I’ve always been fascinated by the way the minds of scientists and engineers work. Maybe that’s why I write about them so often, especially women in these fields. One thing that always amazes me is that artists’ minds often work in the same ways, which is our topic for this month.
Arts and Sciences: Not Mutually Exclusive
Of course, many scientists and engineers are artists in their own right. For example, Einstein was an accomplished musician As his second wife said, “Music helps him when he is thinking about his theories. …He goes to his study, comes back, strikes a few chords on the piano, jots something down, returns to his study.” Einstein also was know to carry his violin, Lina, with him practically everywhere.
Inventor Temple Grandin also felt an early connection to the arts. As she writes in the preface to Sy Montgomery’s TEMPLE GRANDIN: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World (from this month’s book list), “Before I started my career with animals, I was one of those kids who did not fit in with the rest of the crowd. … What saved me and enabled me to succeed were my love of making things and creating art.”
So what are some common traits that make scientists and artists, including writers, successful? Another book on this month’s list, NO BOUNDARIES: 25 Women Explorers and Scientists Share Adventures, Inspiration, and Advice by Clare Fieseler and Gabby Salazar, is rich with examples. Here are a few.
- Curiosity – For most scientists and writers, it all starts with curiosity. As Dr. Danielle N. Lee, an American mammologist and outreach scientist writes, “The questions I asked as a child were kind of the same questions I’m asking now. … I was always very curious.”
- Training – Wasfia Nazreen, a mountaineer and activist from Bangladesh, would never attempt to summit a mountain without training physically. Likewise, writers must train too. They study the craft of writing in workshops, ready and study books by authors they admire, and most of all, practice writing as much as possible.
- Courage to take risks– Ecologist Dominique Goncalves of Mozambique emailed a brand-new science lab out of the blue to ask if they offered internships. She was told no. But eventually the director emailed her back to find out why she was so interested. That email changed her life and led to her career. Goncalves’ advice? “If you see an opportunity, take it. But even if there is no opportunity – make one.” Authors take risks every day, trying new formats and approaches, for example. A fiction writer may try out nonfiction writing. Or an author who normally writes with a lyrical (poetic) voice, may try out a humorous voice. Such risks can lead to new writing opportunities. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
- Perseverance – Egyptian archaeologist Nora Shawki notes the importance of perseverance when working toward a career in science. She says, “Even if you get rejected, be persistent, become resilient, and stay focused. Rejection will mold you and push you and make you grow.” Guess what? Authors experience different types of rejection all the time. Perhaps they get unfavorable feedback on a manuscript. Or an editor decided not to publish their next book. Yet that rejection could lead to a better book or opportunities with a new publishers.
What other traits to you think successful writers and artists need and why? Do scientists share that trait? Why or why not?
Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA and now writes about women in science and much more. Her books include the WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illus. Tracy Subisak and A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illus. Katy Wu. Learn more at kirsten-w-larson.com.