I am way ahead of the scientists

nsf_logoI was driving to work when I heard a story on Michigan Radio’s “The Environment Report” about how scientists are being encouraged to blog about their scientific studies by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Basically, the NSF is giving more attention to grant proposals that are able to show that their study has a wider social impact, which can be shown through social media.

Marketing manager for the Nature Conservancy’s Great Lakes Office Melissa Molenda says it’s not easy to turn scientists into social media believers.

“The scientists are inherently introverted people, and were somewhat reluctant to do something so public and so extroverted,” she said.

At this point in the story, I really honed in because she just described most novelists that I know. Even though fiction may be considered to be at that other end of the creative spectrum from science, they unite on the issues of blogging.

Some people see social media (blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) as an avenue to new readership, new collaborations,  and potentially new funding. The story mentioned aquatic ecologist, Matt Herbert, who tried his hand at Twitter (@Etheostomatt) and now has 700 followers.

“I’ve gone to different professional meetings where I will interact with scientists that I’ve never met before, but I know them through Twitter,” Herbert said.

“So I’ve actually met people, I’ve built relationships with people, through Twitter.”

But for every success story, whether for science or fiction, there is the fear of blogging.

Bradley Cardinale is an associate professor in the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment. He thinks Twitter is an inefficient way to communicate among scientists, and he says blogs can force unhealthy trade-offs.

“Keeping a blog, for instance, would be a heck of a lot of time on my part,” said Cardinale.

“I could spend two hours a night writing on my blog to communicate my science to a general public, or I could spend two hours a night writing up my science paper so that I summarize my data and tell people what the actual results are in a rigorous way,” he said.

For writers like me, the struggle isn’t between writing for the public vs. writing for our colleagues, it is writing our novel vs. attracting potential readers. The problem is that if we never work on our novel because we spend our time blogging, we won’t have anything to offer to the people who like our writing style and want to hear the stories that we have inside of us.

So there must be a balance. We live a world apart from the days where writers could retreat to nature and write without consideration of things like platforms, online footprints, and marketing plans. Publishers today expect storytellers to be as savvy in self-promotion as they are in sentence structure. Introversion itself must be put aside in order to plan successful book tours and television interviews.

And so, we blog, but we also write in private. We communicate with the masses while writing a book for just one person. And we hope that our efforts will not have been for naught.

If you are a blogger, are you also working on your novel? And if you are a novelist, when is the last time you updated your blog? And if you are neither, what do you expect or want from authors today?

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2 responses to “I am way ahead of the scientists

  1. It’s essential for a writer to have a blog or a facebook fan page, if only to provide someplace to send readers to learn more about you and find your books. It’s incredibly annoying when you want to contact a writer to find that they have no public site.

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