austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Hooking up words and phrases and clauses

National Novel Writing Month is here. Once again I won't participate, though I've an excuse this time; my textbook needs writing more. I need on the order of 30 more pages by the end of the month. In principle I've got plenty of material, since several papers my advisor and I have written fit into it, but I haven't got the flow of how all they fit together, and that makes exposition hard. I may need to report pages remaining here to keep up my motivation.

It's a different but not really less stressful sort of work than writing my thesis was. My thesis was harder in that all of the material had to be reasonably original, or else be a review of just enough context to make the new material coherent. In the textbook less of the material needs to be original; it's a matter of picking some reasonable set of ``first principles,'' and then describing enough to get to the destination.

The catch is if you're like me an inveterate explainer -- great for exposition, bad for getting to the point. I learned science writing from Isaac Asimov, who started a book about the neutrino with the decline of the Babylonian empire. Figuring the ``minimum necessary context'' is work, as relevant principles are unavoidably scattered over dozens of books and hundreds of notations. My subject covers a half-dozen fields of mathematics, from statistical mechanics to group theory. One ideally wants consistent definitions and notations; but even my notes don't come close to it.

Trivia: Bone, cram, cut, flunk, and rush are recorded as contemporary campus slang for Rutgers College in 1874 and in 1920. Source: The Rutgers Picture Book, Michael Moffatt.

Currently Reading: The Struggle For Mastery In Europe, 1848-1918, A.J.P. Taylor.


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