Writers, Give Yourself More Credit

In our online and on site creative writing workshops, Robbin and I receive a lot of feedback regarding the places “observation” and “mulling over” hold within the writing process. We find that most writers don’t give themselves enough credit for engaging in these phases when they should. Our original blog post, “The Essential Nine Phases of a Writer’s Process,” depicted these particular phases as the ones most writers fail to rightfully acknowledge when thinking about their unique writing practices. Both phases are readily overlooked and are frequently not considered when writers question whether or not they are doing enough writing. There is more to writing than actual writing, yes?

Most writers need to give themselves more credit for participating in aspects of the writing process that serve as precursors to actual writing. No doubt about it, the phases of observation and mulling things over need to be pushed into the spotlight. These phases in particular emphasize the value of noticing the day-to-day details of life and appreciating the value of any time spent reflecting and quietly thinking about life and the writing in general. Both phases are important and necessary to any writer’s practice and creative process.

Over the course of this year, we have become even more convinced based on our own observations and the shared insights from writers we work with that more credit absolutely needs to be given to these phases. When any writer acknowledges the observation and mulling over phases as relevant to their personal writing practices, they are also recognizing that their writing practice is broader and more involved than previously realized. This realization is undoubtedly freeing. It also builds creative confidence by increasing affirmative writing behaviors.

Striking a healthy balance between observing the world and thinking about it (we are fond of the words ‘mulling over’) AND the actual act of writing is key. Writers write. That’s what we do. So, it is crucial to ensure that a healthy part of any writing practice is balanced and devoted to not only generating first draft work, but also to working those earlier pieces into something this is presentable, publishable, and is ready to be shared with the world as defined by the writer. Again, balance is key.

So writers, give yourself more credit for all the time, energy, and effort you put into your writing. You are probably doing more than you realize and that’s awesome. Writing is hard work, so keep at it. And check out or revisit our our series of posts on the “Essential Nine Phases of a Writer’s Process” along the way.

May the Muses be with you.

~Judith

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