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Archive for the ‘trusting yourself’ Category

In the Mad Men episode “The Strategy” (5/18/2014), advertising copy chief Peggy Olson is angry and demoralized because the more experienced, assured Don Draper has suggested possible changes to her pitch for an ad. Panicky, she questions her own idea. She hates the uncertainty of not knowing whether her idea is really good or crap.

“How am I supposed to know?” she asks.

Don says, “You’ll never know.”

Peggy’s lack of confidence in her own opinion illustrates one of the series’ major themes, that is, gender issues in the 1960s. Peggy, unlike Don, is immobilized by her uncertainty and lack of confidence.  And she lacks the strategies, past successes, and self-confidence that would help her make a choice and move on.

Furious that she lacks resources and must ask for help, Peggy demands, “Show me how you think. Do it out loud.”

That an idea may be good enough does not fit with Peggy’s perfectionism. Don suggests that if it’s almost done and it’s good, then maybe you should accept your idea, but Peggy does not want “good enough”—she wants perfect.

Peggy has risen in the company from secretary to copy chief. She is uncomfortable in her own skin.  And, it is with good reason. She is routinely reminded that being a woman comes with many handicaps in business. Don’s first impulse is to show his sense of humor and his ease with the situation. He says, “Whenever I’m really unsure about an idea, first I abuse the people whose help I need” (Peggy smiles).  Then, Don says, “I take a nap.”  He’s telling her to step back and disengage a bit.

What Peggy needs are strategies that will help her problem solve. Grabbing the faithful yellow legal pad, Don says that the way he thinks is to “start at the beginning to see if I wind up at the same place again.”  The point is to go at your problem from a different angle, and don’t be invested in only one idea.

His process makes sense.  When in doubt, slow everything down and step away—take a nap (or go for a walk or pull weeds) and then look at the issue from a different perspective.  Don isn’t afraid of reframing the problem, and he doesn’t think there is only one possible answer for a problem.

So why am I looking closely at this scene from a television show? This scenario with Don and Peggy could happen only in the 1960s, right?  George Packer writes in The New Yorker, Mad Men presents a world that’s alien enough to be interesting as anthropology . . . and yet not entirely so. It’s still close enough to us, or we to it, that there’s a certain familiar pain beneath the viewing pleasure.”

ABC News reporter Claire Shipman and BBC anchor Katty Kay argue in their 2014 book The Confidence Code that women’s lack of self-confidence and need for perfectionism continue to undermine their success.

Are women in 2014 more susceptible to a lack of confidence than men?  If so, why? What role does indecision and perfectionism play in our writing lives?

What do you think… about Mad Men and Peggy? And, as a writer, how do you decide if your idea is any good?

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://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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Valentine's - lots of hearts

Image by Vicki's Nature via Flickr

“Commit to paper” is a common, but powerful  phrase.

You don’t need to have already had the aha moment in order to write. 

There’s no holding back when you allow yourself to see that you have enough to start.

Surrender and go with what you have.

On Valentine’s Day, it’s time to commit . . . .  Commit to paper.

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

 P.S. Would you like to receive my e-newsletter Smart Tips for Writers?  You can sign up on my website (www.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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Cat mosaic on house façade, Brussels, Belgium,...

Image by historic.brussels via Flickr

Can’t concentrate?  Having trouble getting into flow with your writing?  Get a cat!

Advice to writers can come from the most interesting places.  An unexpected, but most entertaining source of advice is A Far Cry from Kensington, a novel by British writer Muriel Spark

A Far Cry takes place in 1954 London.  Mrs. Hawkins, the narrator, has a job in publishing.  And yes, it is she who offers the acutely insightful advice that if you can’t concentrate, get a cat.

In a hilarious dinner party scene, Mrs. Hawkins is seated by a red-faced, watery-eyed Brigadier, who, in response to her question about his having had an interesting life, replies, “Could write a book.”  He hasn’t because he hasn’t been able to concentrate.  

Mrs. Hawkins tells him that to concentrate, “you need a cat”:

Alone with a cat in the room where you work . . . the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp.  .  .  .  The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding.  And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. 

Spark is saying in her engaging style that to regain the self-discipline and focus you need to write, let go of the negative, chattering voices in your mind and all of the endless responsibilities calling to you. 

Occasionally my dissertation coaching clients speak of the quieting influence of their pets.

Unfortunately, in Spark’s novel, the narrator informs us that  the Brigadier’s writing fails.  Mrs. Hawkins says,  “I had advised him only that a cat helps concentration, not that the cat writes the book for you.”

Mrs. Hawkins freely gives her wise advice to other would-be writers. She tells writers to have in mind a particular person who will be your reader.  

What you have to say will come out more spontaneously and honestly than if you are thinking of numerous readers.  Before starting . . .  rehearse in your mind what you are going to tell . . . . But don’t rehearse too much, the story will develop as you go along.

Working toward discovery and trusting a process –both in life and in writing– are strong themes in the book.

Life isn’t fair, of course, and trusting the process does not always lead to exemplary writing or to published works, as evidenced by the novel’s depiction of many questionable publishers and of less than stellar writers who do get published.

But we can take pleasure in Muriel Spark’s esteem for honest, hard-working writers, as well as her undisguised contempt for the undeserving who sometimes receive  their just rewards.

As a writer, have you found good or interesting advice from an unexpected source?  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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How often have you felt close to giving up completely on your dissertation?

I hear that statement most frequently among my dissertation coaching clients who are practically within a stone’s throw of finishing.

What could make it so hard to keep going? 

The outsider might think that during the long process of writing a dissertation, writers would have grown to self-confidently view themselves as experts.

The fact of the matter is that dissertation writers all too often aren’t encouraged to recognize or trust their expertise. The process is often riddled with self-doubt and uncertainty. 

Even in the best of circumstances, writing a dissertation may be one of the hardest tasks you’ll ever take on.  It’s made worse when an advisor offers little or no guidance or support. The worst stories I’ve heard range from advisors who are completely disengaged and  want nothing to do with the ABD student to advisors who seem not only to lack empathy  but also lack awareness of the effect of their sarcasm and volatile moods.

Since most ABD’s work with the same advisor for months, if not years, what looks for all the world like psychological abuse can take a toll on even the most resilient and determined student.

When dissertation writers are confronted by self-doubt and the desire to quit, it’s time to step back from the process.

As a dissertation coach and an academic career coach, I encourage my clients to view their experiences through various lenses.  This may sound Pollyanna-ish, but you probably can’t change the process, so why not change the way you look at it?

For instance, what might a future employer—even if the employer is not in your field of expertise—infer about you, based on your having a PhD?

The knowledgeable future employer will understand that you know:
•  How to bring the best you have to offer to a project and keep yourself in the game over a long period of time
•  How to manage an extended project, specifically an extended writing project
•  How to be politically savvy

This is just a start– What else have learned during this arduous process? 

When you are honest with yourself, you must admit that you are learning a great deal about stamina and grit as you write this dissertation.  The character strengths you are honing are perhaps just as important as your accomplishments in your field of study. What have you learned that will stand you in good stead after you leave the state of the ABD?

I’d love to hear from you.

Best,

Nancy

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

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I’m curious how you learned the conventions you are to use, the voice you should use, the way to argue within your field, or, if you’re learning as you go, now, as you write your dissertation.

If you were at a U.S. university as an undergraduate, you may not have been writing exclusively in your major course of study until late in your 2nd or even until your 3rd year of school.  By then, had you learned a bit of flexibility by writing in different discourses for your required courses? 

Had you been writing as an art historian one night and the next night as a psychologist?  Did that give you insight into what writing conventions are important in each field?

And as you specialized more and more in  your own field, did you become clearer about your field’s discourse or writing conventions?

The New York Times (9.6.2009) asks several professors to give advice to students entering college this year. 

Stanley Fish advises students to “take a composition course even if they have tested out of it.”  He says, “I have taught many students whose SAT scores exempted them from the writing requirement, but a disheartening number of them couldn’t write.”

Gerald Graff,  the past president of the Modern Language Association, tells students how to write an argument, seemingly without the help of a writing class or instructor.  

Since it’s a little late for those of you who are writing dissertations to take a writing class, Graff’s suggestions on how to take what you know and transform it into an argument might be helpful and definitely would have helped me early on in my student career.

He says: 
1. Recognize that knowing a lot of stuff won’t do you much good unless you can do something with what you know by turning it into an argument.

2. Pay close attention to what others are saying and writing and then summarize their arguments and assumptions in a recognizable way. Work especially on summarizing the views that go most against your own.

3. As you summarize, look not only for the thesis of an argument, but for who or what provoked it — the points of controversy.

4. Use these summaries to motivate what you say and to indicate why it needs saying. Don’t be afraid to give your own opinion, especially if you can back it up with reasons and evidence, but don’t disagree with anything without carefully summarizing it first.

Even as the writer of a dissertation, it’s great to remind yourself that you know a lot of stuff.  It’s easy to forget that. 

Also don’t forget that there’s usually a reason for the writing requirements you run into for your dissertation.  Remember that the literature review creates a context for your methodology and findings or for your argument.

As you write your dissertation, your field’s required structure and discourse conventions give you a great clothesline where you can hang your ideas.

Warm regards,

Nancy

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

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