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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

A writing sabbatical

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

24-01-2017 19:43 CST

Topics: about science writing, events and announcements

Four years ago, I announced that I was writing a book about Curiosity, describing the mission from its inception through its nominal mission. Three years later, I acknowledged that the book was still not finished (in fact, I didn't work on it at all in 2015). I've made quite a bit of progress in the last year -- but so has the rover. I've realized that if I'm ever going to catch up with Curiosity, I need to drop everything else to focus on the work. So, with some trepidation, I asked my bosses for a three-month sabbatical to finish writing my book. And they said yes!

My sabbatical begins on Monday. My self-imposed rules: No Twitter except at lunch break. No Slack. When necessary, no email except at lunch, either. Hopefully, with all that tuned out and no insistent deadlines, I'll be able to make rapid progress down the home stretch. I welcome people's suggestions of good Spotify playlists for focused research and writing.

The book isn't available for pre-order yet. Email me and I will put you down on a list for a mass email when preordering is possible.

My absence will leave a hole here on the blog through April, and for that I'm really sorry. I will show up here to post two to three blog entries in the next three months. Keeping up with Curiosity's ongoing status is obviously closely related to my book research, so I'll continue those updates at my current pace of about one every other month (we're due for one soon, and I expect I'll post one in late March or early April), and I've got an update cooking on Mastcam-Z that has to simmer on a back burner for a while longer. Apart from that, I won't be here. So I'll need help.

Professional and grad student scientists and engineers and anybody else involved in exploring our solar system: I want to amplify your voices. Write one or more posts for The Planetary Society blog, please!

You can write about a cool new result (especially if it's not your own), or explain why something that people are excited about is not likely to be true, or fill us in on the status of a mission, or explain some important piece of background, or talk about a cool random online data source, or a favorite or thought-provoking picture, or explain a space career. Posts can be 200 words or 2000 words as the subject warrants. When you write for The Planetary Society, you can be a bit more technical than you would writing for most other outlets, and you'll be writing for a sympathetic audience hungry for behind-the-scenes details, no matter how mundane they seem to you.

To inquire about submitting, send a brief email with an idea of what you'd like to write about to, which will be monitored by my colleague Jason Davis. We typically do not pay established professionals for their contributions, but for people whose existence is more marginal (students, postdocs, etc.) we can pay for your time. We've been trying to increase the diversity of guest bloggers in this space. If impostor syndrome is holding you back, I especially encourage you to exercise your keyboard at guest blogging. We're very friendly here at The Planetary Society and will help you improve your writing to reach the public better, if you need the help.

It's likely that when I come back from my sabbatical, the blog will not be quite the same thing as it has been in the past. It's been ten years since I started writing it, a decade in which the online space news landscape has changed quite a bit. It's also been a rather tumultuous year, and I plan to use these three months to reflect on how I can best act to change the world, as Bill Nye always commands us to do. I feel less and less satisfied doing rushed news-update-style reporting, and am more interested in spending more time to explain science or engineering in depth, in articles that will be useful over time, not just this week. (I am really enjoying writing the book, when I can find time to do it!) I also want to do more work to develop resources to help people get into the art and science of space image processing, building resources that will have value for people for years to come. But I can't do that kind of writing while keeping up writing and editing so many stories on the blog; something will have to give, and it's most likely going to be the publication pace.

I'm grateful to my bosses and the members of The Planetary Society for their support in allowing me the time to finish the book. It's going to be worth the wait, I promise!

See other posts from January 2017


Or read more blog entries about: about science writing, events and announcements


Stargazed: 01/25/2017 03:05 CST

Emily, we'll miss your interesting and frequent blog posts but it's for a good reason. I very much look forward to your book!

sepiae: 01/25/2017 05:41 CST

I'm also looking forward! Adding to your discipline program: - when problems with concentration or discipline itself, change of location, e.g. a cafe, where your options are limited and writing books is simply the best of the remaining; works wonders for me - morning- and evening ODing on news; leaves space during the day in between, in which you won't *want* to go online - a trained, mind-reading chimp by your side, who'll slap you in the face whenever your thoughts are unfaithful and with Pluto As for music, not knowing your taste, my 8tracks [dot] com page welcomes you, just add /sepiae The cover images should give you an impression. Very much awaiting your book.

Quitete: 01/25/2017 07:19 CST

I became a member more than 20 years ago especially to get updates from space exploration in a almost-without-internet era, specially in South America!. At that time the Planetary Report was the best option! I loved hen your blog started and still now it remains as my best source. But I undestand and support your sabbatical and future approach for blogging. Good luck!

Chris C.: 01/27/2017 09:04 CST

One the one hand, I was very saddened when I first read this. Recent events have been very disturbing to a great many of us, and it's hard to just proceed as usual in this environment. One of my daily guilty pleasures is to check your twitter feed for fun science news (yours is one of only three that I check routinely) and I could see the sudden quiet that took over a couple months ago. On the other hand, I'm so so happy that it's only for three months! And you're not leaving Twitter, just limiting your interaction time with it, which is of course prudent. So I should still get some great news when I check your feed every evening, and I will still get blog posts from your guest authors. Whew! Your efforts here and Mat Kaplan's efforts at Planetary Radio represent 100% of the reason I am a paying member of The Planetary Society, so it's good to hear that TPS was flexible with you. You are a gem, and we value you so much. See you in the other side.

Bergh60: 02/01/2017 12:58 CST

Hello Emily, we will miss you badly. On the other hand a book from you about a mars rover ? Yes Maam !!! So have agood time and don not forget your [here a word for cincerly fans flolowers readers] A no Schmutz on your manuscript. ;-) regards BergH60

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