The following ten questions apply to all writers, but some may be more relevant to you than others.
- Are you challenging yourself continually to search for new ideas and write about them? Without search and curiosity, it is difficult to bring innovation and creativity to writing. If you are keen, ideas are everywhere to find. John Steinbeck said, “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
- Are you thinking about what it takes to serve or inspire a change in the world through writing? It is essential to have a goal and a strategy in mind for why you write and how it serves the desired purpose. Martin Luther said, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” Anaïs Nin wrote, “The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.”
- Are you finding ways to stand out among the humungous crowd of writers? And where are you looking? Skillful and successful writers always look for creative ways to stand out among other writers. E.L. Doctorow said, “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader – not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”
- Are you thinking about influencing a thousand people through your writing? Also, how can this be possible? Capturing anything in words in the way that people can relate to requires an exceptional talent. If you can write in a way that influences, at least, a couple hundred people, it means you are doing something right. Find more ways to sharpen your skills to affect a thousand and more people positively.
- Are you reading some of the top writers and bloggers? Are you reading at least a page or two every day about topics unrelated to your work? Reading and learning every day is the key to productive and creative writing. New researches and findings surface quite frequently. You should keep yourself abreast of the new knowledge in your field and in related disciplines. Stephen King writes, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
- Is your desire for writing driven by some purpose such as effecting a change in the world, or is it a means to a financial end? The French-Algerian writer Albert Camus said, “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” In Why I Write, George Orwell enumerates four desires or motives for why we write: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose. Orwell wrote, “They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living.” One can also add financial motive to the list. You should be aware of your motive.
- Is your desire to become an excellent writer keeping you awake at night? Are you losing sleep over it? Ambitious writers have big dreams. Realizing them requires much thinking, hard work, discipline and commitment to it. However, it does not mean that you should not sleep at all. It just means that your ambition to become a better writer concerns you more than anything else in the world.
- Are you carrying a notebook and a pen with you at all time? Most experienced writers keep a notebook and a pen to write their thoughts. They know that ideas, no matter how insignificant, are precious and disappear right away if you don’t note them. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.” You should fall in the habit of writing your ideas if you have not done so yet.
- Are you keeping yourself healthy in solitude? Writing can be a lonely career, so it is good if you are ok with being on your own for a while or find a way to have some peace and quiet during your family routine.
- Are you writing every day? Will you write even if no one cared? Most importantly, you should write every day. You should write even if no one cared. Libba Bray says, “Write like it matters and it will.” If you are not writing, none of the above matters.
I would love to know in the comments about what questions inspire you to write.
Admissions for graduate school in the West require applicants—both for Master and Ph.D.— to submit a personal statement among other things. Without it, admission is impossible. If you have ever applied for a scholarship or to a graduate school, you know what we are talking about.
For those of you who have not heard about it, a personal statement is a short essay about your personal, academic and professional life. A personal statement is different from a research statement and a resume. A research statement is a short essay about your academic experience and how that relates to your current academic interests and future goals. We will write a separate post on it.
A resume is a presentation of your overall work and academic experiences. A personal statement is a carefully curated blend of these two elements, plus your personal history. The purpose of the essay is to introduce and ultimately convince the selection committee of the scholarship awarding entity or academic department at the university, to grant you admission and/or funding.
The personal statement is one of the most important elements of your application. It should represent your history, personality, academic achievements and aspirations for future studies in the best possible and most concise way. It is especially important because you probably won’t get a chance to present your case in person.
Here are some guidelines on how to write a personal statement:
- Do your research: Start with researching the requirements for the scholarship or institutions you want to apply to. Although there is a standard way of writing a personal statement, different institutions may have specific guidelines for you. It is important not to overlook them.
- Start working with enough time ahead: A good personal statement may take you over a month to write— in many cases a lot longer. Starting early gives you enough time to finish the first draft, edit and have friends and colleagues proofread it for you.
- Meet with qualified people in your field: It is important to meet with experienced people in the relevant field to bounce ideas around. Learn from their expertise as they probably had to write similar statements.
- Make it personal: Find a good, true and an interesting story about yourself and tie it neatly to your academic trajectory. But keep it short. This is not your autobiography. Keep in mind that a good story can make your essay stand out among hundreds of applicants. For instance, in her Fulbright application for a Ph.D. program in the natural sciences, Paulina started her essay telling a story about how she as a child loved reading a comic book about the life of anthropomorphic condor. She tied the native–species status of this bird to her interest in nature and biology and more specifically ecology.
- Start Writing: At this point, you should have enough ideas to sit and start writing your first draft. Bear in mind that there will be many drafts if you are serious about writing a perfect essay.
- Don’t talk about everything you have done: There is only so much that you can fit in a thousand or fewer words. Aim for relevant experience and story points. You will get down to the nitty-gritty in the resume.
- Walk away: Once you finish your first draft, drop it for a day or two. Then read it with fresh eyes and edit. Don’t get too attached to your words. Revise and edit. Be ruthless.
- Share it with friends and colleagues: Once you feel a hundred percent satisfied, share your revised draft with friends and colleagues. Give them enough time. Consider that they may have busy schedules, so don’t expect them to give you feedback from one day to the next. It is always good to have a fresh pair of eyes go through your writing. They will find mistakes and omissions that you haven’t (and also typos!)
- Write your final draft: Consolidate feedback. Check once again for formatting details and typos and submit.
Paulina A. Arancibia & Aslam Kakar: Paulina
is a Ph.D. Candidate in Ecology and Evolution and Aslam a Ph.D. Student in Global Affairs, Rutgers University
Yesterday, I was invited to give a talk about writing in a pre-academic training program to a group of graduate students from Kazakhstan at Saint Peter’s University. Usually, international students with a modest background in the English language are required to attend the pre-academic training before starting their actual degree programs. The pre-academic sessions are designed to address the inadequacy of fluency in English, which includes writing, reading and speaking.
Although some of these students were admitted to excellent universities such as Columbia, New York University and Cornell University, they were still required to go through the training. I talked to the group about a broad overview of writing. Because of the limited amount of time, I touched briefly upon some major topics in three parts.
In part I: writing, I talked about writing, editing, the philosophy behind writing and types of writing. In part II: tips and tricks, I talked about the essential do’s and don’ts, tips for beginners, myths about writing, email-writing etiquette and finally essay writing. In part III: writing tools, I talked about the tools and applications writers use to edit their work. Grammarly and plagiarism checkers are popular among students and writers in general.
Finally, I recommended a list of books on different types of writing. For professional writers, I included questions they should ask themselves every day. You can read the details in the presentation slides I have attached to this post.
You can Download the presentation in pdf below: