Misc. Helpful Advice

10 Wise Steps in Writing a Dissertation

Step 1

    • Ask your department chair if you can skip the dissertation and get a Ph.D. solely on the strength of your winning personality.
    • Okay, so it’s never worked before. It’s still worth a shot, isn’t it? Think positive!
    • Or, if not your winning personality, some previous work, work experience, body of work—anything at all!
    • Okay, so that rarely works either—but it does and has worked for some people, depending on the strength of that previous work.


Step 2

  • Make a plan and stick to it!
  • Plan to spend more time finding a manageable dissertation topic than researching that topic, and more time researching it than actually writing the dissertation.
  • Plan to spend more time revising the dissertation than writing it, and more time writing it than researching it.
  • Spend more time researching it than finding out what your topic is.
  • To help with the organization of your thesis, consider hiring a logician. I did.

that's the plan dr. horrible neil patrick harris

Step 3

  • Make sure you and your thesis advisor are on the same page.
  • Make sure to tell your thesis advisor what page that is.

matt bomer always on same page

Step 4

  • Abandon all hope of reading everything that’s germane to your chosen topic. Eventually you’re bound to discover that somebody has already said everything you want to say, and in the very words you were going to use. Scary!
  • However, don’t be alarmed by this. Remember: “There is nothing new under the sun,” and “Of the making of books there is no end,” and “So, the heck with it, what’s one book more?”

silver linings playbook throwing book out window

Step 5

  • When you’re ready to write, strike while the iron is hot.
  • If the iron is not hot, heat it. By … any … means … necessary!
  • If you don’t know what the iron is, forget about a career in academia. Consider becoming a professional golf caddie, instead. (“Here’s your 5-iron, Tiger.”)

jim carrey bruce almighty typing


Step 6

  • Be sure to follow all of your department’s specifications for formatting your thesis, no matter how difficult they are.
  • When in doubt, hire a reputable editing service to do this for you.



Step 7

  • Prepare for your thesis defense as if your life depended on it. As a matter of fact, your career does.
  • Anticipate every possible question. Now is the time to do the research I told you not to do back in Step 4. Quickly, quickly.
  • However, on the day of the defense, relax. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. There’s nothing more you can do.
  • Try to enjoy your defense. If you have some ability to make people laugh, make your committee members laugh. If they’re having a good time, the defense might be a breeze.

 i've got the power boom bruce almighty jim carrey

Step 8

  • Answer each and every one of their questions politely and thoroughly.
  • If, after 45 minutes of politely and thoroughly responding to each and every one of their questions, they still maintain that you’re talking gibberish, remember your Samuel Johnson. Say, as haughtily as possible: “Sirs,  I am required to furnish you with an explanation. I am not also required to furnish you with an understanding of it.” (This will sound twice as impressive if you happen to be wearing a powdered wig.)

samuel johnson book perplexed

Step 9

If at some point you find yourself at a complete loss for words, quote the lyrics of some Broadway or Hollywood musical. I have found that there are surprisingly few things in life, academic subjects included, that have not at some point been made the subject of a song. A comforting thought, no?

Step 10

Okay, here it is, my final word of advice, the fruit of my years of experience as a dissertation editor: take pride in writing your dissertation and do the very best you can do. It’s a reflection of you. So cherish, respect, and enjoy the entire process for it should be a labor of love. If it’s not, then you’re not doing what you should be doing with your life. Tough love words, I know, but the absolute truth of the matter.

big bang theory sheldon that's how its done

Time Out for Camping

Cooking outdoors over a campfire

Are you attracted to the thought of stargazing on a quiet, cool night while sitting beside a crackling bonfire? Are you tired of concrete, traffic and streetlights? Then consider camping. This vacation alternative has a lot to offer and can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of experience or budget.

Life can get complicated, sometimes to the point that we lose perspective on its priorities. When that happens, it’s often best to take a step back to regain perspective and re-evaluate. There is probably no better way to do that than to go camping. At the campsite, we return to basic routines that meet essential needs and satisfy simple pleasures. For this reason alone, for generations in countries around the world, camping remains one of the most widespread vacation pastimes.

The countless amount of choices and distractions we encounter everyday can sometimes prove exhausting. Camping not only simplifies life, it fosters relationships. With all the demands on our busy schedules at home and in the office, it can be very difficult to spend quality time with those that we love most. At the campsite, away from the computer and television, conversations come naturally over the bonfire, barbecue, board games, and even while sharing daily chores like chopping wood and washing dishes.

Couple lying in a hammock in the woods

While temporarily shutting the door on our workday world, camping also opens the door to other worlds of adventure. If you’ve ever wanted to drop a line into the water and test your luck with the fish, camping provides the perfect opportunity. You will find base camps for just about any outdoor activity, whether it be mountain-biking, hiking, boating, rock climbing, beach combing, or golf. Camping can be the first step to jumping in with both feet into many of these outdoor recreation activities.

Types of Camping

There is a style of camping that suits everyone’s taste, experience and budget. Whether you want to sleep on a plush mattress in an air-conditioned bedroom or under the stars in a sleeping bag, tailoring the environment to your desires is an easy fix in the woods.

Recreational Vehicle Camping


  • If your idea of roughing it means going without cable television, there’s Recreational Vehicle camping. RVs and campers are basically homes on wheels. They can offer all the amenities of home or hotel, but have the value-added dimension of location and mobility. You can travel the country whenever and wherever you want, stopping at well-appointed camp sites all along your route.



  • By simply hooking up your RV at the serviced campsite, you are set to sleep, cook, shower, watch television and even check your email, depending on the level of luxury you seek. If you are not sure if you are ready to invest in an expensive motorhome, why not look into renting one? Many dealers rent them by the week or season.



  • For many people, especially retirees, “RVing” has become a permanent lifestyle. They have sold their homes and live nomadically in their recreational vehicles, moving with the seasons and following the sun. “Caravan clubs” have sprung up around the world to facilitate groups who wish to explore the country together.


RV camping

Car Camping


  • “Car camping” is a less expensive, more accessible and flexible option. You may opt to tow a trailer or pack a tent. Trailers come in all shapes and sizes and many of them can be towed safely by mid-size vehicles. Hard-sided holiday trailers resemble motorhomes in their amenities, but even most tent trailers come equipped with fridges, stoves and hook-ups for water, sewage and electricity. Most campsites offer sites serviced with utilities as well as fire rings, barbecue grills, bathrooms, picnic shelters and laundry facilities.



  • More primitive campsites cater to the tenting crowd. They have sites that are not serviced with utilities and are limited to a fire pit and picnic table. You will have to haul water from a few pumps or taps situated centrally at the camp site and outhouses are usually the order of the day, although some locations offer central washroom facilities.


  • The beauty of these campsites is that they are usually located in quieter, more picturesque wilderness settings. They are rugged, inexpensive and bring campers closer to nature. It is as close to “getting away from it all” as most city-dwellers will ever experience and many camping purists makes this their style of choice.


Camping in the mountains out of a tent




  • Backpacking is one of the most exciting ways to experience nature, wildlife, and independence. In this setting, campers brave the elements, test their limits, and discover a world almost untouched by the modern society. Campers have nothing but solitude, time and space to enjoy life apart from the interruptions and distractions of urban life. By exploring on foot, you choose when you stop, where you pitch your tent, how long you stay and where you go next.



  • Backpackers use lightweight equipment that can be carried long distances on foot. The gear is more specialized and typically costs more than that for car camping, but it is possible to pack everything you need for a week in the backwoods in a comfortable, sturdy backpack. The cost, if anything, for staying overnight on backpack routes is far less than in developed campsites. Many national parks and managed trails offer information packages to get you started.


Other Speciality Camping


  • In addition to these basic camping styles, there are other unique modes of camping that may interest the intrepid explorer. Canoe camping is similar to backpacking, but uses canoes for transportation; much more weight and bulk can be carried in a canoe or kayak than in a backpack, although the possibility of having to portage will limit the weight you may want to pack. Bicycle camping combines camping with cycling. The bicycle is used to carry the gear and as the primary means of transportation, allowing greater distances to be covered than backpacking although less capacity for storage.



  • Motorcycle camping is more comparable to bicycle camping than car camping, due to the limited storage capacity of the motorbike. Motorcycle camping riders, as well as bicycle touring riders, often use some of the same equipment as backpackers, due to the lighter weights and compact dimensions associated with backpacking equipment.


Hammock camping in the woods


  • Among the extreme adventurers, such as those who prefer their nest in hammocks, survivalist campers learn the skills needed to survive out-of-doors in any situation. This activity may require skills in obtaining food from the wild, emergency medical treatments and orienteering, although with today’s GPS technology, this has become less of a challenge.



  • Camping needn’t be limited to the summer season. Winter campers and “snow cavers” head outdoors once the snow has fallen enough to provide shelter. They have adapted forms of camping and survival to suit extremely cold nights and limited mobility or evacuation. This involves building snow shelters, dressing in “layers,” staying dry, using low-temperature sleeping bags, and fueling the body with appropriate food.


So whether you want to start slowly and comfortably, or test your resourcefulness to its limits, camping offers the change that’s better than a rest when it comes to getting a break from the normal routines of your daily career and home life. Free yourself in its simplicity.


Get the Most from Your Editor by Being a Good Client

Get the Most from Your Editor by Being a Good Client

Showing your writing to a stranger for editing is nerve wracking for most people. Maybe all people. So is going to the dentist. In both instances, you’re vulnerable and you’re paying money for something that isn’t entirely pleasant.

Let me stretch the analogy just a bit to point out that patients get the most out of their dentist when they cooperate. They answer questions honestly (e.g., How often do you floss?), they continue the work on their own (e.g., by doing the above-mentioned flossing), they ask questions (e.g., How long will this temporary last?), and they recognize the dentist is cleaning their teeth because it’s good for the teeth, not because they have fun making people’s gums bleed.

The same is true with your manuscript. You’ll get the most out of your editor by cooperating, actively working with this stranger so you’re happy with the results.

Be Honest with Your Editor

An editor can only do such much, so tell the editor about anything you want them to focus on. An editor will comment on characterization, but that doesn’t mean they’ll comment on a specific character or on a specific aspect of your characters. If you’re worried your love interest is boring, tell the editor that when you give them the manuscript. If you’re nervous the ending of your whodunit is obvious, direct your editor to evaluate it.

And tell your editor if there’s something you don’t want commented on. If you’re writing a book based on your faith and don’t want the editor to pick apart your logic, tell them so.

Little story. I once had a client give what he called an erotic novel, but the sex was just boring as anything. I spent time carefully explaining just why it was boring and why having boring sex in an erotic novel was a problem. About two-thirds through the book, I realized the book was actually a parable about why having sex is a bad thing and that the sex was supposed to be boring. I had to go back and take out hours of work and re-evaluate everything. A little honesty from the client would have saved me hours of work and allowed me to do a better job.

There’s no need for a checklist. Editors know to look at grammar and style and plot and so on. But if you’ve got specific concerns, let us know!

Continue the Work on Your Own

Writing is a life-long process of learning and criticism and trying again and revising and rewriting and more feedback and trying again forever in an endless cycle. Getting better at writing means doing more writing. Only by writing do we learn how to write.

Indeed, I’m not sure an editor can “teach” a writer anything. Certainly, editors cannot tell authors how to change things to be “correct” (except for grammar). We can only point to things and say that we think they are great or need to be improved and try to explain why. If an editor actually goes in there and tries to fix such things, they become a co-author.

Ask Questions

An editing job ends when the client is satisfied, not just when the manuscript comes back with its edits and comments. If a client isn’t sure what a comment means, they should (and they are expected to by any reputable business) ask the editor to explain.

All questions about the manuscript are welcome. Perhaps something the editor said contradicts what you heard in a creative writing class and you want their opinion. A problem with writing is that it involves thousands of things, and fictional writing is so much a matter of taste. I recently had a client say they’d been told “backstory is the kiss of death.” Several of my favorite (and highly successful) novels open with backstory.

Good questions I’ve been asked include whether a character who worked as a poet had to recite some of their poetry to give them credibility. (I said I didn’t see the need.) Another asked me to elaborate on why I said all the characters sounded the same when they talked. (I pointed out more instances of when different characters used the same phrases, showed the same level of education, and used similar imagery.) Another great question was why I liked a minor character so much. (She had a great sense of humor, and she was never cruel.)

I’ll tell you the truth. Sometimes writing comments on manuscripts feels a lot like talking to yourself in an empty room. A little Q&A conversation makes for a lovely change of pace.

Sorry About the Bleeding Gums

I have a friend who says she loves getting criticism. I know she’s lying. She might value it, might appreciate it, but love getting it? No way.

Yet when you hire an editor it’s criticism you’re paying for. If an editor doesn’t say something negative (or at least not so positive) at some point in the process, they’re just not doing their job.

But one thing can help you read through an edit, even a very strict one, with a minimum of pain.

Always bear in mind that being an editor takes quite a bit of dedication, and it’s not the sort of job that’s going to appeal to someone who doesn’t like authors. I personally have enormous respect for anyone who takes the time needed to write either fiction or nonfiction. I spend my days reading, and I enjoy it.

It can be tempting to think the editor is sneering at you or is getting tired of your misuse of the semi-colon. It’s hard not to wince they tell you your main character isn’t convincing or not to feel pecked at when a comment seems a little short.

But trust me, nobody I know who edits enjoys the knowledge that we might hurt feelings. We work under deadlines, but we get nothing from being glib. And editors are paid to fix grammar, or we’re pretty useless as a species.

What’s most important here is not hurt feelings but what happens when a client no longer feels they can trust their editor. How can anyone get anything of value from someone they feel is making fun of them? If you’re starting to hear sarcasm when you read your editor’s comments, take a break and re-set yourself. When you’re feeling defensive, even “Do you mean for this period to be here?” can sound like some snipe from a snob.

And if, after that, you still think a comment is offensive, write to the editor and ask what’s going on. Learning how to edit is also a life-long process of learning and criticism and trying again and revising and rewriting and more feedback and trying again forever in an endless cycle.

Your turn! In what ways do you think you can be a better client for your editor?