How did you become a writer?
I've always been interested in writing, starting in elementary school. While pursuing scientific training, I maintained this interest by taking extra workshop-style courses, even in graduate school.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
In terms of being a reader, I may have learned the most the work of Grace Paley, in terms of how she listens to her characters and tells a story. I've had a great run of luck with instructors, but in chronological order I would list Max Apple, Glenn Blake, Tracy Daugherty, Ehud Havazelet, and Marjorie Sandor as having the greatest impact on my writing as an adult. I'd also like to credit John McNicholas for really helping me understand how to properly use quotations in non-fiction. He emphasized using quotation where the speaker said it best (or most distinctively) and not using quotation where you, the writer, can say it better. So now I'll often just mix in a quoted phrase or half a sentence instead of a full, long quote.
When and where do you write?
I love to work early in the day. My ideal day of work would have editing from 5-6 a.m. and writing / re-writing from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. It's very rare to create the ideal day, given that I'm a science prof by day, so I wedge writing time into the early mornings and weekend mornings.
I work as far from our two cats as I can get, usually in a little unwarranted space next to our garage, where I'm sealed off from the little beasts.
What are you working on now?
I'm very interesting in the topic of "time," but this project is in its infancy.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I don't think so. Perhaps project block. I'm not a fiction writer, so I don't push myself in that imaginative way. I more often have to search around for a non-fiction project that will pull me into obsessive mode, where I need to be.
What’s your advice to new writers?
A. Find a regular way to disconnect from the internet, and make yourself write every day. My little writing space is actually out of range of our wireless router, which is perfect.
B. Take editing more seriously than writing. Return again and again to your drafts. I think the editing side of a writer's personality must be equal parts merciless on detail and forgiving on risk.
Brandon R. Brown is a Professor of Physics at the University of San Francisco. His biophysics work on the electric sense of sharks, as covered by NPR and the BBC, has appeared in Nature, The Physical Review, and other research journals. His writing for general audiences has appeared in New Scientist, SEED, the Huffington Post, and other outlets. His first book is a biography, Planck: Driven by Vision, Broken by War (Oxford, 2015).