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I am reblogging a post from June 2010. It is as relevant today as it was then.

Successful Writing Tips

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers and fathers-to-be who are writing dissertations or articles or books.

I know that it is hard to juggle your writing with family responsibilities and with all of  the other things that you do.

To honor the men who are my clients and readers, I want to describe some of the strengths and actions I’ve noticed in fathers I admire:

•  A father who encourages his children to read or write by modeling that behavior.
•  A father, when asked what he wants for Father’s Day, says he was thinking about the new translation of Kafka’s “The Castle” as well as hoping to have time  to watch some soccer.
•  A father who models respect for an extended family by having long, kind conversations with his chatty mother-in-law.
•  A father who runs regularly for exercise and plays a huge role in encouraging his daughter and…

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Congratulations to my clients and readers who are receiving advanced degrees.  I hope your commencement will be a happy and memorable day for you and your family to celebrate your hard work and your accomplishments.

All the best to you!

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D.

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach

http://www.nancywhichard.com

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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A giant construction project disrupts the lives and the commute of many people who use the Washington DC (or Capital)  Beltway and the business routes between the Beltway and the Dulles International Airport.

 

This same construction project also raises hope among many travelers that one day they can take the metro the full 30 miles or so from downtown Washington, D.C. to Dulles Airport for an international flight.  In addition, the beltway will have “hot lanes” which will allow people willing to pay a hefty toll to drive in the faster lanes and to escape the punishing daily gridlock.

 

The Chaos of Construction

The construction is on a huge scale—where nothing looks like it used to, no trees line the roads, exits from the beltway are changed, intersecting concrete roads start and stop abruptly, bridges are gone, new bridges emerge in an unexpected place, and everywhere there are train tracks.

 

While many people might think this project is without parallel, to me it suggests another kind of herculean project, particularly those of the mind and will.

If you are writing a dissertation or another seemingly endless writing project, you see the resemblance.

 

The Chaos  . . .  and Cost  . . .  of Writing a Dissertation

As the costs mount for the Dulles Airport metro, municipalities and individuals dispute the wisdom of continuing to build all 23 miles of subway to the airport. The different authorities involved have wrangled over whether the subway should be above ground or below ground and which municipalities should contribute more money and less money. Similarly, the personal and financial costs involved in writing a dissertation may seem to you as if you’ll never get out from under them. And you wonder how completing the dissertation could be worth the huge burden you have taken on.

 

Showing Up Takes Mental Toughness and Planning

Not unlike the way you wrangle with texts and structure, trying to trace ideas through various pathways in your brain, returning day after day to an uncomfortable task that demands almost more than you can do, the workers in the beltway/Dulles metro construction zone labor on crazy flyover bridges high in the sky over what will be eight lanes of the DC Beltway.

The workers labor at road level, between lanes of traffic, on cranes, and on concrete piers.  Below ground workers construct enormous tunnels.

Just like the worker in the construction zone, for you to return each day to a challenging, messy dissertation requires you to draw on your mental toughness and willpower. It takes grit to show up each day to work on a grueling writing project, with no end in sight, knowing that only occasionally will you find joy in the doing. What you know is that you have to keep your wits about you. And what you can count on is that you will find joy in having stuck with the project to its end.

Beyond the Beltway and the Tysons Corner area of Virginia where several new metro stations are being built, the work gradually slows. This is not yet the construction zone, but the plan is in place.  Huge piles of stacked materials are staged for future work. The plan anticipates that the metro construction will reach this point and keep going. 

The staged materials are evidence that a plan is in place. If workers show up each day and do their exhausting, demanding tasks, according to the plan, the job will proceed toward its end point, that is, its destination — Dulles International Airport.

What is more inspiring than anticipating what it will be like when this seemingly endless writing project is finished? What you anticipate feeling after you have traveled the long road to the Ph.D. is what the people committed to building the Metrorail to Dulles and the hot lanes on the beltway anticipate feeling when they see a completed project.

 

That Transcendent Feeling of Completion

Today, I drove toward Dulles Airport, the final destination for the Metro. As the iconic Dulles Main Terminal with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background came into view, I felt some of that same excitement that finishing huge writing projects brings forth—that transcendent feeling of completion and a new beginning.

 

And that transcendent feeling of completion and new beginning is what I wish for you in this New Year of big writing projects. 

Nancy

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

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Many times writers hire me to coach them because they’re stuck.  They haven’t made substantial progress on their dissertation for months. 

What stuck often means is that the writers are having trouble claiming a chunk of time for the writing because of time-sucks.  Time-sucks come in all sizes and shapes. 

Facebook and email will be your undoing.  
Friend—give them up!  

In the interest of full disclosure, I do go on Facebook, but only because my nieces talked me into doing it.  I joined in order to see pictures of the little ones who live far and away.  No matter how many subscriptions I give to Your Big Backyard, Ranger Rick, National Geographic for Kids and Cricket, I get fewer and fewer pictures in the mail.  Thank-you notes, yes.  Pictures of the kids, not so many.  Thus, Facebook, but it’s just for the pictures. 

Babies are notorious time-sucks.
Being a parent is high on the list for time-sucks, especially if your kids are young.   The youngest addition to my extended family showed up in a picture on Facebook with the words “Mommy’s attention hog” on his t-shirt. 

Because of a singular moment, I remember what I was thinking or not thinking around the time my youngest started kindergarten.  I was standing in line at the grocery and for the first time in ages I was startled to catch myself lost in thought. 

When one has kids, the state of being lost in thought takes planning and distance.  

Mindless activities get few gold stars.
How much cleaning and straightening and folding do you need to do in order to feel good?  I think the more mindless activities you do, the worse you feel, kind of like eating Snickers bars, but I may be wrong. 

I am bothered by the stacks of files and papers in my house. I’ve delegated those decluttering tasks to 2 hours on Sunday while I watch TV.  Today was the second Sunday for using my new plan, and I’ve cleaned up a few stacks.  Two hours seem about right for me.  Any more than that and I’m suspicious that I’m procrastinating on something more important. 

Feel guilty asking for help from your spouse?
Moms, especially, think they can multi-task, even if it’s writing a dissertation at the same time as they’re refereeing a tug-of-war the boys are having over a toy. 

A favorite story from a client was that she felt guilty asking her husband to take care of the kids on a Sunday afternoon when he worked so hard all week, and she, ostensibly, only had to take care of the kids.  The husband didn’t really mind taking care of the kids,  She would go to the library, and he would add seats for the kids in front of the TV—and not to watch cartoons, but to watch golf!  Not the worst thing, right?  The story goes that the kids learned to love golf. 

What I hear from my clients suggests that time skitters around corners, never to be seen, never to be caught, much as if it were a two-year-old.  Sometimes it sounds as if time makes itself available only to the lucky or to those with nannies or to the childless. 

It’s true that there are inequities.  Too often women have waited their turn to finish a degree.  The spouse finishes first, and then if there are kids, moms can sometimes put their writing further and further down on their priority lists. 

But the person who takes responsibility for negotiating relationships and asking for what she needs will see time emerging.  

Time is both elusive and valuable. Be bold and brave— ask your spouse for what you need.  Carve time out of the day, and claim that precious commodity for your important, but sadly neglected job of writing.   Plan and use time as if it were made of gold. Because it is. 

I’d love to hear from you—what challenges are you having around time? 

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 scattered? 

Whether you are an ABD trying to see your way through a dissertation or a freelance writer or a researcher confronted with the impossibility of several projects, there’s too much to be done.  And nothing is getting done.

In addition to writing, perhaps you’re on the job market and need to complete applications.

Or you need to attend expos and find a mentor in publishing and a publisher.

Or plan a conference.  And find a keynoter.  Not to mention that you also have to write your own presentation.

Do you overwhelm yourself?  It’s easy to do.

There are also lots of reasons we give for not writing.

When you’re still and quiet, what do you know is necessary?  You have to produce text. It can’t be put off, just because you have other things in your life. 

Step back from all of the competing demands and multitude of swirling thoughts.  Look three months down the road.  What do you want to be able to say then?  “This is what I’ve done?  This is what I’ve accomplished?” 

You need to have some small success now.

It’s time to look for the low-hanging fruit.

What is one small, do-able task that will take you into this project? 

How about this for a plan?
–Print out one page of notes or an outline. 
–Leave at home all of those articles and books that you swear you must have by your side before you can write.
–Go to a place where you feel removed from all of the noise and clutter of your life.
–Now that you have eliminated competing distractions, give yourself permission to slow down to one writing task.
–Do that one writing task that is within your grasp.

Finishing the task that is within your grasp will give you the success you need to start again the next day, and then the day after that. 

Too often I see people, not just my clients, but others with whom I come into contact, who think big.  Somehow those big plans blind them from seeing what is manageable, the task that is within their reach.

Start with the low-hanging fruit. It’s a great start, and also a way to keep going. 

Best to you,

Nancy

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

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Another convert to “Write First Thing”–hurray! 

One of my coaching clients said that he tried the method of getting up half an hour earlier than usual and working first-thing on some dissertation free-writing.  He said it worked great for him.  He got a lot of work done, not in those half-hours per se, but in the afternoons. 

He focuses on his dissertation before the day gets a good start, and then occasionally during the day at his office, he finds himself thinking about where his free-writing had taken him

Since he has had his dissertation on his mind off and on all day, he finds when he returns home later in the day that he has a ready starting point for his writing.

Interestingly, he actually thinks he’s more focused when he has just a half hour of free-writing each morning and then a couple of hours later in the day than when he has a whole day that he can give to his dissertation.

Sometimes less is more.

All good wishes,

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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What are the possibilities if you wrote under the assumption that you could not fail?

Some blogs tell you in bulleted points what’s best for you if you want to finish your dissertation.

Other blogs share golden nuggets in more reflective ways.

Yesterday a colleague mentioned an incident in the news that sounded to me as if it came straight out of John Irving’s novel The World According to Garp.

Googling John Irving to see what he’s been up to, I came across a post by blogger Jessica Liese.  After attending a reading by writer John Irving, she wrote that John Irving wears his celebrity as a rock star.

Irving admitted to only an occasional bit of writer’s block and an infrequent sense of  indecision at which he would  find himself  “hopping from project to project.”

Jessica Liese was enthralled by the enormity of Irving’s sense of self.  She said that Irving has “an ego [that] is palpable.”

That sense of greatness must make him sure he will never fail.

The blogger’s advise to herself is applicable to writers of dissertations.  She says, “I think maybe operating under the notion that I’m awesome is the only way I’ll ever accomplish the huge task of finishing a novel.”

What could you achieve if you assumed you could not fail?

Give it a try!  Shut down your internal critic. Tell ole Lizard Brain to lumber off, and then pump up your ego and write.

50 Useful Blogs for Writers

Do you have a couple of blogs that you read religiously?  What blogs come to you as a feed?  I have a few, some on writing and others that are wisely applicable beyond their subject matter.

Have you come across “50 Useful Blogs for Writers“?  I was surprised to receive an email from the blog’s writer, Randy L Ray, saying that he had included my blog, Successful Writing Tips, in his list of “50 Useful Blogs for Writers.”

Are there some blogs missing from the list that you think should be included?  I would love to hear which blogs hold value for you.

Until next time,

Nancy

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

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