Journaling and the Morning Pages

In my previous post I wrote about the value of journaling during my dissertation process. In this post, I’ll share a major shift in my practice after completing my PhD thanks to my discovery of Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. Cameron’s book is an indispensable tool for spurring creativity, and includes all kinds of nuggets for helping the “blocked artist” out of her rut.* The tip I’ve been using most since reading her book a year ago is what she calls the “morning pages,” a simple but wondrously useful tool that involves committing to three pages of longhand writing every morning. When you write the morning pages, you shouldn’t worry about it making any sense. They are not necessarily a reflection on the day (as my nightly journaling had been) but stream of consciousness stuff. As Cameron stresses:
There is no wrong way to do the morning pages. These daily morning meanderings are not meant to be art. Or even writing….Nothing is too pretty, too silly, too stupid, or too weird to be included (p. 10).

Three Tricks to Finishing that Dissertation

Anyone who has completed a PhD dissertation, or who is currently in the throes of completing one knows what it’s like- It’s this marathon writing session that lasts for years. After jumping through multiple supervised hurdles (coursework, comprehensive/qualifying exams, prospectus defense, teaching evaluations, language requirements, etc.) professors tell you to go away and do it. Just do it.

And at that point, you are absolutely qualified to do it. And you are absolutely able. But you spend several days procrastinating and scared of where to begin, and overwhelmed by how much information has to go in, and what the right balance of evidence to argument to sources to lit review should be. And once you do get started, you keep running into places where you’ve written yourself into a corner, or where you discover that you are writing about the same phenomena in every chapter when maybe those phenomena should be their own chapter…

Last month I was invited to speak to Vanderbilt’s dissertating PhD students of History as part of a roundtable on dissertation-writing. While I prepared, I thought through some topics to talk about – do I talk about how to organize your sources? How to figure out the frame that best showcases your evidence and argument? Writing grants to help keep you financially afloat while you work? The digital tools that can help streamline the writing process? How to form and structure a dissertation writing group?

When I got there, they didn’t want to know any of that stuff. These are PhD students at a top-20. They didn’t get there by not knowing how to do this stuff or how to figure out how to do it. Their questions were about the things that no one tells you while writing a dissertation- things that you really only learn by doing and by asking someone who has. Continue reading “Three Tricks to Finishing that Dissertation”

The Writing Buddy System

In last week’s post about her writing goals for the year, Tanya mentioned that she and I have been connecting with each other regularly under the guise of Writing Buddies. This Writing Buddy system began with an email invitation by her as she was setting her 2016 goals at the end of last year.  Since the New Year, we’ve been checking in with each other regularly about each other’s respective projects, ideas, and creative dreams. In this post, I’ll talk more about this concept, give some tips for anyone interested in starting their own writing buddy system, and reflect a bit on how its helped my writing practice.

Continue reading “The Writing Buddy System”

To Learn the Trick*


I’ve spent most of my life with Ray Power of WordsBradbury’s voice in my head, as told by my dad.** Years ago, my Dad met the author, who told him “Write 500 words every day.” It’s part of that short-story-a-week idea he’s better known for – at that pace, you’ll have a short story in a week.

I hear the 500-word mantra in my head nearly every day; it’s following the rule that’s been most difficult outside of graduate school. Then, 500 words a day was easy. All I had was time to read and write. Not any more. In the past five years, I can show you every excuse in the book about why I never wrote. At first, it just wasn’t a priority. I was intellectually exhausted after six years of graduate school and the emotional challenges of the job market. Switching gears to high school teaching brought new challenges, mostly in relation to time. My days became more structured; my nights (and weekends) full of grading and lesson plans and just getting through that first year. Pregnancy and motherhood in the second year and after shifted my life in ways I had sort of imagined, but couldn’t fully prepare for. Continue reading “To Learn the Trick*”