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Archive for November, 2010

Cat mosaic on house façade, Brussels, Belgium,...

Image by historic.brussels via Flickr

Can’t concentrate?  Having trouble getting into flow with your writing?  Get a cat!

Advice to writers can come from the most interesting places.  An unexpected, but most entertaining source of advice is A Far Cry from Kensington, a novel by British writer Muriel Spark. 

A Far Cry takes place in 1954 London.  Mrs. Hawkins, the narrator, has a job in publishing.  And yes, it is she who offers the acutely insightful advice that if you can’t concentrate, get a cat.

In a hilarious dinner party scene, Mrs. Hawkins is seated by a red-faced, watery-eyed Brigadier, who, in response to her question about his having had an interesting life, replies, “Could write a book.”  He hasn’t because he hasn’t been able to concentrate.  

Mrs. Hawkins tells him that to concentrate, “you need a cat”:

Alone with a cat in the room where you work . . . the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp.  .  .  .  The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding.  And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. 

Spark is saying in her engaging style that to regain the self-discipline and focus you need to write, let go of the negative, chattering voices in your mind and all of the endless responsibilities calling to you. 

Occasionally my dissertation coaching clients speak of the quieting influence of their pets.

Unfortunately, in Spark’s novel, the narrator informs us that  the Brigadier’s writing fails.  Mrs. Hawkins says,  “I had advised him only that a cat helps concentration, not that the cat writes the book for you.”

Mrs. Hawkins freely gives her wise advice to other would-be writers. She tells writers to have in mind a particular person who will be your reader.  

What you have to say will come out more spontaneously and honestly than if you are thinking of numerous readers.  Before starting . . .  rehearse in your mind what you are going to tell . . . . But don’t rehearse too much, the story will develop as you go along.

Working toward discovery and trusting a process –both in life and in writing– are strong themes in the book.

Life isn’t fair, of course, and trusting the process does not always lead to exemplary writing or to published works, as evidenced by the novel’s depiction of many questionable publishers and of less than stellar writers who do get published.

But we can take pleasure in Muriel Spark’s esteem for honest, hard-working writers, as well as her undisguised contempt for the undeserving who sometimes receive  their just rewards.

As a writer, have you found good or interesting advice from an unexpected source?  I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

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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A child watching TV.

Image via Wikipedia

A dissertation coaching client said that she stopped watching TV and picked up her writing pace in order to meet a deadline.  Now that she has met the deadline, she worries that she will be sucked into watching all of the TV shows that she recorded during her heavy-duty period of writing.

Do you record TV shows?  It’s just too easy, isn’t it?  I doubt that I’ll ever catch up on all of the International House Hunter shows that I seem to record every day. Occasionally I wonder how on earth all of the shows pile up, foolishly forgetting that I clicked on “record series.” And there must be at least 3 International House Hunter shows a day!

My client also worries that not only will she binge on watching all of the TV recordings waiting for her, but from experience she knows of the torpor that will hit her once she starts watching the hours of  TV.  It will be hard to get back into her writing routine. Digital stress strikes again!

Recently I stayed in a small town at an absent relative’s house (no I wasn’t a home invader–it was by invitation!).  This was a house with no TV and no internet access.  I was looking forward to seeing how the absence of TV and lack of email would affect me.

It was a little eerie, but good.  Many clients say that it’s hard for them to get into flow while writing and sometimes they find it hard to jump into a long book that is required reading for their topic.  Experience tells me that if you remove yourself from the easy temptation of  TV and the internet, flow will be much easier to accomplish than you might imagine.

With no TV and internet, I moved quickly into a reading and writing routine.   I gave no energy to avoiding writing and no energy to avoiding TV. And I wasn’t recording TV shows for later.  It was a win-win-win.

Often, clients who have a day job say that one change they are making in their lives as dissertation writers is to leave their blackberries at work.  I feel the same way about checking office email at home.  Too often employers expect the unreasonable–that is, that you are online, plugged in, no matter what time of day, no matter where you are.

If you can leave the blackberry and the office email at the office, cut way back on what you are recording on TV, and limit when you will check home email to an absolute minimum, you may be surprised how easily you, too, can move into flow. 

And you can control digital stress.

Do you have some strategies on how to avoid digital stress and the temptations of  TV and email?  I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

www.nancywhichard.com

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