Writers: Tap into that Back-to-School Vibe

Whether you are the type of writer who abides by the traditional academic calendar year or not, no one can deny that the rise of running 24/7 back-to-school advertisements are the first indicators of significant seasonal changes. Couple the onslaught of back-to-school ads with the gradual shifts in available daylight and we are all reminded that a time of fresh starts and new beginnings is upon us. What a time to be a writer.

Sure, most of the world traditionally celebrates each new year at the stroke of midnight every January 1. But the back-to-school vibe is another chance to begin again. For writers, it is a second opportunity within the calendar year to take a closer look at how you function as a writer. What better time is there than during back-to-school season for a writer to consider ways to improve their writing practice? Assessing and making adjustments to your writing approach is vital if you are to maintain your writing energies with the goal of generating new or final draft work throughout the year. 

To help, here are three key areas to consider:

Expectations

If you are currently working on a key project, you most likely have established goals and timelines set for yourself. Maybe you are just getting started as a writer. Consider any overall expectations you have for your writing. What are your expectations for a daily or weekly practice? What expectations do you hold for the coming months? How would you like your writing to progress over the next year? What do you hope to accomplish? Start small. Dream big. Keep at it.

Another area to consider is whether or not your expectations are realistic. If you are juggling a job, family/pet/friend responsibilities, a commute, and some semblance of a social life, then you need to be realistic about how you prioritize each area and how committed you really are to your writing. (Don’t forget to plan for healthy eating and meal prep as well as trying to get a good night’s sleep. #justsaying) Good writing doesn’t just happen. It helps if you plan for it. Schedule and honor your writing time the way you would if you were scheduling lunch with a dear friend. Do it. Writing daily works for some life schedules, but not for all. Consider how your expectations fall in line with the available time (and energies) you realistically have to devote to your writing.

Why not take the whole back-to-school idea to heart and create a personal syllabus of sorts for your practice? This would allow you to specifically chart out what you wish to accomplish creatively and force you to create a timeline in which to do so. Be honest and reflect upon your own strengths and weaknesses. Write down ways to work with, and in spite of, them. Most importantly, take the time to renew and commit to specific expectations for your writing practice. Think back-to-school formality. ‘Tis the season.

Supplies

Along with fresh printer cartridges and screen cleaner sheets, isn’t it fun come to stock up on those writing supplies that you deem most valuable to your practice? Maybe you just need to update a writing app? Or, maybe you are going #old school and need to replenish your supply of notebooks, journals, and writing utensils. Pay attention to your preferences. Sometimes we need a change. Sometimes we don’t. I’m all about plastic sheets this year as I reorganize my hard copy poetry binders. Last year I was into online folders. I have also been using the same thread bound and spiral bound writing notebooks for years. 

Depending on how you manage your process of revision and finalizing pieces, you may need to replenish your supplies of paper, plastic sheets, paper clips and the preferred pen or pencil of your choice. If you do everything online, then keep it simple by cleaning and updating your file folders.

And don’t forget the treats. Every writer enjoys a good cup of coffee, tea or water. Have a favorite? Plan ahead. Stock up.

Schedule 

Review and update your writing schedule. Unless you don’t have one. If you don't have one, consider how establishing a specific time and place to write would have a positive impact on your writing practice. I remain fascinated by how the act of sitting down to write as per a schedule generates ideas and work I would never have imagined had I just kept going about my day-to-day “thinking about it” instead of settling in, sipping a warm cup warm of lime- infused water, and writing. Set a schedule, stick to it. Revise and rework it as needed.

In sum, be open to catching the back-to-school vibe by taking a fresh new look at your writing expectations, supply list, and schedule. Consider your writing practice with fresh eyes and get to work.

Hope the new school year -oops, I mean writing year goes well!

May the Muses be with you!

~Judith Lagana


To Craft and Construct

Should you find yourself in a rush to declare something finished, don’t.

Immediacy is a thing in the world right now. It seems many of us want what we want when we want it. Whether we are seeking to replenish a supply of notebooks or, an actual app-loaded notebook, most of what we want, need, or think we do, is a mere click away. Writing materials, new clothing, household items, all of it is ours for the online asking. Order it today, have it by the morning. Quick. Easy.

There is a downside to such constant and immediate accessibility. Writers who get too caught up in this risk losing an edge in terms of maintaining the patience and the fortitude to stick with the demands of the drafting process. As we well know, writing, especially creative writing, doesn’t abide by the rules of click today, here tomorrow.

Quality writing as an end-product requires time, work, and focused effort. Many expect to reach that final draft far sooner than what the writing requires. It is not uncommon for some writers to lose interest or become overwhelmed when they find themselves in the midst of having to craft or reconstruct lines and passages further than they originally thought necessary or possible. Ah, the work, the labor! Right?

This construction period is not easy and demands a consistency in deep focused thought and critical consideration. (Mark Twain wasn’t joking with the words, “I spent all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out.” )

So take heed and don’t shy away from the time and effort required to work through your writing whenever possible. The idea that a first draft is akin to a final draft is a fallacy.

Sure, there are stories regarding a certain poet who allegedly churned out a series of multi-stanza pieces after waking from a deep slumber, (as they say), only to have that first draft version immediately published with everyone lauding that poet’s rich use of language and craft. This happens. There are also tales of poets who allegedly sat down to write one morning and by mid-day had multiple pages of what very well may have been finished, crafted, pieces. These poets in question, no doubt, are either entirely mythological or are especially highly talented, practiced, and consistent in their writing practice. The key words there are #practiced and #consistent. Talent is subjective.

Among those at the top of their writing game, the topic of hours spent working and re-working a phrase, a line, a page, until they are deemed, just right is probably never openly discussed. This “time invested” is viewed as a typical part of the writing process. The message here is that good writing takes time. Taking time requires patience.

Should you find yourself in a rush to declare something finished, don’t. Take the time to offer a second, or third consideration. Consider the writing as being under construction and work accordingly with that mindset. Remember, a first draft is what it is, rough and in need of further work.

Again, all of this takes time. A mindset which recognizes the value of patiently working to ultimately produce writing that is clear, concise, and impactful is realistic. This is when a writer’s abilities to use language to sharpen a line and flesh out a detail are on full display.

The art of cutting excess wording in one line, fleshing out images in another, arranging and re-arranging stanzas and lines may not be appealing to some, but when done well, will ultimately garner respect from your reading audience. As you delve into the nuances of your own writing, notice ways to make the piece more exact in what you intended to communicate. Good writers make this look easy. (This is why it is such a great exercise to study the way writing that speaks to us is constructed and crafted.)

What matters is that you remain committed to giving your drafts time to reach their fullest potential. Afterwards, you can scroll down and click through for a quick fix ordering of whatever household or personal item or necessity you need to replenish or immediately restock. Doing so will ensure that you will not only be keeping up with the ongoing cadences of online ordering, but also that your writing will be progressing nicely as well.

Keep at it. As always, may the Muses be with you.

~Judith Lagana

A Bit of Confidence Goes a Long Way

Sure, you may be comfortable and confident in social situations, at home, or at the office. You might regularly exude the look of someone who knows what they want and who comes across with a sense of knowing where they are headed. Believing in yourself is a hallmark of becoming an adult for most of us, and certainly goes a long way in making life easier. Yet, why is it that for some, that confident mindset goes right out the door when we share our writing?

In workshops, groups, and open mics, it has become all too common for writers to preface the reading of their work with the disclaimers, “this isn’t very good” or “I am really not a good writer” Why? Why not let the writing speak for itself? These disclaimers are distractions to those of us (eagerly) waiting to hear what you have written. As the writer sharing your work, you might find yourself surprised that your words pack more positive punch then you ever realized. This is especially true if you are working with a writers’ group that looks for moments which resonate within the writing.

True, the very act of sharing our writing makes us all vulnerable. There are risks to sharing your writing, yet risks have to be taken if your writing is going to evolve and improve.

Most writing shared in writers’ groups and workshops are early draft pieces. So why not call them what they are?  If you are sharing a first or early draft, introduce the writing accordingly. If it helps, share that this is a new piece, a first draft, a piece that has not been revisited and let the others in the group respond in kind. Just don’t verbally put your writing down. You do more damage than good to your writing psyche when you speak negatively about something that you have created in conjunction with your imagination and your artistic, (in this case writing), abilities.

When you write, it is crucial for your writing practice and your writing life that you put faith in your writer’s voice and its uniqueness. Your voice, your manner of perspective, and your approach to stringing words together to create impact are yours and yours alone. Of course, if you are engaging in the full nine steps of the writing process you are going to eventually go through phases of revision and crafting before you finalize a piece. That goes without saying.  But what needs to be said and emphasized really, is the value of believing in yourself as a writer and believing that what you have to say, the story you have to tell, is important and unique. Like you.

It is vital that to remain resolute in getting those ideas and words down on paper or up on the screen. It is also vital that to believe that your writing, no matter how rough it may be in its early stages, holds value and deserves to be heard. Confidence is key, my friend.

I often think back to an experience I had years ago when my now 20 year old son was in first or second grade. I was participating in one of those parent-themed days when parents come in and share what they do for a living with their child’s class. My presentation included a segment where the little ones were asked to write short snippets of writing in the form of a poem. After the writing of these first draft pieces students were asked to share. What struck me most from this experience and what has stayed with me over all these years was the great amount of confidence each (first or second grade?) child exuded as they stood up, (shoulders back!) and proudly read what they had written. They were confident, pleased, and focused on their words and their writing. All these years later, the memories of that collective positive energy remains contagious and the recollection of their confidence, inspiring.

As your writing practice develops and you ready yourself to share what you have written in workshop or manuscript reviews, I encourage you to tap into your inner first grader. Don’t preface your writing with negative words, even if you are feeling less then confident. Take a deep breath. Recognize the writer within you. Then let go and let your writing do the talking. There is time for deep and thoughtful critique when you engage in the later phases of revision. And even in these stages, the language used to discuss your writing should be one that promotes growth and revision without wearing down your confidence.

Now, we all know that writing is hard work and that sure, sometimes a first draft spills out in such a way that not much has to be done to finalize it.  But most writers will work through hours and years of revision to get a writing project to a particular level of readiness. Seasoned writers are thick skinned and hearty in their abilities to ride out indifferent responses as well as negative ones. Their confidence feeds their drive and persistence. Thinner skinned writers learn to go with it and to hopefully make choices which will lead them toward supportive writing workshops and groups.

Yet, if you are workshopping with the right group, especially during the early stages of drafting, your work should be met with a level of positivity and the acknowledgement of what is working within the piece. As you learn what is rising up and having a positive or gripping impact on listeners and early readers, your confidence in your writing will grow.

So writers, take heed. Be kind to yourself and your writing, especially during the early stages. Think about how you talk about your own writing. Gather up your confidence and let your words be heard. Who knows where the writing will lead?

May the Muses be with you.

~Judith Lagana


When Words Fail You: Help for Writers Experiencing a Lull

Some call it “writer’s block.” (Others call that an excuse) I call it a bad day. You know those moments when your intent is there, but the words fail you. You want to write, maybe you even have some ideas in mind. You have the time set aside to tackle the keyboard or burn up the page. You probably even have a lidded cup of cold brew or a special herbal cup of tea nearby. All systems related to a decent writing session are essentially go

Except, they are not. Because, for whatever reason, the meager words you are managing to get out on the page or the screen are uninteresting, painfully scarce, and not quite up to par with what you had been striving for when you first sat down to write. 

You are experiencing the dreaded writer’s lull.

It seems those moments when the words won’t come happen to all of us at one point or another, causing frustration and doubt. What to do? 

Consider these five tips:

1. Don’t panic. 

Stay calm. Trust that the quality creative ideas and words you are yearning for are floating somewhere in the recesses of your psyche and will eventually appear. Perhaps they have yet to be fully formulated? Maybe you are over thinking? Maybe you are over tired? Maybe you have too many other things on your mind?

If you are nodding your head in agreement to any one of these questions know that your lifestyle may be impacting your writing practice. It is hard to remain calm about an unsuccessful writing session when you are especially tired or overwhelmed. Everyone defines overworking differently and everyone defines getting adequate sleep differently too. Let your gauge be whether or not your writing is up to your expectations. If the words won’t come, you might need to make some lifestyle adjustments. Vow to get more sleep. Jot down lists to help organize any additional tasks or responsibilities that are weighing on your mind. Say “no” to taking on new responsibilities.

The next best thing you can do is to step away from anything writing-related for a brief spell. Tend to something different. Take a walk. Do the dishes. Prep for dinner. Take the dog for another walk. Hang out with the cat. Read. But whatever you do, do not, and I repeat, do not go down the path of incorrectly insisting to yourself that you cannot write or that you never could write or that you never will write again.

Do not panic. Save the dramatic for someone who yearns to be on the stage. You have writing to do. And, do it you will. Just not at this particular moment.

Getting yourself emotionally worked up into some negative stance will do you more harm than good. The last thing any writer needs is self-induced criticism. So, take a deep breath instead. In fact, take several. Then, after a bit, get back to work.

2. Write what you can

Most masterpiece’s are not created in one writing session. Sure, we’ve all been at the reading where someone gets up to announce that what they are about to read was just written that morning, and sometimes those pieces are surprisingly good. But most times, they are not yet close to what they could be in a more finished form. For most of us, good writing usually takes time. One of my favorite novels is Donna Tartt’s, “The Goldfinch.” From what I have read, that book took Tartt numerous drafts and ten years to write. Ten years. I have never met Donna Tartt, but I imagine that she had some writing days that were more of a struggle than others. Clearly, she kept on going. And, aside from her obvious talents and skills as a storyteller, she was consistent. She kept at it. And that, my dear writer friends, is what you need to do too.

Write what you can with the understanding that some days what you write will be utterly disappointing. It is essential to your writing practice that you continue on anyway.

Maybe, on this day, you can’t produce the pages of coherent quality writing that you need, but you can jot down bullet lists of ideas for future pieces. Maybe the best you can do, (and this would be pretty awesome even on a good writing day), is to create a series of writing exercises for yourself. These exercises might include writing a page of dialogue between a character who insists that he or she can not write and one who has no understanding of what that means.

You might try writing a dozen or more lines of random iambic pentameter. Or, why not try listing all of the word associations you can make with a color (yellow?) or a random word?.

The point is, when you are having an off writing day, you need to write what you can. You also need to keep on writing. Don’t let one or even a series of unproductive writing sessions sabotage your entire writing practice.

Every writer has days when writing is a struggle. I believe that sometimes all you can do to get through a lull is to keep writing whatever pops into your mind, be it words, phrasings, anything to keep a flow going. Go with it. Write what comes up, even if the thoughts are un-linear and nonsensical. Eventually, your words and ideas will come around into some semblance of order.

I have learned that on some days, the best I can do is write the words, “I have nothing to write.” over several times like some sad writer’s mantra. Every time, and I mean every time I do this, the words and ideas I was hoping for eventually start flowing and I am on my way to another draft, be it a poem or part of a chapter.

Writing what you can is always better than writing nothing at all.

3. Get Out of Your Own Way

Truly. Get out of your own way. If ever you shut down your inner critical editor voice, now, when the words won’t come, is the time to do it. The last thing you need during a writing lull is to have your inner critic stomping around in your head, ensuring that any creative ideas or words are not good enough. This ensures your ideas and your words are both dead upon arrival before they even stood a chance. Shut down all inner criticism and make the effort to switch any negative self-talk into language that is positive and supportive. You, and your writing, deserve that.

4. Show Up 

If you are serious about maintaining a writing practice, all you can really do is show up on a regular, consistent basis and attempt to write. The words will come. They might not be what you initially hoped for or, they may exceed your wildest expectations. Such are the ups and downs of any writer’s practice.

Stick with an ongoing writing schedule. Commit to writing something. If your own words won’t come, then why not (credit) and copy down a few stanzas from an admired poet’s poem or a paragraph from a favorite author into your writing notebook? Over the years I developed the practice of jotting down lines from from Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, “The Namesake” as a kick start exercise simply because I so love the cadences in her writing and use of language. (I still keep a copy of her book close by in my office.) Remember, do not get discouraged. The more you write, the more the words will be percolating within you and it will take less and less coaxing to get them to appear on the page or on the screen.

5. Practice Self-Care

Make yourself a priority. Your creative imagination will suffer if you are walking around exhausted, undernourished, and feeling out of shape. Get a decent amount of sleep. Make the effort to eat healthfully. And, if going to a gym is not your thing, then for goodness sake, get outside once in a while and go for a decent walk or simply stretch. These simple suggestions will contribute to your underlying well being so even on days when the words don’t come easily, you’ll at least have better than a fighting chance to work with them when they do appear.

Be strong and resolute in your writing practice. And remember that all writers are connected not only by the joys of writing, but also by the efforts made in working through those writing lulls that happen to all of us from time to time.

May the Muses be with you!

~Judith Lagana