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 . . .)

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. 🙂 )

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 😉 . . . 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. 🙂

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? 🙂 )


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. 🙂

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!

A Probable Academic Writing Workflow, Given What’s Available as of January 10, 2014

PDF: A Probable Academic Writing Workflow, Given What’s Available as of April 16, 2014

Two to three years ago I was exploring academic writing software such as Qiqqa and Docear. Since then, their developers have made impressive improvements and additions to them, and there’s been a FLOOD of new academic software into the mix. I’ve somewhat had my nose to the grindstone and have missed some of the new software, such as PaperPile. In light of these recent changes, I have decided to maintain a record of my latest estimation of the best personal academic writing workflow that would work for me. This doesn’t mean I’m going to make tweaks now: I’m submitting soon and want to focus there. As has been said by many folks, everyone’s BEST academic writing workflow will necessarily be very individual, to accommodate preferences and needs. For instance, I can’t handle wondering about whether everything that was supposed to be cited has a citation, and whether every citation has an entry in my works cited. Therefore I don’t anticipate removing Citavi from my workflow ANY time soon. Citavi gives me great clarity and confidence in that area. Others trial Citavi and am glad I like it but keep EndNote (or their reference manager of choice). But ask them to let go off Scrivener, and you might have a fight on your hands!

The Process of My Decision Making

Instead of aiming to have the lowest possible number of apps in my workflow, I aimed for

  • Sustainability: Will this product remain available for a while and are any costs affordable?
  • Program and work data stability and data protection
  • Psychology and nature of academic writing
  • And utility: Is what I do or make with this program actually important for my writing? After controlling for sustainability and stability factors, does this program do/enable this thing I need in the way best for me? And . . . OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE: Can I move or use what I produce or do in this program out to the next place it needs to be to ultimately result in finished, not-too-hard-to-then-format, sharable writing?

In the end, there’s much overlap among the programs I included (every developer is trying to be comprehensive), not every program is “perfect” (whatever that means!), but what each program does well can be accomplished with no other software (or not well) and helps me finish up writing.

A key take-away I had from completing this exercise was to understand the overlap among academic programs I use and to NOT do double work: Choose which program does the overlapped task best, and work efficiently by using THAT program ONLY for the task.

Here are my preliminary thoughts, then, captured on a PDF and prioritizing what might enable me to write best and most “safely.” Please click on the following link to enlarge the PDF (which contains hyperlinks to the software mentioned in the workflow diagram). The “scary” thought I’m having right now is that if Qiqqa developers were to add the functions of outlining, quote-attaching to outlines, and citation-attaching to quotes, I’d be all messed up! (What to do then, what to do then, what to do, then!) It’s crazy. That’s why I’m taking a step back and just writing down my thoughts on tweaks and keeping with what I’ve got that’s working for me. PDF: A Probable Academic Writing Workflow, Given What’s Available as of January 10, 2014 UPDATE: Now that I’m sitting down to draft, I’m remembering Idea Mason as an amazing outline, sketch-write, and zeroeth draft environment. I have to add it to the mix!: PDF: A Probable Academic Writing Workflow, Given What’s Available as of April 16, 2014


There’s just too much out there now! I feel it’s good and it’s not. On the one hand, you can spend a lot of time doing work and putting resources into a program that makes it hard to then use the work and resources.So you’d better trial software and plan and choose carefully. On the other hand, there can be no end to exploring these apps and thinking through workflow. Rule I’m imposing on myself: If the workflow you’ve got is working, there needs to be a mighty good reason to make tweaks. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments. How often do you tweak your workflow? What would you hate to do without in your workflow? Is there too much of all this “stuff” out there now, such that it’s getting confusing? Or is all this influx of choice good? Click the bubble to comment! 🙂 Take care! Mickey

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

I’ve almost overcome my “I-need-huge-chunks-of-time-to-write” problem with THIS excerpt/advice of Rowena Murray’s


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Greetings, all! I hope this post finds you well.So, a few months back I asked around for advice on how to overcome the problem of thinking I can only get writing down if I have HUGE CHUNKS of time available.Then I accidentally obtained a … Continue reading

[Videos] Idea Mason Demos: A RIDICULOUSLY FABULOUS Academic Research and Writing Software Program


Last post I introduced Idea Mason. Let me just say: Words cannot express how clear I am on my project, thinking, writing, and revising with Idea Mason. I switched from Scrivener to Idea Mason and am ELATED. This is one … Continue reading

Major Academic Reading and Writing Workflow Revision: Introducing Idea Mason into the Flow!


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Hi, all! It’s been awhile since I last posted (major writing deadlines). I hope you’ve been well! Well, while doing a search of the forum at, I accidentally came across a program named Idea Mason. Their website is at … 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! 🙂

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


A Dissertation/Thesis Writing Workflow You’ll Love. It Works. It Flows. [SHORTER VERSION]

[SHORTER VERSION OF THE POST. See detailed version here.]

April 16, 2014 Update: Please view this workflow PDF, check recent blog posts, and visit the Tools pages in this blog’s menu to see updates to my approach as I make them.

January 14, 2014 Update: I still largely use but have tweaked the workflow below. I share the tweaks at the detailed version of this post. Also, this PDF provides an overview of the tweaks, along with links to videos and relevant software websites. Many blessings, and happy writing!



Many dissertation and thesis writers LOVE Dr. Single’s System for Academic Writing. I’m one such thesis writer. It is probably the most enlightening thing I’ve ever encountered about academic writing, aside from George Gopen’s exceedingly eye-opening, very awesome work, “The Sense of Structure: Writing from the Reader’s Perspective.”

I looked up the other day and realized that my digital workflow FLOWS very fluidly now (despite being both digital and physical and being comprised of multiple programs). And it employs Dr. Single’s System beautifully (well, in my humble opinion–smile).

The digital “stars” of the workflow are: Mendeley, Citavi, and Scrivener. (Aside: Citavi is Windows only at the moment, though a cross-platform, web-based version is in development according to Citavi’s creators. From what I’ve heard (not much Mac experience here), Mac users might try Papers instead of Citavi.)

The digital “supporting actors” of the workflow are: LiquidPlanner, ProWritingAid, and your text editor of choice (I use MS Word).

Below I share the workflow. It’s simple (as far as simplicity in thesis writing goes)!

I would LOVE to hear from you, so please feel free to add your comments and tips. Feel free to use it to inspire your own. And as always, happy writing/working!

Best wishes,


NOTE: The Mac version of Scrivener is more robust than the Windows version of Scrivener that I use. Thus, some of the steps (such as the Read-Aloud editing step) can be done within Scrivener Mac instead of Adobe.


The workflow, the short version:

  1. Manage your long writing as a Project in LiquidPlanner. Get the free, education-usage subscription if you qualify. It’s quick to obtain.
  2. Store, organize, tag, and annotate PDFs in Mendeley.
  3. Collect notes and quotes in Citavi. Citavi will take CARE OF YOU, citation and bibliography-wise! PAPERS is not Citavi, but if on a Mac, perhaps try the program PAPERS until Citavi’s web-based version becomes available.
  4. Outline your long paper in Scrivener, and save the corresponding, blank outline structure of folders and component text files AS A TEMPLATE.
  5. Create two versions of the file using this template: (1) a “do-the-drafting-here” instance of the file and (2) a “just-receive-and-store-print-ready-final-drafts-here” version of the file. Some folks may additionally want to create a “freewrite-here” version of the file. NOTE: That’s a bit much for me (3 Scrivener files to manage), and since freewriting can be done via Scrivener’s global Scratchpad, I use that.
  6. Before you write each paragraph, to help you write the paragraph more efficiently than not, plan the points (i.e. paragraphs) you need to make for each section of your thesis/dissertation. AND THIS IS THE KEY: DO THIS POINT/PARAGRAPH PLANNING VIA THE COMMENTS FEATURE IN SCRIVENER (see detailed explanation of this in the detailed version of this post).
  7. While drafting: Copy and paste quotes and notes from Citavi into Scrivener as needed. Citations and bibliography creation is happening when you do this. See
  8. Two editing tips/techniques/tools:
    1. Save your writing as a PDF, play it aloud, and edit based on editing needs you hear. Be carefully about alternate spellings you can’t “here.” 😉
    2. Copy and paste a (small enough) section of your text into Pro Writing Aid’s editor, click the “Analyze” button, and mindfully utilize/implement suggestions at your discretion.
  9. Copy and paste (or export/import) finalized section drafts into the version of the Scrivener file that exists just only to receive and store completely polished, ready-to-compile-together-and-then-be-printed-out section drafts.
  10. Export this Scrivener file to MS Word if you need to: There, take all of the bibliographies generated for each section and condense them into one bibliography at the end of the paper, do final edits and proofreading, and be done!

HONORABLE MENTION: XMind for Outlining and Creating Audio Notes

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention XMind for brainstorming in the form of mind mapping. This is usually how I discover/create/hone my outlines. Good writing of very long works hinges on the outline: A long work’s outline needs to be authentic–the one you REALLY want to write from, not just the product of an exercise just so you can claim have an outline–and it needs to be quite thoughtful. XMind can get your outline there! And it’s FUN: You can attach audio notes to every mind map node in XMind; you can dive down into nodes to get to a zoomed-in view; and you can (re)emerge up from inside a node to get to a higher-level view.

As always, happy writing!!!

NOTE: Access the detailed version of the workflow here.