Monthly Archives: July 2010

Vinnie Wilhelm; K. Vonnegut on Writing

Writer Vinnie Wilhelm wrote the following in a correspondence with me in Sept. 2008:

Vinnie and David Wilhelm at Bowling Alley in Ballard, WA

Vinnie and David Wilhelm at Bowling Alley in Ballard, WA

“But questions of identity are ultimately ancillary to the work: they go away in the end, and the work has to succeed or fail on its own terms.”

– Vinnie Wilhelm




On writing better–Kurt Vonnegut

This is an excerpt from his book of essays Palm Sunday. He was here referring to science writing, but you can apply it generally:

1. Find a subject you care about. It’s hard to bring yourself to write if you don’t believe in what you’re writing. We procrastinate for any number of reasons (and perfectionism is one of them). But if you deeply suspect that a thesis chapter isn’t yet ready for prime time, get a reality check. Present it as a 10 minute talk to your lab group.

2. Do not ramble, though. Outline your argument. Boil it down to the essential points. Then use the outline to construct your topic and summary sentences for each paragraph. It ain’t necessary to point out every possible exception to every generalization.

3. Keep it simple. I was once told that the perfect paper in ecology was 10 pages long and had one good idea that was bolstered by a variety of evidence. Such a paper maximizes the possibility that it will be read and remembered.

4. Have guts to cut. Nearly everybody loves the sound of their own voice. Go through your first draft and ask, of every sentence, “Is this really necessary?”. This particularly applies to your Discussion. It is not a repository for every thought you have had on the topic. Relate your data to your hypotheses and to the current thinking in the field, honestly confront your limitations in a caveat paragraph, and propose one or two next steps.

5. Sound like yourself. Science writing is not supposed to be boring or flowery. Write as if you are explaining your study to a colleague.

6. Say what you mean. It is often easy to get lost in the thicket of sentences and paragraphs. Before you sit down for the day’s writing, spend a minute explaining to an imaginary officemate why this paper is worth writing, and what the data mean. Then make sure every sentence advances that message.

7. Pity the readers. The literature is huge and expanding. Clear, concise writing is needed now more than ever. Whenever you are tempted to leave one murky paragraph, imagine a reader some time in the future (or better yet, a reviewer or editor) wincing and shaking her head. Then buckle down and write what you mean.


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MS Live Writer

Temporarily using a Windows desktop computer since my laptop is out of commission. It’s stuck on some eastern European language with no way to revert back, plus I can’t shut it down except for holding down the on/off button, which also is disconcerting. If I lose my Macbook I don’t know what I’m going to do. No money for another one, and I really can only work with Macs, I barely know how to turn on an Windows laptop. Well I guess I could learn : (

Anyway, Since I’m using a Windows machine I tried out Windows Live Writer. It seems to work with WordPress…haven’t tried it with Blogspot/Google Blogger, but it seems to stick inline CSS styles in with your photos and there is no way to disable that setting.

Otherwise it beats writing in the WordPress text editor: they provide a tiny little white space and make you constantly publish and re-publish in order to update what you’ve edited. Anything that speeds up the process of publishing is an improvement. I’d never thought to use Live Writer since I’d always been using a Mac/UNIX.

Better than using Notepad or MS Word to write a blog entry. I haven’t used Microsoft Word since I was in college!

Note: You can download the latest Live Writer free from Microsoft but a warning – they’ll try to get you to install a slew of other crap like Messenger and Movie Maker unless you uncheck these before installing.

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Force Quit: without using the Apple menu

Alright, here’s how you force quit an application in the Mac OS without using the apple menu. This is for my own reference and for anyone else who might need it).

1) Go to Macintosh HD > Applications > Utilities> ‘Activity Monitor’.

2.) from the left-most column of ‘Activity Monitor’, get the “Process-ID” of the application you want to quit. Write down the three-digit number.

Note: Every time a process/application runs, it is assigned a new Process-ID.

(Above) The Activity Monitor shows a running display so you may need a quick eye to catch your Process-ID. To make it easier you can filter the processes using the “Active Processes” drop-down menu.

4.) Go to Macintosh HD > Applications > ‘Terminal’, and type “kill [Process-ID]”. The application should quit.

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