Dealing with Writer’s Block Part 3 of 4: What I’ve Learned and Generated in Response Over the Past 5 Years

(. . . discussion is continued from the previous post)

[4] Generative Writing or Freewriting? (NOTE: For Me the Former BLOCKS Writer’s Block and the Latter Just EXACERBATES Writer’s Block. You?)

Freewriting helps a lot of people.

I am not one of those people.

However, I tried it because I was “blocked” and people swore by freewriting and told me I was the blame for still being blocked since I refused to freewrite.

I have since learned that it is not for lack of freewriting but for lack of prewriting that I get blocked. I mean, if all it took was freewriting . . . Heck! I’d NEVER be blocked! Ever! Give me a topic and oh, I can frewrite about it! LOL! That’s not the solution for me.

But, even though I knew very clearly and viscerally from experience that freewriting harms more than helps me, I tried it for a major deadline. Because of what people said: “Z, you WANT to be stuck since you refuse to freewrite your way out of this.” This “guilted” me. So I freewrote. And freewrote more when that didn’t resolve things. And freewrote some more in efforts to keep trying and “stay the course.”

Argh. Why did I go against my own mind?!?!! Isn’t the saying “To thine own self be true”? What a mess for me. I ended up with random, unclear smatterings and smatterings of writing. Hidden somewhere within some of these freewriting documents were really, good, needed paragraphs (although needed precisely for WHAT and precisely WHERE in the draft I couldn’t say) amid mostly un-usable paragraphs. These good paragraphs were nested somewhere within 10 to 20 different Word files or Scrivener text files (within one Scrivener file).

Ultimately, my trying to parse through it all, relocate the good paragraphs, and then put it together in some kind of coherent way became a huge, distracting task. I majored in freewrite reading and copying and pasting and minored in draft production. ūüė¶ Boo!

Instead of freewriting, what works for me is sketch writing, and if need be generative writing.¬†You can read about sketch writing here.¬†Generative writing is a mode of writing which I view as similar to freewriting but more targeted. Boice here writes about generative writing and spontaneous writing. I share the gist of how I do generative writing in this post. It’s my own tweak of my merge of different generative writing strategies.

[5] The Role of Prewriting (for Me)

I can’t do academic writing if I haven’t

  1. read (physical copies/books or in digital copies in Mendeley or Citavi),
  2. taken notes (perhaps a tiny amount of preliminary note taking in Mendeley, but otherwise in a toggle-able Docear mind map at early stages and at later stages in Citavi all the way . . . because it affords every step of Dr. Single’s method as explained in the video and book linked below),
  3. annotated PDFs and books (early stages in Mendeley and later stages in Citavi. . . might copy and paste from Citavi into Docear if I need to back up and restructure and rethink),
  4. excerpted quotes from PDFs and books (Citavi),
  5. began to group my notes, quotes, annotations, etc. into topics and subjects, etc. (Citavi, Docear)
  6. Created an outline that does not function like a prison guard (i.e., that I view somewhat flexibly): Docear mind map which exports to MS Word, Scrivener, Citavi, PDF, etc.

NOTE 1: In part 4 of this post series, I include links to my videos or posts about some of these resources.

NOTE 2:¬†This book of Single’s is just about worth its weight in gold¬†regarding how helpful it is in informing academic writers on how to do prewriting that leads to WRITING. Dr. Single shares much helpful advice here: The video below gives you a glimpse of what Dr. Single’s book covers. The book is SO clarifying and will have you on your merry, productive, thesis-writing way!

(discussion is continued in the next post . . .)

Dealing with Writer’s Block Part 2 of 4: What I’ve Learned and Generated in Response Over the Past 5 Years

(. . . discussion is continued from the previous post)

Aside: Another Possible Factor: Writing Time Management

There is one other trigger of writer’s block that comes to mind: purposely trying to write too much in what is too small a span of time. Jame Hayton has an EXCELLENT webinar that discusses the given of slow academic writing at times and how to incorporate this inevitability and make good progress anyway.

The problem of sometimes needing to write too much in too small a span of time can seem unavoidable given all that today’s graduate student is juggling in his or her schedule. This is EXACERBATED, from my experience, when an individual doesn’t know how to capitalize on the 10 minutes here and there that arise throughout the day between activities, (e.g. when in a long line, when some sort of stall occurs and leaves the person waiting, or when one is just sitting and waiting for the next activity or appointment or event to begin, etc.).

To deal in general with pacing myself during a writing session, I sometimes do what I call S.M.A.R.T. tomatoes or pomodoros (this is a pomodoro technique move). To equip myself to be able to write throughout the day in the 10 minutes that pop up here and there, I carry (1) a Livescribe pen and notebook (please see my warning note about Livescribe in Part 4 of this series) and/or (2) a zip lock bag of color-schemed note cards to hold outlines and first drafts of paragraphs.

From physical to digital: Once I get the chance, I sync my Livescribe notebook with my computer. Regarding the handwriting on physical note cards, immediately after drafting on a note card, I snap a photo of the note card with my Smartphone and save it to the cloud. This way it matters not if I lose the note cards or someone takes my bag, note cards inside! I am later able to embed the photo of the note cards in my Scrivener, MS Word, or MS OneNote file and type from it right below the photo. Then I can delete the image from the file.

[2] Have a Helpful, ACTIONABLE Definition of “Writing”

James Hayton delivers a very good webinar entitled “Becoming a Better Academic Writer.” I love the definition of writing that he provides in the webinar:

Using very informative slides that he sends to you after the webinar, James explains how academic writing works (it’s different from creative writing and James Hayton brings helpful awareness about this), and this webinar along with a few others of his, in my opinion, go far in arming the writer AGAINST writer’s block.

[3] Resources, Links, etc. That Have Helped Me Most to Understand and Avoid/Prevent/Surmount Writer’s Block

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Following the last point made above, I’ll go ahead and list some of the resources that rise to the top among all the resources I’ve sought, tried, read, used, etc. to help me avoid, deactivate, and/or overcome writer’s block. These in my opinion EQUIP, EQUIP, EQUIP (and encountering the items in bullet point 6A turned things around 180!) :

  1. This document from which I learned how to make a road map for my writing based on the POINT of academic writing (advice therein resonates strongly with this book and with the content in bullet point 6A below)
  2. This short document, for having a VISION and understanding of what an academic paragraph is (made of)
  3. James Hayton’s blog and webinars, especially this one that touches upon both ¬†psychological flow and writing flow
  4. This book for understanding the definition of a paragraph and how (your) reader’s experience (your) paragraphs
  5. This YouTube channel, especially this video and this video
  6. These books to give me a sense of what an academic paper or dissertation IS and the process of building it, from idea to final draft:
    1. this book of Single’s, the content of¬†which is discussed in this video
    2. this book of Murray’s
    3. this book of Foss and Waters’s
    4. this book of Maxwell’s if the study is qualitative
    5. this book and/or this book of Creswell’s, depending on one’s needs and research design, and
  7. Other resources, many of the most helpful which I’ve collected in my blog’s blogroll links (please see the left column of the home page) or at this tumblr of mine

(discussion is continued in the next post . . .)

Dealing with Writer’s Block Part 1 of 4: What I’ve Learned and Generated in Response Over the Past 5 Years

Greetings! I hope this post finds you well.

The topic of today’s PhDchat (on Twitter at 17:30 GMT, #phdchat) is writer’s block. Accordingly, in this post I reflect on how I’ve tried to deal with what is commonly referred to as writer’s block. I discuss the definition, concepts, resources, approach, links, etc. that have helped me most to deal with, deactivate, or overcome writer’s block.

I have divided this post into the following topics:

  1. Have a Helpful, ACTIONABLE Definition of “Writer’s Block”
  2. Have a Helpful, ACTIONABLE Definition of “Writing”
  3. Resources, Links, etc. That Have Helped Me Most to Understand and Avoid/Prevent/Surmount Writer’s Block
  4. Generative Writing or Freewriting? (NOTE: For Me the Former BLOCKS Writer’s Block and the Latter Just EXACERBATES Writer’s Block. You?)
  5. The Role of Prewriting (for Me)
  6. The Urgent, Important Priority of Maintaining Mental, Digital, and Physical Organization (Because for Me Even the Slightest Bit of Chaos Can Induce Writer’s Block!)
  7. CONCLUSION: My Methodology, Physical and Digital Tools, and Workflow

I’d love to hear of what works for you to help enable you to¬†deal with, deactivate, or overcome writer’s block. Please share your knowledge, comments, or questions in the comments section, and as always, happy writing!

Alrighty, then!

On to the post . . .

[1] Have a Helpful, ACTIONABLE Definition of “Writer’s Block”

Here is my personal definition of writer’s block:

Writer’s block is¬†the lack of writing generation that results when a person attempts to write or force writing when either (1) he or she has not done sufficient prewriting, (2) he or she cannot focus on the ONE sentence or paragraph or section that can be written, or when (3) he or she has yet to consciously or subconsciously fully buy in to the idea that NOW is the time to get the writing down.

This is a helpful definition for me: It identifies the sources/causes, and it is actionable. It does not leave me helpless. The implications:

  1. If I am trying to hack through writing something and I haven’t done sufficient prewriting activities (reading, note-taking, annotating, quote-extraction, semi-flexible outlining, etc.), then I stop and prewrite and then commence writing FROM my prewriting resources.
  2. If my mind is buzzing with all sorts of thoughts such that I cannot focus on the one thing I’m trying to put down (e.g., I’m thinking about what could go into a another section so much that I can’t write about this section), then I go VOCAL (and capture my think-aloud) because what is happening at the moment is that the sequential writing medium is not “fast enough for me” because I have too much in the mind. Ways I go vocal:
    1. Put my outline into XMind, place my prewriting materials (notes, outlines, quotes,excepts, images, etc.) in front of me, and create audio note think-alouds that are 1-minute MAX IN LENGTH. I name them briefly right then if I have the time or otherwise name them later. When I replay the think-aloud audio notes, I type as I listen to them. I often do this typing RIGHT THERE in each audio note’s space for TEXT NOTES. The text notes are all exportable together to one MS Word file, PDF, etc.Before exporting, I usually don’t further organize the audio notes beyond their initial location on my XMind mind map “outline,” but if did need to further organize them, this would just consist of dragging and dropping them onto parent category nodes that collect them into topics/subjects.IMPORTANT: Any audio note over 1 minute in length is in danger of becoming a time sink/sucker. I’d rather have ten 1-minute audio notes than two 5-minute audio notes.Reflection: Doing this on a mind map is good if you are still sort of designing the structure or coming up with ideas. Alternatively . . .
    2. Perhaps more easily and quickly done, you can just copy your outline into MS One Note and attach audio notes besides each element in your outline.
  3. If I have donesufficientprewriting and if my brain is NOT racing with ideas — i.e., attempting to write too many sections at once — then something else is wrong. Typically, the problem is insufficient focus which typically for me is a function of either willpower or motivation.
    1. According to the authors of this book, studies have shown that what you eat can affect your level of will power. This is because willpower is related to your physical state and is a resource like gasoline that can run out and therefore must be repeatedly replenished. So if I need to get some sleep and come back to writing, then it is what it is. Sometimes it’s just like that.It helps me to know to think of will power as functioning like fuel instead of 100% being my moral ability to commandeer myself to do what’s best. Of course on some level deep down I want to do what’s best. However, I need to be in the right physical and mental state to allow will power to work. There are different levels of tired and different types of mental/emotional fatigue, and some levels disrupt will power. At those times, I must rest or eat or do recreational activities to replenish.
    2. I define motivation as “having fully decided and bought into the idea that something is to be done, and now.” If I don’t have motivation, I have to get some somehow IF the writing is to happen. Simple as that. For me, if I work around others who are making GREAT progress and are ON IT, that usually suffices. If I write for someone (meaning they are going to receive WHATEVER I have at a given time, regardless of how complete, and what they say matters to me), that tends to work, especially if the trajectory of my project might change based on what the readers think of what I’ve written. That is typically the case for me. True deadline + knowledge that I am a slow writer = motivation for me.One of these days I hope to evolve beyond being a deadline-driven writer. I am making a little headway: I now want to write so that I can be finished and move on to the next stages in store. Still, deadlines drive!

For a in-depth look at writer’s block — along with some very practical and distinct strategies for surmounting writer’s block — please see this book extract (at The Guardian) of one of Rowena Murray’s most excellent books on writing.

(discussion is continued in the next post . . .)

Working Well To Get Things Done: The documentation manual at this site is a strange . . . find! WELL worth a read even if you ignore the expensive product, IMO.


The above link (to a subpage of a product’s documentation manual) is surprisingly one of the most educational sites I’ve read about this topic since . . . EVER, personally. How random and strange: It was an off-topic item that showed up in my google search for something else entirely.In my opinion, the site’s content is really, really worth a read if you want to evaluate or think a little more deeply about how you operate to stay on a path you want and how you get things done. Goes from discussing the mechanism of having valued goals all the way down to the details of how to design and work through the process a goal requires.¬†Insightfully, insightfully done, IMO.Here’s a link to the documentation manual’s home page:¬†¬†NOTE: I was tempted to skip over reading the Table of Contents item 2 (on how the product works), but it’s really insightful in general about this topic.

Anyway, I’ve done pretty well at resisting posting (I’m on a hiatus from too much blogging so that I can concentrate on finishing my thesis), but I truly felt that this information is so germane to the MA, MS, PhD, etc. journey and I’m getting an education from the material! So strange.¬†¬†(It’s a¬†product documentation manual)! Somewhat of a hard link to “sit on” if it will help anyone.¬†¬†But I’ve done well and “sat on” many others, such as this one¬†…hd-research-2/.¬†¬†¬†¬†The author has some downloads at her own web site that are PHENOMENAL, though. (Really. ūüôā )

Do you have insightful resources to share about self leadership, how to operate to get things done, etc.?
Alright! Blessings, all. Be encouraged, journeyers (smile). Back to hiatus I go. 

Developing an Addiction to Academic Writing via S.M.A.R.T. Pomodoro Tomato Squashing Challenges? Hmm!


I just submitted 105 pages and received the comment “excellent scholarship.” Yay!


Before diving back into thesising, I thought I’d take 15 minutes to come here to WordPress, choose one of the draft blog posts that I never published, edit it, and publish it.

Below are the results of that endeavor. I hope it inspires reflection or helps in some way.

Also, I wanted to leave a message of encouragement that someone from an online forum shared with me to help you know that you can do whatever research/writing task that is before you (click on the image to enlarge it, for better viewing, in a new browser window):


Please enjoy the blog post below!




Post Content

A few months ago I realized something about my work habits: Instead of instigating writing addiction (see Bolker), in contrast the way I was working was instigating/reinforcing writing aversion. Well, on second thought perhaps that wording is inaccurate: If this makes any sense,¬†It’s prewriting and revising that I was averse to, and not writing per se.

Anyhoo ūüėČ . . .¬†I had an epiphany one day about a likely, contributing explanation for why I was inadvertently hurting myself with my own work habits with the result of fostering writing aversion within myself: I’d been doing¬†pomodoros¬†(wisely, I felt, because it’s physically and mentally healthier than just working hour after hour after hour, and it gives you sometimes much-needed, true feedback about your rate of progress or lack thereof). However, I realized, I hadn’t been doing smart pomodoros, as in, literally, S.M.A.R.T.¬†pomodoros.

Pomodoro technique + S.M.A.R.T. task methodology. That should work and be good, right?!??

The “T” (Time-bound) and the “A” (Attainable)

Here were my initial thoughts on blending the pomodoro technique with the S.M.A.R.T. task methodology: What if you let the “T” in the S.M.A.R.T. methodology be 25 minutes (since it’s a pomodoro task and pomodoros are typically 25-minutes in length). And for the “A” in S.M.A.R.T.: what if you were to break down all of your larger goals into specific tasks such that every task you list could be completed in 25 minutes? You could maybe even challenge yourself by attempting 35 minutes worth of work per pomodoro: If you did THAT, perhaps then you ¬†would create inspiring challenges and create the experiencing of victory all along the way (instead of that constant “I’m-still-not-done-yet-with-my-big-overarching-goal” sensation of dread). On top of that, another benefit to this is that you would more reside in a state of (psychological) flow during writing, as discussed incredibly helpfully in the “How To Stay Focused and Get Things Done” video presentation. For me, that would be HUGE: Experiencing flow while writing would be SO MUCH OF AN IMPROVEMENT over writing in such a way as to instigate/reinforce prewriting and revising aversion.

So much for the “T” and “A.” I spent a few more moments thinking this through–what a S.M.A.R.T. pomodoro technique might look like. Then I gave it a go. Below are my reflections.

The “R” (Relevant), the “M” (Measurable), and the “S” (Specific)

It turns out that the “R” and “M” in S.M.A.R.T.-goal setting are really important. For me, “R” (relevant) would mean that a task is very clearly a strong link in the chain of getting me done with the writing. “M” and “S” would mean that I list the DELIVERABLE along with the quite specific description of the task. A deliverable could be an outline, a sketch (i.e., a writing sketch of a paragraph), a paragraph in a revised state . . . what have you. But there needs to be some REAL, TANGIBLE measure indicating success. It can’t just be “I focused the whole time during the pomodoro tomato.” Focus is good. Focus + result is better. All this to say that I planned to measure my progress by whether a ¬†tomato yielded a highly relevant (useful and germane for¬†my project) deliverable (something concrete) each 25 minutes.

Trial Run #1

I tested this out. ūüôā

First I did a little investigation during which I discovered that in my¬†¬†list of pomodoro tasks, each task was huge! HUMONGOUS! I wasn’t completely doing this on purpose: I really thought I could get many of those tasks done in, like, 4 pomodoro tomatoes (i.e. 2 hours). But I was underestimating many of these. And that was adding to the sense of dread, I realized upon reflection: Always being WAY OVER your number of previsioned pomodoro techniques can really start to consciously or subconsciously feel bad–even if it was a setup to begin with and you’re the author of it all!

Oh, boy: Every task in the list was at least a 5-tomato task or 6-tomato task and most often a 10-tomato task, not including interruptions and errors. My goodness!

The way I was configuring my pomodoro tasks and task list in Orkanizer, it would take a loooooong time for me to EVER feel a sense of getting anything done. That can get demoralizing and become a downer REAL FAST when doing the isolating work that thesising often can be.

So I changed things: I broke my tasks down into subtasks that could be done in 1 pomodoro tomato, “for reals” as my students would say. In that way, every 30 minutes instead of thinking . . .

“I’m stiiiiiiiiiiillllllll working at the task of ____. I haven’t achieved it yet, O. M. G., and it’s been so-and-so many hours of work. O. M. G! I’m so ______ (fill int the blank.)”

. . . instead, the precise same rate of progress¬†could mean accomplishment and thus encouragement and joy. Posthaste I configured my tasks in the Orkanizer pomodoro manager to be finishable in 25 minutes and set my number of previsioned tomatoes to 1. (And from hereon out, all prevision numbers would be set to 1, right? ūüôā )


Did this matter? Did this work?

It worked for 2 tomatoes in a row that first attempt (and this now meant 2 tasks and 2 deliverables!). And it was indeed true: Over time (with more and more use of this strategy), I began to feel very different about the same progress that otherwise would have seemed like “Yeah, I guess that was one more step, but I’m still not done with the task I’m working on. Just 7 tomatoes to go, and then victory. Hoorah?”

And I was SO proud of myself because I had set each pomodoro goal a little high (about 35 minutes of work for the 25 minute). That gave me a different type of challenge and motivation in addition to just needing/wanting to be done with the thesis. It activated curiosity and challenge and my schoolgirl’s “winner” mentality: “I betcha I get this 35-minute-long task done in 25. Betcha. Oh, watch me. Bet!”

Aside: I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read about how graduate work is a different animal than secondary or college work, and thus typical high-achievers might find graduate work especially challenging, psychologically-speaking, when they hit walls they must overcome. Being un-used to encountering walls, and all.¬†Nowadays, as a novice researcher/writer, more often than not I’m in a psychological state of “This-is-another-new-thing-or-skill . . . am-I-actually-doing-this?” So with the slightly-overestimated pomodoro goal, it was a little nice getting to use my schoolgirl “I can do it, just watch” mentality a little. ūüôā

Anyhoo: That first attempt at the strategy, I was working so hard for that deliverable and the reward I’d set up for myself that in the middle of the first pomodoro tomato I developed a technique for speeding things up! (I was also trying to avoid reinforcement of writing aversion at all costs, because I can’t afford it!). And, the rewards kind of matter (i.e., make a difference): I was surprised by that! I’ve tended to have the mentality that just getting done is reward and motivation enough. But these small rewards added something to it all: Instigation/reinforcement of writing affinity. INTERESTING!

I’ve tried this again and again since that first attempt, and I can honestly say that when I’ve “needed” it, it’s transformed things for me. I don’t have to work this way ALL the time, but when I look around and notice that I’m close to HATING the writing process, I realize: Uh oh: I’ve been stressing myself out with these huge, global, globs of writing goals. Time to work smartly.

S.M.A.R.T. pomodoros may not work for everyone. For me, the afforded change lies mainly in my attitude towards prewriting and revising. I think the big take-away for me is not that people’s pomodoros should necessarily be S.M.A.R.T. pomodoros, but that the way one works should work FOR oneself.

A Final Thought: The Writing Reward System and Its Nature MATTERS!

Working on Developing My Writing AddictionAs I alluded to above, if you reward EVERY achieved pomodoro challenge, it can instigate and reinforce writing affinity. My rewards (of course earned every 25 minutes unless the timer runs out on me) include things like my favorite-est, most-est delicious-est tea, hearing favorite and nostalgic songs on Spotify (see the image above), stretching or doing a few crunches to get a little exercise in (makes me feel good to take care of myself), etc.


Are you a writing addict? How do you ensure that you are developing writing addiction or writing affinity? Does the writing deadline suffice for you so that the ideas of writing aversion, the pomodoro technique, S.M.A.R.T. pomodoros, etc. all seem like time-wasting hogwash? It’s fine if it does: Someone told me as much! Please post your comments! They will help, and we’d love to hear from you.

Well, as always, many blessings and happy writing. Take care!

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:¬†….ndset+sabotage¬†and…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!

Some Ideas for Surmounting Lack of Motivation


Below are ten ideas for surmounting lack of motivation. Please chime in with your ideas by commenting. Many blessings! Scenario: Say it is time to conduct the analysis of your data so that you can present data findings, write up … Continue reading

[Quick Reflection] An Aha! Moment: “Visualize and Envision to Publish . . . and not Perish!”

An oft-cited scripture from the christian bible is that of Proverbs 29:18. In the King James version of the bible, it reads:

Where there is no vision, the people perish.


Such a strong word, no?

Around my stomping grounds of late (well, actually, of the least 6 years), the word “perish” is usually uttered or printed within the admonition “Publish or perish!”

Hmm! Common to both of these ideas is the word “perish.” So . . . what if I let the word “perish” function as a hinge while I try to reconcile these two ideas?

So far I’ve come up with this blend: “Visualize and envision to publish . . . and not perish.” In other words, if I don’t want my writing and writer’s identity to perish, I probably need to visualize and maintain a vision:

  • a vision for my writing process,
  • a vision for the work day,
  • a vision for the work hour,
  • a vision of the produced draft,
  • etc.

I took 1.5 hours this morning to really think about this. Because today needs to be a day that I produce (I know you’ve been here!).

Below are the graphic results (CLICK TO ENLARGE) of my serious attempt at having a VISION for how each span of working time (work day) “should” go and a VISION for each work hour.

So, are you strategic about how you work–about how you spend the work day and about how you spend an hour working? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.¬†In the meanwhile, I wish you vision, and I send you vibes!¬†Images are below! TO ENLARGE AN IMAGE, PLEASE CLICK IT.¬†

Blessings! ūüôā

[By Z] Photo - Vision for Work Day (edited)


You Want LiquidPlanner: It’s the Reverse Calendaring Answer and a Dream Work Environment


Having a reverse calendar is pretty important, IMHO. I have never had too much luck with getting a good, accurate, full/complete reverse calendar made.

. . . Until now.¬†I now have a “soul-satisfying” reverse calendar that is ridiculously realistic, asks me to “okay” a recalculation of the reverse calendar as I tick of tasks as “done” or when I don’t and the estimated finish date passes, etc. The app itself does SO MUCH MORE in a very “get in and get out and on with your work” kind of way.¬†


  • If you’ve been fine without it and don’t really need an accurate and/or constantly auto-updating reverse calendar . . . ignore this post wholly.
  • If you don’t like stuff like Kanbanflow and just prefer paper-and-pencil, CERTAINLY ignore this post wholly!¬†
  • If you don’t like Internet apps even a little, then likely ignore.¬†Note:¬†I get the aversion, but for this one I gladly make an exception. It’s that important to my accurate time and¬†task management.

Okay: I’ve tried my best to save people time from reading on who don’t need to or won’t benefit.

On to the information . . .

Fast, simple, fluid environment–compatible with all¬†operating systems. Yay! NOTE: REQUIRES INTERNET ACCESS, THOUGH.
I made the reverse calendar (i.e. auto-scheduled list of tasks) in a simple, fluidy application in a short amount of time, despite having about 52 tasks and tiny subtasks on my reverse calendar (everything it will take to finish, 28 of which are to fill in lit review forms).

FINALLY: A truly, truly realist calendar!!!
This app allows you to enter best case Рworst case scenario RANGES OF TIME for how long each task will take you to complete. Then it schedules all tasks so that the completion date for the FINAL task is estimated for you as a range.

Here are two videos I made about it (if you let the videos load and EXPAND THEM TO FULL BROWSER SIZE, you can see better/more):

Video 1 (3:14 in duration): Intro . . . a super fast overview that doesn’t show the reverse calendar, but just quickly shows the app¬†work space

Video 1:

Video 2 (9:48 in duration): Shows how you can start the timer and stop the timer on a task, link from the task to the FILE ON YOUR COMPUTER related to the task, and most of the major details about the app as a whole

Video 2:

Just had to share, in case this can really help some folks to start getting a grip on their project/thesis/dissertation/tasks/motivation/focus/etc. You REALLY see your project once you have a reverse calendar. This one just stays accurate the whole way through. SOBERING and ENCOURAGING all at once, ya know?


Academic Burnout: Some Ways to Inch Along until You’re Fully Back Up and Running

Academic burnout is real and serious. When I went through a very long bout of severe burnout, the things that helped me to inch along were the following:


I determined the causes and sources of my burnout and eliminated all causes and sources, as much as was within my power.



When I just couldn’t draft,¬†doing easy/organizational type stuff that set me up to work well and created desire to work.

Talking my writing into audio files.

One guy “wrote” his entire dissertation this way and then just hired a typist to type it up!

Even when I ended up discarding many of the ideas I talked out, this activity kept me engaged and working at the thesis.

Tips/Notes about #2:
If you try this, it is imperative to keep your audio files labeled, 2 minutes or less in length, and well organized. Audio files longer than 2 minutes are HARD to listen to when you’re excited/motivated, much less when you’re burnt out.

I have found XMind to be AWESOME for this. Easy, easy, easy: Make your mind map of labelled nodes that is basically an outline of your writing project, right click on a node, and speak! Replay, edit, annotate to your heart’s content. Later, to actually do real drafting,¬†play¬†back a node’s audio recording and type into Scrivener/Word/etc. as it plays back.

Only (super-duper) small, small drawback to audio-notemaking in XMind: You can only create one audio note per node. If you want to add another audio not to a node, you have to create a child node to contain the audio note. Not a big deal!

NOTE: Playing back and hearing back my “talk=writing” about my thesis really kept my mind on it and motivated me to do some additional work to improve the talk/writing, no matter how little. Sometimes I just had to change MODES of working: “Writing”¬†became “talking-then-typing-up-the-audio-playback.”

And, there has been an AWESOME side effect from doing this: The readability of my prose improved!!!

Working around seriously-working, momentum-having, people whom I found inspirational or whose opinions about me mattered to me at least some .

There is something about being in the presence of people who are about their business that helps you engage some–even if it’s not up to the normal intensity–with one’s own project. I would just watch them and think, “Wow. They are seriously planning on graduating and capitalizing upon this blessing of having the opportunity to pursue this degree. They are not playing around! What am¬†I¬†doing with today? Wow. Well, hmm: Truth is,¬†I really am¬†dealing with burn out. But, well, looking at so-and-so and the peace he/she has in working and moving forward, perhaps I can at least manage/do ________ today.”

Visualization.¬†I can’t tell you how effective for me it is to take a moment–just as I’m sitting down to start working–to visualize myself holding the end-result of the upcoming working session (e.g. a three-page, DONE section). I wonder now all the time why the HECK I don’t start every single session with visualization! For me, working without a PICTURE of the end-goal in mind is like just aimlessly sitting down to “do stuff.”¬†So, given how impactful these activities are for me, you would¬†think, then, that I would now faithfully make a plan for each work session and do a visualization of the end result of each work session. But I don’t often remember to do these things!¬†

And this, specifically, is what doing those things does for me: The visualization genuinely amps my thesis-related and work¬†desire(s)¬†and makes me goal-oriented . . . in both my thoughts¬†and¬†feelings. It’s like the visualization causes me to metaphorically do a wistful hand extension to the end product that I am visualizing and causes me to think, “Yes . . . I want¬†thaaaaaaaaaaaat¬†(done section, finished paragraphs, completed figure, etc.)”¬†It’s a commitment/dedication move that is SERIOUSLY EFFECTIVE.¬†

#6 (The effectiveness of THIS one surprises me all of the time!)
On my Windows¬†smartphone, I have a message-containing “tile” that periodically “flips” so as to grab my attention.

  • One side of the flipping tile says: “Motivation gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
  • The other side of the flipping tile says: “You can finish if you WANT to. :-)”

For some reason, this flipping tile is VERY powerful for me. These two messages go STRAIGHT to both mind and heart: I don’t have to every moment or work session be motivated to work; I just need to keep up the habit of doing SOMETHING that truly helps me progress–whether organizational, motivational, substantive, etc.

And the other side reminds me to MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT: This is¬†only¬†going to happen if I want it to. It’s not going to happen if I don’t actively want it to happen.

Every time I read that “if you want it” side of the tile, I automatically (without thinking) ask and answer the question: “Yeah, but¬†do I¬†want it?” For me, if I’m honest, that answer is¬†always¬†yes. This has never changed. And then the little tile quickly flips around and tells me that, yeah, motivation may have gotten me started, but¬†habit¬†is what’s getting me¬†finished.¬†

The end result? I get to¬†downplay motivation¬†so that motivation as an issue is not a stumbling block, and I get to focus on¬†habit maintenance. For some reason, habit maintenance is less emotional for me and more a robotic type thing¬†that my heart doesn’t have to approve!¬†¬†I can just sort of go on “auto-pilot” because it is now just about habit maintenance and not about “feeling it.”

I say to myself, “Okaaaaaaaaay. Need to sit down at the computer and put in an hour. Let me close my eyes and visualize the small deliverable that would be GOOD to create real quick. Okay. Let me open the file/program. Hmm. Looks like I need some tea. Let me put on the tea and, while it’s making, scroll around in the file. ” This may not be work for all, but as I mentioned at the start of sharing all of this, this was about INCHING along, because that was all I could do as someone seriously burnt out.

Blogging to share what I learned or was good at already, as a grad student, to stay engaged with thesising

An article on burn out recommended it. People accused me of procrastinating. I was SEVERELY burnt out!: Brain wasn’t having thesising!¬†Blogging saved my project for several reasons, not the least of which was that seeking graduate student-relevant websites to LINK TO THE BLOG was how I found PhinisheD!¬†

May not help all, but blogging gave me a sense of responsibility and dignity: People emailed me to tell me how helpful certain posts were and asked me about my project. This made me feel like I should probably finish that thing some day, since I had the gall to blog to “help” those newer to grad school than I, ya know?¬†

So, many people criticized my attempts at maintaining engagement in the project when those attempts came in the form of organizing. (“How many times are you going to reorganize, Z?”) But, at¬†least¬†I was thinking about my project. I was NOT on Facebook. I was NOT video gaming. (Though I don’t judge anyone there at all!!!). I was re-reading “How to Write a Lot.” I was increasing my math ed research knowledge (I read a lot during the burn out), which has lent to¬†such¬†confidence now in my planing and writing. I was learning about Kanbanflow, for example. My mentioning of Kanbanflow was its first mention at Phinished, and Kanbanflow has ended up being a blessing for many PhinisheD pholks.

Bottom line: I was burnt out. Audio recording into XMind, thesis-related blogging, sharing organizational finds, reading research and writing guides, visualizing, and working near “on it” folks was better than crying about it and doing NOTHING even remotely thesis-related.

I don’t know if ANY of that will help you, but I do know that you will find can find your way and¬†inspire others in the process.

Know that many folks are behind you! Keep calm, and carry on!