Archive for the ‘life’ Category

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


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


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It can’t be  a coincidence that over the last couple of weeks many of my dissertation and writing coaching clients have been dealing with overwhelm.  For many, fatigue is now catching up with them and exacerbating their stress level.

When I asked a client what she would like to do, she said, “Work in my yard.”  But when I suggested she take an hour to do that, she said, “I can’t!  I can’t take time off.”

With a schedule that is packed not only with writing deadlines, but also for some, with end-of-the semester deadlines, stress becomes epidemic.

All of that grading that was on to-do lists but wasn’t done is now sounding an alarm.  Grades are due in just a few weeks.

Many writers are worried about getting a draft finished and also holding onto committee members who may disappear into the mist come the end of the semester.

At this time of the year, do you ever feel as if you’re being pecked to death by ducks?

Here are some tips for putting one foot in front of the other that my dissertation clients and writing clients want to share:

1.  Keep a daily priority focus.

2. Stay in the present–Keep from being way too focused on the future. 

3. One thing at a time–As you work, focus on accomplishing one thing at a time

4. Watch for triggers that make you feel you need or want to be perfect or right.

5.  Give yourself a moment every day to think about what is good in your life.

6.  Acknowledge your wins–As you remind yourself of your daily priority focus, also acknowledge what you have done.

It’s important for your momentum and for your mental health to do what you said you’d do and also to acknowledge what you’ve done.

Deep breath!

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


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A little after noon on Sunday as I was driving  to the Regional Post Office, which is open on Sundays, I turned on NPR radio and happened upon Garrison Keillor, telling one of his yarns on “Prairie Home Companion.”

Even though I enjoy Garrison Keillor’s humor, I immediately felt weepy.

On far too many Sunday afternoons a number of years ago, I would leave my home and my family and head to my office where I would work on my dissertation.  Each Sunday during that drive I listened to Garrison Keillor.  While I don’t regret putting in the hard work it took to finish the dissertation, it came at a cost.

While Keillor’s voice triggers some sad memories and brings up conflicts that I had to deal with as a parent and a wife, I’m also struck by the quickness of the unexpected, forgotten connection.  Our past can rush to meet us triggered by the briefest of sounds.  Or a new idea can occur to us at the confluence of a setting, a sound, and a memory.

That possibility of a sudden memory or an insight and, unlikely as it seems, sadness that can turn to hope through reframing reminded me of a client who is attempting to write a novel.  After having worked at it for quite a while, she feels as if she has nothing new to give to the project.  And she’s slipping into a stuck place where nothing stirs her.

To get unstuck, we may have to open ourselves to memories, to the unexpected, to the coming together of past and present.  Or we may have to break our routine and try something different.

I might have generated more ideas for  my dissertation and then have been a more lively and efficient writer had I given myself permission occasionally to stay at home on Sunday afternoons, or  if as a family, we had gone somewhere together on more of those days.

To generate ideas, consider making a break in your routine:
1. Take a walk or go for a jog.
2.   Go to the library or a coffee shop.
3.  If funds permit, take your laptop and check into a hotel.
4.  Trade houses or apartments with someone.
5.  House-sit for a week or two for a friend.
6.  Change the scenery—go to the zoo or to a park.
7.  Awaken your senses– surprise yourself with something different on the radio or buy a new kind of coffee or tea.
8.  Remind yourself of a time when you were bold or brave or when you did something difficult.

Sometimes writing and meeting deadlines need more than perseverance.

All good wishes,


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


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Monet set staring at his garden in Giverny, France.  A neighbor asked him when he was going to start working. Monet said that he was already working.

Later, when Monet was painting, the neighbor passed by again and said, “Oh, you’ve started working.”  To which Monet said, “No, now I’m resting.”

I don’t know if this story about Monet is true, but it suggests different points of view of how we break through to new ideas that allow us to be productive.

•    Monet may have been actively analyzing what he was seeing.  Perhaps he was planning the technique he would use once he began painting. 

•   Or perhaps he was letting go of the everyday concerns and minimizing distractions.  He may have been initially unaware of the connections his mind was making as he sat there and gazed at the light playing on the flowers.

•   But then a sudden insight could have allowed him to see the scene in a new way, allowing him to focus just on his sense of sight.  His perception of the scene piqued his curiosity and he saw a puzzle that could be solved.

Accounts from several of my clients writing dissertations and books support the fascinating, new research that has written about in newspapers and books.  This new research tells us that the unfocused mind generates striking, creative ideas and makes associations that will not come when, for example, my writing clients are at their most intent.
One client had been struggling for some time to get beyond merely describing her fieldwork.  Her attempts to devise an original, theoretical framework had not been successful.

To relieve her stress, she had wisely added weekly volunteer work and exercise to her schedule, as well as continuing to work on her dissertation. She came to a coaching call with me one evening excited and optimistic:  “The framework came to me as I drove home from my volunteer work today,” she said.

Making space in her day for something besides her dissertation and thus having time for her mind to be idle and to rest surely produced the insight.  And it was a sudden insight.

My client’s upbeat mood as she left her volunteer work may also have helped produce the unexpected insight.  Researchers say that a sudden insight is more likely if you are in a good mood.

Robert Lee Hotz writes in The Wall Street Journal (June 19, 2009) that Northwestern University researchers, using brain scanners and other sensors, have studied how a-ha moments take shape in our brains, even before we’re consciously aware of them.

Our brain is most active when we are the least aware of our thoughts.  At those times, connections are made from different parts of our brain, creating new frameworks and new ways of thinking.

What might this research mean for you as a writer?  How could this research help you as you’re writing your dissertation?  I’d love to hear from you.

Happy August,


P.S.  Can write a good email? In my first newsletter of the fall, I discuss writing email and how it and other kinds of writing could be of help to the academic writer. If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, Smart Tips for Writers, go to my website and take care of that.  My website is at www.nancywhichard.com.

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


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Several of my writing and dissertation clients are trying to finish a dissertation or finish a book at the same time that they’re teaching or working full time and also trying to be attentive to the people in their lives.

And they wonder why they aren’t getting more work done on their dissertations!

One of my clients went on a vacation recently.  She had not reached her writing goal, but she says it’s time to make some changes.

Over the past couple of months, her work has been more and more of a struggle for her.  She would make a little progress, but then hit the wall.  She was feeling more anxious and more uncertain about her writing than she had been in quite some time.  She even felt that she had lost the vision for a chapter that she had clearly worked out not very long ago.

A good friend suggested to her that the writing probably wouldn’t come unless she took a break to ease some of the pressure. 

At her friend’s advice, my client put her writing project away. She made a great meal for herself and her husband.  She also called her mother and caught up on all of the family news.

The next morning my client went for a run and came home to have coffee.  While she sat at the kitchen table, she suddenly had a moment of clarity.

In an a-ha moment, the way into the chapter that had been eluding her became clear.  She suddenly saw how to write the introduction. She went to her computer and wrote two pages. Soon she wrote another page.

She’s planning some changes to her schedule now.  She will shorten her daily working time and build in some breaks.  She needs to let her mind have time to process the work she’s been doing and to rest.

Recalibrate is her word for what she is doing now, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

How much have you been juggling over the past year?  Far too much?  Relaxation can increase creativity and lead to insights.

How about checking your schedule?  Where are you giving your mind time to repair and regenerate?  

Until next time,


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


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Are you negotiating some of life’s bits and pieces today in order to write your dissertation?   Has something gotten to you today or this week?  It happens.

We’re knocked about every day, but we keep going, even with pressures about fitting everything into our schedules, uncertainties about jobs, and, if you commute to work, traffic.  Usually, we’re resilient, even intrepid, as we go about our jobs, taking care of our family, and, yes, writing… writing dissertations, writing articles, writing books.

But occasionally, we run into overwhelm, too many promises broken, too little support, and our hope and resilience are tested.

Yesterday and today I’ve been mad as a hornet about something that’s not very important in the great scheme of things.  I was to have some work done where I live, but the workers showed up with the wrong materials to do the job, resulting in a the need to reschedule and the strong possibility that lots of additional people would be inconvenienced.

It wasn’t the workers’ fault.  The faceless scheduler at the company carelessly assigned a two-person crew to a four-person job and completely ignored both the materials needed and the sequence of the steps in the job itself.

What kind of a Mickey Mouse company is this? I asked.  I stomped about and fretted for quite a while.  But it doesn’t serve me to blow up about a dysfunctional company. 

How do I let go of the drama and not get stuck here?  What strengths do I call on?

If you, too, are occasionally knocked off your stride, what do you do to help you let go of the madness and move back toward your center? What do you do to quickly regain your footing in order to focus on your work and to be productive?

I’d love to hear from you.

All the best,


P.S.  What is your goal over the next couple of weeks and what steps are you taking to keep focused on that goal?  Do you have some tips for the rest of us or some questions? 

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


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Writing a dissertation brings with it many hard choices.  Often those hard choices directly impact relationships. 

One dissertation client told his parents that he can’t talk about his dissertation with them—not when it’s going well and not when he’s stuck—because he feels that it opens him to too much scrutiny.

But he’s always ill at ease around his parents, knowing that his dissertation is the elephant in the room.  He finds that he puts enormous energy into avoiding the subject. 

His decision and its aftereffects remind me of what another client told me about riding a difficult horse inside a large, covered arena where big steel uprights ran from ground to ceiling.

My client said she had been very afraid she was going to hit one of the big steel uprights because the horse was huge and very young and not completely steerable.

There was one upright in particular that worried her, and every time she came around the 20 meter circle, she would worry about that big steel upright.

And of course as she tried to avoid it, she came closer and closer to it.

You know what happened, right?  She hit the one she had been trying to avoid.

The experience confirmed for her that if you focus on what you don’t want to happen, well, you get what you don’t want.

If you are trying to protect yourself from scrutiny, but find yourself putting increasingly more energy into that process, it’s time to reframe and refocus. 

Where do you want to put your energy?

Where is your energy?   I’d love to hear from you! 

Also, go to my website () and sign up for my Smart Tips for Writers e-newsletter.



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


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Running late.  Seasonal distractions.  Time-starved.  I don’t like these feelings,
but everywhere I go, there they are.

This morning I was buying chocolate Santas at a German gourmet bakery. And,
as usual, I was running late.  Distracted.  Way late in all that I needed
 to do for my work and for the holiday.

As my stuff was being tallied, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sack of pfeffernuesse. 

I love those cookies, and out of my mouth popped the words, “don’t forget these.” I grabbed the sack and pushed them toward the clerk.

The man behind me in the line, who actually had chosen those lovely, packaged German cookies, was clearly taken aback.  O.k., I was going to say that he nearly slapped my hand.  But he was a little bit short with me.  Chagrined, I escaped to my car, which, of course, appeared to be blocked by another car.  Grrr

Self, I said, “Time to practice gratitude!”  Prof. Emmons would have approved.

Since reading Thanks!  How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, by Robert A. Emmons, I have found that when I am in a place  of overwhelm or frustration, I can deflect my negative emotions by thinking what  I have to be grateful for.

Sounds kind of goofy, but it works.  I felt grateful that the people behind the counter were very gracious when I grabbed the cookies.

They smiled. 

So how about you–try it, o.k.?  Are you feeling a bit harried? How might grateful emotions help you?

When you’re in the midst of a meltdown, it may be hard to even bring  up something to be grateful for.

This may take a minute or two.  If nothing immediately comes to mind,  just stick with it.  Start a list.  Lists are good.

After you get one or two things (Good coffee this morning?  Yummy doughnut? A sweet smile from someone you love?),  more will come.

How about thinking about how things have been worse in your life? Are you glad  that whatever that awful situation was, it is no more?  Life is a  tad better than at some previous time? Yeah!  Gratitude!

By allowing myself to remember what I have to be grateful for, I can wheel myself around, right out of a cranky, crappy emotion. I have a choice. I have control here.

The added benefit—and this is important, so take note! — is that I can take the next step, keep going, continue with a task.

Here’s my challenge to you:  If you’re writing and you feel like throwing your keyboard against the wall, take a deep breath, get up, and will yourself to feel grateful about something. 

Please let me know if you take this challenge.  How did it work?

Also, I have a great gift for you– go my website (www.nwcoaching.com) and sign up for my newsletter.  I have something you can use!
Until next time,

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Last week three different dissertation coaching clients came to their calls with me frustrated.

One started the call by saying she felt “crappy.”  Another was also clearly cranky.

What had happened?  Each of them had had their writing time appropriated.

One client, the father of a 7-month-old, was exhausted as well as cranky.  He had been up with a sick baby.  He had lost writing time.  And even though he was now sick, he couldn’t take time off from his job because he had taken sick leave to take the baby to the doctor.

If you have children, then you understand how frustrating this can be.  I don’t know if there is any way around it.  But you do get a big virtual hug.  Writing a diss while working full time and raising kids takes incredible resilience.

Another client had had her time commandeered by her employer.  Her employer is giving a major presentation and needs an enormous amount of data and other work that only my client could produce.  My client had to give lots of extra time. Not many choices here either.  But if you find yourself in this situation, remember that you finish the task and then claim time for yourself.

The dilemma presenting itself to the third client was particularly upsetting.

A professor asked my client to do some work on a project that is not in the subject area of her diss.  The professor is not her advisor.  He does not teach at her university.  But he may be in a position to hire her.

My client had stewed and fretted over what to do, throwing valuable time away.  She felt that he had used his power to hijack her writing time.  She could have said no, but she will need a job soon.

When she decided that she also had some power in the situation and that she could make a choice, she was ready to move forward.

There will always be demands on your time.

What is important is to decide if you have any choices.  If you do, make it as easy on yourself as you can.  Where can you cut your losses and move on without investing any more of your time and emotional energy than you need to?

If you have no choice, if you have a feverish, sick baby, then rest with your baby.

How do you deal with demands on your time?  I’d love to hear from you.

I’d also be happy to send you a copy of my free e-newsletter.  Please go to my website to sign up (www.nwcoaching.com).

Until next time,


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