Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Time to shake things up

In September 2016 on September 29, 2016 at 12:17 pm


Sarah: In April this year I wrote an off-the-cuff post about career pathways and dreams for my future.

Little did I know what was around the corner! I’m delighted to report that this month I will start a new role as Adelaide Life Sciences Editor with The Conversation Australia.

So what’s The Conversation? Taken from their website:

The Conversation is an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public.

Our team of professional editors work with university, CSIRO and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.

My job will be to work with researchers to help them craft well-written, accessible and news-worthy articles that anyone can read for free.

It will be a busy, exciting and quite demanding role, so please bear with me as I settle in and work out my new modus operandi for blogging and social media.

Vive le changement!


Mystery metaphors: guess who?

In June 2016 on June 16, 2016 at 3:02 pm


Sarah: Here’s a piece of writing I composed at a storytelling workshop I ran recently with SA committee members of the Australian Science Communicators.

SA Writing Centre Development Manager David Chapple encouraged a room full of 50 attendees to use metaphor to describe someone they felt strongly about (like or dislike). We were asked to include reference to sound, smell, an animal, a plant and to record what we had learnt from this person.

He’s like a scared little boy. Terrified they might see him for who he really is.

When I see him talk, I feel like I want to slap him. His face moves like a rubber figure. He pauses deliberately so that his adoring audience has time to applaud and hoot. His words are so ugly and because I know he has chosen them on purpose they make me want to approach him and punch.

He’s like a tomato with a blonde wig, all red and yellow and waiting to be smashed and burst.

It’s unbearable, because although I want to run at him and make him shut up I also want to run far, far way and pretend I never heard him.

The flags around him make him seem important. The T shirts with logos scream louder than his words. He has support. He has so much support that it’s unbearable. Where did theses people come from? How are they so different from me?

He’s like an indignant Cheshire cat. Grinning. Stupidly grinning. He knows I can’t reach him, he’ll always be up that tree and I’ll be down here.

He’s proud. He’s proud to be such a smug, smarmy arsehole. It makes me nauseous.

He’s taught me that this is how history is made. When one person capitalises on pre-existing fear.

Who is it?


[image thanks to]

Why do I work like this?

In May 2016 on May 4, 2016 at 1:18 pm


Sarah: Last week I ran a marathon and juggled burning batons.

Not literally in my running shoes plus fuel and matches of course, but it felt just as massive.

I had taken on a huge writing job for a new client, and it coincided with the second week of school holidays during which I had previously scheduled multiple allied health appointments for me and my kids.

Looking back, I’m amazed it actually got done. With early wake-ups and late nights and very high levels of screens and ignoring healthy cooking and being cranky with my children and pet, somehow it happened. A typical day looked like this:

5.30am –> awake and sitting at computer

7.30am –> love and breakfast for kids

8am –> load of washing on, then walk dog

8.30am –> more work for me, kids play and fight and play

10am –> hang out washing, dash to dentist

12pm –> buy and eat sushi for lunch, play at the park on the way home

1pm –> more work for me, kids on screens

3pm –> yell at kids to get off screens and do something active, they walk dog

4pm –> hair appointments

5pm –> more work for me, kids on screens with intermittent yelling

6pm –> take kids and dog to the local oval for a run and kick of the ball

7pm –> OMG what is for dinner?

8pm –> more work (husband cleans kitchen, plays with kids, gets them into bed)

10pm –> yes, still working

11pm –> suppose I’d better sleep

Why do I do this to myself? Why not just say no to the client, or delay the work, or opt for a simpler life with more sleep and lower income?

I love being busy and am at my most efficient and effective when I have a lot on. But every now and again I wonder if this is not the best way to operate. Things would be a lot simpler if I got a fixed job, walked away from the house to a set office, used more Out of Hours School Care and babysitters, ate takeaway and threw the clothes in the drier every day.

But then yesterday — as I took a deep breath and hid in the laundry and actually found pairs of matching clean socks — I listened to Radio National’s Life Matters program. In this episode, guests of host Cassie McCullagh were Professor Ross Anderson and Associate Professor Susan Bartlett of McGill University in Montreal. Speaking on the risks of heart disease and joint problems, Professor Anderson said:

Individuals who sit for prolonged periods of time, without interruption, are at greater risk.

A lot of Australians commute to work passively, in a car.

Most of us sit behind a desk or at a computer for the entire morning, and in many cases we don’t get up to take a break.

We sit at the cafeteria eating lunch passively, and then we go back to work and back home in our cars.

This is not the way I work. I suppose that’s good.

I also wonder if I would be as efficient if I knew I had endless hours in each day to dedicate to my writing tasks. Even today, when deadlines are less pressing, I can feel myself drifting off, thinking too much, checking out clothing online, seeing what everyone’s up to on Facebook.

Snatched windows of time in-between physical tasks forces me to focus and deliver. And it helps me lose my inner smart-arse.

Now excuse me, the dog needs a run. And so do I.

PS. I’ve written previously about the need to sit less in several posts: Sitting and standing, Making a stand, and The walking meeting

[image thanks to Ky:]

Playing around with communication

In August 2015 on August 21, 2015 at 2:40 pm


Sarah: Most of the time, I write about science.

But I also like to dabble in other bits and pieces as well.

For example, recently I’ve written about fashion, long distance running and twitcher tourism.

From a broader perspective, I’ve also been playing around with making micro-movies using Vine and Vinyet.

In the kitchen I’ve shown the process of putting together an omelette, making moustache biscuits and constructing an easy ice-cream cake.

At the South Australian Museum I’ve recorded a giant squid and compiled skeletons. At the Adelaide Zoo, I captured a panda…ACTUALLY MOVING.

With just a few minutes planning, you can easily use these tools to share your experiences and even tell stories. Each time I capture footage, I perform a very quick analysis of the following points:

  • Visual appeal: what’s going to make this look good?
  • Structure: what’s the beginning, middle and end of each mini-film?
  • Audience: who might view and like this?
  • Marketing: how should I send this out, and tag it?

Playing around with communication skills is really so easy with a mobile phone.

[image thanks to David Guyler]

Science and social media: don’t be shy, just start!

In July 2015 on July 16, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Sarah: Today I was delighted to talk to science students as part of The University of Adelaide’s Winter Courses in Science Communication (undergrad and postgrad).

I summarised how I’ve used social media to market my blog, to build my brand as a science writer and to connect with fantastic people across the world.

Number one tip for new users of social media? Don’t be shy, just start!

What makes a great editor?

In June 2015 on July 2, 2015 at 11:18 pm

Pexels people-apple-iphone-writing

Sarah: The editorial in my Winter 2015 edition of Adelaide Hills Magazine tells me it’s the last volume to be headed up by Max Anderson.

Max was an important influence when I was working out how freelance writing was going to pan out as a career for me. He took a chance and gave me a story to write for the magazine (it was a shocking act: I’d just sent him a terrible pitch for a completely unrelated and mind-blowingly boring article idea). Also, he believed in the power of science stories. And he still does – if you have the chance, please do track down Adelaide Hills Magazine Winter 2015 edition: the interview with Climate Scientist and Ecologist Corey Bradshaw is quite outstanding (it’s written by Lainie Anderson – you can catch snippets of it here).

But best of all, Max — along with other editors in my life — provided a chance for me to see how a great editor can help your own writing progress.

Here’s a quick list that summarises 5 of my thoughts as to what makes a great editor:

  1. A great editor doesn’t leave you floundering, wondering what he or she wants from you. He or she is clear in what the word count should be, provides examples of similar articles, gives a little bit of early guidance and options as to what it might turn out like, and then leaves it up to you.
  2. A great editor doesn’t accept exactly what you’ve written the first time. She or he provides a critical appraisal – tells you which bits work and why, and then gives it back so you can make it better. All of it.
  3. A great editor might change his or her mind as to what the piece should consist of after the first or second draft. This feels terrible as a writer — you’re in the zone, you’ve created what feels like a good story…and then suddenly BANG. It needs a new section?! But yes, it does. Once you reach the final version, you will see it.
  4. A great editor insists on a kick-butt beginning and an unforgettable ending. There’s no point in having a brilliantly crafted meat in the sandwich unless the reader actually gets through the top layer of bread, right? Similarly, it’s utterly disappointing to finish a meal with a bad taste in your mouth. Open with a bang, finish with polish.
  5. A great editor asks you what you think of other stuff in the magazine and the world, and actually listens to your answer.

[image thanks to]

Hot tip: be a person not a robot

In May 2015 on May 20, 2015 at 11:27 am

robot image

Sarah: It feels like everyone is on social media now.

My sister, my dad and even my twelve year old cousin send out “selfies” and tweets onto the world wide web every single day. In Australia alone there are now more than 2.5 million tweeters, 4 million people using Instagram and nearly 14 million Facebook users (see here for more stats).

To use twitter and other social media platforms to rise above the vast online crowd and present a strong professional presence you need planning, practise, a little bit of canny and a few hot tips.

In Adelaide on Friday May 29 2015, I’ll be sharing my experiences of social media and professional development through a session on Social Brand Building, part of Digital Boot Camp – a joint production between SA Writers Centre and The Walkley Foundation.

To get everyone in the mood, I’ve compiled a few early pointers.

Here are five things you can do right now to help you develop a trusted voice on social media.

  1. Make your twitter bio meaningful

When you’re using twitter as a professional tool, your bio is the perfect opportunity to explain who you are, what you do and why people should follow you. Here’s mine (see @sciencesarah):

Freelance science writer | GradDipSciComm PhD BMedSci | I’ve got science in my life .

  1. Choose a suitable avatar

Your photo is important. Make it headshot, let people see your face and try to appear friendly. People want to know you!

  1. Be a person not a robot

Yes, platforms like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck allow you to schedule tweets and collect statistics. But don’t become a slave to the numbers. Successful tweeting often means interacting in real time through real conversations.

  1. Different platforms demand different content

A few extra clicks will allow me to post the same image and words across my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts. And yet I rarely choose to do so. Each of my accounts has a different audience and so for it to be successful I should craft different content for each platform.

  1. Don’t abuse the DM

Mutual followers/followees on twitter can DM (direct message) each other. It’s a privilege abused by many Twitter users – in my opinion, it’s overstepping the mark when you follow a fellow writer, only to have them turn around and DM you an invitation to ‘please buy their book’.

Hope to see you on May 29-30 at the SA Writers Centre for Social Media Boot Camp! See here for more information, and to book.

This post was first published by SA Writers Centre on May 19 2015. 

[Image credit: This pin-up is featured in the comic book, Unleashed #4, produced by Chalkline Studios. Shyloh is created and owned by Ed Dansart. Check out his work at]

To share or not to share

In May 2015 on May 10, 2015 at 11:24 am


Sarah: How much of ‘you’ should you reveal when you’re a blogger, a journalist or a writer? In a world of social media — where connections and share-ability matter — it’s an issue that I grapple with regularly.

I trained as a research scientist during the 1990s. Whilst things are slightly more liberal now, back then I was taught that come hell or high water, I should never dare to use personal pronouns or include my thoughts and opinions in any written materials. Science is objective. Science has procedures. Science is not influenced by emotion or personal experiences. Science has a reputation to uphold!

When I started blogging and writing for more general audiences, it took me many years to be work out the right balance of ‘being me’ in a public space. Me a scientist; but also me a writer, a citizen, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a runner, a cook, a netball coach…I think you get my drift.

Gently, slowly, I started to wrap my head around writing in the first person. Still thinking from the perspective of science, through this blog I shared experiences from my home life, my working life and many other things in between. Now I’m quite comfortable with revealing a little of myself through my words. Not too much….just a little, and only in the right context.

Like scientists, wine writers on the whole are not renowned for being liberal with personal details. Sure, they’re inclined to get a bit emotional about the 2008 Penfolds Grange, but overall they keep a lid on it.

When wine aficionado Nick Ryan began writing a regular column for Adelaide’s Sunday Mail newspaper, he too felt nervous about revealing too much of himself. Here’s a story I wrote about Nick’s shared experiences of parenting, losing a partner and the benefits that can come from letting an audience get to know you.

[Photo credit: Got Credit]

The day unpaid writing and networking happily collided

In March 2015 on March 31, 2015 at 1:47 pm

severed image copy

Sarah: Should I write for free? It’s one of the toughest questions faced by writers and other content creators. Yes, you want to see your name in a byline. Yes, you need more experience to add to your portfolio. Yes, you want to show a business that you’d like to build a relationship with it.

But when should you say ‘sure thing!’ versus ‘thanks, but no’ to unpaid writing opportunities? I’ve heard many authors comment on the pros and cons of producing content for free. As I’ve written previously, Adelaide-based author Patrick Allington said,

“If you’re considering taking on unpaid work, you need to work out whether and how you’re going to make it work for you.”

On her website, freelance writer Allison Tait said,

“There are many people who will tell you that you should never write for free. There are others who will tell you that it is essential that you write for free to build a portfolio. I say… maybe. I say put a value on your words and decide where you think you will get a return on your investment. I say think about how you will transition from writing for free (should you decide to do this) to getting paid for your writing. I say choose very, very wisely where you put your words.”

Many scientists undertake communication activities for free, driven by passion and a desire to spread the word about how wonderful and diverse and useful science can be.

When I was a brand new freelance writer, I did some unpaid writing – mostly on this blog. In fact, having a daily commitment to write was one of the reasons for starting the project. Now I’m happy to report that the majority of my writing does provide an income.

However I still do write some words for free. Included amongst these are book reviews and interviews for the website Science Book a Day. An initiative of George Aranda, I support it because I believe it’s a great and unique idea and I enjoy reading books with a critical eye – hopefully it will improve my writing as well.

Recently I experienced another benefit of this commitment. Drinking champagne at the inaugural Women in Media event in Adelaide, I was introduced to a senior writer and books editor at The Advertiser (South Australia’s primary printed newspaper). I told her of a wonderful science/history book I had just reviewed for Science Book a Day – Severed: A history of heads lost and found. She said it sounded wonderful. She said would I like to submit a shorter review of the same book for The Advertiser? She said she would pay me.

It’s a positive outcome that arose from a happy collision between networking and an unpaid writing gig that I did for love.

Heaps good

In July 2014 on July 30, 2014 at 9:27 pm


Sarah: I’ve been doing lots of writing lately, and it’s making me happy!

One of my publication sites is The Lead SA, a website set up to share content from South Australia with the world. Stories and news leads appearing on the website are open to anyone who wants to publish them or use them as a source. The goal of the resource is to counter the fact that

“knowledge of South Australia is restricted to a tiny number of specific subjects, such as brands of wine, the Adelaide Oval and its historic scoreboard and some infamous crime.”

If you’re interested, here are the stories I’ve created for The Lead:

[image thanks to Megan Poore on flickr]