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Member Spotlight: Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

author Dorothy Patent and an image of her book The Lizard Scientist

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? For myself, I feel compelled to share my knowledge and understanding of Nature and the world of living things because it’s so fascinating, amazing, and wonderful, and I want others to be excited and delighted about Life on our wonderful planet. The process of writing is important to get information, ideas, stories out in a way that others can see and utilize them. But it can also help the writer access what’s inside her/himself but isn’t necessarily consciously available until the writing starts. So the writer and the reader gain from the process. Writing can be important for the world, manifesting information in a shareable way that’s practical or advisable to know about—e.g. world problems like climate change and what can/should be done to help out; world events that matter; and so forth.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? Writer’s block hasn’t been a problem for me, except when I still haven’t worked out what I want to express in a way that works for readers. Then, instead of staring at the blank page or screen, I got outside and take a walk. But I’ve thought a great deal about this problem, since it gets in the way for so many writers, and I have my own ‘take’ on the problem. I’ve actually been collecting the ways writers manage it and already offered a pilot online course about it. I’m working on expanding this knowledge so I can help writers through a more complete online course and possibly an ebook. My take is that the little devil that sits on your shoulder and mocks you and sounds like it’s sapping away your self confidence isn’t an enemy; it’s actually the negative side of the part of you that wants you to do the best you can with your words. It needs to be respected–tell it “Thanks, I know my first draft will have problems, but don’t interrupt my process. I’m sending you on vacation while I work [When I taught in Yellowstone I sent it to Hawaii; now that I’m in Hawaii I send it to Yellowstone!]. I tell it “When I’m done, I’ll let you know it’s time to come back and help me revise what I’ve written. Now enjoy your vacation!” If you have any thoughts on this issue, I’d love to hear from you at

What is your favorite time to write? I’m usually at my best for writing for just a couple of hours a day, mid-morning until my tummy says it wants lunch. That works fine unless I have a deadline to meet, then I’ll get back to it in mid-afternoon.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? Don’t worry about the quality of your writing when you face that blank page. Just get started and write and let yourself get into that place where time disappears. Once you have some words down, you can always edit and improve. I love the advice “The worst sentence you’ve ever written is better than the one you haven’t written.” I can’t remember the source, but I think it says it all!

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? I love the opportunity to create beautiful books with color illustrations on every page which can really draw in readers. Color used to be so expensive and cumbersome for publishers but not any more. My first book, published in the 1970s, had a few black and white drawings. My books now are full of color illustrations on almost every page. I also love the opportunities offered by the internet to communicate with others without having to face a gate that’s put in place by an entity like an editor who is afraid to offer your project to a committee that might say no. An editor’s fear of that ‘no’ can be more powerful than the quality of what you have to offer the public. If you have faith in your words, you can still get them ‘out there’ on your own; it may be challenging, but it can be done, at very little financial cost.

Dorothy Hinshaw Patent’s The Lizard Scientists: Studying Evolution in Action, with photographs by Nate Dappen and Neil Losin, is out now with Clarion Books.