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.

Here's the Truth: You Are Extraordinarily Generous (Even If You Worry About Being Selfish)

Is taking time to do your work (or all the supporting work that *allows* you to work) ... selfish?? Oh. Have I got a good answer for you... | lucyflint.com

When life gets frantic, it's been SO EASY for me to relegate reading to a "to do" item on my work checklist.

And when, inevitably, it falls off the list, it's so easy to just feel guilty and crabby about it.

Until all I associate with "reading novels" is guilt and frustration.

Yikes. Not a great situation for a fiction writer!

This month, in contrast, has been a sweet reminder of all the ways novels have been a joy in my life. How they've soothed and healed and delighted me.

And I'm so excited for these new strategies I have in place: I'm going to make my reading nook the most swoony place ever! I can't wait!

And reading in the morning still feels so rebellious to me, but I'm loving it anyway!

Oh, reading. It's so good to love you again. I feel like I've come back home.

I'm still thinking through that question of permission, though. Because, can I just say, this has been a very extreme summer for me. 

I've been spending a ton of time away from work over the last three months, to help out family members during an incredibly hard time. It's been worth it, for sure, but it has taken a lot out of me and my work.

(The month of August is going to be a month of rebuilding my writing practice: I can tell ya that right now!)

Forcing myself to take the time to read this past month: well, it's been lovely.

But it's also made me think about a key tension that's come up in my writing life, again and again.

No matter what the circumstances, I frequently trip over this: 

Sometimes, the time that I need to spend alone, so that I can grow as an artist, so I can work and dream and plan and read—

Well, it can feel a little selfish.

Of course, I know that "it's my work." In my brain, I can argue and reason enough to remember that it's important.

But sometimes it feels like I'm just "lookin' out for myself."

Selfish.

Does this ring a bell for anyone else? 

Especially if you live with other people. Or if you have friends. Or if anyone that you care about could possibly "need" you, or would appreciate your help. 

With anything. At all. Ever.

And you get that phone call, or text, or that request. 

And when that comes up during my writing time, or when it involves the time I planned to spend writing (or reading, or painting, or doing any kind of creative support work)—I have a real internal struggle on my hands.

If I choose to protect my time, and say no, I usually have to claw my way through a miserable storm of guilt. And I'm so exhausted by the time I get to my work (or so resentful), that it's almost easier to not work.

If I say yes, then I feel like I'm a superhero. But I also feel resentful and like I'm apparently the type of superhero who doesn't get to write fiction.

Which makes me sad.

... Does any of this sound familiar? Anyone with me on this?

I know what I'm supposed to do, usually. I know I need to choose the work more often than not. But sometimes, it just doesn't feel that simple, with layers and layers of What Other People Need.

Okay.

But.

Last week I caught Coldplay's concert in St. Louis. And it was so much fun. Confetti and lights and huge balloons and the band's infectious enthusiasm.

And so many times during that night, I thought: This feels like a gift. This concert feels like generosity.

Obviously our tickets cost money. Of course it wasn't a free gift.

But still. Something about the openness of the band, their cheerfulness and their message and their songs and their whole attitude—the joy and humor and sheer spectacle of it all.

I don't know how else to say it. It felt generous.

It felt like we, as the audience, were given the gift of that night, that experience. 

And for me, it was such a vivid picture of how creativity—in the words, the music, the art of the performance—is generosity to the people who get to witness it.

In other words: working on your creativity is not a selfish act.

I'm gonna say that again for everyone who needs it as much as I do: 

Working on your creativity, whether that means writing or dreaming or reading or doing any other kind of support, is not a selfish act.

It is a service.

As I watched Chris Martin zooming around the stage, part of me was dancing and singing, but the rest of me was trying to get a grip on this idea.

The generosity of working on creativity. 

I kept thinking about all the time that they've put into this.

The hours and hours and hours of honing their musical skills. And the time writing the lyrics. (Those amazing metaphors and phrases don't just happen, as we all know!) 

Then the creation work: creating songs, refining songs, throwing out the crappy ones, rewriting, remixing...

All of the effort that went into creating this music and this concert: I don't know how it felt to the members of the band.

How many times they had to say "no" to other things to make it happen. What sacrifices they repeatedly make, so that they can be who they are.

I have no idea what it all adds up to.

But I bet it's a lot. 

And the end result feels like total generosity. A connection with their audience. A festival, a spectacle. An uplifting and joyous night.

Sharing creativity is generosity.

Oh, lionhearts. Can we get a sense of that, down deep in our writerly hearts? 

The books we write, the tales we tell, the stories we share: it's about generosity. It's about giving gifts to our readers.

Sure, we'll be paid, and that's absolutely as it should be.

But in the quality of the work, the liveliness of the story, the beauty or the humor or the delight of the words: that's generous.

So let's just take a moment and apply that word, generosity, to everything that goes into making those stories.

All the time it takes to do that work. The dreaming, the doodling, the wondering. The plotting and outlining and structuring.

The throwing everything out and starting over. Multiple times.

Rebuilding chapters. Writing, rewriting. Re-re-re-rewriting. Revising and editing. Producing. Publishing.

ALL that time. All that effort.

This is the stuff we have to guard and protect.

This is what's behind the times when we say no to people we care about. The stuff we turn down. The sacrifices we make.

You're not being selfish, by protecting the time it takes to write well.

Which means that, it isn't selfish to say "I'm working" and then go read a story about a talking rat for two hours.

Okay? 

We are working to build gifts for other people.

Gifts that don't get written if we don't make the hard calls.

If we don't do what it takes to write them. To dream them up. To capture the nuances . To really sit with the ideas we have, and take the time to sculpt them, drive them deeper. 

To make stories that readers will dream about.

To write chapters that will be read in tense waiting rooms or in the midst of a heart-breaking season.

To write what will make people laugh. Or what will help them release tears that need to be shed.

To write what will connect strangers in the midst of pain. To write words that give other people a way to talk about their own experiences.

IT ISN'T SELFISH.

It is amazing, sacrificial, beautiful generosity to make the hard calls, and to protect what you need to protect, in order to be a storyteller.

Whew.

So ... I basically need to get that tattooed on my arms or something. 

How about you? What's the hardest thing for you to say no to?

When does it seem selfish to protect writing and creativity?

(And if it doesn't, then for the love of pete, please help the rest of us out and tell us more about your mindset!!)


Reading Report: Well, I'm thoroughly enjoying Bellfield Hall. I just loooooove mysteries. AND, our weather here has been a bit gloomy and overcast. I meanhow perfect can you get? Tea & a cozy blanket, anyone?? 

The Cure for the Common Workday: Let's Get a Little Feisty Right Now

When writing feels like a tame little office job, this is what we need to remember. Come get fired up, you rebel you. | lucyflint.com

I don't have any tattoos. I don't own a single sassy t-shirt. My ears are only pierced in the most conservative, standard way—and I haven't even worn earrings for years!  

I'm usually fairly quiet in person (unless well caffeinated). I'm a born rule-follower. The type of girl who will round up abandoned shopping carts and roll them back to their corrals. 

Not exactly anyone's idea of a rebel.

Except for this one little thing.

This vocation I have. This habit of writing down everything, everything. Of taking notes on my own life, the lives of others. Of asking myself hard questions on paper. Of drilling down, of drilling deeper, and then turning that material into scenes and dialogue. 

I look like a quiet mild-mannered girl, like a very nice citizen ... and then I go to my desk and pull out my novel and blow stuff up. 

Novelists can make people nervous. Have you noticed? People don't always trust novels or the writers who devise them. They don't always know what to do with us.

I'll have people tell me this point blank: Oh, I would never let *my* daughter do what you're doing. You're a quiet person, and quiet people scare me. I won't read fiction. I've never read a single novel. I will never read anything you write, sorry

A really good novel puts you inside someone else's head: the writer's. The characters'. It's mind travel. Pretty sketchy, right?

It's a dangerous thing to do, to submerge yourself in a gripping novel: just hope you don't drown in it. Right? It might change your life. It might turn you inside out. You gotta be careful. 

Mmm. A life full of words. It can be quiet. But also very, very risky.

But sometimes, I slip out of this warrior mindset. Know what I mean?

I start treating my work like it's a standard office job. Like I'm a paper pusher, filing things, double checking things, making graphs, keeping everything nice and tidy. I can forget, just a little, why I'm really here.

And that's when I need this quote. I need it to ruffle my feathers, to fire me up, shake the paradigm, and get me asking questions again: 

The writer who is a real writer is a rebel who never stops. -- William Saroyan | lucyflint.com

I love this quote. I love it because I'm no one's idea of a rebellious person, and yet I'm doing this incredibly daring thing of writing novels. 

I need this quote to remind me of what I'm up against. To remind me not to slack off on the tension in the story. To remind me to put my whole heart into this thing. To remind me to show up, day after day

It's a dangerous thing that we're doing—this telling of secrets on paper. (Normal people don't DO this. Have you noticed?) 

And no matter what kind of writing you do, if you're telling the truth, you're being edgy. Rebelling against anything that would tell you to be silent.

It's part of the calling. 

And—if you want to take this idea as far as possible, and I totally will—rebellion is all over what we do. 

We don't have normal jobs. We don't have to keep normal hours. We do something for the love of it first, until we figure out the money end of it. We're engaging in a career with no guarantees. (SUPER weird.)

We devote ourselves to a craft that it takes a lifetime to learn. (Which takes some serious pluck.)

We tell secrets—our own, our friends', our families'. We go everywhere, watch everything, and take notes. We write down what we hear at restaurants, at grocery stores. And if you cross us, we'll write you in, just for revenge.

We get to figure out everything that makes us odd, that makes us unique, and then stick it into stories. Fill whole volumes with it. 

We get to pick our fights. To choose the flags we carry.

We don't even have to rebel against all the same things everyone else is mad about on Facebook or on Twitter. We can rebel against rebellions!! We get to listen close to what's going on, and find the injustice we care about. The thing that we need to shine a light on.

We're in a vocation where we can always innovate, always tell, always fight.

Sometimes the fight is in the story; sometimes the fight is the fact of the story itself. (Even lighthearted stories can stand against darkness, after all.

We spend our days crafting things that other people are scared of. I mean ... whoa.

It's a big responsibility, lionheart! Are you feeling that too? It's a weighty thing, this life of words. A wonderful one, but a challenging one too.

And I go back to this quote to remind myself: Don't slack. Don't settle. Keep that fire going.

The writer who is a real writer is a rebel who never stops.
William Saroyan

Find out what it is that you're meant to expose with words, with story, and keep on fighting.

Never stop.

The Secret Weapon: Why You Really Don't Need to Talk about Your Writing Yet

There's the courage to do the work, and then there's the courage to *talk* about the work. Let's not get those confused. | lucyflint.com

I'm about to make a lot of high achievers really, really mad at me. Because I'm going to go right against one of the most common tips on reaching your goals. (Something about Mondays. I always get rebellious.

On just about every "How to Set a Goal" article flying around the Internet, you'll see this tip: Make your goal public. 

Find a group of likeminded people. Get someone to hold you accountable. Post about your progress. Get others on board.

I don't have a problem with that in general, okay? I promise. So if you love the whole "be accountable" thing, then go for it.

But here's my counterargument. 

Sometimes, we might have just barely enough courage to do the New Difficult Thing, whatever that is. 

And maybe there's not quite enough courage left over to tell other people about it. To hear their comments mid-process. To check in with them. To let them challenge you. 

Oooh, I have SUCH a good solution for this problem. You ready? 

DON'T TELL ANYONE.

I mean it. Don't tell anyone!!

Start your crazy new project and keep absolutely quiet about it. Do your writing on the sly. Scribble away furtively in your closet. 

No one has to know about it right now.

That wonderful secretive silence gives the new idea some safe room to rattle around in your head. It gives you time to freewrite about it, explore the possibilities, refine your thoughts, and even play a bit.

At some point, you can definitely get other eyes and ears on the idea. Eventually, you can run a later draft past a few people.

But not yet. Not while it's soft; not while it's growing.

I'm convinced that there's more than one kind of courage at work in our writing lives. And it trips us up if we think that they're all the same, all the time. 

Don't confuse the bravery of doing the New Difficult Thing with the bravery of Telling People About It. 

You really don't have to be ready to tell people what you're up to at the same time that you are up to it

So, if you're feeling overwhelmed and not brave enough to do a goal that you'd really like to go after: I give you permission to zip it. Don't say anything. Keep it a secret.

What you might find is that secret keeping generates its own energy, and—what's really cool—its own bravery.

When I'm working on a story that no one else knows about, I feel like I've gotten back to the absolute heart of my writing: telling myself a story. Just for the heck of it. Just for the thrill of the tale.

That is a wonderfully exciting, pure, and yes, courageous place to work from. 

So don't feel like you need to muddy it by talking about it too soon. 

Keep it a secret for as long as you can manage. You'll be building your bravery as you develop your relationship with the project. You might be able to hear it more clearly, and work on it with more boldness.

And then, when the timing is right, you might find that you're actually ready to tell someone.

You were building the courage to speak up all along.


The Most Important Person Here Isn't Me.

In the relationship between a writer and a reader, one of them is more important than the other. And here's a hint: it's not the writer. | lucyflint.com

It's Monday morning, so how about I go ahead and embarrass myself by confessing something to you? Sound good? Okay then. Here it is:

I'm mortified to admit it, but when I started writing full-time, I felt like I deserved an audience.

<CRINGE!!!>

But really, I did. I thought I was ready for people to come listen to me, to read my words.

After all, I'd done my part. I worked hard at school to learn about stringing words together. I had developed a few interesting ideas. I figured that showing up and reading my stuff was the least the world could do.

When I started my first blog (a lonnnnnng time ago), I figured that, basically, people would be beating down my virtual door, devouring my lovely little blog posts, and begging for more. 

Probably some editor would fling a contract at me. "Write us a novel," they would cry. "We want to read it."

... Okay. Can I stop there? Because seriously, my cheeks. SO RED.

Well, no, there's one more little part to that story, and it's this: yes, a few friendly faces showed up. Yes, I had some readers. A few. 

But that was it. 

I was disappointed. More than that--I couldn't understand it. My desire to write shriveled up. I eventually closed that blog down. And I had a very hard time believing I should write the novels I was working on. 

The writing life just felt very hard and cold and unrewarding.

What I didn't realize: By expecting massive applause, I had set myself up to feel disappointed. Neglected. Undervalued.

When we let our ego call the shots, we've lost.

It's easy to see why we let pride win out, though, right? After all: If you're writing ANYTHING, you're working hard. There's sweat mixing in with all that ink. This isn't easy stuff. 

Also, it takes a bit of chutzpah to believe that you have something worth saying. To get over the crippling desire to stay silent and unnoticed.

To get past the fact that there are a bajillion other people writing blogs and spinning sentences and throwing novels at the world. 

That's a big obstacle. And sometimes pride is the thing that steps up and says it has an answer.

After all, it's nice to believe the ego, right? It's so compelling. It lets us strut around and decide that we are big and everyone else is small. That we deserve prizes and accolades and thousands of readers and I don't know, a salary, perhaps. 

But it's an ugly thing, to feel like people owe us attention. To be convinced that the world owes us an audience. 

And oh, guess what: All that ego and all that pride... it makes us profoundly NOT FUN to listen to. 

(If you've ever been trapped by a blatherer at a party, you understand this.)

So how do we fight it? How do we counteract that sense of entitlement? How do we douse our pride with gasoline, and burn our little egos out?

I think one of the best things I've learned--the thing that shut my pride right up--was a profound respect for the reader. 

Ahem: That's you.

You have so many other things that you could be doing right now, and believe me, I'm aware of it.

There are more voices you could be reading, more writing blogs. Or heck--you could be checking YouTube for a laugh. There are errands to run and there's probably coffee to make (I hope you're having coffee--it's a Monday for heaven's sake). 

There are a thousand things that are competing for your time and your attention.

And--presuming that you're still with me--you've picked this blog post.

You're trusting me with this little corner of your time, this patch of your attention. And that's a trust that I have very strong feelings about.

Is this getting weird for you? Sorry to be so direct. But the truth is: I think about you a lot. 

You don't owe me a thing, but I owe you plenty. I owe you the best that I can do.

The best words, the best ideas, the best writing tips. I've promised to tell you every helpful thing I know about the writing life. And I'll even try to be a little funny if I can manage it.

Why? Because I respect you.

Because I think that your time matters. 

Because I now believe that writers are actually meant to serve the readers, and not the other way around. 

And because--not to get all SAPPY on you--I'm grateful. Darned grateful to put words out into the world and have someone read them. 

It's a privilege. It's an honor. It's about trust. 

And that's my best weapon against the ego-gorilla that shows up sometimes, banging on its chest and demanding to be heard.

I shut that gorilla up by reminding it of what I've learned: that in spite of all its shouting, the ego is a fairly brittle thing. It's restrictive. It dulls my mind and keeps me from growing. It sets me up for disappointment. And it turns all my ideas into bland, flavorless offerings. 

I'm much better off without it. And so is my writing.

So, a happy Monday to you, my well-respected reader.

Here's to serving others with all that we write.

(And if there's a blog topic that you're wanting to hear more about, or if you have some ideas about how I can run this space differently, or if there's some other way that I can be serving you all better, scroll down and leave a comment. Seriously. I'd love to hear from you!)