Vanessa is a true master of her craft. She is a blast to work with, completely trustworthy and utterly authentic. To work with Vanessa is a privilege; you just want to soak up all her talent, and bottle it up for yourself! She is an inspiration.Sarina Fierro, Head of Lower Elementary, Curtis School
Vanessa transformed our son Josh from a decent writer into an excellent writer.  We wholeheartedly recommend Vanessa and her ability to draw out the best in your child’s writing ability.Jill and Larry Krutchik
Vanessa captured the essence of what I wanted to relay on my site without sounding trite, unlike my experience with previous writers.Martin Pugh, Musician
All of us remember teachers who inspired us to greater heights and who influenced our lives. Vanessa Ziff Lasdon has played this role in my daughters' lives.Jack Tauber, M.D.
I learned as much from teaching with Vanessa as any of her students under her guidance. Where so many others fall back on old tricks, Vanessa taps into her extensive experience to invent new methodologies for each and every one of her clients.Patrick Kieffer, Fifth Grade – English & History, The Packer Collegiate Institute
Vanessa’s greatest ability is to help each student realize his or her own untapped potential. It’s the stuff that changes lives!Jacqueline Frohlich
Vanessa’s vast skills, complete dedication, and clear purpose construct a solid core for every student she teaches. Her passionate nature produces both a fun and rewarding learning experience.Michele Noble, Director, Writer, Filmmaker
Ms. Ziff is definitely not just my teacher and tutor; she is my mentor.Lexi 7th Grade, Harvard Westlake
Ms. Ziff maintains a good balance of knowing when to give more help and when to insist that you rise to the challenge of the learning situation. She instills confidence, honors excellence, and respects effort.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
I know that the many fun and challenging lessons I’ve learned from Ms. Ziff will help me achieve my goal of one day being a professional writer and filmmaker.Jaren S. 7th Grade, The Buckley School
The skills Vanessa taught my son--particularly the value of revising many times […] attention to detail, and high standards—are still with Nico several years later.Liz McNicoll, Attorney, Paramount Pictures
My son learned more about writing and literary appreciation from Ms. Ziff in fifth grade than in any other year of school. I wish all teachers had Vanessa’s passion for teaching and inspiring!Kim Ford
Ms. Ziff always pushed me to do my best, and never let me slack off.  She introduced me to my love of writing and gave me the confidence I needed both academically and in myself.Georgia 9th Grade, The Buckley School
Ms. Ziff is always organized, resourceful, and ready for anything. She believes in a process, [...] the best of all being the Ms. Ziff approach, which makes her spectacular.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
What our daughter values most about her time in Vanessa's class is being inspired to become an organized writer who could convey her thoughts in a meaningful manner.Laurie and Chris Harbert
Vanessa got my 8-year old son excited and intrigued to dig deeper into his experiences and bring his thoughts to life. Now Evan’s words dance and sing, which makes me want to dance and sing!Sally Micelotta
Ms. Vanessa has challenged me to stretch my writing and I am excited for what I will do next.Evan, 3rd Grade
While we continue to be impressed by Vanessa’s many attributes, it is her high energy level, extraordinary patience, and passion for what she does that make her truly unique.Melissa and Rob Weiler

Vanessa is an outstanding writer and a joy to work with.

Aimee Trudeau, Web Developer, Kizmato.com
Vanessa’s methods are creative, thorough and innovative. She makes writing fun and has turned our daughter’s “like” of writing into a true “LOVE”.The Altmans
Vanessa is high-energy smarts and charm, the kind of writer and teacher who captures and captivates readers of all ages.New York Times bestselling author, Cynthia Leitich Smith
Whether it’s teaching a student to become a more vivid creative writer, a more effective analytical writer, or a more selective business writer, Vanessa can do it all.Meli and Stephen Rose
It's obvious that Vanessa is a wordsmith: "Write. Observe. Revise. Discover...W.O.R.D."  These are the four essential ingredients for becoming a writer; two of them about the work (writing and revising) and two of them about the joy (observing and discovering.) Vanessa accomplishes it all.  Julie Larios, award-winning poet and children’s author
Vanessa is truly a one-of-a-kind teacher. She’s extremely organized, communicates ideas effectively, helps motivate, and has a lively, engaging teaching style that brings out the best efforts in all of her students.Howard Tager
I honestly don’t know what kind of a writer and reader I would be without the tools I learned with Ms. Ziff. She was always a very understanding, rigorous, and involved teacher, and an incredible mentor.Maddie 9th Grade, Marlborough School
Vanessa has a gift for inspiring even the most reluctant writer and her passion for writing is infectious. She is a favorite workshop leader at our Young Writers’ Conferences.Julie Moore & Rena Svetic, Young Writers’ Conference Founders
Ms. Ziff’s friendly demeanor and enthusiasm made communicating easy and learning exciting. She taught us to understand and appreciate the material, and have fun in the process.Alivia 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
The writing skills my daughter, now excelling in ninth grade English Honors, left Vanessa’s class with continue to be an invaluable set of resources.Betsy Leva
Vanessa Ziff Lasdon possesses the dynamic combination of an incisive intellect and boundless passion when it comes to teaching her craft and sharing skills with her students.MaryLynn Richmond
Having an eight-year old highly gifted boy was not enough to make him put all those brilliant ideas on paper. Daniel feels constantly challenged by Vanessa and that ignites him.Liliana Benitez
Ms. Ziff set the foundation for my analytical, constructive, and creative skills. Whether writing a sonnet or writing an essay, I still have her lessons in my mind.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake

Writer’s Block: 12 Ways to Cure a Monster of a Problem

This is Grumble.

Grumble’s my Writer’s Block beast, and boy, he’s a moody one. A real monster of a problem, especially when the delicate creation stage of a project begins. Grumble can smell the sweet scent of hope and acrid stench of fear from a mile off. He squares off with The Muse on my left shoulder, perching on the right, just inches from my ear, and an arm’s length away from the DELETE button. There’s no finer victory for Grumble than a day without a word on the page. He delights in looming over me with his hairy eyeballs and doomsday expression, squashing seed ideas and spitting on sparks before either can lift off.

Grumble can be pushy. He can be persuasive. I’m always telling Grumble to —

Shut your beak hole!

Quit Bossing Me Around!

Take Your Grumble Parade Elsewhere!

He’s a bit 4-faced. Here’s what I mean:

Grumble #1: Mr. Bully

  • “Cross that out; it’s dumb.”
  • “Quit being lazy.”
  • “None of that sounds good.”
  • “It sucks. Start over.”
  • “You can’t write about something you’re not an expert on.”
  • “You think people will actually want to read this? Don’t embarrass yourself.”

Grumble #2: Mr. Procrastinator

  • “Forget it. It’s not happening today.”
  • “Might as well stop now, since you have no good ideas.”
  • “There are so many other things you could be doing with your time.”
  • “No one else is working this hard. Just quit already.”

Grumble #3: Mr. Downer

  • “You’re never going to finish this thing.”
  • “It’s never going to come out how you imagined.”
  • “You really thought you could pull this off?”
  • “This is boring.”
  • “This is the millionth time you’ve tried to write this. Just give it up.”
  • “You have no idea what to say next, do you?”
  • “Who’s going to even care about this anyway?”
  • “Do you really think you’re the first person to think of that idea?”

Grumble #4: Mr. Micro-Manager

  • “You’re not writing enough.”
  • “Do you really need that character?”
  • “That plot point’s a little too convenient, don’t you think?”
  • “You’ve said that word ten times in ten lines.”
  • “These are all placeholders, right? Make note of it.”
  • “That dialogue isn’t realistic. Read it out loud.”
  • “You’re just scratching the surface. Go deeper.”
  • “You have to write for another hour, since you wasted the last one.”

 

Grumble is Up To No Good in the creation stage, all Crash, Slash, Crush, Dash. The Muse, she’s wispy and wonder-full, nimble and playful, wreathed in possibility. Every time I give Grumble too much ear time during the drafting phase, his words end up paralyzing me, while The Muse, her patience spent and spirit soiled, fades away. Then what course have I set for my story? Not a very productive one.

The only time when Grumble and I see eye-to-eye is when I’m Revising. That’s when Grumble’s audacious complaints and questions might actually be valid. As writer Uma Krishnaswami says, revising is the time when, “my inner critic and I can stroll around [a first draft’s] edges, studying it, figuring out what fits, what doesn’t and what was very definitely a misstep.”

 

12 Successful Ways to Quiet the Grumble Riot

1.)     Pretend Grumble’s head is a giant volume nob. Crank him down to zero.

2.)     Doodle, to keep The Muse dancing.

3.)     Listen to music. Drown him out.

4.)     Go for a walk. Get out of the house.

5.)     Do something fun. Be kind to self. Addiction to responsibility breeds Grumbling.

6.)     Breathe. Remind self that success is both in doing and in being quiet and still.

7.)     Take a nap. Grumble’s criticism is sharpest when I’m too tired to defend myself.

8.)     Reread the piece. Affirm what’s going right.

9.)     Count and celebrate the words already on the page.

10.)   Challenge Grumble to a duel. Better yet, let The Muse have a go.

11.)   Ditch the draft for a spell and write what’s on my mind: email, list, journal entry.

12.)   Think baby steps. Grumble’s voice gets a lot smaller when I break big tasks into littler parts. Then  reward myself after finishing every task. Joy! Says The Muse.

What does your Writer’s Block look and act like?

How do you tame the feral wildebeest?

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