How to Be Your Own Writing-Life Fairy Godmother (Or, Finding Your Groove, Part Two!)

Getting into a good groove is essential for long-term sustainable writing life. (Plus, it's way more fun. I mean seriously. So much nicer than a slog.) In this post, four more ways to find your way into one. You'll think your fairy godmother just showed up. (Pumpkins optional.) | lucyflint.com

So last time, we talked about four ways to build a groove in our writing lives. Ways to make our writing flow more readily, more easily. Without, you know, spraining our ankles or exhausting ourselves.

We talked about creating the best environment for our work, about flooding our creativity with quality nutrition, about learning craft from a master, and about committing to the hard work required to really find our pace.

When these traits add up, they really can make writing-life magic. More words, richer ideas, more ease. I mean ... who doesn't want that, right? (So if you missed the last post, check it out.)

Okay. If you're ready for a few more ways you can support yourself into a writing life upgrade, read on! 

The next four traits build on the previous four. These can seem like the lighter set of tools, all fluffy and unimportant. And none of them are going to be completely and crazily new to you, if you've hung out here for a while.

But don't be fooled. Because when we take all four together ... well.

It's like your fairy godmother just showed up.

She might seem like any other lady at first, but then she starts turning pumpkins into high-class transportation. Suddenly you're going somewhere.

Never underestimate the power of your fairy godmother, my friend. She makes all the difference. 

Ready for your transformation? Here we go:

1: Set yourself up.

Here's the truth about the writing life: It can be very hard. The craft is far bigger than we can ever learn. And we're working for a significant amount of time without a reward.

Which means that: There are going to be minutes, hours, days, and whole months, where our instinct for self-preservation is going to be dead set against our doing any of this.

Why put yourself through it?! It's easy to give up, it's easy to stop early, and it's easy to just not start at all.

This is why I'm a big fan of the power of routines, the steadying effect of habits, and the beauty of rituals.

They are how I've made sense of this work, how I define what I'm doing. They're the invisible net that holds this whole writing life of mine together.

I have a general routine, and I have a few dozen habits, just like anyone else. 

But what I've been especially focused on lately are rituals. 

Neat little collections of habits, all grouped together in a pack, each habit addressing something very specific and particular, the answer to a set of questions I used to ask myself. 

How do I get my mind ready for my creative work? How do I make sure my physical energy stays up? How do I keep track of general ideas that don't fit this particular project? How do I not lose old insights? How do I steady my courage for the day? How do I not give up before I've even started?

I answered those questions in the form of rituals.

There's the first ritual of the day, writing my three morning pages (à la Julia Cameron), longhand, by the light of a lamp, sitting up in bed. The whole house is quiet, but my mind is awake, and I scribble down all the mundane thoughts and emotions and worries that I woke up with.

A bit later, when I sit down at my writing desk, there's a set of habits that form the ritual that starts my writing session:

  • I bring a cup of coffee to my desk. Because coffee. No one needs a reason for coffee, right?
     
  • And then I take out an old journal and I read a few pages in it. Reading these old pages is so valuable: they remind me of how I've solved past problems, or I come across old insights I'd forgotten. And sometimes, these pages make me laugh because of how obsessed I was about something that turned out to not matter at all. (Who, me??) Rereading old journals gives me perspective, and it's also a great transition into my writing work.
     
  • I'll write down any new thoughts or ideas that strike me, using the format for the idea journal that Todd Henry talks about in The Accidental Creative. (Basically a plain journal that I index as I go: I fill pages with ideas that spring up during the day—after listening to a podcast, watching a movie, walking the dog, washing the dishes. Whatever, whenever: it goes in here. At the front, I summarize each idea with a single line and a page number for reference. SUPER handy.)
     
  • Then I review the index of ideas that I've been compiling in the front of that idea journal, and if anything snags my interest, I'll go back and reread the entry for that particular idea. This is a great way to stir up my mind, and to keep quality ideas from slipping away.
     
  • After that, I read two pages in A Year of Writing Dangerously, because I just love what that book does for me—it is so encouraging. And it connects me in spirit to a huge collection of people who spend time among words. I feel my bravery rising.
     
  • And finally, I'll sit with a list of true beliefs I've developed, and I practice actually believing them. (If this sounds totally weird and waaaay too touchy-feely for you, I really understand. But you gotta check out this post. Skip down to point number two. And see what you think after reading.)

At this point, my mind is all stirred and awake. I feel grounded and cared for and ready, and as brave as I can be.

And so I dive in.

That's it! That's my pre-work set of rituals. 

Spelled out, they might sound completely mundane and boring. But as I enter into them, I feel a little whiff of excitement—as if I've just flicked the first domino in a long snaking line-up, and now I get the joy of watching them zip along on their own.

If I skip this set of habits, this pre-work ritual, I can still do my writing work, but I feel a bit off, a bit blindsided. 

I get more easily distracted, sideswept by doubts. It's easier to slide off track and indulge the "but I don't feel like it" whine. I'm less focused. Susceptible to interruption.

That's why I love calling these habits a ritual, why I love dignifying them like that. Because they're so important, vital to the success of each work session.  

So what about you? What are your rituals? Your routines? 

What do you need to set yourself up well? What are the provisions—mental, physical, spiritual, emotional—that you need for the next little stage of your writing journey?

What would be an incredible gift to yourself, at the start of your work session?

Do you have any nagging questions or concerns about how you work, anything that's been thrumming in your mind lately, that could be addressed by some small, simple behavior? 

String those behaviors in a row, teach each to feed into each, and you'll have your own pre-work ritual. 

You'll have created your own gravity, a set of behaviors and rhythms that pull you to your work, keep you from floating away.

Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit points to rituals as tools of commitment and preparation. I love that.

So what tools of commitment and preparation do you need in your arsenal? 

(If you're loving this topic and would like a little more, check out this post for an all-purpose, all-weather writing routine, and this one for a bit more on the rituals that protect our work.)

2: Go for steady.

So much of what I do in my writing work is shaped by the goals I have. Oh, goals. We've had such a roller coaster relationship. 

This is why I love everything to do with goals:

  • They give me a rush. 
  • They make a gorgeous future seem more possible.
  • They make what's important to me very clear.
  • They let me feel like I've organized my life very, very well. Gold star for me. (And I love gold stars.)
  • They give me something spectacular to aim for. Which makes them the most essential tool in an overachiever's toolkit, right? And I like that toolkit. It's neat.

And here is why I really don't love goals at all: 

  • My life is incredibly unpredictable. And when my health goes belly-up, or when family needs me, I have less energy to give my ultra-ambitious writing goals. 
  • I sometimes accidentally look at things from a pass/fail perspective. And I tend to find myself "failing" when I do that.
  • Oh, and this happens about 90% of the time: On my way to hitting the goal, I discover something much more important that needs my attention. When I switch tracks, I feel foolish, uncertain, and inconsistent.
  • I brag about goals, tell everyone about them, and then abandon them

Goals can sweep me up in a dizzying skyward surge of energy, but then one thing and another and another conspire to tug at our wings, and the goal and I plummet back to earth.

Those landings are a real blast.

This is why, last spring, I began revising my view of goals. The more I saw them as just a tool, the better I felt. Tools are meant to serve, not destroy.

I'm always going to be a sucker for that neat clean feeling of a few well-chosen goals, but I also want the freedom to replace them, revise them, and refresh them as I go.

What's a romantic goal-setter to do? Especially when I fall for every goal-making chance I find: I make new goals after reading a fantastically helpful book, I make them at the start of summer, at my birthday, during back-to-school season, and always always at the new year... 

So is there hope? Yes, of course. That hope comes from the wonderful relationship between a good goal and a strong system

A goal is the thing that helps you know where you're aiming. It's invaluable. I am probably never going to stop picking up goals and bringing them home and feeding them and smiling at them. 

But their highest and best use (for me, at least!) is this: I need to use those goals to engineer a strong system.

The goal is where you aim; the system is what you put into practice in order to get there. The goal is the beautiful height you want to reach; the system is the practical smart staircase that you wheel underneath the height.

Goals might sound pass/fail, but systems aren't. Systems are quiet, non-flashy things. They are the program that runs everything, as it turns out. 

When you pair really lovely habits and rituals and routines, with a deep, sensible program for how you'd like your work to move forward—what kinds of people you want to learn from, the books you want to study, how you want to practice, how much you want to create—that is what makes up your system. 

So if you have a bit of a goal-hangover, if your resolutions are all forgotten, overruled, or dead: embrace the power of systems. Systems are your friend.

(If you want more: This quick read is a superb article from James Clear, which explains the difference between goals & systems beautifully. Systems win. So inspiring!)

3: Head toward the heat.

When I had to do a research paper in school (for high school or college or whatever), I usually fell into this terrible habit.

I was so focused on the deadline, and the amount of work looming between me and that due date, that I wouldn't spend much time looking for a topic. I'd grab the first possible thing that came to me, and off I'd go.

Do the research, do more research, write the paper, barrel through a few drafts, hit all the milestones, and turn it in.

I usually didn't much love what I was writing about. I didn't feel any conviction or excitement about it. But hey, school is school. No excitement doesn't exactly raise red flags.

Here's the problem: I brought that old writing process right into my post-school writing life. 

Bad Thing #2: I didn't even realize it. I didn't even notice.

I'm embarrassed to say it, but there was a whole lot about my first novel idea that I didn't even like much.

I kept wedging certain topics and ideas and plotlines into it because I thought I should. And not because they thrilled me, delighted me, kept me from sleeping.

Here's a tip: Writing about stuff that doesn't move you will probably never launch you into a writing groove. 

Yeah. I think I can say that confidently: NEVER.

So give yourself and your writing life a little check-up: Are you ridiculously in love with what you're writing about?

Have you given yourself permission to even find out what you love?

It was a long time before I finally did that. Before I finally took the time to admit to myself that I adore middle grade adventures and always will. Before I admitted that my favorite characters are more than a little weird, that I love worlds that aren't true high fantasy but are instead a funny mashup of reality and the bizarre. 

That's what I'm writing now, and I'm seriously delighted by it.

But here's a hint: I couldn't figure out what I love by moving quickly. Speed and rushing around basically hijack self-awareness for me. 

If you suspect that you don't truly love what you're writing about, that it isn't coming from the deepest and best place in you, then maybe take a moment to explore that.

Give yourself permission, space, time, and silence: Listen to yourself. And discover what nudges your curiosity. What moves you toward wonder. 

What you love.

What lights up your writerly heart? What gets your enthusiasm flowing?

Work from that place, where it's warm and everything is glowing. Work from your curiosity; work from your natural excitement. This can sound so simple, but it's oh-so important (and shockingly easy to side-step!).

And it's really the best writing fuel there is. Trust me.

(If you'd like a bit more on this topic, check out this post on embracing your quirks, on seeking more wonder, and on how not to learn to write a novel.)

4: Respect your source.

Sometimes, when we really, really, REEEALLY want to see results in our work, we abuse our creativity and our energy. 

We sideline vital things like sleep requirements and monitoring our energy. The way we talk to ourselves changes, gets a bit more sharp, more urgent.

It's all in pursuit of a greater purpose. So that can feel noble. Self-sacrificing. 

Only problem is, when you're an artist, a writer, and you decide to be self-sacrificing, it means you're burning up the very thing you're working from.

When we burn up our energy, when we get exhausted, when we mentally beat ourselves up, it's the same as setting our work space on fire, torching our computers and our online accounts. As erasing the alphabet from memory.

Working too late, too long, too hard, without breaks, without replenishing yourself... it's not a good recipe, my friend.

That's destructive. And what we're trying to be is creative

If we're working to build something with our brains, we can't, at the same time, tear apart our ability to use our brains.

So do a bit of a general check-up: How has your energy been lately? Have you been taking superb care of yourself, or maybe, um, not? 

Have you been overworking yourself, feeling like you can't ever take a break, can't ease up? If so, check out Twyla Tharp's fantastic recommendation:

If you've been following a don't-stop-till-you-drop routine--that is, you only quit when you're totally wiped out--rethink that. This is how ruts form. As an exercise, for the next week or so, end your working day when you still have something in reserve. 

Now ask yourself, exactly what is it that you're putting into reserve. Is it raw energy? Is it desire? Is it a few more ideas left unexplored? Is it something you meant to say to someone but didn't? Whatever it is, describe it in writing on a notepad or index card. Put the note away and don't think about it for the rest of the day. Start the next day by looking at your note.

She's a master choreographer, creating scores of dances over dozens of years. This woman knows what she's talking about. It's probably a real good idea to listen to her. ;)

It's tempting to wear ourselves out. But that's only a short-term solution: it kills us over the long-term.

How sustainable is your writing habit? Do you binge then burn out? Do you beat yourself up mentally?

Oh, my friend. Let's come back to a kinder, gentler, more long-term way to work.

(If you want more on this, I've got more!! Check out these posts: for a comprehensive energy check-up, for a thorough sustainability check, a plea to get rid of brain fog, the best support for creativity that I've found ever, the best escape for a weary writer, and how to change that killing voice in our heads.)

Dealing With Our Kryptonite: Recognizing and Overturning Writing Life Weaknesses

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

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

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

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

WOW. So, you feeling those muscles yet?

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

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

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

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

Skipping breaks.

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

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

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

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

This is a problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Overthinking.

Overthinking has been my lifelong nemesis.

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

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

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

Obviously, there are times for deep deliberation.

Equally obvious: Not EVERY time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah. It gets ugly.

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

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

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

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

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

She sums it up by saying,

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

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

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

Cameron adds,

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

I love that straightforwardness. Yes!

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

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


Treating myself harshly.

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

This can be hard, hard, hard to shake.

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

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

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

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

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

So that's half of the battle.

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

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

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

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

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

SO HELPFUL those monkeys, aren't they?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously, this has been huge.

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

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

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

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

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

This little sequence has been a game changer! 

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

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


Resistance.

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

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

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

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

He goes on, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I know. That sounds simplistic.

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

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

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

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

So I'll get rid of you.

And I'll stop resisting the task.

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

So, try it. Identify your real enemy.

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

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

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

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

And then see if that makes a difference.

What's Going On When The Writing's Going Smoothly: A Mini Checklist for Writing Life Sustainability

It can be oh-so easy to fall off the tracks, right? Here are three simple things to check in with, to make sure that your writing life is good to keep on going! | lucyflint.com

In the first years of my full-time writing practice, I spent a lot of time burned out. 

Um, a lot of time. 

I'd whip myself into a frenzy of urgency with my work, I'd go flat out for a while (terrified of slowing down, of losing momentum). And then I'd hit a wall and burn out.

Shake it off eventually. And then repeat.

It wasn't really a fun system for getting work done. Exciting, maybe. Dramatic, definitely.

But not so much fun.

Plus there were a lot of casualties: I wasn't the easiest person to be around. (Moody!!!) 

And I burned through and discarded some truly great story ideas. (They're still hobbling around in my subconscious, poor things. Some day, my dear ideas! Hang in there!)

But the biggest casualty, really, was all that time that I could have had a lovely writing life!

Years when it could have been this fulfilling, intriguing adventure, instead of something I thought I was failing.

Honestly, there were just too many days when I hated my dream job. Which is why the whole concept of sustainability is my absolute best friend.

Seriously. Sustainability = yum.

It means that the way we work today is hugely important. Because it makes sure that we can also work again tomorrow.

Know what I mean? 

So I've been taking aim at strengthening my sustainability. At working with a flexible endurance. And an ongoing kindness to myself.

And—maybe this is the most important thing—I'm learning to put the right value on those sustainability practices. 

They are so crucial to our ability to work! We need to value that kindness to ourselves, that flexibility, that endurance, every bit as much as we value the other tools in our writing lives.

Because this is the stuff that keeps us going. Without it, we are wide open for a bad case of writer's block.

Yikes, right? 

These are three of the most basic sustainability practices that I've adopted, and they've made such a difference! 

Every now and then, it's vital that we come back to these basics, check in with them, and make sure that everything's running smoothly.

1: We are continually & constantly refilled.

It is SO essential to know what it is that fills up our creativity. Right? 

Because as we work, we're tapping that source. Mining our internal sense of story, our images, our ideas.

It's easy to forget: we aren't endless. That well of ideas isn't bottomless.

So we've got to get into a habit of refilling ourselves. Bringing in new images, new experiences, new ideas. (Julia Cameron calls this "refilling the well," which I just love!)

We need to keep seeking out mystery. Delving into our curiosities.

The other way to refill is just settling into any regular, repetitive, sensory experience: like driving, doing dishes, stitching seams.

Letting our artistic attention wander a bit. Strange but true: this also refills our story-making abilities.

It sounds so simple, right? And yet it can be so easily dismissed or forgotten.

We can get into a habit of not filling ourselves back up. We can model workaholism, and just drain ourselves dry.

Or, we can try to tend this, but not do enough. Not put back as much as we've taken out.

So here's what I've been doing: 

Every day, every single day, when I wrap up my writing, I write down on a piece of paper exactly how I'm going to refill the well that evening.

It can be anything, if it's done intentionally—cooking, or messing around with origami paper. Doing a few sketches, or pulling out my coloring book and markers. Playing a few rounds of solitaire, or going for a walk.

I usually give myself a few options, in case one doesn't work out. And then I make sure to do at least one of those, if not all of them!

And that one little step, that bit of intentionality, has made a huge difference on my ability to follow through and actually do that refilling. 

I can feel the difference, too: I feel more ready to face my work than I used to, more equal to it. Because I still have plenty to draw from.

So what fuels you? What nourishes your creativity? Little things, big things, delightful wonders, or regular actions.

Try this: grab five minutes, right now, and just jot them down. Make yourself a "refilling the well" list.

And then, every day, when you wrap up your writing, or your other work: make sure you spend at least twenty minutes with one of those things. 

And then see what happens. See if you feel yourself working more smoothly.

2: We use that sweet, two-letter word to protect our writing energy.

This sounds ridiculously obvious, but hang with me: what we're doing when we're away from our writing desk has a huge impact on how much energy we have for writing.

And since writing takes energy—sometimes a lot—we have to be aware of where our energy is going.

You already knew this, right? 

When the rest of my life gets busy and the demands on my time increase, my writing starts to shrivel. It happens pretty dang fast, too.

I used to wonder what the heck was going on. Why was it so hard for me to manage extra commitments? 

But lately, I've been thinking of energy the same way I think about money. You kinda have to have a budget, an idea of where things are going, and how much you have available to spend.

Truth: We can't spend what we don't have.

Yes, I know. There are loans and there are credit cards, but that's debt. And it's when I go into big-time debt with my writing energy that bankruptcy, or burnout, happens.

Not worth it.

Let's not go into energy debt.

Every now and then, we have to check in. We have to get real with ourselves about where, exactly, our energy is going. 

Track your pennies for a while.

And here's the tricky yet worth-its-weight-in-gold question: What is taking more energy than it's giving back?

What are the activities that seem to mostly drain you? 

When I'm in the midst of an active drafting project (which is most of the time), I have to step back from other commitments, even good ones. Because they simply left me too tired for writing the next day.

It felt weird, but oh so wonderful, to step back from those things. To use a well-placed "no" to protect the energy I needed to work.

I finally admitted to myself: I just need most of my evenings quiet in order to do what I need to at my work.

You might have a different ratio, but it's best to know: what's the limit for your schedule? How much free time do you really, truly, honestly need, to make your energy budget work?

And what kinds of things are more exhausting than others? 

What would you need to do, to have an incredibly healthy energy budget?

3: We know exactly how small our feet are. ;)

So here's the truth: I love getting a big vision for what's ahead in my writing. Mmm. Just the thought of it gives me butterflies in my stomach.

I love to stare at the end result I'm aiming for. Imagining that feeling of crossing the finish line. Holding the finished novel.

Vision is good. It's so important. 

Being clear on our goal: that's the thing that lights up everything we do, right? It's important to stay connected to that.

Absolutely.

AND YET.

When I am too focused on where I'm hoping to go, it kinda backfires. In a really dramatic, ugly way.

Because I suddenly get mega-impatient with the thing that's right in front of me, whatever that is. The step that I'm on looks dull and small and unimportant. 

I start to hate where I'm at. Where I'm standing on this writing path.

I panic. How long is this gonna take? 

I can see the finish, I can taste the ending, and yet ... how far do I still have to go? Too dang far!!

And THIS is that crazy-making feeling that can send me into a panic spiral. Or I drown in overwhelm.

Or I get into this super-dangerous rushed mode, where I try to everything all at once, tomorrow, no, today!!

Instead of just focusing on the very next thing

It's easy to forget the beauty of doing the very next thing. Of taking the exact right step.

(Hint: it's the one directly in front of us.)

Here's how Julia Cameron puts it in The Artist's Way. She says that, instead of freaking out, we have to "fill the form":

What do I mean by filling the form? I mean taking the next small step instead of skipping ahead to a large one for which you may not yet be prepared. ...
     This kind of look-at-the-big-picture thinking ignores the fact that a creative life is grounded on many, many small steps and very, very few large leaps. ... 
     Take one small daily action instead of indulging in the big questions. When we allow ourselves to wallow in the big questions, we fail to find the small answers. 

It's those small answers that lead to small steps. Good steps. Down the path that we're meant to go.

This. Is. Hard.

Isn't it? I mean, I love the Internet and all, but it's also a massive window into how everyone else is doing, how they're working, how fast they're going. How successful it seems everyone else is—except us.

Know the feeling? 

It's so easy for me to start thinking, "I've gotta catch up!" And then try to get in touch with my vision to, you know, motivate myself, to remember where I want to be, and then—

Yep, panic.

Let's not do that, my friends.

Yes, focusing small can sound too simple. Too unsexy. 

But it's important to direct our gaze right down to our own amazing feet, to this place where we are standing, and to the next step.

That next step is our very best friend.

Because it's the one thing we can do right now that will take us in the right direction.

That's glamorous enough for me.


These three things—refilling our creative wells, monitoring our energy output, and focusing on the very next thing—can sound so basic, right? 

But sustainability is a pretty humble thing, when you think about it. How's my intake? Where's my energy going? And how's my pace?

Drama comes when things crash and burn, when they skyrocket and then slam. I'm pretty okay with not having anymore of that kind of drama in my writing life.

Steadiness and sustainability sound a lot more lovely.

And I think that the more we build strength around these three things, the more dependable our writing energy will be, and the more solid our writing becomes.

And that's the path that's going to take us to some mighty fine places, my friends! 

So, where are you at, today? 

Can you take a few minutes and do three things: 

1. Jot down a quick list of small actions that "refill the well" for you. Simple, pleasant things.

2. Think about your current load of commitments. What's one thing that you could say no to? Get your energy back!

3. With your current work-in-progress, what's the very next small step you can do? I'm talking like a five-minute step. Very simple, very small. 

4. Deep breath. And then: what happens if you then do that small simple step? And then do whatever you need to in order to step back from that commitment? And then take a little time to refill the well?

Let's invite sustainability in. Point it to the best seat in the house and hand it a drink. Because this is something that we want to keep around for a long, long time.

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!

Explode Your Creativity (and Just Have a Lot More Fun!) by Strengthening This One Dynamic Skill

An essential skill that's usually in desperate need of strengthening, if we want to create better stories ... and a more satisfying writing life. | lucyflint.com

Have you ever read a book that felt like the author was standing waaaaay too far away from you?

There's this weird kind of distance—like they're standing outside of their own book. That incredibly tedious, frustrating sensation that the writer is writing about their story. 

Know what I mean?

Their scenes feel like static, lifeless things that the writer is pointing to and explaining to me.

... Instead of whisking me up and sticking me right in the middle of the story itself. 

Confession One: With this kind of book, I don't last long as a reader.

Confession Two: And I can totally become this kind of writer, when I'm not careful.

Yiiiiiiiiikes.

Spoiler alert: I'm not about to dive into the differences of "showing versus telling." And I'm not going to unpack the more descriptive styles of writing as opposed to the more stark.

Nope. What's on my mind is the big, overarching, world-shaping superpower that we all have access to as writers. 

Imagination.

Today we're gonna dive into how we can strengthen that oh-so-vital aspect of our craft.

But before we start, WHY does it feel so silly to talk about imagination? Like it is so very uncool and unadult.

After kicking off this series on strength-building, I feel like I've just waltzed into a weightlifting class and announced, "Today, we fingerpaint!"

And yet. Training our imaginations has a lot more to do with athletic prowess than anything goofy or simplistic. (Not to knock fingerpainting. Fingerpainting is awesome.)

After all, my friends, we're creating people and conflicts and settings and whole worlds in our minds

That's one heck of a barbell to hoist off the ground.

Okay? So let's not belittle ourselves by sneering at the term "imagination."

It's just the name of the muscle we happen to use for this incredibly powerful work we do.

How We Get Toned, Build Muscle, and Increase Imaginative Flexibility

As I come back to my novel after a turbulent summer, I'm realizing how much time I've spent away from the inner workings of my story. I've used my creativity to solve daily problems ... instead of using it to dive into my characters' world.

So my imagination has lost a whole lot of muscle mass. It's gotten scrawny. It skips the stairs and heads for the elevator. And its joints are all stiff and inflexible. 

So when I ask it to work hard on my novel, it kinda gasps and shakes and then looks around for a bag of chips.

No bueno.

I want my novel to thrive this autumn. Right? And you want yours to be amazing too, I'm sure. 

Which means it's time to build some serious strength in imagination!

So ...

So, how do we do that?

Well, a lot goes into this, for sure. We could talk about nurturing our curiosity, pouring ourselves into wonder, and taking ourselves exploring on artist dates, all of which are essential components to a full imagination-health routine. 

But I think that there's one skill that's more vital than all the rest.

Something that can totally dry up when we forget how important it is. When we start "coasting," and skimp on our attention to it.

But when we practice it over and over, ohhhh, look out.

Our writing gets richer, stronger, and generally more awesome.

I'm talking about the simple yet incredibly challenging practice of fully visualizing what we are about to write.

This is the practice of taking a scene that exists as an idea in your head, and then experiencing it. As if you were there, in the scene. 

Being present inside it, as completely and totally as possible.

THAT.

Yeah. Like I said: it's simple. Yet super challenging. 

James Scott Bell sums up this kind of imagination practice so well in his book Plot & Structure: "Be an actor." He says: 

I'll ... try to live the emotions. I'll act out the parts I've created. Almost always what I feel "in character" will make me add to or change the scene. ...
     Vividly imagine the scene, step by step, in your mind. Let it play like a movie. But instead of watching the movie from a seat in the theater, be in the scene.

Be. In. The. Scene.

So—we've probably all done this to some degree. There are scenes and moments in our stories that tend to just drop into our imaginations, right? And other pivotal scenes can be easy for us to tumble into and experience vividly.

But I know that, for myself, I tend to not make this immersive imagining a key part of my writing routine.

Instead, I get by on low-grade visualizing. Barely seeing it in my head, I instead think my way through: I guess the character could say this, and then he'd reply with this, and so she'd counter with this

But too much of that, and writing just feels like manipulating ideas of people, notions of conflict, rough sketches of setting.

Instead of the living, breathing story itself. 

Instead of the kind of story that makes its readers stay up waaaaay too late at night finishing it.

The kind of story that haunts readers and inspires their dreams.

My friends, visualizing our stories changes everything.

It keeps us from standing outside a scene and writing about the action. Instead, it plunges us inside it, so that we create the scene. First in our heads, and then on paper.

And our readers? Better be prepared to be carried away.

Five Essentials for Imagination Practice

This is a practice, so be super patient. Especially if you're as rusty at it as I am!

Be incredibly kind to yourself, refuse to expect perfection, and just keep coming back to it.

As you do, here are five things to remember that might make all the difference for you.

1. Be willing to move slowly.

It's when I'm trying to hurry through my work that all pretense of richly imagining the scene just goes straight out the window. 

I'll have the merest glimmer of the scene in my head as I pound it out on a keyboard.

Now, I'm not at all against writing fast: I think it's the coolest thing ever, and I want to get better at it. (Because THIS!)

But as we get ready to write quickly, our preparation time is a key moment for visualizing. 

That's when we can slow down, and take the time to fully sink into whatever it is we're about to write. 

If you're tempted to rush, like I can be, it's good to take a deep breath and remember what it feels like to be totally blown away as a reader.

Is it worth it, for an incredible scene? 

OH yeah. Totally worth it. 

2. Build the whole scene.

It's terribly easy for me to fall into a rut with what I imagine for my scenes. If I could get away with it, I'd have faceless, undetailed characters and nearly blank settings. I'm stronger on voice quality and emotional beats and overall action. 

But setting details? Physical characteristics? 

Ack! I have to remind myself to not leave them out.

So, as you plunge your imagination into the scene, feel into all these lifelike details: 

  • The sensations of the air, the temperature, dampness or dryness...
  • The quality of the space—claustrophobic, exposed, oppressive, frivolous, light...
  • All the sounds: of gadgets, people, movement, weather, animals, distant traffic, or hollow stillness...
  • Scent. It's so easy to forget! The smells of the people, the rooms, the outdoor spaces, fabrics, foods, mustiness...
  • And then of course, the feel of the emotions: tension, excitement, nerves, hope, shame, uncertainty, expectation...

We could probably come up with a list five times as long as this. (Which would be awesome, but really overwhelming too, haha!) 

The point is: try to be as present in your visualization of the scene as you would be in real life.

Notice what you notice. Feel what you feel. And figure out alllll the little details that affect you.

3. And definitely expect it to feel super weird.

It can help to remember: this might be really uncomfortable.

Sometimes, when I'm visualizing a scene, something in my head says, "Hold up. This is a really strange thing to be doing. NOT very normal. Not very adult. So let's not." 

Right? 

It's important to remember that, especially when we're new to this kind of imagination training, it might seem really weird, or childish, or wild, or uncertain. 

But it's still worth it.

Basically? Keep on going, even when it feels strange.

Even if something in you wants to say, "Ack, that's enough, right? We have a general idea of this scene. Let's just hurry up and write it already." 

Hang on. Even in that tough place.

Why? Because this is where strength starts to build.

Strength happens every time we don't quit when we want to quit.

Just like when we're jogging a longer route than usual, or wobbling in a yoga balancing pose, or lifting a weight that's right at our limit—we will want to quit.

We cry, "Okay, enough, I'm done!"

But if you push through the discomfort, if you hold on, then you get better, stronger, more flexible, more stable. 

You're inventing worlds in your mind, my friend. It takes strength and skill. Keep going. It's worth it.

4. Don't grab the distraction bait.

When it gets tough or challenging, it's so easy to think, "I need back-up!"

So we drop out of our intense imagining, and go find: a good Google image spread, or a Wikipedia page, or maybe check out that one Instagram account, or go make coffee.

Or basically do anything but the imagining.

But the longer we can focus allllllll our attention on this, the more rich and deep and well-constructed it will be.

So if you need more details in your scene, just make them up. Even if they might not be accurate or will need updating later.

If you're getting bored and this visualizing feels tedious, add something that puts you back on your edge. Raymond Chandler would send in a man with a gun. Personally, I like to throw in something weird, off kilter, askew.

What would most re-engage your attention? Send it in there.

5. Whatever else you do, don't hold back the most essential part of the scene. 

Deeply imagining a scene is a choice. And a skill. I've felt it get easier with practice... and then much harder when I'm out of practice.

So when we engage with this, we're increasing our skill, for sure. 

But we're also re-choosing and re-committing to our own story. 

We're deciding to live in it. Inhabit it. Participate inside it.

When I do this, I'm pushing myself to experience my story not just as a reader, but essentially as a character. 

I become someone who can peer into the absolute central workings of it. I get to witness all the exquisite moments that won't make it onto the "main stage" of the finished page. I spend my working hours wandering other realities.

And that is when I feel like the writing life is the most incredible, satisfying, and adventurous life that there can be.

It's pretty freaking amazing, in other words.

What we have to remember is that this isn't just an exercise.

It isn't just a strength-building, creativity-enhancing strategy.

It's a way of life. A way of working.

And it's the most literally mind-bending part of our craft.

It gifts us with the ability to write our stories from inside of them. Instead of from a distance, like we're merely pulling puppet strings.

If we’re not imagining, we’re settling for less. Less from our stories, less for our readers, but also less of an experience as writers.

When I think of fully imagining a scene, I'm reminded of this quote by—guess who!—Julia Cameron, in her book Walking in This World. (She's referring to the start of a larger project, but I think it applies equally well to this idea of visualizing our stories.) 

She writes: 

Horseback riders who jump the Grand Prix fences of terrifying heights talk of "throwing their heart" over the fence so their horse jumps after it. We must do the same.

That image just grabs me. Can't that be how we pursue this?

Let's not make visualizing just one more static exercise for mere technical improvement. 

Let's turn it into an opportunity to throw our hearts more fully into our scenes.

And let the action and the details and the writing itself jump after it—to great heights.

How to Make Those Huge Self-Care Changes (Without Panicking or Giving Up!)

When you've just learned a zillion ways to improve your life, it can feel more than a little daunting. And maybe like--why even start? I get it, and I've been there. Here's how to move forward, without panicking or giving up. | lucyflint.com

Holy moly, my friends: We covered some major territory this August.

It was the month of self-care for writers, and we came at it from every angle! From looking at our ability to rest, to how we protect our creativity; from nurturing our artistic selves, to embracing enthusiasm over discipline.

I talked a LOT about my favorite new life-changing resources for overhauling my creative lifestyle and for becoming the kind of human I most want to be. We talked about pulling shame out by its roots, and we talked about the space-creating power of saying "no." 

WHEW! Sometimes it felt like self-care, and sometimes maybe it felt a little more like sandpaper, but either way: I hope it did some deep, good things for you and your writing work. 

Before we wrap up the series, though, I've realized that there are four things left to say. Each one is fairly small, but when you bring them together, all this self-care stuff kinda clicks into place.

Ready? This'll be fun. Here's where we start:

1. We can't underestimate the power of play.

One thing that came up over and over and over this month—from Brené Brown and Julia Cameron—was how vital it is to play. 

It nourishes our imaginations, our work, our creativity, and our whole dang lives. So important! And yet, so dismissible. 

I'm working on being intentional about playfulness, because I'm convinced of its benefits ... but it does not come easily for me.

And if that's you, too, then I wanna share something that's helped me so much. Here's what I've realized: 

Play isn't a reward for a job well done.
It is its prerequisite.

As I've added more playfulness into my days, I've found more ease in my work.

And even though Julia Cameron told me that would happen, I still felt kinda shocked. I mean—I was just goofing off! Being silly! Pulling out an old hobby or three from when I was a kid, and suddenly, my heart feels lighter when I work? 

Strange but true.

And when you realize that playing well is a prerequisite for doing great work, it becomes a priority.

Pro tip: If you are working on protecting your time and schedule so that you have the space to play and pursue hobbies, it can feel tricky.

Especially if you're new to this whole idea of play being important.

So here's what I've been doing: instead of calling it play, I call it prep

So, if anyone asks you why you aren't free, and it's because you've blocked out that time to play and delight in creativity, do not say, "I can't do it because I'm going to be messing around with a kid's watercolor set all afternoon." *apologetic grin*

Don't say that unless you feel extremely confident. (In which case: good for you, go to it!)

Instead, say with all earnestness, "I need the afternoon to do some essential preparations for my work week."

People are much more likely to nod seriously back to you. (At least, that's been true for me, so far!) And then you go and pull out your paint set and have a blast!

And actually, that statement is the fullest version of the truth. A truth that we need to keep saying out loud, to ourselves, to others: Play is our best prep.

2. And also, we've gotta resist the temptation to skip the chiropractics. 

After guzzling as much information and wisdom as we've covered in this series, it's easy to feel a little bloated. A bit dazed.

The question I faced over and over this summer was: How can I possibly put all of this into action, all at once?

You know the feeling, right? When you're reading a book and every chapter presents about eighty things that you'd like to instantly adopt in your life? 

Whew! It's dizzying.

My temptation is usually to follow this little process: 

  • Take a zillion impassioned notes
  • Tell everyone how amazing it is and how my life has definitely changed
  • Reread the notes and become fatally overwhelmed
  • Collapse
  • Forget the book
  • Come across a new life-changing book, and begin the process again...

It's a very exhilarating process, but not quite as helpful as it could be, haha! ;)

Let's be honest: It can get uncomfortable when our minds or our hearts have outdistanced our actions.

You know? When you have all this amazing information, or when you feel so strongly that something is right... but then you come up against your patterns, behaviors, habits, environment.

And it can feel so dang hard to change course, that it's easier to just let go of all the new stuff and slip into old ways. 

The trouble with that? Is no matter how hard we try to numb our new awareness, no matter how we try to quiet the new information, we've still been changed. 

And if we live in the old way, we can get this weird feeling of disconnection. Feeling a little out-of-place in our lives.

We're forcing ourselves to ignore the new truth we've discovered, and that just doesn't sit so well.

So how do we bring integrity into our lives? That lovely alignment of what we believe, what we know, what we feel, and how we behave

I'm fairly new to the world of chiropractors and the amazing transformations they can achieve. But the two chiropractors I've met with have worked little step by little step.

Moving my spine back into alignment, one subtle adjustment at a time. Or healing my body from a tangle of troubles, one little behavior at a time.

Meaning? 

You don't have to go after all of this, all at once. Integrity can happen a little at a time. The key is just that you start.

Maybe you start with the single biggest behavior. You find the largest game changer, the most enormous truth, and you just work on digesting that into your life.

The rest can wait.

Or, maybe you start from the other end. You find the one thing that seems easiest, that feels the most within reach. Pick the tiniest, most doable change. And commit to just doing that.

The rest can wait.

So maybe you start with the big, and begin by tackling shame resilience or perfectionism.

Or maybe you start with the small sustainable thing, and write three pages every morning or give yourself permission to have a ten-minute nap every afternoon.

Whatever you pick, be super proud of yourself. You're bringing your habits into integrity, and that's a beautiful process.

As I've worked on this bit by little bit this summer, I've felt my self-respect totally shift. Because when we're working toward integrity, respect is a natural byproduct. 

It's amazing how big an internal difference even those small choices can make. Everything starts to feel better when we take steps to line up what we know with what we do!

And that brings us to...

3. Let's make practice our new favorite word.

Seriously. I have fallen in love with the concept of practice.

I used to only see it as (I admit it) a form of drudgery. What can I say, more than a decade of music practice on two instruments... I didn't always love it! :)

But Brené Brown caught my attention early on in The Gift of Imperfection as she talked about practicing courage. 

Practicing compassion.

Huh, I thought. What an unusual way to describe it. She referred to a gratitude practice, a vulnerability practice.

That's a new way to frame that kind of behavior, right?

But the power of the word practice didn't fully hit me until, actually, I was doing a yoga video. (Yoga with Adrieneif you want a recommendationis very accessible, hilarious, and oh-so lovely.

And in the midst of working on a pose, she said, We don't get on our yoga mats to DO yoga. We PRACTICE yoga. Let yourself practice.

... At which point I fell out of the pose and just stared, because that's it. It all hit home. 

It's too easy to view everything through a pass/fail lens. Did I do well, did I do my best, did I pass? Every time we show up with writing, creativity, self-awareness, playfulness, courage, or any other behavior we're trying to improve.

That pressure of "I have to do my best, every time!" can be really draining, really restricting. And frankly, it's death to all these beautiful creative behaviors we've been working on this month. 

Let's skip the pass/fail idea. Life is not a series of final drafts: it's a long and glorious field for practicing.

So we practice our courage, and we practice our compassion.

We practice saying "no" when we need to, and we practice getting more rest.

Through the practicing process, we can explore. "Does this work better, or could I try it this other way?" We can stay curious. We can experiment. We're more free.

So I'm going to embrace the beauty and flexibility of practice. And when I remember that I'm just practicing, my willingness to try quadruples. Even when the thing I'm trying out (courage! shame resilience! the next draft of the novel!) is daunting and difficult. 

Heck, I'm just practicing! We'll see how it goes.

So, as you think about whatever struck you most in this month of exploring self-care, I'd commend to you that concept of practice. Keep reminding yourself, you don't have to get it right the first, or third, or eleventh time. 

What a relief, right? Let's show up for practice.

4. What next? Here's my tool of choice for moving forward...

You know me: I took the idea of creative preparation, and my deep desire for integrity, as well as my willingness to practice deeply and persistently.

And guess what that all added up to, for me?

A list. Yes. Because I love lists with a love that will not die.

This is a very, very unusual list, though. 

It's a list full of baby steps, in all the directions that I want to go. 

And I promise, it's a total antithesis to my old, arthritic, perfectionist-driven lists. Unlike so many lists I've made, this one doesn't feel like shackles.

Nope. This feels more like training wheels, like kindhearted coaching. Like the best sort of game. Like a series of exciting invitations.

I made it because I didn't want to forget anything. And then I expanded it because I wanted to keep coming back to these new, beautiful reminders.

... And because I realized that if I stopped and worked on metabolizing each new realization as it first hit me, then it would take me a decade to finish these books. They were that rich and full of insight.

I wanted to keep practicing the new behaviors, and to check back in with each one, and check back again. And all the while, the list grew and grew.

So now, it's a series of sweet baby steps, one after another leading me further along this new way of being. 

This is how I'm practicing. This is how I'm working toward alignment, toward integrity. I'm encouraged and guided by the loveliest, most inviting list I've ever made in my life.

It's full of incredibly kind reminders to think about authenticity, courage, self-compassion, creativity, and playfulness.

It holds invitations for bigger artist dates, splashier treats for my imagination, and ways to coax and cajole me out of my many ruts. 

And as I've been working through the items on it, I've felt myself changing. I'm feeling a bit more free, more brave, more authentic. It's incredibly exciting, and I can't wait to see where it leads!

So how about you, my brave lionhearted friends? You've stuck around through a pretty wild month: this definitely hasn't sounded like a typical "writing" blog lately! 

Where are you at, after everything we've talked about? What feels exciting for you? What are you working on?

Given everything we've covered this monthwhat's the kindest practice you could start? Or where do you feel the most out of line with your integrity? 

Do you feel like you want to start something big? Or, equally brave, begin something small? 

September is such a lovely time for beginning new behaviors. Who do you want to be, for the rest of the year? 

You Know That Voice That Says You Can't Write? Today We Take It Down.

There's that voice in our heads that says we're not good enough to be writers, or who do we think we are to try big things. The good news? That voice has a definite source, and we can learn how to take it down. A better internal message starts right here. | lucyflint.com

You know that feeling of being hit between the eyes when you read something: hearing your own life in someone else's words? 

For me, it was equal parts electrifying and clarifying, when I read this in The Artist's Way:

If a child has ever been made to feel foolish for believing himself or herself talented, the act of actually finishing a piece of art will be fraught with internal shaming.

WHOA, I thought. That sounds ... eerily familiar.

I kept reading: 

Many artists begin a piece of work, get well along in it, and then find, as they near completion, that the work seems mysteriously drained of merit. It's no longer worth the trouble.

How did Julia Cameron know what I'd been doing with my writing projects for so long? How was she so dang accurate??

I felt stunned, glued to the page. And she didn't let up:

Often we are wrongly shamed as creatives. From this shaming we learn that we are wrong to create. Once we learn this lesson, we forget it instantly. Buried under it doesn't matter, the shame lives on, waiting to attach itself to our new efforts. The very act of attempting to make art creates shame.

This is the part when I put the book down and staggered around my house, saying, "Everything makes sense now!!"

And this is when my sister told me about Brené Brown's work on shame and I began devouring everything I could find about it. 

Because those paragraphs were talking about me. My childhood.

And the mega-frustrating cycle that had trapped me, one work-in-progress after another. 

Each project seemed to blow up in my face, just as I got to the halfway point. And I went back to the drawing board, convinced down to my toes that I needed forty more skills (and at least five more how-to books) to write the work in question.

I thought I was the problem—too skittish, too perfectionistic, too lazy, or just too stupid. I couldn't tell: one of them, or maybe all four. 

Whatever the root cause, I was getting really, really tired of people asking me, "when will your book be done," and my falsely cheerful reply, "Not sure, but thanks for asking!"

But now, thanks to Julia Cameron, I had a way in. There was some shame lurking in my past, something that I'd buried deep. And somehow that was part of this problem.

And thanks to Brené Brown, I could figure out what to do next.

... And since I know I'm not the only one dealing with this stuff, let's talk it through.

Let's have a little heart-to-heart about shame in our writing lives.

Brené Brown says that shame (she calls it "the gremlins") has two main messages. It's the ugly voice in our heads that says, "You're not enough."

And it's other main message is, "Who do you think you are?"

MEAN, isn't it?! Ack! And if I'm having a slightly off day at the writing desk, that's what I get in my head.

How about you? Any of that sound familiar? 

If I'm not careful, I can hear that whining, nagging voice start up:

Your book isn't good enough, interesting enough, important enough. Your characters are flat and foolish and your dialogue is all dumb. The settings are cardboard. You're not good enough at social media. Your website is super dull and basic and you keep saying you're going to fix that and then you don't. There are a thousand things you could be better at right now. You'll never...

And on and on and on.

It boils down to this: Lucy? A writer? Pah. She's not good enough to pull that off.

On the other hand, if I'm doing okay, and if I'm working on the plans for revision and educating myself about the publishing process, then the other voice starts up.

Oh? Oh really? Publishing, hmm? You were a boring kid, a boring teenager, and a boring college student. If you ever had talent, it's definitely gone by now. Why would anyone want to hear what you have to say? Who do you think you are?

... Is that familiar to you at all? 

Let's all take a moment to blow a loud blast on the airhorn of clarity. Because this, my friends, is not the voice of truth (though we TREAT it that way!).

It's the voice of shame.

Which is why I am steeping myself in the book Daring Greatly. Because Brené Brown is talking all about a process she calls shame resilience. 

This is the process by which we can encounter shame, deal with it, and, as she puts it, "come out on the other side ... with more courage, compassion, and connection than we had going into it." 

Whew!! That sounds amazing to me.

Okay. Field trip: Take two minutes and check out this lightning-quick video on how to combat shame. (If you'd like a more thorough description of how to move through shame, with an example, check out this great article on Brené Brown's blog as well.)

Shame resilience. I love those steps. I am super new to this process, but I'm learning and practicing it, one baby step at a time.

Let's go through them:

Understand what triggers shame for you. And reality check those messages of shame.

What are the gremlins saying in that moment? What are they telling you you should be?

And then, is that message even true? Are those values your values? Does this even apply to you?

Stare very hard at the voice, the message, and say: Is this legit?

I love this next one. She puts it beautifully in the book. She says in the midst of a shame attack, she needs to:

"Talk to myself in the way I would talk to someone I really love and whom I'm trying to comfort in the midst of a meltdown."

I love that. I love that. 

We would NOT say: You're right! You're a really boring person! And you're terrible at writing! These paragraphs are a mess! Have you ever heard of topic sentences?! 

What would we say instead? 

Think of who that is. Who brings out your tenderness, your compassion? Who would you never be harsh with?

What would you say to that person in this situation? 

I'm imagining my oldest niece, coming to me and saying that she feels like she's a bad writer, that she'll never be any good, that she has no talent.

And I can feel all my righteous aunt-ness rising up in me: Drafts are supposed to be messy, darling! They're supposed to be imperfect. You are doing wonderfully. Let's take it step by step. 

Use those same words you'd give to someone you love. Use that kind, compassionate tone. Use them on yourself, in the face of the gremlins.

Tell your story. Connect. Reach out. Own your story.

She makes the very good point that you share your story with someone who has earned the right to hear it. Not someone who will shame you further, mock you, or use it against you. So, wisdom is definitely called for here.

But I love how she describes owning our stories in Daring Greatly:

Don't bury it and let it fester. ... I often say this aloud: "If you own this story you get to write the ending." ... When we bury the story we forever stay the subject of the story. If we own the story we get to narrate the ending. As Carl Jung said, "I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become." 

BAM.

Okay, friends. How are you feeling? Is this hitting a chord?

As I dove into learning about shame, I also started excavating my past. Digging up the dirt, looking around, scouring the area for any hidden messages, any gremlin outposts.

And it's been incredible. SO freeing. So clarifying. And I'm learning to have so much grace for myself.

I processed old stories out loud with my Brené-Brown-loving sister. Then I journaled about them and dug even deeper.

I'm learning that basically anything in my work can operate as a shame trigger: quality of writing, genre I'm working in. Productivity, networking skills, habits. 

It's pretty clear: the gremlins loooove to get their hands on anything to do with my work, and to hold me to a perfectionistic, unreachable standard.

It seems like their favorite thing to do is keep me quiet. I've mostly snuck past them with this whole blog thing (yay!), but when it comes to the novels, they dig their claws in deep.

They are sending me a very clear message, and lately I've realized that it's linked to one particular episode from kidhood.

And because I would love to blow the gremlins up (and also because this is a perfect example of how buried shame messes with us), I'm going to dive into this a little bit.

Do you mind coming along with me? I want to own this brief, but long-festering story from my past:

It was fifth grade. My school's administration was really trying its best, I'm sure, and it didn't know it was consigning me to a special little hell...

But when the standardized tests came back and said I was "gifted" (sounds like something out of dystopian YA, yes?), I got to leave class once a week and hop on a bus with a handful of other "gifted" kids, and go to another elementary school, where we could, apparently, all be gifted together.

There were about nine of us on the bus, and I was the only girl. One week, we were supposed to bring our rulers with us.

And I don't remember provoking anything (because I'd already learned to be mouse-quiet). 

But for some reason, the boys spent our trip slapping me hard with their metal-edged rulers. All of them. Against mouse-me, in the back of the bus. 

Eight versus one—I didn't even try to fight back. Instead, I did what I knew to do: I tried to hide.

I wedged myself between the hump of the wheel well and the overhang of the seat, so that they'd have less of me to hit. And then I literally just rode it out, protecting myself as best I could.

When we got to the school, they filed out and I tried to get up. But fear had done its work, and I was snugged in there pretty tight. 

In my memory, it takes a shame-filled eternity, but it probably only took a few moments to wiggle my way free.

(What the heck was the bus driver doing all this time?? I'd like to time travel back and tell him to get with the program. Ahem.)

I went into the school feeling very shaken, foolish, and ashamed somehow.

I didn't tell my teachers. I didn't say anything to the boys. I didn't tell friends. 

I tried to pretend it hadn't happened.

I wasn't bruised or cut. So I just sat and learned about whales and nautical charts and used my ruler to work on my map. And then we rode back home.

No big deal.

But it was a really big deal.

There were no marks on me, but I had changed that day. And I received the message, loud and clear: Your gifts are not wanted.

And: This is what happens to gifted girls.

... And that is why, when I read Cameron's words about learning that we are wrong to create, and forgetting it instantly, and saying "it doesn't matter," I heard my own voice. Saw my own story.

That's the same message I hear in myself, halfway through every novel project. When I suddenly feel stricken, exposed: I'm an idiot, what was I thinking, why am I doing this, no one wants to hear this kind of story! 

All the encouragement I've received over the years boils away to nothing, and I'm still that fifth grade girl, alarmed at something she doesn't know how to fix, ashamed of gifts and creativity that somehow make her unworthy.

Well, GEEZ. No wonder it's hard to get things done around here!!

So, this is what I love about shame resilience: I get to own this story. 

This is me. I am that girl in the ruler story. And I'm also this woman typing.

There is more to my story than that one day, that long-internalized message. And I'm going to write the ending to that ruler story by continuing my work. 

By publishing a trilogy that puts evil in its place and gives an eleven-year-old girl a voice and the courage to fight back.

Antidotes and Cures.

I'm not sharing that story as a ploy to receive hugs. I'm sharing it because Brené Brown has convinced me of a few things.

So I wanted to talk about the bus and the rulers because I want to speak my shame story—to pull it out of the dark and let it wither in the beautiful sunlight.

But also because of the power of empathy.

Empathy is the thing that says, You are not alone

And I know I'm not the only person that this has happened to. Maybe it wasn't rulers on a bus. Maybe it wasn't eight against one. 

But I know that there are stories out there like this one, that sent the same message. A message that shows up right when you most need to believe in yourself, and find that you suddenly can't. 

I want to reach out to the others who were told to shut up.

I want to send up a flare for the people who got really, really good at being silent, at hiding, at escaping notice.

I want to connect with the people who found out that gifts get you hurt, and it's safer to hide them. 

I want to look you all in the face and say, I have been there, I have cried those tears, and you, my friends, are not alone

I love Daring Greatly and Dr. Brown's other work because she shows that there are tools we can use. There is a proven process. There are resources.

We can learn how to do this!! We can learn to speak to ourselves with love and self-compassion. To practice authenticity.

So, raise your hand, wherever you are, if you've encountered shame in the midst of your writing life. If there's something in your head saying that you're not good enough, or fill-in-the-blank enough.

Raise your hand if you've ever heard in your head, Who do you think you are, to write a tweet, a blog, a novel? Who do you think you are, to share your voice, to write from your perspective?

Who do you think you are, to say anything to anyone at all?

This is when we remember our steps. When we practice them, like the new and special dance they are:

Talk to yourself like you are someone that you dearly love.

Reach out to someone you trust. 

Speak your shame. Tell—and own!—your story, so that you can write the ending.

In Daring Greatly, she gives this great example of how we can talk back to shame. She writes:

Shame whispers in the ear of the woman who's out of town on business, "You're not a good mother because you're going to miss your son's class play."
     She replies, "I hear you, but I'm not playing that tape today. My mothering is way bigger than one class performance. You can leave now."

I freaking LOVE that.

And so I'm practicing.

I'm trying to catch that smothering sensation when it comes, that feeling that silence and hiding are the only things that can keep me safe. Because who am I, to dare to have a voice?

And I'm saying, "Shame, I hear you. But I'm not playing that tape today. I'm choosing courage as a value. Courage is even more important to me than the suffocating safety you're offering. And that means I'm showing up and speaking up. You can go now."

... I may or may not seal that with a little heck-yes dance move.

What's your version? What can you say back, when that nasty gremlin voice shows up? 

What can remind you of self-love and self-compassion? What can bring you back to authenticity?

Who do you trust to tell your shame stories to? And what old stories is it time for you to own?

This is a tough battle, my friends. But it's one that we can (and must!) learn to win.

Because the gremlins are lying. Because we really are enough, just as we are. Because we all have voices and stories that need to be heard, to be written, to be read.

Don't let shame silence you.


WHEW. Yep, I just spilled my guts all over a webpage again.

But seriously: thank you for being a place where I can be real, authentic, and honest, even when I'm typing with shaking fingers.

You lionhearts are amazing folk, with sturdy courageous hearts, and a willingness to grow, and I LOVE that in you. You inspire me.

Thank you for listening, for hanging with me.

Because, geez, what was I thinking with this blog series?! Why didn't I pick something a little less rough on all of us?

Maybe our next series should be about, I don't know, cloud gazing. Doesn't that sound lovely? Mmm. :)

Breaking a Deadly Habit: Are You Abusing Your Creativity? Let's Rescue It.

This is such an easy trap to fall into, an easy habit to pick up. But it's literally killing our creativity--and starving our work. We have to stop. Here's your invitation to a rescue mission. | lucyflint.com

As writers, one of our most vital resources, our most prized possessions, is our creativity. 

That's a fair thing to say, right? If there's no creativity, there are no words on the page, no stories brewing in the mind, no plots, no outlines, no characters.

Creativity is a tool, a source. It's the thing we use constantly in our lives and our work.

Given that, we should be as invested in protecting it and caring for it as we are our other important tools—our computers and software, the copyrights for our work, our access to books. 

Right?

But it's so easy to forget to see it that way. 

It's easy for me to make sure my fancy computer is well taken care of, but creativity, well, it's there when I need it, right?

We can get kind of blasé about our creativity. Careless. We can take it for granted. Leave it out in the rain, let it pick up a few dings, stop putting it in its protective case.

You tracking with me? 

Not that I want to get too precious about this, but I want to be a better protector and champion of my own creativity. 

I want to treat it like it's the thing that's bringing home the bacon. The central engine for everything I'm trying to run. 

I want to take better care of my creativity.

One thing that kinda shook me up with The Artists's Way was how Julia Cameron kept calling it a course in creative recovery.

I feebly tried to fend this off a little, when I picked the book up in the spring. "My creativity is basically fine, I'm just looking for a little pick-me-up, it's not like I'm in trouble here or anything..."

( ... Whoops, sorry, I snort a little when I laugh sometimes.)

Ahem.

The more I read, the more I realized I'd been so casual about creativity. So narrow-minded in how I think of it. And so dismissive about the possibilities and the power of creativity, that I'd been kind of strangling mine. 

Not that it was dead, but it was definitely a bit winded and it didn't want to sit too close to me.

And since I want to take everything I've learned and plunge oh so deep into writing my trilogy this fall, I don't want to alienate creativity. 

Instead, I want to put a huge welcome mat by my desk. I want to hand it a hot drink and give it the comfiest seat in the house. 

Creativity!! It is so good to see you. Please come in. Please make yourself at home. What can I do to make you comfortable and happy? 

... How about you? How are you and creativity doing these days? Are you on speaking terms? Best friends? Or avoiding each other's eyes?

The books that I've been studying have a bit to say about ways that we thwart our own creativity. So if you, like me, want to get super imaginative in the upcoming weeks, you'll want to keep reading.

We've been feeding cyanide to our creativity.

Just a little warning: None of us are going to like what's ahead here. 

Because if we know how important our creativity is, and how beautiful it can be, it's going to be a real bummer to realize that most of us have been slipping cyanide into its food. 

And maybe even kicking it a little, as it writhes on the floor.

How are we doing this? 

Through comparison. Competition. Measuring our work against someone else's, and focusing on the differences we see. 

This will literally shut down creativity. 

It changes everything. 

Think back to times when you've done this. Can you kind of feel, in slow-motion, how those comparison-driven thoughts flooded your ability to create with poison? 

I don't know how it looks for you, but this is how it goes down for me:

When a classmate of mine got an interview with a big-name author I admire, and when I found out that she'd published quite a few books as well, I didn't think, "Marvelous! Good for her! And I'm going to my desk right now!"

I didn't. 

Instead I felt like my lungs had filled up with poison gas, and my arms and legs felt hot and slow and my mind was yelling at me that I'm so stupid, and I've lost all my chances, and everyone's given up on me by now, and what the heck have I been doing with my time? 

I looked at my novel and thought, "Pfft! Books for kids! I'm just writing silly stuff and I can't even do that very well!"

I dismissed everything I've worked for and everything I've become with one contemptuous shrug of the shoulders.

(Plus I was LYING to myself in a huge way and pretended it was the whole truth. Not a helpful move.)

My work-in-progress didn't really thrive that day.

Neither did its writer.

... I know I'm not alone here.

This is such an easy thing to fall into, and I'd love to take a lot of time to talk about how our culture encourages this, how crappy teachers and vile schoolmates do it to us, how misguided "encouragers" can point out where we should be more like so-and-so...

But no matter how we got here, the point is: when we let comparison and competition into our writing lives, it cackles a bit and then strolls over to murder our creativity.

And frankly, my friends, that's not great. Nor is it a useful long-term writing strategy.

I love how Julia Cameron says this—it's just so helpful to me:

When we focus on competition, we poison our own well, impede our own progress. When we are ogling the accomplishments of others, we take our eye away from our own through line. We ask ourselves the wrong questions, and those wrong questions give us the wrong answers.

I LOVE that. She's so right: it switches our attention.

I so wish I could time travel back to when I found out about my classmate. I wish I could have just taken a huge breath, said "Good for her," out loud, and then put the information aside.

And then I wish I would have surrounded myself with my beautiful characters, my incredible storyworld, and the next hilarious scene.

Instead of asking, "Why can't that be me?!" I wish I would have gently and compassionately asked, "What is the best thing I can do for my story today? What is the next exciting thing to write?"

THAT is what I wish I had done.

Instead of wallowing in hateful comparison, I wish I had just thrown my arms around creativity.

Cameron goes on to say,

The desire to be better than can choke off the simple desire to be. As artists we cannot afford this thinking. It leads us away from our own voices and choices and into a defensive game that centers outside of ourselves and our sphere of influence. It asks us to define our own creativity in terms of someone else's.

Gaa! Doesn't that last line just get you?!

Comparison isn't our friend. It's not on our side. 

Creativity is. 

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown talks about how comparison is the thing we need to let go of, if we're going to cultivate creativity. She says,

Comparison is all about conformity and competition. ... The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of "fit in and stand out!" ...
     Letting go of comparison is not a to-do list item. For most of us, it's something that requires constant awareness. It's so easy to take our eyes of our path to check out what others are doing and if they're ahead or behind us. 

She goes on to say, 

If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. ... Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared. 

If you're struggling with this whole comparison thing like I am, please do this for yourself: Write down that last bit and stick it to your computer, your mirror, your forehead. 

Remind yourself of it often!

What you bring to the world—your story, your writing style, your characters, your take on the genre, your setting—it's COMPLETELY ORIGINAL.

It cannot be compared. 

If we're going to move forward as writers, if we're going to keep growing in our work, then we have to put to death this habit of comparing. 

Comparing ourselves to peers, to the people who are writing in a similar genre or sphere.

Comparing ourselves to established masters of the craft.

Comparing ourselves to people who seem to be doing "worse" than we are.

Comparing ourselves to unattainable perfection.

We've gotta stop doing it, my friends. 

How to embrace a radically new perspective on creativity.

One way to help loosen our grip on comparison is to have an even clearer sense of our own creativity.

Julia Cameron uses one metaphor for creativity over and over, and honestly, at first, I thought it was a bit hokey.

And then, the longer I sat with it, the more I realized she was totally right.

(This is true for about 99% of my experience with the book, by the way. I'd react with, "Gaa! That's so silly." Pause. "Well, she might have a point." Pause. "Oh gosh, actually, that's dead right." And the book would just grin up at me.)

Cameron talks about creativity, about our inner artist, as a child.

(I know, I know. Just go with it for a bit.)

If you've been around kids for ten minutes, you've seen how explosively, endlessly creative they can be. 

So, what's the best way to grow your creativity? Cameron says, throughout her book, that the way to grow it is by nurturing it—just as you would nurture a child.

Give it a sense of safety. Protect it from unkind influences (like the nasty lies that rear up in our minds). Provide it with fun things that it wants to play with.

Do not abuse it with harsh words, the silent treatment, lies, or starvation.

She says, 

We must actively, consciously, consistently, and creatively nurture our artist selves. ... Only when we are being joyfully creative can we release the obsession with others and how they are doing. 

Can you practice treating your creativity like it's a child that you dearly love? Can you practice giving it room to play? Handing it every fun tool or toy that it wants? 

Can you let it make a mess? 

Can you talk to it with compassion, gentleness, as if it were someone you loved?

One of the best ways to do this is through a core principle in The Artist's Way: the artist date.

From the start of the book, Cameron asks that we make a commitment to a weekly artist date. 

What does that mean? 

She says, 

An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. ... The artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers.

YES.

I just love this concept. And the rare times (I mentioned the summer was crazy, right?) that I was able to do this, I felt so much better.

More connected to my imagination, to a wider sense of the world, to my ability as a creator.

The amazing thing is, an artist date can be so simple. An outing to a beloved art store, or a nearby quirky furniture/home store are two favorites. Or sometimes I block off the time to sit and paint with watercolors. 

I'll be the first to say: I'm not great at doing this yet. It's an area where I really have to practice defending my time (from others and from myself!).

And it's hard to let myself have fun. (Honestly, if there was a rehab center for learning to play and have fun, I'd probably have to check myself in. So, if this doesn't come easily to you—solidarity, my friend.)

I really believe that these artist dates—time set aside for pure nurturing—are truly worth it. 

So here's my crazy suggestion: Can you, can I, can all of us give ourselves permission to take an artist date this week? 

To block out time and go on an outing? Or to pull out some dusty hobby that we love but feel sheepish about, and pursue it for a while? 

Can we essentially hand our inner artist a huge ice cream cone and say, "Go to town, kiddo! Today we're just going to have fun together!" 

Maybe this means buying yourself balloons or maybe it means going on a long walk by a lake.

Maybe it means buying the huge pack of fifty markers from the back-to-school display and a coloring book or four.

Or maybe you grab a bunch of sidewalk chalk, and let loose on your patio.

Maybe it means getting messy, or maybe it means wandering in a new place.

If you're stuck for ideas, try these quick prompts: 

  • What are twenty things that you love doing? 
  • What hobbies did you love as a kid? 
  • What were your favorite toys as a kid? What did you just love playing with? Where did you most love to go?
  • What did you love to do in art class? Music class? 
  • Where do you like to explore?
  • What kinds of activities or places seem to release something good in you?

Remember, you are not allowed to label your artist date as something "silly." (That's comparison sneaking in again, and remember that it just wants to slit creativity's throat. Don't let it.)

Aim for delight. Play. Fun. Joy.

Even if you're not good at it, like me, practice anyway. 

Even if you get caught up in questions like, "am I doing this right?" ... practice anyway

Why? Because it's worth it.

As Cameron says,

Serious art is born from serious play.

Let's make our creativity feel welcomed, supported, nurtured, and loved.

And let's take our artist date this week.

Real talk, now: What's actually holding you back? (A Resource Festival for Conquering Our Inner Obstacles)

There are some qualities far more essential to our work than writing ability or productivity. Qualities that matter more than novel structure or marketing. Until we have these straight, nothing much matters. | lucyflint.com

As I dove happily into The Artist's Way this spring and summer, I felt myself learning more and more about how I work, how I resist my work, and how I've invented and cultivated so many obstacles for myself over the years. 

It's been eye-opening. Definitely life-changing.

... Which is why I can't stop talking about it!! ;)

But I realized pretty quickly that the issues I uncovered in myself went further and deeper than I could fix with a few journal entries or a handful of imaginative tasks.

And much as I love positive affirmations, I wanted to find even better resources for putting Humpty Dumpty together again.

Well. Let me just say: I DID.

It happened when I was about three weeks into The Artist's WayI was discovering, vividly, how deep and extensive and twisted the roots of my perfectionism and shame are.

I was on the phone to my younger sister, telling her about all this crazy stuff I was digging up in my life. And she started raving about this speaker and social researcher, Dr. Brené Brown.

"I've seen a couple of talks of hers. She does a lot of work with shame and vulnerability," my sister said. 

"HOLD UP," I said, clutching the phone tighter. "I have shame! I didn't even realize that's what it was called, but I have so much shame! And I'm terrible at being vulnerable!"

"You need to read her books," my sister said. "Seriously."

A few days later, she texted me that she had, as she put it, gone down the Brené Brown rabbit hole on the Internet, and that everything she was learning and finding was incredible. 

And freeing.

My sister told me, She deals with perfectionism!  

And also with trust. With shame. With courage.

With how to put yourself and your work out there in the world, and not die because of it.

She had my attention.

I put a Post-It note on my computer screen: Go down the Brené Brown rabbit hole! 

I did a little dabbling here and there, reading her blogs and listening to her TED talks. And then when I was sick with a cold for one extended weekend, I dove in the rest of the way.

I listened to talks and podcasts and interviews, one after the other. I took notes. I ordered her books.

You guys. This stuff is legit.

See, thanks to Julia Cameron and The Artist's Way, I had been realizing—for the first time—how grade school had totally transformed how I think of myself and my work. 

The short version is: I was a naturally good student. I did well on tests, I understood the material quickly, and I made stellar grades.

I also learned very quickly and very early, that that's the exact way to paint a HUGE target on your own back in grade school.

It's bully fodder, plain and simple. Everyone loves to kick the smart kids. (Even some teachers.)

I learned that if I wanted to survive, I had to shut up, blend in, and become as inconspicuous as I possibly could.

I hid my talents; I hid my grades. I swallowed my academic excitement. And I internalized this message: "It is not okay to do well. If you must do well, don't let anyone know or find out."

I figured that out before I was eight. And I never tried to shake it off. 

So even in college, as an English major and writing minor, as I was working on an honors thesis with a professor I deeply admired (and was therefore totally terrified of), I never once asked for a face-to-face meeting with him.

I'd sneak to his office and stick my latest thesis draft in his mailbox and creep away. I didn't talk much to my friends about my honors project either, because my whole past told me loud and clear, That's how you lose friends.

If you're doing well, don't let it be noticeable. Keep your voice down. Or everyone will hate you.

Fast forward to working on a trilogy of novels that I want to be amazing, to dreams about publishing ... and is it any wonder that I haven't kept going, that I haven't taken that leap, that I always stop short and pull my books apart and decide they aren't worth it? 

... Yep, I know. This is a little heavier than my usual. But I just want to offer up my experience as a kind of case study, because I'm so shocked to see what I've been living with, even in my normal, non-traumatic, supported-by-family life. 

This is the stuff that's been buried under my work for all these years, and I didn't even realize it. 

It's been radiating poison up through the layers of my drafts and my learning: this constant message to shut up, blend in, don't be anything other than ordinary or you will lose everyone you care about.

Whew!

... I love Julia Cameron and all, but dealing with this kind of thing takes bigger, more specific guns.

And Brené Brown brings the firepower. 

Oh my friends. I don't even know what to say to you, I just want to get some coffee and climb through the screen and sit with you, and let's just watch all her videos and read her books out loud and encourage each other to live brave, bold, Wholehearted lives and then write our brains out with total courage.

Can we do that, please?? 

sigh.

I don't have that particular super power, so I'm just going to sit here and tell you a smidge about why she's so amazing, and you'll just have to promise me that you'll drink some nurturing beverage and deeply consider all this good stuff, okay?

Okay. *hug*

Like I said, I dove head-first into Brené Brown's work, because everything I found through The Artist's Way showed me how much of a mess I was.

I felt excited and a bit desperate: How would I work to heal my perfectionism, how would I learn to stop blending in and sacrificing originality, and how would I learn to have the courage to share my imperfect work? 

I listened to her talks and learned about the power of vulnerability and the damaging effects of shame: core concepts in her research.

Yes, research: she's a professor and a qualitative researcher, so her talks and her books are based on data. A lot of data. 

And I love that, because she's not just a nice lady saying, "this is a pretty way to live." She's a total data analysis geek, and she's saying, this is what the numbers say.

Even more powerfully than that, she's saying that what her research turned up convinced her to change her life. And because of that, she's sharing that information with us. 

So it's real. It's true. It works.

And it's essential.

Where are you at these days, my friend?

Are you, like me, struggling against perfectionism, an ugly past, a lack of courage? 

Are there some old scars tugging at you, pulling you back? Some toxic messages telling you to keep your voice down, your stories under wraps? 

That stuff is brutal. And if we don't learn how to face it, and practice the ninja moves we need to twist out of its grip, then a lot of us are going to stay silent. 

And honestly? I just don't think that's okay. I don't want any more writers and creatives and artists staying stuck in the evil quicksand of shame and perfectionism and lies. 

So here are some of the amazing Brené Brown resources that I've started using. They are helping reshape the way I think about myself, the people around me, and the work I do.

Please please please, check them out: 

1. The talks! (TED and others)

This is Brené Brown 101. In her massively popular talks, The Power of Vulnerability, and Listening to Shame, you'll learn some of her key concepts and start your journey into a shame-resilient practice.

(I know. I know. It's pretty amazing!) 

And then, for our creative souls, here is an incredible talk that she gave at 99u. I love this one, because she's speaking specifically to people who 1) make stuff, and then 2) put it into the world. So this is essential wisdom for us lionhearted writers!

Finally, she and Elizabeth Gilbert have a lovely, empowering conversation about creativity and empathy on this podcast (season 1, episode 12), which, if you're like me, will absolutely shake up the way you think about your creativity.

(And it also might make you want to adopt Brené Brown as an aunt so that you can pop over at least once a week for coffee and a long conversation. Or maybe that's just me. But I think we could be friends.)

2. The books!

The Gifts of Imperfection: I raced through this book over one long weekend (it's a short one, a quick read).

She presents ten qualities that she found over and over to be essential for living a full, healthy, amazing life. She calls that kind of life Wholehearted

She talks about courage and love and compassion and belonging and the idea of "being enough" in a way that was totally new and revelatory to me. (As well as VITAL in defeating those ugly voices that haunt me from childhood.)

And then she walks out those ten qualities she kept seeing (as well as their opposites). 

She discusses: authenticity instead of approval; self-compassion instead of perfectionism; resilience instead of numbness; gratitude and joy instead of scarcity and dread; intuition instead of certainty; creativity instead of comparison; play and rest instead of productivity as self-worth; calm instead of anxiety; meaningful work instead of self-doubt; and laughter, song, and dance instead of being "always in control".

HOLY MOLY, my friends. 

Everything she described resonates with me. The kind of person I want to be, and the kind of courageous writer I aspire to, would be defined by those positives.

Authenticity? Heck yes! Resilience and gratitude? Gorgeous. 

Someone who practices self-compassion, creativity, and play? Who allows for intuition and cultivates calm? Geez. I'd love to just splash around in all those things!

But if I'm honest, I'm much more defined by seeking approval, overvaluing productivity, feeling dread and scarcity, numbing out, being anxious, and dying for certainty. 

... Qualities that basically suffocate the life out of my writing and my heart.

This beautiful, kind, compassionate book is helping me change course, oh-so slowly.

It's the starting point for turning the ship, changing the messages I didn't realize I believed. It's helping me question the values that I assumed were vital and important and sure.

If you're struggling with perfectionism, or if you feel like your life is just smaller than you want it to be—I can't recommend The Gifts of Imperfection enough!

Daring Greatly: I'm midway through this book, and if you want to dive into the concepts of shame and courage more deeply, OH MY GOSH, this is your book.

It's amazing. That's all. Just straight up amazing and it's reshaping who I am with every little bit I read.

(Check out this brief glimpse into what inspired the book. And yep, that quote still brings tears to my eyes.)

I'm taking a bazillion notes as I read Daring Greatly, and I'm seeing myself much more clearly—this freaky little dance I do to keep myself from being vulnerable, real, open, courageous.

I'm so excited to get free of this, my friends. 

Rising Strong: I haven't read this one yet, but I adore the premise. As Brené Brown says over and over: if courage is a value that we now have, we'll eventually fail.

We'll eventually put something out there that doesn't go over well, and we have to know how to get back up and go on. How to rise strong.

And that's the premise of this book. As someone who wants to write dozens and dozens of novels, I'm so freaking excited about it. (Check out the short Rising Strong manifesto here. It gives me chills!)


... I know this isn't exactly my usual post style, friends.

I don't have anything fancy or tidy to say about all of this, because I don't have answers in place. I'm in process, in the mucky messy early stages of pulling old beliefs apart and practicing the new ones.

I'm working hard to learn these things, because I'm deeply convinced of their worth. I'm catching little glimpses of freedom, moments where I'm choosing to be authentically myself, where I'm growing in my self-compassion. 

I love those moments.

It feels like a totally new way to be myself. Like I'm finding a richer, truer version of me, stashed deep under all these layers and old lies—but I'm finding her, I'm pulling her up to the light, and I'm dedicated to practicing this new way of being.

Here's the thing: Who are you? Underneath old lies and toxic messages and historic scars? The poisons you swallowed a long time ago? 

Who are you as a person, as an artist, as a voice, as a writer?

Do you know what's holding you back? Do you know how to move forward, how to heal, how to be your full and dazzling and Wholehearted self? 

Because that's the journey I'm going on. And I would love some company.

These tools that Brené Brown shares in her books and her conversations and her talks—they're ESSENTIAL for doing all that we want to do.

For having the heart to write, the perspective to accept imperfection, the courage to publish, the resilience for dealing with critics, as well as the ability to get up again, when we write something that fails. 

In other words, I am convinced, right down to my marrow, that the tools and thinking that Brené Brown provides are as vital to our writing lives as a concept of plot, character, setting, novel structure, and language.

Personally, if I don't learn this, nothing of mine will get out the door. 

That's how huge this is.

There's no lionhearted, and there's no writing, and there's not even much of a life, without this stuff. 

So. If you, like me, had been hearing Brené Brown's name around on the Internet, and didn't know what all the fuss was about, welp, now you know.

And if you, like me, have felt yourself trapped by things in your writing life that you didn't fully understand—your courage sapped and your perfectionism roaring, your voice hindered and your steps shaky...

This is how we get out of all that.

As we learn to be free, courageous, and authentic, won't our writing just shine that much more?

As we practice compassion and resilience, we'll learn to publish without that suffocating question of "what will everyone else say?!" 

Oh my friends.

What will happen then?

When we learn to take our Wholehearted selves and our Wholehearted books into the arena, publish with courage, and stand up even in the face of critics and failure? 

What happens next?

I don't know. I can only barely imagine it. But when I do, I get goosebumps and chills and I cry a little and also start grinning, all at once.

Because that's where I'm heading. I've decided. 

And I hope you're coming along too.

Here's How I'm Fixing an Old, Incredibly Bad Writing Strategy

It's tempting to think that we can writing at an amazing level, while still keeping this bad (deceptive!) habit around. But I'm slowly learning: I can't do both. Here's why. | lucyflint.com

You know that feeling of being sore in muscles you didn't know you had? It's kinda weird, but at the same time, it gives you a bigger sense of yourself, right? 

You see yourself a bit more clearly (if with surprise), and at the same time, you're a little astonished to realize that you're more complex than you realized.

... Or maybe I'm the only one who feels shocked like that after an unusual workout. ;)

That's the same feeling I've been getting as I keep applying The Artist's Way to my creativity and my writing life

Only, it isn't just creative muscles that are waking up. It's creative needs.

Again and again, Julia Cameron's essays and tasks are introducing me to needs that I didn't realize I had. 

Or even needs I'd just miscategorized. Things that I vaguely knew were "important" when I could get to them, but ... maybe I could also just shrug them off indefinitely.

But that's all changing.

As I settle into Cameron's way of thinking, as I journal about these new insights, I'm gaining a broader, more accurate sense of what my needs are as an artist. As well as what it takes to meet those needs.

Honestly? It's been pretty dang startling. 

Super exciting. But also startling.

And so, as I'm repairing my work habits and settling into a fresh work routine after the craziness of this summer, I'm really taking into account the things that Cameron urges in her book. 

In other words: I'm breaking my "let's shrug it off" habit.

No more shrugging. No more dismissing.

Instead I'm seizing this lovely back-to-school vibe that's in the air (can you feel it?) and I'm designing my work space and work routines with all these needs in mind. 

If I don't set up my schedule with time in it for the creative nurturing I need on a regular basis (time refilling the well and writing morning pages, as well as time for the writing itself), it's just not going to happen.

And that's simply not an option for me anymore.

(Pardon me while I sing a quick fight song, and do a few high kicks.)

Ahem.

Here's the scary thing. Here's what is so important for you, for me, and for all of us who want to work with integrity and creativity.

Preserving the time for this kind of work, preserving the energy and the ability to focus—it takes effort! 

Showing up for your creative self on a regular basis and taking care of all these legitimate and vital needs:

It's delicious and exciting and exactly what I want to be doing.

But it also means that, to clear that space, I'll need to say no to some other stuff.

Feel where I'm going with this?

Because, spoiler alert: I do not (yet) have a clone.

I would love to have a second Lucy running around here, who could take care of all the out-and-about stuff, who could buzz around and meet friends for coffee all day, and take care of everyone's needs and preferences—

While I just focus in on becoming the artist and maker that I so desperately want to be.

The clone thing hasn't worked out yet.

So until that mind-boggling day, there's just me.

And I can't do everything.

Throughout The Artist's Way, Cameron spotlights helpful quotes from other artists in the margins of the book. And one of my favorites was this one:

"Saying no can be the ultimate self-care."
— Claudia Black

Whoa. I just sat and stared at that one.

Here's what I'm realizing. Saying no to other people is super hard for me. 

Really really hard.

I used to think that I wasn't a "people pleaser." I'm pretty quiet around others and tend to keep to myself and sing little introvert songs to quiet my nerves. 

And yet.

It's only recently that I'm seeing how much I want everyone to like me. I fall into this scary habit of trying to make sure that I don't disappoint anyone.

No matter how bad the timing is, no matter how unrealistic the expectation: It's really stinking hard for me to turn people down.

And in The Artist's Way, Cameron reminds us that we need to know how to say no to other people.

Why? To protect your art. To preserve space for all that thinking, dreaming, brewing, sketching. Your time. Your energy. 

She warns against letting the wants and requests of others drown your ability to work on your creativity. 

She's not being unrealistic or horrible with this, by the way. She is not saying we need to let other people wither without us during crises. 

Instead, she's pointing out that there will always be opportunities for us to do other things—seemingly noble ones, in fact—instead of our work. 

And it will be easier to show up for other people than to show up for ourselves.

And I don't know about you, but that is completely and terrifyingly true of me.

As I've wrestled with this, here's what I've realized: 

The hardest person to turn down is myself. 

And I'm not just talking about the times when I want to wander off and not work.

The hardest thing is: Saying no to a version of myself that I simply cannot be if I also want to write amazing books. 

The hardest "no" that I say is when I say, No, Lucy, you're not going to be everyone's favorite person because you're not the utterly reliable, always-there-for-everyone-no-matter-what person anymore.

You're not going to be the one who steps up and pitches in every time someone else has a project going on. 

You're not going to be the person everyone thinks of when they want a helping hand.

You are not constantly available. Your schedule is not endlessly flexible.

You can't keep everyone happy all the time. You can't keep the people around you 100% disappointment free.

You can't do those things and still write at the level at which you most want to write.

Seriously, friends: This is a really hard thing for me.

And guess what. When I do say no to something—an event, an opportunity, a low-grade preference of someone else's—there are other people who can step up.

Other people who are excited and committed to the event. Other people in the right place to take advantage of the opportunity. Other people who are well-positioned to fill the need.

I've seen it happen time and time again. And re-learned the truth: this whole thing's success did not depend on me. It's okay. I can say no.

So, the very hard truth of it is, I'm not actually leaving people out to dry. That's not the main difficulty. 

The real trouble is, I have to give up this vision of being a person who keeps everyone happy all the time. The person who never disappoints. Who always has time for everyone.

That is what is so tough for me. 

I want everyone to be glad I showed up. I want to swoop in and make everything better, for everyone, all the time.

Fantastic. Nice idea. 

... Doesn't so much lead to good novels though.

(Because I've tried. It is an incredibly bad writing strategy.)

Not to sound too lofty, but: I am convinced that my biggest service to the world isn't through my being everyone's best friend.

It isn't through helping everyone around me when they'd like some slight assistance. It isn't through making everyone's life easier.

My biggest service is going to come through writing the best dang novels I can muster. It is going to come through my craft, my stories. 

And to write them, I need to feed my artistic side consistently.

I need to protect the time it takes to do the work. To give as much as I want to give in my novels, I have to take relentless, consistent, compassionate care of myself.

I have to say no—to others and to the crazy super-human ideas I have about myself—as an act of self-care.

I need to say a lot of noes to a lot of different things (and different versions of always-nice Lucy) in order to be available to the people I most want to assist. 

And part of that group is my future readers. The kids who will fall in love with this trilogy.

I want to be there for them. I want to drop everything else and show up for those readers.

I want to do whatever it takes, so that my books can be there in a pinch for them. I want to bring refreshment into hard places through my novels. I want to help other people put their oxygen masks on.

To do that, I have to find my own mask. Pull it toward me and put it over my head. Pull the little tab thingies to tighten it. Get it on straight. And breathe.

I have to take very good care of myself. So that I can serve through writing. 

How about you, my lionhearted friend? Are there some commitments that have somehow snagged you, that you really don't belong to? That you don't truly need to participate in?

Can you do the amazing, daring, self-caring thing, and free yourself with a kind but firm "no"?

Where is saying no the best kind of self-care for you? And where do you, like me, have to say the hardest noes to yourself?

We've gotta learn how to do this, my friends. Our future readers are counting on us.