Let's Flood Our Writing Lives with This Powerful (Yet Underestimated) Perspective

Grace doesn't always get a lot of air time. It's not super flashy. But I guarantee, it's the best kind of glue to hold your writing ship together. | lucyflint.com

Well, hello there, February, month of all things love-related! 

Last year, we spent this month working through daily prompts on how to love your writing life. So much fun! It was a big, month-long love party for writing. If you missed it (or just want a refresher!), check out those prompts.

This year, we're going to take a close look at one of the facets of love. And it's something that we need a bunch of in our writing lives.

I wanna talk about grace.

Specifically, I want to throw the doors wide, and welcome much more grace into our writing lives.

Grace is one of those simple-yet-big concepts, and it has a ton of different, valid uses. So, for this blog, and for our lionhearted writing lives, here's what I'm going to say it means: 

Grace in the writing life means, we're not going to punish ourselves for being human. We won't beat ourselves up for learning. 

Of course we'll work on the things that need more work. And we'll keep pushing ourselves. But grace means that we won't treat ourselves badly when we're learning or even when we're failing (which is just learning with a bang).

Grace means that you're allowed to be human. Normal. And learning is allowed to take the time it takes.

Grace brings kindness into our writing lives. It permits ease. It means not being so strict with ourselves, cutting ourselves off from joys (what Julia Cameron calls artistic anorexia), or glaring at ourselves when we don't hit certain marks of quality or status. 

It means not saying nasty things about ourselves, our work ethic, our prospects, or our writing. Nope. No more.

Grace means we give ourselves permission to be who we are, to write the kinds of stuff we write. To be at this exact stage of our writing lives, and saying this is okay. 

This isn't to say that grace brings a lack of ambition. It doesn't mean giving up. And it definitely doesn't mean we stop growing. 

It just means we don't use whips and kicks and anger and hatred for our motivation. 

Grace says: You are okay, and the fact that you are working is good.

The results of that work might need a lot of revision. (In fact, that's a guarantee for me!)

But the fact that we are working (learning, falling, getting back up again, resting, playing, reading, learning some more)—that is good.

Oh, my friends. We need this kind of grace in our writing lives! In order to be writing at all, in order to keep growing, in order to survive writing blocks (or avoid some of them in the first place!). 

Because without grace, we tend to lean on perfectionism, guilt, frustration, and beating ourselves up. Which can leave us not wanting to face our work at all. 

Spoiler alert: Guilt and frustration are not inspiring. 

And perfectionism? It sucks the life out of creativity. Also not inspiring.

And when we're so bruised by the voices in our heads that we don't want to face our work at all... well, not only is that not helping us, it's for sure creating a block between us and our writing.

More than a block. Probably a whole brick wall.

But when I apply grace—like, a ton of grace—when I pour it on my writing life like syrup on pancakes, that's what brings me back to the work.

Back to the deeply flawed draft. Back to what I'm learning.

It lets me have absolute permission to be myself. The exact level of writer that I am.

With my hands covered in grace, I can actually welcome mistakes as signs of life and movement, instead of as proof that there's something wrong with me.

Grace makes us resilient. Grace lets us keep going. 

And because of that, it's one of the most powerful forces you can bring into your writing life.

So where are you at with grace? Does it already have an established place in your writing practice? Where are you already giving yourself grace?

Do you remember to ease up on yourself, to choose self-kindness over self-punishing? Can you let yourself be at the stage that you are? 

Where do you most need grace these days?

And how else can you welcome it in, invite it deeper, and bake it into your schedule, your approach, your self talk?

What would your writing life look like, if you flooded it with grace?

Let's Raise Our Glasses: Here's to All the Goals We're NOT Pursuing This Year!

This year's batch of resolution-making is as much about the goals we AREN'T pursuing as it is about the ones we are. Choice is where the magic happens for 2017. | lucyflint.com

It's impossible for me not to think about goals during the first month of the year. It's as fun as jumping on the whole back-to-school train in September!

And I'm not the only one who geeks out over these festivals of productivity, right? ;)

Only trouble is, it's incredibly easy for me to go overboard when it comes to New Year's Resolutions. As in: waaaaaaaay overboard.

Y'all know this about me already: Plans and goals go right to my head.

So when January 1 rolls around, I itch to get my hands on some graph paper and just plan the snot out of the next twelve months. I mean... come on. That's what graph paper was invented for!

And this is why I'm so proud of myself right now.

Because I spent some serious time sifting through my priorities and I narrowed my list of would-be goals to three.

JUST THREE. That's like superhuman restraint for me! 

Because usually I'll decide that there are, oh, about eight sections of my life that need overhauling, like yesterday, and then I'll brainstorm a dozen goals for each section (just to be safe!). And I'll narrow them down to maybe three or five or eight per section.

And then I'll come up with targets I need to hit to make those goals work, so now I have an army of sub-goals, and before long, they'll have multiplied into more fierce little ambitions than I can count, let alone track, let alone work toward. 

But I'll make a massive tracking chart thing anyway, and right at that point all my giddiness will burn out and I'll just sit there choking on overwhelm, staring at my perfect chart.

At which point I'll decide to go binge-watch moody British mysteries until springtime.

Yeah. A hundred percent. That's the usual goal-making process for me, if I'm not very, very careful.

And that's why choosing only three (amazing, exciting, challenging) goals for this year is practically an act of heroism.

I didn't do it alone, though. I had high-quality help in the form of two books: Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, and The Accidental Creative, by Todd Henry (which I fell in love with this fall).

Two super-excellent books for defining what matters in your life as a creative, and then doing it. 

The practice of Essentialism is all about focusing on doing less but better. Stripping things down to their essentials and then putting all your energy behind them. (Guess where the name comes from!) After falling head-over-heels for Deep Work and the power of mega-focus, I was ready to dive into Essentialist thinking.

Confession: Left to my own devices, I'm a die-hard Non-essentialist. In McKeown's terms, this means that I'm focusing on "the undisciplined pursuit of more."

In practice, this is a lifestyle of piling on commitments, scattering focus and energy everywhere, and saying yes to everything. And, oh yeah, feeling overwhelmed and like I can't make any progress.

It looks like sitting in front of a big chart of 73 goals with zero energy left to pursue them.

A lifestyle of Essentialism, on the other hand, relies on powerful decisions.

I love how McKeown takes his time with definitions in the book: He points out that the word decision comes out of the Latin for "to cut," or "to kill."

Meaning? When we decide on something, when we choose it, we're killing a different decision. We're cutting ourselves off from a different route. We are actively choosing to NOT do something else.

It's not a "pick both!" situation, even if that's how I try to make it play out. I want to ask, How can I do everything? How can I pick all the things I like? Everything I want, and right now?

But the real, amazing power of a decision comes from the fact that, when you pick one thing, and also pick to NOT do the other thing, you've freed up the resources and time and energy and attention and creativity that would have gone to that second thing.

Which means that your chosen path has gotten a lot stronger. You can do it far better than if you insisted on trying to do more things.

See where we're going with this? 

It's worth really wrapping your mind around this. Because if you're like me, it's so easy to believe that we have endless energy, plenty of time, no worries, we don't have to rule anything out! 

No matter how many times we prove that that's simply not true.

Anyone with me on this? 

It is so much better, more truthful, and less stressful, to take a deep breath and gather the focus to make an actual decision. The kind of decision that cuts something off, that kills the other option.

THIS thing. NOT that thing.

McKeown makes a compelling case, and he totally sold me on Essentialism. And I'm working to mend my scattershot ways!

(There's a lot more to his work than just that, and it's really good! But that's the section I used as I planned my goals. Definitely check out the book for yourself!

The idea of focusing on only three goals came to me while I was reviewing the notes I took from The Accidental Creative, which is a book about developing a sustainable rhythm to support your creativity. (SO. GOOD.)

One of Todd Henry's concepts is The Big 3, which is just "the three things I need to gain creative traction on right now. They aren't necessarily my biggest projects, though they often are. ... The Big 3 is a constant reminder of where I need to dedicate my creative bandwidth."

For Henry's purposes, the Big 3 can be updated whenever necessary. They can shift from week to week, depending on the progress you make. They're always what you're mulling over, and working to move forward on.

For me, three felt like a magic number. Just enough breadth to dodge boredom, but not so much variety that I lose my grip on what's essential.

I figured: why not have a Big 3 for the year? Aka, my Resolutions?? 

So I did it. I made a master list of projects and ideas and things that I care about, and then I weeded them out, one by one, until I focused in on my Big Three. 

Three super powerful goals. Two are work-related, and the third one is personal. Each of them is a game changer, no wait, a life changer for me.  

I made sure they were each fairly clear: measurable, and not just subjective. And then I did all my happy-nerd planning: I looked at where I'd need to be by the end of each month, in order to check off all three by the end of the year.

Each one is a VERY big stretch for me, but at the same time, each one is also truly doable. ... So long as I don't listen to fear, focus on my faults, and spend the year curled up in a corner!

Three mega-exciting goals.

And by not choosing those other seventy ideas, I'm aware of just how huge my attention span is, and how much energy I have, since I'm not spreading it around as much. 

What's also surprising is how respected I feel.

These are challenging things that I'm aiming for, but by not adding a dozen more goals on top of them, I feel like Boss-Me is being pretty reasonable toward Working-Me. I'm not thwarting myself from the outset, burying the important goals in a landslide of other attempts and commitments and initiatives.

So: they're actually possible. They will truly happen.

Which is why I seriously can't stop grinning. My heart's beating faster. But I'm not overwhelmed either. Challenged, yes. Overwhelmed? Well, no.

Because I can wrap my mind around each of these three things—there's only three, after all! And I have enough space and resources to seriously make them happen.

One, like I said, is personal. But what are my other two? Well, I definitely and absolutely and no-matter-what-ably am publishing my first book this year.

For SURE.

The date might change, but it is happening, and my current best estimate for publication is July 1. That is what I'm committing my schedule and my focus to. 

The other work-related goal is just as big and exciting: I'm committing to sell 1000 copies of that first book in the first six months of publication. WHOA. That's a big, exciting, time-to-put-my-big-girl-pants-on kind of goal! 

No chance that I'm going to be bored this year, haha! 

... So. Where are you at, my lionhearted friend, with the January goal-making and resolution seeking? 

Let me encourage you to pick very few. Just a few goals that are exciting for you, that are extra-important, that are worthy of the bulk of your time and focus and heart.

That would change your world a little—or, oh, even a lot.

(And no, sorry, a dozen goals isn't a few. I get it, and I feel you, but no.)

Challenge yourself to try for just a few big things. Try three. Three is such a great number.

And then feel the rush of empowerment as you line up what you would need to meet that goal.

What kinds of things you would do, in order to make it inescapable that you will hit your goals. Like, no question. Of course they are going to happen. They are definitely going to work out.

And, scary empowering question, what kinds of things will you not do, in order to make each of your goals a reality? 

Because it isn't just about setting up a killer action plan. It's about making sure that the time, energy, resources, excitement, and courage are all lined up and available for you from the start.

And then: make the daring, brave commitment to yourself that these things are your Most Important. They are your Essentials, your Big 3.

And if something else comes up, if there are obstacles, if you wake up and stop feeling like it: These goals still win

That's the power: You're deciding in advance they will happen.

You're calculating the trade-offs in advance. You're invested. You're not chasing after all the other pretty ideas on purpose, so that you have the resources and energy you need.

Focusing on these things is worth it.

So what are your Big 3? What's on your plate this year?

What is going to consistently win your focus and excitement, week after week this year, until it's done?

Ooooh. That's the kind of amazing attitude and bold commitment that's gonna get things done.


Want more resources? If you eat this kind of stuff up, definitely check out the book The One Thing, because it's also really helpful with questions of focus and purpose and what's essential. 

Also, there's my new favorite podcast (!!!!!), which is The Life Coach School Podcast, by Brooke Castillo. Seriously, y'all, the more I listen to it, the more I am CONVINCED that it is essential listening for every writer who is trying to publish and sell her work. For everyone who has to manage their own thoughts and goals and emotions and attitude: it is a MUST LISTEN. It just gives you such incredible tools for motivating yourself!

Definitely check out her episode on goal making, her episode on self doubt, and her episode on what you want to create in your life. They will rock your world, and get you thinking of how to tackle huge wonderful things in your life!!

Buckle up, 2017!

The Conversation You Need to Have with 2016 Before You Let It Go

My 2016 wasn't what I thought it would be. But it was worth it. How about yours? | lucyflint.com

Sometimes I make my New Year's Resolutions with a sense of revenge. Frustrated at the year I just had, I shake the dust off my feet with a set of goals that will make things right. That will prove something and somehow cancel out whatever was difficult about the year I just had.

The trouble is, while that feels really cathartic and promising, it doesn't really help.

And you know what? I don't want to do that this time around.

I recently came across this beautiful, insightful quote from Zora Neale Hurston: 

There are years that ask questions
and years that answer.

When I dove into this year, I was convinced it would finally answer the big question I've been carrying around for over a decade: 

When will I publish my first book? 

"2016, baby!!" was my hearty reply.

Only it wasn't. 

It turned out to be a year of asking new questions—incredibly important ones. Like: 

2016 went every single direction except the one that I had planned. I was reeling through most of it, trying to catch up, catch my breath, catch on to whatever was happening. It felt like one big, slipping-on-a-banana-peel kind of freefall.

It was so not what I expected. 

Here, let me put it this way: I'm something of a Doctor Who fan. (In a nutshell, I'm underwhelmed by the monsters and the production value, but I'm heartily in love with the story concepts, dialogue, and relationships. So, yes, I'm hooked, sometimes in spite of myself!) 

And in one episode, the TARDIS (their spaceship + time machine, and yes I'd like one for Christmas) says that, while it doesn't always take them where they want to go, it always takes them where they need to go.

And frankly, that's what 2016 was for me.

There was a lot of kicking and screaming. A LOT. 

But looking over my shoulder now at all these filled calendar pages, I feel so grateful for all the learning I did. For the amazing resources that came my way (like this one and this one and this one and this one!).

I'm so glad I spent weeks—months!—doing the hard mental and emotional work of excavating old beliefs, old thought patterns, and questioning them. (Like this, and this, and this!) 

2016 didn't answer "When am I going to publish the book," but it did do an incredibly good job of asking: "So, what kind of work should I do right now, to clear room for publication, by changing my heart and my mind and the messages I believe?"

It was slow work, and it's certainly not finished, but it's begun, and I'm on better ground because of it.

It's what I needed. It's where I had to go. 

And knowing that, deep down, and truly accepting it is what's letting me look at 2017 calmly. I am making my peace with 2016, so that I can plan 2017 boldly—but not angrily, not desperately.

(When am I going to publish my book? 2017, baby!!)

So. How are you doing? What was your 2016 like? 

How did your goals and your hopes fare?

What worked out? What blew up?

And—most especially—what interesting paths did you take on the way?

Where did your unexpected learning and new ideas and surprises bring you? Where are you standing, right now?

What were all the resolutions that the year had for you, which you didn't know about? What amazing things did you learn?

Above all, can you accept 2016 for what it was? Maybe even learn from it? 

Can you have compassion on yourself, too, for playing the difficult cards you were dealt, as well as you knew how?  

And, not to get too weird, but can you thank the year for everything it did—whether you made huge strides (yay!), or whether it felt like a year of spinning your wheels (I'm with you!).

So there it is, my friends. That's what I'm thinking through, in these last few weeks of December:

Let's take everything this year taught us, forgive everything that went awry, and set our faces toward 2017—not in a furystorm of resolution-making, but calmly.

Mmmm!! Exciting! 

That's my hope, for you, for me, for all of us lionhearted writers, as we wrap up the year and look to the next.

... It always feels like an adventure to me, flipping that last calendar page, and turning my gaze to the new year, wondering where I'll be at the end of it.

Woo!! December 2017, what do you hold for us?? Where will we be by then?

No idea, but I'm excited to travel toward it with you. :)


Okay, a couple final notes! 

First: if you want one of the best-ever New Year's Resolution ideas for your writing life, check out this post: I promise it's a resolution that you'll never regret.

And then, I couldn't let 2016 end without telling you about my most recent favorite discovery!! It's the Life Coach School Podcast, by Brooke Castillo, and OH MY GOSH. I've just started working through them, beginning with the very first episode, and I'm so hooked.

It is an amazing resource for self-management—which is ideal for us writers, because we have to be our own bosses, our own creative directors, and our own coaches, right? And Brooke Castillo's work is INCREDIBLY HELPFUL for handling things like: facing failure, dealing with fear, taking action, and setting goals in a whole new way.

I especially loved this episode for defeating that sneaky and untruthful thought pattern that says everything will be better when: a book is published, or more money is made, or any other goal is reached. Give it a listen!!

Annnnnd this episode is brilliant for fighting off any kind of weird thought/feeling spiral that happens in the midst of a crappy writing week, because I know you've been there and so have I!! 

Anyway, check out the podcast soon! I'm pretty sure you will LOVE it.

Okay, my wonderful friends! That's it for me. I hope you have a restful and merry Christmas, and a happy and hopeful New Year's!

And I'll see you in January. :)

A Mini Makeover for Your Creative Process: 3 Tweaks to Lighten Your Load

Sometimes, when you need a fresh idea, it helps to borrow from another creative discipline. In this post, three process tweaks I'm borrowing from visual artists. And they're oh-so helpful, if you want a kinder, more flexible approach to your writing. ... Which you totally do, right? So come on over. | lucyflint.com

One of the places where I am always working to improve my writing life is in the area of process.

I'm convinced that a healthy writing process is central to a healthy writing life—I mean, it's everything, right?

So it's worth it to me to keep checking in with my attitude toward my creative process. And, for good measure, I want to keep streamlining the actual work of my writing process as well.

What I'm doing and how I'm feeling about it: let's just keep making that better. You with me?

Today I'm super excited, because my whole perspective on the writing/drafting process is getting a makeover, thanks to a handful of brilliant teachers. 

Who, by the way, have been teaching me how to paint and draw and doodle—not write.

I'm a big fan of learning from other disciplines—it's a great way to find those blind spots that develop when we're only listening to other writers about writerly struggles. I love a good commiseration session, but I also want more tools in my process-mending toolkit.

So, getting an inside look at the creative process from the perspective of some confident, capable, stunning visual artists, whom I totally admire? Yes please!

Because their view on process is awesome. And OH SO helpful, for anyone who is recovering from perfectionism, and who is trying to be kinder on herself when it comes to the stuff in her draft that she doesn't like.

Is that you too? Because that's totally me!

Here's the story: at the end of August I got a subscription to CreativeBug for my birthday.

(Which, if you're interested at all, I totally recommend. You get access to sooooo many good classes—I'm in heaven! And even if you don't want to spring for classes, check out CBTV, where they have a bunch of interviews with artists and makers under the "Meet Our Instructors" heading—super inspiring!)

So, I've been spending more and more of my downtime lately making art—surrounded by paintbrushes and watercolors and acrylics and sketchbooks and a smidge of collage-work because hey, why not.

I've been learning from amazing artists like Pam Garrison, Lisa Congdon, Heather Ross, Flora Bowley, and Yao Cheng, and as they're teaching me art, I'm also scribbling notes to myself to think about writing in a new way.

Because I wanna be aware of composition and quirkiness the way that Lisa Congdon is. I want to encounter the inevitable imperfections in my work in the same way that Pam Garrison and Yao Cheng do. And I want to approach drafts the same way Flora Bowley approaches layers of a painting.

Here's how I'm applying three art ideas to my writing process right this second.

1. Think in terms of the overall composition. 

One of the things I've caught myself doing in this draft is focusing too closely on certain story elements. Writing too dang much about something. (Who, me?? Haha!)

I've especially been doing this with characters. When I bring in a new secondary character, I want to make sure they're thoroughly imagined, with a rich backstory and a fantastic inner conflict and a clear sense of what they're fighting for. And then I want that information to find its way onto the page in glimmers and side notes, to give the story so much more depth, more for readers to discover.

It can sound like a good goal, but ... every single character? 

As I've been rereading my draft, I'm realizing that, when every character gets that level of attention, as a reader, I don't know who to pay the most attention to.

I don't know whose story it is, and I don't know how to keep track of everything. The plot starts stringing out, the main conflict starts to blur, and the most important characters get drowned out by a flood of other—interesting—characters. 

I felt a bit helpless at first. Because I worked on those fascinating characters, and I love reading books that are bursting with interesting people. But my story was bogging down—what to do?

And then I remembered the whole concept of composition in a piece of artwork. And how all my wonderful CreativeBug teachers say again and again: step back and get a sense of the piece as a whole. 

How do the colors and shapes play off of each other? Are there enough bright spots? Dark spots? Where does your eye go?

It doesn't have to be ruler-perfect symmetrical, not by a long shot. Quirkiness is welcome. Interest is your BFF. 

But also: is there a kind of balance? Is there a place for your eye to rest, patches where there isn't so much going on? Is there negative space?

Thinking of my story the same way I would a sketchbook spread or a canvas has been so helpful. 

Instead of thinking, "I have to cut that character," which feels very bloody and savage and awful, I can just remind myself that this patch of the story is getting too weighted, too busy. It's taking us too far away from the focal point. 

It might be super interesting, but it needs to lighten up if it's going to be in the same painting as that main image, that character and conflict that I really really don't want anyone to miss.

So instead of an across-the-board deletion, how about softening it a lot, reducing it to just a hint, a smidge of interest, a whisper of color? 

Somehow, thinking of it in those terms helps me understand just what to do.

2. Perfect can be boring.

In a piece of artwork, exact lines and exact color shades and precise edges are often not the most interesting things to look at.

Instead, we tend to be drawn to art that has depths. That has ambiguities, imperfect shapes, imperfect lines. That leaves room for interpretation, that has some places where the colors muddied a little, some unexpected juxtapositions.

The artists I'm learning from aren't so interested in a ton of tiny perfect brushstrokes making up one big perfect painting.

They're a lot more okay with a surprise blending of colors (what other people would call "mistakes"), or with unique brush marks that were unexpected (again, aka, "mistakes").

Instead of freaking out, they get really curious and excited at how the elements of the painting play against each other in interesting ways.

They value "quirky," "unexpected," and "curious" far more than I ever do. 

And as I keep paying attention to them, I feel my attitude toward my draft-in-progress changing.

I'm releasing my hold on "but every paragraph has to be polished to sheer gleaming perfection!"

And instead, I'm practicing these questions:

Is it interesting? Are there quirky and unexpected moments? Do I like those unexpected juxtapositions?

Am I leaving room for the reader to draw her own conclusions, instead of hammering out every single idea, every single emotion?

What makes me curious about how this chapter played out? How does the composition as a whole feel? Maybe the balance isn't scrupulously, laboratory-perfect, but is it interesting?

These questions have helped reorient me, helped me focus. They're so much more valuable than a strict dichotomy of good writing/bad writing, or perfect/flawed. They give me more to work from, and a better, truer sense of how my writing is doing.

3. And if you really don't like it, you're just not done yet.

Instead of writhing about the things that they don't like, my favorite art teachers oh-so calmly go in to fix it. They cover it with a different color, add collage over the top, or change the mark to make it look intentional.

These artists have a whole arsenal for responding to what they don't like in a piece, and transforming those things into something better—into unexpected moments in the painting. 

One of the best at this is Pam Garrison. She even says that she gets excited when a "mistake" happens, because it becomes an opportunity to do something different than what she was planning. It's a chance for the painting to surprise her, to make her do something new. 

What?! I was amazed at that attitude ... and also wanted it in an IV bag so I can drip it into my bloodstream on the regular.

I tend to get my gears all locked up when I see something that's gone wrong. I can get sweaty and miserable and work to fix it, to make it look like it never happened. Try to make it invisible. 

But instead, to see it as a jumping off point, to see it as an opportunity, to see it as a chance to have a special moment instead of an erased one—

Wouldn't that transform our entire drafting and revising process? Wouldn't that help us grow as writers, both in flexibility and in craft? 

How can we see the opportunity in our mistakes?

Practicing a painterly mindset.

So that's what I've been learning! It's been so beautiful to lean on this painting mindset as I work through this stage of my draft. It has definitely been making a difference.

When I'm faced with the start of a new chapter (and that whiff of "blank page" fear behind it), I say in my best painter voice: "I'll just get some marks on the page, and I can react to them later. Doesn't matter what I put down—let's just start." 

When I see how unbalanced a section has become, or how I've wandered off on a sub-sub-subplot tangent while dropping the main conflict entirely, I say, "Hm, interesting! But this part of the composition has gotten a little too forceful, so I'll just lighten it up a bit."

And when I find a lame dialogue exchange, instead of beating up my weak dialogue skills, I think, "Ooh! An opportunity to sit with this exchange and make it more powerful, more punchy, more unexpected. What new doors are opened up to me, because I started with this version of their exchange? What can I jump off from?" 

It has been so. freeing.

It makes the process of writing feel much more lively, interesting, and fluid. And it makes me feel a lot less crazy, less fenced in. 

... And all this isn't to say that all these painting teachers just waltz around, not caring about their final products. They still want to end up with a painting they like—so it isn't that they are thoughtless about what they create.

Instead, they are flexible. They keep moving through the layers of a painting. They don't stall out, getting stuck in a state of "I can't fix this / I don't like this / I don't know what to do." 

So I'm practicing the mindset that I'm seeing in them. I want to treat my drafts like my sketchbook—no perfectionist pressure. Just curiosity and a willingness to see things in a new way. To play with the words and ideas, like artists play with color and brush strokes. 

I'm practicing my way into a process that keeps inviting me back to the story, that keeps opening the doors to better and happier work.

It's all too easy for the last month of the year to find me whipping myself into a panic, trying to finish up goals, catch things up before the last days on the calendar run out. Ack!!

Not this year. That's not how I want to finish. 

Instead, I'm going to focus on these new lessons, and approach my work with delight, and let December play out however it may.

Wanna join me? Wherever December finds you in your writing, try bringing in a sweeter attitude to your process, a more flexible response to "mistakes," and a willingness to play.

It's the best sendoff we can give 2016.


I'll be back in two weeks for the last post of the year. (What?! Already??)

If you're looking for more to read in the meantime, please check out my essential holiday survival guides for writers! There's a Part One and Part Two, and both are super important. So if you're getting nervous about all the upcoming festivities and what they'll do to your writing schedule, I totally understand, and those posts are for you!

If you're looking for a handful of genius resources, here are two posts on some of my favorite books on writing and prioritizing. They've been so helpful to me!

And if you're still feeling inspiration-hungry, here are a few more thoughts to encourage you when you're feeling stuck, when the pace of the writing life is making you feel crazy, and when your fears are throwing a party in your head

See you soon! And meanwhile, happy writing, lionhearts! 

My Best Advice for Sticking with Nanowrimo (or Any Fierce Drafting Project!)

What does it take to survive Nanowrimo (or any fierce drafting project)? Hint: it's not just about words-per-day. | lucyflint.com

Happy November, and Happy NaNoWriMo to all my crazy scribblers!!

I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I am doing my own version of a writing marathon. I'm taking aim at my long-suffering work-in-progress, and I'm going to marathon through to see how far I can get with it in November.

... Because if you're going to try and work at an astonishing pace, November is the time to do it! ;)

Before we get into today's post, I have a little housekeeping announcement for you lionhearts.

First off: thank you SO much for being kind and patient with me as I took October off to replenish. Oh my gosh. It was the BEST possible thing I could have done. I'm feeling so much better!

Secondly: I've been looking at my writing goals and my writing pace over the last year. 2016 has been a tough year for my work-in-progress. October's break from blog production helped out my novel so much that I've decided to make a change to the blogging schedule.

Starting this month, 
I'm going to post just two articles a month.

And we'll just see how that goes for a while. 

Why two articles? Well, for one, I can never manage to write short posts. You probably noticed, haha!

I've tried—really I have!—but I'm always wanting to cram them full of all the info and supporting detail that I can muster. ... I always figure that if a topic is resonating for someone, I wanna make sure they get everything valuable that I can give them on that topic.

But, I get it: that can be overwhelming to keep up with, both as a reader and a writer!

In the past year and a half (has it been that long?!) I've written about so many of the writing topics that are close to my heart. I have been able to say a lot of what I most wanted to say about writing. (Have you been able to check out the Archives yet? They're bursting!)

So a more gentle pace with blogging seems the way to go, at least for now. Expect to see me here on the first and third Thursday of every month! 

Sound okay? Any questions? Just let me know in the comments. (Also, if there's something about the writing life that I haven't really tackled yet, or if there's something you'd love to hear more about, please do let me know!)

And thanks so much, as always, for being the awesome bunch of lionhearts that you are. You encourage me so much, and I'm so privileged to be writing alongside you!

Speaking of writing... 

Let's talk about mega-fast drafting, marathon writing, and NaNoWriMo.


Whenever I charge into some speedy drafting goals—like NaNoWriMo, or my self-designed drafting marathons—I always start by getting really clear on my purpose.

NaNoWriMo is such a huge event: it's become one of those rites of passage for writers today. Something to aim for, something to try at least once. 

Which is great! But before you get swept too far along, you need to grab a little bit of time to check in with why you are doing it. 

What's the point? 

If you are doing this crazy cliff-dive of a writing exercise, what's the goal? What are you aiming for?

Here. I'll let you think for a sec. ...

.

.

.

The reason why I love NaNoWriMo, why I love drafting marathons, is because of the core goal.

The goal is what shapes the whole experience; the goal is what makes it.

Because the goal of NaNoWriMo isn't perfect writing. 

Heck, the goal isn't even GOOD writing. 

The goal is: Mass ink. 

Word-shaped blotches and sentence-like creations and LOTS of 'em. 

For a recovering perfectionist, overachiever, and overthinker, this kind of drafting marathon feels like the craziest kind of indulgence. Abandon expectations. Abandon most-to-all standards. In a race like this, they'll just hold you back.

NaNoWriMo is about momentum and velocity, and it feels more than a little dangerous at times. 

It's risky

It's risky in the same way that running down a steep hill is risky, and I do it for the same reasons—

To see if maybe I start flying.

Or if at least I'll feel like I'm flying. 

Only instead of wings, we're sprouting a glider made out of words and pages, and seeing if maybe, just maybe, our feet lift off the ground for a while.

When you're moving this fast through storyland, after all, it has a way of seizing you.

You start living half-in and half-out of two realities: There's your day-to-day "real" life concerns (food and errands and whoa, actual humans)—

And there's the world of your story, your characters pressing in around you, holding onto your sleeve, putting their hands in your pockets, telling you secrets.

We do NaNoWriMo because, when we drop the bar of our expectations, and when we run in the biggest writerly wolfpack eversomething happens.

We literally achieve liftoff.

Even if you don't "finish" NaNoWriMo, even if you don't "win," you still get the experience of making a run for it.

Barreling across the plains of story, galloping faster than maybe you ever have before.

Do it for the rush, for the thrill, for the crazy swooping sensation in your stomach as your story grabs your hands and waltzes you across whole continents.

Let your NaNoWriMo goal be: that rush. 

Chuck perfection and standards; burn your outline if it gets in your way; and do whatever you can to get close to the heart of your story.

Don't worry, quite so much, about words per day. Filling out that word count graph can feel like the main goal, but I promise it's not the main thing to worry about. 

So instead of asking, "How can I crank out even more words," try asking: What can I add to this scene that would thrill me? 

Because the best way to write a ton of words is to answer that question. That's when your word counts will start shocking you.

Ask some follow-ups: 

  • How can I love writing about this character more? What quirks, traits, inner darkness, or outer hope can I layer into them that would keep me engaged while I write? 
  • What curve to the conflict would pull me to the edge of my seat? How can I weird up the story a bit? How can I add all my favorite story traits to it? What would keep me entertained?
  • What settings would I just love to pepper my story with? What do I want to explore with words?

Start answering those questions in your draft, and you'll find that the words and the masses of ink take care of themselves.

For the record, this is my best advice for NaNoWriMo, or for finishing any draft well. This is what has always worked the best for me.  

When you're worrying about quality, remind yourself that your real goal is just: tons of words on pages.

And if you find yourself worrying about how to write tons of words, throw that goal out the window, and just ask: What gets me excited, really excited, in a story? 

And start sprinkling—no, dumping—that into your draft. You'll feel the difference immediately. 

You just might start flying.


I'll check back in with you in two weeks with a big inspiration post, which I'm super excited about!

But til then, if you're looking for more NaNoWriMo cheerleading, check out this post on diving in, this post on the main NaNoWriMo fear (and why it's not true), and this undervalued—but super useful!—writing strategy.

Finally, here are 50 plot twist ideas... one of them is sure to bail you out of your next plot conundrum!

Best of luck—and happy flying!!

Let's Get Adventurous. (An Announcement From Me + A Challenge For You!)

If you listen really hard, what is your writing life telling you? Bonus: Can you muster up the courage to *do* whatever it's asking for? That's what we're looking at, over on the blog today. | lucyflint.com

One of the skills that I've tried to improve this year is listening. Not just to the people around me (though that's hugely important!), but also to my own instincts.

Especially my instincts about my writing life. 

Not my fears, but my honest observations, my true best-self sense of how I'm doing and where I'm at. 

Every time I really focus on this and check in, I'm rewarded, big time. It's why I've written about it here, here, and kinda here too. ... I am smitten with the power of pausing the noise and listening to the truth of what's really going on, underneath everything else.

I have never regretted doing this.

And near the end of September, I started listening in again. (Something about whenever the seasons shift: I always want to do a big "How'm I doing?" check.)

I set aside my productivity schedules and wildly important goals and self-care strategies and I listened. And, yep, sure enough, my writing life was saying something. Over and over and over. 

It said, "Help me, I'm starving."

Wait, what?!

I've been doing all this stuff in earnest, after all. I've been working to help my imagination and writing life recover from a really tough year. Which is why we've been talking self-care and strength building here in the blog. 

In the last two months, I've rebuilt my writing practice and honestly, I've found a really sweet routine. My writing space is the prettiest, coziest, and happiest it's ever been, and I'm reading novels on the regular

I'm treating myself well in so many ways. And everything feels lovely except that when I've been drafting, I feel like I'm stripping myself dry.

Like I'm mining something that isn't there anymore. 

So I kept telling myself it was just a matter of time before my imagination really caught up and my writing got all juicy and self-propelling again.

Only . . . 

Only it hasn't. 

I've done all my usual tricks, I've applied the best that I knew to do, and I still feel like my imagination is gasping.

So why isn't everything fixed? 

I had a few days (actually, it was more like a week) of total consternation. 

And then I picked up the book The Accidental Creative, by Todd Henry. (Like so many other good things that come into my life, this one was a recommendation from my mother. Thanks, Mom!!)

I read it in a whirlwind of excitement and hope.

Amidst the many helpful concepts and ideas, there were two that especially leapt out to me: 

1) Todd Henry's idea that creativity follows a kind of rhythm, and 2) his concept of creative stimuli, creative nutrition.

It hit me that my crazy year had deeply disrupted my own creative rhythm. No surprise there. But in rebuilding my routine, I was only working on half the problem. The externals are all back in place, but that internal rhythm of creating? That hasn't fully come back.

And, to fix that, I need to go deep into the world of creative nutrition: taking in the best kinds of things, so that my creativity can thrive.

Okay. So, good creative stimuli = brain food, which is the sort of metaphor I can get pretty happy about. 

To camp out on this for a moment: As I read Todd Henry's ideas about how to take in better creative nutrition, it really hit me. I'm a big fan of eating well, and taking in nutrient-rich foods, especially as a way of getting healthier. I've seen it happen in my physical body, so using the same principles for my mind and creativity gets me pretty happy and excited.

Here's the thing: sometimes, when you need an infusion of health, it makes sense to take a superb daily multivitamin. Sometimes, it means you commit to having a daily salad or green smoothie.

Yay. Good effort, good work, good food.

But sometimes it means that you go on a radical course of overhauling everything you eat. And flooding your body with superfoods, with all the best nutrition, all. the. time. 

And that, my friends, is exactly what I need now.

My earlier attempts were the creative equivalent of upping my vitamins and adding in more salads to my days. It's good, and a great way to maintain health. But when a total overhaul is required—and when there's nothing there to maintain—it's just not going far enough.

And this is what was brewing in my mind when I wrote about commitment last week. 

I want to go all-in with committing to my creativity. 

I've listened hard, and I've decided that I have to do whatever it takes to flood myself with creative nutrition. I'm pretty dang sure that this is the missing piece, the thing that bumps me back into a good groove.

Thanks to Todd Henry's book, I have a much better grip on where to go next. He has a great section called, "Stimuli: What Goes In Must Come Out."

I'm taking that tagline to heart, and I'm preparing for a mega fueling session. Here's the scary-exciting adventure that I'm planning for myself: 

For the whole month of October, I'm doing a creative nutrition immersion sabbatical festival extravaganza.

All right, so I haven't figured out the name yet. ;) 

I'm turning my full writerly attention onto soaking up the best kind of inputs.

I'll be listening to quality podcasts and TED talks and documentaries. I'll check out the good fiction that gets my inner eleven-year-old all excited and swept up. And I'll take plenty of artist dates. 

I'm planning on more art, more nature walks, more luscious music. More excursions, and more solitude.

More of anything that's gonna fill my parched creative reservoirs.

But in order to do this at maximum, I'm going to take a break from productivity. I need to stop producing for a little bit, so that I can regenerate what I produce from.

Because what I said in the last post is oh-so true: I want to commit to creativity in a bigger way. I want to nurture it, so that I can show up fully. I want to live in wonder and curiosity. 

And this is the big creative obstacle that I'm focusing on: I can't dream up a book if there's nothing for me to dream with.

What this means for the blog is, 
I'm going to take the month of October off. 

Yep.

In the blog world, that can be a kind of yikes decision to make.

But I've thought it through, and my deal with you is that I owe you my best.

If I keep chug-chug-chugging along without taking this month to consume a huge amount of creative nutrition, I'll just start repeating myself, or blogging on autopilot. And I wanna write my best stuff for you—it's what you deserve, and it's what I signed on for.

So: this will be my only post this October. (At this point, I'm pretty sure I'll be back in November to cheer you on for Nanowrimo: so check back in with me then.)

In the meantime, three things for you: 

1) Check out The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment's Notice, by Todd Henry. Because it's lovely and helpful. It blends so much good wisdom together, and helps you apply it in a rhythmic way.

If you needed one more reason besides my jumping up and down: He calls himself an arms dealer for the creative revolution. How amazing is THAT?! I'm so on board.

2) Check in with yourself. Take a little time and listen in to your heart of hearts. What do you, my dear lionheart, need most from this October?

Where are you craving a bit of a sabbatical yourself—but it sounded too wild, or you feel like you're supposed to just be productive all the time?

Where do you need permission to unplug?

What's aching for some better care, some deeper rest, some quality nutrition?

And, especially those of you who are gearing up for Nanowrimo, can you do the crazy thing and give yourself some space to fill up your reservoirs?

3) Finally, if you're in need of a pep talk, inspiration, or some extra encouragement while I'm off refueling, check out my brand-new Archives! The link is up at the menu bar at the top of the page—the Archives is all spruced up and ready for you!

Every single blog post is here, from September allllllll the way back to my first wee efforts.

So please do check it out! Find a series that you missed, browse through the older posts, or just be slightly astonished at my obsession with really really long blog titles. *facepalm*


Okay. So, true story: I feel excited for this sabbatical in a totally new way. Like an impossible weight on my writerly shoulders has just tumbled off. 

I'll miss y'all, but I can't wait to come back with fresh ideas, richer insights, and so much more creative oomph. 

(I have been seriously missing my oomph.)

Til November, then. I love ya, and happy writing!!

Pssst. Go do something so gorgeous for your creativity that it scares you a little and excites you a lot.

Maybe that means taking a course in flower arranging, or reading through your favorite childhood novels for three days straight, or sketching a handful of paintings while roaming an art museum, or writing in the dark under the stars.

Or something else even wilder. Okay? Okay.

The Strength That Supports the Others: Tending Our Commitment to Writing

If we're not committed to our writing--mentally, emotionally, and creatively--we're just not gonna go very far. How to forge a stronger commitment? Check out this list. | lucyflint.com

As we wrap up this month's series on building strength, I want to finish by digging into what might be the biggest, most vital strength of them all.

Without it, all the other strengths will eventually derail or atrophy.

I want to think a bit about what it looks like to strengthen our commitment.

YES! Our commitment to our work, our commitment to the overall shape of our writing lives, and our commitment to our own health as writers.

Right?!

Without commitment, we're anchorless.

When our enthusiasm runs dry (because it sometimes will), and our imagination is out of gas (yup, it happens), and our routines go belly-up, and our focus is shot to pieces—what is going to be the rallying force that brings everything together again? 

What's the thing that sends us looking for better answers, for new ways back into the work, for growth and freshening our skills?

What makes us discontented with our apathy, and motivated for change?

Our commitment. To ourselves, and this crazy-wonderful writing life, and our precious works-in-progress.

So basically, at the end of this Building Strength series, I just want to do a little check-in. For you, and for me. 

How's your sense of commitment lately? 

On a scale from Ugh to Obsessed!, how's your attachment to your writing life looking? Are you hovering around a Meh, or is your heart beating a little faster these days?

... Before we go much farther, I hafta say: I'm not approaching this whole commitment thing like it's something you or I have to muster up out of thin air. We can't just generate it.

We have to grow it, fertilize it, tend it carefully.

It's essentially our root system, the thing that holds us in place in our writing lives, no matter what crazy storms blow up. And when those roots grow, we grow. 

So if, in your heart of hearts, you're feeling a serious amount of Blerg toward your writing life right now, I totally hear you.

And I think that the most important thing you can do for yourself is 1) Listen to that, and 2) Start looking for ways to honestly encourage a bit more excitement.

Not fake excitement. But things that would actually nourish and guide you back to more readiness and enjoyment of your writing work.

So! To that end, here's a kind of Commitment Scan. This is what I want to check in with, and what I want to know about my own writing life right now:

Are there practices that I've forgotten about, or worthy habits that I've let slide? Are there toxic mindsets that I've somehow absorbed, or burdens I've picked up without noticing? 

Where have I been having a hard time lately with writing, and how can I swoop in there and fill those places with more creative nourishment, more genuine excitement? 

THAT is what I want to figure out today. And I'm guessing that the results ... could be rather transformational.

Let's dive in.


For starters, what does it look like to commit to your writing life, your writing project, mentally? To have your whole mind on board, committed, excited?

Here's a quick checklist on what it means for me:

  • Clearing all distractions. Yep, I know, you're already convinced: Distractions are Creative Enemy #1. And it's a sure sign for me, that when I'm letting distractions invade, I'm not really committed to whatever's going on.
     
  • Bringing the focus. High quality focus is the best way to make use of the time we have for our writing. But if I'm approaching my desk lackadaisically, the thoughts zipping through my head aren't so focused about work. They're more of a collage of everything that's been going on the past week. It takes intentional effort to narrow my thoughts, but when I do, I can start to really engage with the material I'm working on.
     
  • Rallying mental resources. When I'm fully committed, I'm ready and willing to do what the work requires. The thinking, the decision-making, the learning. This means clearing the time and space when I realize that I need to do a brainstorming session, or when I need to scout out better research material
     
  • Working on the skills that it most needs. When my work-in-progress or my writing life as a whole is telling me that I need to learn more about story structure, or character development, or I need to enrich my vocabulary: this means I put a plan in place to grow and learn those things.

Mmmmmm, that sounds good! Those are the four areas where I want to develop my mental commitment to my writing work this autumn.

How about you? Which ones stand out? Or are there other signposts of mental commitment for you? 


Next on our check-in: What does it look like to commit to our writing work and writing lives emotionally? 

  • Not sniping about it. Ever notice how our commitment, or lack thereof, leaks out of our mouths? When I'm excited about something, everyone around me knows because I will not stop talking about it. (Oh, you noticed that?) And the reverse is also true: when whining and complaining are all that's coming out of my mouth, you can tell: my heart is not on board with this. It sounds old-fashioned, but when we steer our speech a certain way, our actions follow. I wanna commit to my work by what I'm saying.
     
  • Ousting Resistance. OH yeah. Seriously, I had no idea what a huge burden Resistance had been for me, until I started consciously choosing to drop it, and to relax into the task at hand instead of maximizing its difficulty. This is one of the biggest game-changers in my emotional health lately, and it has been huge!
     
  • Practicing gratitude. For a couple of months now, I've been jotting down at least three things I'm grateful for every night before I go to sleep. It's been a really wonderful practice—a way of reframing the day, no matter how difficult it was. I'd love to get even more intentional about bringing this gratitude mindset into my writing life specifically. The Amazing Brené Brown points out in Daring Greatly that without gratitude, we can't know joy. And I don't know about you, but I want to keep bringing joy into my writing life!

Wow. YES. These are three practices that I've just started working on in general, and basically, I'd like to crank up the volume on all three this autumn. By, um, a LOT.

How about you? What's going on in your mind and heart when you're deeply committed emotionally? And how can you bring some of those practices into your writing life right now?


And then, what does it look like to commit to something creatively?

  • Showing up with your imagination. Even when your imagination is rusty, sticking with it, and trying not to just write on automatic pilot. ... Let's be real: I totally get that some days, we all just put words down instead of having a rich imaginative experience as we do. Sometimes, that's where we're at, and we're just getting through. But the more we can nourish our imagination and bring it fully into the game, the richer our commitment is going to be. And then everything gets better. ... More on that next week!
     
  • Nurturing your creativity in every way. We owe it to ourselves and our work to be growing creatively. Even when, and perhaps especially when, off the clock. Being creatively committed means that we're always putting ourselves in the path of inspiration. Going on those artist dates, reading widely, and learning about more things than just writing. (Again, more on this next week!)
     
  • Staying alert to obstacles. When our creativity is gasping, that's an important warning sign. And keeping our creative commitment tuned up means that we take those warning signs super seriously. They give us the essential chance to ask: what's not serving the work, what is getting in the way, what's not working? And then, commitment means we reach for our courage, and go find the answers to those hard questions. (Um: yep, more on this next week.)
     
  • Staying in touch with wonder and curiosity. One of the best ways to keep our creative commitment healthy and thriving is to always be seeking wonder, always be awake to our curiosities. Whether they overlap with the work at hand or not, we have to keep in touch with those things that get us excited, that make us lean in. Our creativity depends on it. (Pssst. Next week. Yep.)

This section, even more than the others, is what's got my attention right now. This is where I need the most work, the most time, and the most relentless self-compassion. Mmmm! But good things are coming, my friends. 

How about you? How's your creative commitment these days?

Does your imagination feel nourished, or slightly starved? Is it full of good nutrients, or has it been binging on junk food a leetle too long, and that's starting to show a tiny bit?

How can you nurture it like crazy this weekend? Can you grab an hour or two for a fabulous little artist date? And what are the topics that give you that zing of excited curiosity? Can you go chase after one for a while this week?


If you've been hanging out on this blog for a while, you probably know by now: I have ZERO interest in being an incredibly prolific writer at the cost of my health (whether that's physical, emotional, or any other kind of health we can think of!).

Nope. Not doing it.

So, as you and I think through all those questions above, let's also ask this: What does it look like to be committed to your own health?

  • Physically, this means sleeping, getting those veggies (my two favorite cooking blogs, if you need veg inspiration, are this one and that one), drinking plenty of water (let's do it like this!), and seeking fun ways to move throughout the day.
     
  • Creatively, this means pursuing non-writing hobbies. SO important. And it also means making your environment—where you live, where you sleep, and especially where you work!—pleasing and inspiring and yummy in every possible way.
     
  • And then emotionally. This means pouring truth into yourself, healing old scars, surrounding yourself with positive people. This especially means that you remind yourself over and over, that you are not your work. You are WAY more valuable than whatever it is that you do each day. This is essential to know no matter what, whether the writing is going well or poorly. 

I keep coming back to this over and over, because if there's one thing that my writing life has taught me, it's this: if the writer isn't doing well, her writing's going to suffer. A lot. 

And it becomes this horrible little spiral of suffering that does no good and also doesn't write a lot of books.

SO. What's one way that you want to commit more deeply to your own health and well-being? How can you make sure that you're getting the support and fuel you need, so that you're strong enough to commit to your writing work?


Welp, I'M all excited. I hope that those questions helped stir some ideas for you.

Where do you most want to start? What little practice could you add in this weekend, and work on next week, that would strengthen your commitment to your work, your healthy writing life, and your amazing lionhearted self?

(And if you're looking for a few more ideas about this kind of thing, check out The Enormous Virtue of Showing Up, and Finding the Energy to See Our Writing Through. They'll be right up your alley!)

Here's to more health, excitement, vitality, and commitment this autumn.

Dealing With Our Kryptonite: Recognizing and Overturning Writing Life Weaknesses

Four major writing life weaknesses that can sap our strength and torpedo our energy. Know 'em, and know what to do to overcome them! | lucyflint.com

So far in this Building Strength series, we've covered a lot of ground!

We talked about being clear on what we consider strength is (because different strengths matter to each of us!), and we've talked about ways to strengthen our creativity, our enthusiasm, and our overall writing sustainability.

And then, just to kick things up a few notches, we checked in with the book Deep Work, because it has great points that will make us stronger writers: like how to supercharge our ability to focus. And, at the same time, how to deepen and strengthen our ability to recharge.

WOW. So, you feeling those muscles yet?

Today I wanna switch gears a little and work on strength from a different angle.

Namely: What makes us weak? What weakens our writing lives? 

What saps our strength, drains our energy, muddies our abilities? What's our kryptonite?

I've rounded up the usual suspects in my own writing life. See if any of these behaviors have snuck into your writing life too:

Skipping breaks.

Let's start with this one, because I have our last post about recharging on the brain

I know that this won't apply to everyone, but for anyone pursuing full-time creativity, this can be a struggle. And I personally fall into this trap a lot.

Here's the deal: I cannot be purely creative and focused and hardworking for eight hours straight. Cannot be done.

... And I can type that, and nod very sincerely at my computer screen, and even mean it, and then go off and think that I am invincible and needeth not such breaks.

This is a problem.

My best true version of my work schedule looks like this: Two hours of intense, focused, deep work, followed by one hour of pure recharging. (Which usually means, getting some good food, moving around, doing a workout, or even taking a nap.)

Then two more hours of intense work, and, yep, another hour to recharge. (A snack, maybe time spent outside if the weather is nice, doing some art...)

Finally two hours of taking care of all the shallower work, the smaller things, and then my shutdown ritual. With that, I'm done for the day.

Sounds straightforward. Super health-focused (because I've learned the hard way that I've gotta be). 

This is what can happen, though: I'll start late. Maybe because I slept in after a late night. Or maybe I got caught in a morning discussion or media dive that got all my creativity fizzing but also made me late for work. 

So I plow into the day, and work straight through my breaks, because I think don't have the time to stop.

And at the end of the work day, I'm a zombie.

I mean it. You can't get any sense out of me. I'm stumbling around, bleary-eyed and brain dead. And, at that point, my next work day is automatically harder. I have less mental flexibility, and less focus, and less motivation.

It's a really bad cycle! Easy to fall into; hard to break out of.

Those recharging periods within my work day are absolutely essential to my creativity: I need to refresh my mind by getting back into my senses. I need to stare at clouds, eat some good food, take a walk. Besides, we're not supposed to sit for hours and hours! 

The biggest single help in fighting this has been to remind myself of two things: 

1) That rest is one of my new core values. I have to be rested to work well, to do what I love, and to enjoy life. It's just that true, that simple.

2) That play and rest are prerequisites to doing good work. Period. 

My reminder of choice is an index card near my computer. "Rest is a core value," it announces. "Don't neglect your breaks!" 

It reminds me that this is the kind of writer I want to be: One who is rested, one who isn't a zombie, and one who has a wealth of imaginative details in her pockets.

Breaks ensure a better writing day, and a better writing week. Even if they need to be much less than that luxurious hour, they have to happen, or I'm toast. 

How about you? Do you interject moments of rest within your creative work? Even if you're working in shorter spurts, do you still get a moment to pull back and recharge, before diving back in?


Overthinking.

Overthinking has been my lifelong nemesis.

And "lifelong" isn't an exaggeration: I have memories of being super young and paralyzed by decision-making overload, going back and forth between two possibilities. (There is an epic family story about my inability to choose between a hamburger and a cheeseburger. Yep, it's real.)

It is so easy for me to get stuck, to get pulled into this trap of cerebralizing and analyzing. Breaking down the problem from every single side, every possible angle.

Instead of diving into what I need to do, I sit there at the edge and worry, make lists, plan things, consider endlessly. 

Obviously, there are times for deep deliberation.

Equally obvious: Not EVERY time.

Usually, this overthinking is a fear tactic. A stalling technique that feels intellectually noble.

How do you tell the difference? For me, when overthinking smells like panic, it's fear-based. It's coming from that frightened part of me, and so it's a way to stall.

This is when perfectionism is singing over my head that if I screw this up, I'll never recover from it. 

When I truly need to think something through, it feels different.

It's much more calm—a reasonable analysis. It's when I ask myself, "should I do this project now, or can it reasonably wait?"

And I answer, "Well, if I go down the wrong path, I'll just make it right, I'll just turn around." 

Fear-based overthinking just keeps inflating the issue. It gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger. It says, But I might never have a chance for a cheeseburger again!!

There's a rigidity in it. It's insisting, just below its surface, that I must make the perfect choice, the irreproachable way forward.

Everything gets dramatic. The shadows get longer and darker, and suddenly you and your pros & cons list are in a battle of good versus evil.

Yeah. It gets ugly.

I am only just beginning to find my way out of overthinking. 

One thing that has helped enormously is the way that Julia Cameron describes overthinking in Walking in This World (her lovely sequel to The Artist's Way).

She compares working on an artistic project to the moment of firing an arrow at a target. 

She says that if we overthinking the project, we're essentially standing there, pulling back the arrow, and then just waiting. Analyzing, heart pounding, while our arm loses strength and the arrow begins to sag.

So when we finally fire it, it doesn't hit the center.

She sums it up by saying,

In short, you have mistaken beginning something with ending something. You have wanted a finality that is earned over time and not won ahead of time as a guarantee. You have denied the process of making art because you are so focused on the product: Will this be a bull's-eye?

Ouch, right? She's got me. Most of the time, I'm overthinking because I want a shiny guarantee: "Yes, go for it, because it will work out swimmingly and everyone will pat you on the head and say that you've done something amazing."

But we don't work with guarantees. We work with our hearts, we learn on the way, and yes, it gets messy. But that's what we've really signed up for, and if we're all in, it can be a wonderful way to work.

Cameron adds,

We have attached so much rigamarole to the notion of being an artist that we fail to ask the simplest and most obvious question: Do I want to make this? If the answer is yes, then begin. Fire the arrow.

I love that straightforwardness. Yes!

How about you? Where in your creative life do you get swamped in overthinking?

And where is something inside you saying, let's fire the arrow!


Treating myself harshly.

One of the most effective ways to undermine our own strength? Talking bad about ourselves. Diminishing what we do, calling our work crap, saying that we'll never finish or improve.

This can be hard, hard, hard to shake.

For me, this comes directly out of shame, fear, and doubt. 

I can still be nervous about the fact that I'm a writer, that I've yet to publish. It makes me feel childish when it seems like my peers have glorious, flashy, paid grown-up careers. (Nothing's ever quite as glorious as it can look from the outside, of course, but I never remember that when I'm struggling.) 

I can feel the sting under someone else's words when they say doubtfully, so, not published yet? And I'm ready to disparage myself so that they don't have to.

As I talked so much about it last month, y'all already know that I've been learning about shame resilience from my new best friend Brené Brown. (Okay, we're only friends in my head, but whatever. She's lovely.) 

So, I'm working on this. I am trying to remember to breathe through it, to remind myself that I am not my job and I am not what I produce and I am not my salary, thank God! 

So that's half of the battle.

The other half, is to sincerely tend to what I know I need.

I am starting to develop a habit that helps me break out of this inner harshness and, bonus! that overthinking cycle too.

Here's how it works. Let's say I'm trying to decide which direction to go with a project, and there seem to be three strong options.

And the Overthinking Monkey is saying don't screw this up, you've gotta look at all these different parts of the different options. And THEN what if this happens, and look, here are more reasons for each thing over here, and oh my gosh this is hard isn't it...

And the Shame Monkey is saying, this is why it's taking you so long, you can't figure anything out, and you don't know even a quarter of what you need to know, and meanwhile everyone thinks you can actually write, so you better not mess up...

SO HELPFUL those monkeys, aren't they?!

So I've started to catch when this cycle is happening. And here's what I've started to do. It's so simple but it helps so much:

I get up and move away from my desk. I go to the other side of the room and I lie down. I take a few huge deep breaths, and I close my eyes and I just hold still.

(This is great, because the monkeys freak out. "She's walking away?!? It's like she doesn't even care about us!")

I breathe for a little while, and then I tell myself in my kindest, and most calm voice: You know the thing that you need to do next. You have one option that seems like the right one for now. What's that option? 

And I give myself permission to 1) pick something, and 2) that it doesn't have to be the perfect choice. It's the choice that seems right, for now, and that's good enough for me, I tell myself.

In about ten minutes, I'll get up with a very clear calm-ish path in my head, and dive in. And I end up not regretting my choice, even if I have to revise it later.

Seriously, this has been huge.

So if you're nodding along with this, and you get what I mean about overthinking + harshness, here are my four steps again. I apply: 

1) Oxygen. For real. Because I start breathing too fast, or holding my breath when I'm anxious. Good decisions require oxygen! Try to relax, unclench, and breathe deep.

2) Space. I can't find my way out of a spiral if I'm staring at a bunch of lists or all my different options. I need to separate myself.

3) Clarity. I try to boil it down: I just have to take one step, and I just have to pick that step. It isn't rocket science or brain surgery. If they all seem equally good and even equally risky, then I really can't go wrong. I can simply choose.

4) Permission. I take the idea of a "right answer" off the table. I'm not looking for a perfect choice. (And yes, sometimes I have to say this out loud.) I'm just looking for a choice. A starting point. I'm allowed to change my mind later when I see things even more clearly. But at the same time, I'm not going to second guess myself just because

This little sequence has been a game changer! 

How about you? Where in your writing process are you most tempted to be hard on yourself? And what would it look like if you gave yourself a tiny dose of kindness instead?

And what would it look like if you gave yourself a really, really BIG dose of kindness?


Resistance.

For anyone who's read the excellently butt-kicking motivational books of Steven Pressfield (I'm thinking especially of The War of Art, Do the Work, and Turning Pro), Resistance is something you're already familiar with.

For the rest of you ... well, you're familiar with Resistance too. You just might not have called it that.

Here's how Pressfield introduces the concept in The War of Art:

There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write.
     What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

He goes on, 

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
     Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? ... Are you a writer who doesn't write, a painter who doesn't paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.

It's an internal, persistent, relentless force that keeps us from doing our work. That's it.

That slippery, negative feeling that we get before we do something that we honestly, in our heart-of-hearts want to do ... but in this moment, we seem to want to do ANYTHING else.

You get this, right? I mean . . . anyone who's tried to write for about two seconds understands this feeling.

There is so much good in Pressfield's books. He is super helpful when it comes to understanding Resistance and the whole creative process. Definitely ones to pick up, if you haven't yet!

I'm half tempted to type out the whole second half of his book right here in this post ... okay, actually the whole book.

But I won't because of plagiarism and rules and all that. You'll just have to read it for yourself. It's a quick, very helpful read—which is great because you can flip it over and reread it and get it deeper into your brain. 

But anyway, here is the Resistance-fighting technique I've been using lately, and, amazingly, it's been working.

It's deceptively simple. Ready? Here it is:

I'm working toward a bunch of goals right now. Seriously, so many. And though they're worthy, I can feel a ton of Resistance anytime I'm working on the next step toward a goal.

What's suddenly changed for me is that I've realized where that huge burden feeling is coming from. The real burden, the real problem, isn't the task itself.

So, the problem isn't actually the intense, complicated scene I need to write today.

The real problem is that Resistance tells me that I'm not up to working on something so complicated. It tries to convince me of this by flooding my mind with dread.

Resistance tries to convince me that the task is the problem. That the task is why I have dread.

When really, Resistance is why I have dread. The real problem is Resistance. 

So I wrote myself another note, and I stuck it to my computer monitor: 

It's not the task that is burdensome, but the Resistance to the task that is.
 

It's Resistance that's killing me.
Drop Resistance.

Yes, I know. That sounds simplistic.

But what's happened in my head since realizing this is amazing. 

By rereading that note, I can catch Resistance when it sneaks in. And I can remember that its chief trick is to make me think that something else is the problem—instead of the Resistance itself.

So, when it's time to write, and I sense that slow build of "Meh, I'd rather not" working its way through me, I'm alert to it. I snap out of it.

I say, AHA, look, it's Resistance! You, Resistance, are the thing that's even harder than the hard work. You're the thing that's worse than bad writing. You're worse than brain cramps and elusive sentences and revisions. 

So I'll get rid of you.

And I'll stop resisting the task.

... And that simple moment of reframing the situation WORKS. And it's lovely.

So, try it. Identify your real enemy.

It isn't the writing. It isn't the scene that will come out somewhat backwards (though with a few glowing phrases, a few spot-on descriptions!). It isn't the journey we take into the unknown every day.

It's the thing that would block us, with no truly good reasons, with no clear helpfulness. It's the thing that creates a mood, a doubt, a dread. It's fat angry Resistance squatting in the middle of our road.

Refuse to buy into it. Refuse to welcome it, listen to it, pick up the burdens it hands you. 

When you feel it rising, remember that it is the difficulty, not the thing that it's pointing to or hiding behind. Don't listen to it, and dive into your work.

And then see if that makes a difference.

This Is How We Get Fiercely Productive and Fiercely Happy At the Same Time

When we have meaningful downtime, everything changes. Our brains focus better ... and we have a lot more fun!! | lucyflint.com

One of my favorite sections in Cal Newport's Deep Work was a section within the chapter "Work Deeply." I was reading along, getting all fired up about the untapped potential of my mighty brain and all it could do for my work, when I hit the subsection titled "Be Lazy."

Wait—what?? 

Is this still the same book?

As I kept reading, Newport convinced me. The lovely balancing truth is, in order to work deeply and to focus extremely well, we also need to know how to recharge, refuel, and regather our strength.

Which is, of course, right up my self-care alley!!

When I read that, I realized yet again: I want to be as good at refueling my mind as I am at spending it.

Those two skills go hand in hand: they depend on each other.

So today? We're going to talk about strengthening our ability to refuel, our ability to be lazy, our ability to play.

Ahhhhhh... This sounds fun.

How's that shutdown ritual coming along? 

As I've mentioned before, Newport makes the point that we need a clear, concrete end to our workday, in order to transfer all our unsolved problems and undone work over to the world of the unconcious.

... Which I still think is the coolest thing ever. (Cue a fun dream sequence.)

So, what do we do when all our focused work is done? Dive headlong into a night of Pinterest and Buzzfeed and Netflix and Facebook and all the media stimulation we can handle?

Um, no. 

That would be kinda like watching our diet and counting calories really strictly during the working hours ... and then binging on ice cream and brownies and cupcakes and peanut butter when we're done with work. (Aw, come on, peanut butter, you know I love you.) 

In other words, just because we're not actively working, it doesn't mean we can just jump back into the distraction festival.

That would undo all the brain training that we're striving for with deep work! 

So, um ... what can we do?

After our work is done for the day, we're free to pursue what Newport calls meaningful leisure.

Here's what he says:

If you give your mind something meaningful to do throughout all your waking hours, you'll end the day more fulfilled, and begin the next one more relaxed, than if you instead allow your mind to bathe for hours in semiconscious and unstructured Web surfing.

Whoa. Quite a concept, right?

Meaningful relaxation. Taking your downtime with a serious dose of intentionality.

So... I have to think about how I relax?

Well, yes. 

In Deep Work Newport references a few different ways to do that: spending time with hobbies, and going for nature walks, and simply indulging in recreational idleness. 

He says,

Decades of work from multiple different subfields within psychology all point toward the conclusion that regularly resting your brain improves the quality of your deep work. When you work, work hard. When you're done, be done. 

From reading the rest of the book, it doesn't sound like feeding the brain a steady stream of distractions and media is really the rest that it's looking for.

I'm convinced. Since reading that, I've started experimenting. I've brought back some old hobbies and started using my after-work hours to pursue them instead of pursuing news feeds and cat videos.

So I'm brushing off my piano skills a smidge, using my fingers for something other than typing words. I dug out an old pack of cards, and I've gotten back to my childhood love of solitaire games. 

I've even picked up something that I was never interested in before: jigsaw puzzles. No kidding! I didn't know if they would make me crazy or not, but so far, I've been shocked by how meditative and restful they've been.

There is something very humbling and very big-life-metaphor about assembling a big, complicated picture one piece at a time. I've found it utterly addictive.

And as I've reinvested in these three hobbies, I've found that the urge to jump back into the Internet has dwindled a lot. And I'm feeling more peace in my thinking.

Really. I'm not making it up. I feel different. Honestly... it's lovely. 

Let's overhaul our approach to downtime, shall we?

Here's the challenge, then. When we're not working, let's be actively rejuvenating. Not just doing low-grade Internetish activities that are somewhat fun but not at all memorable.

Those social media or infotainment sites that absorb a lot of time, give us a few laughs maybe, give us a few spurts of inspiration maybe, but then don't leave us with much when they're done.

Know what I mean? 

So, what old hobbies are calling to you? What did you love doing as a kid, but haven't picked up in a while? 

What kinds of things have seemed too nerdy, or a bit of a hassle, or a little old-school ... but secretly you always liked doing them? Maybe you could pick them up again?

Try that. Chase down three old hobbies, or even just one. Start spending time with them in your after-work hours, and just see what happens. 

Be patient if it seems slow at first. It might be challenging, but you're up for that, right? Go easy, and then start to feel yourself relax into it.

Yes, this takes more thought. Yes, it even takes (until you get used to it) more effort.

But it is INFINITELY more rewarding.

So worth it.

... If you're stumped for hobbies or pastimes, try asking yourself these questions.

(And yes, that sound is me cackling a little bit, because when I asked myself these questions they dramatically changed my life and how I see myself. I'm not kidding. So, buckle up, lionhearts.)

Here we go:  

  • When you're on Pinterest, what do you tend to pin the most? What boards do you compulsively fill out? What imagery do you get excited over? What pins give you that eager zing in your mind and heart?
  • When you're on Facebook, who do you most want to keep in touch with? Who do you want to know about? What do you love seeing? What do you always click on?
  • What Instagram accounts get you excited? What kinds of accounts fill up most of your feed? What photos make you happy, inspired? What do you love to see?
  • In your other social media accounts: Where do you enjoy spending your time? What are you drawn to? What kinds of posts and images do you respond to readily? What do you most like?

Here's my sincere challenge to you: Go back and really answer those questions, okay? Be as honest and thorough as possible. Try to put down at least one thing for each site that you go to, and if you're really brave, list four or seven or twelve. 

Okay. Wanna change your life? Here's the simple and radical thing to try: 

Instead of pinning it, try living it. 

Instead of liking a friend's post, write a postcard or a letter. Instead of filling a comment box with confetti emojis, send actual confetti!!

Instead of watching hours of funny cat videos, check out the classics of film comedy, and have a movie festival. (I was raised on the Marx Brothers, btw.) 

Instead of oohing and ahhing over a photostream, go after that skill, that environment, that style, that fill-in-the-blank in your real and actual and daily life.

Instead of filling out Pinterest boards, try collecting the objects you're pinning, visiting the kinds of places you adore, making the things you admire.

Resurrect an old hobby, or fall in love with a new one. Visit a place instead of dreaming about it.

Take your own photos. Make your own emojis. Do your own stunts.

I know. This can feel like a lot of effort, but my friends, it's been life-changing for me! 

Case in point: It took me along time to realize that I was pinning a lot of art. I mean, a lot.

I had a Pinterest board for patterns and a board for brilliant design and a board for photography that thrilled me and a board for amazing illustrations and a board of sketchbook spreads.

And only this past summer did it hit me: Ummmm, Lucy, how about taking an art class?

I debated for a while. For a long time, actually. 

I'm a WRITER, I told myself severely. I write. I do not take art classes.

And then Deep Work came along, and Cal Newport says my brain needs a rest, so now I have a year-long subscription to CreativeBug. And I am definitely taking art classes. 

Right after I enrolled, I watched preview after preview of class options. And at one point, I actually had tears in my eyes while listening to one woman describe the joy of keeping a sketchbook. 

Something in me has been wanting this, needing this, for a long time. And because I needed to be a "serious writer," I kept saying no to myself.

What I LOVE is that being a serious writer means I actually get to say yes.

Yes to a more meaningful downtime. Yes to those non-work pursuits. Because those yeses translate to a better, sharper focus when I'm at my desk.

HOW CRAZY AND WONDERFUL IS THAT?!

In total honesty, I have not been doing a lot of pinning lately. I haven't been on Instagram in a long while. (And you can tell because those dang photos of mine aren't changing, sorry!!) 

But I really loved my line drawing class, and that sketchbook spread I painted last night makes me smile every time I think of it.

... You see what I mean, right? 

It's worth it. Figure out what your social media habits are telling you, and then try pursuing the real thing. 

If you're feeling resistant to this, believe me, I've been there.

I've had plenty of weeks, plenty of months, when my brain felt like melted butter, and all I wanted after work was a nice media snack and then bed.

I get it. I really, really do. 

But diving into a hobby instead of merely media-ing it has been incredible.

I'm seeing myself differently. When my writing is done for the day, I start feeling like I'm also an artist. I'm a pianist again. And after a long jigsaw puzzle stint, I start to see the physical world around me differently, noticing how objects look side-by-side in a totally new way.

Because of my overhauled recreation time, I have a broader sense of what I can do and who I am.

Also, it is so incredibly energizing, in a way that all the Internet-inspiration-browsing has not been. Choosing to live your inspirations changes you from a spectator and a consumer to a maker. An artist. A creator.

... So THAT, my lionhearted friends, is my challenge to you. What would you make, who would you reach, where would you go, what would you try, if social media wasn't the answer? If the Internet wasn't waving its big, distracted arms at you?

What would you do, and who would you be, instead?

Mmmmm. Be very excited: your answers just might change your life.

The Key To Everything Is a Crazy Amount of Focus.

The megaskill that makes way for all other skills: the ability to focus, intensely. (Like ... more intense than ever before. A whole new level.) | lucyflint.com

If you saw my last post on Cal Newport's stirring & motivating book Deep Work, you know that a radical new approach to focus is totally necessary if we want to write with super-high quality. It's also vital if we want to grow exponentially in our writerly skills.

Which: we do. Right? All of us. That's what we signed up for.

Focus. It's a big deal.

So ... how do we learn to focus with that kind of intensity? How do we adopt that training program mindset, so that we become writers who dive in deep and write our most incredible stuff? 

From the last post, we already know that deep work requires literally rewiring our brain. Which ... is hard. We know that this is going to be a challenge.

So, do we have patience with ourselves as we practice, and a readiness to encounter difficulty? Check and check.

High five. Let's go strengthen our ability to focus. 

Where do we begin?

1) Develop a deep work ritual.

Is it just me, or is everyone talking about rituals lately? Morning rituals, bedtime rituals, getting-ready-for-exercise rituals, planning rituals... 

Personally, I love 'em. (Shocking, right?!)

Yes, I love the idea of using a clever sequence of little behaviors to naturally lead my mind into the next important thing I'm doing.

It's like an on-ramp for the brain.

Welp, Cal Newport says we need to ritualize our deep work sessions as well. Why?

After describing the rituals of a few successful deep thinkers, he points out:

Success in their work depended on their ability to go deep, again and again—there's no way to win a Pulitzer Prize or conceive a grand theory without pushing your brain to its limit. Their rituals minimized the friction in this transition to depth, allowing them to go deep more easily and stay in the state longer.

Minimizing friction: that is key!! I don't know about you, but some days I feel like my writing time is friction. I can be forever transitioning between activities and making decisions, instead of getting into a good groove and staying there.

I'm sold, Mr. Newport. So, what does a deep work ritual need to do?

He lists three things in particular that a ritual has to incorporate: where you will work, how you will work, and how you'll support your work.

If we're making and remaking these decisions every time we need to settle in, we'll be flooding our deep work time with that transitioning friction. 

So, for starters, you need to ensure that your deep work area is a good environment. With a low chance of distractions and interruptions, and enough space to think.

And then, when working: how do you want to structure it? Do you need to keep a certain kind of pace, or consider a certain number of questions or read a certain number of pages? 

Finally, do you need some good food (he suggests some good coffee, and you know I'm all "amen to that!"), and some space to move around a little? (He repeatedly recommends walking as a way to enhance thinking ability.)

Personally, I don't have a clear, solid ritual in place yet. But I do have bits of one: 

  • In my planner, I write deep work mode! next to the hours when I'm planning on being uberfocused. That extra bit of intentionality reminds me to be sure and keep distractions out of my work zone.
  • Before I dive in, I sweep my desk space, and clear out anything that would derail me.
  • Like my phone. I march it over to my closet, tuck it into a little drawer, and leave it there.
  • I pull up a soundtrack of nature sounds on my computer. The rhythm of ocean waves works like an audible cue: time to go deep.
  • Finally, I keep a notepad nearby, so that if a distracted thought drops in (I need to text so-and-so! I have to track down that one recipe! Did I ever deal with that one email?) I can note it and not lose it ... but without pursuing the distraction itself.

Yeah, I know. This is pretty basic, and certainly isn't up to the more quirky and eccentric rituals that we hear about. But I'm willing to get there. ;)

And so far, this has been a good framework for supporting my early deep work efforts.

The real key here is to experiment with whatever works best for you. To take care of all those moving parts that would derail you, and make sure that you have everything you need ... and nothing that you don't.

2) Have a plan for your precious deep work time.

The time to figure out how your session is going to go is before the session starts. We don't want to waste precious deep work minutes planning our deep work time, right? Right!

So before you start, be sure that you know how long you're going to work deeply. When you're starting and when you're stopping.

Because when we're working this intensely, it's vital to know that there's only a finite amount of time we're doing this!

Newport says,

Be sure to also give yourself a specific time frame to keep the session a discrete challenge and not an open-ended slog.

And yes, I've thought, "Oh, I'll be fine. I'll just work til I'm ready to stop." Hahahaha—no. For some reason, when my mind doesn't know when it's going to get a break, it starts tempting me to give up, get up, slow down, get bored, and get distracted.

Let's not do that.

Know when you'll start, and when you'll stop. And when you're done, get up and move around and take that break!

One more point about how long we're working: It's tempting to learn about the value of deep work, and then to swear you'll have an eight-hour deep work day, and charge out to save your world with focus.

But that doesn't work so well. That's kinda like me dashing out to run a marathon. (You'd have to scrape me off the pavement after about four miles.)

When we're new to this, it's essential that we start small

Newport recommends that we aim for an hour of this kind of pure focus to begin with. And actually, it's really all we can muster before our brains are retrained.

If even a full hour sounds especially difficult, I hear you! There is zero shame in starting with even smaller amounts. Twenty minutes of total focus can be really challenging and super rewarding!! 

And it's shocking how much good thinking you can get done, in twenty focused minutes.

(When we get super good, we'll be looking at four hours of deep work a day. Even the masters can't do this indefinitely!) 

Also, what kind of work will you be doing? We'll answer that next:

3) Know the difference between deep work and shallow work.

Shallow work is another central concept in this book. Shallow work is the stuff that we still need to do ... but it doesn't require the same amount of focus, and it isn't generating huge value like deep work.

Newport defines shallow work like this:

Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

For me, shallow work is the busywork of dealing with computer updates and gathering resources. It's filling out forms, running errands, editing photos, fixing the printer. It's dealing with email and shuffling files and organizing papers.

Anytime I think, if I had an intern or a clone, I'd have her do this!—that's shallow work.

Shallow work isn't bad. In fact, it's completely necessary! It doesn't take as much focus, so it has a lighter feel to it. 

The reason we need to recognize it is because we're tempted to drip our shallow work all through our day. It can sprawl across our schedules and just take over.

But it simply isn't coming from the same place as our deep work. If we blend the two all day, we keep ourselves from going deeply and doing the kind of lasting work that would, well, make a name for ourselves.

(Doesn't that give you shivers?)

If you have days that look like this kind of once-typical day of mine, then you get where I'm coming from: 

  • work a bit on the draft
  • um, I'm bored/stumped, so I'll check email... 
  • oh, sweet, blog comment! I'll dash over and answer that!
  • okay, right, focus: work a bit on the draft
  • I need a new computer update!
  • Oh, I should back up my computer while I'm thinking of it, can't risk losing data!
  • while it's rebooting, let me just clear my email inboxes on my phone . . . 
  • that outfit on Pinterest is so cute. So are a dozen of the recommended pins alongside it...
  • Oh, right! Drafting. Drafting drafting drafting.
  • Geez, I'm hungry...

THAT is an oh-so typical blend of shallow work and deep work attempts. Sure, I can get some important shallow work done, but when I keep switching back and forth, my drafting (aka deep work!!) suffers.

Because when I'm drafting from a shallow-work mindset, my scenes feel more sketched than deeply dreamed. My characters act more clichéd, their dialogue a little too rehearsed.

We can't completely cut out our shallow work—some important things would fall apart. But, we can't let shallow work take over our valuable deep work time, either.

Newport recommends, instead, batching our work. That's why the deep work ritual is so important: Get into deep work mode, and do the deep work, no distractions!

And then, get into shallow work mode. Scrape all those lighter tasks together and knock them out at once, staying in that mindset throughout. 

4) In fact, give yourself a shallow work budget.

This is such a cool suggestion, and it's one I have yet to implement. But I think that, when I do, it's going to be huge.

Here's the idea. Newport recommends talking to your boss (for those of us writing for ourselves, that's us) about the difference between deep work and shallow work.

Our deep work time will bring the most valuable work to our "company." Our shallow work time won't be so much about generating value, but it will keep everything running smoothly.

Both are important, no question.

Here's the question for our bosses, aka us, to wrestle with:

How much time per week should we spend doing each?

Wherever you're at, this is a great question to think through.

His suggestion for self-employed knowledge workers (like me, like you, if you're working on your novel and/or building your brand): the ratio should probably be around fifty-fifty.

So, roughly half our time we spend digging in deep with our novels, writing our best stuff. Working with pure focus, operating as our absolute best and smartest selves. Thinking amazing thoughts. Growing our skills.

The other half of the time we're answering emails, editing photos, planning social media campaigns, tweaking newsletters, etc.

Make sense? 

And then, as you settle into this rhythm, track your time each day. He says it's an eye-opening and helpful way to keep yourself honest: to keep shallow work in check, and to keep your deep work in your sights.

So, if anyone has swamped her day/week/month by deciding that she needs to clean out allllllll her file folders instead of facing the next few scenes (who, me?? never!) ... yeah, this is gonna help with that.

5)  We already said it, but, it's time to make it official: Distraction, we're breaking up with you.

Oh, Distraction. You talk so sweet, but you clearly don't love us as much as you say you do.

You mess with our game, you change our brains, and you keep us from doing our best work.

And you pretend it's all in fun.

Nope. Not okay anymore, Distraction.

We're all signing off. We're done with constant notifications, chiming, buzzing, dinging, ringing. We're going deep. We're practicing mega-focus.

We're not afraid of being bored. We'll find new ways to stay entertained. We'll notice what's around us and be fully present, instead of disappearing into your mile-a-minute maelstrom. 

And when we truly need a Pinterest hit or a Facebook fix, we'll schedule that time like the deep workers we are, and go check our sites happily for that pre-scheduled half hour, or however long we've decided.

We aren't at your mercy anymore, Distraction. We're taking our power back. No more falling into your lost minutes, lost hours, lost days.

Distraction, we're done. It's not us: it's you.

Ya gotta go.


On the face of it, a lot of these tips are common sense, right? This "deep work" stuff can sound like just cleaning up some habits around working well. I get that.

I think what makes these ideas feel so weighty to me, though, is because Cal Newport treats deep work like a whole new level of working.

Near the book's conclusion, he says,

Deep work is way more powerful than most people understand. ... To leave the distracted masses to join the focused few, I'm arguing, is a transformative experience.

He makes the case that as we learn to do this, we won't be saying, "oh, yeah, I guess I polished that novel rather nicely."

It's more on the level of, "holy crap, I just took that whole GENRE to new heights," or, "I created a different kind of story form," or, "I destroyed the pre-existing limits on this kind of publication launch."

It's about solving problems in a huge way. It's about shattering our previous ways of working, our small successes and tiny increases. Trading all that in for absurd levels of growth, productivity, and understanding.

This is rocket fuel, in other words. 

So, if you're in, if this sounds awesome, here are a few deep-workian questions to consider:

What's your deep work ritual look like? Or, if that sounds daunting, what's at least one way you can signal to your imagination and your brain: we're goin' deep!

How long of a deep work session do you want to start training with? Remember, a killer twenty-minute block is much better than a terrifying one hour, when you're getting started! Don't be ashamed to start small.

What kinds of activities in your typical work week qualify as "shallow work"? Nothing wrong with them, but they just don't come from that mega-focused place. What would it look like if they had to take up only half your time (or less!), and the rest of your time went to pure, total focus? 

And yeah, we just broke up with Distraction. What do you need to do to make it official?

Remember: It's easy to feel like we're focusing well enough. That we already know what focus feels like, thanks, and why must we go to extremes? Isn't that a little harsh, a little crazy, a little weird?

The truth is,we underestimate the power of this level of focus, because most of us (myself included!) have never really, actually, consistently tasted it.

We don't know what it can do, and we assume that we're working as well as we can.

I think it's worth it, my lionhearted friends, to dig in and really try for this. 

Personally, I love the idea of my time—that very finite resource!—doing radically more than it currently is. Of having richer insights, more imaginative work, and better everything.

Woo! I'm getting chills.

So I'm on board with this.

Oh, okay, and one last thing: If all this focus talk makes you feel like your brain is going to fall out, and also like, what the heck, Lucy, that last month was all self-care all the time, and now I feel like you want me to be a machine... 

I got you. On Thursday we'll be talking about strengthening our ability to play. Which is the other half of this deep work equation. 

OH yeah. We'll balance it out. High five, my friend.