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Archive for the ‘writing habit’ 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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A famous New Yorker Magazine cartoon illustrates procrastination and resistance against things you don’t want to do. A man is talking on the phone to someone wanting to meet with him, and the man says, “How about never—is never good for you?”

“How about never” speaks to many writers. When will you feel like writing? How about never?

Today I listened to procrastination researcher Dr. Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University in Ottawa speak about a difficulty you may have, the procrastination in starting a task that you don’t feel like doing, such as writing. At times he, too, has to drag himself to write, but he says, “It doesn’t matter how you feel. Just get started.” He adds that he is not saying “just do it”;  rather, if you can find a way to start a task, even if you stay at it for only five minutes, you are likely to return to the task the next day.

Dr. Pychyl says to fit into the larger pattern of your day the tasks that you would ordinarily procrastinate on, such as writing or exercising. Recently I spoke with a young woman who runs each day. And even though running has been part of her life for some time, she still has to work at ignoring her mind chatter that tells her to take a day off.

How does she run even if she does not feel like it? She says that the fewer the uncertainties about running, the more likely it is that she will run.

She is on to something. Dr. Pychyl says that you can get caught in uncertainty, even with things you say you want to do.

Eliminate the uncertainty about when to run

My runner friend does not wait until after she gets home at the end of the day to run because of the many distractions. It’s too easy, she says, to flop on her couch in front of her TV and never get up.

Likewise, she does not wait until she gets to work each day to decide whether she will run that day. For her mental health, she leaves her desk during her lunch hour. That hour is the time she plans to go to her to run.

Incentives always help

She has extra incentives that make it easier for her to go to her gym:

  • The gym is a pleasant place with jazz playing in the locker room
  • The gym is only a short walk from her office

But getting to the gym still takes willpower. And willpower is not always enough.

Use a daily ritual to avoid resistance

Knowing that on some days she will feel resistance, she has put in place a daily routine of small steps that lead her gradually to her goal of running.

The daily routine has become a ritual that gives her the focus and momentum she needs to move forward toward running, and she has woven the steps of the ritual in among her regular office duties.

The small steps in her ritual also keep her from thinking about potential momentum-stoppers, such as showering at mid-day, the pain she sometimes feel while running, and the other activities or work she could be doing instead of running.

Her ritual is simple but effective.  It starts at 10:15 a.m. after she has been at her job for more than an hour:

–10:15 a.m.:

She takes breakfast to work–cereal/milk/juice–and eats at 10:15 a.m. so that she will not feel hungry when she walks to the gym. Eating this light breakfast at mid-morning every dayalso triggers her focus toward what will come next. With each step she becomes more engaged with the upcoming task.

–11:30 a.m.:

At 11:30 a.m. she starts drinking water to hydrate.

–11:45 a.m.:

At 11:45 she breathes deeply and stretches briefly in the work break room.

–12:05 p.m.:
By 12:05 she is walking to the gym, reminding herself that in one hour she will be back at her desk.

–At the locker room:

She feels increasingly confident and eager to run as she starts to put on her running clothes. She says that once she has laced her shoes, her feet know what to do. At that point, she is  at big milestone, signifying that she has hit each of the smaller goals or steps along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And she anticipates the rewards of  greater mental clarity and feeling healthier that running always gives her.

The keys to her success

1. Determining that she will use her lunch hour to run relieves her of the stress of deciding daily when or for how long she will run.

2. Starting and carrying through on the steps each morning break down her resistance and mentally prepare her to run.

3. Her plan varies little. Delivering daily on the steps  has become a habit, indeed a ritual. The ritual is reassuring and increases her clarity of thought. She feels that something is wrong if she doesn’t follow through on each of her planned steps.

And how could a ritual help you?

As a writer, you, too, will know the pleasure and benefit of reaching your goal of writing every day if you:

1. Determine the time of day and where you will start writing.

Avoid waiting until late in the day when you are tired and when distractions have their greatest allure.

2. Determine how long each writing session will be.

Make the length of time realistic and do-able;

3. Develop a series of specific steps that you take at determined times, such as checking that you have the text you want to work on and that  you will have a cup of tea ready soon. Then take a few deep breaths and meditate for a few minutes. Or stand at a window and feel the sun on your face. Each step will help you build momentum and a readiness to work;

The fewer the uncertainties and decisions, the more likely it is that you will write.

 

What habits or rituals do you have in place that help you avoid procrastination and remove uncertainty about writing?  I would love to hear from you.

 

 

 

All good wishes,

Nancy

 Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ 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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Is there too much to do?  Are you not getting enough done?

Do you jump from task to task on your to-do list but never seem to make progress on your main writing goals?

Is your dissertation still on your to-do list?

As a client said to me, “Which end of the tube am I squeezing?”

So what’s undercutting your progress on your writing?

 

Add-On’s

At your day job, people are sick or on leave, and you’re expected to pick up the slack. So you stay late. If you’re teaching, a student needs extra mentoring.  There are last-minute requests for letters of recommendation. And then you get into your car to drive home, only to find yourself in an extended traffic jam, once again.

Two extra hours here, two there, and suddenly you’ve forgotten about your own priorities.

Have you agreed to additional responsibilities without checking your schedule or without carving space for the new add-on’s? Or have those extra responsibilities not even registered for you as time-sucks?

 

Family Matters

Spring here in the U.S. often brings additional activities, primarily more activities for your kids.  So the questions…and conflicts…arise:  Who is driving the kids to their newly added activities? Are you changing your work schedule in order to take care of the kids? Are you going to be able to stay and watch them do these activities? 

Or perhaps your kids need or want to change their plans.  And they need or want to change what you thought was already decided.

Misunderstandings, disputes, and debates can arise from too many issues being handled on the fly. Phone calls or a voicemail message can precipitate problems or unexpected responses. Dealing with those problems and, perhaps, with your own emotions as well require more of your time.

You have the energy and know-how to orchestrate work, family life, dissertation or writing project. However, if you’re juggling so many things, you may feel that there’s no time for a miscalculation. Remember that things don’t have to be perfect. If there is a problem, you can problem-solve.

 

Ah, yes, the dissertation… How about Intervals?

Your to-do list is so big.

Parenting is so big.

The commute and the job are so big.

But what about the writing?

Has your dissertation moved lower and lower on your list? It’s time to get it back at the top of the list. Decide what specific writing task you can do this week. Look for chunks of available time each day and write that task on your calendar. Decide that you can do a good-enough job during those small chunks of time.

Time to Power Up

Have you done intervals in your exercise routines? Intervals are a simple but effective way to boost your exercise by “alternating bursts of intense activity with intervals of lighter activity.”  The benefits are that you burn more calories in a shorter amount of time and improve your aerobic capacity.

Reframe your view of your day—look at it as if you’re doing intervals. You move easily from one task to another, increasing your tempo when you want to move through a task more quickly and then slowing  as you move to a less demanding activity. You can apply that same interval method to your writing.

If you could get more writing done in a shorter amount of time, what’s not to like about that? Let’s give it a try.

How much writing can you do in a short amount of time? Push yourself, knowing that you only have to work at this level of intensity for a selected period of time. You set the amount of time. Keep going until the time is up. Then slow down, go over what you’ve written, and plan the next sprint. Some writers object to this kind of writing because they say they have to write slowly. But perhaps those writers have no other job or they aren’t juggling as many responsibilities as you. You need to use your writing time as efficiently and productively as you can.

You make efficient use of your time in all sorts of ways during your day, and you can do that with your writing, too.

Of course, you need to be flexible.  The chunk of time you thought was yours may slip away from you because of a request at work or from a family member.

But watch that procrastination isn’t masquerading as flexibility.

Protect the small chunks of writing time. 

Setting small daily writing goals as priorities will result in progress.

What do you do to help you prioritize your writing and boost your writing efficiency? I’d love to hear from you.

All good wishes to you for great writing in April,

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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Walking up to the United States customs agent in an airport after a trip out of the country always makes me feel uneasy. Will there be something wrong?  Where should I look as the agent flips through my passport?

So I stand there, feeling awkward. Finally, the agent looks at me one more time and then, with what seems like genuine feeling,  the agent calls me by name and says, “Welcome Home.”  

Whew. I’ve passed muster, but I’m also curiously touched.  I know there’s nothing personal in the greeting.  It’s predictable that the customs agent welcomes the traveler, but I always feel a bit of emotion rising in my chest.       

I guess I belong here after all.

Inception and Leonardo DiCaprio

Have you seen the movie Inception?  I got around to seeing it a few weeks ago and was particularly drawn to the ending when the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio shows the same unease I often feel as I wait to see what the U.S. agent may ask me.  DiCaprio gives a slight acknowledgment to the agent and then lowers his eyes—how are you supposed to look in this situation? And where should you look?  Finally the agent says, “Welcome home, Mr. Cobb.”

 

And the relieved and happy Cobb/DiCaprio crosses the boundary into the U.S. He’s home. Of course, he had reason to worry.  He could have been denied entrance. 

But that’s another story. 

A customs agent in the role of gatekeeper reminds me of how often we can doubt that we belong in a community or in a situation which formerly had seemed or claimed to be our home. 

The notion of home, returning home, and feeling at home in various situations goes beyond familiar settings, sentimental snapshots, or an address on a customs form. 

 

The writer’s home

Most ABD’s come to a graduate program feeling at home, challenged, but nevertheless sure that this is where they will find the opportunity, the collegiality, and the inspiration that will bring out the best in them.

Even if they had felt completely at home as they took classes or as they wrote papers for classes or perhaps even acting as teaching assistants, once the students have moved past their course work or into the dissertation process, they are too often thrown by the process and feel out-of-place as they try to finish their dissertations and earn their degrees.  

As I coach writers, I am struck by how frequently brilliant, capable ABD’s become stuck and start to feel incompetent and unworthy. 

Incompetent and unworthy

ABD’s know what they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to make goals and meet deadlines and just write.  But for many ABD’s, deadlines have become counterproductive. The pressure and the isolation of trying to grind out text somehow raise such self-doubt that they start to question whether they belong in this doctoral program.  

Some compare themselves unfavorably with others who are further along in the dissertation process.  They feel such regret and, worse, they feel such shame for time wasted during the doctoral program that they’re almost paralyzed. 

Do they have what it takes to finish this degree?  The familiar situations and professors no longer seem reassuring, but rather seem to raise barriers to the extent that ABD’s start to see themselves as frauds or imposters. 

Lower the stakes

If this sounds like your situation, you could take a cue from some graduate students who have gone through periods of self-doubt and shame and have rewritten the process to make it work for them.  

Instead of focusing on the product or on finishing, focus on the present moment. Determine the block of time that you are setting aside each morning for yourself and decide what your choices will be during that time.  You can decide that you will write and that’s all, or you could have a variety of tasks to choose from, as long as you put in the time.  What is important is that you step back from the process and lower the stakes from producing something brilliant and perfect to doing something.

Ebb and flow 

The writing process will be one of ebb and flow. Some days, the writing will be crappy, and other days you might think the work you did wasn’t half bad. What is important is that you show up each day at the time you have carved out for yourself and write. Do something. And it will be good enough.

Welcome home

The block of time for your daily work is your place and your time. Rewrite the script; redesign the scenery. Make the delivery and the timing your own. This is your home place. And at the beginning of each writing session, greet yourself. I bet you would smile if you greeted yourself each morning with “Welcome Home, Mr. Cobb.”  

Warm regards,

Nancy

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