Archive for October, 2009

Have you ever been hit with an urge to write?
I don’t mean the motivation that writers pine for, but the sudden desire that makes you say, “I have to get this down” or “Where is my pen?  My laptop?”

It’s quite a different feeling from gritting your teeth and grinding out text.  Baring down and gritting and grinding certainly have their place.  They can move you from the state of not writing to writing

But the intense urge to write happens when something touches you and you come alive.

One of my incredible coaching clients has just finished her manuscript for a book.

Even though she has a book contract with a good press, she still has had some fallow times over the past year of struggling to give life to her book. 

The latest came not so long ago, during the writing of the conclusion.  She had written ten pages and just could not generate more text.

But one week, she finally was able to write. She wrote 13 pages, and those were the pages which she had been looking for, the ideas which she felt were crucial before she could say “Now the book is finished.”

How did it happen?  She was close to backing off from the conclusion she had wanted since it seemed beyond her.  During this restless, uncertain time, when she had moved away from her computer, she happened to come across a book on a related subject– actually a book taking a critical perch opposed to the one she had taken. And that was it.  Reading the book stirred a response within her, and she was eager to write.

Sometimes we forget what we know to be true—that we need to be awakened and re-awakened. Reading someone else’s analysis, like hearing a political critique or reading a poem, awakens us, stirs us, and makes the engine go. It can make us long to write.

What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
 —Stanley Kunitz

Until next time,


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


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How was your writing today?

You couldn’t get a flow going today during your writing session? 

Some writing sessions are like that–you start off more slowly, maybe because you’re tired, it’s the end of the week, or maybe because you didn’t prime the pump, didn’t try to induce a good mood, or didn’t practice resiliency before you began the effort

Or perhaps you’re starting to see some success and you’re just a bit uneasy because you are thinking you may actually meet your deadline?

Once again, it’s time to practice resiliency. 

Remind yourself that this time there’s no backsliding—but be playful as well as firm. 

Laugh at the time you were so self-congratulatory for how well you were doing on a paper that you barely finished the project under deadline! 

Resiliency is a skill that you learn through practice. A great way to increase your resiliency is laugh at your foibles and shenanigans. Use your sense of humor and self-knowledge to fuel your writing session.

 Have a good weekend,


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


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I’m curious how you learned the conventions you are to use, the voice you should use, the way to argue within your field, or, if you’re learning as you go, now, as you write your dissertation.

If you were at a U.S. university as an undergraduate, you may not have been writing exclusively in your major course of study until late in your 2nd or even until your 3rd year of school.  By then, had you learned a bit of flexibility by writing in different discourses for your required courses? 

Had you been writing as an art historian one night and the next night as a psychologist?  Did that give you insight into what writing conventions are important in each field?

And as you specialized more and more in  your own field, did you become clearer about your field’s discourse or writing conventions?

The New York Times (9.6.2009) asks several professors to give advice to students entering college this year. 

Stanley Fish advises students to “take a composition course even if they have tested out of it.”  He says, “I have taught many students whose SAT scores exempted them from the writing requirement, but a disheartening number of them couldn’t write.”

Gerald Graff,  the past president of the Modern Language Association, tells students how to write an argument, seemingly without the help of a writing class or instructor.  

Since it’s a little late for those of you who are writing dissertations to take a writing class, Graff’s suggestions on how to take what you know and transform it into an argument might be helpful and definitely would have helped me early on in my student career.

He says: 
1. Recognize that knowing a lot of stuff won’t do you much good unless you can do something with what you know by turning it into an argument.

2. Pay close attention to what others are saying and writing and then summarize their arguments and assumptions in a recognizable way. Work especially on summarizing the views that go most against your own.

3. As you summarize, look not only for the thesis of an argument, but for who or what provoked it — the points of controversy.

4. Use these summaries to motivate what you say and to indicate why it needs saying. Don’t be afraid to give your own opinion, especially if you can back it up with reasons and evidence, but don’t disagree with anything without carefully summarizing it first.

Even as the writer of a dissertation, it’s great to remind yourself that you know a lot of stuff.  It’s easy to forget that. 

Also don’t forget that there’s usually a reason for the writing requirements you run into for your dissertation.  Remember that the literature review creates a context for your methodology and findings or for your argument.

As you write your dissertation, your field’s required structure and discourse conventions give you a great clothesline where you can hang your ideas.

Warm regards,


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


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