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



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

 
 
 
 
 
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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.


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