Building up writing routine – Checked

I have tried to build up my writing routine since last summer. Here is a summary of my reading/writing hours from 06012015-04172016: 46 weeks in total, about 320 days, I have worked on my writing projects (coursework hours are not included) for around 650 hours. Average hours is 2 hrs/day. This is my goal for building up my writing routine after reading the book How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silvia.

A visualization can show my ups and downs, struggles and uplifts :

(In this viz, I include all working hours on reading/writing/planning for coursework and writing projects.)


As I read this viz, I have learned two things:

First, in last year, during the routine building up process, after a peak working week, it always followed with a couple inefficient weeks. Then I took a couple other weeks to build it up again.

Second, I have built a more steady writing routine in this year, although I have never hit the peak as I did in 2015. But the steady hours is the evidence of the formation of routine. I have more time for myself, like reading for pleasure, playing harp, going to gym, socializing.

The next step is simply to keep going, going, and going.

I am updating my writing routine track now, on Sep 11 2016. It has been over one year since I started my writing routine. Here is a graph from the very beginning, which shows that my routine is more stable in the second year, and the hour I spent on writing gradually increased. Regardless of the writing outcome, I am pretty happy with this progress. I just enjoy it. I will keep going for sure 🙂



writing group

some suggestions regarding writing group model from Dr. Silvia:

  1. set proximal concrete, short-term goals in the group: write down each person’s goal and keep them in a folder; should meet every week or every other week, otherwise, goals are not considered as concrete enough
  2. stick to writing goals, not other professional goals: meetings are short, break out the prior goals and check off met and unmet goals
  3. social rewards, for example, buying coffee for people who meet their goals every time, intervene people who consistently fails goals
  4. have different groups for faculty and students

content from the book: how to write a lot


writing suggestions from Miles & Huberman

Suggestions of writing up dissertation from chapter 12 in

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (2014).  Qualitative data analysis: A Methods Sourcebook (3rd ed.) 


  • Write at least one page a day, in a year (I would say work on any writing projects you have for 2 hours/day, 5 days a week)
  • Write on whatever can be written about when you sit in front of your computer, laptop. Don’t assume that you have to write chapter 1, then 2,3,4.
  • Create the template of the document in finished form or format
  • Have a separate meeting with supervisors or mentors on writing itself rather than the research
  • Stick to deadlines, think about how to deal with “personal drama” (I would say how to keep a balanced life)

something I have learned from an unbalanced semester

Last semester, I experienced my most overwhelming semester in my life, even more overwhelming than the first year in US. I took a VP position in a university-wide graduate student association; I took three courses; I taught one course; I wrote two papers; I worked on two research projects; I served on several committees. My initial thought was that I have got accustomed with my life, work, and school in the United States, it was the right time for me to put more challenges and responsibilities, to get myself improved in different ways.

But I was wrong. I overrated my capability of taking all these things simultaneously. I could not complete all these things perfectly; and then, as a “recovering” perfectionist, I stressed myself out.

It was also the “stress-out” taught me: it is OK to feel overwhelmed, it is OK to not complete everything, it is OK to say no to things that may add more stress, and it is OK to take a break when we stress out. More importantly, it is critical for us to search for help and support, and at the same time, to build connections with people around us.

I hope myself find more mentally balanced, relaxed, and peaceful moments in my life.


My meditation diary

My meditation starts at this Tuesday, Sep 29, 2015. I take a class from center of spirituality and healing, with Dr. Erik Storlie in this semester. He has studied meditation with Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and Dainin Katagiri Roshi.

He suggests us, as meditation beginners, begin the meditation by visualizing a safe place in our mind’s eye and imagination.  Dwell in that refuge for a time. In the formal sitting meditation practice, let the focus of the attention rest on the flow of the breath.  Notice the rising and falling of the chest and belly, the feel of the air moving in the throat and the nostrils.  Allow thoughts to rise and fall, neither encouraging nor discouraging them.  When we find ourselves caught up in thoughts, just gently bring the mind back to awareness of the breath flowing.

We meditate in this beautiful room:


My experiences in the first week:

In this first meditation week, he suggests us start with an additional informal practice: “For five minutes every day in the first week, please connect with the natural world.   Sit down under a tree or on a bench on campus or in a park or in your yard.  Close books, put away devices.  See the sun and clouds; feel the air and breezes; settle on the bench or ground or whatever.  Hear birds and insects.  Breathe.  Enjoy.  No expectations.  Just do it and see what happens.”

Sep, 29, 3:30 pm, I meditate in the meditation room for 15-20 minutes in the class with other classmates with the instructor’s lead.

Oct 2, 6 pm, I stand in front of my apartment, looking at a big tree and trying to meditate. I don’t set timer so I don’t know how long it takes. I guess I only spend 3-4 minutes. I find it very easy to be distracted. I think a lot about when my friend will come to pick me up for dinner.

Oct 4, 5 pm,  I sit in the Como lake dock, facing the lake. I try to focus on my breath this time. I hear many different sounds, like kids and parents’ conversation, a band’s song playing, the sound of a dog’s leash, etc. Then I gently bring my focus back to my breath. I don’t set timer either at this time, but I remember the time when I start. And I meditate for 5 minute this time.

Difficulties in the first week:

The most difficult part is to be mentally prepared of meditation. I have a lot on my plate this semester; I am involved in two research projects, I take two academic courses, I teach one course, and I serve on several committees and associations. Sometimes, I feel I don’t have time to take all these stuffs off my plate; I don’t have time to do meditation other than these “important” things. I need to intentionally tell myself I have to take care of my physical body and my spiritual mind. Only when I take care of my whole self, then I can do my work, research, and study better. I also think that for beginners, we can start with easier and shorter meditations, like several deep breaths. Count one breath in, one breath out, and continue through 10 breaths, then return to one again.

Thoughts from the discussion in the second class:

  • take deep breaths for several times every day, breath in and breath out
  • try not to worry about what I am thinking, stop change, stay at the present
  • being non-judgmental about thoughts, thoughts come and go, just be curious and interested in all my thoughts
  • come back when mind wanders
  • allow myself as who I am, allow things as what they are in the moment
  • try to keep a space between self and the stresses, thoughts, ideas about the past or the future

My experiences in the second week:

Oct 6, 2:30 pm, I meditate in the meditation room for 15-20 minutes in the class with other classmates with the instructor’s lead.

Oct 7, 2:20 pm, I sit in the bench in front of the sociology building and meditate for 3 minutes before I go to SNA class. I am distracted by my thoughts on my current project for a couple of times, and then I gently take my attention back to my breath.

Oct 8, 11:45 am, I sit at the bench in the grass ground before LES building and meditate for 9 mins before I go to work in my lab. It is a beautiful weather outside, and I enjoy the sunshine during my meditation. I count my deep breath and try to focus on my breaths. It works. I am still distracted by some thoughts, but I just gently bring my attention back to my count.

Oct 11, 4:00 pm, meditated when I walked in the wood in mille lacs kathio state park with two of my friends. I enjoyed my walk and the beautiful weather.

Reflections on the second week:

In this week, I started to try breath in and out exercise. Every time, when I meditated, I counted one breathe in, one breathe out, and continued it through 10 breathes, then I returned to one again. It takes 3-4 rounds in ten minutes. When I focus on counting, the time goes fast. This morning, when I did my dishes, I was thinking about my schedule, papers, meetings of today. I was a little stressful about all these things I have to finish today. Then I realized there is always something going on my brain, about the past or about the future. Generally, I focus a lot on the future, like things I have to do today or this week. I always have a to-do-list on my brain. After trying the breath-in-out exercise, I feel it’s helpful to just focus on my breath for a few minutes, or just a few seconds when I stress out or worry too much on the future. Even now, I am typing, I am thinking about the paper I have to write after this reflection. So, before I write this very sentence, I counted three deep breathe and then I finished this sentence after the deep breaths. In this way, I feel I can more focus on the present, I feel more engaged in this moment, and I feel less worried about the future.

2015 summer productivity

It was a productive and creative summer. I finished 20,000 words on two papers; finished 3 toastmaster speeches; read several books. I listened to podcast, blinkist, TED talks, and online lectures. I have gradually built my writing, speaking, reading, listening routines. AND AND I am finally able to swim YAY!

I also see this summer as a writing experiment, I recorded what I have written and how many time I have spent on writing everyday. I have spent 270 hours on writing in June, July, and August, 3 hours per day. Reflecting on the whole process, I have found that the writing environment is so important for me, to write creatively and productively in different phases. I prefer to write the initial draft and to revise papers in a coffee shop with loud music;  and for the core writing part, I prefer to write in a quiet environment without any distractions. For trivial or casual writing, like emails, blogs, toastmaster speeches, I don’t really care about the environment; but it’s much fun to write these in a coffee shop than a library.

In addition, as an introverted person, I have(unsurprisingly) found that I prefer to write by myself, although I initiated a writing group (hugs to my writing group friends, Cassie and Lauren). We still meet and write/eat/drink/gossip at least once a week. Keep each other updated and in track. When I am not in my writing mood and feel boring or anxious, social group writing works.

some places for my writing in this summer:

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Ramsey county library Roseville, Keller hall east bank UMN, Magrath library St Paul campus UMN

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Chatime Dinkytown, Caribou larpenteur, Caribou Moos tower

My experiences have resonated a lot with Nate’s thoughts on Writing environment .

My thoughts on “What I Wish I Had Known When I Started My Doctoral Program”

In September 1st, I talked at the 2015 graduate & professional students orientation panel with four other PhD peers. The topic focused on “What I Wish I Had Known When I Started My Doctoral Program?” The orientation was sponsered by The Graduate School. University of Minnesota.

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Please raise your hands, and show me if you feel fulfilled now. Not all of you feel really happy and emotional payoff even you already got accepted by a fancy phd program, right? I experienced the same feeling as you guys do. My personal story traces back to when I was 23 years old. I got a very stable and nice job, I was the youngest lecturer in an a-level college in China. I celebrated it with my friends and parents. Everyone from the outside saw me as a successful young lady with a promising future. After 3 years of work, I got tired of my work and my life, and became confused of myself and my future. Then I started to pursue something new, started to apply for phd programs in US. In 2013, I got some admission letters from phd prgrams, I decided to come here. Again, I celebrated it by enjoying a nice meal all by myself, since my parents didn’t support my decision. (it’s another story) After the meal, I returned back to my room, I thought I would still enjoy the excitement and fulfillment. But it soon disappeared. I returned back to the confusion about myself, my future. From that moment, I started to think what is wrong with my life. Why completing milestones did not bring me emotional payoff. Then I figure out my thinking and behavioral pattern was wrong, it was like this: once I finish this, once I get that, I will feel happy and fulfilled forever. But the reality is when I get done of something important, there are some new projects, new papers, or new courses waiting for me. Then the circle starts and repeats. In the whole process, I didn’t really enjoy my work and my life at each moment. It takes me several years to figure out why my thinking and behavior mode was wrong, and how to change it. I wanna share with you a useful way to change this mode, that is scheduling life and work, developing happy and meaningful routines, and sticking to these habits and routines. It applies to our academic work, which including researching, writing, and speaking.

First, thinking about your academic writing. I was a binge writer, and kinda proud of it. When I have to finish a proposal, a course paper, a speech, I assigned one week or so to finish it right before the deadline, and write at least 3-5 hours per day in that period. If I haven’t finished it that day, I feel very anxious and restless. And this repeats again the next day, until I finish the paper. But it never ends, I finish this paper, I need to write another; I submit this paper, I will probably get rejected, I need to revise and resubmit again. In the whole process, I have never really enjoyed my writing. So how to write a lot and at the same time enjoy it? The only way to write a lot is to write regularly and make it as my habit and everyday routine. I just started this routine in this summer. I get up at 7 am, eat something, then write from 8-10. Writing doesn’t just mean typing words. In allotted times, work on the publication project, reading articles, analyzing data, reviewing papers, etc. Once I start it, I always don’t stop at 2 hours writing. I have once written about 7 hours a day in this summer. I already finished two papers, about 20,000 words.

Second, for your academic work in the next 4-5 years, it basically includes course works and research projects. They are related to each other. find a specific field you want to work on as soon as possible. Schedule your research by setting up short term goals, like one year goal. For me, my short term goal is to publish at least two papers before my prelim exams, and go to several conferences. In addition, taking related research courses, doing research with your professors, writing papers together, starting your own research project. If you can find your research focus as soon as possible, then in your courses, you can actively combine your research interest with the course content, and read and write for your own research rather than your professor’s expectations. In the first or second year, you may focus on your coursework and don’t see your future research focus. In this process, always say yes to any research chance, even you don’t get paid. I have joined two research projects in the past two years, without any payment. The benefits is, I get familiar with the whole research process, IRB application, collect data, analyze methods, write a manuscript, present it in conferences, find potential reviewers, find a journal home, submit, get rejected, revise it, find another journal, submit, get published. You can’t learn this experience from a course. So finding your research focus as soon as possible, start your project and write papers, or if you haven’t found your research interest, cooperating with your professors, conduct a project together, write a paper together, help your professor write proposals.

Third, an important aspect I wanna share is how to improve your public speaking. As a phd student, you have to do presentations in your course, conferences, and dissertation defense. As an international student, I am not confident at my English. In my first semester, I always kept silent in the classes and I felt very bad about myself. In the second year, I made a commitment to myself, I push myself go to conferences, meetings, panels and workshops. And I have cultivated a habit, I must propose or answer at least one question, or at least say something at every class and meeting. I gradually build up my confidence through speaking and talking in classes, meetings, conferences. In addition I make a regular schedule on doing toastmaster every week at Monday night. I even avoid taking courses on Monday nights, cuz I have found it very helpful, although at the beginning, preparing a speech and do public speaking do cause some anxieties. And I sometimes feel bad when I didn’t do well in my speeches. But I overcome the it and get it into my regular schedule, I do get great improvement. So my suggestion is present at conferences and department research days, join research or administration committees, go to panels and workshops, go to social events, go to toastmasters.

 What has helped most in coping with the pressures of graduate study?

(1) map my life, at the end of each day, write down and reflect upon on how we spent our time, with this evaluation, we can increase the time with both pleasure and meaning. For example, as an introverted person, I naturally prefer reading and writing to socializing and speaking. But all of them have significant meaning for me. I realized I spent many time on reading books and I really enjoyed it while I didn’t hang out with my friends a lot. Then I started to build up relationship with friends, open up myself to them. So mapping your life and find the sweet spot (both meaningful and pleasure).

(2) take care of your body and spirit, take some PE courses, I took weight training, swimming, and will take a meditation course in this semester.

(3) get a support system, I have a cohort girl group, it’s a study group, writing group, social group. We have a shared google spreadsheet, recording our everyday writing process, we write together at least one time a week, at a public library or coffee shop. We also go to toastmaster club and practice public speaking together. We also hang out, go shopping, see movies, go to bars, talk about guys together. Find a couple of real friend, who will push, challenge, and support you.

(4) change your thinking mode and enjoy your struggling life, as I just said. Because life is basically tough, all of us are struggling at some thing at some point. see struggling as a good thing, because it means you are really trying; rejection is a good thing, means that you try a lot; The more paper you write and submit, the more rejection you receive, and the more paper you publish. You wanna be the most rejected writer in your program, follow these tips.

What have you done to advance your own professional development, apart from your academic work?

(1) Set up a long-term goal and build up your professional social network. two concurrent goals: short term goal (18 months) I would say, my short term goal which starts at this summer, is to publish 3 papers, and attend several conferences. And Long term goal, this can be aggressive, like I wanna run my own company, combing research, online education, and education consulting. And I still wanna some free time to travel around the world. It doesn’t need to be accomplished, but it can make me more focus on what I need to do in my life.

(2) Go out of my comfort zone. It may cause you some anxiety—in my case, it was a lot of anxiety—but it’s one thing you should absolutely get ready for. No one will force you to attend those guest lectures, or travel for talks and conferences. present at conferences, department research days, join research or administration committees, join student societies, organize social events, form study and writing groups. get to know professors people in these events; let them know you, introduce yourself to them, get some real connections and find some collaboration opportunities

(3) Build personal website or blog, record your thoughts, personal and professional life in your site. Print a business card

Finally, I wanna say my struggling mode is always on. And your struggling mode will be on very soon, and it’s on a multitask mode. We can’t change this reality, but we can change our thinking and behavior mode. struggling is a common thing, but please see struggling in a positive way, because it means you are really trying; rejection is a good thing, means that you try a lot; cultivate your resilience, change your thinking into this: it may not work out this time, I have learned something from it. things will work out finally.

PHD is an important period in your life, it’s not very short, and it will not be very long if you keep yourself in track. Don’t see it as the most important thing in your life: I will do my best on all coursework and studies in my program, I will spend all my time on study. once I finish my PHD, I will have a happy and successful life forever. I can tell you, life is tough in general, You have a long way to go. So take care of yourself at this moment, enjoy your life at each moment. See it as a journey, schedule your life and your work, foster some happy and meaningful life routines, stick to these habits and routines, find a support system, let yourself go a little crazy or insane if you feel it right. this talk is also a very important reminder to myself. I wish you all good luck, and to myself too.