You want a prediction about the weather? I’ll give you a prediction. It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be gray, and it’s going to last you the rest of your life.–Bill Murray, playing a weatherman in Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day
The weather this winter in at least half of the U.S. has been cold and gray, and many days it seems as if it’s always going to be this way. Dissertation coaching clients tell me that they’ve never felt as exhausted as they have this winter. Many are balancing their dissertations with a full-time job and a family. One said, “This winter when I go home from work, I’m done. I go to sleep.”
Another said, “I’ve never been like this.”
Perhaps you, too, have been thrown off your stride this year. Like many other writers, you may have become exhausted trying to keep up with your dissertation and so you took a break. It may have been a break enforced by the flu or sick children or kids home because of the weather.
Many people say that they are uncertain where they left off in their writing. One client says she wound herself up, asking, “Why am I not more on top of this?” Trying to get clear on where you are in the process can trigger the imposter syndrome. You don’t know when you will finish, and now you wonder if you can ever pull this off. You start to doubt that you have ever had what it will take.
How do you talk yourself down, break through your catastrophizing, and find your way back to your work?
Some writers call on their mental toughness and head back into writing, but resilience doesn’t come about without careful planning and practice.
Break out of your slump
If isolation and torpor, aggravated by the weather, are to blame for your writing slump, break the pattern by talking with someone. Talk aloud about your options for restarting.
Make modest plans
Plan an easy way in with short work sessions dedicated to specific tasks. When you reach the 30-minute mark, or whatever amount of time you had promised yourself you would work, stop.
Keep a log
Make a record of what you have done during the session. Give yourself credit for showing up. Then note the time spent and what you worked on.
Before stopping, plan where you will go from here. My favorite advice for getting ready for your next writing sessions comes via Joan Bolker: “Park on a downhill slope.”
She says to sketch “out in writing what your next step is likely to be, what ideas you want to develop, or follow.”
Stay focused on the present
Put off thinking about the long-term goals for now. Don’t start fiddling with a timeline of when you can finish or when the next big mile post will be.
Enjoy the work
As you work, remind yourself occasionally that you want to keep this writing routine going. In part, you want to do this because you can. You are able to do this work, and you have everything you need. You like the way it feels when you stick with it. One dissertation client told me that he has a goal to make his writing fun. He plans to enjoy the work just as if it is karate.
Collect cartoons, particularly those making light of the dissertation experience. Keep a couple close by where you can read them.
Between writing sessions, make time to exercise; talk to a friend; read to your children.
Bill Murray was wrong—it may be cold and gray, but it will not be this way the rest of your life. For now, keep writing, and buy yourself some spring flowers.
I would love to hear from you. How have you pulled yourself out of a writing slump?
All good wishes,
Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com
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