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I’m grateful to have a wise and funny husband.  Occasionally when I’m indecisive or anxious about my writing, he’ll say, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.”

On a recent, blisteringly hot Saturday when I was feeling prickly because I couldn’t write worth a darn, he said, “Let’s go to a museum.” What? The afternoon had already gotten a good start, and we would have only an hour or so to walk around once we went through the heat and trouble of getting downtown. Was it really worth it?

We went, and you can bet that I wasn’t the best company for the first part of that hot trip down to the museum.

But lucky us—as we walked into Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art‘s East Building, we were met with an electric atmosphere. We had happened upon a free, intimate performance given by stars of Russian ballet: two ballerinas from the Bolshoi Theatre and two dancers from the Mariinsky Theatre.

Dancers from Russia performing excerpts from ballets

Anna Antonicheva

There on the East Building’s mezzanine, we joined a relatively small group of people in summer garb, surprised at their good fortune as they were visiting the Smithsonian.

We sat within yards of these amazing artists, closer than one could ever hope to be, as they danced for an hour in honor of the special exhibit, Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When Art Danced with Music. They performed excerpts from the repertoire of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

So let me give credit to my husband for his good advice, applicable to all sorts of situations—especially to difficult moments often encountered in writing a dissertation.

Ease the pressure. Awaken your creative side and aesthetic sensibilities, or whatever your strengths are, and see what happens.  Oddly enough, doing something that at first might seem as if you are procrastinating and merely fleeing the hard work of writing can yield unexpected benefits, such as increasing your mental toughness.

Breaking open a tired writing project

When you return to your writing, you most likely will note greater mental clarity, quickness, and toughness, as well as an increased patience for your writing process. An improved mental and emotional state will help your writing come more easily.

If the perfect word, the right beginning of a paragraph, or the heart of the matter isn’t coming to you and you are twisting yourself into knots, just do something, even if it’s wrong. Doing something could even mean going to a museum. You might be surprised at what can invigorate an exhausted mind and break open a tired project.

When you have felt stymied by your writing, what breaks did you take that were particularly helpful?  I’d love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

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 dissertation client said recently that he has been dealing with a lack of focus and low motivation.

In addition to writing a dissertation, he also teaches.

Sensing fatigue, I asked what the last few months had been like for him.

He paused and said, “There have been a lot of outside influences.”

He has had to travel a bit, but that wasn’t what was coming to mind for him.

Like many of his friends and family, he had been in the path of Hurricane Sandy.  For some, their homes had been damaged, and for others, including himself, there was a long period of no power and no heat.

And what else in addition to Sandy?  The Presidential campaign and election

The Presidential campaign that came before Sandy but ended soon after Sandy struck was raw and exhausting for many Americans. After months, even years, of the presidential campaign, my client was thrilled when the campaigning ended, but the campaign stopped with an abruptness, a suddenness that at first was disconcerting.

My client felt he personally had been in a battle during the fierce, ugly campaign.

But once the election was over, the silence was almost as unsettling as the campaign itself.

My client said that even though he had lost valuable time during the aftermath of the hurricane and also during the election, he had started to recover his footing.  He was tired, but he had started to produce some writing.

And now another calamity has upturned the lives of some of my dissertation clients, as well as many other people.

The unthinkable has occurred

This morning my client told me that midday this past Friday he registered news about a shooting but because of a deadline at work, he chose to put off getting the details.  At day’s end, he listened in earnest to the news reports and realized that once again there had been a shooting in a school, but this time the dead included beautiful little first-graders.

Since then, he said, he has been emotionally overwhelmed even though he has been listening to or reading only a few news reports.

The horrific shooting of the young schoolchildren and their teachers has been difficult to process for most of us. My client articulated the feelings of horror and helplessness that may sound familiar to you.  But he says he thinks his ongoing exhaustion and isolation may further complicate for him the emotional impact of the killings.

Over the last couple of months several clients have voiced concerns not only over their heavy work load, but also over the emotional stress and isolation they are feeling.

Time for yourself

The upcoming holidays and, for some, the end of the semester give many the opportunity to reflect on how to deal with this latest disaster.

And how you can deal with the loneliness and emotional stress you feel as you shoulder the difficult job of writing a dissertation.

More of what matters

Please give some time over the next few weeks to reflect on what really matters to you, not only in your work or dissertation, but also in your emotional life.  What is it that you need?  How can you have more of what matters to you?

All good wishes to you,

Nancy

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

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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Like Christmas/New Year’s/Spring Break, summer makes all things seem possible, especially if your goal is to produce as much text as you can on your dissertation or other writing projects.

For many of my clients who live in the Northern Hemisphere, this is the time of year when they are shifting into summer schedule with a plan to focus on writing.

Perhaps you, too, are almost into summer mode with a plan to write. If so, will you have the company of your kids? And what about the kids? How do they fit with your writing plans?

Writing, with Kids

If you have most of the responsibility for their care, you have probably long been aware that the demands of childcare make successful completion of your degree more difficult, and perhaps less likely.

To quote one of my clients, “I know now that I can’t write my dissertation at the dining room table.”

I’ve maintained that if you want to get any writing done, you need a door between you and your kids.

Do You Need More than a Door?

A client told me that even though she had an in-home babysitter for her daughter last summer, the 10-year-old still found any excuse to interrupt her mother’s writing. As for this summer, my client says, “I need more than a door.”

And so I’m hearing from her, and from many clients, plans for day camp and away-camp for kids.

Camp Isn’t Just for Kids

Should you think about  camp, too … for yourself? A place where you would have control over your time and fewer distractions? Where it would be quiet and you could write?

Day camp for you could be a library or coffee shop.

Or you could rent writing space for the summer. Renting a space would be perfect. And, yes, I have had dissertation clients who rent writing space.

Professional writers rent space.

Novelist J. Courtney Sullivan rents space at the Brooklyn Writers Space.  She says that it is “almost like library carrels — you don’t have a set desk, you sit wherever there’s an opening and it’s incredibly quiet. It’s totally silent.”  Sounds great doesn’t it?  No interruptions from little ones, no unexpected phone calls.  In fact, Sullivan says that the writers space is so quiet that “you would not want to be the person whose phone starts ringing.” Or if you want a week away to a quiet place in order to get a good start on your writing, consider renting a cabin with writer friends. Your time would be your own.  No kids, no spouses.

Something I haven’t done but I think would be a terrific idea is to house-sit for someone.  Again, no kids, no spouses (I’m assuming the kids have grandparents or other relatives who can help out with the childcare if your spouse isn’t up to it). If your only obligation is to water the plants and feed the cat, you will have a perfect opportunity to ease into your writing and produce text.

One last description of a writer’s retreat may sound as if it couldn’t be based on reality, but I swear that it is. A client is working toward her PhD at a major research university, and she has the great good fortune to have a professor who loans her vacation lake house to a graduate student for a 2- or 3-day writer’s retreat. As long as the professor isn’t using it, she’s happy for a graduate student to have access to it.  At no cost.

My client has used the professor’s house several times. As you might expect, during her retreat she has not only made headway on her work, but she has also usually unraveled a particularly thorny writing problem.

The Writer’s-Retreat State of Mind

More than once my client and I have discussed how she can hold onto her writer’s-retreat state-of-mind after returning home. One of her successful strategies for re-creating that state-of-mind has been to go to a quiet library.

What can you do now to better ensure that this summer will be a great season of writing for you? What will you do about your writing environment? And what about the kids? I would love to hear your plans for a successful shift into summer writing.

Happy writing,

Nancy

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Image by …anna christina… via Flickr

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

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Is there a writer who isn’t lured and waylaid by the distractions of the internet and email?

Is there a writer who hasn’t written about those same distractions?

How about you? How well did you do today? Did you stay on task and reach your writing goal for the day? Or did procrastination and Facebook win out?

My dissertation coaching clients are trying to use the Nothing Alternative—that is, during the time they’ve set aside to write, they write… or do nothing. They tell me, though, that the Nothing Alternative strains their willpower. They do better if they remove the temptation of the internet.

Several clients are using SelfControl software or the Anti-Social app to lock them out of the internet.  This week I heard about another program—Freedom.   

The client who told me about Freedom said that even though he has used it successfully, he frequently has to talk himself into setting it up.  And why would he resist a successful strategy? Because once he has it up and running, he will have robbed himself of his excuses not to write. It’s write or do nothing.

My client is in good company.

Writer Nora Ephron says that every morning she spends several hours “failing to make a transition” from reading the morning newspaper to working and being productive. To help to fight her urge to procrastinate, she sets up Freedom on her computer to lock out the internet. 

Seth Godin, the master marketer, blogger, and author, is also a fan of Freedom. He compares using Freedom “with being cornered with nowhere to turn.” And the advantage of being cornered, he says, is “that it leaves you . . . unable to stall or avoid the real work.”

Novelist Zadie Smith speaks knowingly of the lure of the internet. She says, “When I am using the Internet, I am addicted. I’m not able to concentrate on anything else.” To give herself time to write, she uses Freedom, but she still has to put her phone (on which she can get email) “in another part of the house, it’s pathetic. Like a drug addict. I put it in a cupboard so that I can write for five hours.”

My clients ask the same questions that Smith asks, “Is it me alone? Am I making it up? Does nobody feel this way?”

Writing is hard work, and most of us yearn for distraction, especially something as mindless as the internet and email.  Lock it all up—give yourself  some freedom!

Happy Writing!

Nancy

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

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Doctoral students who have finished their course work, but not their dissertation have been given the inglorious tag of “All But Dissertation.”  Although many doctoral students proudly add “ABD” to their signature, what those three letters signify is that more work needs to be done. 

For many writers of dissertations, the process drags on and on.  Even though the average time for finishing a degree is less than at any time over the last 20 years, some studies say that the average time-to-degree is 7.7 years.   Actually, in a high percentage of disciplines, a ten-year completion rate is the norm.  Along the way, many ABD’s become discouraged and never finish. 

The percentage of those who “walk away empty-handed” is said to be more than 30 per cent. 

What are the universities doing?

In the past, I’ve thought that graduate schools make little effort to reach out to ABD’s and offer too few opportunities where ABD students could get a toe-hold in their dissertation process.

But in some quarters there have been changes. Recently, Dissertation Boot Camps have blossomed on many university campuses.  Dissertation Boot Camps profit primarily those ABD’s close to campus, but for those who attend, Boot Camps are a boon.

As recently as 3 or 4 years ago, only a handful of universities had a Writer’s Retreat or a Boot Camp. Currently, many schools post notices of Boot Camps and how a student can enroll. Among the many schools offering Boot Camps for ABD’s are Lehigh University, University of Delaware, Claremont Graduate University, and West Virginia University. 

What do Boot Camps Offer?

Most Boot Camps offer a day or a weekend of distraction-free writing time.  And just that one day or two days or writing time away from your usual demands and in the company of other writers can allow you to mentally retool and to produce text.

Some Boot Camps offer workshops as well as writing time.

The Writing Center at The Claremont Graduate University offers not only a Boot Camp, but a community. Posted on the CGU Writing Center’s website/blog are schedules for the semester’s Boot Camp and for a series of workshops geared toward writing the dissertation.  

At some schools, Boot Camp is a week in length.

If you are a PhD candidate in Humanities or Social Science at West Virginia University, you may have hit the jackpot!  The WVU Writing Center offers a Boot Camp from May 9 thru May 13.  It meets from 10 am to 4 pm (with an hour off for lunch).  Each of the 5 days has unstructured writing time, but each day also includes a presentation. The topics for the daily presentations include goal setting, balancing writing and researching, the proposal, the lit review, and intros/conclusions/abstracts.

This unique Boot Camp also offers workshopping. Workshopping gives you the opportunity to receive feedback from other participants on what you are writing.   

How do I get in?

If you are a Ph.D. candidate at a university sponsoring a Boot Camp, most likely you are eligible, although a few Boot Camps stipulate the field. 

Some Boot Camps have an application process in which, among other topics, students need to address their goals for the Boot Camp or retreat. 

Some ask for a refundable payment of $50. Most are free, though in case of Boot Camps that run for more than a day, you will have the expense of overnight lodging.  Often, the expense is modest.

At least one school has several sessions each academic term, but this is rare.  Clearly those schools which offer several sessions a year serve the greatest number of students.   

One school advertises that past participants can apply for another session.  However, many schools have limited space, and so returning students aren’t encouraged.

I am puzzled by several announcements that I have seen.  For example, in one case, four universities band together to offer a retreat for four participants from each of the four universities.  It would appear that for those four schools a total of only sixteen doctoral students will have the chance for a retreat. 

Other opportunities

Boot Camp is a wonderful opportunity for you to be removed from your everyday distractions and to be able to focus on your writing. Many writers find being around others while they write is helpful.  Occasionally you need the energy and companionship other writers can give you. 

If you’re not on campus, not eligible to take a Boot Camp, or your university doesn’t offer a Boot Camp, what other resources or choices are available to you. 

You can also enroll in my virtual Dissertation Boot Camp.  Do you need accountability?  A little low on hope?  Or how about some help in forming your own writing group?

Watch this space for more information on my Dissertation Boot Camp / Writer’s Retreat.

I would love to hear about your experiences in finding a Boot Camp or participating in one.

Happy distraction-free writing!

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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Cover of "Thelma & Louise"

Cover of Thelma & Louise

Perhaps what is true for one of my dissertation clients is also true for you.  She says that sometimes a day will pass, and she hasn’t done any writing.

How do you use your time?  How are you spending your time?

Do those two questions mean the same thing? It seems to me that we all use our time one way or another, but the word spending suggests the value of time and the limited nature of time.

I see in my mind’s eye Louise, in Thelma and Louise,  driving her Thunderbird convertible purposefully down the desert road, mentally calculating what she and Thelma need as she plots their getaway. Thelma is slumped in the passenger’s seat. “How much money do you have,” Louise asks. Thelma distractedly pulls a few bills from her billfold.

Just as Thelma starts to say $60, the wind rips a 20 dollar bill from the passive  Thelma, who aimlessly revises their resources downward to $40.

If you’re like Thelma and Louise, you need to plan ahead a bit more. It’s hard to find more time or money. As Louise says, “We’re going to need more.”

So how can you  determine how you are spending that valuable resource of time and where are you going to find more?

 One of my dissertation coaching clients is planning a course of action that you might also try. 

She has chosen to track how she is using her time each day. Specifically she is going to keep track of each block of 30 minutes in her day by recording her answers to the following:

1. Where am I going?

2. What am I doing?

3. How long does it take?

What are you doing that is so important?

She wants to determine how much of her time is already scheduled. Why does it seem that she is always going somewhere, rushing here or there? Why does the activity or the responsibility take so much time?

Where is the time that I am going to devote to my dissertation?

She will be able to see the chunks of time when she could be writing. She thinks she has time that is available for writing if only she looks closely at how she is living 30-minute segment of her day.

Then what?

That found time will then be scheduled for her dissertation work—written into her calendar– and she will show up for that scheduled writing. 

Try it yourself– Track how you are using your time. 

Use a legal pad or an appointment calendar. How many chunks of time do you have in any given day that you can lay claim to for writing?

Challenge yourself

Write your dissertation in the time you have available.

I’d love to hear from you. What free chunks of time can you find in your day once you actually look for them? Now what will it take to spend those chunks on writing?  Write your dissertation in the time that you have.

Let’s talk!

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach

http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net

http://www.usingyourstrengths.com

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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