All Member Spotlights
Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight: Thomas Alan Wiewandt

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? Good writing, like any communications medium, helps to build bridges between people and cultures. Putting words in a tangible form creates a lasting record of ideas, feelings, and discoveries that can be readily shared with others. It also helps to crystallize thoughts in the writer’s mind. As a nonfiction author, professional photographer, and film producer, I’m inspired by the mystery, beauty, and complexity of the natural world. After studying ecology and evolutionary biology in grad school, I needed to “unlearn” the rigid writing style that has become the norm in most academic papers. Producing two children’s films for NatGeo in 1986 and writing a children’s book for 6th Grade readers (Crown/Random House, 1990) helped enormously. In children’s media, brevity and clarity are king, without sacrificing accuracy. And when writing, I found that every word must be carefully considered. Learning how to communicate with children has profoundly influenced how I write today. No matter how complicated the subject matter, my goal has always been to write in a way that is inspiring, educational, and accessible to all readers.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? “Writer’s block” can be as complicated as the person doing the writing. Figuring out what is causing the block can help—sometimes I need to do more background research on a topic or take a break to clear my mind. A hot shower, nap, or trip to the gym can do wonders. And some of the best ideas come to me while riding a bicycle or driving—with the radio off! Making content outlines helps to organize my thoughts, and starting with the easy chapters can get the creative juices flowing.

What is your favorite time to write? By nature, I’m a night owl—a time to escape phone calls, emails, and other daytime distractions. And for a good night’s sleep, I turn off the phones until 10:30a.m.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? To paraphrase BBC film editors, “Never get so attached to a shot that you can’t accept seeing it on the cutting room floor.” This can be heart-breaking to a cinematographer, but it’s an important part of the creative process in filmmaking. Visual story-telling is my passion, and writing text doesn’t flow easily—it’s a lot of work! I would prefer to leave the writing to others. Over the years, I have teamed up with several writers for magazine articles, a book, and films––with mixed success. I now realize that even the best writers labor over their words; and as the saying goes, “behind every good writer is a great editor.” In much nonfiction, a common complaint from readers is poor organization of content, needless repetition, and “ramblings” by the author, shortcomings a good editor could have fixed. In a perfect world, author(s) and editor(s) should be a compatible team. After developing a content outline for Fossils Inside Out, I began searching for a writer to help with this project. After three months of frustration, I decided to write the book myself. Once underway, with no preconceived deadline for its completion, I enjoyed the process of writing text to fit my book design concept. But I never work in a vacuum. Four people read the entire manuscript: a professional copy editor, a paleontologist, a wildlife biologist, and a non-scientist. Others read specific chapters. All made valuable suggestions for revising the text and leaving some content “on the cutting room floor.”

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age Having access to the world’s greatest library at your fingertips is a joy. On the flip side, the internet is loaded with hype and misinformation. Sorting it all out can be challenging, even in scientific literature. In nonfiction works, supplementing text with links to websites of special interest can be valuable, but with a warning: URLs frequently change, so putting them in print can outdate the publication. In The Southwest Inside Out: An Illustrated Guide to the Land and Its History, I included many website URLs and phone numbers in a resource section in the back-matter. This book is now in its 6th printing (4th edition), and before each printing I’ve had to check all URLs and phone numbers for updates, a laborious task.

Thomas Wiewandt’s Fossils Inside Out: A Global Fusion of Science, Art and Culture is out now with Wild Horizons Publishing.