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!

When You Absolutely Can't Keep Writing, Try This

Has desperation set in with your manuscript? Here are your desperate measures. Four strategies to help you keep going when you thought you just. couldn't. even. | lucyflint.com

And then. The day comes when your brain feels as lively and full of words as a rubber pancake. 

And you hear yourself saying the dreaded words: "I think I've hit a wall."

What do you do? When your eyes are buggy, your fingertips numb, and your grip on the language isn't exactly a grip?

What do you do when you can't keep writing, but there's too dang much of the draft still to go?

You throw out every single standard or expectation for this draft that you're still holding on to.

ALL of 'em.

(Don't panic. You can bring your standards back when things are moving again. But for now, you just don't need them. For now, the goal is: Unstick this word machine and get it back on track!)

Here are four tricks I use to lower the bar, shake up the draft, and get my story moving again.

1. Forget about paragraphs: Start writing in list form.

What?! Like, with bullet points?

Yes! Certainly! Why not?! 

If your story is stuck, and you have no idea what should happen next, list the possibilities.

Right there in the draft. Yes, really! 

And let your characters talk back to you about each one. Conduct a little story interview.

Explore the different options: not by thinking about them, but by writing. 

Write down what you love about the different options. Write down what draws you deeper. And when a possibility makes your heart beat a little faster, start writing your draft in that direction.

2. Don't worry about writing actual sentences either.

Judy Reeves writes about the power of creating a run-on sentence: every time you'd naturally write a period, try putting a comma, and then keep on pushing.

She says, "Follow the last word with another specific image that takes the writing further, then do it again and again." 

When I first heard that, I thought, Yeah, right, whatever.

Then I tried it, and whoa: She's totally right. It unlocks doors. And it helps me feel more like an explorer-writer, and less like a this-has-to-be-done-CORRECTLY writer.

Which is really good news for getting past walls in the draft.

3. When your story's really on the rocks, talk to yourself.

Last year, I hit an absolute wall in my manuscript. Half the characters were stranded in a farmhouse, with unknown and undefined villainy pressing in around them, but they didn't have any kind of game plan... and neither did I

I was so stuck. After a LONG time of staring at my notebook, I switched tactics: I started talking to myself about the story... in narrative form. 

I started scribbling like this: "Okay, Lucy, so they're all at the farmhouse waiting, but who wants to just watch characters wait? So what SHOULD they be doing? Is anyone getting ready for the climax? Because they totally should be. Okay. Which characters are really involved in this section, and what skills do they have? What are they worried about? Is there some narrative something I haven't cashed in yet? A subplot that hasn't gotten its due in a while? How's Claire doing? What about that one guy--we haven't heard from him in a while. Maybe I should explore... "

I know. It doesn't make for exciting reading. But I kept on writing like that. Letting my pen keep moving, asking myself questions, searching for what should happen next.

And guess what. After quite a few pages of rambling, I found it. 

I wrote my way out of that problem, and back on track. 

(Yes, some very strict people might argue that this isn't actual WRITING on my actual STORY and should therefore NOT COUNT... but let's all check our writing-a-first-draft guidebooks, shall we? It isn't about being strict.

When I revise, I'll be able to consider all the possible ways of filling that narrative hole: All my talking to myself is a giant placeholder. A placeholder studded with actual ideas.

And since my goal was finish the draft and not solve this plot dilemma right now and perfectly, this solution totally worked.) 

4. Switch your writing medium.

If you've been writing on a computer, try writing by hand. (I did all of last year's Nanowrimo by hand! I promise it can be done!) 

If you're already writing longhand, try swapping your notebook for a stack of index cards. Or even little sticky notes.

It's easier to look at a small piece of paper and say: "Okay, so what might happen next?" And even a very tired brain might roll its eyes, and say, "Well, sure, I can write THAT much."

Whichever method you try, remember this: The point of a rough draft (especially a Nanowrimo draft) is to GET SOMETHING DOWN ON PAPER.

You're getting the idea down. You're exploring possibilities. 

It is supposed to be rough. The edges are meant to be jagged and frayed. There are supposed to be plenty of holes! 

So when you feel like you can't keep going, do a quick expectations check. Figure out which standards you're still clinging to, and drop 'em! 

Don't just accept imperfection: rush out and find it! Give it a huge hug! Because it's your best friend when the writing is hard.

You can fix the holes later, I promise. And it's so much easier to fill holes in a finished draft.

Resuscitating a permanently-stalled one, on the other hand, is brutal.

Write messy. Write muddy. Fall down a lot. And keep on writing.

Introducing Claire: An Impromptu, Teeny-Tiny Book Excerpt

I've mentioned it once or twice on the blog, but: I took piano lessons pretty steadily for about seventeen years of my life. (Whoa. Suddenly reflecting on that. That's a lot of scales and arpeggios.) 

When I took lessons in college, part of the requirement was a studio class, every other week. Which meant: sitting with a bunch of other piano players, some of them beginners, and some of them way-the-heck better than the rest of us. And you'd each play something.

Like a mini-recital for your peers.

If you think that my fingers were usually shaking a bit, you're right. They were.

But shaking or not, I got used to doing it. Used to taking the bench and playing the piece, fearful or not, trembling or not. It was just a Thing You Did, because you played piano.

The same was true in my writing classes: we took turns sharing selections. Until it just became a Thing You Did: You wrote pieces; you shared pieces. Repeat.

... But guess what. I've been doing this writing thing pretty much on my own for a while, and my habit of sharing my work has gotten a little rusty. That's been on my mind, and I was wondering how to break back in...

When my Twitter buddy Karah Rachelle tagged me in the 7/7/7/7 writing challenge. 

Here's how it goes: Writerly person opens their work-in-progress to page seven. And then counts down to line seven. And then shares the next seven sentences in a blog post.

As in: this post. 

(And then you nominate seven more writers, to carry on the challenge!)

... Wasn't I just saying on Monday that I wanted to introduce you to my characters? Welp, here we go. 

Page seven, line seven, and the next seven sentences.

A little background: On about page two, Phoebe (main character, eleven years old) discovers that a world exists behind a panel in the back of her closet. (Because, well, why not.) She hasn't told anyone yet, but her day is about to get weirder.

During dinner...

Baby Claire popped her fist out of her mouth with an audible smack. And she made a little noise, which sounded like "Ha!" and which made Phoebe grin.

"What I'm trying to understand," said Claire in a crystal-clear voice, "is what happened in Phoebe's closet." 

Phoebe's grin froze. Then she gaped at her baby sister.

"Awwww," crooned Great-Aunt Mildred. "I love her little babbling sounds."

"Because when you came out, your eyes were all funny," Claire said, looking at Phoebe. 

... The baby speaks, ladies and gentlemen. The baby reasons. And the baby gets into a whole bunch of trouble during the course of this trilogy. 

Ta da!

Okay. Who wants to share their work? (I feel like my writing professor, stalking around the room and looking for victims/volunteers.) Who would like to share with the class? 

I'm nominating: 

1) @HLGibson_Author ... See her excerpt here!
2) @victorialfry ... See her excerpts here
3) @KFGoodacre ... See her excerpt here
4) @ShesNovel
5) @JazzFeathers ... See her excerpt here!
6) @AJLundetrae ... See her excerpt here
7) @ink_and_quills 

... Only do it if it's fun, or if it feels right to you and your work, okay? And then tag your post to these comments so we can come read your work and applaud you! :)

ALSO, if you're reading this and you feel that little internal nudge, like you really should do this, like it's been too long since you've sat at the piano and played for others...

Go ahead and self-nominate! (I don't know if that's an official rule, but whatever, I'm saying, go for it!) Post your seven sentences on your blog, and then post a comment below to say that you did, okay? I'll come clap for you! :)

I'd love for this blog to turn into a place where more and more work is shared: both mine and yours! So... this could be the start of something very, very good.

Oh, and P.S.: Thanks for reading.

P.P.S.: Whoops, my excerpt was eight sentences, not seven. I can't count. Ah well. That's why I'm not an engineer. That, and, they write very few children's adventure stories. :) 

Can We Have a BIG GROUP HUG, Please?

This blog is over a year old! And I'm ... slightly older than that today! So let's toast each other and set our aim on another year of good writing and being brave about that. (Also, let's have cake.) | lucyflint.com

Okay, it's my birthday. Which means I get to do a bunch of toasting, right? Birthday girls get to make speeches. And I'm allowed to get a little sentimental, right? Okay. Good. All right.

I started this blog a little over a year ago. Crazy how quickly that time has gone! I just wanted to explore what I'd learned so far about the writing life.

And--for everyone who had been asking me what I did and how I did it--I wanted to pass along anything useful, anything helpful.

And then six months ago, I kicked it up a few notches with a big re-design. (Big!) I figured out that I wanted more courage, that I wanted to develop this idea of a lionhearted writing life. That I wanted to find other brave souls who were putting words on paper.

And then YOU showed up! 

Hundreds and then thousands of you! 

You've been reading and commenting. You have tweeted and pinned and posted. You shared your stories of how you think about the writing life--what's been hard, what's been good. We've commiserated and we've celebrated. 

I'm so proud of us all! 

All these words we're writing! These blank pages being filled! 

There are stories churning among us; there are tales being told!

We're not alone, all of us lionhearted creators. We're not alone. 

If I could give out a party favor in this little sentimental speech-of-a-post, it would be superhero capes.

Because 1) WHY NOT, seriously! And because 2) we are each of us bold and brave.

And because 3) I firmly, sincerely, down-to-my-toes believe that stories are one of the best weapons against darkness. 

We're telling stories. We're fighting back the dark. And that is no small thing, my courageous-even-when-we're-also-shaking-in-our-boots friends.

That's no small thing.

So here's to another year of it! 

Another year of sharing our stories about our stories. Another year of getting better at writing. Of reading fantastic books and talking about them.

Another year of becoming more brave in what we write and how we write it. 

This is our job, friends! The best job in the world

I don't know exactly what this next year holds. And if I've learned one thing about the course my writing takes, it's this: All my predictions are wrong! Hahahaha!

Ahem. But that said, I'm hoping that Book One of my middle-grade adventure trilogy will be ready to sell at this time next year. (Or at least, verrrrrrrry nearly.)

Because, oh, I can't wait to introduce you all to my brave little main character, her irrepressible sister, and their reluctant aunt. This story that's existed in my head for so long might finally be ready to make its way in the world. Maybe when I turn 32, eh? 

However it turns out: I'm hoping and trusting for good things in the year ahead.

I'll keep aiming at a good writing life. A healthy, perfectionism-free one.

A writing practice with a lot of heart, a lot of grace, and a lot of courage. Just like the stories I most love and most need.

But for now, I'm so grateful for this community of fellow writers, fellow readers, fellow dreamers.

My fellow lionhearts! Thanks for honoring me with your time, with reading these posts, with your happy dances on Pinterest and Twitter and Facebook.

Here's to growing our courage next year! Here's to better stories and deeper characters!

Here's to tales that change lives: our own lives first, and then many many others!

I love ya. Can I say that? Sure, it's my birthday. I love you, my dear readers, my fellow lionhearts. Thanks for being brave right alongside me. 

Lean in. Let's have a big group hug. And a big group picture.

Say cheese, hold that funny face, wave at the camera, brandish your new superhero capes-- Click.

There. Thanks. I'll treasure that.

Okay. Now let's all find some CAKE.