Archive for March, 2009

Are you one of the many overworked, stressed people trying to write a dissertation at the same time that you’re holding down a demanding job?  Is each day more complicated than the day before?

If you’ve been teaching as well as trying to find time to write, this week may be what you’ve been waiting for. Is it Spring Break for you?

For a while, you won’t have the burden of preparing to teach / dealing with students / dealing with the critical self-questioning after teaching a class / dealing with colleagues.

During at least some of Spring Break, you can push aside almost everything else to focus on your writing and still have time to exercise, smile inwardly, and, if you’re in a place where you have a change of seasons, watch for a squirrel or a tulip.

A Snow Day can produce a similar change in mood and perspective for a writer.  Just two weeks ago here in the Washington DC metropolitan area, the month of March came in with a Snow Day, and it was heavenly.  I’ve seldom heard anyone speak ill of a snow day.  Given how hard everyone works, a snow day can be a miniature Spring Break, especially for all of us who no longer have Spring Breaks.

Occasionally over the last few years on the cul-de-sac where I live, I’ve seen a fox or two wander about.  On the Snow Day, there it was!  The fox meandered about the street, sidewalk, and yards, acting as if the world was as it should be, quiet, undisturbed, no cars carrying children to the grade school at the end of the street, nothing moving.

A Snow Day helps you move away from the ordinary. The usual doesn’t hold; you aren’t immediately drawn to email or your cell phone.  Writing seems easier to do.

Snow Days are short-lived and, like Spring Breaks, even nonexistent for many people. You may have to do something else in order to focus on your important job of writing. To focus and write may require an extraordinary move.

Taking leave from her job, one of my clients flew across the country to be near her advisor, courageously and brilliantly giving herself time and space to work on her dissertation.

It’s coming toward the end of the time she had planned to stay.  She says that staying an additional two weeks would be very helpful.  If she returns home, she risks being consumed by her regular job and the commute.  Regardless of what she decides, her initial choice to make a bold change in her life, even if for only a while, has made all the difference.  She broke out of a huge stall and is now writing.  She’s producing text.

To give you the chance to write, distance may be what you need—distance and difference.  Snow cover gives difference; miles give distance; Spring Break can do both.

How are you creating difference and distance for yourself?  How could that work for you and help you move forward with your dissertation?   I’d love to hear from you.

Be courageous and put distance between you and the distractions.  Don’t go back to the ordinary and usual until you have to.

Successful writing!


P.S. Boot Camp for writers is a great way to create a writing habit.  Would a strong writing habit be a change for the better for you?

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach


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Have you written a section or a chapter in your dissertation that during the writing you were engaged and even in flow, but later when you read it over, you aren’t particularly in awe?

In fact, you realize you’re just recounting a narrative.  Or basically writing description, and it isn’t even good description. It’s short.  It’s choppy.  It’s obvious.

As you read the chapter, you imagine your educated reader looking up from the text and mouthing those two scary words– “So what?”

What do you do?  Lots of hand wringing?  Lots of avoidance?

Actually, the question “So what?” isn’t such a bad one, provided you ask it before your reader does.  You want a more critical approach so what is your strategy?  What do you do?

If you want to arrive at a deeper meaning in your text, what questions do you ask yourself?

1.  Fill in the blank:  The point of this chapter is _________.  Work at getting succinct language that completes that sentence.

2.  Ask  “What’s urgent here?  What is critical?”  No matter what else the reader might get from your chapter, what do you think is absolutely crucial that the reader understands?

3.  List the key terms that come to your mind about the chapter.  If you’re trying to come up with a concept, name what comes to mind as you read each paragraph.  Get as many terms down on your list as you can and then go through and see which words resonate with you.  Choose the top key terms and see which ones capture what you’re trying to describe or gives additional meaning.

4.  Look at what else is out there—what else has been written that you can draw on?  Continue to read and turn this over in your mind.  Give your brain a little time to make the clever connections it can make when given a chance.

5.  Give yourself a deadline—by what day will you have your new approach or new outline that has a clear, critical frame? Give yourself time to work, but also know that you will come up with something that’s good enough or perhaps even spectacular by a definite day.

6.  And cheers for you—you asked and answered “So what?”

When you find that what you’ve written doesn’t make the grade, step aside and look at it as if someone else had written it.  What questions would you ask that someone else to elicit a new, critical view of the text?

Keep writing!


P.S. How are you doing on establishing a powerful writing habit?

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach


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How was your Sunday?  Productive?  Or another day with only good intentions?

If you don’t have much to show for the day, would you say that anxiety did you in?

You know the signs of anxiety.  You know when you’re getting high-jacked by a fear of one kind or another commonly associated with writing.  For me, the sign is a heavy-duty fluttering in my chest—like a ton of butterflies just flew into my body.  Ever feel that?

Fortunately, when I’m having physical signs of anxiety when I’m trying to write, I usually know how to deal with them. Yes, my first inclination is to eat.  I don’t suggest you go that route.  But if I can kick the food lizard in the teeth, I know that what will help is to breathe deeply or roll my head first to one shoulder and then to the other.

But if you’re like me, even if you have great awareness when a case of nerves is about to derail your writing, you may not pick up on specific behaviors that could be your undoing.

Sometimes your brain can get lost in wild-goose chases on Google or in connecting and reconnecting on Facebook.

It’s those things that we do almost unconsciously that can do us in.

You think you’ve locked up, tied down, turned off all those distractions that you know you’ve made for yourself in the past. You’re not doing your crosswords, you’ve hidden  your knitting, you’ve stopped watching Netflix, and you avoid turning on the TV to watch the cable news shows.

But then someone hands you a book and says, “Do you want to read this book?  It’s really bad—great trash.  It’s helped me wind down at night.”

A 600-page, easy book.  Unfortunately, once you start the book, it doesn’t leave your mind.  What you started with the intention of reading a couple of chapters at night has become a full-blown distraction.  One part of your mind says, “Reading this book doesn’t matter and what happens to these characters doesn’t really matter.”  But another part of your brain is spinning, “Oh, I have to find out what happens to these characters,” and you keep reading late into the night.

The next day you find yourself Googling the characters.

There’s a part of your brain that wants to soothe you and protect you from fear and anxiety.  Finding out what happens to those characters feels so much better than writing your dissertation.

Does any of this sound familiar?  What are you putting between yourself and your diss?

It’s a constant struggle, isn’t it?

Until next time,


P.S. Dissertation boot camp can help you replace those insidious behaviors with a robust writing habit.  One participant said that she was really surprised at how much it had helped her.

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach


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