Letter for a Dissertating Friend Who Said S/he’d Really Hit a Low Point


I hope this post finds you well!

The other day I sent a note of encouragement to a fellow graduate student who expressed that he or she had “really hit a low point.” He or she shared that there were just several issues that hit all at once.

This was my reply (I made a few edits so that it can be understood apart from the contents of the graduate student’s original post/note). I share here just in case it might encourage someone, inform someone, or inspire someone to create a note or have a conversation to support a fellow graduate student.

As always, blessings!


Hi! Many hugs. 

Is it possible to just take a breather-day of self-care? In K-12 teaching, we call this a personal health day. 

I am glad your health crisis is over and you’ve healed.

Are you 100% in charge of [major, not-dissertation-related, family-related task]? If so, is there anyone who could pitch in and help? Do you belong to a community or church that might help?

I am sorry to hear of the challenges in your relationship with your partner right now.

Is there a library, coffee house, park, and bookstore where you can go, declare that it is your space for working in peace, and make a work sanctuary of sorts? Perhaps you can find a variety of these, take your headphones, take a thermos of your most delicious and soothing tea, play soothing instrumental music softly, and allow yourself to run a peaceful, non-pressurized reading or writing routine while there. It’s the space where no on gets to psychologically hitch a ride along (not partner, not scary-to-write-for-instructor, not the phony police–no one).

I am sorry you have more courses than normal. 

Might it give you peace to map out everything you must read and write and submit . . . on, say, a reverse calendar? That way you can visually see it for what it is and make decisions, such as “this reading will get 70% concentration, this will get 50% effort, this will get full effort,” etc.

A simple gantt chart can function like a reverse calendar. There are tons of resources out there for making a gantt chart. I use Liquid Planner, but it has a small learning curve. I’ve heard good things about Comindwork and TomsPlanner, but haven’t used either. You may not be into such reverse calendars or software. 

I am sorry that your one instructor is scary to write for.

Would it help to think of yourself as writing for some other specific, reasonable person? Perhaps you just say to yourself, “Scary-prof-to-write-for perhaps won’t be satisfied. That’s her issue. Let me write the piece with Scary-prof-to-write-for’s requirements, but that _____ would appreciate.” To burn into your brain that you are not subject to Scary Prof’s anxiety-inducing nature, you could write the name (or grab a photo of replacement audience person from the web, print it, and tape it) to the front of the manila folder where you collect your notes, drafts, stickies, etc. for the paper. It’s hard to remember otherwise!

Here are some writing refresher sources, to perhaps help drive the phony police (imposter phenomenon) back:

Writing a Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix

There’s a PhinisheD thread or two that you might find particularly useful and inspiring: http://www.phinished.org/showthread….ndset+sabotage andhttp://phinished.org/showthread.php?…n+once+for+all. You might check out books such as “Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day” by Bolker or “Writing for Professors” by Boice or “Demystifying Dissertation Writing” by Single. These help with the process, psychology, and emotion of writing.

PhinisheD members have shared tips over the years with me. A few about how to establish a peaceful AND effective writing routine have stuck with me:

  • At the end of each writing session, leave a note for yourself about what you just finished, what you are doing, and where you can start the next time you start back up
  • At the beginning of each writing session, give yourself a tomato (25 minutes) just to re-acclimate: Perhaps skim notes, flip through articles, simply open files, make tea, stretch, write a journal entry about how you’re thinking about your writing project, review your writing plan, dictate into a recorder how you’re thinking, etc. Ease in!
  • Be tolerant of iterative writing: That is, in the beginning just type from an outline a series of g’nuff (i.e., good enough) paragraphs. After you’ve set it aside for a day, return to it and make it better. But do not refrain from getting stuff down. If it helps, at first think of it as simply speaking on paper. Hone over time. But at least give yourself the chance to do so by typing early versions. Writing is thinking. Then we hone for the reader. 

Last thing I’ll share is how I’ve come to find my academic voice: http://theblossomingfledglingresearc…thorial-voice/

Wishing you self-patience, baby-stepping, and phony-police-defeating powers and vibes!


5 thoughts on “Letter for a Dissertating Friend Who Said S/he’d Really Hit a Low Point

    • Greetings, Jonathan and Polly. Thank you for posting!

      I had similar issues when using Scrivener. I did learn eventually what to do to remedy that, but it’s been months and months since I’ve used Scrivener for chunking my writing. (ASIDE: I’m an Idea Mason convert, but that’s only because it lets me send writing chunks to MS Word where I use my Citavi Add-in. But that’s another story!). I know that if you go to Scrivener’s forum and do one of two things, you will almost certainly get the answer you need:

      1. Post the questions you have at the Scrivener forum, or
      2. search old forum posts for answers to your questions.

      This was posted at Scrivener’s website, and it contains links to both the Scrivener Mac forum and the Scrivener Windows forums:

      Support Forum
      The support forum is a great place to get quick answers to your questions. We go through the questions asked in the Technical Support forums (for Scrivener on Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows as well as Scapple) and the other main forums every day. But there are also numerous knowledgeable, friendly and helpful users who may answer your queries before we even see them. You can also search the forums to find out if your question has already been answered.

      I hope this directs you to what you need. Please let me know whether you find answers to your questions. Also, remember that Scrivener for Windows is significantly different than Windows for Mac. You may be able to do some formatting things more easily in Mac and not quite so easily in Windows, so if on a Windows PC, be sure to go the correct forum. Here’s a link about the difference between Scrivener for Mac and Scrivener for Windows: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=30&t=16056. Take care!

      • Thanks for the reply. I have been playing around with the settings and compiling using different formatting options. It is a bit of a lesson in itself just learning the software. Thanks for your reply I have made my way to the scrivener forum now.

      • You’re welcome! And yes, there’s a little learning curve, but once you get set up, you’ll be set! Glad you’re making your way to the forum. 🙂 Have a great one!

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