Five Ways to Spark Energy and Excitement for Your Work-in-Progress!

Enthusiasm is our best best friend when it comes to staying the course with our writing. So how can we boost our enthusiasm? I've got five super fun ways right here. | lucyflint.com

Welcome back to the Strength Building Series! So far, we've talked about what strength even means (because the wrong definition is the first step to sabotaging it). And then we focused in on building strength of imagination (because imagination is central to everything we do!).

And today—I'm really excited. Which is appropriate. Because today we're talking about how to increase our enthusiasm for our work.

I know! I know! I'm gonna have to simmer down so much to even write this thing...

Ahem. Okay. Being sensible. 

So, first thing: why even bring up enthusiasm? Why is this a place where we need to build strength?

To find the answer, think back for a sec to our Self-Care Series, when we talked all things Julia Cameron.

And one of the more mind-blowing things that she pointed out was: when it comes to sustainable momentum in our work, enthusiasm trumps discipline.

Yeah. It's still incredible. 

And that shifted my focus from "How can I be more disciplined?" to "How can I be more enthusiastic?" Which is a pretty huge course correction.

Building enthusiasm. It's essential for the kind of work we want to do.

... And before anyone gets worried that I'm about to base all our hard work on a mere feeling, let's refresh on Julia Cameron's definition of enthusiasm. She says: 

Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us. ... 
     Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work. ... It is joy, not duty, that makes for a lasting bond.

Okay. If that was waaay more mushy-sounding than you really care for on a Thursday, let's look at it like this:

The way Cameron is using enthusiasm isn't about "how we feel right now." 

It's about 1) commitment, 2) openness, 3) creativity, 4) process, 5) play, 6) joy and 7) yes, okay, love.

Which is why, to build enthusiasm, we're going to dive into the work itself (commitment!). No matter where we're at in it (process!). 

We're going to mess around (creativity!) and try new things (openness!). And yes, it's going to be playful. It's going to be about enjoying what we're making. And even, dare I say it, loving it.

Sound good? Sound ... fun? 

Here are my five favorite ways to build playfulness and enthusiasm for my work-in-progress.

Check them out, stay open, and don't worry about "doing it right." Just dive in and give these a try.

1) Embrace the Souvenir Method.

... I was about to say "this is one of my favorite things to do with a piece I'm working on!" and then I realized I'd just be saying this about everything I'm talking about today.

So I figured I'd spare you the repetition...

AND YET IT'S TRUE!

The souvenir method is a gorgeous little way to keep your mind and heart centered in your story. Plus it's fun.

.... Annnnd it gives you a rush.

Okay. Here's what you do: 

First, get your mindset. 

This is super important to remember: You're going to be visiting your draft-in-process as if it's a place. As if you're an explorer. You're going to be looking for souvenirs: things to take out of context and bring to a new place.

In other words: You are not about to spiral into a critique-festival. You're not going to indulge in beating yourself up. You will not, even for a moment, whisper to yourself that your draft is "crap." Okay? 

This isn't about judging what's there. Not at all. This can be done with the messiest, crappiest drafts, I promise you. (Because I definitely have.)

Pick up your draft. You can start from any place. From the beginning if you like, or any chapter at all.

And read. Read slowly. Let yourself explore. 

Read like you're looking at something new. Switch off your editing brain, and just experience the story.

While you're doing that, keep your eyes open for any line, any sentence, any phrase, that seems to especially capture the feel of a particular moment of your story. 

Such as:

  • a passage that pinpoints a vital aspect of the setting
  • a line of dialogue that shows off your protagonist's snarkiness
  • an exchange or moment between two characters that hints at the truth of their relationship
  • a key moment in the rise of the conflict
  • any moment that sums up a character's personality 

Don't think perfection here. Think "candid snapshot."

You're looking for moments that get the feel of your story, even more than the accuracy. 

And—even more importantly—you're looking for bits and phrases and scraps that mean something to you. 

You're looking for the sentences that register in your writerly heart. The little "aha!" feeling when a phrase resonates especially. 

Another reader might look at what you've chosen and see a bunch of scraps of sentences, bits of paragraphs.

But when you read it through, you hopefully hear your protagonist's voice, or sense a moment between the two love interests, or feel the prickle of anxiety before a major plot point.

Go for resonance and atmosphere more than just "yes, this sums up the passage well."

Does that make sense?

Personally, I copy and paste what I've chosen into its own document. I play around with the formatting: I put little separators between each passage.

Sometimes I'll have three sentences from a section, and other times I'll just have lifted one little phrase. If one of the clips needs a brief note to remind me of context, I throw that in as well.

When I'm done, I have about a page or so of moments from my story that set my mind and heart ringing. Moments that, when I read them together, as a whole, re-immerse me into my story. 

Which is oh-so helpful for those times when I've been away from the work, and am trying to find my way back in. 

2) Create a Gallery of Nouns.

This is one that I've used recently. It's fun and seemingly simplistic... but it's been part of my post-summer re-entry to my novel, and has helped so much!

Here's what I did: While rereading my draft so far, I paused every few pages, and doodled one of the nouns that had been mentioned in the story. 

That's it.

So, as I read, I made little silly sketches of things like: the cat a character dreamed about, the spider my main character chased from her room, the row of herbs on her mom's windowsill. 

I gave each little drawing a label: "Olivia's splendid lemon cake," "a gorgeous straw hat for the beach," "the mailbox with one postcard inside." 

And then I went through and colored everything in.

I didn't care that the drawings didn't look perfect—they were meant to just be light-hearted, quick, and fun. And when I sat back, I had a kind of visual catalogue of my story so far.

Images that stood in for character moments, points of tension, or just part of the opening setting that my characters will miss later in the story, when they're far away.

What's valuable about this technique is how playful and simple it can be. But it slyly involves our ability to visualize our own story, and to translate it into another art form: a doodle, a sketch, a selection of colors.

And there's something pretty magical about being able to see bits of your story laid out on a page. 

3) Let Music Be the Food of Story.

If you've been a long-time reader, you've heard me mention this a time or three. But that's because it's my all-time favorite!!

And I'm especially smitten with it because this simple tool, more than anything else, saved my connection to my story over a long, difficult summer.

Because of some tough circumstances, I had to let weeks go by without drafting, yet I stayed open and connected to my novel idea. How?

With a playlist of music.

I've slowly built a playlist of songs that remind me of key moments in my trilogy. These aren't soundtracks, by the way. The playlist isn't focused on instrumental songs.

It's a compilation of pieces that somehow link me to a character as a whole, to a character's backstory, to a moment of the plot, to a key relationship, to a story transition... the possibilities are, of course, endless!

The lyrics don't have to be 100% applicable to my story moment. If a handful of key lines resonate, that's good enough for me.

It turns out that it's the atmosphere and the mood of the song that's absolutely pivotal.

It's hard to just talk about music, so here are three examples from my playlist: 

Example 1: Scarlett Johansson singing "Before My Time."

Yes, it's from a movie about ice. But on my playlist, it's linked to the moment we meet an old resistance leader. When she comes on stage for the first time, she's tired of hoping, and tired of trying for change. 

Some of the lyrics are spot-on for her character, but I especially love the weariness in ScarJo's voice and the lament of the violin. I can practically feel my character when I hear this. SO perfect.

Example 2: Lana Del Rey's wonderfully depressing "Once Upon a Dream."

It's a more chilling version of a familiar song from kidhood... which is why it's spot on for my playlist. In my mind, this song references a fairly evil character who creeps around within, yup, dreams. And he's just focused his attention on my protagonist.

He's tricked her once before into believing he could be helpful, so the lyrics in the song even hint a smidge at the character's backstory and their history together.

There's also a kind of fatal inevitability in the song that I love... It helps me remember how trapped my protagonist feels in this moment, and how high the stakes are for her. Oooh. So good. 

Example 3: Of Monsters and Men's live version of "King and Lionheart."

It's more simple and haunting than their original version, and it's one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands. *high five*

It's also totally perfect for late in the trilogy, when my protagonist has been through a lot. She and her ragged friends are working alongside a king, and they're all gearing up for a climax that's sure to be very, very messy.

But the feel of this song and a fair amount of the lyrics are just exactly right. And honestly? I still get chills listening to this song, thinking of my main character. 

Whew! So. Those are some that have worked for me. 

The main thing to remember is that you're looking more for atmosphere and mood than for lyrics. A few spot-on lyrics are excellent, of course, but it's the feel of the song that seals it. 

So, see what you think. Basically, you'll know it when you hear it.

When it hits just right, I feel this incredible expansive rush, where I can see my characters in my mind, and—more importantly—feel what they are feeling, and hear what they are thinking.

I sense their weariness, or their uncertainty and fear, or their dogged hope. 

I can't say this enough: building a playlist is RIDICULOUSLY FUN.

It feels like procrastinating, but let me say it again: nothing saved my work this summer more than this. You can totally justify the time, in other words. ;)

Once you have a playlist—even if it's just a handful of songs—you have gold.

Play it in the car, listen to it while you cook, dance to it, take walks with it. And when you hear the songs, send your heart and your mind right into the center of your story.

You don't have to do any hard-core plotting (although I've definitely discovered plot this way). You don't have to jot down notes, or expand characterization (although, again, that has happened along the way for me).

You don't have to be "productive" with this tool at all. The biggest and best gift that it gives is a connection to the emotional and mental climate of your work.

It keeps it real and breathing and lively in your mind. 

And when that's true, allllllll good things can follow. 

4) Give It the Big Screen Treatment.

If the above strategies have been at all up your alley, don't stop there! This next idea can feel a little more tricky, but once you get the hang of it, it is pure fun and super helpful.

It also might keep you from sleeping, if you choose to do this right before bed. (So. Many. Times. I get all story-giddy and lie awake for hours. You've been warned.)

So: I love to dream up trailers for my book. As if it were a huge summer blockbuster.

I do this all in my head: I slowly fade in to some kind of panoramic story-view. Introduce characters in a moment, a glance, a funny line. 

And then I try to zoom in on the most tantalizing moments. The funniest lines, the jaw-dropping cliff-hangers, the moments of loss. You know. The way a good trailer does.

I cut from one moment to the next to the next in my mind. I imagine stirring epic music, or heart-stopping silence. Even a little slo mo, when it feels right.

... Basically I just have a blast. That's it in a nutshell.

And each time I do this, the resulting "trailer" looks different. 

What's glorious about this is how it, again, forces you to get visual about your story.

But also, it helps you focus on what movie trailers do best: excitement, intrigue, resonance. It helps you connect with the emotional points of your story. 

When I'm mired in too much thinking about structure and plot, and when my work starts to feel tedious, I retreat to this strategy. I pull up IMDb and watch a bunch of movie trailers.

And then, comfortable with the whole movie-trailer genre again, I close my eyes and dream up my own.

Seriously, my friends, when you start to get the hang of it, this can inspire enthusiasm like nothing else.

5) Believe In Where It Could Go.

Okay. This final enthusiasm-builder might sound more than a little goofy. BUT I've read this advice from several other writers (James Scott Bell and Heather Sellers for a start), and so I had to give it a try.

... And when I did, I couldn't stop smiling. 

Here it is: Make up endorsements for your work-in-progress, from authors you admire.

Yes really!

(IMMEDIATE DISCLAIMER: Don't, for the love of pete, publish them or pretend that they are real or everyone gets into trouble. Okay. Just had to say that. Common sense. Right. Okay.) 

Anyway: Write that kind of endorsement that would just thrill you. What you'd dream of them saying.

Write endorsements that emphasize those key parts of the story that they most loved. Everything that you're aspiring to in your work.

Type the endorsements onto a mock title page, and print it off. Hang it in your work area, or put it somewhere else where you can see it. 

Read them often. Smile.

... This isn't about getting our hopes up, or setting our hearts on something perhaps won't happen. Dream endorsements are a long shot, sure. 

But the strength of this tool is a lot like the strength in affirmations. When we state the direction we're heading in, it helps us change course. Saying out loud what we want can keep us on track.

Plus, if these "endorsements" make you smile... then why not? 

The main point is: they are a fun way to help you remember your goal. Your vision for the story.

The fact that, all this work, all these words, all these hours, are going into a craft you're making to give other people an experience.

Maybe you're trying to make them laugh. Or make 'em cry. (In a good way.)

Maybe you want to whisk them off to strange lands for strange adventures. Or maybe you're trying to open their eyes to what's in their backyard.

You want them to think. You want them to feel

Write little blurbs for yourself that point you in that direction: that help you remember you're inventing an experience. It's about a heart, about emotions.

This little endorsement-writing trick can seem so small, so silly.

But it can lift us above the daily grind, just when we need it most, and set our focus back on the big picture.


And there you have it! Five ways to strengthen your enthusiasm and stay playful with your work-in-progress.

All five of these have been absolutely key at different points in my writing life. They have cheered me, excited me, steadied me, and brought my stories back from near-death.

Pretty dang exciting, frankly. 

Which ones have you tried before? What will you try next?

Do you have any favorite ways to stoke writerly enthusiasm? Pass 'em along!! We all need plenty of good tools for this!

When Do We Do Our Most Important Work? (Let's Refresh That Reading Habit!)

Making a fresh commitment to a definite reading schedule on the blog today! Because "whenever it happens" isn't a good enough answer for me anymore. | lucyflint.com

It used to be that I didn't have to think about it.

I didn't schedule it, plan for it: that would have been silly. It was simply something I did, because I loved it. 

As a kid, I had this incredible drive to read.

To read all the time.

I mastered the ability to pin a book under my chin so I could, say, make up the bed and keep reading. Or clean up my room and keep reading. 

Okay. I know. It was pretty counterproductive. (Sorry, Mom!)

But I read all the time. 

In high school and college, I read what I wanted to in and around the school requirements. Even when I was overwhelmed with homework, I still snagged Sunday nights for rereading stuff like  The Chronicles of Narnia or A Year in Provence. 

In the full-time writing life, I've had to experiment a bit more.

Next to the mega-challenge of learning to write a novel, remembering to read them seems like a less urgent task.

A reading habit fits for a while, and then falls apart, needing a redesign.

And that's where I'm at again: realizing that lately (okay, okay—for basically all of 2016 so far!), I've had no real plan for reading fiction.

Which means, I haven't been reading fiction.

I know that part of this relates back to that issue of having permission.

It's hard, sometimes, to know that I still have a bazillion emails in my inbox, or that I'm behind on my work-in-progress, and yet I'm going to do something that's always been classified as "fun." 

That's why I love the idea of a schedule, a routine for reading. 

Because, frankly, adding something to my routine is the best way I have for protecting it, and for proving its importance to myself. 

Mmmm. But what would that look like now?

I've been mentally browsing the possibilities, remembering how I used to get my reading in.

Sometimes, it was the last forty-five minutes or so of my writing day, a late-afternoon habit. But it got too easily pushed out of the way by other projects.

Then I experimented with a once-a-month reading holiday, which was glorious, but also felt a bit exhausting too.

And then, for the longest time, reading was my last act for the day. Cramming words into my head before turning out the light, hoping to brew dreams from my reading material. 

I still love the peace of that, but my days have been too hectic, and I'm too exhausted to read before bed. Which feels weird, but ... it's true.

So I'm looking for a new time slot for reading.

I love how Heather Sellers talks about reading in Page after Page. She writes,

You can't get too far off track as a writer if you are reading. ... Writers read. Reading completes the gesture. Reading is what we do. An enormous part of learning how to write better is learning how to read, sensitively, attuned to all the colors and emotions. ... The best way to tune your ear for this work is to read with passion and abandon. 

WHOA. Right?! 

That's such a helpful, corrective message for me. Something I need to keep hearing.

Because I always know, in my head, that reading is important, that it isn't just "for fun," that it's something that must be part of my daily life. 

But I sometimes forget it with my heart. It feels like I'm stalling, procrastinating, dodging the more difficult tasks.

It's a false belief that I have to just keep shedding, over and over again. 

A couple of pages later, Sellers adds,

I like to read, like Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty ... in the morning, before I talk, before I write.

WELL. That just sounds like the most delicious possible start to the day. 

And it got me thinking of one of my favorite reading memories. One morning, after an early drop-off at the airport, I came home around 5:45 and felt too awake to try and sleep again.

So I made tea and found some lemon biscotti. I sat by the window reading A Very Long Engagement, savoring the beautiful prose and the tea and the sunrise. 

... Which is also why I always love the opening of the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, watching Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet starting her day with 1) a walk across English countryside, and 2) a good book.

Mmmm.

... Okay, so, seriously, I just fell into a little daydream about that. 

Here's the thing: it is so easy for me to realize and affirm that if I put writing first in my day, it'll get done. 

SUPER important. Super worthwhile.

And what about reading—the other half of a writer's job? When does that get the best schedule treatment?

I want that level of intentionality with my reading.  

So I'm wondering about shifting my reading to the morning

(Just typing that feels rebellious somehow!!)

Maybe not every day. Maybe twice a week. 

Oooh. 

I love that. I love that! It feels like a good change.

So, how about you? If reading is of critical importance to a writer—and it totally is!—then where does reading fit into your life?

Do you have a specific time when you make sure you get to it? Or is it kind of "whenever it happens"?

What tricks do you have for preserving your reading time? Or is it time to shake things up, start a new reading routine?

Wanna join me for morning reading? I'd love to know in the comments!


P.S., And yes, I did finish reading my first novel of the month! It was a good story, but A Thread of Grace felt like too heavy of a read, with all the heartbreaking news and the tragedies that have been happening lately.

Whew! I need a lighter book for my second read, just to give my heart a break. So, I'm going back to an easier-for-me category of fairytale retellings, with Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. Here goes!

Four Quick Fixes for the Next Time You're Looking for a Fresh Idea

A few more tricks for the next time you need a fresh idea! | lucyflint.com

Well, Idea Campers, how are you all doing? Do you feel armed and ready to face anything your work-in-progress throws at you? Because we have covered sooooo many idea-finding strategies by now!

When you're on the lookout for a new idea—an appealing, useable concept with velocity—it helps to have a range of techniques, right?

We have a list of major interests and a list of curiosities, to spark excitement in our ideas. We have a list of topics for which we've already done allllllll the emotional research (so let's put it to good work!). We have idea scout files and title files, ready to add shape and heat to our projects.

When things get really tricky, we know how to go over the problem in laser-like detail, to know exactly what idea we're looking for. And finally, we have the all-purpose skeleton key of idea-making: my favorite strategy ever.

Whew! That's a lot of power tools!! 

But just in case you'd like a little more back-up... 

Here are a few other idea-making techniques. Because it's good to have a trick or four up your sleeve for those really tough days. 

1) Remember the value of bridging ideas.

One of the reasons why I like to do a lot of my idea work with pen and paper is so that I have a written record of my process.

Why is that important? 

Because along the brainstorming path, there are sometimes these weird idea cast-offs.

Bizarre, off-the-wall, "couldn't possibly work" kind of ideas.

The awesome thing about these crazy ideas is their ability to spark other ideas.

They bridge you forward to a new idea that you might not've had, if you thought "pffft, I'm not writing down that dumb idea."

Know what I mean? 

Roger Von Oech calls these "stepping stones." In A Whack on the Side of the Head, he writes: 

Stepping stones are simply provocative ideas that stimulate us to think about other ideas. Stepping stones may be impractical or improbable, but their value consists not in how practical they are, but in where they lead your thinking. 

Exciting, right? 

So after an idea session, save your notes for a little while. Go back over them in a calm moment. You might find cast-offs that belong in your idea scout files: tidbits that didn't work to solve this problem, but which might be pure gold another time!

2) Shake your imagination up with a crazy challenge.

I saw this approach in Twyla Tharp's outrageously helpful book, The Creative Habit. She says we should have "an aggressive quota for ideas." 

Such as?

Such as, come up with sixty ideas in two minutes.

No, seriously. That's what she said. 

This is the kind of challenge that blasts you over obstacles, over hurdles.

You lose your hang-ups. All ideas count: everything is written down in the rush to fill up the list!

Which means? You end up with some really cool ideas. (And even the unusable ones could be stepping stones to other ideas...)

So before you totally dismiss this (like I did the first time!), give it a try.

Set a timer. Number a piece of paper. And then let rip.

You might just shock yourself with what you come up with... especially just before the timer dings.

3) Turn random into spectacular.

This is based on an exercise that Donald Maass presents in his incredibly helpful guide, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. (This book is on my all-time absolute must-read list for novelists, so, if you haven't read it yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out!)

In the exercise, he's showing how to weave elements of a novel together (and it's fantastic for that!), but I think that you could do it with any kind of idea generation.

Here's how it works:

Whatever your main problem or question is, try to split it into three categories or three topics. Write them out (with a little space in between) across the top of a sheet of paper.

So, in his example, you're listing characters, settings, and plot layers.

To look for an idea that might happen within a scene, you might list characters allied with the protagonist, characters allied with the antagonist, and various motivations/goals. 

If you're creating a title, you might list key characters, important images from the book, and the main settings.

Make sense? 

Once you've figured out your three categories, try to list six things in each category, and write them under each of your headings. 

And the more in each list, the better. So if you can come up with ten or even twelve for each of the three categories, that's great.

And then? And then it gets really exciting: 

You take a pencil and start drawing random lines, connecting entries from the first list to the second to the third.

What are you after? You're looking for connections.

You're looking for three entries to combine in such a way that your mind grabs the idea and starts running. 

So give it a little time, and keep messing around with it. Draw lines every which way. Link names and concepts together, and watch for what happens in your mind. 

I love this strategy because it shows me how to pair story or scene elements in new ways. And then? The idea sparks fly!

4) Get a new environment.

If you keep looking for good ideas and keep not finding them, try changing up where and when you're doing your looking.

If you normally brainstorm at your desk, in the afternoon, try: outside, in the morning. Or in your car, at midnight. In a grocery store, at 4:30. 

Sometimes we just need to change up the mental chemistry, move to fresh air, switch it up a bit.

It is perilously easy to fall into a rut when I'm doing all the same things in the same ways.

Find a way to change your surroundings, and you just might find your way to a fresh crop of new ideas.


There you go! A few more ways to find the brilliance that's lurking all around and inside you.

At this point, you're essentially unstoppable. I mean, look at you!

But just in case you hit a really rough patch, I've got you covered. Stay tuned for the next post...

You've Already Done Your Hardest Research (So Let's Turn It Into Idea Gold!)

You've done so much living and learning that your heart knows a TON. (With clear, vivid imagery attached, of course!) Let's get it all down, so it can fuel your most amazing ideas! (Idea Camp going strong y'all!) | lucyflint.com

"Write what you know" is probably one of the most clichéd sayings in writerdom.

I've heard a few different takes on it, as well as a thorough defense of its opposite: Write what you don't know. (Intriguing, right?)

Like any cliché, it can get a little irritating. (Yes, I've definitely rolled my eyes at it.)

But. When we really lean into "write what you know," it can be one of the most powerful and freeing guides to our writing.

Also? It can generate a bunch of quality ideas.

Which is why it totally belongs in Idea Camp.

Here is the truest true thing about my best work: it all is closely tied to what I know very well. 

Especially what I know well emotionally. The stuff that I've seen to be true in my life. What I know about people, about power, about place, about change.

About family. About loneliness. About myself.

THAT is the kind of what you know that drives really good ideas, and really compelling stories.

Writing what we don't know is magnificent when it comes to new settings, fantastical beings, and villainy. 

But as writers (and observers! and artists!), part of our job description is to truthfully share the things that we know the best.

Meaning: What our hearts know.

When I encounter that kind of knowing in a novel, it rings in my head and heart long after I finish reading. You know the feeling? 

When another writer has taken the time to show exactly what it looks like: to be here, to be alive. To feel small, to be alone, to try hard. To get bruised and then to get up again. To fight for what matters. 

THOSE are the stories we need. And that's what it means (to me, at least) to write what you know.

Which means some of the best stuff that you will write comes straight out of your own past. 

The strongest, brightest, strangest, sharpest memories.

The places and people and relationships and circumstances that you knew most intimately. 

That is what will drive your material. And that is going to lead to your best, clearest writing.

Mmmmmmm!! I'm excited.

Let's hear from two helpful guides before we dive in.

First, Heather Sellers makes a fantastic point in Chapter After Chapter, when she talks about the difference between ideas and images:

When most writers try to write down their ideas for stories, they usually only capture a tiny bit of the work from a faraway, not creative place in their minds. ...
   Do not save up ideas. Do not write about the work from a distance. Instead of writing notes about an idea like
story about babysitter, write: Dana said, "You didn't pay me last time, either, Heather." And she smacked that gum which seemed to be a weird striped gum, green and purple, both. 
   Write down what you hear. Write down what you see. ...
   Transition out of ideas and into
images. You will be amazed at the results you get when you start doing this. 

Let me just say: she is totally right about that.

It is so tempting to leave our ideas in those distant terms. "Write about my second grade teacher. Write about recess in sixth grade. Write about my friend-who-wasn't-a-friend in high school." 

But for Idea Camp, we're aiming at appealing, useable concepts with velocity. 

Velocity shows up only when we're working in images. In sounds, smells, textures. In the emotions, in exactly how they feel. 

So, for this list we're about to make, paint your images as richly as you can. 

What's going onto the list? Memories. 

James Scott Bell talks about how this kind of memory list can work. This is from Plot & Structure (awesome book, by the way!): 

Early in his career, Ray Bradbury made a list of nouns that flew out of his subconscious. These became fodder for his stories. 
   Start your own list. Let your mind comb through the mental pictures of your own past. ...
   Each of these is a germ of a possible story or novel. They resonate from my past. I can take one of these items and brainstorm a whole host of possibilities that come straight from the heart.

(How much do I love the idea of Ray Bradbury's list of nouns?? Ahhhh. So much.) 

I love Bell's point: that these memories have a natural resonance.

Also, the things that our hearts have learned are tied to real, factual moments: Nouns. Verbs. Images. 

The concrete stuff that we'll communicate in our writing.

So today, we're going to start our Memory List. You can start with a bunch of nouns, if you like Bradbury's approach, and see what comes up. 

Or—because I like a good question to chew on—check out my list of prompts below.

Think through your past with each question. And if that feels totally overwhelming (it does for me!), try scanning  your history in seven-year chunks. Age 0-7. Then 8-14. 15-21. And so on. 

Try to answer each question with as much imagery as you can. Let your heart talk.

... But before we make our lists, one more quick thing. This is meant to be a list of things that you feel willing to write about. This isn't about the stories and memories that we're not actually ready to write about.

So if there are dark, sad, terrible truths in your past that you don't feel ready to share, then they don't belong on this list. Okay? Keep processing, keep healing. You don't have to write about those yet.

This list is truly just for the things that you're ready to bring out in stories. (Also, if this is you, then I wish I could give you a big hug. Truly.)

Ready? Grab your pen and paper, grab a fresh document on your computer, and let's dive in!

For each span of years, think about what stands out the most in your memory. Especially: 

  • What places meant a lot to you? Where did you live? Where did you visit? Where else did you go: school, church, camp, friends' houses, family, vacations... Describe them with as much imagery as you can remember. The sounds, the smells, the tastes.
  • What were you most afraid of during these years? (Again, press for the images, not just the ideas...)
  • What embarrassments do you remember?
  • What most delighted you? 
  • What happened on the "happiest day of your life" in this time period? What made it a great day? What were the highlights? Capture the sensory details of that kind of day.
  • What achievements did you have? What are you still proud of? 
  • How did you like to spend your time? What hobbies, what activities? 
  • Which people and which relationships were the most important to you (in good ways or bad ways)? Who was helpful? Who, um, wasn't? What specific memories do you have about these people? 
  • If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be, and why? What would happen next?
  • What haunts you from this time? And what do you still feel happy about? 
  • What else do you remember? What else won't leave you alone? Nothing is too small of a detail.

What I love about this list is that we've already done the emotional research.

This is the stuff we know! We've already done the hard work of learning it and living it. It's time to turn those experiences into vivid scenes, characters that resonate, high moments in our novels.

What I love about using our memories for ideas is how versatile they are.

They can be the tiniest ideas that we sprinkle into our stories—the little things we add to make the scene feel more real, vivid, and lived in. 

Or they can be the whole point of the novel itself. The theme. The main characters. The villain. The setting. The conflict.

That's why no memory is too big, too small, too localized, or too weird. (I love the too weird ones!!)

After you've taken your first run at this list, give yourself a bit of a break—a few hours, a few days—and then read it through and add more to it. 

Hopefully you'll see situations, characters, circumstances, details, moments, and settings that are just begging to be used.

Maybe you'll write them in clear, memoir-esque detail.

Or you'll use your history, but totally transformed, turned inside out and backwards. Reinvented. Fantastical. The funhouse-mirror version of your past. 

This is ridiculously fun to do, by the way.

When I think of ways to switch up my past and use it in a story, I get the most incredible glee. It's still one of the best parts of being a writer, being able to use (redeem, vindicate) your past.

Okay. Want to get even more crazy? YES YOU DO and so do I.

Get out your two lists from the last post: your Major Interests List and your Curiosity List

Let's have some fun. Choose an item from two of the lists, and mash 'em up in your mind. Or pick an item from all three! 

Do a little mix-and-match action, and just see what starts to come up. Try to imagine it as fully as possible: full images, full senses. 

Jot down notes, and chase anything that quickens your heart. 

Like: how much do I love the mash-up of my stern, much-wrinkled second grade teacher, who was always writing my name up on the board for talking (memory list), plus the circus (curiosity list)?

Stir in a bit of how cooking and sharing meals bring us together (major interests list), and suddenly I have some AMAZING images, unusual characters, and hilarious conflicts brewing in my mind!

This is the fun part! Let yourself loose, and see what connections you can make between the three lists.

Maybe there's your next novel in there. Or a whole series.

Oooooh.

Happy idea finding!


Want to do a little more digging into how you're already an original, full of ideas? (Because you totally are!) Check out these two posts: they're right up your alley! How (and Why) to Put Your Heart on a Platter and Stop Dodging Your Best Work (Celebrate Where You've Been)

Four Ways to Spark Your Writing Ambition If You've Been Feeling a Bit Meh

Ambition is one of those writing life essentials. If you feel like yours has gone wandering off, check these four ways to relight that ambitious fire. | lucyflint.com

Even though we're practicing radical happiness and cultivating patience, we still want to aim super high with our writing, right?

I mean—I want to write the most amazing book ever. I'm guessing you do too.

There's a readiness to conquer, an excitement for improving. That's the lion part of lionheart, right?

Which is why our next lionhearted trait is ambition. We are ambitious for excellence in our work.

OH yeah.

Let's define it: Ambition is about pressing toward success and achievement, especially with the elements that we can control. 

Healthy ambition looks a lot like that line used in so many good fitness challenges: "The only one you're trying to beat is yourself."

So, just to be clear, when I'm talking about ambition, I'm not saying to be ambitious about the things that are up to the people around us. Awards, huge pats on the back, and all other subjective things.

They're nice, and it's fine to strive for them. But the trick is that they don't always correlate with our best efforts. (And wanting them too hard can kinda burn up your heart.)

So, for this post, let's focus on what we actually do control.

Which is, frankly, a lot.

Our quality of work. The quality of our ideas. Choosing projects that stretch us in one way or another.

Writing faster. Writing better.

A richer conflict. A scene accomplishing more purposes. Stronger subplots. Stellar structure.

Working hard and aiming high: that's what we do. 

Mmmm. Gets my writerly juices fizzing.

But—if you're reading this and thinking, that used to be me, maybe, but right now, not so much— 

I get it. 

Maybe you're feeling burned out. Or maybe it's not even that dramatic: you just feel like your ambition has gone missing.

If that sounds like you (or if you'd just like to give your ambitions a good stir), try this:

1) Double check your circumstances.

I know. I've been talking about this a ton lately.

But that's because I used to demand that I jump over buildings in a single bound, during times of intense family or personal stress.

Whoops.

Those usually aren't good times for leaping.

Sometimes, when the rest of life is especially hard, the ambitious response actually looks like: showing up for my writing every day, even in really small ways.

That's super ambitious!! Showing up during hard times? That's huge. You don't need to add some big achievement on top of that.

Focus on smaller achievements. Thumbnail-sized ones.

Maybe just bringing your attention back to the work. Or journaling a certain number of pages a day. (Say, three). Or reading fiction, a chapter a day.

Okay?

Ambition can be redefined.

Heather Sellers writes in Chapter after Chapter about how we writers need to "cycle through standards."

She says, "When you're stuck or stranded or bored with your book, lower your standards. Slouch your way through it. When you're writing high and hard and strong and solid, raise your standards."

I fought this idea for a long time (and kept burning myself out, ha ha). Now I realize how incredibly wise it is.

If your circumstances are going nuts, or if you're in the middle of a big transition, it's time for smaller ambitions.

Don't worry: when the sky clears, you can let it all out and shoot for the moon. 

For now, small successes are plenty.

(And yes, I'm totally preaching to myself on this one.)

2) Double check your fuel.

Okay, a cheesy metaphor so we're all good with this point: 

You can have the flashiest, reddest, raciest car there is, but if it's out of gas, then even I can run faster.

All engines require fuel, and our creative machine is no different.

Sometimes your life circumstances are okay, but there's some part of your mental/creative fuel that you just haven't been getting for a while.

Take a second to self-diagnose:

Do you need to just go get lost in words? Or strike out in a new reading direction?

Or fall into a pile of really excellent movies, the kind that stir your desire to tell stories? (For a while, I would watch Finding Neverland, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland, every time I felt my story engine faltering.)

Or maybe you need to stir your creativity by playing in other ways.

Do you just need a bit of a spark? A new way to approach your work for a day or a week?

What does it look like, to really recharge your creativity and give your brain the space it needs to dream up stories?

3) Double check the kind of project you're working on. 

If you're good with your circumstances, and if you're creatively fueled, then there's still something else to try. 

Get really still and quiet and then think about your story.

Not from a frantic point of view, or a burned out & done with it point of view.

But think about the story or the work itself, and especially what drew you to it.

Have you veered off the path that you loved? Are you working in a format, a form, or a genre that you don't enjoy? Maybe the characters aren't the ones that you want to write about. 

Is there a crushing deadline that has dampened the thrill of ambition? (Deadlines can be the perfect spurs or the perfect smothers. Double check yours and revise it if it isn't working!)

Here's another test: this is a fun, quick exercise from Chris Baty, in his Nanowrimo guide, No Plot, No Problem.

I tried it once on a whim, and I was shocked at the results. So give it a try, especially if you've felt less than inspired lately.

It's pretty simple: He has you write down everything you love in a book, in a story. Go crazy. Write it all down.

Nothing is too small or too big. You just want to list everything that gets your heart beating faster when you're reading.

And when you've filled out everything, make a second list.

This time, it's everything that you can't stand in a story. Anything that dries up your enthusiasm as a reader or viewer.

What makes you want to chuck a novel across the room? And warn all your friends away from it? 

Write all that stuff down. Alllllllll of it. Every single story-esque thing that gets on your nerves.

And then, you get to sit back and review your lists. (Baty calls them the two Magna Cartas.)

The whole point is: write a book that's got a lot of stuff from the first list! And nothing from the second.

Pretty simple, right? Straightforward?

Can I tell you a mortifying secret?

When I did this with my first novel, I was blown away to see that I was writing a lot of stuff from my second list, and very little from my first. 

What?! How did that even happen?

(I still don't know! And actually, Baty says the same thing happened to him, so... it's definitely possible.)

I instantly made the changes, throwing out every hateful thing that had crept into my story.

Baty writes, "Write your joy, and good things will follow."

YEP. I was much happier after I decided to intentionally write toward everything that I most enjoyed. 

So try that. Make sure that your material isn't somehow thwarting you.

4) Give yourself a fun challenge.

If everything else is fine, but you still feel a little lackluster, then maybe it's time for a lighthearted challenge?

Not something crushing. Just a friendly prompt to stir the juices and kickstart a little magic.

Maybe go on a few little writing adventures.

Or maybe give yourself a writing exercise program, and explode your sense of storymaking that way.

Consider which areas of your writing life you haven't really touched on in a while, and give yourself something extra to aim for. Or a small daily task to build your strength.

Just for fun.

And watch your ambition rise.

Let's Leap Out of This Oh-So-Common Writing Trap!

There's a fiendishly easy trap to fall into with our writing, especially if it's been chaotic, busy, or complicated in your life lately. Let's do a quick check-up, and leap back into a solid writing practice. You with me, lionheart? Let's go. | lucyflint.com

It's turning very spring-like here: our magnolia tree just exploded with blossoms, the lawns are greening up, and tiny leaves decorate the branches of our lilacs.

You can almost feel the energy fizzing in the air: seeds falling from trees, buds bobbing on stems... 

And writers ripe with ideas, spilling them everywhere but at their writing desks.

OH, wait. Maybe that's just me. :)

As y'all know, it's been a complicated February & March for me so far. But now that the chaos has calmed down (I think!), it's time to refocus on my work-in-progress.

But my unintentional strategy for doing that has mainly been through chattering.

Seriously, I'm talking up a storm.

About writing plans, about the chapters I need to write, about a murderously tricky deadline I have coming up, about how rusty I feel after such a strange couple of months...

And I keep hearing myself say (very convincingly): "If I could just get going again, this draft would fall into place, no problem."

Ahem. Yeah: there's a massive disconnect in there. (Oof.)

To get back on track, this is the quote I need. It comes from Chapter after Chapter, by the amazing (and frequently mentioned* around here!) Heather Sellers:

     "Reverse your field. If you spend 90 percent of your creative energy dreaming of a book and dreaming of the writing life, and only 10 percent of your time actually writing, you need to flip it around. 
     Give 90 percent of your energy to the words on the page." 

It's easy to get our ratios mixed up. To talk and plan and daydream 90 percent of the time, and only write for 10 percent. Let's flip it around. "Give 90 percent of your energy to the words on the page." -- Heather Sellers | lucyflint.com

Whew! There it is!! The butt-kicking I needed.

Can we be real and say: It is such an easy trap to fall into.

We're daydreamers; we're communicators.

It's so easy to get mired in just dreaming about the writing life—especially how smoothly everything will go, once we get into it.

It's so simple to just talk it up—hang out with fellow writers on social media, or chat to friends and family about the project.

And then to just ... stay there.

Dreaming, talking; talking, dreaming.

It's so safe! It feels deliciously writerly, with very low risk.

It is one of the nicest ways to not get work done.

Believe me, I've tried it often enough, but I have never successfully talked my way into doing a draft. 

The work only happens when I make a conscious decision to shush. Zip it. Stop talking

To put the pencil down and back away from the plans. To give myself a shake and quit dreaming about how nicely the draft will come together "once I get going." 

All that talking and dreaming distances me from the actual work.

It builds up a kind of resistance to the untidiness of the new draft. (After all, dreaming about drafting is so neat! The actual drafting is much muckier.)

It puts off the linguistic juggling act of getting everything set up in the first story. (Characters! Personalities! Conflict! Stakes!)

You know? Talking about writing, daydreaming about writing: it scratches the itch. And it's risk-free!

But I need to plant myself squarely in the midst of the writing itself.

How about you, lionheart?

Are you camping out on social media and lovely writerly conversations and reading fun writing books, and doing all other writerly things ... without the actual writing? 

It's such a tough thing to catch yourself doing, isn't it? Such a tempting, sticky trap.

But Heather Sellers gives us an incredibly effective equation for getting unstuck.

It calls for a bit of honesty. (Okay, okay. A lot of honesty. A radical amount of honesty. Deep breath.)

How much of our time and energy is spent in writing-like enterprises?

Talking, social media-ing, reading productivity newsletters, planning, chatting, listening to podcasts, networking, reading writing blogs and books, and daydreaming? 

And then ... how much time and how much energy is spent doing the actual work of, you know, putting words in a line? (Or revising, editing, whatever major writing work you're up to right now.)

What happens when we flip the amounts? 

When we dial back on the talking and Internet-ing and daydreaming and planning—when we bring that down to just a tenth of our energy...

And then we take the actual story, and crank our energy way way up. Ninety percent of our time, our energy, our focus.

What about just plunging in and going deep?

WHOA, right? 

Granted, I know we probably can't be super precise with this. (Unless you have an Writing-Energy-ometer lying around.) 

So while we could figure out some kind of scientific strategy (timers! charts! graphs! lengthy reports!), I think I'd rather just rely on my gut.

I don't need a timer to tell me that I've gone way overboard in talking up the work. And I've severely undernourished my draft.

So I'm going to flip things around by going immersion camp style. I'm going to dive in deep.

And I'll stay alert to every time I'm tempted to talk about my work, or to fall into a daydreaming/planning frenzy...

I'll try to catch myself. And march that energy right over to my computer, and pour it straight into the draft itself.

It comes down to this: 

If you know that there's some serious fluff in your writing life right now, start getting rid of it.

You might have to be a little bit ruthless with yourself. Cut yourself off social media for a while. Or put a limit on the time you spend there. (I'm going to have to do this, for sure!)

Or, you can do this gently. After every writing-that-isn't-actual-writing session, pay yourself back with twice as much time drafting. (And then start bumping up that amount!)

However you choose to go, discipline tastes better with chocolate and celebratory dancing. So loop those in as well.

Whatever it looks like, you know the formula: 90 percent of our energy goes to the words on the page.

So let's turn down the volume on the noise, the static, the general background music of daydreaming and talking and clutter.

And start cranking up the volume on the sweet symphony of the story itself. 

Sound good? Sound like a plan? 

Awesome. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go get some chocolate, and then dive head first into my draft.


* I've said it before, and I'll just keep saying it: The reason I mention Heather Sellers so dang often is because I would have stopped writing by now if I hadn't read her books Page after Page and Chapter after Chapter

She's been one of the biggest influences on how I think about my writing life, and I'm just so grateful for her books! 

Page after Page is required reading for anyone who wants to have a writing life, and Chapter after Chapter is required for all novelists! They are the most underlined books in my whole library, and every time I reread them, I'm the better for it. 

The Best-Ever Program for Designing Your Writing Life (It's Closer than You Think)

If you're looking for someone else to show up and fix your writing life (and I totally hear you on that!), then this post is for you, my friend. | lucyflint.com

Today's life-shaping quote comes from a story that Heather Sellers shares in her (stellar, fantastic, sanity-saving) book Chapter after Chapter

She writes: 

     Don't be like the man I met ... when I was speaking at a writing conference. He said, "I have ideas for five books. Do you know what software I should get?" ... 
     "Software?" I said.
     "Yeah. You know. The software makes out the structure and you fill it in. They have programs. Do you know a good one?"

     You're the program, baby, I did not say.

... How great is that, lionhearts?? I just love that line:

It's so easy for us to want to hide behind something else: a teacher, a boss, a guru, a program. But guess what. The best boss of your writing life is right there inside you. You're the program, baby. | lucyflint.com

So many times, I've wanted some writing wizard to show up, sit on my desk, and rescue me. 

To tell me everything. What to write. How to write.

Annnnnnd then how to manage everything else, too.

When I finished school and started writing for myself, I missed having live teachers so desperately—and not always for the right reasons. 

I wanted to have a teacher or a boss so that I could blame them if anything went wrong. I wanted someone to hide behind. Someone whose expertise would, hopefully, guide me to great heights... 

But if they misstepped, I could point and say, "THEY did it! Not me! Not my fault."

Basically, this was another way of being afraid.

I was afraid of the responsibility, so I dodged it by wishing for someone else to take charge of my writing life, my creativity, my output, my education.

It was a way of avoiding the super-deep thinking I needed to do. The soul searching. The slow learning process of discovering my limits for myself. Learning what I need and how and when.

Being my own writing boss: It's messy. It's unpredictable. It's frustrating. 

And really, it wasn't my favorite thing ... until I slowed down and started asking better questions. Until I finally shifted my focus, and stopped demanding that I get it all right the first time.

I started asking myself, How do I really need to work? What is best for me? 

What do I actually, honestly need? And what do I need in real life—not in some "everything goes perfect always" version of life.

My real life includes everlasting sinus infections (!!!!) and family crises and mental setbacks and days of zero imagination: so what do I need for that life?

You're the program, baby, is the quote that reminds me: The responsibility for figuring this out is mine. No one else can do it for me. 

And I can either let that freak me right out ... or I can step up. And get learning.

And not learning in a terrified, panicky way. Not spinning my wheels and flinging things out at random. And not searching for some writing book, blog, or guru to idolize and copy. Nope. 

I can show up, calmly, as my own boss, and learn what I need to learn, each day.

Because I'm the program.

Designing my own writing life, my own creative life, has been hard but also immensely rewarding. It's been one of the best tools for understanding myself better.

And every time I add better practices back into my setup, into my routine, and keep tailoring it for myself, for my books, for my process...

Well, it's exhilarating! 

Yes, it's a lot of responsibility, and that responsibility can feel pretty heavy some times. 

It's easy to fall into a spiral of nerves: What if I'm doing it wrong, what if I've missed something big, what if I screw everything up? 

Am I making the right choices? Did I make the wrong call? Should I push harder? Or should I take more breaks? Or both?

The wonderful, wonderful thing is: For every time I've messed up or made a bad call, I've also found the tools I need to fix it. And in the fixing, I learn even more.

I burned myself out, and then I learned how to recover from burnout.

I shackled myself to a book with no clear center. ("People doing stuff" isn't actually a plot, whoops.) So I wrote it four times through before pinpointing its problems. And then I learned how to write a book with an actual center.

I wrote a story that had zero structure and therefore didn't function at all. And then I learned a ton about proper story structure. (Wahoo!)

It's like any complicated skill. When you only know one way to do it, to run your writing life, you can feel brittle, fragile. If something goes wrong, it's all over. 

But as you grow, you learn how to correct, how to save a bad month, how to fix things. 

Those skills, the correcting and recovering skills, are the real power tools. They are what make you flexible, less afraid, resilient. 

They are what's saving my bacon right now, after a February with basically no progress on my so-called work-in-progress.

And as far as I know, the only way to learn that flexibility, is by diving in and doing it yourself. 

You are your own program.

You're the vocational designer. You're your own—and your best!—boss. 

You get to create an amazing workplace for yourself. You can learn how to take the best care of your mind, your energy, your creativity. 

And learning how to take impeccable care of your writing self? That's maybe one of the most rewarding things ever.

What do you need to do, to take super-good care of yourself this week?

Don't panic. You really do know the right answer. Or the half-dozen right answers. Or at least a really good starting point.

Just take a deep breath. And trust yourself.


Want a little more direction on accessing your self-management superpowers? Check out these posts for a be-your-own-boss celebration:

And then if you want to just become an all-around unstoppable director and leader of your own life, you must check out the amazing book that I discuss in this post: This Is the ONE Thing You Need to Plan Your New Year.

Ooooh, baby. Look at you go!

This Is How You and I Are Gonna Remake the World

We're gonna dive in and do this well; we're gonna fling ourselves into a fictitious universe and write our way out. Here's some courage for that crazy road. | lucyflint.com

It takes an incredible amount of focus, energy, and determination to fling your brain into a fictitious universe. 

I mean... think about it. We are creating a different reality and then trying to jump into it

That takes some work. Right?  A ton of focus, courage, boldness, willingness, and all the imagination power you can muster.

Also? It's Monday. 

So let's get a pep talk from a bunch of other creatives, other world-jumpers. 

Below are thirty of my favorite quotes for the writing journey. Quotes for this mysterious, shadowy, reality-jumping side of the writing life.

Think of it as a big shot of caffeine for all of us who are chasing our stories.

Woo hoo!


One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. -- Annie Dillard

Don't be so afraid of giving yourself away, either, for if you write, you must. And if you can't face that, better not write. -- Katherine Anne Porter

To write truly good stories, stories that will satisfy you as well as your readers, you must do something no writing teacher, no book, no guidelines, can help you with. You must take risks. Knowing your craft can help you tell a story. But only by taking risks can you make art. -- Marion Dane Bauer

Good writing comes from writers on the edge. -- Ralph Keyes

You have to write your own book. The one only you can write. No one else. This takes fearlessness, but the exciting good news is doing the book teaches you the fearlessness you need. -- Heather Sellers

We have to be braver. ... Quotes for the writing journey on lucyflint.com

You have it inside you to fight this fight. Write, think about what you write, then write some more. -- James Scott Bell

Always attempt the impossible to improve your work. -- Bette Davis, note to self

Sometimes the mind needs to come at things sideways. -- Jeff VanderMeer

Write. Write badly, write beautifully, write at night. Stay up way too late, ruin your skin, forget to shave, grow your hair long at your age, and write and write and write and write. Make a mess. Don't clean it up. Do it your way. ... This is your book. -- Heather Sellers

I believe that solitude, perhaps more than anything, breeds creativity, breeds originality. -- Elizabeth Berg

I am learning to see loneliness as a seed that, when planted deep enough, can grow into writing that goes back out into the world. -- Kathleen Norris

You find yourself writing your way out of loneliness, writing your own company. -- Barbara Abercrombie

The uncharted path is the only road to something new. -- Scott Belsky

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind. -- Rudyard Kipling

I get ready every night. I pack for the trip. I load my dream mind, hoping I will wake in the morning inspired, clear, and refreshed. I read good books. I have my journal by my bed. Every night, I'm getting ready for my writing morning. I point myself that way.  -- Heather Sellers

The primary purpose of imagery is not to entertain but to awaken in the reader his or her own sense of wonder. -- Tom Robbins

How all good writing is built. ... Quotes for the mysterious, shadowy side of writing on lucyflint.com

I don't know anything when I start. The only thing I know is that I'm starting. -- Richard Bausch

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. -- E.L. Doctorow

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase. -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Writers steer by wonder and desire. -- Heather Sellers

All writing is dreaming. -- Jorge Luis Borges

The impulse for much writing is homesickness. You are trying to get back home. -- Joan Didion

Embrace passion as a daily practice. -- Donald Maass

You must have a belief in your vision and voice that is nothing short of fierce. -- Betsy Lerner

Be Careless, Reckless! Be a Lion! Be a Pirate! When You Write. -- Brenda Ueland

There is so much about the process of writing that is mysterious to me, but this one thing I've found to be true: writing begets writing. -- Dorianne Laux

Be the fearless, shadowy, wild writer that you are. ... Thirty quotes for the mysterious, shadowy side of writing on lucyflint.com

Yes! Yes! THAT!

... And here's the last one, which is a long, granddaddy of a quote, but here we go anyway because it's lovely:

    If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.
     You must write every single day of your life.
     ... I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime.
     I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.
     May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories. ...
     Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world. 
-- Ray Bradbury


There it is, my lovelies. The best kind of sustenance for this journey we're on. 

Your turn: Any favorite quotes that help you be a reality-jumper? a dweller in a fictitious time and place? 

Which of the above quotes will you be using to dive into your alternate reality this week? 

Happy dreaming, my friends! Happy writing, lionhearts.

One Hundred Allies for Your Book-In-Progress

It's easy to imagine that we know our genre and niche better than we actually do. Here's some stellar advice on how to *not* fall into that trap. | lucyflint.com

There's an extraordinary bit of advice in Heather Sellers' fantastic book Chapter After Chapter, where she recommends reading 100 books like the book you want to write.

No, my fingers didn't slip. 100 books. She calls it "The Book 100." 

... As in one hundred books. 

Sellers says:

The point is to read many, many examples of what you're trying to do. ...
Surround yourself with books. A hundred well-chosen books act as your base camp,
your buffer, your personalized M.F.A. writing program. ...
Notice what you like and what you love.
Writers learn more from reading than from all the how-to-plot books in the world. 

-- Heather Sellers

For someone like me who loves to read, this is a wonderful assignment. Super exciting.

For a recovering-perfectionist like me, this also seems fraught with problems. One hundred books?! I need to have them all read by, like, tomorrow!! I'm never going to be finished...!! 

If that's you, I promise you can relax. Sellers says you can take as long as you need to. Novelists are allowed to skim their 100 books. Or to split their list in half and share it with a friend--fifty for you, fifty for me, and we chat about them.

That said, it's still a pretty big project, so what's the point? Why do it? Isn't it a little ... overkill?

Here's what really convinced me about The Book 100: Coffeeshops.

Specifically, new coffeeshops that are also terrible coffeeshops. Created by people who, I suspect, have never been inside a good coffeeshop before.

Have you had this experience? A place that's trying to be a coffeeshop (or a café, or a bookstore) but it's just kind of--off.

Where they miss the mark on the most basic elements of a coffeeshop. And the customer is presented with mediocre coffee, crappy baked goods, apathetic baristas, and blaring music so that no one can talk, think, or work.

I stumble out of those places wondering--how did they get it so wrong? And when they go out of business, I'm not surprised. They make me wonder if the owners even liked coffee all that much, or if they liked coffeeshops, or if they'd ever actually been inside a great one?

I'm pretty sure of one thing, though. They probably didn't create that place thinking, "Let's make the suckiest coffeeshop that we can." I'm guessing that quality was part of their goal, somehow. 

And yet--they missed the mark. By a lot. 

I wonder what would have happened if they made a point to visit 100 coffeeshops before opening their store.

And to note in each place they visited: what does that particular shop do well, and where does it fail? What do they, as customers, respond to? What's off-putting? What does it look like when the basics are done really well? What innovations are delightful?

ALL those things. All elements of a good coffeeshop experience.

... Or a good novel.

You see what I'm getting at? 

As I worked on the Book 100 for my first novel, I discovered all kinds of things that I might not have realized any other way.

Like, shocking things. And really, really embarrassing things.

I saw that some of my plot moves had been done to death already in other books. I realized that my villain could be spotted miles off--and he was so covered in clichés! I realized that my protagonist's voice sounded like too many other protagonist's voices. 

Again and again, I saw what had been done too much, and where I had room to write something new. 

My Book 100 was a true education, in the very field where I wanted to be an expert. 

It is just too easy to have a mild familiarity with a genre. To know a few books, to trick yourself into coasting along with that little bit of knowledge. To think that you're writing something new.

It pays--it really pays--to know your genre much better than that. To be familiar with the very books that your fans will also have read. 

There's enough insecurity in this field already, right? Why not really learn our stuff, and to learn it by reading? 

As far as the number 100 goes: I think there's a lot to be said for going that big (and Sellers makes a really good case). ... But even if you just read and analyzed thirty of the best examples of your niche--think how much you'd learn!

It's one of the best educations, one of the best tools, we can have.

( ... As is Sellers' book Chapter After Chapter. If you're trying to write a full-length book, this is required reading for you! It has taught me the survival skills for living a book-maker's life like none other. ... I love it even more than Page After Page! Yes, really!)

Stop Dodging Your Best Work (Celebrate Where You've Been)

Write your story from exactly who you are, from where you've been, from everything you believe in. Don't try to be someone else. Drop the facade. We need the real you. | lucyflint.com

One of the million, zillion temptations for us as writers is this:

We're tempted to be someone else when we write. 

Tempted to be an edgier, cooler, more "interesting," or more "accepted" human being when we come up with story ideas. 

I can't tell you how many times this has happened to me. Without knowing that I was doing it. Without knowing it was a bad move.

I wrote plenty of poems, essays, and fiction that came from a person I was imitating, not the person that I actually was.

Not the girl who cared about what I cared about.

Ever have that happen to you? That when you sit down to write, you somehow develop a façade?

It's totally understandable: I mean, it is crazy hard to spill your guts onto a blank page.

And one of the ways to make that easier is to be a little less yourself. Or maybe, a different person entirely. And so you try to spill someone else's guts onto a page.

Wait a sec--how can I say that? It's all fiction, right? 

So what does it matter, façade or no façade? If we're not writing memoir, then who cares? It's all made up anyway!

Oh, but it does matter. 

Fiction that comes from a real soul will always feel different from fiction that rests on other people's ideas. One will feel truthful, even though it's fiction. The other will feel faked. (And you know you can't fake your writing, right?)

 I spent four years writing my first novel. Four years, five massive drafts, a TON of work, millions of words. The last draft was over five hundred pages.

And most of that novel never really came out of the real me

Parts of it technically worked. I'm a good enough learner and hard enough worker. So yes, there are scenes that work pretty dang well, dialogue exchanges that are whole and clever. 

But the guts of the book--they feel faked. Like I borrowed them from every other book like this I had read. I sewed together dozens of books like this one, and regurgitated them all into "my" story. 

Maybe that's why I never could figure out how to fix it. Maybe that's why it never felt like a real book to me.

Maybe that's part of why that process was so miserable, and why that book is mummified in my closet.

I was writing scared, trying to prove myself. And so I didn't take the time to really be my whole self at my writing desk with that story. I hadn't made sure that that story was really mine to tell.

I never really listened to myself while I was writing it. I panicked. I scrambled.

And I never wrote out of my own material, my own self. Me.

Heather Sellers calls this material--this stuff you write from--your compost.

Here's how she explains it in Page after Page:

So many of my students want to write about anything but where they are from or who they are--anything but their own terrible, lovely, banal, fascinating lives. ... Compost is where everything fascinating and good is. And it's under you. It's in the backyard of you. Stop going across town. Stop importing stories that aren't really yours.

If you aren't dreaming down deep into your own history, your own passions, your actual true, real, daily concerns and obsessions and the shapes of your lived life, you aren't going to be able to improve as a writer. 

Whoa, right? Doesn't she totally nail it? Any of that ring true for you?

To put it another way, Willa Cather said, Let your fiction grow out of the land beneath your feet.

Where are you standing, lionheart? What went into making you? The extraordinary ordinary you? 

What is it that you know in your core? Not your head, not your ideas from other books and movies, but your center? Your exact middle? 

That's the stuff that will translate into your best work.

Seek it out. Accept it. Listen to it.

Here's what I know: My stories became MUCH better when I accepted my material. When I accepted that, yes, this is me: I am this kind of a person, with these values, this worldview, this childhood, these fears, these passions.

When I didn't fight that, when I sat down with dead-on honesty at the keyboard, I wrote stronger, truer, richer stories.

Does that mean I started writing memoir and autobiography? Heck no!

All the work I've done since then has been full of the bizarre, quirky characters that I adore. Plenty of the fantastical. 

But all that fantastical has its roots in my compost. Everything strange in my stories is balanced by everything I honestly believe, everything I know as truth.

Embrace your material and write from it. That means that no matter what kind of story you are writing, there is a YOU present in the story.

A sense of your very real heart, your real experiences, your real take on the world--beating there like a pulse under your fantastic, extraordinary story.

Accept your material for what it is. Treat it with respect and honor, because that's the soul of what you'll write. That's the center of your best work.

Celebrate your compost.