Archive for September, 2008

Have you heard the sarcastic references to Obama’s having written two books?  Of course, it’s politics to make a negative out of what would ordinarily be a good thing, but I’m wondering if the people making the jabs believe that large numbers of voters denigrate writers and writing.  I don’t know what large numbers of voters think, but we don’t have long to wait.

As for me, I know that writing is hard work and that a person can learn a great deal about his or her own character as well as his or her ideas by writing. 

As a writer, Obama modeled a strategy to all would-be writers. He was photographed writing his acceptance speech in a yellow legal pad in a hotel room.
Where do you go when you absolutely have to write – whether it’s the acceptance speech to be a presidential nominee or to move through a hard patch of your dissertation? 

Do you tolerate distractions?

If you really want to get some writing done, it’s worth the effort to get away from the distractions of home or office— away from the distracting comfort of friends and family and  refrigerator.

Where do you go?  The local coffee shop?  The library?  Both are good choices, but if you take your computer along, you’re probably taking a major distraction right along with you.  Carrying access to email with you may be setting yourself up for a less than productive session.

Here’s an idea — leave all electronic devices behind and just take a notebook and a pen. Give yourself the opportunity to write what you know with no possibility of skipping out to check on email. 

Why stare at a screen?

Legal pads are perfect if you’re trying to produce a quantity of text in one sitting. If you want to have movable draft, buy a notebook. Writing in a notebook is almost a lost art, and it can be fun.  Invest in a new notebook in a color you especially like.  Put a sticker or two on the front, just the way you did in junior high.  Make a date with yourself and re-discover how much pleasure you can have in writing what you know, with no books to quote from, no articles to check and check again, and no tempting email at your fingertips. 

You will remove the pressure of the blank screen staring back at you, and you will give yourself the opportunity to ease into what can be a productive writing session.

What about you?  What have you found to be a reliable way to resist distractions and to produce a quantity of text?

I’d love to hear from you.

Here’s to producing text,

Your Dissertation and Academic Career Coach


P.S. The new issue of my e-newsletter Smart Tips will feature an article on procrastination.  Sign up at my website — www.nancywhichard.com.

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Even though you may have a stated intention of working on your dissertation and making steady progress, you do everything and anything to sabotage yourself.  Could this be you?

If  this sounds familiar, read on.

A dissertation client is having great trouble moving forward.  Every week when we talk, there’s been another obstacle which has kept her from meeting the weekly goal. 

What gets in her way is that she discounts all of the success she’s had that got her to where she is now.  From what she has told me, I know that for ten years she has been moving ahead in her academic life, but she routinely discounts any academic accomplishment or even the stamina that it’s taken for her to keep on this difficult path. 

She’s doing all-or-nothing thinking. 

Because she doesn’t have her PhD, none of the work along the way matters.  She made it through her qualifying papers, made it through 3 or 4 years of courses, got her master’s, and all the time has continued to work in a demanding job.

But none of it matters. 

She understands intellectually how a person can dismiss past success, but she thinks she doesn’t dismiss it because she intellectually understands how a person could do this.  But she does it. 

She continues to distort her experience.

Without acknowledging how hard she’s worked and how that work has brought success, she makes it incredibly difficult to make steady progress toward her PhD.

Giving yourself credit for each success, no matter how small, helps you gain momentum and ultimately move into flow.  If you distort your experience, you very likely will make procrastination the usual approach to your daily work. With procrastination your first response, you waste time and energy. 

Your work is hard enough without handicapping yourself. 

How about making a list of your successes?  Want to share them?  I’d love to hear what you conveniently forget about yourself.

To your best!

Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach


P.S. Read more about procrastination in my newsletter Smart Tips. Go to www.nancywhichard.com to sign up.

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A dissertation client told me that that a couple of years ago her professor suggested they plan to publish together. But the graduate student could never get herself to devote even a day to work on this project.  She kept putting it off.  Now she feels like it will never happen. And why would the graduate student not take advantage of this offer?  She said that she was afraid that her writing couldn’t measure up to her professor’s view of her work.

What could possibly stop people from doing work that potentially could rocket them forward in their careers or personal lives?

Many of my dissertation clients have told me that when they were younger they breezed along, always getting good grades, being the whiz kids they knew they were, but then they’ve come up against the dissertation or even a great, but challenging opportunity.  Fearing failure or fearing to show that they might be less than perfect, they  putter along, doing a little work but never really getting down to it, never finishing, and never taking a risk.  

If you don’t want to let a big opportunity slip away, you might ask yourself how important is it to protect your dignity?  How important is it for you never to risk failure? 

If this is you, it’s time to get clear on what you’re missing out on and what you’re delaying in your life because of excuses and fear.

If you’ve used procrastination as a shield, how were you able to break loose?  I’d love to hear from you.

Here’s to finishing and moving on!

Your Dissertation and Academic Career Coach


P.S.  My newsletter Smart Tips is ready to go out. To sign up, go to my website — www.nancywhichard.com.  This issue is on procrastination.

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Procrastinating on finishing your dissertation’s conclusion?  If so, you have company.  Writing the conclusion can be a time when many people clutch.

Needing Feedback?

One reason why many dissertation writers start to slow down when they’re at this point is that they aren’t getting feedback from their advisor or mentor.  If you don’t have a sense that you’re basically on the right track, stopping dead in your tracks may seem the prudent thing to do.

It’s easy to use lack of feedback as an excuse for not returning to your dissertation.  And if added responsibilities that many academics and writers have to assume in September are triggering a case of the nerves, letting the diss slip may seem the only way out.
But hold on — don’t be too quick to shelve your dissertation, even for a few days.  If you’re procrastinating on writing the conclusion, there may be a bigger truth that you need to face up to.

Facing up to a Bigger Truth

Writing a dissertation always involves risks of one kind or another, but what can rattle some writers during the conclusion is a greater sense of audience. Many writers say that the conclusion is dangerous territory. 

Are your advisor and committee members researching and publishing in the very same area as you? If so, that usually is a plus, but when you’re writing the conclusion, it can make things a bit sticky.

Finger-pointing at Current Researchers

Some writers are at an impasse because they want to point out that past (or current) researchers have stopped short or have missed opportunities to advance the field.  Is there a diplomatic way to say that?

Giving Credit

To address past research and to finish the conclusion to your dissertation, consider these suggestions, some of which came from ABD’s and their advisors:

1. State very clearly what you set out to do, how you accomplished that goal, and why your accomplishment is important. 
2. Be sure that you carefully outline the issue before you launch any kind of critique.
3.  Pinpoint where the thinking and thought leaders are going to move next and why.
4. Don’t be dismissive.
5.  Be critical, but be gracious.
6.  Give credit where it’s due.

The dissertation, no matter how polished, is a draft for whatever comes next for you.  Later when you write your book and articles, you will have additional opportunities to critique current research and critical thought in your field.

It is always wise to tread carefully and thoughtfully if you sense a minefield.
I’d love to hear your tips for pushing through to the end.  Please drop me an email.

For now, here’s to ending procrastination and ending the dissertation—


Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach

P.S.  Have you been putting off finishing your dissertation? Or maybe you’re procrastinating on starting the dissertation?  All procrastinators—please make a note:  The next issue of my newsletter, Smart Tips for Writers, will feature “How to Become a Recovering Procrastinator.”  Don’t delay. Go to www.nancywhichard.com to sign up.

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You maximized your time this summer, and you’ve moved your dissertation along.  But it’s September 2?  How did that happen?

If you’re teaching this fall, you have been doing a number of admin things. You’ve over-prepared for the first few classes and have a great syllabus in place. You know your lines.

But to move into your fall teaching or work responsibility, you have had to ignore the dissertation chapter that you had meant to wrap up in August. 
Not only did you not finish that chapter—and I’m betting it’s the conclusion that you left hanging—you may have slowed down because finishing the conclusion means that everyone on your committee will read your text.  Perhaps you might be dragging your feet in order to ward off all imagined criticism.
At this point, you know that you’re procrastinating.  You know that you will eventually move back into that chapter.  To make that move sooner rather than later, here are three ways to help you get started:

1.  Look at the conclusions of a couple of dissertations.
Are they relatively short?  How many pages? Estimate how long will yours be.  Choose one dissertation and outline it— how does the writer move into the chapter?  What are the parts or subheads of the  chapter?  How complicated does it seem?  How much development and depth does it have? 
Can’t you say without a doubt that you could do as well?

2.  Without rehashing your argument and evidence and in no more than 2 paragraphs, summarize where you’ve been and what you’ve said in this dissertation. If you are dillydallying, then give yourself a time limit.  Write your summary in 5 minutes or you have to send 10 bucks to the presidential candidate that you do not want to succeed.  Is it a deal?

3.  What is the personal investment that you have in this work?  How is that connected to the theorizing you’ve done in the dissertation?  Write a paragraph delineating both your personal investment and its connection to the theorizing.

O.k., then, you’ve got a running start on your conclusion.  I know you can take it from here, but just to support you, I may check in with you again tomorrow.

Until then,


Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach

P.S. If you have been procrastinating on your dissertation, you might want to read the next issue of my Smart Tips for Writers newsletter.  In the upcoming issue, the main article will be  “How to Become a Recovering Procrastinator.”  If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, don’t put it off!  Go to www.nancywhichard.com.

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