Round up all those stampeding ideas

lots of ideasDo ideas flood your brain like a herd gone wild? Do you flail around, physically and metaphorically, trying to corral them and drive them into the barn? Are you going mad trying to figure out how to use them all?

I am almost constantly barraged by ideas for essays, stories, poems, novel slivers, quirky descriptions, and metaphoric pearls. Ideas surface everywhere: as I edit clients’ manuscripts, wash dishes, huff through workouts, wait on line, watch people, meditate, fall asleep, and even during tactful small talk at business dinners.

All the deluging ideas used to make me groan. Sometimes I’d even feel envious of writers who complained about their sparse fits of inspiration. I’d grouse internally that my ideas never seemed to stop. How would I ever get to them all, much less organize them or make something of them? Most would end up in a mass of ragged notes or on scraps stuffed under the scanner. [Read more…]

Five ways to tiptoe into your dissertation

Dissertation Dream AchievedIf you’re contemplating a doctoral program in which a dissertation is required or you’re already registered and sneaking up on one—and you feel stumped (read: procrastinating)—here are five ways that should help you begin.

Your Dream

The dissertation is the crowning achievement for your degree. Having reached at least the threshold of the dissertation, congratulate yourself. You made it through all the prerequisites and courses, and you’re that much closer to the award of your degree. You’ve done it all because . . . . ? This is the time to remind yourself: How is this degree part of my life’s goals? [Read more…]

How to shut down your inner editor

Inner editorIt can blare out while you’re working on any piece, anytime, anywhere. You’re writing along like butter, and suddenly a stomach-wrenching jolt slams you up against a concrete wall. That thunderous voice in your head rebukes: “THAT’S THE WORST, MOST HORRIBLE, STUPID PHRASE SINCE . . . .” And you’re paralyzed.

Take heart. Such a message doesn’t have to plunge you into a full block. Recognize it for what it is—your ever-present inner editor, often old programming, maybe residue of parental strictures, telling you that you shouldn’t be writing, you’ll never be a writer, and you might as well go sell burner phones (if that’s not your day job already). [Read more…]

3 Undeniable signs you need to revise

Between bouts of hating what we write, we may secretly admire our creations. And we’re entitled to. But there’s a difference between admiration and excessive love of our own words. Such love blinds us to editorial blunders, judicious cutting, faults in logic, and any other revision, and reduces the possibilities of publication. [Read more…]

Dragging your dissertation feet?

ProcrastinationIs your dissertation dragging you down? Are you dragging your feet, your manuscript in sorry tow behind you like an annoying younger brother? Are you doing the impossible already—on campus or online, like many other graduate students juggling family, work, and school? Your academic struggles are intensified by the stresses of such multiple responsibilities and, possibly, loss of your long-range picture.

From what I’ve learned and observed as a longtime coach of graduate students and writer of creative projects, here I address some issues that can trip you up. And I share some steadying remedies so you handle your dissertation and other creative projects with less dragging and more speed and even enthusiasm. [Read more…]

Curing our time ills: Review of ‘Guide to Making Time to Write’

Guide to Making Time to Write TAA’s forthcoming book, Guide to Making Time to Write, is an invaluable compendium of suggestions and solutions for all the writing time troubles that beset us. I must admit I’m a contributor to this book; nevertheless, many of of the tips helped me tremendously to treat my writing time ailments—like conveniently missing a day, or several, because of “necessities”;  or avoiding the piece that will give me the most satisfaction in favor of minor editing on another.

The book has many aids for such maladies and more—with large sections on time management, productivity, templates for schedules, and recommendations for software. You can go directly to a section or—almost as effective—browse at random. I kept discovering new pointers, like acknowledging when I’m getting too tired to continue creatively or productively and quitting, or working another ten minutes and then another spurred on by a delicious bribe, for me a nightlong binge of Las Vegas reruns. [Read more…]

Too tired to write?

Do you often find you’re too tired to write? If so, you’re suffering from a widespread malady: Too Tired to Write Syndrome (TTWS). I know it well. Late at night, after three hours of primetime soaps/CIA adventures/sports/reality shows/80s reruns, we solemnly promise ourselves we’ll tackle our latest writing project early the next day. Or we solemnly assure ourselves, early in the new morning and jolted by a surge of caffeinated joy, we’ll write later today between 3:00 and 4:00.

But then . . . our promise to ourselves to write drowns in the rest of our lives. With all we have to do, we’re just too tired. [Read more…]

Writing stalled? Send yourself a letter

Letter to yourselfWhen I scanned the mail the other day, one letter caught my eye. I couldn’t quite place the handwriting and tore open the letter. To my shock, I saw I’d written it to myself.

Maybe I should have recognized my own handwriting, but it was like seeing yourself reflected in a window. Even though certain aspects look familiar, we often don’t have a clear picture of what we look like—or write like.

Three weeks earlier, I’d received a rejection for a particularly important writing project. After I poured out my despondency to a friend, she suggested writing a letter to myself venting my frustrations, extolling my virtues, and declaring my writing goals and mailing the letter without a second glance or draft. It should be postal mail, she emphasized—email wasn’t quite the same. I thought this idea a little hokey, but desperate followed her advice. [Read more…]

Gather ye testimonies while ye may

Testimonies broadcast our contributions and encourage purchase of our good words. Also referred to as endorsements or recommendations, testimonies may appear on the front and back covers of your book, in the first pages, in reviews, and, of course, on your website. To gather effective testimonies takes time, thought, and some courage. Here are five points to keep in mind.

1) When to Request a Testimony

Ideally, ask for testimonies before publication. When you do, expect your prospective testimony-ers to want to see your manuscript, or at least a part. These requests are reasonable and ethical. Depending on the stage of the book, you can send your proposal, late manuscript, or prepublication galley. Especially for nonfiction, the proposal  should contain enough substantial material so they get a flavor of your work. Even better, the late manuscript or prepublication galley should present your work very well, providing more than enough for testimonies. You can ask for testimonies after publication as well, but earlier gives you advance publicity. [Read more…]

Are you a linear or circular writer?

typing on keyboardSome writers feel comfortable and can be productive following the sage advice of the King in Alice in Wonderland to the White Rabbit: “Begin at the beginning . . . and go on till you come to the end.” Other writers, though, wail internally or aloud, “But I don’t know where/how to begin!” Trying to follow that command only increases their angst and intensifies creative paralysis.

No Beginning

When I coach doctoral candidates as they begin writing, I often advise them not to start at the beginning, that is, with Chapter 1. They sometimes think I’m nuts, but, a heretic in the King’s court, I’ve got sound reasons. In the first chapter of a dissertation or introduction in an article, the writer must present a thorough and concise overview of the problem investigated or reported on. This presentation requires (a) great familiarity with the breadth of the topic and (b) greater familiarity with previous studies of the subject. [Read more…]