Today, a coworker of mine told me that I am a bad writer. I’ve been having a rough time with my manuscripts, and she succinctly identified the cause.
“Well, it’s just that your writing is bad,” she explained simply.
“Thanks,” I replied (a bit wryly, I admit). The comment did sting, but it made me think. I have had a lot of rejections from journals. Usually, the rejections are not based on my science, but on the lack of novelty, or on a conclusion which I draw that the reviewers disagree with.
This particular manuscript, the one sample of my writing which my coworker has read, and the one which prompted her comment, has suffered under the weight of its own complexity. The data are complex, the models which I build around them are complex, the results are complex…in other words, it is very difficult to explain my questions and answers simply.
And the editor of the journal from which it was not quite rejected*, agrees with her. His comment is that the writing is “long-winded, wordy, and circuitous.” (Oof.)
I have had to remind myself that my writing is not universally agreed to be bad. One of my other manuscripts has at times received glowing remarks (though it has yet to be accepted for publication, ha), and my old advisor used to think my writing was good (or so she claimed). But today, I was annoyed that my committee would let me leave with a PhD while being such a terrible writer!
Another friend argues that bad writing can be overcome with time and effort, but I counter that with the fact that I have been working on this manuscript for 8 months. This is not a first draft…it has been submitted to three different journals, meaning my four coauthors (successful scientists in their own right) approved of it enough to let me try.
I have written six manuscripts as first author, and a 252 page thesis! If I am not a decent writer by now, will I ever be?
So the question on my brain is: Is being a bad writer a death knell for a scientist?
I posed the question to my blunt friend, and she replied, “Well, you’ll never publish anything easily.”
Should I give up now, throw in the towel, and get a job at a coffee shop? Maybe I should take this as a sign from the universe, but knowing me, I’m stubborn as a mule and I’m not likely to give up until I am forcibly removed.
*”Continued revision may not alleviate these concerns, yet outright rejection seems too harsh of a response.”