Virtuosity 11.11

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Archive for the category “On writing”

What to do when you’re waiting for feedback on your comp

220px-montregousset001Each time I submitted a large assignment, like my comprehensive exams or my dissertation proposal, it took several weeks before I received feedback from my advisor and my committee. While I waited for feedback, I worked on other things. Here’s some suggestions on what you can be doing while you wait for comprehensive examination feedback:

  1. Write a memo about the process. Note the work you did, what you were thinking at the time, and take stock of how you’re going to take things forward.
  2. If this is not your last comprehensive exam (all institutions are different when it comes to the doctoral process), start on your next comp. You can begin outlining, framing key ideas, look for exemplars, etc.
  3. If this is your last exam, start working on the research question. Two books that I highly recommend are Terrill’s (2015) Writing a Proposal for Your Dissertation, and Bloomberg and Volpe’s (2015) Completing Your Qualitative Dissertation: A Roadmap from Beginning to End. Read example proposals from your department, and study how they are put together.
    1. Work on your conceptual framework. An excellent book to help you understand the different theoretical framings for your study is Ravitch and Riggan’s (2016) Reason and Rigor: How Conceptual Frameworks Guide Research.
  4. Check your transcripts, and talk with your advisor to make sure you’ve got the credit loads that you need. If not, now is a good time to make up work and tie up any loose ends.
  5. Update your CV, your websites, your portfolios, etc.

Take some time to relax, and unwind! Do yoga, exercise, or just lay down and breathe while you relax your muscles. When I was working on my exams, it felt as if I was on ultra stress mode every day for months. This takes a lot out of you, so remember to breathe and go slowly. You need to recover because the next big step is coming up!


Scrivener and Nonlinear Writing

I find that the beginning of any academic paper is an intimidating place to start writing. For some reason, blank screens constipate my mind, and the ideas stop flowing. I can barely get past the second word on my first sentence before I feel like blowing the whole thing up — except there’s nothing there to blow up to begin with!

To solve this rather peculiar problem, I write the findings first. It’s easier to write what has already been said, rather than (how I feel) making things up in the intro. Although programs like Word almost force you to write from the beginning, I’ve found that Scrivener’s nifty way of breaking each part of the paper down, so that you can start at any section, and go for it!

You can read more about how grad students can use Scrivener by checking out the DoctoralWriting SIG blog, which is chock full of helpful tips.

Happy Writing and Researching!


Write Before Coffee

It took me nearly two years to cultivate a daily writing habit that worked. First, I went with word count, then I went with designating an amount of time for writing each day. Both of these goals were too overly ambitious, and they ended quickly.

Although I’ve written in far more detail about how to form a writing habit in a previous post, here, I will outline the two main tenants that helped me:

(1) Form new habits around the habits that you already have.
You will be more successful in creating a habit when it is associated with a habit you already have. For example, I write first, before I get my coffee. I’m a coffee addict, so there’s no way I’d forget to get my coffee. Thus, by forming a habit whereby I may not have my coffee until I’ve written, coffee becomes a reinforcing reward for the writing I’ve done.

(2) Your goal is not on productivity, you must focus on forming a habit, first.
Word count or writing for a set amount of time to move a project forward are very good goals for productivity. However, if you have not formed an addiction around writing first, achieving the productivity that you want can be difficult. Hence, the first thing you must do is form a writing habit that becomes an addiction. To do this, make your habit-forming goal reasonable and consistent. For example, I freewrite for 10 minutes every day. JUST 10. This means I know that every day, I will be writing. It doesn’t sound like much at all, but believe me, it’s not the amount of writing you do that you are trying to achieve. What you are trying to do, is accomplish the goal of getting the writing done. Every. Day.

So, for today’s writing prompt:

Think about your habits and addictions (e.g., brushing your teeth, getting coffee, taking lunch at a particular time), then schedule your writing before your normal habit. When will that be for you? Second, what’s a reasonable goal that you want to achieve in order to get this habit to work?

Need a push? Here’s some other posts I’ve written on the subject of writing sprints, journaling, and habit formation:

Revisit your goals

aaeaaqaaaaaaaajzaaaajdy1mjiynwziltbhnjktndaznc05yjvkltfimjmym2riodvknwTomorrow will be March. In March, the nights get shorter, the days get a little warmer, and many parts of the world get ready for the spring.

To me, I view winter like flowers. Beneath the snow, everything is cold, and quiet. It’s a time for introspection, reflection, and inner growth. Winter is a time for sleeping, for regenerating, and for preparing for the days ahead.

How did you do on your yearly goals? Today, write a reflection on the state of your progress. Be honest with yourself, but let go of any guilt, if you felt you did not progress as quickly as you thought you would. Think about the reasons for why you are where you are with your progress.

Then, revisit your plans and smaller goals. Plans are not set in stone. Instead, they are flexible and adaptable, according to changing conditions. Make the changes that you need to, let go of the things that keep you back, then, when you are ready, we face March together!


Finding love – a writing prompt

lovevalentineEven though everyone seems to focus on romantic love, there is more than one kind of love in the world. Today, find your loves. By love, I don’t mean your partner(s) – what I mean is, “What do you love and why?” Today, make an assessment of the people and things that you love. I’ve given you a list to get started!

People I love: Make a list of the people you love. i.e. Who are your family, friends, acquaintances, and people that you love? What is it about them that makes you love them? Try to think of the unusual sorts of love that you have and give to people. Love comes in many different forms, and it could also be an appreciation, a gratefulness, an affection for others.

e.g., I love the crossing guard lady that works by my school. Although she and I have barely talked, I admire her dedication to her job. Even when the frozen wind howls, she is still there, bundled up so that I can only see her eyes. Yet, she waves at me with a gloved hand. When children cross the street, I love the feeling of knowing that for that moment, they are safe and under her protection.

Things that I love: This list could probably go on indefinitely! What are all the different things you love? These could be objects, they could be concepts, they could be little things, or big things. Again, push your boundaries on what love is and what it means. Explore why you love certain things.

e.g., I love cloudless mornings where I can see the golden sun. I love my warm coffee, my technology, and my warm wool socks. The things I love give me joy, either because they help me do certain things to help me move forward, or they are things that make me feel happy.

What I love doing: This list is about the actions, practices, and “stuff” that you love to do. They can be simple, little actions, or big actions. Either way, think about why you love doing them.

e.g. I love to take deep breaths, because they remind me to gather myself and pull inward. When I inhale, I’m refreshing the oxygen and energy in my body. When I exhale, I release the stress, the tension, and the negative thoughts. 

I love writing, because it gives me a chance to think, reflect, and work toward my destiny. Writing gives me the ability to speak up for the things I believe in, and it helps me transform into a better version of myself. 

Did I miss any “love” categories? Feel free to share your love in the comments!

Find your passion

passionGo beyond just thinking about what you like to do. What are you very passionate about? What are the issues, things, and activities that light you on fire? 

Today’s challenge is to stretch yourself! Explore! Go beyond your imagination, and dream of the things you never dared dream about, or thought you could dream before.

Find what drives you, and what you are passionate about. If you already know, make a list. If you don’t know, it’s time to think about them, because, when the days are dark, you must tap into your passion and your fury to keep you going.


Attack the overwhelming task

What task seems overwhelming to you right now? Spend a little bit of time writing about what the task is, and why it feels so overwhelming.

e.g. For me, it was comprehensive exams. Oftentimes, I got lost in too much of the literature. It felt like I was chipping away at an iceberg with a fork, and getting nowhere. There were high stakes involved, some of the literature I could barely understand, and I felt entirely uncomfortable feeling so lost on a daily basis.

Break the task down into manageable steps by creating boundary lines. Make a list of the small steps you need to do in order to finish the task.

A lion cannot eat a zebra in one gulp – that would be too much, and this is why any task seen in its entirety can be very overwhelming! Instead, be like the lion, and take bites. Each bite is a little task. Chew, swallow, REPEAT.

e.g. For me, my comprehensive exam consisted of several smaller main tasks: (1) read the literature, (2) summarize the literature, (3) find overall themes in the literature, (4) write about the themes I found. Then, after listing these smaller steps, I can break it down even further, and then set goals that I can do each day.

Task 1: Read the literature: (1) find one paper regarding my topic, (2) read the paper, (3) write out the main ideas/quotes/summary of the paper.

A goal: Read X amount of papers today.

Task 2: Summarize the literature: (1) read the paper, write out the summary, (2) put the summary on a separate sheet, and make it searchable with tags and key words

A goal: Write summaries for X amount of papers today

Task 3: Find overall themes in the literature: (1) code the summaries you’ve written, (2) make a codebook for each code, and what they mean

A goal: Code X amount of summaries today, and add the new codes to your codebook

Write your daily goal, based on your smaller tasks. You must climb the mountain step by step. To avoid getting overwhelmed, sometimes, it helps to concentrate on simply putting one foot forward in front of the next. Step-by-step. Concentrate on taking steps.



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