Tag Archives: science

My Name is Megan and I’m a Comma Addict.

On the first day of school, I always explained to my high school astronomy students that unfortunately they had ended up with a science teacher who had an english degree. You see, I explained patiently, the final step of the Scientific Method is communication and if you suck at writing then no one is going to give you money or take you seriously. And I made them write. A lot. Poor dears. I would have felt their pain if I hadn’t generated so much pain for myself – I had to grade all that crap. And crap it was. Oh yes.

The annecdote I always shared with them was that I had (successfully) made it through many writing classes without ever truly understanding how to properly use a comma (I also didn’t understand passive voice, but that’s another post). Until one day I began the one-semester science writing class for my geology degree.

My instructor (whose name I can’t remember but who fills me with terror to this day) was a paleontologist and had actually been an editor for the US Geological Survey. She was the meanest teacher I ever had. I thought I was a really good writer – at least, a really good scientific writer. But she disagreed. And come to find, she was right. Because you can’t be a really good science writer if you have at least three commas in every sentence. And I did. And do you know how she broke me of it (mostly)? She took off a point for EVERY COMMA. Can you imagine how many extra commas a comma-abuser can generate in a three page article on bivalves? A lot.

I will never forget the feeling when I saw those papers returned with big “D”‘s written on the top and red marks all over. It took me a few assignments before it sunk in that I was not understanding something. That I wasn’t a bad-ass writer. And I was angry at all those advanced and AP english teachers who never noticed. Why didn’t they notice? Why hadn’t they saved me from myself when I was still young and maleable? Why had they left me to the taunting of Dr. Paleo-er-than-thou?

So thank you, mean writing teacher. Thank you for not caring about my feelings at the expense of my learning. I still abuse commas sometimes, but at least I know I have a problem. I’m in recovery. I’m also really sensitive to comma-abuse in other people’s writing. I couldn’t get through the prologue of Game of Thrones because of all the commas and I’m told those books are a good read. So maybe I shouldn’t thank her after all…


You know how they wean heroin addicts using methadone? I think I’ve substituted ellipses and hyphens for commas. When I was reading back through this post, I deleted 4 ellipses. Criminal.


I just found and removed two unnecessary commas from the above post. Now that’s just embarrassing.


Filed under Reflection, Writing Craft

Research defeated

I’ve been putting off my re-write partially based on the research I still needed to do. I wanted to have all my research done and in hand so that as I worked through my manuscript I could deal with issues as they came up – as opposed to just going through for character or plot revisions and again for science. Well, now I’m out of excuses. I still need to write up a little treatise on how I’m going to adapt my research but the actual work part is done. Thank goodness I’ve taught biology or I would never have understood all this crap, much less been able to create with it!

I’ve learned all about viral┬ámetabolic processes, their reproduction, enveloped vs. non-enveloped, lytic cycles vs. lysogenic cycles, gene therapy, retroviruses, and viral vaccines. I’ve also researched a bunch of different virus families their respective effects. And also cryogenics. Whew.

I think the break through was me leaving the house entirely. I’ve been trying to research here and there with my babies constantly interrupting me and it’s really hard to get the sense of a complex topic when your reading time is in two minute increments. So I took my laptop to a local coffee shop with WiFi and nursed a piece of key lime pie for two hours while I read about viruses. And amazingly, around the 1 and a half hour mark, I finally started making connections between what I was reading and what I needed to create for my novel. So now I need to write up a description of my virus – how it works, how it will be treated and eventually cured, how it’s transmitted, etc – and then maybe I’ll send it to my old department head/AP Biology teacher/ Dr. of biochemistry and see if he thinks it’ll pass. Unfortunately, the school year is about to begin at my old school so I don’t know if he’ll have time to review it.

Regardless, that’s one less excuse for not getting to my re-write and I’m feeling motivated! Go me! It also reminds me how much I love science. I do kind of miss it…

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Filed under Manuscript