Facing My Fear of Science and Math

In my Introductory Post, I told all of you lovely readers that I was working on the first book in my series about 4 best friends living, loving, and working in New York City. Well, I am happy to report that I have a draft and I am in the process of editing/polishing/revising so that it will be fit for human consumption and to see the light of day. It’s slow going, and a very agonizing process. Most days I want to tear my hair out, and I’m convinced there’s not even a hundred words worth salvaging. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today with you fine folks.

While I’m still very much working on Liz and Matt’s book, I’m also starting to think ahead about the next book in the series. With Book 1, I stuck to the rule of “write what you know,” hence why I wrote a book about two lawyers. I still had to do some research, but for the most part, I could draw quite a bit on my own experiences and knowledge (so, yes, all those years of torture in law school and wracking up crippling debt in the form of student loans was worth it! Woot! lol). But with Book 2, I’m switching gears. The heroine is one of Liz’s best friends, Dr. Helen “El” Endicott, who is a surgical resident specializing in pediatric surgery. I have laid some ground work in Book 1 as to who the hero of her book will be, but I’m not going to reveal who it is at this point. Needless to say, medicine is a field in while I have little to no knowledge or experience. I spent one summer volunteering at my local hospital, but that was years ago, and not applicable at all.

The reason I am apprehensive is because I know I’m going to have to do a ton of research to make sure I get all the aspects and details of El’s work life as accurate and realistic as possible. I don’t even really know where to begin. But what compounds the problem is the fact that I have not had the best relationship with math and science. We really haven’t gotten along since middle school, and the camel that broke the straw’s back was when some cruel twist of fate forced me to take a physics class first period at 7:25 am. If that’s not a clear violation of the 8th Amendment, I don’t know what is. I think part of the reason math and science were challenging for me is that it is so meticulous, exact, technical, and detailed. There is only one right answer, and that’s intimidating.  I know that is a very broad generalization, and math and science can be incredibly nuanced, complex, and fascinating, but that’s how it feels to me.

This is not to say there weren’t certain aspects of science classes I  liked. I enjoyed doing  chemistry experiments, especially the ones when we got to use the Bunsen burners, and I always enjoyed the genetics unit in biology, but for the most part, science and math classes never came as easily to me as English, History, or Spanish. It never clicked for me, and I had a hard time making sense of it. Even to this day, a lot of it still goes over my head and I still have a hard time understanding the more complex scientific and mathematical concepts. Apparently, my brain doesn’t work that way.  There is a reason why I was a liberal arts geek in college and graduated with two liberal arts degrees. I took the easiest math and science classes I could to fulfill my general education requirements. Instead of taking calculus, I took college algebra and statistics, and instead of taking a bio or chem class to fulfill my lab requirement, I took a geography lab.

But now I’m going to have to face my fear/antipathy/indifference to science head-on as a tackle my next writing project. I am going to have to wrap my head around a lot of  biology and chemistry in a short amount of time. Marathon sessions of watching Grey’s Anatomy episodes back to back ain’t gonna cut it. (Though speaking of Grey’s Anatomy, I have already promised there will be no lurid scenes taking place in on-call rooms. And no prom or ghost sex!) I will need to know what her work day is like day to day, what she’s expected to know and not know. I’m going to have to learn a lot about medical procedures, tests, and medications, how they work, and why they work. Since El is a pediatric surgeon, I’m also going to figure out what illnesses mainly affect children, as well as the usual arrays of tonsillectomies, appendectomies, and broken bones that most children deal with.

Makes my head hurt just looking at it!

As for math, I used to be a pretty good math student. I did pretty well with algebra, and geometry wasn’t too bad. I actually liked doing proofs-I thought they were fun! But then I hit pre-calculus and trigonometry and then math and I had a parting of the ways. With all due respect to my awesome high school math teacher, Mr. P. (who really was a great teacher and tried to make everything as clear and straight forward as possible), I really didn’t understand calculus at all. It made no sense to me, but I did well enough to squeak by with a decent grade.  Part of my problem was I kept thinking to myself, how am I ever going to use this in my every day life? When will knowing trigonometry ever help, much less calculus? I mean, yes, math is important, algebra you use every day, geometry too. (Hey, how else are you gonna figure out how to fit all those books into your limited self space!!!??) But figuring out sines, cosines, and tangents? No, thank you! lol

Again, I realize this is just me, and my own idiosyncrasies.  I am sure there are folks who agree with me, just like I know there are those who would rather solve quadratic equations all day than talk about the broader implications of Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492. (Which I happen to find fascinating!) Different strokes for different folks, and that’s what makes the world go round. 🙂

So tell me-are you into science and math? Or are you more of  a liberal arts/humanities geek like me? Tell me about your research experiences. Were there any daunting topics you had to research that you weren’t familiar with and had a hard time wrapping your head around? Let’s talk in the comments below!

P.S. Just for fun, here is a link to Crashcourse, taught by the Vlogbrothers, John Green and Hank Green which is quite fitting for today’s blog post.  Needless to say, I definitely watched John’s videos on World History, Literature and American History, and watch Hank’s vidoes on Biology, Ecology, and Chemistry much much more sporadically.

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10 thoughts on “Facing My Fear of Science and Math

  1. LOL, that sounds like me. I took three other science classes to get around biology. I’m very good at math, but not retaining it. I’d rather have explained the Soviet political structure, which made sense to me than science.

  2. I actually have a form of dyscalculia so math that’s simple is really hard for me and math that’s more logic based is really very easy for me. Apparently my brain works better with puzzles. But hard research in general hasn’t really troubled me. I mean, I translated ancient languages just so I could learn how to make recipes. That’s gotta count for something!

      • Latin is definitely among them. Ogham, hieroglyphics, linear-b, medieval french, medieval german… I’m terrible at all of them, but give me a dictionary, a pen, and some paper, and a few months time? I can get you something to cook by. 🙂

  3. I’m facing some of the same issues in researching the second book in my Sophy Wentworth series… have to research sailing in the Napoleonic era, to the point where I can convincingly write about life on board a naval ship at war! eek!

    What I have found with research is to take it slow, let things sink in. Plan to read a lot and take notes, even about things that don’t seem significant at the time.

    But the biggest advice I could give you, Lisa, is to remember that you can always put things in later! Don’t let the research stop you from writing the book and telling a good story! And don’t be afraid to leave yourself notes in the draft to say *research this* or *write something brilliant about math here* lol

  4. Not a writer, but I was a math major in college. Sadly other than teaching, there wasn’t a job that would allow me to just do calculus problems all day 😛 Trig is the only math subject I didn’t like.

    Could you arrange to interview someone (or multiple someones) who has the job your future heroine has? Get them to tell you abou their “typical” day and share some war stories. You may get some good ideas that way. Also, while I think it’s important to understand the background of your characters, as a reader we don’t need tons of nitty gritty details. Just make it realistic enough that nothing jumps out as being out of place. (For example, since the heroine is a doctor, don’t describe her as an expert in her field while she’s only in her mid twenties or thirties – lol).

    • Thanks for the great suggestions, Kelly! I think I have a few contacts/resources I could tap on that score. And you make a good point about balancing too much vs. little research. It drives me nuts when there is too much info dump, as if the author is anxious to show off everything they know/learned.

      And I promise-El is a resident. She’s not an expert. Yet. LOL

  5. Ach! You *like* proofs? I don’t like them, and I teach geometry 😀 Though I could have a nice discussion with Ella about the Soviet political structure, too (I was a history major and a math minor).

    Good luck with the series!

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