If I had to name the single hardest part of science writing, it’s that the process of revision never ends.
Okay, that’s not true. Eventually things do get submitted—grants get sent off to NIH, papers get pushed over to journal editors and reviewers, and for a month or two or three, you can shift your attention to something else. For me, I usually go back to doing experiments, with a small amount of time spent reading papers. When I’m writing, though, I become absolutely obsessed with whatever I am writing. It can be very hard for me to tear myself away from writing (or reading so I can write). Writing has an urgent quality. Whereas experiments are the stuff of everyday science for me, writing means that I am doing Something Very Important.
My boss and I have been working on a grant for over two months now. I have written and rewritten this grant, and then written and rewritten some more. I am so tired of the grant, but I know we’re getting close to a final product. Perhaps I am convinced because I am delusional, but I don’t care. We’re getting close!
Perversely, it gets really hard and really easy at the end. It’s hard because I am tired of revisions. My writing muscles are fatigued. My eyes would prefer not to read those words any more. My brain is getting bored. I’m easily distracted. But it gets easier because some of the edits are just line edits—change this phrase, add a sentence or two about this idea. Some of the edits are moving things around, which is also easy. And I do get breaks too, when the grant is in my boss’s hands and I am temporarily free of it. (Free to do experiments, that is!)
Despite all this, I still love it. I love that I’ve been able to spend so many hours reading and writing lately. I love the ideas that have emerged during grant writing. This project makes me feel eager to do the science that I am proposing. I think this love is the product of devotion. I don’t think that science is religion—oh hell no!—but it’s more like I am an artisan of ideas and experiments. I have faith is the process, and that is what is carrying me forward.
Perhaps devotion itself creates the faith we need to continue on our paths.