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Archive for the ‘restart writing’ Category

Life is lived moment-to-moment—a glance out a window at the path of a rabbit in the yard, the taste of spicy food, a smile and a kind word from a grocery store clerk, the fleeting thought as you settle into your car seat. You hesitate and make a few connections in your mind

In addition to random moments, life is made of small routines—a short run, a quick clean-up of the kitchen or bathroom, saying good-night to a child.

Chunks of time make up our day.

And you can write your dissertation one chunk at a time.

Most graduate students come across Jane Bolker’s book, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. Jane Bolker was co-founder of the Writing Center at Harvard, and she also directed many dissertations. She writes from her experience of helping ABD’s to get started writing and then to stick with it. Bolker’s book urges people to write for a small period of time every day, the amount of time it would take you to fill the dishwasher and clean the kitchen or read a few books at nighttime to your child.

The Pomodoro is another a great tool for dissertation writers. The little clock that looks like a tomato, or one of the new apps or other countdown timers, has helped many writers ease into writing, one 25-minute chunk at a time. It helps writers push away distractions, to focus, and then to stick with the writing for the length of the Pomodoro.

A Pomodoro can be an essential aid to someone balancing a dissertation with a job and family, where planning is a way of life.

One Pomodoro or two Pomodoros becomes a unit of time that you can remember. “I worked two Pomodoros every day last week at lunchtime,” a client says. It is a tool that helps establish a habit. Read more about it here.

If you need help in restarting your writing and then establishing a productive routine, coaching is another tool that has helped many writers.  Dissertation coaching can help you look again at the parts and pieces of your writing project.

Coaching will introduce you to many strategies that will help you successfully manage your work. And you will be talking to someone interested in your personal process, someone, most likely, who once lived the life of the ABD.

I would love to hear from you.  August is a great time to try coaching.

All the best,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

http://www.nancywhichard.com

 

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Every day we all do many things that are hard, but without a doubt one of the hardest is to make time for a writing session.

Your life is hectic, complicated, challenging, and there’s never time to write.

But what is funny is that even if you have somehow arranged or finagled a way to take time off from work to write, you will still do about anything else before or instead of writing. Am I right?

What is stopping you? Fear of failure, belief that you don’t know enough or aren’t ready?

How about this? You’re smart—you know how hard writing is. Who the heck wants to wade into the snake-filled, deep grass of writing if you can possibly avoid it? Writing goes on and on. You can slap a few words on the screen, but then comes the rewriting and reworking and trying to find some meaning in this ridiculous mess of words. 

So we all avoid it until we’re scared of truly and forever missing a deadline and proving to ourselves that we’re as sniveling as we have always suspected.  And then, maybe, we’ll brave the snake-infested waters. We pull on the boots and wade in.

Does it have to come to this every time? God help us all. We are better than this. I’m tired, even now, as I think of the hordes of procrastinating, perfectionist, sensitive, worried would-be writers, myself included, who are sitting in front of the TV or reading every blog known to man or woman instead of writing.

Enough. 

How can getting started writing and sticking with it be made easier?

You hear that the way to get writing done is to “just do it.” People who routinely make room in their busy days for more commitments may seem to “just do it.”

But ask someone who has added to their busy day a taxing commitment, such as running or swimming or teaching a class or producing text, if they “just do it.”

Or do they have strategies, rituals, and preliminaries that help them get started and get the job done?  When do they write?

My dissertation coaching clients will tell you that what they hear from me is that it is easier to start writing if you have a daily routine and write first thing each morning. The good news is that the more you sit down and write at that time each day, the closer you will be to having a robust writing habit.

Why wait all day and into the evening, with the hope that somehow you will trap yourself into writing? 

Write first.

I would love to hear  from my readers.  What ideas do you have about how to start writing more easily?  Does writing first each day work for you?

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

 

 

 

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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.

Smile

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

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

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One of the joys of life is to visit one’s adult children, whether they live close by or at a distance.

empty highway: an empty highway, leading to a city in the distance.  35W north into minneapolis was closed for construction work at the diamond lake bridge.

After graduating from college, our daughter remained in the New York area, married, and bought a house.

On the way home to Northern Virginia after a recent visit with her,  I thought how each visit to the home of one of our adult children is like a short course or even a Boot Camp. This Boot Camp helps us to adapt to their changing lives and maturing personalities.  I don’t mean Boot Camp in the sense of a grueling experience, but one with boundaries of time and with opportunities of being near to one another, making it easier to spot ways to make life better. 

I coach writers. Many of my clients ask me if Boot Camp would work for them. I occasionally offer a limited-enrollment Boot Camp, tailored to each participant. Boot Camp makes a lot of sense, with its limited time period when someone can focus daily on a specific writing project and where one anticipates making changes to grow and get better. 

The people who enroll in Boot Camp come with an impressive academic and professional history and, typically, have been strong writers. But new expectations and self-doubt have derailed them, slowing and or even stalling their writing.

Boot Camp offers writers a safe place to reshape their usual way of approaching their work, and they are not isolated as they do it.  As their coach, I give support and accountability as the participants streamline their writing process, gain insights and improved skills, and set up new habits that they can use after Boot Camp ends.

Like writers enrolled in Boot Camp, when my husband and I visit our adult children, I see much in their homes and lives that seems familiar. Our personalities and our conversations move in a comfortable dance-like pattern. However, these short visits bring into relief unexpected changes where I trip up. And then I get to try out new steps, hoping to get better in that unpredictable and wonderful dance with adult children.

Boot Camp has much in common with these short visits. Both are worthwhile, good things to do. In both places you need to expect the unexpected and be ready for a bit of a challenge. With each, you can learn something valuable and new in a setting which seems very familiar.

Should you try Boot Camp? Absolutely! If you are trying to get a toe-hold on your dissertation or an article out the door, consider how two weeks where you write every day and are accountable for doing what you said you would do will jump-start your work.

And it will give new life to your flagging strengths of perseverance and resilience.

What would you like to know about Boot Camp? I would love to hear from you.

If you are navigating change in your family relationships, I would love to hear about that, too.

All good wishes,

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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I find it interesting how determined most of us are to derail ourselves in big and small ways. We can put a lot of effort into avoiding focusing on a dissertation.

How about you? Perhaps you have developed a terrific plan and writing routine, just as has one of my dissertation clients.   If not, there’s hope. Take some cues from my client who credits his plan for his increased productivity.

My client’s plan works because it is both basic and elegant.  The plan centers on a “twice –a-day schedule.”

Butternut Cottage

Butternut Cottage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As he rides the bus to his day job, he plans what work he’ll do on his dissertation in his first session of the day. Once he’s close to his office, he finds a quiet place to work, and for about 45 minutes, he follows his plan and either writes or edits a section of his dissertation. Then he goes on to his usual place of work and puts in a full day. At day’s end, after he’s returned home and has had dinner, he puts in about 90 minutes in his second writing session.

He says that the twice-a-day schedule allows him to be more productive than if he worked a longer session once a day. The writing is never far from his mind.  He finds that he looks forward to returning to the work at the next session. And even over holidays, he tries to adhere somewhat to his plan just to keep his head in the material.

If you haven’t put a plan into action, first turn off the internet, television, and whatever else is distracting you.  Believe me, I know that finding the will to write is not easy, but you can do it. It starts with taking control and laying down the basics for yourself.

1. When will you write?  What day and what time?

2. Where will you write?

3. What will you write in that first session?

4. And when does the first session end?

5.  Rinse and repeat.

Nothing much will happen until you have a given yourself specific directions.  What is your plan?  What’s your own twist that makes the plan work for you?

Happy end of November to you.  December looks like a good month for writing, don’t you think?

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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Time management matrix as described in Merrill...

Time management matrix as described in Merrill and Covey 1994 book "First Things First," showing "quadrant two" items that are important but not urgent and so require greater attention for effective time management (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not too long ago, when my adult son mentioned how busy his work and life have become,  my husband was reminded of an annual planning session he had attended at which a facilitator presented a workshop on how to organize your time. 

As my husband drew a diagram from that workshop, I realized that he was drawing time management guru Stephen Covey‘s famous matrix. 

 

Stephen Covey’s Matrix 

Stephen Covey groups the ways we spend our time into four quadrants:

 –1-important and urgent

–2-important and not urgent

–3-not important and urgent

–4-not important and not urgent

As my husband drew the diagram, he said, “The facilitator said you should attend immediately and with personal involvement to Quadrant I matters.” The facilitator’s words about urgent matters resonated with my husband because he always has more work than he can get done.  Everything is urgent.

 

Everything is urgent

In your life, as an academic, ABD, dissertator, professional writer—does that sound familiar? You’re grading papers, attending meetings, preparing classes or presentations, returning email, managing crises at home, and trying to keep up with all that keeps hitting you. As you rush frantically and lose sleep, you also try to engage in last-minute binge writing of your dissertation before the time you told your advisor you would be submitting your promised work.  

Not only had my husband remembered clearly what the facilitator said is assigned to Quadrant I– the urgent and important matters, but he also clearly remembered those matters in Quadrant IV.  The facilitator said that Quadrant IV contains matters that you could basically forget about or things headed for the “circular file.” In other contexts, Quadrant IV could include behaviors such as vegging out in front of the TV or hanging out at Facebook.

So that’s Quadrant I and IV.  What about Quadrant II?  Important but NOT urgent matters would go in Quadrant II. 

Not surprisingly, my husband said that had forgotten what the facilitator said specifically about Quadrants II.  That’s probably because my husband, like so many of us, has to focus on urgent matters. The stuff that never stops. 

 

What you need to meet your goals

What are the important matters contained in Quadrant II and why should we care?  Take a look at what matters are in Quadrant II:

–goal-setting

–planning

–building relationships

–exercising

–productivity

People who most often meet their goals do more planning, organizing, and anticipating. They work efficiently and productively, avoiding last-minute sprints in order to meet impending deadlines, and they honor goals of a healthy lifestyle and close relationships.

While you might be able to avoid some of the distractions and time-wasters of Quadrants III and IV, how do you ignore the unrelenting onslaught of urgent demands of Quadrant I so that you can spend more time with the important matters of Quadrant II?  

 

Controlling what’s urgent

Not everything is an emergency, and we can take steps to stay out-of-the-way of things that appear urgent. Whenever possible, avoid email, particularly before or during a writing session. Avoid such additions to your workload as more volunteering, carpooling, office projects when the work really isn’t your responsibility, and perfectionism that can lead to unwarranted revision and research on your writing project.

Let people know that you are turning off your email and phone during the time you are writing. That would be a bold, but empowering step, wouldn’t it?

 

10 tips that will move you closer to your writing goal

Here are more tips that will help you increase your focus on what is important and also help you move closer to your writing goal:

–Anticipate future demands and activities. Plan, plan, plan. 

–Make your schedule and stick to it.

–Plan do-able, timely deadlines which you meet.  Such a plan results in productivity.

–Prepare so that when you sit down to write, your subconscious has had time to work on the ideas.

–Include physical exercise in your life. (Check out previous blogs and upcoming blogs on the importance of exercise to your writing life.)

–Break out the outlines. If you don’t have an outline, make one. Have an outline in place to guide your writing session.

–Routinely, daily, go to a quiet place to write and to plan the next day’s writing.

–Set up an accountability factor. Ask your friends if you can mail them a chapter and then tell them when you will mail it.

–Email your coach with frequent updates on daily writing sessions.

–Keep an eye on productivity—it’s under your control.

It might be a small problem for you to push aside something seemingly urgent in order to plan and schedule writing sessions, but if you don’t do that, you’ll have the big problem of not producing text because you are running around as if your hair is on fire.

Your hair isn’t on fire.  Slow down, plan, and show up to write.

In the March issue of my newsletter Smart Tips for Writers, I wrote about Stephen Covey’s “Big Rocks” and how that strategy relates to your dissertation. Let me know if that issue never arrived in your inbox. If you aren’t signed up for my newsletter, you can take care of that at my website at www.nancywhichard.com.

I’d love to hear your ideas on urgent vs. important matters and how they impact your writing.

Best 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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What could help you have an easier time starting to write and sticking with the writing?

In the new book Willpower, psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and New York Times science writer John Tierney present research that willpower is limited, in part because you use the same resource for so many different things. 

Since you can’t be certain that you’ll have willpower whenever you might finally take the notion to write, writers, in particular, need to conserve willpower wherever possible. 

If you have engaged in making decisions all day, in one area after another, you may have depleted your reserve of willpower and suffer from “decision fatigue.”  

The authors support the view that having a writing habit helps you avoid the decision fatigue.  If you have a habit in place, you won’t rely solely on willpower to motivate you to write. 

Baumeister and Tierney call this a “precommitment.”  Precommitment is the use of a strategy or plan to protect you from procrastination and impulsive behavior. 

And you know where impulsive behavior takes you—to email, to the refrigerator, to the TV.

Raymond Chandler, who created detective Philip Marlowe and wrote detective novels and film scripts, such as The Big Sleep, devoted four hours each day to writing, or, as he says, if he didn’t write, then he could do nothing.

And he meant nothing.

Advising other writers how to produce writing, Chandler says, that during the daily four hours for writing, a writer “doesn’t have to write, . . . He can look out the window or stand on his head or writhe on the floor, but he is not to do any other positive thing, not read, write letters, glance at magazines, or write checks.”  

Chandler says that during the scheduled four hours each day there are “two very simple rules, a. you don’t have to write.  b. you can’t do anything else.  The rest comes of itself.”

Baumeister and Tierney call this particular precommitment the “Nothing Alternative.”  You write or you do nothing. 

My dissertation coaching clients have given me some great suggestions for implementing the “Nothing Alternative.” When email, Google, and Facebook beckon, how do you follow through on your intention to write? 

Here’s to precommitment!

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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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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A few months ago a person who had finished her course work for her Ph.D., but had not done much toward her dissertation, wrote to say that as someone who worked full-time away from home, she couldn’t fathom how she could add writing her dissertation to the mix of not only working full-time, but also being a mother and a wife.                           

That’s a wrenching situation—one I struggled with many years ago as I tried to add a dissertation to a full-time teaching appointment, two children, a husband, and a house.

Currently, several of the women that I coach have demanding, full-time professional jobs, as well as other people in their lives. Two in particular have put off writing their dissertations for just about as long as they possibly could, and so now, busy as they are, they have embarked on the most demanding writing project they may ever have.

One of them had set a series of deadlines for herself, but was wondering how she could possibly meet them. I asked her, “How many times a week will have to work on your writing to keep it moving forward and to keep it at the center of your mind?”

She said in a quiet voice, “I think I will have to work on it and touch it every day. I think I will have to work on it 2 hours every day.”

After considering the potential times in a day when she could work, she decided that she will work from 4 to 6 pm . . .  in her office before she leaves for the evening.

Here are some tips if you, too, need to make time during your day or at the end of your day to work on your dissertation:

Let your brain help you make a writing habit

Tell yourself early in the day–each day that you will write– the following:

“If it’s 4 pm, then I will start my writing session.”

It sounds simplistic, but saying that to yourself lets your mind start to watch for 4 pm. Try it–you’ll be surprised at how almost without thinking you act on your intention to start your writing session.

Establish a boundary to separate office work from the dissertation

You’re already at your desk, so you won’t be changing locations. But literally put your dissertation in the center of the desk. Move anything having to do with your office work off the desk or stack it or turn off the computer files so that you won’t wander back into left-over work from your day.


Prepare the night before

The night before, plan what you will be working on; choose any books or articles you may need to take with you. Set your goal for the content and the amount of text you will write.


Involve your partner/spouse

Tell your partner or spouse what you are going to do the next day on your dissertation. Talk for a few minutes about the plan and even rehearse how you want it to go.


But, but, but….

Are you immediately ticking off all the reasons why you couldn’t do this? But stop for a minute.  How could you modify this plan that so it will work for you?

If you need to shorten the after-work writing session to one hour, then do that. If you need to get to work earlier in order to stop earlier, then do that. If you can write only 3 nights a week, then do that.

American television journalist Norah O-Donnell and BBC’s Katty Kay both say that as women with three or four children each, they work faster and more efficiently than many others around them. They work quickly and with determination so that they can get home to their families.

Working toward getting better at being an efficient, productive writer sounds like a great goal, don’t you think?

If you want to start making headway on your dissertation, even though you have a day job and a family, try working on your dissertation before you leave your office for the day.  This is a good plan. Give it an honest try.

If you have put a similar plan in place, how is it working for you? I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

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Pomodoro Timer

Image via Wikipedia

A productive, academic client says that the most important thing she learned while she was writing her dissertation was to use small chunks of time during the day for her writing.  Working on her dissertation in just 30 minutes here and there allowed her to finish the project. 

What have you tried that will help you work in small chunks of time?  You’ve probably heard of using a timer, but have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique?                                                          

The Pomodoro technique has a very interesting approach to making the most of your time.   Check out this video–The Pomodoro Technique Trains Your Brain Away From Distractions

The approach is familiar, but as the title of the video suggests, you must train your brain to focus and to produce during a small, discrete amount of time.  In this video, you’re asked to choose one task and write it down, set your timer for 25 minutes, work for those 25 minutes without stopping, and then when the time is up, reward yourself with a 5-minute break.  This approach allows you to put a boundary around a small amount of time, discourages multi-tasking, and teaches you to value the small chunks of time that too often are ignored as prime writing time. 

Perhaps you’ve tried many different techniques, but you continue to put off your writing.  You need to add some accountability.  Drop me an email.  I’d love to help you keep on course with your writing goals this year.  That’s what I do! 

All good wishes,

Nancy 

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

Nancy @ nancywhichard.com

http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net/

http://www.usingyourstrengths.com/

http://www.smarttipsforwriters.com/

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