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Archive for the ‘advice’ Category

I am reblogging a post that I wrote in 2010 based on the advice to a would-be writer in Muriel Spark’s novel “A Far Cry from Kensington”: “To focus, get a cat.” I love cats, but sadly have none at the moment. On occasion, our adult daughter has brought her magnificent, marvelous cat with her for a weekend visit. A cat can transform for the better the mood, and even the level of thought, within a house. Here is my blog from 2010: “To focus on your writing, get a cat.”

Successful Writing Tips

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

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…

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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
nancy@nancywhichard.com
www.dissertationbootcamp.net
www.usingyourstrengths.com
www.smarttipsforwriters.com

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An ABD’s dilemmas with her writing underscore for me the problems dissertation writers have when they’re isolated from campus and from an advisor during the dissertation process.

As a dissertation coach, I don’t fix people’s writing, but I listen, and if a client sends me some text, I see what the writing looks like.

This morning a dissertation writer talked about several pages of a chapter. In these pages she writes, in part, the history of a movement.

She came to me because her advisor gives her no feedback.  She had sent him some pages, and it’s obvious he didn’t read the work or, if he did, he decided he wouldn’t involve himself in her process. He says she’s doing great!

The introduction to the survey of literature is murky, repetitious, hard to follow.  It goes on for page after page. She tries to write in what she thinks is the expected discourse. She hurries, compresses, meanders, and throws in rhetorical flourishes.

No one has told her that the convoluted language is confusing.  Nobody has told her, in effect, to choose a traffic lane and stick with it.

In the second half, where she presents the background material, she says, “I don’t have any concepts in here.’  It seems to me that her writing becomes clearer in this second half of the group of pages, but she dismisses that writing as “baby-ish.” She is in a hurry to wrap up the telling of the history because it seems obvious to her.

When she talks aloud to me about her ideas for the dissertation, she sounds competent and clear, but she knows that she has problems when she writes. She is spinning her wheels.

I have faith in her.  I know that she can turn this around, but she is looking at quite an investment of time.

I have to ask:  Did her university prepare her for writing this dissertation?
What responsibility does her advisor have toward her?

What do you think?

Until next time,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com
http://www.nancywhichard.com

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Several ABD’s have told me over the last few days about issues with parents, spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, and even friends.

The boyfriend of one of my clients has made it clear that he thinks it’s taking far too long for her to finish her dissertation.  And the process drags on because she hesitates to work late at her office or to work on week-ends because she doesn’t want to irritate or even anger him. Another of my clients broke up with her boyfriend because he said she wasn’t giving the relationship the attention it needed. 

One young woman has told me how she lost friends when she was getting her master’s degree—they said she didn’t spend enough time with them. Now she’s resistant to throwing herself into writing her dissertation.  She doesn’t want to give even more friends a reason to desert her.

Most parents of ABD’s are incredibly supportive, but some parents want to give advice that isn’t welcomed—the unwelcome advice can be barbed or worse. 

I’ve heard stories of parents undercutting their offspring’s decisions in various areas, such as choice of topic.

When one year drags into another, the parents of some ABD’s have compared their adult child’s lack of progress to the quick attainment of a PhD by someone they know. 

 I’ve even heard a couple of stories about truly intolerable behavior from parents who had never completed dissertations themselves.  They had had to settle for remaining an ABD. 

No ABD should put up with emotional abuse, whether it’s from a boyfriend, spouse, or parent. 

But if your dissertation process is affecting your relationships with people who are important to you, people you love, you do have choices. 

People matter.

Has your dissertation process affected your relationships with others?  I hope you’ll contact me and tell me your experience.  I’m sure many people could profit from what you have done to maintain relationships and what you’ve done to take care of yourself.

Until next time,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy@nancywhichard.com
www.nancywhichard.com
www.usingyourstrengths.com

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Family and friends tend to give advice to ABD’s.  It’s usually well-meaning.  Sometimes it comes from personal experience and sometimes not. 

Rarely does it help.

What I often hear from my dissertation clients is how difficult it is for them to deal with family members’ over-investment in the dissertation process. 

Most ABD’s say that their family or others close to them have unrealistic expectations and don’t understand the process, topic, or research.

Or the role of the advisor/mentor/committee.

Or the politics involved. 

It’s easy for a casual remark to draw blood. 

One ABD avoids going to her parents’ house when she thinks her father may be there.  He doesn’t respect her boundaries.

If you have had others overly invested in your dissertation process, what have you done?

I’m sure some of you have helpful suggestions for how to deal with this common problem.

ABD’s need all the support they can get.

 I’d love to hear from you. 

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy@nancywhichard.com
www.nancywhichard.com
www.usingyourstrengths.com

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