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Archive for the ‘struggling’ Category

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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Image by peirunman via Flickr

How does your back feel? 

If you’re like many writers of dissertations, you sit scrunched in front of your computer for far too long with far too few breaks.  And by those last 15 minutes of writing you feel the spasms of pain in your lower back.

You might be surprised at the number of my dissertation coaching clients who complain of back pain.  

But I’m not.

When I was writing my dissertation, I developed back pain and sciatica. I had to have an ice pack under my leg in order to drive the car.  And when the pain forced me to stop sitting at my computer, I had to stop writing my dissertation.

I finally was referred to a surgeon named Dr.  Hope.  Isn’t that an amazing name for a doctor?  (Note to self:  If I ever play a doctor on TV, that’s the name I want!)

Long story short, I had surgery, recovered, finished my dissertation.

If I had taken the time to care for myself properly when I began the dissertation, I think I could have dealt better with the pressure of the work and perhaps warded off the onset of pain.  Now I plan my weekly schedule around exercise.

And I’m always struck by how regular exercise is helping many of my clients to better manage their writing and all that goes with writing a dissertation.

I’m curious—is a trip to the gym  a high priority for you?

I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

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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Feeling stuck?  Feeling as if your well has gone dry? 

What’s a writer to do?

At such times when nothing seems to be coming together for you in your writing and when you feel more resistance toward your dissertation than usual, what can you do to stir things up a bit and to start writing?

Exercise is good.
Exercise will eat some of that anxiety and definitely improve your mood.  If you improve your mood, your resistance to writing will be lessened, and it will be easier for you to see connections among your ideas.

How about lowering the stakes?
Here’s a tip from a couple of my dissertation coaching clients, who are always a great resource for what works:  Try www.750words.com.  My clients recommend it as a place to brighten your mood and help you ease into writing.

This website is safe, fun, and makes it easy to write. You write on the site, and it’s like writing for a new friend, someone who’s cheerily wishing you well and nonjudgmentally suggesting that you do some writing.

A little number at the bottom of the screen shows how many words you’ve written and when you have written 750 words (more or less three pages) you get a “Congratulations!” And you also get points toward such rewards as a little electronic penguin.

One dissertation coaching client told me that she has her web browser set to that site. It’s the first thing that opens for her, making it a little easier to start writing.  She also said that her first writing on the site was a letter to her dissertation, telling it how much she hated it.  Take that, foul dissertation!  Then, to be fair, she let her dissertation write back to her.

The goal is to start writing. If you lower the stakes, you’re more likely to break through your resistance to writing. Keep making the attempt. Things will add up. 

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

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It can’t be  a coincidence that over the last couple of weeks many of my dissertation and writing coaching clients have been dealing with overwhelm.  For many, fatigue is now catching up with them and exacerbating their stress level.

When I asked a client what she would like to do, she said, “Work in my yard.”  But when I suggested she take an hour to do that, she said, “I can’t!  I can’t take time off.”

With a schedule that is packed not only with writing deadlines, but also for some, with end-of-the semester deadlines, stress becomes epidemic.

All of that grading that was on to-do lists but wasn’t done is now sounding an alarm.  Grades are due in just a few weeks.

Many writers are worried about getting a draft finished and also holding onto committee members who may disappear into the mist come the end of the semester.

At this time of the year, do you ever feel as if you’re being pecked to death by ducks?

Here are some tips for putting one foot in front of the other that my dissertation clients and writing clients want to share:

1.  Keep a daily priority focus.

2. Stay in the present–Keep from being way too focused on the future. 

3. One thing at a time–As you work, focus on accomplishing one thing at a time

4. Watch for triggers that make you feel you need or want to be perfect or right.

5.  Give yourself a moment every day to think about what is good in your life.

6.  Acknowledge your wins–As you remind yourself of your daily priority focus, also acknowledge what you have done.

It’s important for your momentum and for your mental health to do what you said you’d do and also to acknowledge what you’ve done.

Deep breath!

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

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Is your dissertation making  you moody instead of motivated?
It’s possible that you’re too set in your ways.  Do you believe that things have to be a certain way before you start to write?  What time of day have you been telling yourself is the only time you can write?  How do you think you have to approach your dissertation?  Do you have to have the whole chapter thought through before you write? Do you think that your dissertation has to be amazingly spectacular?

Are your beliefs sabotaging you? 
Maybe your attitudes and beliefs toward your writing are obstructive, unhelpful, and disruptive.  If you’ve never tested or questioned the beliefs, they may have hamstrung you, making you too rigid to be productive.

Of course, some of what we’ve been told is definitely true, such as ‘That paper isn’t going to write itself.”  Your mother may have mentioned that to you once in a while during your teen-age years.

Just think, though, how often you read that scientists and researchers have found totally new ways of looking at the way our brain works, the way our body works, and what affects our mood. 

Case in point:  Over the years, doctors have warned breast cancer survivors to be careful of lifting anything heavy.  Many breast cancer survivors have a problem with swollen arms, due to the removal of lymph glands, but, as it turns out, lifting weights would not complicate the swelling.  Now the New England Journal of Medicine reports that weight-lifting could actually help breast cancer survivors by increasing their strength and improving their mood.

And this:  For a long time, people with back trouble, arthritis, joint and nerve damage have routinely been advised to take it easy and avoid exercise.  Studies and experience now show that exercise, particularly water exercise or walking or weight training, is exactly what has helped people with these problems.

And Now This:  Now, according to the New York Times, researchers say that runners who continue to run as they age, even running marathons, are unlikely to suffer degenerating knees.  Runners who stop running more often suffer knee problems.

So your beliefs about how you write or what has to happen in order for you to write could bear scrutiny, too.

Clear the decks?
Have you been waiting to write until you could pare your schedule down to nothing?  Is that because you believe that once your schedule is empty, you can then immerse yourself in writing, producing page after page?  That could happen, but the writing of one of my clients came to a screeching halt this summer once her schedule was cleared.  She found that with no structure, she just shut down.  Come to find out, she wrote best when she had an active, busy life.  Who would have thought it?

Bits, not blocks?
Many clients tell me that they have to have a big block of time in order to get into their writing.  Since they don’t have a big block, they waste the small bits of time they have available.  The clients who have seriously tested whether they could produce text in 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there have become converts to using whatever time is available.  A fifteen-minute writing session each morning along with that first cup of coffee has helped one client move very close to finishing a first draft of her dissertation this summer.  She works full-time and had almost given up on finishing her dissertation until she committed herself to grabbing bits of time, rather than big blocks, and particularly that 15-minute bit early each morning.

Breakthroughs happen when we shake things up.
How about you? Has somebody been giving you bad advice?  What belief about your dissertation could actually be holding you back? Time for a change! 

Courage!

Nancy

P.S.  Do you believe that you don’t need a dissertation coach in order for you to finish your dissertation? How’s that belief working for you? Email me to find out how a dissertation coach can help.

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

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Monet set staring at his garden in Giverny, France.  A neighbor asked him when he was going to start working. Monet said that he was already working.

Later, when Monet was painting, the neighbor passed by again and said, “Oh, you’ve started working.”  To which Monet said, “No, now I’m resting.”

I don’t know if this story about Monet is true, but it suggests different points of view of how we break through to new ideas that allow us to be productive.

•    Monet may have been actively analyzing what he was seeing.  Perhaps he was planning the technique he would use once he began painting. 

•   Or perhaps he was letting go of the everyday concerns and minimizing distractions.  He may have been initially unaware of the connections his mind was making as he sat there and gazed at the light playing on the flowers.

•   But then a sudden insight could have allowed him to see the scene in a new way, allowing him to focus just on his sense of sight.  His perception of the scene piqued his curiosity and he saw a puzzle that could be solved.

Accounts from several of my clients writing dissertations and books support the fascinating, new research that has written about in newspapers and books.  This new research tells us that the unfocused mind generates striking, creative ideas and makes associations that will not come when, for example, my writing clients are at their most intent.
 
One client had been struggling for some time to get beyond merely describing her fieldwork.  Her attempts to devise an original, theoretical framework had not been successful.

To relieve her stress, she had wisely added weekly volunteer work and exercise to her schedule, as well as continuing to work on her dissertation. She came to a coaching call with me one evening excited and optimistic:  “The framework came to me as I drove home from my volunteer work today,” she said.

Making space in her day for something besides her dissertation and thus having time for her mind to be idle and to rest surely produced the insight.  And it was a sudden insight.

My client’s upbeat mood as she left her volunteer work may also have helped produce the unexpected insight.  Researchers say that a sudden insight is more likely if you are in a good mood.

Robert Lee Hotz writes in The Wall Street Journal (June 19, 2009) that Northwestern University researchers, using brain scanners and other sensors, have studied how a-ha moments take shape in our brains, even before we’re consciously aware of them.

Our brain is most active when we are the least aware of our thoughts.  At those times, connections are made from different parts of our brain, creating new frameworks and new ways of thinking.

What might this research mean for you as a writer?  How could this research help you as you’re writing your dissertation?  I’d love to hear from you.

Happy August,

Nancy

P.S.  Can write a good email? In my first newsletter of the fall, I discuss writing email and how it and other kinds of writing could be of help to the academic writer. If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, Smart Tips for Writers, go to my website and take care of that.  My website is at www.nancywhichard.com.

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

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Have you made up or latched onto a belief in order to justify procrastinating on your dissertation?

Many ABD’s tell me that they are struggling in their attempt to make headway in their dissertation.

In my email and in the conversations I have with people who are writing their dissertations, one word keeps coming up again and again:  procrastinating.

The most active posts on this blog are those dealing with procrastination and also with getting started with writing or re-starting writing.

If you know you need to make a change but you haven’t been able to get started or re-started on your writing, it’s possible that you’ve latched onto a belief that’s causing you some big problems.

What beliefs are helping you to procrastinate?

Do any of these sound familiar?

1. “I don’t know enough—I have to keep reading and researching.”

2. “I can’t move forward in the writing until I feel confident about the introduction.”

3. “I need a big chunk of time in order to get into the work.”

4. “Working at the last-minute before I have a deadline is the way I work best and may be the only way I can work.”

5. “My life is so full that I just can’t get to some things until the last minute.”

6. “I am really trying to clear the decks so that I can get into this project.”

And my favorite:

7.  “I’m at my most creative when I’m working at the last minute.”

Which belief do you own up to?  Even if you know it’s just an excuse, do you still use it to help you avoid writing?

To kick this bad habit of procrastinating:

1.  Ask yourself where will you will be in one month if you continue to do what you’re doing now.

2.  Take an honest appraisal of what beliefs you’re putting in your way.  Start with my checklist of excuses above and add your excuses or roadblocks.

3.  Consider how often you allow fears of inadequacy or  the belief that you are an imposter bring your work to a halt. If you allow the imposter syndrome to plant itself in your vision, you are irrationally blinding yourself to all that you have done to get yourself to this point.

Being honest with yourself is a first step toward getting your writing started.

What other beliefs and excuses come to your mind?  Please share!

And remember to sign up for my Smart Tips for Writers e-newsletter at my website:  www.nancywhichard.com.

Cheers,

Nancy

P.S.  Remember—you don’t have to do everything at once.

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

 

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