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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

On Writing

I love to write. Writing has so many uses and applications, it is truly an amazing thing. I find that I write for several different reasons that, in a way, add up to a image of myself.

First there is Walk the Grass. This is mainly where I stand on a given soapbox (sometimes shoebox) and talk about what I want to say on a particular subject (like writing) or when I desire to share information (reviews or help). It is not the greatest writing or even great content, however it is an outlet for a particular type of writing. Unless I wanted to start a newsletter.

Second there are social networks such as Facebook. In this small details of my life are recorded. Things like what interesting thing I did (donate blood followed by five hours of physics homework), how I am feeling or maybe an interesting link. It also has a profile (sadly not up to date) where I try to define myself in list form, what do my favorite books say about me?

Third are personal communications such as e-mails, instant messages, texts and Facebook comments. Some of these I save such as e-mails and IMs, others are temporary and fleeting words. These may end up on a server somewhere but nowhere I could quickly access them.

Fourth is a weekly e-mail I write. Ever since I started college I wrote an e-mail every week to my family and family friends about what I have been up too. Things like how classes are doing, special things I have done, my general well being and general statements about things like parties. In a way it is a replacement for calling home. These I have saved from the beginning in several places.

Fifth are a host of journals both physical and electronic. I have a few personal journals in compound notebooks and journal notebooks, a couple travelogues and a dream journal (short lived) all in paper form. Recently I transitioned over to an electronic journal under a password where I write without reservation. I tend to write this as a form of catharsis and I average about one entry about every two months. I don’t know who I am writing too but writing for an unknown future audience lets me write whatever I want.

When all five of these are combined together I would like to think that they give an idea of who I am at the time of writing. I can already look back at my weekly e-mails (they have been around the longest) and see how I have changed since I was a college freshman. While what I write may not be interesting now, or in five years I may find that chat logs from IM conversations are fascinating when I am seventy.

Everyone writes for their own reasons, hopefully something interesting will come of my personal writings.

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That store is ripe for a hooligan to change the P to a B.

Ever since I struggled to write a paper for a physics lab class and my friend introduced it me I have been a fan of LaTeX. Since that moment I have written everything that needed any sort of typesetting in TexShop for OS X.

Recently I needed to organize several papers for their references, I conveniently found in installation of BibDesk. This was a wonderful find. BibDesk was able to create my BibTeX file for my references as well as organize all of the PDFs for papers. With it I am able to now start a centralized organization for academic papers, something that will hopefully help me in the long run.

Furthermore it has helped me write my papers. I was able to load in a dozen papers related to my topic (Ganymede) and systematically read through the papers adding more information to my paper. The simple addition of a read checkbox to BibDesk makes the whole thing just work perfectly.

Of course after talking to a Windows using roommate about this I was only able to recommend LaTeX and BibTeX and not any neat front ends.

 

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Practice

A white flower shot using a +3 macro filter at 200mm on a 55-200mm lens.

A white flower shot using a +3 macro filter at 200mm on a 55-200mm lens.

For almost any activity, from sports to writing someone starting out is told to practice, practice, practice. This is most often met with a “yeah, sure.”. Recently I looked back at some of my writing from four years ago (letters home) and compared them to ones from my last month at college.

Since I have been writing these every week since the start of Freshman year I have had plenty of practice, and it is quite visible when comparing two documents fours years apart. While I am sure there has been some influence in vocabulary and grammar since I started college due to writing papers, if I had not practiced at letter writing they would still likely be disjointed narratives with no flow or interest.

I have not looked back at any of my old blog entries (it has almost been a year) so I don’t know if there would be any dramatic changes yet. Maybe in a few more years will I have seriously improved at this.

Meanwhile all I can do is practice.

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Some cities have all the good ruins.

Some cities have all the good ruins.

Over the past few weeks, especially since the end of the Physics GRE, my spare time has been spent working on my personal statement. I feel that the personal statement is one of the hardest parts of the application process, not because of innate difficulty, but because it is the only part that can be tangibly changed while applying. Other parts such as the GRE, letters of recommendation, research experience and transcripts are all cumulative events that are difficult to wildly influence towards the end. But the personal statement can be changed dramatically until it is submitted.

Getting started was the hardest part. I found some resources online about personal statements in general. I went to a career services class on writing personal statements and I tried to gleam some information from the prompts themselves. To be honest these things sort of helped or will help when I am finalizing but none really sparked me into writing. Then again this is not something that can be dived into without any sort of preliminary work.

The best way that I brainstorm is with web diagrams, writing something down in a circle then branching off of that with more words until a web of ideas form. At least it helps when I have no idea what I am doing. Luckily I found a neat free application to help with this called FreeMind. It is open source and runs on all operating systems and has really helped me organize what I want to write about.

To start I created branches listing what I am interested in studying, what skills I have, my experiences and then structural features of my personal statement. Once I wrote this stuff I collapsed those branches and never really looked at them again (well once just now). I sections filled with questions from various personal statement resources from Career Services at my school or the internet. Just the questions, no answers to any of them.

I also asked one of my professors for his advice on personal statements as he was on the graduate admissions committee. He did say that personal statement do not matter that much, but other sites online (like physicsgre.com) have professors giving the opposite advice. But talking to a professor really did help. Essentially he said to show in the statement several things: I am ready to do research, I enjoy lab work, I know what I want to study and how this department fits with what I want to research. The things is to show that the writer is on top of things and not just randomly applying in order to put off real life.

Once I organized all of the advice and tips I started writing. Not the personal statement though. I mentioned that I some advice sites list questions to help getting started (I forgot where I found mine otherwise I would link to it), I answered all of those. Or at least all of them. Some I did answer but it was more of a venting thing then a real answer. Answering these questions help in that they let you start to find your voice for the personal statement. Since I already write a bit (this blog and journals) I already know what my voice reads like so it was not much of a problem. But if you are unused to writing, especially about yourself, then answering these short snippets will help.

Finally I wrote my first draft. To get started I did the whole thing as a free write where I kept on writing. In between solid paragraphs I wrote comments or just superfluous statements about the process. The key to a free write is that it is much easier to correct and edit then it is to create.

I have not gotten past the first draft, I need to give it at least twelve hours to brew. The next step is too start correcting, filling in gaps, transitioning and structural work. Once a readable draft is ready I will send it to a lot of people to look over, critique and edit. Since every school requires something different I will then edit, alter and adapt my one good statement for the schools.

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