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  • Alison King

Your new writing mantra: I can...I want to...I will!

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

I grew up dancing at a tiny studio located inside a church building. The classes were purely recreational, but it felt like a super-cool secret society at times--as far as I could tell, all of the studio’s business was via word-of-mouth marketing. My teacher, Ms. Nancy, did a great job of teaching us the basics of dance and, even more important, instilling in us the principles of hard work, kindness, and self-confidence. I loved the dance studio more than anywhere, and as soon as I walked in the studio, all my real-life problems stayed out in the lobby.


In that same lobby, on the upper left corner of an aged bulletin board was a plain piece of paper with the studio motto: I Can, I Want to, I Will! This was way before positive self-talk and mantras were mainstream, so it was actually pretty forward-thinking of Ms. Nancy to have posted that. (On a related note, she banned us from saying "I can't" when trying a new step or struggling with a move, and to this day, I have trouble uttering that phrase!)


Ms. Nancy would only refer to the studio motto occasionally during her customary mid-class pep talk, but it was always there for us to read as we tied our pointe shoes and prepared for class. As an adult, that motto resonated with me more and more. You need these three components to accomplish your goals, including writing that dissertation, article, or other daunting writing project.


I can. First, you need to believe in your own ability. This one can be the hardest because we’re so tough on ourselves. It’s difficult to believe that we can do something that we’ve never actually done before. That’s where you need to trick your mind a bit. I can do a triple pirouette. (After all, I can do a double pirouette; it's just one more rotation!) I can complete my dissertation by next May. (Never mind that I’ve never that before. Just trust me, brain and body, we've got this). You are capable.


When you are having a hard time convincing yourself, don't forget that there are others who do genuinely believe that you can--your advisor, classmates, family, and friends, to name a few. Think of all the other tough things you've accomplished that felt impossible at the time; this is just like those times. Do yourself a favor; take "can't" out of your vocabulary!


I want to. This can be tricky, as well. As humans, our interest and motivation ebbs and flows. (Trust me, I know; for example, I have two ukeleles in my living room that have been sitting un-strummed for a year because I got very into playing...and then quickly lost interest.)


Ultimately, you want to complete and defend your dissertation. But it’s not going to feel like that every day. You don’t need to feel 100% passionate and motivated about your work on a daily basis as long as you’re staying reasonably on track. I’ve worked with enough doctoral candidates to know that once you’re in the end stages of writing your dissertation, the interest level and motivation can be at an all-time low, and it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When motivation is low, do what you can to push through because you do want this. I know you do.


I will. Some days, you’d rather just sleep, watch Netflix, or go back to being the person you were before beginning a doctoral program. You do want the end result, but some days, that want will be stronger than others. On those days when you’re feeling less motivated, give yourself a smaller goal, like I will write one paragraph, or I will read two sources. Chances are, once you’re in the zone, you will get more done. But if you’re only getting that small goal accomplished, count it as a win, step away from your desk, and do something to make you feel happy. You will finish, one way or the other. And of course, try to remind yourself of why you started this whole crazy thing in the first place.


Keep this motto in mind, and just like that, you will have finished that dissertation. You could, you wanted to, and you DID it!


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