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


On Writing Process: The Essential Nine Phases (Part 2)

Part 2 of 3

When we last left off, we were considering how the key stages of observing, reading, and mulling (over) figured into the “Essential Nine Phase of the Writing Process.” Again, this multi-phased process acknowledges the key phases that writers pass through during the entirety of their writing process. The next three stages, drafting, revising, and rereading, are also key to the overall process.

Let’s take a look:

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“…the phases of drafting, revising, and rereading form the heart of the writing process.”

4.  Drafting

In the beginning, there is the first draft. Few things are as pure.

This initial piece of writing is raw in the sense of being new and authentic. Ideally during this stage, the writer gets caught up in the writing itself. No overthinking. No doubting or judging. Just pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Pure unadulterated writing. The drafting phase is the free fall, the jump off. It is here that a writer lets loose and allows that blend of whatever imagination, memory, and intent are at work within their psyche.

Included in this mix is the reach towards genre, and whatever figures into the genre of your choosing. Maybe research, maybe form. So many famous writers have offered their take on the writing of the first draft. I adhere to the words of John Steinbeck, who recommended that writers simply, “write fast.” My take on this is to write as quickly as possible, without overthinking, so that the ideas flow before they fade and risk being lost. This doesn’t work for everyone. So, it is important that you experiment and pay attention to what works best for you in terms of getting down that initial flow of images, details, and insights.


5. Revising

Revising is akin to revisiting your first draft. Depending on your take on things, this phase can be one of the more enjoyable phases in your writing process. This is where you return, skim through, and work through your first draft forms.. You make revisions, add a line here or there, delete or develop a detail or image. It is during the revision phase when you’ll look for those openings within your writing that offer the chance to further delve in and explore, expand. It is here where the opportunity to develop an image, a character, a description makes itself available if, you are paying attention. Revision is a necessary and vital phase, so give yourself permission to dwell here in a mindful manner. As you revise you’ll revisit the original piece, your either add to what’s already there, or cut, cross out and delete for the purpose of developing a stronger working draft. It is here where you decide whether or not to commit to taking a draft further.

6.  Rereading

Rereading is the careful and mindful reading aloud of the original, slightly revised piece. This may take place in the form of a quick, subdued read, or a more energized reading. It may be something you do aloud in the company of only yourself or it may be an opportunity you share with a trusted writer friend or family member. However it plays out, the goal is to read the piece aloud for the purpose of listening to cadences and flow.

Where and how does your writing move? Does it stumble or falter? If so, you’ll recognize those areas as needing more work. Does it glide or roll? You’ll celebrate those areas and use their energy as you further revise other segments of the piece. Your editor’s eye and ear should be actively at work here. The rereading phase allows the writer to really listen to the cadence of things and whether or not the writing is as clear as is intended.

A common mistake many writers make is not recognizing that their intended idea may not be transferring as clearly as was intended, onto the page. This reading and rereading phase helps bring the writer's intention in line with the manner in which the words come across to a reader. Numerous, mindful readings and re-readings help with clarity and intent, no doubt.

To any writer, the phases of drafting, revisiting, rereading, form the heart of the writing process. It is here where the writer charts a beginning, a benchmark from which to start and a place from which to move forward. Hopefully as you move through your own writing process you will honor and allot ample time to thee essential phases of drafting, revisiting, and rereading. Your writing will only benefit from your commitment.


~Judith Lagana

Next: Refining, Finalizing, Sharing, Phases 7, 8, & 9 (Part 3 of 3)

 
 
 
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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.

A Challenge: Memorize a Poem

Every poet knows April is National Poetry Month. And April is just about here. So why not challenge yourself, in honor of National Poetry Month, to memorize one of your favorite poems?  Do this for the joy of it. Select one poem from among your favorites. Make it one that you have not previously memorized for a performance or a reading. Make it one that you do not already partially know by heart because you’ve read it so many times it has already embedded part of itself into the fabric of your brain.

Consider this act of memorizing a creative exercise.  One that you are committing in an effort to not only celebrate National Poetry Month, but to also further your own practice as a poet.  

Accept the challenge to memorize all or part of your chosen poem.  But, be smart about it. Segment and chunk the poem in phrases, lines, or stanzas as you go. Know thyself in terms of how you’ll manage learning the lines best. If you need to consider the poem line by line over the course of a week or a month, then do it. If you are a quick study and can memorize a stanza or two easily within minutes or hours, go for it. If you need a few days or weeks, who is watching? If it takes you months, no one will be the wiser. This is not a competition.

Memorizing a poem is a creative and personal challenge.  So go pick a poem. Consider writing or typing out a copy of it to help you initially work through it.  Set the goal of memorizing individual lines first. Start small. Take the poem apart bit by bit. Honor the poem in your commitment to memorizing it.  Enjoy the words, the rhythm, the cadences. Remember that this is not a race. Unlike so many other things in our lives, there is no sense of urgency, other than committing to finishing what you start.

Try it. See what happens.

Memorizing a favorite poem may change your life. Or it may do nothing for you at all other than give you something to recite to yourself when you are stuck at a traffic light or going for a walk.

Both options could be wonderful. Are you in?

~Judith Lagana

When Creativity Calls

Being a good listener is not always easy.  Between real world and online connections, there are a lot of voices coming at us these days. Even if we have time to spare, remaining focused on what is being said in any conversation is challenging.

Experts say that the key to being a good listener is to tend to the task wholeheartedly.  This means focusing on a speaker's message while trying to withhold immediate judgement. This also means paying attention to any post-intellectual, psychological, or physical reactions we may have in response to what is being said. Listen first. Judge, react, respond, later.  

How might this be applied to our writing practice?

Writing is a creative process, so it stands to reason that all writers have an inner source of creative energy.  This creative energy has a voice, one that can energize us as we move through the stages of the writing process should we choose to listen.  Creative energy often manifests when we come across that which deeply resonates with us. It speaks to us when we feel inspired by another artist's work, albeit a piece of writing, music, or visual art.  These resonating moments usually come without notice and require that we pay attention to them. Some moments are akin to the loud person in the room whose voice and words rise above all else. In this case, if you’ll excuse the Arthur Miller allusion, attention can’t help but be paid. But what about those moments that are more subtle?  The soft spoken persons in the room also have something to say. Their words are equally worthy of our attention. 

The art of listening in conversation requires fully focusing on what is being said, even if we are not entirely interested at a particular moment. It requires trying not to get stuck in our own heads as we ready a comeback or think about how we will share our own take on things while another’s voice is coming our way.  For the writer who is fully engaged in the flow of creative inspiration, this means shutting down every doubt or inner-editorializing thought that might impede getting anything but the purest form of an idea down on the page.  Much the same way you would ask yourself,  “What might I learn from this person?" when engaging as a listener in a conversation, you should be asking yourself, “Where will this lead?” as you engage with your own creative ideas.  Listen and let inspiration take hold of the conversation. Those of us who note, afterwards, the psychological, emotional, or intellectual thoughts inspired by such moments of inspiration may be rewarded by new works-in-progress to add to our portfolio of work.

Giving of our full attention to the voice of our creativity is not always easy. But it is worth the effort. Allow the moments when your creative energies unexpectedly speak to you to fuel your writing practice.  Be available when your creative energies surprise you with a call.  Carry a pen and paper, keep your phone charged and have your digital recorder and writing apps at the ready. Pay attention. And, always listen.           

~Judith Lagana