No, do not worry! No need to send out some search dogs through the rubble of my busy life to find me. I am still alive and writing. If you had time to check my blog “The Cave”, link above, you would have seen that. The drabble war is in full swing, some haikus fell out of my head, and work as been full with writing.
Also I started a writing course, here: Fiction writing course and I am doing some pedagogy studies for my work. So loads of writing, now I have time to catch up.
Oh wait, is it November 2nd? Dang, sorry NaNoWriMo is happening again. Last time I just made it halfway, writing was too hard and it was to busy to get about 3000 words a day in before work started. Now I have a bit more time in the evening this week, so lets see if I can make a head start so <ahum> coast through the final week. Solid plan! But we will see.
How many of you have no time to respond here because you have the NaNoWriMo bug? I will try this month to have sporadic and most likely frantic, peer-pressured, “need to write more words”-panic like paragraphs thrown at this blog, more for my moral support than your entertainment. I apologise beforehand.
With that I dive into my coffee, go to the lab, read an article for my pedagogy studies, have a meeting, pick up the kids, make dinner, put them to bed, make/drink/make/drink coffee and try to get 4000-6000 words down this evening.
Today is Tuesday, and instead of letting you know how my writing is going, I want to introduce you this week to a talented young writer who just published her first book. It is getting great reviews and if you love comedy (and who does not love to laugh) please go check it out on Amazon.
Ana is on tour, well not in person, like most of us she has a day job, so a virtual tour it is. I was curious how she did it, so she is letting us know how this writer thingy is working out. Please also visit her blog to get more behind the scenes of the glamorous life of an author (spoiler: it is not like the Hollywood kind-a-glamerous). I started this blog and my ‘book-thingy’ very recent, lets just say she is way ahead of me. Enjoy:
Marco: Awesome you wrote a book. Is this your first one and what is it about.
Ana: Shizzle, Inc is the first book I’ve finished. There were lots more started that died on the vine, and perhaps for a good reason.
Shizzle, Inc is a comedy novel told from the perspective of Isa Maxwell, a recent community college graduate, who is losing her grip on life in more ways than one. Isa believes that the only solution to her financial and relationship woes is to become famous, like many nobodies before her have done on the reality TV. Luckily, Isa lands on her bottom in a billionaire’s office and, as a result, lands a job as his protégé. Just as things start looking up, they get more complicated. We are talking life and death, and maybe even slow torture kind of problematical.
I’ve had a lot of fun writing this novel, and I hope readers will have fun reading it. It wasn’t easy, with a full-time job to manage, but I will always cherish the evenings spent cracking myself up over my laptop.
Marco: Why was it important for you to write this story and even more important why did you want it out there in the ‘reader verse’?
Ana: I love making people laugh, probably more than anything. I even do it in my “serious” job, using humor to engage people in boring topics, illustrate a point, or even win over difficult customers. I’ve made my CEO laugh out loud in a presentation about financial modelling – I can’t help it!
I guess writing this novel has been the ultimate test of my funny bone – do I have enough oomph for a whole story, or should I go back to cracking up my colleagues and management? It is also a test of whether I have what it takes to reinvent myself as an author. As much as I love working for a bureaucratic giant, aghm, it doesn’t compare to the dream of writing full-time. Plus, I’m sure there’s an element of approval- and attention-seeking in there, too.
Marco: I just blogged about iteration and polishing you lines and the whole story. Are you a masochistic editor, do you read to story out loud, what are you methods?
Ana: I am an obsessive-compulsive editor. I can’t stop editing even when I’m writing the first, “vomit”, draft. I’ve spent probably a year editing and re-editing the story, and, having recently discovered bits of the very first draft, can say it was worth it. I have not tried reading it out loud, but I have printed and massacred endless copies. I have sent my drafts to several beta-readers. I have hired a structural editor; a copy editor, and a proofreader. I have used Grammarly to catch some of the very last mistakes. And then, after all that, I went through it one more time. Just in case.
Writing and publishing Shizzle, Inc has been a trip. To start with, it takes balls to say to yourself, “Hey, methinks I might write something. How ‘bout a novel?” It then takes constant effort not to: get distracted; start another novel; give up altogether; hang on to your darlings; get defensive and precious about every joke; get depressed and moody; question “why do it anyway, when I could be watching TV or going outside”; resist temptation to “just post it on Amazon and get it over with”; get so scared of finishing that you keep editing it for another decade, and so on. It is now a daily head trip when I look at it on Amazon and think, there it is. It didn’t exist, and now it does, and I’m the one responsible. And people like it. All of the six reviewers so far really, really like it!
I love every aspect of this new project/passion/hobby/budding career. I’ve loved answering questions on this blog tour, and I would like to thank you, Marco, for hosting me. Now it’s your turn – here are some curve balls for you:
I see that you are a postdoctoral student, working on pharmaceutical protein research. How has this “other life” affected your writing?
What has been your most significant writing achievement to date?
What are your plans for the next project?
Marco: I will get back to you about that, this time is al about you.
I know it has been a while, sorry about that. This application had to out, and a few nights in a row writing until 3 in the morning fries your brain a bit. At least it fried mine.
I promised to continue about the introduction, and maybe a funnel. Well that is still what the introduction should do. It sets the problem, and places that problem in a larger setting from the start. So instead of saying that the coffee was so expensive in the store, we rather talk about the rain problems in Brazil, which lead to bad harvest, which drove the prices up. You get the point.
Then slowly, or if you have a limited amount of words, you zoom in to the last paragraph where you summarise what you are about the talk about in more detail.
The aim of our study was to investigate the underlying paradigm shift in coffee prices world wide, and in Scandinavian roasters in particular. We found a strong correlation between rainfall and the quality of bean used in Sweden, however in Finland lack of compromise on the use of, and availability of lesser beans drove the prices up by 12%.
You see in this made up scenario the end of the funnel.
Now you may wonder why the picture of the angle. Well I was asked how to find your own voice in a scientific text. Often there is little room for a personal opinion, so how to stress your view in a review of the literature and while mapping out the problem? It seems difficult if you want to be comprehensive over selective.
In writing about the problem and during the selection of literature to represent there is always a key paper that gives you insight or inspiration or both. For example, in my doctoral dissertation I seemed at first all over the map. I did some protein engineering, then we ran out of funding, then we worked on a different enzyme I isolated from a hyper-thermophile, and I improved some methods to make more protein. Finally, some computation modelling was done on some of our proteins as well. What as mess right?
Then I found a paper, and its message can be summarised in three concepts: you either make it, find it, or improve the process. Eureka, my patchwork was sown together: I was engineering a protein: making it. We delved in the data-bases to find the enzyme I isolated: finding it. I improved methods (processes) to improve things. I put that candy shell around the rest and it worked.
The story, the literature, the funnel, all introduction (I ended up splitting the stories up in 4 chapters) were all the same. I just found a better angle, I just found my own voice…
Lets call is appligeddon, the writing of the EU grant application is taking up a lot of time. So that is why I have not written anything for / on Friday. Last time I discussed the purpose and necessity of a good good abstract. Now I would like to address the introduction of a grant application.
Granted, not every grant application starts with an introduction in the classic sense as we know it from a written article or how we write it in a thesis. However, when you start discussing what you want to do (your aim(s)) how you going to do what you want to do you (your methods) you need to warm up the readers. In regards to many grant applications this means you are explaining why you need the money more than someone else. Typically the review will have a means to score the application given a set of guidelines. If you tick off all the boxes, your application is better than one that does not. Some systems include scoring, and sometimes a few sets of scores need to meet a threshold (like the one we are working on now). However, in general you need to break the ice fast and be clear and precise in explaining what the problem is and why it is so important to solve this problem. Later you will have to convince that you and your methods are the only ones and for sure the best ones in the world to solve this problem, which is so important in the first place.
So this is where you introduction starts. Often I see a long three-four paragraph build-up leading to the problem. This clarifies the problem when you first see it, but it is not a good hook. What do you rather read: a page introduction on the early life of Charles Foster Kane, how he reflects his position in his family when he was a child, or that memorable opening scenes that makes you want to followed his life’s story to the end?
A grant application is not a classic story in that sense, but grab the attention from the beginning. In stead of starting like this:
A promising new family of more complex protein based therapeutic agents, known as biologics is coming to light. [MORE BACKGROUND]. Resources spent in drug research increase exponentially, while the number of new drugs that come to the market remain constant.
Here we start with providing an answer to a problem that follows later. The reader did not know yet what the problem was, so the solution is not very evident. So lets start like this:
Resources spent in drug research increase exponentially, while the number of new drugs that come to the market remain constant, a phenomenon known as “Eroom’s law” coined as the reverse of Moore’s law in computer technology: the exponential increase in transistor density. To drastically revert this trend a new methodological approach is required. One of the most promising approaches is a new family of more complex protein based therapeutic agents, known as biologics.
Problem, naming the problem so we can refer to is later on without having to fully spell it out again, we need a solution! The answer is: biologics!
Now the reviewer can appreciate from the first paragraph what will come. Surely this is to brief for the full introduction, but now there is room to expand. Next time I will talk about the introduction some more. Maybe about a funnel…
An attempt thwarted by bad spelling perhaps. In any case I was one day late and even though the editor said they carefully considered it another short story got rejected for publication. Its is ok, as an academic where in peer-review publications seldom there are comments, or in grant application where 1 out 10 applications (or less) gets funded, rejection is a continuous process. It is a constant in the formula.
On Saturday scenes my “following” is not big, but the opinions I do value. Fellow writers with more experience and mostly native English speakers may read and comment. This particular short was not shot down, so it gives hope to polish it up and send it out again.
The iterative cycles of draft to the final version (whatever that may mean) are important. I surely understand the power of the long, slow push and hope I have the stamina to get through my own manuscript several times to call it done and done. One good practice I keep forgetting to implement is to read my stories out loud, record them and listen back to them. I guess because it is not natural to do so.
Us writers* are also readers. Of course we are. We start young and read many years before we really start writing. When we are very young we listen to stories, and via the media we still watch and listen a lot. I say it is not natural to listen to a story only (at least for me, there a many book-on-tape addict out there I am sure), because when we read we get so lost in the words and the story. We add our own imagination to it. We read between the lines. The words get their own identity. From that place I write. Word come as a flow, and even though I look up once in a while to see where I am going, my eyes are on the few meters ahead of me. I never forget the total picture, but the scene and the moment-of-the-words is the now. So I should break that mold and listen to the words I think. At least as a researcher I should explore the method.
I am curious about others and their methods**, so I will wait for comments while I sip my Monday morning coffee and stare over the fields of my imagination…
*) Hear me oh others, with my puffed up breast and my tail feathers blazing. I am a writer! (It felt a little pompous to include me in the “Us writers” thing. Maybe I misspelled Us, yeah lets leave it at that…)
**) And I will ask as well, a guest post blog is coming up. Very exciting stuff!
Wait a minute! Did this guy not promise to write blogs on Mondays and Fridays? Geez! Yep I did.
Yesterday, and actually all weekend was full of writing. As I mentioned many times already, two EU grant applications (one with the deadline this month, the other one was due last week Tuesday) take up some time, and I really wanted to make progress in a short story that I am writing: “Jumpers” for a competition due the end of this month as well. It is only maximum 2500 words, but I want to put some serious effort in.
In addition, the short story will be expanded upon to be a chapter in my work in progress: The death of an Emperor. Some snippets of that in its most raw form I posted already on G+. I may have to take it down at some point before publishing, maybe not, I have not decided yet. I feel right now that if the characters come alive enough in this short story, I may follow up ‘Death of an Emperor’ with a book about the rebels on Ganymede in the wake of the Emperor’s death (no spoilers here, the Emperor dies).
So basically despite the busy week I managed to push something out and made progress. Sometimes that is all you need, some progress. Once in a while I see posts that remind me of the proverbial pissing contest: “I wrote 6000 word today!” Well congratulations, I managed to do 300. I will crawl in the corner now and whither away with my unwritten literary thoughts. Of course the person is not at the moment a full time researcher, with 3 young & magical children, a heroic wife, 2 EU grant applications (‘oh shut up already, one is even already submitted!’), and trying to write a book, short stories, blogs and is not suffering from a mild addition to Renaissance kingdoms. Oh and Opaque Dreams has to be finish some time as well (I started those poems in 1997). But we will get there, slowly we push in one direction and things will move.
I noticed this in my daily work as well, just keep applying pressure in one direction and in time things move. Sometimes fast, and then keep up, some times slow, and then keep applying pressure. Breath in between. Ask for help, collaborate where you can, but push all the time.
So I managed to ramble something. Yes it is Tuesday, but any day just writing something is more than thinking about writing something. Remember that not everything you write is good, but it is better than no writing at all.
See you Friday when I try to address the Introduction. It is all about hooks and cliff-hangers is it not?
It is really Monday. Deadlines are crushing my brain so I need to get some words down here, just of release the brain of the pressure of not writing here. Funny is it not? We write because we like it, yet for a lot of people, writing a story or a book is not yet bound to publisher’s dead-lines. We are not all hounded like George R. R. Martin for not being faster.
So in our professional world we all have things to do. Where do you find time to write you stories? I am writing 2 EU grant applications now, and a short story “needs” to be finished today so I can submit it to a magazine, which has a deadline. For me I find it hard to push me to write if there are not these time crunches heading my way. Though I am not as productive as I feel I should be I, having a weekly scene for G+ #saturdayscenes helps my story get along nicely. I tried last year #NaNoMoWrite, but that seemed to much pressure. I will try again this year, we will see. So am am off to my 5th cup of coffee of the morning, outline a lecture, finish a EU grant application by tomorrow and I will submit a short story by the end of the day. Even from the bus if I have to.
Because we write and it is so much fun! It is just a typical Monday morning today (yes the power went out as well for a while ;o) I wish you all happy writing this week!
Hé this guy can’t write, he put a capital in the middle of a title! Yes, I did. On purpose. Last week I hinted at the abstract. Today I want to share some of my thoughts on it.
The abstract of an article is basically just a 250 word or so summary of the article you are about to read. The abstract is a tool for the reader to see if they are interested in reading the whole article. They found your abstract via search, or via referencing of another article. Often they find your abstract via your title. Now I am not skipping the art of writing a title, I will leave it for another day, but Research is indicating* that with a shorter title the reader is more engaged, reads more of the article and that articles with shorter titles are more likely to be cited than articles with longer titles. Why? Clarity in writing and nothing else. If you can express your self in a few words regarding the title, you are inclined to be more clear throughout the article. I spoke about clarity before, and again we can see the importance of it. I am writing this blog for several reasons; one of them is to ‘stretch my leg’ so to say. To practice my writing, to apply myself to be more clear in my wording. It is important.
Now, lets say you got a great title and a crappy abstract. You will disappoint people right away; they will not read the rest of you awesome message in your article or grant application. This applies to books as well; if you give the reader a most engaging hook in the start of the story you will lose them quickly if you never deliver on that promise. Good introduction, best application ever, super exciting conclusions of your work will not get read if your abstract is bad.
A summary of the contents of a book, article, or formal speech.
Consider the definition of an abstract, presented here as a quote. Yes it needs to be a summary of things to come, but especially in grant writing if you cannot capture the imagination of the reader here, you will lose them forever. In the case of a grant application this is the difference between the application getting read in full or not. I know which application is getting funded in this scenario. So what else does the abstract need?
It needs to activate the reader in wanting to read more. Clarity is one, getting you vision across is another. I will try to give an example:
” The Biopharmaceutical optimization and New Biological Entity facility would be part of [NAME]. The facility would extend the service of the platform to evaluation of engineered libraries of mRNA and proteins.
Currently 1/6 of the total volume of the pharmaceutical industry comprises of bio-therapeutics. The predicted market growth of bio-therapeutics is 7 – 15% per year and it is expected that the pharmaceutical importance of protein therapeutics will increase in the future. Several academic research groups are carry out ground breaking research in finding new endogenous proteins with biological functions. For therapeutic purposes, however, the proteins should be optimized, and for this, protein engineering and screening of protein libraries are needed. This unit would facilitate maturation of the original protein findings towards functional therapy.
Through this application we aim at establish a high throughput facility that focuses on screening pharmaceutically interesting proteins and mRNA species. The proteins and mRNA will be engineered based on the goals and end-points of the customers. For example, we can look for reduced immunogenicity, affinity improvements, or altered intracellular distribution or pharmacokinetics of the proteins. We will develop cell free expression systems, methods to investigate glycosylation patterns, and provide preliminary information about proteins that show promise as potential drug candidates, biochemical tools or as drug delivery vehicles.
Related equipments in the pipeline for protein engineering and expression, or as accessories, will include automated liquid handling, protein purification (for a small selection of altered proteins), characterization, and methods to investigate protein stability and aggregation. These parameters are of utmost importance for early protein drug formulations. The proposed infrastructure would facilitate a high throughput protein optimization platform towards lead molecules and their characterization in terms of stability, solubility, aggregation and delivery.
The total sum applied for is XXX XXX €. This application is not part of any network , but it has obvious links to ‘Translational technologies’, ‘Structural biology’, and ‘Stem cells and biomaterials’.”
I was involved late at the writing this application and I think it summarizes the application well. We did not get the funding though and I feel now thinking about the impact we thought we could have in the long run we may have been too modest. So on the fly** I will try to rewrite this abstract with that in mind:
“In order to transcend ‘Eroom’s’ law and break the barrier of the diminishing returns in drug development despite exponential increase in research and development a radical new approach is needed. Ground breaking research in finding new endogenous proteins with biological functions is not considering the therapeutic purpose. Only optimized proteins have a chance to meet the though quality requirements of clinical testing to find the patient to provide proper treatment. After discovery of a protein with potential, i.e. a lead molecule, several rounds of engineering and screening of protein libraries are needed. A dedicated research unit would facilitate maturation of the original discovery towards functional therapy.
Our aims are to invest the funds to establish a facility that focuses on the screening of lead-molecules, such as proteins and RNA, and to engineer them in high throughput based on the goals and end-points of the customers. The funding will provide us with better and faster methods to reduce immunogenicity, to improve affinity, to alter intracellular distribution or pharmacokinetics of the new biological drugs. Novel tool such as cell free expression systems will be at the core of the technological platform. We envision that the long-term impact of the pre-clinical data we will generate will overcome the stringent quality controls at a much earlier stage.
We propose a structural investment of XXX XXX € to acquire dedicated equipment needed for protein engineering and protein expression. The platform will include an automated liquid handling station, protein purification equipment, and equipment to investigate protein stability and aggregation. The proposed infrastructure and research methods would be unique in [PLACE] and would facilitate a high throughput protein optimization platform towards lead molecules and their characterization in terms of stability, solubility, aggregation and delivery for the whole of [Country].”
I tried to follow the order proposed from these guidelines. So with clearly stating the problem and motivation at the beginning first, to then be more indicating the impact the money would make, without too much detail about the method I hope I am enticing you to read on. To see the whole application. To get from “Mêh” to “Wow”. Let me know if the comments if I succeeded? I may use it then for a future application!
*) This image in this article is made by the authors of this articles and are under (c) of the article. If just borrowed it. Please contact me via the comments if you it is not allowed in any form.
**) I mean here I did this while writing this blog, not at an earlier stage nor with prior feed-back.
First there is the word count. Then there is the woods of publishing to get lost in, and if you are brave enough (like David Simpson and his Post-Human project) even bring it forward into a script and movie. But wait there is more: type set, cover art, bio, social media, promotion. So much to deliver a story.
I just want to tell my stories. They are in my head, they talk to me. I like stories. I see them on TV, I read them in books, I like to share stories, so it makes sense to me (with the risk of being insane) that you want to hear my stories.
So then I need to make time to get it to paper and it should all make sense. Even that is fun. I like to write, wish I had more time for it, yet it is fun.
I mentioned in my Friday blog about grant writing and that this Friday I will discuss the abstract, so I thought in the bus this morning I want to discuss the dreaded Blurb with you.
Summary, abstract or marketing tool?
On wikipedia it is listed as a promotional tool, so I guess it could be a t-shirt. Lets say you are browsing the book store and pick up the book* (yeah the cover worked!), then read the back and put it back (NOOOO! the blurb is wrong). Why? Please comment to let me know. Remember I love for you to share the stuff from my head, but now you did not want to read the book. Is it personal? Is it something I did? Can we talk about it? Should I put my phone number on the back so you can call me to ask questions?
It all sounds very silly, because I have put books down. Not my genre, more for young adults, mêh sounds dull. So if the cover did not screen me out for genre, then why does the book appear to be dull? An abstract is just that. Kind of dull, but a good summary of what is going to happen. On the other hand, if the story is a lot dialogue and scenery, but the blurb makes you feel like you going to read Die Hard 7, chances are you loose the audience quickly and reviews will be bad.
The art of writing blurbs is lost on me. Consider the first draft of probably many to come of my WIP:
“It is the year of the Rabbit, 341 years after battle-weary warriors gave us peace through a senseless war when a selfish choice endangers the fragile balance.
Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes melancholic, sometimes embedded with deceit – this is the story of the assassination of the emperor told through the eyes of his subjects. Follow along to piece together the connections of that mournful day.”
I sort of like it. I had some help due to feed-back, so let call it draft 0.85 or something. My WIP is not done yet, so this will change. The “battle-weary warriors” may be a bit much. More for the 3 prequel books I have planned in my head. The rest is ok, but is it a good abstract or a good ‘promotional’ piece. Is it a blurb, will it catch your imagination?
I guess that is what it is intending to do: to catch your imagination. That is hard to know without knowing you. I just want to tell my story…
So in the realm of trying to tell stories and not being part of a team that is put in place to sell your story, it is up to the author do so. It may not be part of our skill set, but as an author you better learn. Or do have a guy/girl? do to this for you? Please comment your thought blow.
Maybe I should stick with the t-shirt idea…
*) Same for ebooks: recommended because you like this, or you see the cover, etc…
The quality of coherence and intelligibility. Yes, this is very important. First of all, in scientific writing we need to be understood. This is important if your peers read your text, but maybe even more so if others read it. In other words: the reader needs to understand what you mean.
Of course the text needs to be written following the proper grammar rules, spelling should be perfect and writing hooks to draw the reader in and through the article or grant proposal are a given.
However, scientific writing is often taught at school and universities for a reason. Poetic freedom in the phrasing does not convey coherence and intelligibility, or clarity. Side by side the two next sentences are trying to convince the reader about a trend in the data:
We [the authors] feel that deriving from graph 1 we can conclude that no trend is apparent.
Analysis of graph 1 showed no trend [evaluated by method X].
We can clearly see the difference, the graph should not be open for interpretation if it is used to make a statement or an argument. In science presenting any data for the public eye is definitely an invitation to interpret the data from the reader’s perspective. The text is there to weight it, agree, or counter with scientifically sound arguments. Scientific ‘truths’ change all the time due to better understanding of the underlying phenomena.
the message of any give scientific text is to make a clear what has happened, or in case of a grant application, how things will be done in the future. There should be no room for opinion nor should is be a slideshow of the data produced. The reader should ‘get’ what the author(s) message is.
The fundamental purpose of scientific discourse is not the mere presentation of information and thought, but rather its actual communication – George Gopen, Judith Swan*.
From the quote above we may get a hint in the difference of a novel and a scientific article. A bit more difficult is an article written about a scientific article. Most often this is a statement or opinion about its message. I would argue that most articles about science news are not scientific in nature, but I am open for the discussion.
Now, a scientific text is typically divided in following sections:
The introduction – Background, state of the art, statement of what was done/aims.
Methods – How did we do this thingy/how will we do this thingy
Results – This is what we have observed and how much the data is worth within the context.
Discussion – (Sometimes mixed with the Result section) reflects the quality of the results and how the results compare to the state of the art and beyond.
Conclusion – This is what we found and this is what it means.
Grant applications may follow a similar scheme or more likely are presented in the form of a project plan/project work-flow. Of course you do not have results yet, but you will tell how you expect the future results will impact society/your research field/your aims/teaching/etc… There is also a tiny bit of room for your opinion, but be careful! It should be a logical statement that flows from the presentation, not your personal feeling about the topic: “give me money, because I think it is the most important research ever!” does not work. A discussion of a topic A, described in reference of problem B, which can be solved with a novel method C is a better argument, but I will get back to that another day.
I want to discuss from my point of view each section mentioned in the bullet-list above from a grant proposal point-of-view in the next blog posts. The reason for this is twofold: (a) I am writing a grant right now. It may clear my head and help in the writing, and (b) before you present data that you have done, you need money to do the work. So logically the article comes later. Also I need to get back to the lab…
*) Please find an excellent article by George Gopen and Judith Swan on the The Science of Scientific Writing to find more details on how to write more clearly if you are interested.