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Archive for July, 2010

How would your productivity change if you looked at writing as if it were your real job?

Ann Patchett, an award-winning author, has done her best to avoid writing.

Her novel Bel Canto, has won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and England’s Orange Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has a number of best-selling books and prizes to her credit. Nevertheless, she resists writing, putting all sorts of distractions in her path.

In the Washington Post (12/10/2009), Ann Patchett writes, “Writing is an endless confrontation with my own lack of talent and intelligence.” Otherwise, if she were “as smart and talented” as she ought to be, she says, she would have finished the book she is working on by now. 

Yes, she procrastinates. She will do about anything rather than write. If she is struggling with a troubling section, she is happy to rush off to Costco with her mother.

But things changed for her as a result of a dinner party where she talked with musician Edgar Meyer. Like Patchett with her writing, Meyer found himself bogged down with his music composing. But Meyer had made an amazing discovery: “He put a notebook by the door of his studio and kept a careful record of the number of hours he actually sat down to work. The startling conclusion of this experiment was that the more hours he spent working on compositions, the more music he actually composed.” Imagine that!

She jabs at herself, wondering how she hadn’t realized that “by giving my art the same amount of time and attention that I gave to, say, meal preparation, my art might be more likely to flourish.”

For years, Patchett had no particular routine to her writing. She would write now and then, whenever she found time. Somehow that hit-or-miss approach had allowed her to get a manuscript out the door. But as years went by, she found that writing without a schedule became increasingly difficult.

She says now that she had always known that people in other jobs, such as her husband, would leave early in the morning for work, regular as rain! To put herself on a schedule –and have “a real work day”– would “require not just a change of scheduling but also a change of mind.”

Writers, such as Ann Patchett, as well as my own dissertation coaching clients, say frequently how hard writing is. Writers put all sorts of distractions in their paths to avoid the tedium and the dead ends and the uncertainties of writing.

But writers do have choices. 

–Be straightforward and honest about what you’re doing.
–Say no to distractions rather than embracing them.
–Stop sabotaging yourself.

What if you didn’t readily volunteer to be the one to wait for the plumber or the air conditioner repair person? What if you didn’t run out in the middle of the day for a couple of items from the grocery store, just because we can? 

What would a work day look like  if you acted like writing was your real job?

Until next time,

Nancy

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

www.dissertationbootcamp.net
www.usingyourstrengths.com
www.smarttipsforwriters.com

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You’ve made a big deadline?  Hurray for you!

If you’ve sent off a revised draft of a chapter or major chunk of your dissertation to your advisor or you’ve finished multiple revisions of an article and sent it off to a journal, pat yourself on the back, think about what comes next….

And then take some time off.  It could be two days or a week, but give yourself time to regenerate and restore your depleted resources.

Go swimming.  Read a novel.  Spend time with a friend or your partner.

Afraid that you will hide out when it’s time to get back into action?  Then put a few things in place to help you get back o.k.

Here are four tips to help you make an easier reentry:

1. Mark your calendars for the day and the time you will be back at work. Make the start time as important as a departure time would be for you if you had a flight scheduled that day. Plan to do your laundry or check your email much earlier or much, much later, but not at the time you are restarting your writing.

2. Clarify the first steps.  Determine some specifics on what to do that first day back at work. Why bother to set a date to start, if you sabotage yourself by having no plan? 
 
3. Learn from the past.  If you are a bit monkey-brained as you think about planning your first steps after you return, free-write now for five minutes about what you have learned from the work you’ve just completed, learning that you will put into play for the next section or chapter or writing project.

4. Put your plans where you can’t miss them.  Situate the plans to be the first things you see when you turn on your computer or print them out so they’re physically in the middle of your clean desk.
 
You deserve a guilt-free break.  Mark your calendars and publicize the day and time you’ll be back at work. Put your plans for your first steps after you return in plain sight. A small price for a guilt-free break!

I would love to hear how you make a break part of your writing process.

Until next time,

Nancy 

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

www.dissertationbootcamp.net
www.usingyourstrengths.com
www.smarttipsforwriters.com

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Are you worried about losing your momentum while you’re on vacation?  But does working on your dissertation while vacationing seem depressing?

Actually, writing while you’re on vacation may be easier and more pleasant than you think.

Vacation will make you feel happier and livelier.  Since it’s easier to write when you’re happy, you may be surprised at how normal and uncomplicated it is to take a peek now and then at your dissertation while you’re on vacation.

Here are 5 tips to help you maintain your writing momentum and still enjoy your vacation.

1.  Plan ahead before leaving home.  Have a list of modest writing tasks that you can do on vacation.

2. Make use of small chunks of time.  You can’t find one quiet hour each day away from the family while vacationing?  Then claim 25 minutes every day or two for your writing.

3.  Use the different location and break in your routine to your advantage.   Writing in a hotel room or on a balcony looking toward the mountains is not your usual ho-hum, one-more-day- at- the- library approach.  Get up while others are still snoozing and write for a bit.  Take a legal pad and a pen and walk to a bench in a quiet area.

4.  Balance is possible.  Approach each day well rested, exercise, eat well, and give yourself permission to see that your writing project is part of your life, not your whole life.  

5.  Anticipate the unexpected.  Your marvelous brain can spontaneously give you ideas, right out of the blue.  Dissertation coaching clients tell me of breakthroughs they have had when they were on vacation or when they have changed their routine.  Jogging, swimming, staring into space—you never know when an idea might hit! 

Now that’s a great vacation.

All good wishes,

Nancy
P.S. There’s an added bonus to working 25 minutes on your dissertation every day or two while you’re on vacation:  Restarting your daily writing habit when you get home will be much easier.

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

www.dissertationbootcamp.net
www.nancywhichard.com

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If you are celebrating Canada Day, all good wishes!  Are you going to Parliament Hill to see the fireworks and maybe catch sight of Queen Elizabeth?  It sounds like a spectacular event. 

Happy day to all of my Canadian dissertation coaching clients and friends and to all of you who read my blog across wonderful Canada!

My best to you,

Nancy

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

www.nancywhichard.com

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It’s time again for the Annual Road Trip.

Most road trips I’ve been on over the last few years end with our creeping along Interstate 95, wondering when there is going to be a break in the traffic.  Road trips aren’t what they used to be.   That is, not unless you get far away from I-95.

With in-laws in North Carolina and my family in the Midwest, we have to drive a while to our destinations, but it’s worth the effort in order to leave the traffic of the East Coast behind.

And I need to be reminded how much is elsewhere for me and for my family, contrary to the suggestion of the haughty term “flyover country.”

During the days leading up to the Fourth of July we drive south from Washington on I-95 to I-85 in North Carolina and then west on I-40.  And we just keep going, past Asheville, past Franklin, over three more mountains, the third being Chunky Gal Mountain (what a name, right? supposedly, it is from a Cherokee legend) and on to the little North Carolina town where the cousins gather every Fourth. While the small town was very isolated when my husband’s mother lived there as a child, the area is no longer isolated nor a secret. Good roads are plentiful, allowing for tourists and family alike to visit or even keep second homes there.

We gather at a cousin’s house along the lake, and catch up. Of course, there’s story telling and food cooking on the grill, but mostly we watch the little ones play in the sandpile or swim or bob around in rafts on the lake. We marvel over the good health of the child who had been seriously ill, the love between the formerly estranged, the patience shown by a caretaker, and we play (or watch) a marathon volley ball game.

There’s a lot that forms the narratives of our lives—family, books, places, as well as highways and cars and airports.  And there’s the soundtrack to the narratives. At this time of year, I mentally replay Simon and Garfunkel’s  “America,” with its words of emptiness and loss, and I also hear Carole King’s “Doesn’t Anyone Stay in One Place Anymore?” (No apologies for my fondness of Carole King!)

Some people do stay in one place. But for those of us who didn’t, it’s worth the effort to put aside our work, our writing, our anxiety-producing deadlines, and our hatred of sitting in parking lots on I-95 and go show our faces and be part of the family.

If the Fourth is a holiday for you, I hope you can put your writing on hold for a bit and join others to celebrate family and community.

Happy Fourth of July,

Nancy

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

www.nancywhichard.com
www.dissertationbootcamp.net

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