Posts Tagged ‘summer writing’

At this point in the summer, writers face a decision. How will you make the most of the time left this summer?

And what happens when you ask yourself that question? Do you check your calendar and start to feel a bit of panic when you see that you’re overbooked with meetings and trips and projects, not to mention the promises you have made to your family?  Do you sink into a lethargic trance when you realize what little time you have for yourself?

Or—and this is the best choice— do you decide that your writing will be a priority, starting now, and you pat yourself on the back for thinking to check your calendar?

Boot Camp—a writer’s space

After my midsummer vacation, I started receiving many emails from people about Boot Camp, which is one of the coaching services I offer writers.

It is a short-term coaching service and comes with day-by-day support, and a gentle push for the writer to move forward at a faster clip than you might ordinarily produce text.  Boot Camp can definitely help you to make the most of the time available.

Work closely with your dissertation coach

During Boot Camp, I work closely with you. Part of your commitment is to keep a daily log/journal confirming that you did or did not meet your original goal for the day and how you dealt with a need to change your goal, as well as focusing on the coming day– when you will write, where you will write, and what will be your specific writing goals.  I ask that you share that log/journal post in an email to me.

A benefit of Boot Camp is that you draw boundaries around you and your work. You give yourself permission to pull away from the hub-bub of your usual life as much as you can. You shelter yourself from the pressures and distractions that had been partly responsible for your not writing up til now.

Insights and practices

In Boot Camp, clients notice what works well for them, and they adopt new strategies for greater productivity.

My clients tell me of the many insights and practices that have helped them and that they continue to use, such as:

–Don’t think too far ahead; work with what is coming up for you.

–Take time off to play, go for a walk, leave your work behind, and let your mind wander.

–Be patient with yourself and don’t rush to label a work session or an idea as a failure; you may surprise yourself after going for a walk or taking a nap how your so-called failure now yields something interesting.

–Give yourself permission to come up with new ideas.  Be open to a-ha moments.

–Don’t expect this to be easy.

–Don’t be afraid of a little discomfort.

Stick with the process

Boot Camp keeps you in the process. It helps you to stick with the work during the down days when you cannot see what you are doing or where this is going. Then, often, it takes you to a surprising place, and you see yourself rise from the uncertainty that only a short time before had made you think your project was hopeless.

And what a joy that is to see, both for the writer and for me!

Boot Camp could be the very best part of your summer.

Good summer writing days,


Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach


nancy @ nancywhichard. com


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Like Christmas/New Year’s/Spring Break, summer makes all things seem possible, especially if your goal is to produce as much text as you can on your dissertation or other writing projects.

For many of my clients who live in the Northern Hemisphere, this is the time of year when they are shifting into summer schedule with a plan to focus on writing.

Perhaps you, too, are almost into summer mode with a plan to write. If so, will you have the company of your kids? And what about the kids? How do they fit with your writing plans?

Writing, with Kids

If you have most of the responsibility for their care, you have probably long been aware that the demands of childcare make successful completion of your degree more difficult, and perhaps less likely.

To quote one of my clients, “I know now that I can’t write my dissertation at the dining room table.”

I’ve maintained that if you want to get any writing done, you need a door between you and your kids.

Do You Need More than a Door?

A client told me that even though she had an in-home babysitter for her daughter last summer, the 10-year-old still found any excuse to interrupt her mother’s writing. As for this summer, my client says, “I need more than a door.”

And so I’m hearing from her, and from many clients, plans for day camp and away-camp for kids.

Camp Isn’t Just for Kids

Should you think about  camp, too … for yourself? A place where you would have control over your time and fewer distractions? Where it would be quiet and you could write?

Day camp for you could be a library or coffee shop.

Or you could rent writing space for the summer. Renting a space would be perfect. And, yes, I have had dissertation clients who rent writing space.

Professional writers rent space.

Novelist J. Courtney Sullivan rents space at the Brooklyn Writers Space.  She says that it is “almost like library carrels — you don’t have a set desk, you sit wherever there’s an opening and it’s incredibly quiet. It’s totally silent.”  Sounds great doesn’t it?  No interruptions from little ones, no unexpected phone calls.  In fact, Sullivan says that the writers space is so quiet that “you would not want to be the person whose phone starts ringing.” Or if you want a week away to a quiet place in order to get a good start on your writing, consider renting a cabin with writer friends. Your time would be your own.  No kids, no spouses.

Something I haven’t done but I think would be a terrific idea is to house-sit for someone.  Again, no kids, no spouses (I’m assuming the kids have grandparents or other relatives who can help out with the childcare if your spouse isn’t up to it). If your only obligation is to water the plants and feed the cat, you will have a perfect opportunity to ease into your writing and produce text.

One last description of a writer’s retreat may sound as if it couldn’t be based on reality, but I swear that it is. A client is working toward her PhD at a major research university, and she has the great good fortune to have a professor who loans her vacation lake house to a graduate student for a 2- or 3-day writer’s retreat. As long as the professor isn’t using it, she’s happy for a graduate student to have access to it.  At no cost.

My client has used the professor’s house several times. As you might expect, during her retreat she has not only made headway on her work, but she has also usually unraveled a particularly thorny writing problem.

The Writer’s-Retreat State of Mind

More than once my client and I have discussed how she can hold onto her writer’s-retreat state-of-mind after returning home. One of her successful strategies for re-creating that state-of-mind has been to go to a quiet library.

What can you do now to better ensure that this summer will be a great season of writing for you? What will you do about your writing environment? And what about the kids? I would love to hear your plans for a successful shift into summer writing.

Happy writing,



Image by …anna christina… via Flickr

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

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How has your summer been so far?  Are you meeting your writing goals?  Or are you uneasy as you look at the calendar?  

Unfortunately, the best of intentions at the beginning of summer can sometimes get waylaid. 

If you have met your writing goals or if you are on track to meet them, congratulations and Big Gold Stars for you! 


If you have hammered out text according to plan, what helped you do what you said you were going to do?

Are you amazingly resilient? Do you have an abundance of willpower and perseverance?  Or, if perseverance is not your top strength, do you have some great strategies?

I’d love to hear from you.  What was your success strategy?

Happy writing,


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

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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 Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach




nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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August can be a time of scrambling

A friend who was taking her family on a trip to Europe was rushing to get everything done.  She said, “All I have to do is just get to the plane.”  I know what she means—what a wonderful feeling it is to settle in and stare into space, awaiting take-off (as long as you haven’t left a child at home, of course!  But that’s a different movie.).

For most of us, our looming deadline isn’t making the plane to Europe, but there is that sense of finality or urgency at fitting in everything we need to do over the next few weeks or days.

Maybe you’re moving, reinventing yourself, starting a new job (or going back to your same teaching job).  What minutiae swirl in your head as you try to focus on the chapter you’re writing? 

1. Put the Big Rocks in first.
A wonderful client reminded me this week of the time management story about the rocks and a jar.  Have you heard it?  Stephen Covey in his book First Things First describes a time management speaker using a jar and rocks as props for a talk.  The speaker asks the group how many rocks do they think he can get in the jar.  After the guesses are made, he proceeds to put the large rocks into the jar.  He asks if the jar is full.  The group answers that it is full, but of course, it isn’t. The speaker proceeds to add small rocks, gravel, and water

The point is that if he hadn’t put the big rocks into the jar first, then all the gravel and little rocks would have filled it and there wouldn’t have been room for the big rocks. 

Our take-away is that we should make a list of the large things we need to do, our big rocks—a big project, family time, exercise…– and then plan so that the big rocks are done first.

What is your gravel?   That stuff can fill up your time.  What are your big rocks? 

2. What are your 3 priorities today?
Each day brings its own crisis, but you can still have three priorities that get attention, even as you deal with the crisis of the day.

It’s hard to mentally hold on to all the things you need to do at this time of year, but if you write down the 3 most important things you must do today and put the time when you will do each of those things, you will feel a great deal of anxiety drain away.  Try it!  The 3 priorities may be the same thing as your Big Rocks, but they might not be. 

How can you make sure that your Big Rocks do make your list of today’s 3 priorities?  Practice.  Tell yourself that your dissertation isn’t some Big Rock that’s part of an interesting illustration.  It’s a big deal that you have to address every day in a practical manner—it’s one of each day’s 3 Priorities.

3. Make plans for following through
I’ve found that I must have visual reminders of how my day is planned to unfold and what I will get done no matter what—my 3 priorities– or I’ll forget.  I use large, colored sticky papers for my schedule and highlight my 3 priorities.  I stick my schedule in a couple of different places. I need to be able to remind myself that one of my priorities is coming up, so that I don’t self-sabotage by staying too long on something easy and blow right through the time slotted for a priority.  Written reminders are key.

4. Where do you have control?
As you think about all of the moving parts of your life—whatever comes next for you, your advisor, your department chair, the students, your feelings—the most difficult part may be controlling yourself. How do you want to frame the current chaos so that you can look at it in a positive way?  What do you want to tell yourself?

The time you have available to write may seem limited, but whatever time you have now is under your control.  You can choose to write in the 30 minutes or 1 hour that you’ve set for your dissertation or your journal article, or you can let the time slip away, while you run in circles.

Can you make your Big Rocks into your 3 priorities for today?  Make sure your diss is definitely getting a spot on your priority list and has a chunk of dedicated time in your schedule.

How about grabbing some big rocks and inscribing them? Maybe put them where you can see them on your desk?

I’d love to hear from you. 

All good wishes,


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


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Are you feeling dazed because you just realized that summer is half gone?

How can it be almost July?  Have you said that, too?

If your goal had been to produce a big chunk of text during this summer (as it is here in the US), you might want to turn on your computer and see where you are.  When was the last time you wrote something?

If you need help in moving into action, deadlines and holidays can be a driving force.

For instance, New Year’s Day is a great motivator, but New Year’s Day is long past.

Fortunately, for Americans, another marker is coming up—the Fourth of July.  The unofficial mid-point of the summer is upon us.

It’s time for a mid-season check-in.  Take out your calendar.  Let’s see where we are.

1.  List carefully your intentions for the next eight weeks. What writing do you still intend to accomplish?

2.  Reasonably and realistically, divide the work into chunks.

3.  Start at the end date and plan backward.  Assign each chunk of work to a week.

4.  Did you shoot past today without even noticing?  Sorry–you can’t start yesterday.  Using backward planning can keep you from planning a writing binge just before your deadline.

5. What can you live with? If you were overly optimistic in saying what you want to accomplish over the next eight weeks, the next step is to lower your expectations.  What is the minimum you can expect of yourself?

6. Adjust your schedule.  Carefully match the work to the available time.  Check that your schedule and your goals for the next eight weeks are specific and concrete.

7.  Write your weekly goals on a big whiteboard or on a large poster board.  Place the board where you will see it every day.

There is plenty of time before September for you to accomplish your most important writing goals.

What are you waiting for?  Let the Fourth of July jar you into action.

Happy writing!


P.S.  Still feeling blind-sided by the way time has past you by?  Check out my website.  Drop me a line. There seems to be a lot of that dazed-feeling-because-summer-is-half-over going around just now.

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


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You want to be at a good place with your writing at summer’s end?  You can absolutely do that, especially if you approach the summer with a bit of urgency and heat. 

Get a picture of yourself in your mind’s eye of you taking charge. What would your taking charge look like?

1.  See what’s the big deal about writing early each morning.  Even if you’ve always said that you’re a night person, get up early and put in a couple of hours of writing before doing anything else.  No email; no newspaper; no headlines.
2.  Cut back on night-time TV. Turn the TV off before you find yourself watching Oprah re-runs in the middle of the night.  One place in your life where you absolutely have control is clicking “off” on the remote.

3.  Know your cut-off date for research. Have that cut-off date or time in place before you ever start. Reading can go on forever. It’s a wonderful, nearly guilt-free way to procrastinate.  If you need to do a bit more research, you can slip that in later.  For now, be clear on your deadline for cutting off the research.

4.  Boldly wade into the tough parts of your diss.  What needs to be done?  Plan to start working on the parts that have given you fits, or you’ll be tempted to read the parts of your draft that you like and tweak the writing that’s already in fairly good shape. 

5.  If family should visit you this summer, still keep your head in your diss.
Give your mind something to chew on each day.  If demands take you away from writing, open your diss just to read a section or two. Check on how you referred to something in your writing.  Keep the connection to your writing fresh and alive.

6.  Let dust be your badge of courage.  Say to yourself, “I’m brave enough to put my diss ahead of cleaning.”  If you have to move your files for someone to sleep on the spare bed, fine, but don’t move your papers or files too far.  Don’t put them out of sight.  People can accommodate you.

7. What is your mid-summer reward? Tie work to reward. Plan something at mid-summer.  Whether it’s something big (3 days in Italy or Mexico) or small (an overnight camping trip or a day at the museums), put something in place that you can look forward to.  That reward is what you can lock your eyes on and work toward.

Make this summer the one that you’ll look back on with pride.  Work hard, have fun at your mid-summer reward, and then finish your summer with a bang.  Have something to show for your Summer of 2008.

What will you do to take charge this summer?  I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Summer Writing,

Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach

P.S.   Did you sign up for Smart Tips at www.nancywhichard.com?  No?  You didn’t?  Hustle over there and sign up.

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Are you hoping to do a bunch of work over the summer?  You’re not alone.  Almost every day I hear those very same words from my clients.

What can you put in place now that will help you be a productive writer this summer?

1.   Find out exactly how much time you are working now and what you are producing during that time.
When you start a diet, the first step is often to record every bite that you are eating.  If you’re serious about writing a bunch this summer, you first need to find out exactly how much you are working now.  If you are working, you’ll have something to show for it.  Track your work—keep a log.  How are you spending your time each day?  What did you produce?  How many pages did you write?  How many pages did you read?

2.  Analyze your findings.
Did you find that you spent 5 hours at your computer, but have no writing to show for it, or very little?  What had you planned to do during that time?  So what were you doing?

3.  Make a Weekly Time Commitment Record.
For every week of the summer, starting now, make a detailed plan that includes every day. You need to write your commitment or goal for each day and then record what you actually did produce each day.  You must be very detailed, very specific.
Your log/schedule needs to have several columns, with each column labeled:
a.  Date
b.  Commitment of what time of day you will work
c.  Commitment of number of hours you will work each day
d.  Actual time of day that you worked
e.  Actual number of hours you worked each day
f.  Notes:  What you did during each hour, even if it was organizing your desk.  Be sure to include exactly how much writing you did—in number of words or number of pages.

4.  Be accountable to someone.
Keeping track of how much writing you produce each week and how much time you spent working will work best if you are accountable to someone.  If you know that you are going to show your Weekly Time Commitment to a dissertation coach or your advisor, you will be much more likely to stick to the commitment.

You’ll be smart to get started observing and making commitments now.  Don’t put obstacles in your own way.  Plan for productivity.

Here’s to a great summer!

Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach

P.S. I’m just about ready to send out my Smart Tips newsletter.  I think you’ll enjoy it – the lead article in this issue is “5 Strategies for Drastic Situations.” Go to my website at www.nancywhichard.com, and underneath my picture on the home page, sign up for Smart Tips.


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