How Taking Chemistry Made Me a Better Writer

When I decided that I was going to take Advanced Placement Chemistry my senior year of high school, I got my fair share of puzzled looks.  “But you’re an English person,” they’d say.  “What are you doing in a Chem class?”

In truth, they weren’t wrong.  I was even surprised that I wanted to take the most advanced Chem class that my school offered.  AP Chem had a reputation akin to the grim reaper’s and even the brightest science students would willingly attest to the soul-crushing amount of work.  I started asking myself the very question that the world was asking me: what was I doing in a class like that?

Well, I had my reasons, but they were nothing more than “I heard that taking AP Chem will help me get into college.”  I wasn’t in it for the grade, I was in it for the college acceptance letter that a challenging senior year course load would hopefully bring to my doorstep.  With so weak a rationale and so strong a determination to grab AP Chem by the horns, I began my journey through the world of advanced chemistry with hopes that the curriculum would get easier as I became a stronger student.  It didn’t.

Flash forward to March, when my college interviews were in full-swing and I already had a few acceptance letters sitting on my kitchen table.  This particular interview was at Elon University for the Honors Program and I expected curveball questions.  They were going to ask groundbreaking things, abstract things, provocative things, and I knew that I had to be on my game if I wanted a spot in the program.

So when I sat down with my interviewer, I was surprised when he asked me this question: what classes are you taking now that made you want to be a writer?

I didn’t know whether to shout with joy or curl into a ball.  That was an easy question, right?  I had a perfect answer mapped out in my head, but I was even more surprised when I heard myself give an answer.  “Well, the classes that make me want to be a writer are my creative writing class… and AP Chemistry.”

The professor was almost as shocked as I was, insisting that I explained my unique and quite unconventional answer.  At this point, I was flying by the seat of my pants.  I had spent the better part of two semesters hating that class, but as I explained my rationale to him, I was also explaining it to myself.

AP Chemistry taught me more than how ionic solids dissociate or how to calculate the equilibrium constant of the combustion of methane.  AP Chemistry taught me things that were so out of my comfort zone, so far off my radar that I realized how much I don’t know.  I realized that I am a blip on a map, a speck dropped in the middle of an ocean full of things to know.  In a world where the size of our knowledge will soon double every twelve hours, there are so many things that we know and so many things that we will never know.

Maybe that’s why I took AP Chemistry.  Not for the grade or for the prestige that comes with an AP exam score, but for the idea that I left my Chem class with a little bit more knowledge in my head.  I took it because I want to spend my life writing about the things around us and if I don’t know about my world, then how can I turn it into plot and dialogue and character?  In order to write about anything, I need to know about everything, whether that be how to write convincing characters or how to calculate the bond angle of a tetrahedral molecule arrangement.

XO, Annie

7 thoughts on “How Taking Chemistry Made Me a Better Writer

  1. Your love for language is clear as you dig into the intricacies of it. Enjoyed reading the connection you made with AP Chemistry in this regard.

  2. I love this perpective on learning/education. It’s very indicative of what a lot of liberal arts schools (like Elon, like Sewanee) are striving to instill in their students! Great post 🙂

  3. I loved this post! I actually feel validated in some way (seems weird but I don’t know how to say it..)

    I’m a writer for my school newspaper (editor-in-chief last year) so I applied to the Humanities strand for senior high to possibly pursue a college course related to writing, but four days later, I decided to transfer to the STEM strand (Science and Math). And everyone else was surprised and kept asking me why I won’t take up journalism in the future etc etc. I’m graduating this year and only now did I convince myself that the reason I took up STEM because I can learn the things I can’t be able to teach myself because they are really challenging and new to me.