Five Things: Writing and Science Have in Common

Helen Sedgwick holding a copy of The Comet Seekers
Category: Writing

There is a myth that science and art are at two different ends of a spectrum; that it takes a different kind of brain to understand equations than it does to write a novel. I don’t agree with that myth, and having worked as both a physicist and a novelist I think there’s a lot of overlap between the subjects. So, whether you’re a writer who avoids science or a mathematician who avoids fiction, here are some similarities to help bridge the gap.

Without a doubt, science and writing are both long-term pursuits

Writing and science both look below the surface

A driving force behind both writing and science is the desire to describe what’s happening out of sight – to understand the world, to look deeper than first appearances. It’s not enough to imagine how a character behaves; writers strive to understand their motivation. For scientists, there’s no satisfaction in knowing that the sun is bright, it is the question of why that drives the research.

They both take time

Without a doubt, science and writing are both long-term pursuits. You cannot write a novel overnight, or make a scientific discovery on the first day of your PhD. They both require a lot of time and patience, and many scientists and writers share a lifelong dedication to their subject.

They require skill as well as talent

Writing and science are subjects that take skill – and while having a natural instinct certainly helps, there is also a lot of hard work needed to learn the techniques and appreciate what has come before. The development of talent is a complicated field in itself, but we are not born able to understand either language or mathematics. We are born able to learn. Writers and scientists both love to learn.

Both involve some disappointment…

We are not born able to understand either language or mathematics

As with anything that is worth doing, science and writing are difficult and often involve disappointments. Any writer who has got halfway through writing a novel, only to realise they’re telling the wrong story would, I think, be able to relate to the physicist who has spent six months preparing experiments to test one theory, only to realise that the more interesting question lies in a different direction altogether.

… But both can be inspiring

Through all the years of hard work there remains a sense of wonder about the world that only increases with understanding – whether that understanding is scientific or artistic. What science and writing have in common is that they are subjects inspired by the world around us, and subjects that can inspire others.

The Comet Seekers cover
Competition: Win a copy of The Comet Seekers

Thanks to Harvill Secker, we've got three stunning copies of The Comet Seekers to give away. 

All you have to do to enter is answer this simple question in the comments below or email your answer to marked 'Helen Sedgwick Competition':

- Helen is a writer and ______. Fill in the blank and let us know Helen's other profession.

Closing date: 17:00, Thursday 29 September 2016. Open to UK entrants only. Full terms and conditions.


Photo credit © Michael Gallacher. For more writing tips, explore other Five Things blogs.

Helen Sedgwick

Helen Sedgwick won a New Writers Award in 2012. Her first novel, The Comet Seekers - a story of love, loss, hope and the comets that illuminate the skies above us - was published in August 2016. Helen holds an MLitt  in Creative Writing from Glasgow University and a PhD in Physics from Edinburgh University.