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



On Locating Those “Entry Point” Moments in Your Writing


Are you identifying the moments in your writing which call for a deeper delve into the details? Do you catch those phrasings, which provide a near perfect set-up for the insertion of new metaphor, imagery, or backstory? I call these moments entry points. Are you utilizing them?

If you’re not, you need to reconsider your writing strategy. Developing a better sense of recognizing the entry points within your writing will improve your writing.

Seeking Potential


The addition of one word, new stanza or reorganized phrasing within a point of entry can make a world of difference in the progression of your work. These points of entry exist throughout your writing. If you don’t recognize them, you are missing valuable opportunities.

”Read that line again…” are requests that Robbin Farr and I frequently make during our AWA workshop feedback sessions. As the writer re-reads their line, we listen carefully before following up with some variation of, “Yes, right there. The point of entry is in that line.” And with that, we offer insight into the place within the writing that appears full of potential for further development.

Recognizing the Entry Points

Locating entry points requires critical listening, reading, and consideration. You’ll need to question yourself and the writing. Where might one detail be developed to offer a hint more backstory? Where might a line be fleshed out to further create a more striking image? Where might you expand upon an already interesting moment in the writing?

Reading through a rough draft with the intent of identifying entry points is an important strategy for any writer. Recognizing those points takes skill and practice. The effort is worth it. The resulting refinements, at minimum, will be more impactful lines.

Expanding Upon the Possibilities

So why is it that writers often miss these points? I believe it’s because we don’t think enough of our first drafts. We don’t consider that our early drafts offer more than surface potential.

True, some drafts are richer than others. But first drafts are frequently under-valued and underutilized. They can and should be mined for additional moments of potential richness. I encourage returning, and new writers especially, to look for those easy to miss entry points within their own drafts.

The key is to read and critically reread, while watching for moments that strike you as being prime for further exploration. These are the moments with potential, your entry points.

You’ll want to expand upon the possibilities of all that is hinted at in the first draft. Note and work areas where already established images, characters, and themes may be further expanded. If you feel you usually miss these opportunities in your own writing, a writing workshop or coaching session with a more experienced writer may help.


Work Those Drafts

Any first draft is an awesome thing. Early drafts are stocked with such potential. In my mind, it is as if someone was extending an offer for you to journey through unexplored territory with a guarantee that the results, on some level, will be fruitful.

Sure, some drafts may not amount to much, yet, others turn into prized pieces. Either way, a writer develops experience through the process or working those entry points to fruition. So go ahead, work your drafts to their fullest extent. Seek out the entry points within them. And don’t be surprised to when your writing improves.

May the Muses be with you!

~Judith Lagana

 
 
 
 
 
IMG_7398.jpg
 
 
 

Judith Lagana is the founder and co-editor of River Heron Review. Visit her on Instagram. Twitter, and her web site.

 

Three Tips for Maintaining Your Writing Practice

In addition to getting some actual writing completed, every writer needs to be attentive to the health of their personal writing practice. Here are three recommended tried and true tips to help you maintain a writing practice that is viable, consistent, and productive:

  1. Plan

    Block out time each week to plan out your intentions for the upcoming week. Chart out your goals for individual writing sessions. Detailing your goals will help you develop a sense of clarity about what you hope to achieve.

  2. Prepare

    Are you prepared to write? Be sure to have your desk or table cleared and any anticipated resources at the ready. Do you need to replenish your supply of pens, pencils, paper? Are your screen and keyboard glistening thanks to a fresh spritz of screen cleaner? Remember to take a breath and prepare yourself to slip into creative writing mode. Oh, and don’t forget the mug of tea or coffee and bottles of water. Once you sit down, (or stand, for those of you who prefer writing at a standing desk), you’ll be ready to write.

  3. Reflect

    Schedule a specific time to reflect and review your current writing project. Consider your next steps. Then, go back to Step #1, Planning, to set up your next writing session.


Staying committed to your writing practice ensures you'll generate a portfolio of work. When you plan, prepare, and reflect, you'll help ensure that your strongest drafts make it through to final, finished pieces. Using these tips will help.


calendar keyboard plant writing
 
 
 
IMG_7398.jpg
 

Judith Lagana is the founder and co-editor of River Heron Review.
Visit her on
Instagram. Twitter, and her web site.

On Writing Process: The Essential Nine Phases (Part 3)

Part 3 of 3

In the initial post of this series, I wrote how the Essential Nine Phases of the Writing Process offer a way for every writer to use their process to support their writing practice. What I hope is most refreshing about the essential nine phases is that they offer up an opportunity for all writers and poets to acknowledge that there is more to writing than putting a pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard.

Viewed together, the essential nine acknowledge that all the time we spend reading, observing, and mulling things over have as much value as the time we spend drafting, revising, and rereading. This time around, we’ll consider the three essential end phases, namely refining, finalizing, and sharing.

Let’s take a look:

count-counting-graphic-1329296.jpg

7.  Refining

Refining your writing takes as much or as little time as you are willing to devote to it. It is in the refinement stage that subtle and important adjustments are made to a working draft. Much the same way we would give ourselves a quick visual once over before we leave the house for an appointment, the refinement stage requires that you apply a similar critical eye to your writing.  

As I am about to leave the house for anything, I check on what, for me, are the essentials. Do I have my keys, my bag, my phone? Am I somewhat put together? This quick visual check is focused and critical since these things are important to me. My writing is equally important, as is yours. Thus, the same idea of looking closely and critically at a working draft applies. When I print out a hard copy draft and am readying to refine it, I am looking for anything that appears out of place or that could be further fine-tuned for clarity, flow, or impact.

I look to notice anything that subtly catches my eye, be it mis-spellings, lines that appear rough or misplaced, or anything that jumps out at me. It is no wonder why the refinement phase, akin to what we, in writers lingo would call “the final touch” is so important.

It is during this stage where previously unrecognized moments in the writing call upon the writer to switch up a line or take out a word, to reorder the placement of a passage or to suddenly cut a series of overly descriptive details. If you are lucky, and well into your process, you may find yourself substituting words, adjusting lines, or opting to switch out three words when one will do. You get the idea.

Repeated close readings for clarity and overall impact are hallmarks of this phase. Read silently to yourself. Then, read the piece aloud. You’ll listen to your words while aiming to get a better sense of rhythm and flow, of noting whether there are cadences within the piece, and noticing whether your intentions are as clear as you had hoped and whether they make sense.

And remember, you are working with a late stage draft here. Is what you meant to say as clearly communicated as what the words on the page are offering up?  If you are unsure, you’ll go back, reread, and refine further until you’ll feel the writing is ready. And how thrilled will you be as you watch your writing further tighten and improve along the way?

8. Finalizing

One of my favorite quotations and one that I use frequently in my creative writing workshops is from the poet, William Butler Yeats, who is credited with essentially saying, that “…when a poem is finished it snaps itself shut.” There is an instinctual knowing when a poem or piece of writing is technically finished, yes? You may feel that your work is complete, well crafted, and ready to be shared.

“…there is more to writing than just putting pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard.”

As you continue to read your final draft aloud you’ll notice moments within the piece that call out for a subtle adjustment. For this reason alone, I love and enjoy this particular phase. This is where a sharpened sense of editorial craft-related concern couples with what I consider to be creative magic. It is in these moments, where the last attempts to make this piece of writing as strong as possible take place. You’ll find that the final, last minute fine line adjustments elevate your writing. During the final stage read-throughs, I have thrown out periods and added commas last minute. I’ve adjusted enjambments for the betterment of a stanza and the entirety of the poem. The point here is that even when you think you are finished, you may not be. The finalizing phase allows for the unexpected observation of a moment in your work that could be improved. These editorial surprises are usually minute and last minute touch ups which, in turn, may take your writing to the next level.

9. Sharing

The sharing phase will take you and your writing in entirely new directions, if you are open and willing. This is when you plan and implement strategies for sending your work out into the world. And there are so many options. There are numerous ways to share your work, so decisions must be made. What fun! Will you attend a reading? Begin to blog? Enter a contest? Submit work for publication? There are many options for you to share with the understanding that your “final copy” may very well be finished by now. But, often when you share a piece, especially at a reading, you’ll still recognize at that stage that the writing may need to again cycle through some of the earlier stages of the nine phase process. Yet, when all is said and done, you’ll need to commit to sharing your voice and allowing your words to go out into the world. You will want to share.

Perhaps you’ll find, with the input of a reading partner or a workshop group, that sections still need to be overhauled. This is no big deal. Writing is work. The worst thing that can happen if you find yourself back at an earlier point in the nine stage process is that your writing will benefit.

I believe, it is necessary for the health of every writer to send work out into the world. You may be very well surprised by the responses and reactions others have to your writing.

And may all of that positiveness, in turn, serve to infuse you with vast creative energy and the desire to write. May it motivate you to return to the keyboard or the notebook and begin this nine stage process all over again. In sum, I hope that you will continually revisit each of the essential nine phases while reflecting on your own writing process and practice. May the Muses remain with you as you do.

~Judith Lagana

 
 
static1.squarespace-3.jpg
 
IMG_7398.jpg
 
 

Judith Lagana is the founder and co-editor of River Heron Review.
Visit her on
Instagram. Twitter, and her web site.