For dissertation writers: When your partner wails, “I never see you anymore!”

student working on dissertationYou’re knee-deep or, more accurately, file/notecard/article/laptop-deep in your dissertation. You don’t hear anything around you—refrigerator opening, kids tussling, clothes washer whirring. You don’t even hear your name called for dinner. When you come up for air, you realize that your partner hasn’t spoken to you for days. When they do, it’s only to wail, I never see you anymore!” [Read more…]

Are you stalling by revising too soon?

writing linesWhen we’ve squeezed out a few sentences, a paragraph, or page of the first draft of our current writing project, in our elation we may be tempted to go back and revise. The pull to polish is irresistible. So, we revisit those hard-won sentences and baby them into perfection. Then we sit back and bask with satisfaction.

But what do we have? Admittedly, a start, but really just a few sentences. We know we should have kept going with the fearsome task of confronting the blankness, but we yield. And often, our excitement in starting the piece dissipates, like steam out the open window. We sit there, staring or sighing, get up, and walk away to do something that eats into our writing time. [Read more…]

Overcome a startling block: When your writing flows

writing flowYour fingers play the keyboard like a concert pianist, your pens run dry with astounding speed, your pages pile up like gold. “Wow,” you think, “this is how it should be! I’m gonna go all night!”

But then, faster than a form rejection, more powerful than an editor’s frown, able to freeze your brain in a single flash, a horrible thought zaps you: I can’t stand it anymore!  

What! Why? A strange reason: Your writing’s going just too well. [Read more…]

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…]