understand their thought processes (a fairly radical example). I’m sure you’ll find someone in the blogosphere who emulates that character. You have access to motivation, personal responses to commenters and best of all, how they speak (or write, I suppose).

Once this blogger, or bloggers are found, you can absorb their unfiltered point of view and start to understand how this type of person would tick, how they would talk, and what they think. Very helpful if you need the inner monologue of your character for your story. You can create a character that is realistic, because they are based on a real person.

I would like to thank the bloggers out there who see things differently to me. You’re helping me to write better and opening my mind up to the world around me. Cheers!

A novel rewriting with experience

Over the past few weeks I have been doing a complete rewrite of a novel I wrote for my sister five years ago. I loved the characters, I loved the premise and I had great fun writing it, but in the end it was just a story for my sister. I wanted to create something that would reach out to a broader audience.

So I sat down, and with five more years of experience under my belt, I proceeded to start a story that I enjoy, and I would hope others would enjoy. A theme is already shining through after 20,000 words and the characters have become a lot more developed. It is no longer a simple fantastical adventure journey story, for when I thought about my character’s motives for their actions, I came up blank. In the rewrite I can confidently state that there is reason behind character decisions. They (hopefully) experience emotions that are realistic to the situation that they are in and act with heart as well as head.

When I wrote the first story all those years ago, I had the idea but I didn’t pull it off as well as I could. Why? Because it was the first full novel I had ever finished and I was too excited that I had achieved that rather than having written an especially good story. I didn’t understand people and their motivations as well as I do now and I didn’t read broadly enough to pick up other writing methods other then the typical epic fantasy.

Now, I believe I have sufficient knowledge to tackle the story anew. I’ve experienced more in my own life, travelled, studied and worked but I’ve also experienced more through my reading, opening myself up to other genres and different bodies of work. I still love my epic fantasy but now I read it with a critical eye, rather then a naïve one.

Have you decided to do a complete rewrite of a novel you finished years ago? Or even one you just finished and decided that it didn’t work? I’m interested to hear other people’s thoughts on how experience betters writing.

The dreaded 20,000 words

I just recently hit 20,000 words on my novel, and up until that point I was powering along, not able to write fast enough to keep up with my brain. Now, even though I’ve come to the point where I introduce my favourite character, it’s like a wall has slid up and I’ve smacked myself in the face.

It seems like the beginning of the novel has officially closed and I’ve reached that part that everyone despises: the middle. It doesn’t matter that for once I actually plotted out the basic storyline and what I want in each chapter, it still feels like my story has slipped through my fingers and is wandering our of control. It hasn’t departed from the original plotting, but I’m getting the feeling that soon my characters will be sticking a big middle finger up at me and walking straight into writers block territory.

The words are still coming, but they are doing so much more slowly and I have to work at making my characters believable now. And don’t get me started on dialogue! I’ll write some down and then look at it thinking, ‘Who the hell would ever in the entire world, nay, the entire universe say that unless they were a robot?’

I’ve managed to get past my internal editor and am now just moving on. If I don’t like it, too bad, future second draft me can deal with it.

What I would like to know is does anyone else encounter the same problem when they hit ‘the middle’, whether it be 20,000, 5,000 or 200 words? Or does it occur in another stage of writing?

Yet another word I’ve been pronouncing wrong all my life #1



I was sitting with my mum watching television last night and on the program we were watching they kept pronouncing the ‘g’ in ‘dinghy’. Outraged, I turn to my mum and say, ‘What the hell do they keep saying it like idiots for?’

Mum looks at me like I’m a moron and says, ‘They’re pronouncing it correctly.’
Me: ‘No they’re not! The ‘g’ is silent! I’ll show you!’

I proceed to google the pronunciation for ‘dinghy’ and then fall silent.

Mum looks to me and asks, ‘Well?’
Me: ‘…it’s just my accent.’

Proceed to run away, run away Monty Python style.

Ten things you shouldn’t say to your boyfriend when he’s playing Call of Duty

1. It sounds like you’re losing to a bunch of twelve-year-olds.

2. Sniper, no sniping!

3. Oh please. In a real war, everyone would be camping.

4. What’s that gun? Oh, what’s that gun? Oh look, that guy just shot you.

5. Holy crap look out there’s a guy on your left! Your left! I said your left! What’s with the green writing on top of his head?

6. The Greed perk symbol looks like a Pope hat. Do you reckon they did that on purpose?

7. Wow…you suck.

8. You know it’s not real, right?

9. Of course you all died. Your team logo was the direwolf.

10. Why is everyone so angry?