Emily LakdawallaJan 24, 2017

A writing sabbatical

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 [email protected], 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!

The Time is Now.

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