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Are your children home on vacation from school?  And you’re trying to keep an eye on your children, as well as make headway on your writing project?

How’s that working for you?

During the school year, most academics teach and try to write.  Both teaching and writing are critical for an academic’s success and are important parts of the academic’s identity.  The plan is that once summer comes, the writing takes priority.

But no matter how carefully and hopefully they have planned, more than one of my dissertation and writing clients say that once summer comes, they lose their work identity.

It’s difficult to deal with the reality of summer. You go into summer with those unspoken hopes and expectations that you’ll make significant progress toward your writing goals. Then before long you realize that it isn’t going to be the way you think it’s supposed to be.

You had thought that with no papers to grade or classes to prepare for that you’d have long, quiet afternoons, or at least a couple of hours a day with no interruptions, when you could read and, more importantly, write.

And the writing is not happening.

It’s emotionally stressful, enough so that you may find yourself waking in the night and having trouble turning off your mind and getting back to sleep.

And even though you want to be writing, you get such comments from other parents as, “Oh, you’re not working this summer?”  Grrr…if only I could work, you think.

You need to write, and not only during those 15 minutes when you can hide in the bathroom or duck downstairs to the basement.

For years, I juggled teaching during the school year with being at home during the summer.

My fantasy was to have a summer cottage in Maine where I could go to write in the summer. 

I was never going to have a real cottage for writing, but I needed to make a space for writing—a cottage, if you will—inside my house.

My kids were old enough to be on their own in the house for an hour or two, and so I put a sign on my office door that read “Mom is in Maine.”

My kids thought it was great, or at least some of the time they thought it was o.k. And my “Mom is in Maine” sign wasn’t as forbidding as the “Keep Out” sign that they occasionally used on their bedroom doors.

For the most part, my sign worked. I had to keep an ear open for any sort of hubbub, or alternately, when it was too quiet.  But I made sure that my kids knew that this was not a one-time event, and that I expected everybody to work with me on this.

At least my daughter gave me her stamp of approval, including drawing pictures of light houses for me.

It wasn’t a solution, but it helped.

A client told me that she, too, had to be creative in order to write at home.  The door to her home office is framed in clear glass. Her preschool-aged children would routinely outrun the family au pair and bolt for the office door, where they would peer through the glass in an attempt to see their mother. To block their view, their mother put black curtains over the glass. Kids are smart, and so they weren’t completely deceived.  Occasionally, she would still hear their little voices, outside her door, saying, “I think she’s in there.”

All of these attempts to find a space and time to write remind me of a client’s great a-ha moment:  “I found I could not write my dissertation at the dining room table.”

Have you decided that you can’t write your dissertation at the dining room table?  Where do you go?  How do you juggle writing and taking care of your kids?

I’d love to hear from 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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I was poking around  the internet, seeing what peeps are suggesting about techniques to gather ideas. Lucky me– I came upon a discussion in answer to the question “What is the best way to gather good ideas?”

And, for a bonus, the discussants are IT people. Given the innovation and productivity within IT, some of their approaches are applicable to our work as writers. 

One response struck me because of the writer’s belief that the “brain works in the most amusing of ways.”  

The writer says that to gather good ideas she reads lots of texts and envisions “what if” situations.  She writes down ideas that she gathers through “what if’ing” and through brainstorming.

Then she sleeps on it to give her brain some down time to process and play with her ideas.

The sleeping on it also allows her to keep from being bogged down in the details. 

The next day she writes more, based on what her rested brain gives her, organizes the ideas, and adds a bit of “dressing.”

I have increasingly come to believe that a tired brain gives tired ideas.  Many people are stuck in the days of all-nighters and think they can soldier through and produce a great text at 4 am. 

Give your brain the opportunity to work in its amusing way. Sleep on it and come back to your work the next morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do you gather good ideas?  I’d love to hear from you.

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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 March is a long month – 4 ½ weeks.   And for some people, there’s a week of Spring Vacation thrown in! Whoopy! 

What kind of plan for writing do you want for March?  Days you are going to work, the amount of time you will work,  or how much you will get done?

 

Results first

Instead of focusing primarily on the amount of time you’ll put into writing,  focus on what you want to have done by the end of March.  What would be great and absolutely astounding and slightly unrealistic to have finished by the end of March?  What do you really, really want?

Perhaps a rough draft of the specific chapter you have in front of you?  O.k., then say, “By the end of March, I will to have  _______  done [fill in the blank with the name of your specific chapter] .” Write that down.

 
What’s it going to take?

What would it take to get a rough draft finished?  What would have to happen? 

This is the place to pull up the schedules and strategies that have worked for you over the last few months.  Is it setting a time each morning when you start working, no matter what? Is it pulling out the outline?  You know you have one.  Or is it reading the prospectus and making an outline based on what you promised?  Let’s use the best approaches, the ones you know that have worked for you.    


Writing equals or exceeds research

When you start to plan your writing schedule, does your mind immediately go to how much reading and research you need to do first? 

If you think of all the research you need to do before you’ll be ready to write, give yourself a limited amount of time that you can flip through a couple of books or articles. Make the amount of time less than you think is necessary, such as an hour. 

If you give yourself an hour to do a little research, cut that hour in half.  Flip through notes or a brief bit of reading for 30 minutes, and then write for 30 minutes.  Keep yourself in check by both severely limiting the amount of research or reading you’ll allow yourself to do and requiring that writing always equals or exceeds reading/researching/fact checking.

 

To face the challenges of March, adopt a more regular sleep  pattern

Yes, sleep. 

How long has it been since you went to bed at a reasonable time (midnight or even 11 pm)? If you want to get up and use your day, then you have to get to bed at night. Are you one of those people who drink coffee all evening and then wonder why you can’t sleep when you do go to bed? To ease anxiety as well as allow you to sleep at night, slow way down on the black tea or and coffee by late afternoon. This will take some effort, but the results are worth it. To remind yourself that you’re not drinking caffeine at night, put a box of herbal tea out where you can see it.

Get in place your results-first plan for writing and move on it—it’s March!

Bonjour Mars!

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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Back to Work

Image by R. Motti via Flickr

How often do you find, while at your day job, that you suddenly have a really good thought about your dissertation or a reference that you want to check further when you have some time?   How do you capture that thought?  Do you send yourself an email?  Do you just hope you’ll remember?  Or do you have a better strategy?

I go back and forth from one office to another, from one computer to another, both away from home and while at home.  No matter where I am, I want to know that I can capture an idea that occurs to me or track something that I want to read later. I want to be sure that I’ll have access to that idea and to that article when I am at a different computer.   

To have the same note or file in all locations, I send emails to myself.

Sending several notes to the same location (even if it’s me at both ends, sending and receiving) seems to raise suspicions that I’m a spammer. But even more of a problem is that I’m creating and keeping too much in my email files in all locations.

I have always known that putting so much reliance on email and on email files was risky, but since email and e-newsletters and blogs are easily accessed I tend to let the number of emails mount, and suffice to say, I am not managing the size of my email.

In Paula Tarnapol Whitacre‘s Ease in Writing, K.J. McCorry says that “email is a temporary form. . . . Any data considered permanent or needed in the future (1 to 2 years out) should be saved on the hard drive.”

While McCorry directs this advice at the workplace, the advice is also appropriate for professional and academic writers concerned with capturing and saving critical work.

If I shouldn’t file my ideas long-term in email and if I should refrain from sending duplicate emails back and forth among my computers, what should I put in place that would fit my situation?

I am looking for efficient ways to:

1. Save ideas and reminders

2. Keep track of things I want to read later

3. Be able to work on a file from multiple locations

I like what I see in the online Evernote system where I can easily create an account that “allows Evernote to identify [my] notes and make them available to [me] anywhere.”  Yeah, available to me anywhere!  Furthermore, Evernote will keep my notes “up to date across all of [my] computers, phones, devices and the Web.”  Triple yeah, across all of my computers…!!!

The learning curve for this system seems manageable.  However, as one would expect, the free version has only so much space.

I’m still comparing systems to find the one which best lets me work on a file from multiple locations.

If you have used Evernote or a similar system, such as Instapaper, what has been your experience?  How are you dealing with the need to capture your ideas and save online information?  I would love to hear from you.

Watch your email for the February edition of my newsletter—Smart Tips for Writers. If you aren’t receiving my newsletter, you can sign up on my website (www.nancywhichard.com).

Here’s to making it easier to capture our ideas and notes online and to  work on a file from multiple locations.

Best to you,

Nancy

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

www.usingyourstrengths.com

www.smarttipsforwriters.com

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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You’re frustrated that it is taking so much time to get to the dissertation finish line. 

Do you minimize your efforts and withhold any sense of accomplishment for the work you’ve done to get this far?  Each week you look back and dismiss your work “Is that all? Well, really, that wasn’t good enough.”

 

Is it all or nothing for you?

Here are three approaches that may be of help in beating back that all-or-nothing mentality

 

Practice an old virtue

Are you impatient with how long it takes to accomplish a significant piece of writing?  Impatient with how long it takes to do something big? 

With never enough time, we may feel that patience is a luxury that we can’t indulge in. We whip ourselves to work faster and to produce more, without acknowledging ourselves for the work we have accomplished.  Practicing patience encourages us to work steadily and moderately, rather than throwing ourselves into a wildly exhausting, desperation move to meet a deadline.  

To remind yourself that patience has a place in your life as a writer, try something that might remind you of your mother.  Think of something that your mother would encourage you to do on a regular basis, something you would resist, but when you finally did it, you would grudgingly see the benefit.  I’m thinking of something small that you could try, like improving your posture.  Every so often, say, once an hour, throw your shoulders back, raise your head, and take a deep breath.  Let that action serve as a reminder of the beneficial results of doing something patiently, consistently.

Slow and steady.  Little by little.  Patience.

 

Add a new strategy

Set a 24-hour goal for yourself. Is it hard to value the small steps you are making and what’s possible in the short-term?  Put your focus on a manageable goal for each day, rather than the goal for week’s end.

Ask yourself what writing goal you can do within the next 24 hours.  What one thing?  Whether you have four hours a day or one hour a week to accomplish the goal, think about what is reasonable for you to complete in the amount of time that you have.  Write your 24-hour goal in a very conspicuous place, such as on your white board.  

Then the next day ask the same question of yourself — what one thing can I do within the next 24 hours?

Be sure to keep a record of your success in meeting the 24-hour goal.

 

Put a better routine in place

Recently I received an inquiry about my two-week Boot Camp that I offer writers.  The person asked how people who work and have families can find time to do anything more. 

Finding time to write during the week when you have so many demands is tricky, but not impossible.  Boot Camp is adapted to each person’s needs.  What many writers want is a retreat, an oasis in her day which she can dedicate to her writing project, and someone to whom she can be accountable on a daily basis.  Whether we call the time a Writer’s Retreat or Boot Camp, the critical elements are reasonable, daily writing goals and a moderate, consistent writing routine.

What might help you to work moderately and consistently?

I’d love to hear from you. 

Watch your email for the February edition of my newsletter—Smart Tips for Writers. If you aren’t receiving my newsletter, you can sign up on my website (www.nancywhichard.com).

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

Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.  ~John Quincy Adams

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A child watching TV.

Image via Wikipedia

A dissertation coaching client said that she stopped watching TV and picked up her writing pace in order to meet a deadline.  Now that she has met the deadline, she worries that she will be sucked into watching all of the TV shows that she recorded during her heavy-duty period of writing.

Do you record TV shows?  It’s just too easy, isn’t it?  I doubt that I’ll ever catch up on all of the International House Hunter shows that I seem to record every day. Occasionally I wonder how on earth all of the shows pile up, foolishly forgetting that I clicked on “record series.” And there must be at least 3 International House Hunter shows a day!

My client also worries that not only will she binge on watching all of the TV recordings waiting for her, but from experience she knows of the torpor that will hit her once she starts watching the hours of  TV.  It will be hard to get back into her writing routine. Digital stress strikes again!

Recently I stayed in a small town at an absent relative’s house (no I wasn’t a home invader–it was by invitation!).  This was a house with no TV and no internet access.  I was looking forward to seeing how the absence of TV and lack of email would affect me.

It was a little eerie, but good.  Many clients say that it’s hard for them to get into flow while writing and sometimes they find it hard to jump into a long book that is required reading for their topic.  Experience tells me that if you remove yourself from the easy temptation of  TV and the internet, flow will be much easier to accomplish than you might imagine.

With no TV and internet, I moved quickly into a reading and writing routine.   I gave no energy to avoiding writing and no energy to avoiding TV. And I wasn’t recording TV shows for later.  It was a win-win-win.

Often, clients who have a day job say that one change they are making in their lives as dissertation writers is to leave their blackberries at work.  I feel the same way about checking office email at home.  Too often employers expect the unreasonable–that is, that you are online, plugged in, no matter what time of day, no matter where you are.

If you can leave the blackberry and the office email at the office, cut way back on what you are recording on TV, and limit when you will check home email to an absolute minimum, you may be surprised how easily you, too, can move into flow. 

And you can control digital stress.

Do you have some strategies on how to avoid digital stress and the temptations of  TV and email?  I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

nancy@nancywhichard.com

www.nancywhichard.com

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