Writing Is Not Instant.

Wanna be done with your novel, like, *yesterday*?? I'm with you. | lucyflint.com

This is basically a footnote to the previous post, and yeah, it seems kind of obvious, right?

Writing isn't instant. We're all well aware of that.

But I think that, in an age of next-day shipping, and instant downloads, and having so much change immediately at our fingertips... 

It can start to feel like we should have novels that happen overnight. 

You know? Just snap your fingers, and, voilà!

I start feeling a creeping sense of impatience.

I can be working merrily along, following all the smart, good systems that work well for me, I can keep pacing myself and moving forward, with everything going reasonably well, very steadily, with definite progress—

And then I just want to throw it all out the window and have a BOOK already!

Anyone with me?!

Can my novel please be done in the next five minutes. 

Look, this is an interesting character, a fun setting, and an intriguing problem... Just add water and INSTA-NOVEL!

Oh, why doesn't it work like that.

And then I have to go sit quietly in a corner and remember the books that I most love to read. The stories that stay with me. The movies that make me cry.

I remember that the process takes time, and that the time is worth it. For that kind of high-quality project? Yeah. It's worth it. 

Sometimes I have to remind myself of this every day. (Okay, okay. Every hour.)

Writing isn't instant, Lucy. Take the time that it takes. Don't settle. 

... Granted, I'm not opposed to learning to write faster. I'm about to reread Rachel Aaron's excellent book, and I just started reading Monica Leonelle's book Write Better, Faster. (I think some writing quota experiments are in my future!) 

I want to learn how to optimize what I'm doing, by all means. And I'm gulping down productivity podcasts and applying what I already know for the best way to write a lot of excellent words.

But even with the best systems and strategies in place, I still firmly believe that any book worth reading is still going to take a bit of time to create.

And too: it takes time to learn the skills to create that good thing in the first place. 

Doesn't mean we can't get there, doesn't mean that the creation time can't become shorter... It just means we aren't there immediately.

Writing is not instant. 

And I, for one, need to skip comparing myself to other writers, or other careers. (Yeesh!!!) 

One day I want to be massively prolific, but right now, I'm learning how to create a quality product. That's not an immediate process.

How about you? Are you feeling that itch of wanting to be done, done with learning, done with this book, done with whatever you're working on? 

Ooof. I hear you. Let's go eat Christmas cookies until the feeling passes. 

And then, after the sugar coma wears off, maybe we can accept that we will always be improving. Always learning. Always finding aspects of our writing (or our thinking, our reading, our self-management styles) that need to grow. 

I think that, instead of viewing that as something awful, something that says "we aren't there yet," or something that feels like a setback, we need to see it as something else.

Growth equals life, my friends. 

If we keep finding places where we need to, want to, have to improve, then we're finding evidences of life. 

Which is a GOOD thing, by the way.

What I keep telling myself is: It is okay if this learning process takes a really really long time.

Like: the rest of our lives.

It doesn't make us stupid. It doesn't mean we won't write amazing things in the meantime.

Okay, lionheart? Okay. How about that. Let's create stories and novels galore, even as we keep on learning, keep on growing. 

(But seriously, let's have a few more cookies in the meantime.)

This Is the ONE Thing You Need to Plan Your New Year

Let's get real: the process of writing a novel is fiercely overwhelming. How do you pick what to do next? How do you use your time with laser-like efficiency? I just found a resource that changed EVERYTHING for me. Come find out about it. | lucyflint.com

Ohhhhh, lionhearts. I have to tell you about the book that has been revolutionizing my writing life lately. 

It's The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

How do I even sum this up?? ... Oh wait. They did it for me. Check out their one-minute video

Yes, it looks like a business book instead of, say, a writing book. But it's a quick, fun read, and a total game changer. Especially if you:

  • Struggle to decide what to focus on, while feeling overwhelmed by everything you need to do.
  • Feel like you're doing a ton of work and yet not moving very fast.
  • Want to make the most of the time that you have to spend... on anything

I'm the type of girl who can, without much trouble, come up with a list of fifty things that I feel like I should be doing right now. Things for health, for writing, for reading, things to improve my living space, my cooking skills, my relationships...

I once, rather memorably, came up with a list of over one hundred things I wanted to do over the course of a three-day-weekend. 

I also have a habit of working long hours, and then feeling like none of it made a difference.

It gets DISCOURAGING. Especially in a field like novel writing, where there are a bazillion skills we can be practicing, ways we can be improving our work, marketing techniques to learn for the future, classes and conferences and free downloads to try...

If you're like me, if you do this too, then you know that you can feel persistently overwhelmed, and yet undisciplined, and like you're never going anywhere. *cue the meltdown*

Hey. You and me, we don't need that kind of stuff in our lives!

Enter: This book. And its ability to mega-focus you on what matters.

The ONE Thing is all about figuring out what you need to do that will bring about the most change.

Or, as the authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan put it so elegantly: "What's the ONE Thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?"

They go on to explain that, for any work that you're doing, there are a variety of things (behaviors, skills, projects, outcomes) that will matter more than anything else. That will improve your results, more than anything else.

And of those that matter more, there's one thing that will matter the most.

Do that thing.

With exclusive focus. With the bulk of your time.

Focus on that ONE Thing. 

...

Whoa, sorry, had to do a few cheerleadery high kicks there. This just gets me so dang fired up! 

The whole book is about learning how to apply that question, what it means, what it doesn't mean, what it looks like, and how it can fit in every area of your life. 

They also talk about six lies about productivity and how those lies can mess you up. ... I'm blushing a bit while I tell you this, but I have believed and been motivated by each of those lies. Persistently.

They're super common. For instance, ever heard that: You need to lead a disciplined life. Or that everything is about finding balance. Or that you can always just summon your willpower. Or that you can and should get everything crossed off your to-do list. Or that multitasking is the only way to get everything done. Or that you should aim small.

They blow up each of these lies, and show a better, more humane, and more productive way to operate.

WHAT. 

No wonder I used to feel so exhausted and crazy! And no wonder my last few weeks have felt marvelous in comparison!

I'm using their goal-setting methods to focus on exactly what skill I should be learning for my writing (more on that in the next post!).

And I also narrowed down my health goals from about, oh, 400 ideas to just two, simple goals. And I can already tell a difference in how I feel.

... Time to do a few more high kicks!

I'm applying this thinking elsewhere too, and I already feel like my mind is clearer, my work is more productive, and I'm going in the direction I most want to go.

It's exciting.

Trust me: you want to read this book. Especially if you want to do big things next year. Especially if you want your time to make the biggest possible difference in your day and your work.

And especially if you want to move forward in a serious way—in any or every area of your life.

This is the next book on your reading list, okay? Get it for yourself for Christmas. 

It just might transform your 2016. 

This Is The Essential Holiday Survival Guide for Writers! (Part TWO.)

For starters, I want to say that I'm not taking back anything that I said in Part One of the holiday survival guide. Okay? I truly have used and loved using every tip in that post, and I mean every single one.

But.

I also really needed to say this, too.

Three things you absolutely need to practice doing, if you're gonna survive this holiday season. (And they probably aren't what you'd guess.) Part TWO of my essential holiday survival guide for writers. | lucyflint.com

This has been my usual writing practice during the holidays:

I get really psyched up about the holiday season, and I promise myself that this will be the Year of Balance and Harmony between writing and everything else.

And then I crash and burn, berate myself, and flounder around until, oh, about February. When I finally piece myself together again.

Honestly, this season throws me for a loop. And I'm finally realizing that it will just go ahead and keep doing that

I used to attack myself for how lazy I was, how undisciplined and unfocused.

I thought that a real writer would just keep on working, whatever the date on the calendar. Sure, take off for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but otherwise: I should be able to sail right through the season, full of words. 

I have spent so much time hating myself for missing writing sessions in December. 

I felt like a fraud, a hypocrite. And people think I'm actually WRITING! I'd shriek, and then flail about.

Holiday stuff, or writing stuff? Family gatherings, or character gatherings? Which do I skip? How do I clone myself already?

I spent so much time doing this. So much time being angry at myself for not managing it all flawlessly.

And now I think that, actually, all that time could have been better spent.

Instead of flailing, what if I just got back up, and learned to love writing more, learned to love my story more?

What if I just focused on getting back into the game?

Without all the blood and all the tears and all the flailing limbs.

There are going to be days (and weeks and even months) when writing just does not happen.

And I'd like to say: don't waste your time on the negative emotions. You don't need them.

Just come back and read. Come back and write.

So you've missed a day, or two, or eight, or thirty.

It's OKAY.

I just want to say that. It's okay.

Yes, you will feel rusty when you start again. Yes, you will probably think everything you're writing is crap.

Ignore the voices. They just show up after you've taken a break from writing, because they think that's their job. They are the gnats of the writing practice. Just brush them off.

That's your starting over plan: Shrug off the internal resistance. And simply paddle toward the words again.

Remind yourself of this as often as you need to, during the on-again, off-again, on-again writing schedule of the holidays.

Above all, skip the shame and the guilt.

Drowning yourself in misery because you haven't written in a while doesn't actually work. 

It doesn't make you a better writer. It doesn't make up for the time you spent away from the work. And it doesn't endow you with all kinds of discipline for the next time your work is disrupted.

I PROMISE you this.

If shame and guilt worked wonders in a writing life, then by now I'd be a multiple bestselling writer, fa-la-la-la-la-ing my way around the country on a book tour.

(Which I'm not.)

So, I've tried out that writing tactic, and I'm here to spread the word that it doesn't work. Let's try new tactics.

Let's try self-forgiveness.

Let's try getting up again and just brushing ourselves off and carrying on with the work.

So far, that's worked really well for my writing life. (And life in general.)

Yes, try to steer through the storm of events. Try to hang on to your story. Try to stay upright.

Snatch time for your work. Try all the fun suggestions from Part One of this guide, and see which ones work for you.

But also, please know this: If you do fall down, if suddenly you realize you've missed a whole month, it really isn't as big of a deal as it can sometimes feel like. 

It doesn't make you undisciplined, lazy, or a liar if your writing practice just sort of implodes during the holidays. 

It doesn't make you bad. And it doesn't mean you aren't committed.

It just means that life is big, and that stuff happens, like it always does.

It also means you don't control everything. (Which isn't such a bad thing after all.)

Most of all—and this is actually a rather exciting and good thing—it means that you and I can practice getting up again.

We can practice our agility. Which makes us resilient and strong in our writing, instead of brittle and defensive. It's a good direction to go. 

Okay?

So these are my three absolute essentials for the holidays:

1) Forgive yourself when you fall down. 

Be relentless about forgiveness. Keep giving it to yourself.

Even when you think you should beat yourself up, try forgiveness. Tell yourself it's okay. (Out loud is best.)

2) Refuse to believe all the lies about what this says about you as a writer, and about your discipline. 

The lies are totally uninformed. You don't have to listen to them. They don't realize all the other ways that you're growing as a person during this season. Down the road, that will translate to more writing and better stories.

So, ignore the lies.

3) And heck! Enjoy those holidays!!

If, like me, you are celebrating the birth of a King, then those celebrations really do deserve all the time and energy they take. And then some!

Yeah, I might not go to many parties, and I keep my shopping minimal, and I really will try to write as many days of December as I can...

But I also don't want to miss Christmas. I don't want to be over-focused on work, and under-focused on what matters most. 

So if it is a cold hard choice between participating in the holiday or writing, then choose the holiday.

And don't beat yourself up about it.

But choose that holiday with a wide open heart and wide open mind. Experience all of it.

And when it's all over, write down what you remember.

Start up again. Dust off your keyboard, your notebook, your pen. Re-establish your writing groove.

Starting over has been a consistent part of my writing life: I'm finally learning to treat it like a skill. I want to get really good at restarting. Instead of being afraid of it.

Are you on board with that?

Let's use this year's post-holiday season for practice. 

And don't forget: Kindness eases everything.

(Peppermint mochas don't hurt either.)

This Is the Essential Holiday Survival Guide for Writers! (Part ONE.)

I can't even begin to believe that it's December, so we won't start on that. Ahem.

How's everyone doing post-Nanowrimo? Fingers recovering? Brains regathering energy? You all okay? 

I love letting a theme guide each month's posts, but when I looked around for a central theme for December, nothing really fit. Instead I had a handful of posts that I really, really wanted to share with you before the year was out. Writer to writer.

So that's what our December will be: a heart-to-heart before the end of 2015. 

Sound good, lionhearts? Awesome. Let's dive in.


December can throw even the hardiest writing practice for a loop. Check out this essential survival guide for three ways I keep writing through the holiday season. | lucyflint.com

Let's be honest: with all the holiday festivities, it might be the most wonderful time of the year, but it's also one of the hardest times of the year for keeping coherent thoughts in your head.

Aka, writing novels

It is hard, hard work to keep writing in December.

I wanted to write myself a Survival Guide, just to round up all my little tricks for getting myself and my characters through the next few weeks in one piece. (More or less.)

Are you up for that too? High five.

Here are the three things I'll be focusing on to get through the month.

1. Preserving the time to write.

For most of the year, I tend to keep a pretty strict writing schedule... but everything gets messy in December.

There are ideal times for shopping, and there are times when shopping is unthinkable. Errand-running of any kind during December is usually best right in the middle of when I usually write. 

And then all the wonderful (and wonderfully exhausting) parties start up, and both time and energy for writing seems to disappear.

So it pays to make a new plan for finding writing time in this month, and letting it not look like all the other months.

This is when I start planning my writing time on a weekly basis, instead of a daily one. 

  • I'll try to group my errands together, to make the most of my breaks from work.
  • The hectic, errand-full days only get a little writing time: I'll try to work for a while before going anywhere, but once the errands start, I let myself stop for the day.
  • But on the non-errand days, I go big. I do all my good writing day things, and try to work as deeply and well as possible.
  • The day after a big party, I let myself start later (I don't regain energy very quickly!), but try to have a stellar afternoon.

Nothing really shocking here, right? The point is: try to work with your schedule, and with your own energy requirements. And just get really intentional about that, before all the chaos starts.

For years I insisted that December's writing schedule should look exactly like every other month's, and when I kept getting derailed, so much frustration ensued. 

Which isn't really what I'd like to be up to, when everyone's dancing around with candy canes. 

So let's not do that this year.

By all means, stick with your schedule for as long as you can. But when things get busy, it's time to get creative with the schedule too.

2. Finding the words.

Sometimes, though, the writing time isn't the problem. 

Sometimes, when everything gets mega-busy, it's just hard to hear the words.

Honestly, if part of your brain is working out what presents to get, and if another part is thinking about cookies and party menus, and if another part is wondering if your ugly Christmas sweater is ugly enough, and if another part is deciding which charities to give to, and if another part is realizing that your decorations are all looking a little tired, and if another part is debating what the Christmas cards will look like this year, and if another part is ...

You get my point.

Brainspace is extremely crowded this time of year. 

So even if you do plunk yourself at your desk for three hours or thirty minutes, you might not have so much actual writing happening.

This is hard. And for me, this is a lot harder (and ultimately more discouraging) than finding the time to write. 

I used to beat myself up about it. But now I've changed my tactic.

When the actual writing doesn't seem to work, I start making lists. (Yes, I've said it before, but I'll keep saying it! I've rescued myself with listmaking so many times.)

You can use lists to approach any part of your project, no matter what project it is.

It makes the best use of your time, and it also helps calm down your ping-ponging brain. It just feels more manageable than trying to sculpt paragraphs.

What kind of list? Try these:

  • Twelve things your character wants to do but shouldn't
  • Twelve things your character should do but doesn't want to do
  • Ten unusual details about the most common (or the most important) setting in the book
  • Five things your protagonist wants to say to your antagonist
  • Five things your antagonist wants to say to your protagonist
  • Twenty startling things that could happen in the very next scene 
  • Eight possible names for that shadowy minor character you just invented
  • Twenty possible titles for the novel
  • Fourteen lovely things that your future reviewers will say about you and your book ;)

See what I mean? Whatever is next, if you feel a bit blah about it, or if you can't quite envision it, no worries. See it as an opportunity. And start making lists.

Then when you do come back to work with a full brain, you'll have a lot of ideas to work from.

Honestly, I've shocked myself by being able to make lists in the weirdest circumstances. I can list when I'm barely awake, I can list in the middle of a crowded store, I can list when my brain feels full of other things. 

Use the hyper holiday energy in December to turn yourself into a list-making ninja. (Because I promise, it's a strategy you can rely on the rest of the year, too.)

Other ways to find the words this month: 

When all else fails: Read. Bring a book with you everywhere, and sneak little fiction snacks, staying as close to the flow of narrative as you can. 

Pour language into the cracks of your days, so that when all the activity dies down, your head is full of words again.

3. Getting out the nets.

Here's the really good news: If everything else goes belly-up, and you have no time to to write, and if the listmaking doesn't work and all you have is blank pages--

There is one more thing that we can all do in this crazy month.

We can turn into clever little explorers, and seek material

Here's the truth: I spend most of my time trying to be as reclusive as I can possibly be while staying mentally healthy. (It's a delicate balance.) 

December flips that formula upside down. It's bad news for my writing, but it's really really good news for my mind and creativity, when I choose to see it that way.

Holidays bring along with them all the raw ingredients for a zillion new ideas. They're a huge factory for the stuff of stories.

And if you bring along big mental nets for catching these ideas, you'll end this month with a pile of excellent material.

It comes down to paying attentionTaking notes. Jotting down what you hear, what you see. And staying alive to all the juxtapositions and paradoxes and beauties in this season.

Think like a collector. And make use of every errand, every outing, every party.

Speaking of parties, yes, I'm on Team Introvert, and every party—however happy—can feel like a slow death. Here's the idea-gathering strategy that helps me through:

Interviewing.

Seriously. Give this a try. Casually interview the people around you.

Ask interesting questions—ask about things that, as a writer, you genuinely want to know about.

Find out more about your cousin's unusual specialty, or the niche that your friend's husband is working in.

Ask everyone about their hobbies—not just what they do, but why they do it, how they got started, what the high points are, what they've found out.

Ask about the places they've been, where they've lived, where they travel to, and what it's like.

Ask about how they met the host, or how they met their spouse. Amazing stories come out of this.

These people know things, and better yet, they're usually quite happy to tell you.

Find the most eccentric person at the party, and get 'em to talk. What happens next will be GOLD, for you and your work. I promise.

Excuse yourself from time to time and go jot down notes, get down phrases, and write down how their facial expression changed, how they used their hands while they talked, or what details stood out to you.

You're a clever reporter, taking notes on life. You're a writer-explorer, doing field research, collecting samples.

And oh yes, you're also being an awesome guest, and not dying a slow introvert death.

Good plan, right?

When you see it this way, any outing can be an investment in your work. It can give you unexpected ideas, glimpses at rich characters, and snatches of dialogue.

Even though it's time away from the desk, it can at least be super productive for you.


Whoa, we just covered a lot of ground! But seriously, those are some of my best, most trusty holiday survival tips. Just going back through them helps me feel calmer about all the craziness to come!

But if you want to hear the real difference-maker for the holidays, come back for Part Two on Monday. Okay?

In the meantime, what about you guys? What's served you well during chaotic times? What keeps you grounded? I'd love to hear more from you in the comments.

I just have one quick thing to say before you eat your pie.

Can we take a sec to be outrageously grateful for our story-filled lives? Let's. | lucyflint.com

Happy Thanksgiving, Americans!! (And everyone else too, of course!!)

Go eat all the food, and maybe write some, just a little bit. Mostly, eat the food. 

If you're new to this space, you should know this about me: I feel incredibly fortunate to be a writer, and to live a story-filled life. 

It wasn't always this way. Actually, for the first seven-ish years of being a full-time apprentice-level writer, I kinda hated it. 

I mean, I loved words (mostly), and I loved reading (when I could get around to it). But I was in a sheer, flat-out panic about how little I knew about writing, and how desperately I needed this whole novelist venture to work out. 

And I got really bitter. And really sad. And super anxious.

About a year and a half ago, that all changed. Through some pretty major circumstances (waaaaaaay too much to go into in this blog post!), my way of thinking was taken all apart, and put back together again.

It was painful. But it was extremely clarifying. And ultimately, it's one of the best things that's ever happened to me.

And I realized: when I drop my expectations, my perfectionism, my decision of when and how my writing life should progress--when I drop all of that, and when I instead just focus on this incredible challenge of learning to tell stories:

I love it. I mean, I freaking LOVE it. 

This world of characters and setting, of conflict and plot twists, story structure and pacing... Everything that I have learned, and everything (everything!!) I have yet to learn: I'm overwhelmed at how rewarding it is. 

I think it's perfect that American Thanksgiving happens in the midst of Nanowrimo. Yeah, it ups the chaos factor a bit, but I think every draft should have a moment where we pause all the frantic activity and just get grateful.

Stories are precious things, my friends. A perfectly turned sentence? A thing of beauty. 

Novels--even the most lighthearted ones--can practically save lives

Even a ramshackle sentence, a messy paragraph, a totally botched dialogue exchange: all things that can be learned from, that can be rewritten, that can be turned into gold.

(Which is, itself, a totally incredible process, and has delights all its own. There are good reasons why I was almost an editor!)

... Yes, I do hear myself. I promise I'm not just trying to be a sappy, ridiculous, idealistic little writer-girl.

Dude. I know it's hard. Writing can be really, really stinking hard. 

But it can also--when we loosen our grip, when we lighten up, when we allow ourselves to be learners, when we focus on curiosity, when we treat ourselves well--it can also be a wonderfully rewarding life.

And one that I'm definitely grateful to participate in.

And HEY. While I'm being all emotional, let me just say this:

I am so dang grateful for all of you, my lovely lionhearted readers!! It's been so awesome to get to know you, to hear what you're thinking, what you're writing, to see so many of you on Twitter.

We're not doing this writing thing alone! 

And, aw, heck: I just love ya!

There. I said it. And it's true. *hug*

Now go eat some pumpkin pie.

Your Novel Versus the World

If you're slowing down, if you're burning out, if the drafting is getting more difficult: This one thing might make all the difference. | lucyflint.com

If you're doing Nanowrimo this month, you're about halfway there. (In terms of time, at least. Draftwise... that might look a little different.)

And halfway through a drafting marathon, you might feel a bit of an energy shift. 

All the excitement of starting something... it might have fizzled out a bit. And you're left with the work itself.

Maybe you sense the drag, the friction, the gravity. The flow of ideas might be slackening.

And yet... You might also be in a weird dreamy state as your draft grows. The non-writing parts of your day might feel a bit detached. You might hear yourself saying things that don't make sense.

You might be getting a little word-drunk is what I'm saying. (Kind of exhilarating, isn't it!)

But at the same time, you might be looking at your stock of energy, your reserves, and wonder how you'll keep going at this pace.

I totally hear you. That's exactly how I feel mid-draft.

This is the point in the game when I start throwing non-writing commitments overboard. I look suspiciously at anything that sucks energy away from the work.

You gotta lighten the load.

Grab a few minutes, and list everything that you've got going on in your life, from now until the end of the draft. (In Nano terms, that's at 11:59 p.m., November 30.)

What are your commitments, your obligations, your appointments? Write 'em all down.

Then, what are the other things you're doing every day? Stuff like: Laundry (if you're still doing that), showers (if they haven't become totally optional), food consumption, and those Lucy-Flint-made-me-do-it dance parties.

Okay, here's the tricky part. 

What three things require the most energy from you, while giving you the least renewed energy in return? 

What's taking more than it's giving back: that's my question. 

Try to push yourself to circle three things. If you can't find three, at least find one. 

And then get rid of it. Be done with it. Say, "Thanks, sorry, but I can't." 

At least until Nanowrimo is over.

Some commitments can't be shaken, so if you can't totally get rid of it, how can you still lighten the load?

Is there a way to protect your energy? To pull back slightly, even if you still have to do it? Ways to delegate, ways to do only part?

Can you arrive late, can you leave early, can you not bring the dessert this time?

What would it look like if this didn't totally drain you?

If this whole question is hard, I totally get it. I'm with you. I'm stepping back from some important things this month, to make room for more writing.

And whenever that makes me feel like I'm maybe a callous and terrible and unlikeable person, I remind myself of these three super-important truths:

1) No one can write your book except for you. No one.

Actually, let's repeat that (maybe out loud, and maybe standing on your tip toes, and yeah, you probably should shout it): No one can write my book except for me! 

So you need to get mama-bear defensive about your work sometimes. Okay? It's that important.

2) The work-in-progress takes WAY MORE mental energy and emotional energy than you can really explain to yourself (or to other people). 

Which means that, if you are drafting your brains out (and you are!), you need every bit of energy you can get.

Your hours away from the writing desk are still important. They're still part of the equation, because they still affect your total energy reserves.

Sometimes I'm tempted to be a superwoman during my non-writing hours. But whenever I try to dodge this rule, I can feel it. Big time. And the work suffers.

The book takes a lot of energy... even when you aren't actively writing it.

And so sometimes, for the sake of your beloved work-in-progress (which only you can write!!), you have to step back.

Which brings us to number three.

3) This is only for a season. 

It's not for forever. Heck, you've just got a couple of weeks left! It's nearly done.

If your choices are disappointing someone you care about, just remember this: You will be done with this draft soon.

Drafts don't last forever, and when you're finished, you'll need a little break. You can reinvest in those other parts of your life then, and everything will be just. fine

Really.

So take a little time today to make the hard call. Give yourself the gift of a bit more energy. 

And then watch your draft flourish.

Sound good?

My work-in-progress is definitely cheering. I think yours is too.

PS: Seriously, how's it going? How's the Nanowrimo life treating you? Feel free to give us all an update in the comments!! I'd love to hear about it!

My Favorite Writing Strategy: Take Super-Good Care of the Thing that Takes Care of the Writing

During a mega-drafting marathon (hey there, Nanowrimo!), one of your best writing tools can take a big hit. Here are some quick ideas for how to avoid that. | lucyflint.com

It's too easy for a writer to treat her body like an afterthought.

It's just the mass of bones and muscles that keep our writing brains from scrabbling around on the ground, right?

Our fingers are simply the instruments our brains use to reach the keyboard, and mouths were clearly made for just one thing: Coffee reception.

It's too easy to fall into that trap, but I have a suspicion: A ridiculously healthy body just might be a writer's best weapon.

It hit me recently how easy and typical it is for me and my friends to all categorize ourselves as "Busy and Tired."

Suddenly I wondered: What would happen if I were, instead, Focused and Deeply Rested? 

How clearly would I think if my body were at its best condition? 

What would happen if my wrists weren't on the brink of carpal tunnel syndrome? What if I wasn't putting my back in permanent danger, and what if I wasn't burning my retinas out by staring at a screen without blinking? 

Would I--shocking thought--actually be better able to do my job? 

Would I think more clearly, and have more interesting ideas, and have more attention for each project? Maybe, you know, be a better writer?  

I think it's pretty dang possible.

During a drafting marathon, it's SO easy to make your body suffer on behalf of your draft. But honestly, you might pay for it later.

I have a writing friend who totally fried her wrists in an attempt to meet an aggressive writing deadline... She ended up in physical therapy, and yeah, her writing had to sit on the back burner for a while. (Not to mention: OUCH.)

Can we maybe not make ourselves sick and broken in the pursuit of that 50,000th word? Can writing "The End" not kill us, please?

I know you're already keeping track of a lot. But maybe, consider loving your body a little during the remaining days of your drafting marathon. 

Here's a list of some teeny tiny little moves toward health. It won't ask much from you, but your body will be THRILLED ... and it just might reward you with that plot breakthrough you've been begging for! 

Give 'em a try:

  • If you're writing longhand, try using markers instead of pens, because they slide over the page more easily. Good news for your wrists!
     
  • Every fifty minutes, stand up from your desk for a five minute dance party. (Set a timer to remind yourself if need be!) Yes, you. Yes, really. Getting your blood moving around means more idea power, so get twirlin'!
     
  • Better yet? Stand up every thirty minutes and just shake everything out! Or, if dancing isn't appealing, try these five simple yoga moves for a fantastic stretch. They always make me feel more awake!
     
  • Protect your eyes by giving them a break too: look away from your screen for at least five minutes, every half hour. Go look out a window while you brainstorm your next paragraph. (I tend to get my best ideas away from the computer anyway!)
     
  • Skip chocolate as a drafting snack (once in while, at least!), and fill up your bowl with celery sticks, carrots, red pepper slices, and hummus. (And grapes! And pomegranate arils! Go crazy!)
     
  • Dare yourself to drink a big glass of water before you refill your coffee mug. (If you're really health-bonkers like me, grab a green juice now and then. Kale LOVES helping with your plot.)
     
  • Can you stand and type? I plunk my keyboard on an upside-down trashcan and tip my screen up. Voilà! DIY standing desk! My brain feels instantly perkier.
     
  • If you find you're always zoning out, give yourself a nap. Subconsciouses like to dance around while you're sleeping anyway: you might wake up to brilliance.
     
  • And while we're talking about sleep: Send yourself to bed a half hour earlier: what you lose in drafting time, you'll regain in mental clarity. (This has worked SO well for me lately!)

It's not rocket science. None of this is shocking health news.

But I know that I need to forcibly remind myself, mid-draft, that my body doesn't just exist to write words down!

So here's my challenge to you: Try to do at least ONE THING each day that your body would genuinely thank you for. (No fibbing.)

And seriously, from one writer to another: Please don't burn out your body for the sake of your book. There are other ways to finish, which don't include totally trashing your self.

Sound good? 

Okay, my lionhearted friend... back to those words! My celery sticks salute you. 

Got a good health tip? ... Especially something easy to apply in the midst of drafting season? Do share in the comments!! I'm always up for feeling more awesome!

If Your Writing Life Is Going Smoothly, But You Feel Like Something Is Missing, Try Adding This.

My writing life has two wonderful sides to it. The super-productive, bright, civilized side is essential. But so is the other side... | lucyflint.com

Sometimes I love being the kind of writer who is efficient, bright, and clear-headed. With a clean desk, very few grumpy days, and a fairly smooth novel-writing process.

This is my "good writing-life citizen" version.

And this is when I feel like I could draw a diagram of my novel--I could graph the whole thing out. This is when I'm surrounded by cheerful lists, when I become a smart little word-accountant, tallying up page numbers and chapter sequences.

This is when I feel like I generally know what I'm doing, and where I'm headed. It's a nice clean feeling in the head. 

And I do love those days and weeks.

And then there are the other good days.

When I feel like an entirely different kind of writer

... When I feel like I'm journeying through a shadowy and mysterious land, a hundred miles away from civilization. And to write the novel, I get up each day and set out on a fog-swept road.

And all I know is that I keep moving forward, but I never know what will emerge from the mist.

Writing becomes an adventure; a day at the desk feels like I'm far away.

I start to lose my grip on normal things (grocery shopping? taking showers? going to sleep? errands? meetings?), which is a little yiiiiiiiiikes, but I replace it with a much stronger grip on the story.

And I get swept along. Rosy-cheeked, breathless. Chasing the story.

Heather Sellers says, "Artists are vagabond outlaws," and that is exactly how I feel on these wild, uncivilized writing days.

It's incredible--it sounds crazy--but I start to feel like the story has become my home, like I've fallen into it. Like it's showing me what comes next, day after day, so long as I wake up and write it all down.  

This is when the writing itself feels less like a process and more like watching yeast bloom in a bowl of warm milk: fascinating, mysterious, and more than a little funky.

And I love it, I love it, when I have the days and weeks when that is my writing life.

The vagabond outlaw, scribbling away in the shadows.

Two wonderful sides of a healthy writing life: the bright beautiful process, and the murky mysterious journey in the dark.

I love both versions. 

And I'm convinced that we need both.

It is good--really good--for my writing to fit within certain boundaries. To have a point in the workday when I'm "done" for the day. To be able to do other important things, like cook! exercise! meet friends for brunch!

Good civilized things.

It's good to seek an excellent writing routine, to mastermind a brilliant reading list, or improve my self-management skills. Efficiency! Productivity! Hooray!

But now and then I feel an undeniable urge to chuck my lists (or, okay, just set them down neatly) and make room for the more mysterious side of the writing life.

The vagabond outlaw side.

I start canceling appointments, clearing my schedule of stuff even in the not-writing hours of my day. Because I need a lot of mental room. 

I clear the space to let myself daydream fiercely. I don't worry about getting to bed on time; I carry paper everywhere I go--like, literally, an index card and pen glued to my hand.

I work to fill my mind with all the characters' voices; I close my eyes and build the setting all around me. I walk around in a daze.

This is when I stop worrying about things like schedules, civilized behavior, and, you know, putting stuff back where it goes. I let my life get disorderly. I lose things.

And all that attention and energy and mind and heart pour into the story.

This is what I'm craving right now, honestly. I've had a long run of highly scheduled days, days of routine--and that's wonderful.

But I need to be swept off my feet. I need to go a little wild.

My novel is calling to me. It's time to bury myself in it, get it under my skin, so that I'm dreaming it up all the time, and not just setting text on paper, not just typing, not just plotting.

You know what I mean? 

I want to write a novel with depths. I want a book that readers will tumble into. A story that works like quicksand: One step in, and, welp, now you'll be reading till 3 a.m.

Because I love books like that. The books you read all night long until you finally read The End with scratchy, puffy eyes, and you feel like you've been lost and then found. 

The best way to read!

And sometimes the best way to write.

So that's where I want to go. 

Well, it's October 1. And here in the Midwest, it's autumn. (Favorite season alert!!)

Time for longer nights, and candles in pumpkins, and the spookier sorts of things, so I thought: LET'S. Let's talk about the more shadowy, mysterious parts of writing this month. 

Let's chase after the parts of writing that are less concrete, less certain, less list-able.

Let's be swept off our feet by the vagabond-outlaw side of the writing life. Let's remind ourselves that we're wanderers, web-makers, dreamers. 

Let's go deeper this month. Let's write from the shadowy side.

The Worst Thing I Ever Did for My Writing

When you're a beginning writer, you don't need to think about agents. Or publication. Or reviews, sales, awards. I promise. (And this is what happens if you let the worst advice drive your career.) | lucyflint.com

This post is all about me trying to keep you from getting hit by a bus. Okay? So if I get my serious voice on, that's why. I love you and I want to keep you from being writerly roadkill. All right?

This is one of the absolute worst pieces of writing advice that I ever received. And, I'm ashamed to say, I acted on it:

Just before I started writing full time, an acquaintance of mine--a talented, experienced writer--told me that I should be able to write a novel in a year.

Okay. Here's the truth in that: Many professional novelists can and should create a novel in a year. If novels are what put food on your table, it's a really good idea to write one a year at least. 

But for someone who is just starting to learn about novel writing, this is HOWLINGLY TERRIBLE advice. 

Especially if that new writer is also a high achiever, perfectionistic, Type A sort of person. One who is full of terrors and insecurities about her own legitimacy. Who isn't sure she should be "allowed" to write full time. 

This is very bad advice for that sort of person.

This is one of the beliefs that most crippled me as a writer.

I started writing full time in an absolute panic. I was desperate to prove myself. And I had that advice of hers hanging over my head. I had to crank out this novel.

It took me much too long to let go of that belief. Embarrassingly long. 

And as a result, I've been learning to write a novel completely backwards. 

I can't tell you how badly I wish I could time travel back to see my terrified pre-graduation self.

I'd sit that version of me down in a chair, probably pour some coffee down her throat, and then force her to take notes while I tell her this: Don't try to write one word of an actual novel for at least six monthsMaybe even for a whole first year.

Instead, do a bunch of quality writing exercises, I'd say. Give yourself a starting time for your work day, and stick with it. Write exercises for an hour each day. Work up to two.

Fill the rest of your writing days like this: read books on craft, read about how novelists think, and how to build a writing life. Read hundreds of novels.

And then jot down great and crazy and terrible ideas for novels and characters and situations and settings. IDEAS. Don't try to write the novels themselves.

I would tell her, very seriously: Give yourself time to adjust. Time to learn about this life. To learn about novels. Learn about the underpinnings of structure, about the crazy mystery of it all, and how full-time writers think.

Learn about creativity, get yourself a good non-fiction reading habit, become a kind boss to yourself, and start getting rid of your perfectionism and your envy

GOSH.

That would have transformed my writing career. 

Instead, I wasted years and years trying to create a publishable product before I understood the basics of how novels actually work.

Before I even knew--truly knew, not just assumed--what kinds of novels I even wanted to write.

I bolstered my belief in this lie every time I heard about publishing wunderkinds, about writers my age or younger who were publishing quality stuff.

I'd go back to what that acquaintance said, stare at a calendar in despair, and then go back to my study and thrash around. 

Nauseating, right? 

YEARS. OF. THIS.  

Well, I can't go back and change that terrified kid's mind and convince her that she needed to grow into this.

To tell her--convince her!! brainwash if necessary!!--that by trying to cut to the end, she was actually giving herself a lot more work, heartache, despair, and bitterness. 

So can I at least convince you? 

Please, please, please. Take the time to learn about novels and writing and your own amazing mind. Do not aim, at the start of your career, at agents and publication. Not immediately. Not yet.

First novels are allowed to be terrible! They are allowed to be awful, wonderful, ramshackle things! They can take a long time to learn to write! They are supposed to sit proudly in drawers with all their battle scars, as proof that you are a learning, growing writer. 

They are not required to be written breathlessly in your first year. And first novels are not required to make you tons of money, fame, glowing reviews, screaming fans, and more money. 

They are only required to help you lay a solid, true, healthy foundation for your writing career.

Okay? 

If you think you're an exception to this: well, you might be.

But just so you know (and even though it makes me CRINGE): I was convinced I was an exception too.

And I stayed convinced in the face of a lot of warning signs. 

I thought that my job was to crank out my first (amazing, best-selling, award-winning, money-making) novel in a year. I thought that was what I was supposed to do.

But here's what I know now.

My job, for at least that first year, was to learn what made a great novel great, what made a bad novel bad, and how to work every single day. My job was to get into the habit of coming up with lots of wild and wonderful ideas and to write down those ideas.

My job was to create a system of habits that named me a writer.

Without reference to publishing, agents, reviews, or awards.

My job was not to write a novel in a year.

If you are new to this, please give yourself time to learn. A LOT of time. Plenty of grace-filled time.

Commit to learning deeply. Learn how your brain works, let yourself write a zillion exercises, explore the kinds of themes that bubble up. Surprise yourself.

Don't be driven by what you imagine you should write or how quickly someone else says you should.

There will be time, later, for professional speed. There will be time to write faster.

There will be plenty of time for you to prove yourself. You'll get there.

But it is silly, pointless, and so heartbreaking to try to do that first thing.

Re-Establishing a Writing Groove (Or, Back to School for Writers!)

After a busy summer, I sit down at my desk and hear ... just static. It's a bit discouraging. Here's how to get your writing groove back. | lucyflint.com

This won't surprise you, but I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to school. 

I was the kind of kid who spent the last weeks of summer daydreaming about long division. Who was itching to buy packs of college-ruled paper for all those assignments. Who loved bringing home a pile of new textbooks. 

You know. Definitely a nerd.

So September still means "back to school" for me, even though my last real "back to school" was--cough, cough--ten years ago. 

But that doesn't matter, right? It's still a great time to stock up on office supplies (hello and thank you, back to school sales!) and to get back to the good work habits that were blasted to smithereens during the summer.

(Or is that just me.)

It's time to refocus. To get back to basics. To get big mugs of apple cider (!!!) and then dive deep into work. 

Yes? Yes! 

But the first step of a re-committed writing practice is, oh yeah, remember this?:

You have to sit still, alone, in a room. 

For hours.

I've had so much going on lately, that I feel a little jittery, here at my desk today. ...

Okay, a lot jittery. 

A little too quick to jump up and do something else. My brain is pinging every which way, and the voices of my characters are pretty dang faint. 

Actually, I can't hear them at all.

... Remember your elementary school science classes? And learning about how some muscles work in opposition?

If not, here's a little reminder: When one contracts, the other relaxes (and meanwhile, your leg kicks out). And then the first one relaxes and the other contracts, your leg goes back down.

Right? Well, I've found that the same dynamic is at work in my writing life. 

I have the public, out-and-about, errand-running, meeting-for-coffee, smiling, chatting, pleasant version of Lucy: When the social muscle contracts.

And then there's the other version, the writing version of Lucy. Private, contemplative, inward-focused, and absent-minded: When the writing muscle contracts.

When I'm living as the social version of Lucy, writing feels like a distant daydream. That side of me is pretty well shut off. 

And when I'm going full-tilt at work as the writing version of Lucy, anything social feels like an unbearable strain. A shocking interruption. I can't remember how to behave, I forget to answer questions, I'm not really socially acceptable. 

(Any of this ringing a bell for you too? Or is this just me?)

It is absolutely possible to get into a rhythm of moving back and forth between these two versions, with a certain degree of elegance. It really can be done.

I can write well and then transition to being social and then transition back into deep writing. Definitely.

But when I've been focusing on one side for a long time, the other side feels foreign. Like it's shriveled up, atrophied. And using it at all is just really hard.

... Which is how it feels to come back to full-time writing, after a super busy month! 

It can be really difficult, after all that activity, to remember how to sit quietly in a room. To go from all that social work (with the writing life totally silenced), to the complete opposite: 

A strong writing life, and a quieted social life. 

Right now, my writing life muscle is weak and wobbly. ... Actually, it's gone nearly to sleep, and today I'm feeling all those prickles, the pins-and-needles feeling of it waking back up.

Ouch.

But you can remember how to stretch out a cramped muscle. And we all know that wiggling-stomping dance we use to get our legs to wake up (please say it's not just me hopping around!).

The same thing is true here: There are tricks to getting the blood flowing back through the writing life. So let's get that muscle warmed up, active, and strong!

1. Go "immersion camp" style.

It sounds brutal, but the best way to get back into a groove is to give myself no other options. To clear the schedule for at least a week, if not two, if not longer.

Beg off commitments, reschedule meetings, and just generally get a wide patch of time. Because basically, you need to be able to get back to your desk, every day, for a set amount of time. And the more time, the better.

2. Ignore all that screaming.

Pins and needles, right? If you're like me, as soon as you even look at your desk, everything in your brain is going to say that this is a bad idea, and there are a zillion things that are more worth your time than doing some writing--which is bound to be bad quality anyway. 

Any other form of productivity will seem more appealing. Doing the dishes or the laundry. Getting back to your exercise routine. Cleaning out your inbox. Reading a book about productivity. Anything else that isn't writing. 

I've realized that I have to steadily ignore all that. I don't even argue with it: I just tune it out. Let the dishes stack up, and the laundry accumulate.

This is writing time. And I've already decided that it's worth it.

3. Slow the brain down with some reading.

It can be a really, really good idea to re-establish a writing practice by re-establishing a reading practice. 

While it obviously doesn't take the place of writing, it still gets our busy, chattery brains to slow down, to start absorbing words, to tune back in to all things literary. (Sometimes I love novels for this, and sometimes poetry feels better. Look here and here for recommendations.)

I like to give myself about half an hour to warm up my brain with reading. 

4. Put your work-in-progress through its paces.

This is my favorite, favorite technique for this kind of situation. Here's what you do:

Get a piece of paper (yes, real paper), and a pen (yes, a real pen). At the top of the paper, write the name of your main character. And then grab a timer. Set the timer for five minutes. And then hit Start.

For five minutes, write--yes, longhand!--about your main character. 

Write anything. Describe her physical appearance, or write about what she does all day. Describe her room. Or detail all the things she likes. Or all the things she hates. 

Write down what she wants most in the story and how she wants to get it. Or just write about how she likes to climb trees. 

Your writing can be clunky. The sentences can be ugly and out of tune. That is totally fine. In fact, that means you're doing it right! You just have to keep going.

The point is: Write, by hand, about your main character, for five minutes. No matter what.

When the timer goes off, don't reread your work. But do be very, very nice to yourself, and celebrate the fact that hey, you kept your butt in your chair for five minutes straight, and you wrote actual words down! 

After a moment's celebration, repeat the exercise with a different character. Or instead of a character, write about one of the most important settings in your story. (Or heck, one of the least important settings!) Or about one of the main events. Or a minor event. 

Write about the beginning. Or the ending. Or the middle. Or whatever.

This is a way to gently re-claim your territory. To get back into the habit of writing, but to do it through very small, very doable demands

No matter how crazy your summer was, you definitely can scrape together enough focus for five minutes of writing.

And once you've done that--even if it was miserable, even if it was hard, even if all your sentences sounded lame--you've crossed the line. That line that separates a habit of not writing from a habit of yes, I'll write, no matter what!

Maybe you do three rounds of five-minute exercises. Or maybe you fill your day with them. Either way, you can get back into the habit, step by step.

5. Decide to do the same thing tomorrow.

This is where Step One comes back. It's immersion camp style. The main virtue of this getting-back-into-the-groove method is in its repeatability. 

If you do this, kindly, gently, day by day by day, then I guarantee: by the end of one week, you'll be feeling a bit more writerly.

By the end of the second, I'd bet that your story is up and running again. And you probably won't need that timer, and you'll be back to your good old writerly self.

Congratulations!! You're back in your groove. And now your goal--and mine--is staying in it! Right?

So we'll be spending the rest of September talking about this back-to-school mindset. Getting back to what we know how to do... and then growing from there!

I'm already feeling excited.

Long division anyone??

(Just kidding. Probably.)