The Road goes ever on and on

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, from The Lord of the Rings

The road leading to McDonald Observatory in western Texas. The dome on the left houses the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET), which I visited for my now-defunct book. [Credit: moi]
The road leading to McDonald Observatory in western Texas. The dome on the left houses the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET), which I visited for my now-defunct book. [Credit: moi]
January 1 is the New Year in the Gregorian calendar, the secular calendar system that is the default throughout much of the world. Unlike many other calendars, the Gregorian system is divorced from astronomical references: January 1 corresponds to no astronomically significant occurrence, the months have nothing to do with the cycles of the Moon (even though that’s where the word “month” comes from), and the solstices and equinoxes land on dates of no particular calendrical importance.

However we mark it, though, the period of time it takes for Earth to complete one orbit around the Sun is significant from our perspective. (See Phil Plait’s post for a lot more astronomical information about days and years.) It’s a cultural resetting of the clock for many of us, an opportunity to start new projects, make changes we deem necessary, and possibly eliminate some of the cruft from the corners of existence.

So, in that spirit, here are some personal reflections on the year that was, and some thoughts on what’s to come. This is mostly for my own mental organization, so

Looking back at 2013

I won’t lie: 2013 was a bit of a roller-coaster of a year for me. It was by far my most successful year since becoming a writer: I contributed to Slate, Nautilus, BBC Future, Universe Today, and the New Yorker’s “Elements” blog, as well as to Ars Technica and Double X Science, where I’ve been writing for two years. Additionally, I have pieces lined up in three  publications where I’ve never contributed before in early 2014, plus several feature stories in places I’ve written previously. (Two of those stories in particular I’m very excited about, so it’s only professional ethics that keep me from blabbing about them.) My blog post “If you love a flower found on a star” won a place in the Open Lab 2013 anthology of the best science writing online. I was also hired by CosmoQuest to run their online CosmoAcademy classes, about which you’ll be hearing more in the next week.

However, my book-in-progress, Back Roads, Dark Skies, has failed to find a publisher, despite many months of effort and about 30,000 accumulated words of text. At present, I still intend to finish writing the book, but I may actually start over from the beginning, rethinking my approach in hopes of snagging a publisher. To stave off the inevitable question: I don’t want to self-publish because I’ve already invested too much time and money in the project. Self-publication is fine for those who are already employed, because they don’t need a paycheck to cover their time while they write. Any writing I do that’s not for pay is a loss, and it’s unlikely self-publication will pay back what I’ve already spent.

And let’s face it: I need to double my income in 2014, or else writing for a living is unsustainable in the long term. In other words, this may be my last year of writing full-time. I sincerely hope that’s not the case, but this is a hard life I’ve chosen, and very few science writers can hack it. (Many of the most successful science writers are employed by magazines or universities.)

Far ahead the Road has gone

Honestly, I’ve  seriously considered dumping this blog. As with the problem of writing my book without a publisher, every word I write here represents time I could be spending writing something for pay. It’s a time sink, and even though a lot more of you read Galileo’s Pendulum now than even a year ago, every other publication I write for draws more eyes.

I love blogging, though: it’s a chance to write about topics that no publication will pay me for. I have an insatiable need to explain, but explanatory writing without an obvious “news” hook is often a hard sell to editors. Also, on the blog, I can take a personal and reflective tone that’s not generally possible elsewhere. Sure, I could stand having an editor look over everything I write (and my writing certainly is better when I’m edited, in terms of structure, conciseness, and general coherence). However, I doubt anything like my Little Prince post would find a publisher anywhere other than a personal blog. Blogging even helps me focus on paid writing: my most productive blogging periods correspond to my most productive periods of writing for pay.

So, what do I do? I’m not sure. For now, I’m going to do nothing differently on the blog. The rate of posting is already low (other than the daily Science Advent series in December), so nobody can claim I’ve been keeping up a rapid schedule. I can only ask forgiveness if you think I don’t blog often enough; I’d love to do more.

However, I did make one very hard decision: I can no longer contribute to Double X Science. This is a publication I believe in very much, and believe me that nothing bad has prompted me to make this decision. It’s a labor of love in the best of senses for everyone involved, and if my personal situation changes, I’d go back there instantly. I’ve got one more contribution in the pipeline, so stay tuned for that. My gratitude to editor-in-chief/fearless leader Emily Willingham for her work on this site is without bounds. I’m happy to call her my friend — along with all the other great editors and contributors there. If you aren’t reading the site, why not?

And who knows? January 2015 could see things very differently. Thanks to everyone for reading, and hopefully we’re all in line for a good year.

One response to “The Road goes ever on and on”

  1. I have been reading your blog for sometime–and I believe it’s among the better blogs. It’s too bad your book could not find a publisher. I will continue to read your blog–and I hope to see your book in print. Perhaps the new year will bring a different perspective—I don’t know? Best of luck–

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