ByDavid Latchman, writer at
Dork and science nerd. Follow me on Twitter @sciwriterdave as I explore some real science. Check my blog
David Latchman

It is hard to believe that the Spring 2016 MoviepilotU session started six weeks ago. It felt longer. I can not believe what an incredible journey it was or how much I would learn from it. It was also exciting to see what other writers are capable of just by reading their work. So what did I gain from this? To tell you that I have to tell you what I hoped to accomplish from all this, and why I made the insane decision to try this program out.

I did have some experience as a writer, so I did not quite come into the program with no experience. My background is in science writing and I tend to focus on long form (1200+ words) articles. While there is room for this on the web, it is not ideally suited for a few reasons I will get into. I am also starting my own science based blog Science vs. Hollywood and learning to write for the people interested in comics, television, and movies was something I needed to do.

Getting Accepted

My first reaction was one of sheer terror and panic. Producing four articles week sounds difficult and it was. I was worried that I would stretch my abilities in ways I could not imagine and fail. Also, how in the world can I come up with four ideas to write about every week. Over the course of six weeks, that amounts to 24 ideas. I don't think I have more than five. Surely that is not a good sign. Is it?

Ideas can be Hard to come by

This sould come as no surprise. Coming up with ideas is hard work and it helps to talk with your mentor. Sometimes even when you do come up with an idea and start writing, you discover it just does not work. There can be several reasons for this. Maybe it just is not the right time to write it... for you. Maybe you need the idea to mature a little more in your head. Or maybe you just can not write this piece.

Many writers are pretty smart people and we have a sense of invincibility about us. We do not think we can put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and fail at doing something. This is something I have experienced before coming into the program, and something I experienced while writing here. You would not believe how many ideas got shot down. You have to know when you hit a wall, and when to try something new. Screaming at you laptop helps you feel better.

Inspiration can come in the Strangest Places

If you have been paying attention, I basically told you it is all right to quit. Sometimes you need to set an idea aside. I often think of the writing process as a birthing one, and each article gestates and is born in its own time. One article in particular, Understanding The Visual Narrative of comics, was something I started over two years ago. Unfortunately, this idea is not one that many editors were going for when I pitched it to them.

The thing is, I really loved the idea, and there is more I would like to do on the subject. I have a ton of notes on how the brain works when we read comics; an insane amount. I have even interviewed people. My notes are just lying there... doing nothing. At least, for now.

MPU gave me the freedom to write that article I had abandoned so long ago. Bottom line, just because you have quit on an idea, it does not mean you have given up on it. If you care about it, it will come in its own time. Unless you are being paid to write a piece then you better force its birth somehow. When you finally get that long forgotten piece out, the feeling is amazing!

Writing for the web is different from Print

As I mentioned before, I did come into this with some experience as a writer but that experience did not count as much as you might think. Most of the things I have written has appeared in print, and that is a whole different beast than publishing on the Internet.

The reason for this is simple. Our brains work differently when we read text on screen to when we read on a page. There is a certain physicality to reading on paper. That tactile sensation of holding something anchors your mind to the information it reads, and that is absent when you read text on the screen. This chages how you write in several ways. Not only must sentences be shorter, but so too must your articles.

Some people may bemoan that the shorter form of writing found on the web is making us dumber. It is not. This is not an intellect thing but the way your brain processes information. Shorter pieces of information are easier to process when we have nothing to physically anchor them to. That is why images help. Before, when writing in print, you do not think of putting too many images in there. On the screen, you need to. Images help anchor the words for your reader. In one sense, writing on the web is an more a visual experience than a verbose one.

This does not mean that long-form writing has no place on the web. It does. If your article needs it, then go for it. One of my longform articles Is there a right side in "Captain America: Civil War?", and one of the articles I am most proud of, needed to be the length it was to cover the subject adequately.

Of course, writing a long article takes time and effort. If you want to keep people's attention, you need to write quickly and often. Being able to use short and longform writing and knowing when appropriate is an essential skill to have today.

Have Fun

Really, why else do it? Well, there is money. But if you don't enjoy it, it will become a soul sucking experience. Sure, there were times I wanted to bang my head against something hard but I did enjoy myself.

Final Goals? Success or Failure?

I would say that being in this program was great. Many of us have other things we do, and are unable to focus on our writing in any significant way. Being in MPU forced me to do this by thinking about writing constantly. Before, unless I had a contract or an assignment to write, I did not think too hard about it. For the past six weeks, writing consumed me.

This was positive in a few ways. As I mentioned, I am building my science blog. Focusing on writing helped me focus on that blog and what I want out of it. When the new Ghostbuster trailer came out, it incentivised me to find a contact in Sony Entertainment to see if I could interview one of the science consultants for the upcoming movie. Guess what? Sony responded to the nobody that is me, and they are willing to work with me.

(Oh, did I mention I am a nobody? Well, I am,)

(I am so excited! Did I say that? In case I didn't... I am.)

This experience has given me a clearer direction of what I want out of my writing, to explore the connection of science and its portrayal in popular culture. I am really excited about this. As for the whole MPU thing, I highly recommend it.


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