Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘writing’

I am reblogging a post that I wrote in 2010 based on the advice to a would-be writer in Muriel Spark’s novel “A Far Cry from Kensington”: “To focus, get a cat.” I love cats, but sadly have none at the moment. On occasion, our adult daughter has brought her magnificent, marvelous cat with her for a weekend visit. A cat can transform for the better the mood, and even the level of thought, within a house. Here is my blog from 2010: “To focus on your writing, get a cat.”

Successful Writing Tips

Cat mosaic on house façade, Brussels, Belgium,...

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…

View original post 346 more words

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

A dissertation client said recently that he has been dealing with a lack of focus and low motivation.

In addition to writing a dissertation, he also teaches.

Sensing fatigue, I asked what the last few months had been like for him.

He paused and said, “There have been a lot of outside influences.”

He has had to travel a bit, but that wasn’t what was coming to mind for him.

Like many of his friends and family, he had been in the path of Hurricane Sandy.  For some, their homes had been damaged, and for others, including himself, there was a long period of no power and no heat.

And what else in addition to Sandy?  The Presidential campaign and election

The Presidential campaign that came before Sandy but ended soon after Sandy struck was raw and exhausting for many Americans. After months, even years, of the presidential campaign, my client was thrilled when the campaigning ended, but the campaign stopped with an abruptness, a suddenness that at first was disconcerting.

My client felt he personally had been in a battle during the fierce, ugly campaign.

But once the election was over, the silence was almost as unsettling as the campaign itself.

My client said that even though he had lost valuable time during the aftermath of the hurricane and also during the election, he had started to recover his footing.  He was tired, but he had started to produce some writing.

And now another calamity has upturned the lives of some of my dissertation clients, as well as many other people.

The unthinkable has occurred

This morning my client told me that midday this past Friday he registered news about a shooting but because of a deadline at work, he chose to put off getting the details.  At day’s end, he listened in earnest to the news reports and realized that once again there had been a shooting in a school, but this time the dead included beautiful little first-graders.

Since then, he said, he has been emotionally overwhelmed even though he has been listening to or reading only a few news reports.

The horrific shooting of the young schoolchildren and their teachers has been difficult to process for most of us. My client articulated the feelings of horror and helplessness that may sound familiar to you.  But he says he thinks his ongoing exhaustion and isolation may further complicate for him the emotional impact of the killings.

Over the last couple of months several clients have voiced concerns not only over their heavy work load, but also over the emotional stress and isolation they are feeling.

Time for yourself

The upcoming holidays and, for some, the end of the semester give many the opportunity to reflect on how to deal with this latest disaster.

And how you can deal with the loneliness and emotional stress you feel as you shoulder the difficult job of writing a dissertation.

More of what matters

Please give some time over the next few weeks to reflect on what really matters to you, not only in your work or dissertation, but also in your emotional life.  What is it that you need?  How can you have more of what matters to you?

All good wishes to you,

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

Read Full Post »

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

 

Read Full Post »

When my two kids were little, they loved the book Big Dog, Little Dog, A Bedtime Story. In the book, Fred and Ted, two friends, who are both dogs, deal with all sorts of small dilemmas.

Fred is tall, and Ted is short. Fred’s bed is too short for him. What to do?  Change beds with Ted. And so the book goes. The two friends problem-solve one problem after another.

What is the moral of the story? “Why make big problems out of little problems?”

One of my dissertation coaching clients has been resisting line-editing a chapter. Line editing is tedious, no doubt about it.

My client has this going for him—he has a morning routine. He’s set aside time for working on his dissertation before he does anything else. He has his morning coffee, but he doesn’t open his email. And so it would seem that he’s not suffering from what Roy Baumeister and John Tierney in the book Willpower call “decision fatigue.” He isn’t worn down by his day. Yet, instead of diving into the line-editing, the task he set for himself, he addresses easier tasks and never gets to the hard work of editing.

My client can point to other work he’s taken care of during the morning time he has set aside for his dissertation, but not what he had planned to do.

He says he’s stubborn. He may be, but what I know for sure is that he’s a stickler. In both his day job and in his after-work activities, he is detail-oriented. He’s a stickler for doing things right because he has to be.

I know he can do the work. What is holding him back? What is he afraid of?  That he might make a mistake? That’s a given, right? Editing is like sweeping sand. It’s unlikely he will catch every grain, but it is time to stop the delay.

To build up willpower to do those things you dislike or find difficult, Baumeister and Tierney say that you should “set a firm time limit for tedious tasks.”

And you know what? That approach has worked for my coaching client in the past. On occasion, he has told me that when he strenuously resisted work, he used a timer to help him stick with a task for a short, designated amount of time. That strategy will work for him again.

Similarly, he can once again monitor himself. He can be accountable to himself. And I’ll be sure to hold him accountable, too.

Just as the moral for Big Dog, Little Dog, A Bedtime Story asks the question “Why make big problems out of little problems?” the same question can be asked of my client about his resistance to line-editing his dissertation chapter.

If you hate to edit, edit a little bit at a time. Do what you can bear to do, but do something!

Slowly, but surely you’ll get it done.

Why make big problems out of little problems?

I would love to hear from you. How do you deal with tedious writing tasks?

All good wishes to you,

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

Read Full Post »

No matter how serious your intention is to write, you need a plan.  And you need a plan that is automatic, clear-cut, and smooth.

You need a way to swiftly move into your work without the hesitation and resistance that can throw you off track.

You need a plan that works like the starting block works for an Olympian runner. You don’t want to slip and slide about in loose dirt. You want to move automatically into action at the given time. 

One of the world’s leading authorities on goal attainment, psychologist Peter Gollwitzer, Ph.D., has devised an amazingly effective plan for implementing a person’s intention to take action toward a goal.

Gollwitzer’s “if-then” plan or “implementation intention” requires you to decide ahead of time the time, location, and action you will take and to put the plan into the simplest, yet most logical, of forms. Your plan would be something as simple as this: IF it is 2 pm, THEN I will go to the 3rd floor of the library with my computer to write for two hours.

Gollwitzer’s research shows that such planning produces “automatic action,” because you “delegate control” to the “situational cues.” The situation or the when and the where are your cues—the situation triggers your taking action. Without your consciously thinking about it, your brain starts to work on making sure you will be aware and ready at the right time to take action.  Gollwitzer terms this “strategic automaticity” or “instant habits.” 

Without an if-then plan, competing projects or goals or other distractions can derail you from starting or taking action on any given day.

The if-then plan can change the way you approach your work.

It’s an amazingly effective cue to trigger your writing.

I would love to hear how you have  used the if-then plan to trigger your writing.

Happy writing,

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

Read Full Post »

When an Olympian athlete wins a gold medal, there’s little doubt that the athlete was driven by a big dream and bold action.

Gabby Douglas

To win a gold medal in the women’s gymnastics all-around,  Gabby Douglas, as a fourteen-year-old,  bravely left Virginia Beach, VA and traveled about 1,200 miles to West Des Moines, IA to live with a family she didn’t know in a town far different from her home town in order to train with the gymnastics coach of her dreams.

Katie Ledecky

Fifteen-year-old Katie Ledecky won gold in the Olympics women’s 800-meter freestyle.  The youngest member of the U.S. Olympian team came within half a second of breaking the world’s record.  Even though several reporters talked as if Katie won almost by a fluke, Katie came well-prepared to the race with passion and a plan.  Not only was she a bold athlete with a clear vision, but to help her with her dream, her father also took the big step of taking last year off from his work as an attorney to give his time to his daughter’s swimming.

 

Your Bold Summer Goals

Did you prioritize writing with the expectation that by summer’s end you would have made great progress on the writing front?

Having big goals is not unrealistic. And you need to frequently remind yourself of your big goals and of how important it will be to you to reach those goals.

And Add to that, the Daily Routine

Just as importantly as having the bold dream, you need to pull that big picture down to what you can do each day with your daily writing routine.

As each future Olympian dreamed her big dreams of making the team and winning gold, she also spent hours training each day.

Take heart from the Olympic athletes who didn’t get to where they are by doing everything all at once.

Micro goals are good.

For Successful Writing, Continue with Bold Goals and Hard Work 

Most of my dissertation writers and academic writing clients had big goals for the summer. Those writers who seem to be having the most success are those who held a long view and also a short-term view, the big and bold goals as well as the hard work of daily action and routine.

How are you doing with meeting your writing goals this summer?  I would love to hear from you.

Happy writing,

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

Read Full Post »

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,

Nancy

✿⊱╮✿⊱✿⊱✿⊱╮✿

Image by …anna christina… via Flickr

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
 
 

Read Full Post »

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

 

Read Full Post »

If your goal is to work on your dissertation or your article, what gets in your way and eats up your time and energy?

Every writer can find a million more important things to do, such as watching all the episodes of the first season of Downton Abbey in one day. 

But what else derails your writing plans?

Kids?  Family?  A job?  Check, check, check.

If the derailers were just kids-family-job, you could still most likely find a bit time to write.  But there’s something else that is a wretched waste of time and energy, and it’s a frequent, even daily occurrence over which you have little control  . . . your commute!

If you have a bad commute, you have my sympathies. 

A bad commute has an intensely harmful influence on your quality of life and also on your making headway in your writing. Not only does a bad commute increase your anxiety, but it can turn you into someone you’d rather not know.  I bet you’ve seen that side of yourself when you’re stuck in traffic. 

It affects your mood and even your cognitive performance.  And those negative effects are long-lasting, affecting your ability to follow through on plans to write and your ability to focus.

Please take a minute and let me know if your commute is an issue for you, and how it affects your writing. How do you work around the stress of a bad commute and make headway on your writing?    

Hoping you’re sprinting past the barriers and 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

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »