Instructions for Authors
Find Your Focus
Finding your focus is critical and may be the most difficult part of writing your STEM story. Figuring out how and where to begin may not be easy. You might have a general idea of what you want to write about, but finding the defining events of your growth, inspiration and success– your area of focus – and describing fully the importance of those events is what makes a great story. Begin by focusing on a specific aspect or experience of your life, a moment that changed you, your view of the world and opened up the world of STEM to you. Think about unique experiences that make you who you are and how you became interested in STEM. Think deeply into your experiences — what events throughout your life have shaped how you think and act today and what impact that has had on your STEM career or how you interact with STEM as a citizen. Consider people, places, or things (see hints on this below) that had a distinct impact on you which you want to put in your STEM story. Review mementos from your past to rekindle memories and feelings about that time in your life. If reflecting on your past has not helped you find your focus, below is a list of topics to consider how they affected your STEM career:
- Being the first person in your family to attend college and study STEM
- Learning a new language
- Mastering a new or difficult skill
- Moving to a new country and learning to adapt
- Winning a STEM contest or award
- How you recovered from losing a job
- Having a significant change in your beliefs
- Your time in the military
- Surviving a serious illness or disease
- Being the first woman of a race, orientation, etc. to accomplish something specific in STEM
- The impact on your life of an outside event (for example, a war or economic crisis)
Your core message of inspiration
When you find your focus (the defining time in your life) related to STEM, the problem is what to leave in and what to omit. Leave out many things that are important to your life, but that are not aligned with your core message of inspiration. The best stories for this book will allow girls to identify with your experiences and apply your lessons learned to their own lives. Use anecdotes from your life that support your core message even if they are painful. The more introspective and vulnerable you are, the more effectively your story will provoke introspection in readers. Now that you are older you can put together your experiences into lessons. You may want to describe the key differences between who you are today and who you were then. Tell the reader why and how you made important life decisions. Reflect on your past; don’t just record it. Include only those details in your life that support your core message. While you may have a main anecdote and possibly one or two more, ask yourself whether each one is relevant. If you cut out an anecdote, will the story be fine without it? If so, then it’s not relevant to your story.
What is difficult about writing your story is going back to your past, removing your emotions, and reflecting: Why did it happen that way? What was really going on? Things you took for granted when you were younger you now can see from the point of view of the reader and your older self. You may not be accustomed to looking at events this way and then writing about it. Reflect on your thoughts and feelings about your successes and failures.
What did you learn?
How did you feel or think differently after the experience?
What do you want young girls to know about your story?
What is the lesson or advice?
What readers want is a description of your experience. For example, if you had a difficult childhood, readers do care about how you survived, but what they really want to know is how did you persevere? How did you find inspiration in all this? How did you find the drive and energy to overcome adversity? Fully describe the significance of the defining moments in your life and stress the importance of how you overcome specific circumstances.
Discuss Your Story with Friends and Family
Your STEM story is about you and your life, but it is shaped and affected by others. Find those people and listen to what they have to say. This will help you gain a greater perspective, give you more insight into the meaning of your life and potentially include more relevant information and depth to your story.
Do's and Don't's
- Use words that young girls will understand, an inspirational message loses its power if she does not understand what you are saying
- If you write about your family consider letting them read your story before it is finalized and allow them to make modifications if they are not comfortable with any of the content
- If part of your story is traumatic, describe the lesson(s) learned from your experience and/or the significance of your experience
- Limit your story to a particular phase, time period or place to stay focused
- Write in the simplest terms and with the fewest words to convey your story
- Be yourself, not who you think the world wants you to be
- Explain what values and beliefs influence you and why
- Always write in the first person
- Be honest and revealing
- Edit as you write; wait until you have finished your first draft
- Write your story like an autobiography, without focus. For example, do not narrate: “…and then I did this and then I did this and it was so interesting…”
- Use this story as an opportunity to defend yourself against past criticism, air grievances or attack others
- Describe self-absorbed unhappiness over your troubles (self-pity is not inspirational)
- Start with a quote, unless it is significant for your story
- Include content that might vex your friends and family
- Show too much sentimentality
- Skim over the truth
Write spontaneously, freely and quickly, then go back make edits. You will have a better flowing story when you do not interrupt your first draft with your own criticism. Otherwise, you run the risk of writing in clichés and catchphrases (rewriting the story to make it “pretty”) instead of in your words and true to your experience.
If you’re having trouble getting started, go where other people are working on writing (e.g., a coffee shop or library). If you are still feeling stuck, you can learn quite a bit about story-writing from reading other people's stories (even if their experiences are very different from your own) so consider reviewing a published memoir or autobiography.
Show instead of tell
Showing has a stronger emotional impact than telling. It allows readers to see things for themselves. If you do this well, you won't have to tell readers what you felt in a particular situation, because the readers will feel it too. Use detailed personal accounts. Keep the reader interested in your core message with descriptive words. Avoid rambling, as this could cause your message to get buried.
Did you have a special relationship with your grandmother who helped inspire you to pursue STEM? Instead of telling that to the reader, describe some of moments when she influenced you.
Were you bullied as a child? Instead of telling the reader how painful it was or how cruel the bullies could be, show some of the incidents that occurred and how you overcame the experience to be a better person.
Our goal is to enrich and enlighten the lives of the girls reading the book. It is important to create a passionate and thoughtful STEM story to engage and bond with readers. The more open and honest you are, the more enjoyable your story will be to read and the more likely they are to trust your advice. If you seem reserved, unavailable, or biased in a way that’s unexplained, readers will be skeptical and think that your story is untruthful or incomplete. If you seem too on edge, too reluctant to open up or skirting around important topics, readers will not be interested. Girls want to read the stories of others because they want to learn something. You want them to continue your story through conversation and ponder different pathways or solutions to answer questions they have about their own situation.
Depictions of self-pity, whining, anger and revenge do not make for inspirational stories, so steer clear of those pitfalls in your story. Readers are interested to know you have endured to tell your story without judgment, that you got on with your live and succeeded. If you have unhappy memories that are an integral part of your story, strive to keep the story inspirational. Humor can work if you have the knack for it; we are not suggesting that you distort the truth or minimize your experience by making fun of it, but try to keep your story inspirational.
Consider asking girls to take action to close your story: What can YOU do to change the world?
Points to consider if your story includes an important person, place or thing in your life
For an important person
- How long have you known him or her?
- Describe when and how you met.
- Describe what you like or dislike about this person.
- Describe how this person helped you or hurt you.
- Is there one thing that he or she always says? How is this significant to your story, core message or lesson?
- Describe how you feel about this person and why.
- What have you learned from this person and how or why?
For an important place
- Describe how you feel when you think about this place. Why do you think it makes you feel this way?
- Describe the first time that you went to this place and why.
- What’s your favorite thing to do in this place and why?
- Who else comes to this place? What do you think this says about the place?
- If you could change one thing about this place, what would it be and why?
- How often do/did you go there?
- What do other people feel about this place?
- Is this place the same today as it was in the past? If yes, how would you describe the most salient characteristics? If not, what about the characteristics have changed?
- Describe what makes this place important.
For an object
- How did you get this object?
- How long have you had it?
- How do you feel when you’re with it?
- Where is it right now?
- Has it changed any since you first got it?
- What’s your favorite thing to do with it and why?
- Does everyone feel like you do about this object?
- Describe how has it helped you.
- Describe a time when you really need it and what happened.
- What would have happened if you lost it? Or if you did lose it, what happened?
Proofreading and Editing
Your first draft may be stiff, but don't worry. Your story will be better after some editing, and sharing your story with family and friends can help you add details and depth make your story more interesting and memorable. Also, a break between writing and reviewing allows you to reflect on your content and look at your story with a new perspective. You might notice that your story is incomplete or not focused and you need to add to it or make changes. Repeat the writing process. Do this as many times as necessary until you’re satisfied. In addition to grammar and spelling, make sure your story flows nicely and smoothly and that your story and core message are complete.
1. Baker, R, Conway, JK, Dillard, A, Frazier, I., Gates, HR Jr., Kazin, A., McCourt, F., Morrison, T., Simpson, E. Edited by W. Zinsser. Inventing the Truth. The Art and Craft of Memoir. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.
2. Larsen, M. How to Write a Book Proposal, 4 th Edition. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2011.