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A giant construction project disrupts the lives and the commute of many people who use the Washington DC (or Capital)  Beltway and the business routes between the Beltway and the Dulles International Airport.

 

This same construction project also raises hope among many travelers that one day they can take the metro the full 30 miles or so from downtown Washington, D.C. to Dulles Airport for an international flight.  In addition, the beltway will have “hot lanes” which will allow people willing to pay a hefty toll to drive in the faster lanes and to escape the punishing daily gridlock.

 

The Chaos of Construction

The construction is on a huge scale—where nothing looks like it used to, no trees line the roads, exits from the beltway are changed, intersecting concrete roads start and stop abruptly, bridges are gone, new bridges emerge in an unexpected place, and everywhere there are train tracks.

 

While many people might think this project is without parallel, to me it suggests another kind of herculean project, particularly those of the mind and will.

If you are writing a dissertation or another seemingly endless writing project, you see the resemblance.

 

The Chaos  . . .  and Cost  . . .  of Writing a Dissertation

As the costs mount for the Dulles Airport metro, municipalities and individuals dispute the wisdom of continuing to build all 23 miles of subway to the airport. The different authorities involved have wrangled over whether the subway should be above ground or below ground and which municipalities should contribute more money and less money. Similarly, the personal and financial costs involved in writing a dissertation may seem to you as if you’ll never get out from under them. And you wonder how completing the dissertation could be worth the huge burden you have taken on.

 

Showing Up Takes Mental Toughness and Planning

Not unlike the way you wrangle with texts and structure, trying to trace ideas through various pathways in your brain, returning day after day to an uncomfortable task that demands almost more than you can do, the workers in the beltway/Dulles metro construction zone labor on crazy flyover bridges high in the sky over what will be eight lanes of the DC Beltway.

The workers labor at road level, between lanes of traffic, on cranes, and on concrete piers.  Below ground workers construct enormous tunnels.

Just like the worker in the construction zone, for you to return each day to a challenging, messy dissertation requires you to draw on your mental toughness and willpower. It takes grit to show up each day to work on a grueling writing project, with no end in sight, knowing that only occasionally will you find joy in the doing. What you know is that you have to keep your wits about you. And what you can count on is that you will find joy in having stuck with the project to its end.

Beyond the Beltway and the Tysons Corner area of Virginia where several new metro stations are being built, the work gradually slows. This is not yet the construction zone, but the plan is in place.  Huge piles of stacked materials are staged for future work. The plan anticipates that the metro construction will reach this point and keep going. 

The staged materials are evidence that a plan is in place. If workers show up each day and do their exhausting, demanding tasks, according to the plan, the job will proceed toward its end point, that is, its destination — Dulles International Airport.

What is more inspiring than anticipating what it will be like when this seemingly endless writing project is finished? What you anticipate feeling after you have traveled the long road to the Ph.D. is what the people committed to building the Metrorail to Dulles and the hot lanes on the beltway anticipate feeling when they see a completed project.

 

That Transcendent Feeling of Completion

Today, I drove toward Dulles Airport, the final destination for the Metro. As the iconic Dulles Main Terminal with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background came into view, I felt some of that same excitement that finishing huge writing projects brings forth—that transcendent feeling of completion and a new beginning.

 

And that transcendent feeling of completion and new beginning is what I wish for you in this New Year of big writing projects. 

Nancy

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

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The New Year at its most powerful is a time for reflection and a time to think about where you want to put your focus.  The holidays are often jam-packed with travel, planning, buying, eating, interacting, negotiating, and not much quiet time. The first week of the New Year may reveal that it’s harder to focus than you had thought it was.

On the first coaching day of the New Year among those dissertation coaching clients who showed up as expected, I also had a client show up unexpectedly—she had forgotten that she wanted to start a week later. On subsequent days the schedules of a couple more clients unexpectedly conflicted with their coaching calls. The first day or so of starting a new schedule or returning to a routine after a busy holiday can make for a bumpy ride and a feeling of loss of control.

While my holiday began with the usual hurry-hurry pace, by Christmas Day I had moved into the best part of the holiday–the familiar gift exchanges, special meals, and the less familiar travel to a new home of a loved one.

The most different part of my Christmas holiday was going with my whole family to Manhattan on Christmas Monday. The crowds both at Macy’s at Herald Square and at Rockefeller Center skating rink and Christmas tree were enormous, but fun, jolly, and relaxed. We joined the cold-night sauntering of the crowds down Fifth Avenue, oohing and ahhing over the window displays at Tiffany and Bergdorf Goodman and the light shows and illuminations on the tall buildings.

Celebrating the holiday with my family and also with this huge, unhurried crowd of friendly strangers heavily bundled against the night’s cold was not only relaxing, but it was also a way to reset my frequently frenzied focus. I could concentrate on what was there to be seen and to be experienced. I lost myself in the moment, enjoying the city at its most beautiful. 

Having those few hours not only to be unplugged, but also to feel transported and intensely engaged in a sensory, beautiful experience gave me the pause I needed to come back to my work with a desire to improve my level of focus and concentration.

To help me sharpen my focus in this New Year, I’m giving myself time each day to pause. I’m setting aside an hour each day where I have the choice on where to place my focus.

I also realize how much I need to have experiences of beauty and wonder in my life. Reading has always given me those kinds of experiences, but increasingly my reading is for my work or has chosen by someone else. Recently I happened to read Téa Obreht wonderful novel The Tiger’s Wife, which created a world that beckoned me to re-engage for days and weeks to unravel webs of images and secrets and relationships.

Knowing that I’m better in many ways–focus, concentration, motivation– if I’m reading a novel that engages me and asks something of me, I’m also giving myself permission to spend some time looking for such novel to read each month—one that engages me and could very likely leave me awestruck

What do you need to have in your life in this New Year? Do you also need something that will boost your focus and concentration in 2012?  I’d love to hear what you think.

All good wishes to you for 2012,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach

http://www.smarttipsforwriters.com

http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net

http://www.nancywhichard.com

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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A caller asked if I had ever coached someone who had become stalled on a house renovation project.  My answer was no, but what came to mind was how similar all big projects are.   How difficult it can be to keep going.  How crushing the project can become. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Let’s say it was you who started the renovation project. You envisioned the changes you were going to make. You put together a plan to accomplish those changes.

And you took on this project in part because of what you wanted to prove to yourself.

Following through on such a commitment takes courage and resilience.  I’ve seen someone with these qualities accomplish an amazing home renovation project.  He almost single-handedly built a large room onto their house. He’s an accomplished man, but he’s not a carpenter, nor is he an architect. Nevertheless, over many months, the structure came together, and it’s a lovely addition to their home.

Completing such a project must be more than satisfying.  I would guess that the end feeling would be relief coupled with enormous joy in the accomplishment.

But if the renovation project, just like a stalled dissertation, is yours and if you’re stuck, re-starting takes courage and a willingness to look with new eyes at what this project will require from you.

Here are the five steps to help you restart:

1.  You need a plan, the more detailed the better.  A plan, with specific details, will guide you, and it will also be a way of keeping track.  It’s easier to keep going when you can check off items on a list or a plan.

2.  Make realistic, manageable goals each and every day or work session. Short-term goals and next steps keep you focused on the present.  And that’s where you have to work.

3.  When you accomplish the day’s goal, stop for the day—it may be counterproductive to push yourself beyond a reasonable stopping point.  Stopping when you’ve reached a realistic goal gives you the strength to come back another day.  If you go beyond the realistic goal, you start to risk burn-out or exhaustion. Exhaustion makes it much harder to return to the project.

4.  After you quit for the day, acknowledge yourself for the courage it took to come back to the project yet another day and to do what you said you were going to do.  Big Gold Stars!

5.  Draw on that feeling of renewed courage and the surge of joy to start your work another day.

Embarrassment, discouragement, and shame are likely to accompany getting stuck on something as open and visible as a home renovation or building project. Having one’s failure on public display can be brutal.  But the dread of being found out when a failure isn’t so visible, as in being stalled on a dissertation, is also brutally hard to bear. 

Life’s too short to live in dread or shame. You have a choice. I say get started on that detailed plan, plot your first step, and then take it.

Are you stalled on a dissertation, or have you been stalled?  What is your next step?  I’d love to hear from you.

All good wishes to you,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.smarttipsforwriters.com
http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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Dissertation writers tell me they often find themselves writing in chaos.  It’s not clear to them where they’re headed or how long it’s going to take to get wherever it is they’re going.

Occasionally a cultural ritual, like the summer vacation, is a marker that writers use to cut through the chaos.

The vacation can be something to aim for, a lighthouse, if you will. Paddling toward that lighthouse gives a direction. A limited amount of time adds a sense of urgency. Having a concrete goal adds clarity and motivation.

Put together a limited amount of time, a direction and a concrete goal, and you have the makings of a plan.  Nothing relieves stress or pulls you out of chaos like having a plan, unless it’s putting that plan into operation.

Some of my clients have a specific amount of writing they want to do, such as finishing the lit review before going on vacation.

One client says that she’s giving her committee what she has done before she leaves for a two-week vacation, but she’s redefined for herself what it is she will submit.

Her plan is to make a plan, a detailed plan, for the direction her work is taking.

Her approach is to work on the Introduction to clarify the argument. Then for the subsequent chapters, she is working through the argument.  She is stepping back to see where she is heading, making sure her argument flows,  chapter to chapter, with adequate support. She will also make sure she is adding the feedback and comments she has received so far from her committee.  She’s not working on surface issues—save that sort of thing for the end.

When she is back from vacation this concrete approach will put her in a good place to write more easily, eliminate the feeling of writing in chaos, and alleviate the stress factor.

From time to time as you write a dissertation, you need to step back to see where you are headed.  Take stock of what you have done and what you need to rework, as well as make sure you have a concrete plan to keep you on course for what is ahead. 

Is a vacation coming up for you?  This could be the time to check your course.  It also may be just the time to add a bit of hustle to your work.  Push a little harder to pull together your argument and to add pages of text.

From time to time, you may need to adjust your approach. 

What is the nearest marker for you?  How are you using it to advance your planning and your writing?

 I’d love to hear from you.

Happy June,

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

 

 

 

 

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Are you one of the lucky ones with Spring Break in the offing?

Have you been thinking and hoping and waiting for Spring Break?  Finally, you say, I’ll make some headway on my dissertation or book.

Visualize how it will work when you have none of the usual demands that take your time and distract you during each day.

It may be a bit of a challenge to be organized, to guard your time, to find the balance between thinking you have to research this and write that.  Feel a little scary?  Are you starting to put the stressors in place just at the moment when the usual demands may let go?

What would make for a more relaxing and a less stressful writing?
What are the fears?

Just at the time when you see some daylight, here come the fears.  Try this: See yourself as a cartoon character and imagine a little balloon above the character’s head. Put those scary thoughts up in that balloon—the fears that give you that debilitating tightness in your chest. Every time one of those thoughts or pains come up, think of the words or fears and mentally write those words in the balloon.

You’re bigger than those words-in-the-balloon. Put those fears in their place.

Sail on, Silver Girl

A client once said that sometimes “it feels like I’m strong and sailing forward like ‘Sail on, Silver girl; Sail on by’ in that Simon and Garfunkel song,”  but then everything just piles on.

Guard your Spring Break.  People may know where to find you and start making requests that are hard to ignore.

For your Spring Break, find quiet moments, with no stressors where you can sail on.
That Hotel Thing

Maybe it’s time for that Hotel Thing.  If you need solitude and the boundaries that seeming-to be-out-of- town will give you, why not find a good deal for 2 nights in a hotel? Bring snacks, but be sure you can get room service for that evening when you’re in flow, but you’re hungry for something more than Trail Mix.  That’s no time to tramp around, trying to find a cheap eatery.

Bring your dissertation coach’s phone number, but leave all of your other phone numbers at home.

Give yourself an evening to settle in and to tame your surroundings. Feel at ease and comfortable with starting gradually.

Ah, just writing about solitude and co-existing with no other living creature allows me to relax and breathe deeply.
A Retreat with a Friend 

Some writers combine a writer’s retreat with reconnecting with friends or being with like-minded people.  Consider renting a beach house or going to a Bed and Breakfast with a friend or two and setting up compatible writing schedules.  Having someone to walk with before dinner sounds pleasant.

 

Accountability

My dissertation clients primarily hire me to provide accountability.

Why not combine your plans to write during Spring Break with Dissertation Boot Camp/Writer’s Retreat?  Boot Camp, or at least my version, includes 3 coaching calls over two weeks and short, daily check-in’s via email. And if a client is having a week-end retreat at a hotel or in another hidden location, I’m glad to schedule a coaching call on the week-end or at some random time to help get the writing off the ground and keep it going.

Being accountable to one other person who isn’t your friend, your mother, or your spouse can be very important.  No drama, no complications. A similar dynamic is probably at work in organizations like Weight Watchers.

If results count, find a way to include accountability during your Spring Break.

If you have been longing  for some time alone, with no appointments  or  scheduled must-do’s, go ahead and take some time off.  If you are one of the lucky ones with Spring Break, seize the opportunity and dedicate it to your writing.  I would be glad to help you create a productive and relaxed writer’s retreat.

And if Spring Break isn’t in sight, take a long weekend.  Remove yourself from everyday life and give me a call.

I’m on your side. 

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

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DSC_8581

Image by tambrieann via Flickr

Do you feel that you’re like that woman in online advertisements who seems to be turning in one direction, but then all of a sudden, even while you are looking at her, has turned and is now going in an opposite direction?  Do you need something holding you and your intentions together?

You need a linchpin—the pin that locks a wheel in place or the critical element in an argument or in a system that ties everything together and makes it all work.

Where is the support or the critical element that keeps you and your writing on track and making headway?

When I was talking recently with a dissertation coaching client, I realized that she had taken the major steps to put a linchpin in place, but there was still more to be done if it was to perform critically.

Her daily schedule is peppered with many different activities, commitments, meetings, responsibilities, volunteer work. 

In the middle of her daily schedule, written in boldface, is the name of an undergraduate class in which she has enrolled.  She is taking the class voluntarily, and she loves it.

She’s a bit embarrassed to admit that she’s doing so brilliantly in the class when she is making only modest progress on her dissertation. 

But she is clear about why she took the class.  She says that she wants to prove to herself that when something is required on a regular basis, she can indeed do the work and do it well. This class has the making of a linchpin.

The class not only gives her a routine, but it also gets her to campus. Her hope had been that she would go to the library and work, but after the class is over, she goes home and lets down.

Before she knows it, the afternoon is gone, and along with it the time she could have put on her dissertation.

It’s curious how we can easily make a misstep or take the wrong road.  But with a dissertation, everything is fixable.   

Given that she is very clear about why she wanted to take the class, she has everything she needs in order to regroup.  In order for her to get some work done, she needs to stay on campus and not fall back into the beleaguered grad student mentality. Rather than let down and lose her momentum, she can make use of the mindset, energy, and good mood that she has when she leaves her class.

She has already made the commitment to take a class that would get her to campus. The next critical step is to take advantage of the location.

You do so much that is right.  For the most part, you set yourself up for success.  You may have the linchpin almost in place.  However, like my dissertation coaching client, you may need an added measure of support and a bit of a shift for the linchpin to fall into place.

What is your linchpin?

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

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What works 2010

Image by iriss.org.uk via Flickr

“Hey, where’s the beef?” yells the cranky, elderly woman at a fast food counter.  We see an enormous bun being poked at by two less cranky women.  Trying to say something positive, they agree that the bun is big:  “It’s a big fluffy bun. It’s a very big fluffy bun.”  But the all-business, take-no-prisoners woman says, “Hey, where’s the beef.”  And then she says the obvious, “I don’t think there’s anybody back there.”

 The “where’s-the-beef” line from a 1984 Wendy’s Fast Food commercial has become synonymous with something that’s insubstantial and inflated.

Too often our goals are little more than a big, fluffy bunch of words, as insubstantial as white bread.

If your goal for 2011 is “I will finish my dissertation,” what will add some substance, some beef, if you will, to that goal?

As that silly song from the mid- ‘60s by Burt Bacharach says, “Wishing and hoping and thinking and praying, planning and dreaming” aren’t enough. 

To add substance to your goal of “finish my dissertation in 2011,” let’s look at your “Have -Done” list for 2010.  We rarely give ourselves credit for what we’ve done. 

Typically, we shake a finger at ourselves about all that went wrong this past year. That approach reminds me of stern Suze Orman on PBS who frowns at me and says she’s my girlfriend, but she really wants to scold me about my bad money management: “I want to talk to you about the mistakes you made last year,” she says.

We need evidence that we can do this work in 2011. What are the successes from 2010 that you can build on in 2011?

An Accomplishments List definitely motivates and adds momentum toward your 2011 goal.

What evidence can you pull up for some success in the areas of perseverance, resilience, and accountability?

What meetings did you request with your advisor?  What specific help did you request from your advisor? What additional resources did you find?  Where do you want to look for resources in 2011?

What did you have to say no to in order to get work done?

What deadlines did you meet? What was instrumental in your meeting those deadlines?  What do you want to tweak?

How did you manage your ambivalence?  Your resistance?  Your perfectionism?

And how much text did you produce?

Each page of writing is a success.

Each writing session in which you managed your anxiety or your resistance or your perfectionism was a success. And here you are, back at it, stronger and wiser.

Make the path to success more certain this year.  Have as goals the specific patterns and processes that worked last year, and ramp them up.   

Those are worthwhile, robust, substantive goals.  Write them down.

I’d love to see your robust goals in writing and also in action.

All good wishes for a productive 2011,

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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