Can We Have a BIG GROUP HUG, Please?

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

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

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

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

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

And then YOU showed up! 

Hundreds and then thousands of you! 

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

I'm so proud of us all! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's no small thing.

So here's to another year of it! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There. Thanks. I'll treasure that.

Okay. Now let's all find some CAKE.

Even a Pro Throws a Party at the End of a War (Celebrate Your Finish Lines)

Is it better to dive right into the next project, or better to take a break? Can we do both? |

There's a popular bit of writing advice out there that goes like this:

As soon as you've finished writing one story, start the next one.

Emphasis on: As soon as.

I think it was Trollope who modeled this, at least in what gets quoted to me. He had a quota of words to write each day, and if two of them were The End, then the next ones went right into a beginning.

I think that's admirable, in some ways. Impressive.

But much as I admire that kind of productivity, I've stopped wanting to emulate it. 

Momentum is important. Discipline is important. I'm a big fan of both.

But I just don't believe that we have to start a new project immediately.

In other words: Take a break, for goodness' sake! 

We can be professional-minded and still take a break, right? Of course we can! Because we want a sustainable writing practice, right?

Sustainability. It's my best friend when it comes to writing.

So this is what I've learned I need, after a storm of drafting:

1. Acknowledgment. 

I need to look myself in the eye--yes, literally, I do involve a mirror--and congratulate myself.

Creating a story out of your brain? Writing the whole thing down? Thousands and thousands of words? That's amazing. That's still amazing.

So whether I'm finishing a third draft or a first one, I think it's still important to take a huge breath and say: We did it! The characters and me! We wrote that thing!

2. Rest.

Literally. I try to catch up on sleep, if I've been staying up late to get it done.

But also, there are muscles involved with all that writing! It's easy to forget, when you're trying to keep Mr. Evil from destroying the planet, and at the same time, you're feeding clever lines to your Protagonist, and oh yes, also keeping all your details accurate for the secret lab underground.

But all that sitting and typing, or writing by hand--it takes its toll. You've got back muscles and neck muscles, bones and ligaments and things!

The body needs to recover too, and probably could take a bit of extra love. Maybe even a chiropractor.

And maybe some exercise. Some long walks in the park. (I do, after all, rely on some chocolate to get the writing done. A bit of movement is a good idea to balance all that!)

3. Human beings.

In the last stretches of a draft, I am at my least least least social. I become, necessarily, less available to the people around me, as the people in my head demand more time and space. 

Between projects, then, is when I love to catch up with friends, spend time with family, and be super-intentional about relationships. 

So I take some time to shed the writer-recluse habit. I schedule coffee dates, I Skype with my nieces and nephew more, I reconnect with the people I love. 

4. Replenishing.

Right after finishing a draft, I'm my least creative self. I have trouble completing the most simple sentences, or making any decisions at all. 

Why? Because I worked every single brain cell. Every last shred of mental energy has gone right into the draft.

Which means: The imagination needs some mega input.

I try to take a few days to intentionally browse new books, to visit museums, to wander around in new places.

I need to get back into the real world for a little bit. To be surrounded by real colors, real sounds, real textures.

It's dangerous for us to live in a world of text for too long. We need to remember that there are actually three dimensions.

We need to observe real life, and oh yeah, to live real life too.

5. And then yes, a bit of a party.

Completing a piece of writing warrants a celebration. No matter how short it is, how long it took you, how wretched this draft might be: if you've gotten to the end, you celebrate. Period.

Whether that means telling your dog you're brilliant (which it already knew) and treating yourself to a cupcake, or whether you get some champagne and caviar, or whether you have writing buddies over for coffee and cake--it's up to you.

But you deserve a celebration. Finishing a piece of work--sending a poem out, shipping a novel to beta readers, completing an essay--it's a BIG DEAL.

It should be.

I used to argue with myself about this. (Sad, but true.) I used to insist that finishing a piece was just part of the job. And if I wanted to be a professional, then it was all in a day's work. (See: Anthony Trollope.

I used to tell myself that to get all excited about it meant that I was an amateur, and just playing at it. That celebrations weren't the mark of a pro.

But I've totally changed my mind.

This is what I've learned: You fight a lot of battles, getting a story onto a page.

Internal battles, external battles, time management battles, word-craft battles, no-one-understands-what-I-do battles, this-is-taking-FOREVER battles.

It's work. A lot of work.

And getting to the end means that you've won this particular war, this war of finishing a piece of art.

And that means: You do a bit of dancing, a bit of crowing, a bit of cupcake-eating.

Sure, you'll start your next project soon. Of course, you're a professional. And nope, you won't let your writer abilities get dusty. You won't forget how to do this. 

But first you'll have this little party, this celebration.

Replenish what's been depleted, stretch what's been strained, stock up on what you need, take a deep breath.

And then--buoyed by the success, and cheered by declaring it good--then you can dive in to the next one.

Let's Go Ahead and Get a Little Word Drunk, Shall We? (Books that Celebrate Language)

Three books that will just make a writer's heart happy. (Or slightly intoxicated.) |

If you're a writer, then you're also a reader.

Yes? I don't think we really need to debate that, right? I'm guessing that a love of words and stories and books is what got you into this party.

One of the yummiest treats for the writer-reader: books that celebrate the stuff of our trade. Stories about love of language and love of books and love of stories. 

Books that celebrate other books. Pfft. I totally love 'em. 

Here are three of my favorite celebratory books: If you haven't read these yet, move them to the top of your list!

1. Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn

Okay, if you don't catch what the title is about, say it out loud. ... Sound like a chunk of the alphabet? LMNOP? Yup. That's what's going on.

... And given that quirky title, you probably don't need me to go on about what a treat is in store for you, but--well, I'm going to anyway.

Without spoiling the premise entirely, this is a thoroughly charming novel, told through exchanges of letters and notes, about a quaint little island (sorry, there's no other way to put it) ... which is slowly outlawing the use of the letters of the alphabet. 

One by one.

So the citizens have to give up the alphabet bit by bit, and the words that use those letters as well... 

I dare you to read this and not have a renewed appreciation for every single letter of our crazy, beautiful alphabet! 

2. The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster.

If you missed it when you were a kid, never fear: this book is every bit as good when read by a grown up. Seriously. I discovered it in seventh grade, and I'm still not over it!

It is a ridiculously fun, extremely clever tale of a boy named Milo, a watchdog named Tock, and a Humbug (oh, the Humbug!), who set off on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason ... a journey that goes from Dictionopolis to Digitopolis, through the Mountains of Ignorance and up to the Castle in the Air. 

If you haven't read this one yet, you owe it to yourself to dive into it as soon as possible! And buckle up for some serious wordplay, puns of all sorts, idioms turned into realities, and all kinds of other sense and nonsense. 

3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

This book! Every time I read it, I want to crawl into it and live there.

Like Ella Minnow Pea, this is a novel told in letters. But Guernsey goes deeper, celebrating books and the ways that they sustain us. ... The many narrators/letter-writers are completely lovely--I want to meet half of them in real life, immediately

This is a story about writers and writing, about books and stories, about surviving through war, about finding hope, about the island of Guernsey (serious travel fever may occur while reading)... and about some flat-out delightful characters.

So much love for this book. Mmm. 

So there's my top three! What book-loving books have you been reading? Got any recommendations? Send 'em my way in the comments! 

And if you need more book recommendations, here are Twelve Mysteries for Your Next Rainy DayFor even more word love, check out A First Line Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not the girl who cared about what I cared about.

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, but it does matter. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seek it out. Accept it. Listen to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrate your compost.

You're Invited to Your Dream Writing Life, Starting Right Now

We're having a REAL party to celebrate your dream writing life... and how you can have that dream come true, right now. This week. Today. Are you coming? |

I can't spend a month chatting about celebrations without actually having a real, honest-to-goodness party. Agreed?

And since it's mid-August, I figured it's high time that you and I throw a party together.

What's the occasion? I'm sooooooo glad you asked. This is a party to celebrate your writing life. Celebrating the fact that you are a writer: a person who writes. That's worth a celebration.

If you're with me, great.

If you're feeling kind of meh about your writing life, and unconvinced that a party is a good idea: I dare you to read to the end of this post. Seriously. Because I strongly suspect that you need this party.

Okay: Let's do a little party planning!

For starters, you'll need to invite yourself. 

Yup. Formalize this a little bit. Set a time, a date. Make plans. This is a real party and it will need a real time on your calendar.

It's all too easy for life to swallow up our good ideas; and it's also easy for the rest of the demands in the writing life to take over good intentions (and the very real need) to celebrate.

So: make yourself an invitation. Write in with your swankiest handwriting, or print it in a large lovely font. Something like: I AM INVITED! To a Writing Party, on (date), at (time), at (place). 

Got it? Cool. Leave it on your writing desk, or in your work space so that you don't forget. 

And now it's time for a little shopping trip! We're gonna go get some supplies.

All good parties involve food. (And, yeah. You know me. I'm all about some good food.)

What says "party food" for you? Trail mix and popcorn? Something sparkly to drink? Or Trader Joe's Macarons? Go get it.

And don't shrug and say that this silly little occasion isn't worth it.

... Tell me, what would a superpowered and totally wonderful writing life do for you? How much would you be up for enjoying your work, day in, day out? For feeling exhilarated, for your imagination to be stimulated and useful?

What would it mean, if you loved your writing life like crazy, and had a totally wonderful relationship with your writing life?

Yeah. That's what I thought.

If we want a dreamed-of writing life, then we need to put the work in to make it lovely. In other words, it's worth buying the fancy cookies.

Next up: party favors!

Let yourself loose in an art store, office supply store, or at least the Back-to-School Section of your nearest Target or Walmart or some such place. 

Take yourself shopping and go crazy. Stock up on your favorite writing supplies, pens and markers, beautiful journals and papers.

Anything that makes your writer's heart squeeze a little: pick it up. 

And then--and yes, you must!--pick up some other decorations. 

Get some flowers, balloons, even those fancy themed paper cups and plates if you like! As much party stuff as you want! Banners, garlands... You really are allowed to go crazy.

... But if you're more tempted to not go crazy, then I'm guessing you're the type of person who really really REALLY needs to do this.

Can I talk to you for a sec? Here's the truth: It doesn't work to just celebrate your writing in your mind. 

Let me put it to you like this: If you've made the commitment to be a writer, to participate in this writing life full time, and to stick with it, then guess what. Your writing life is a little bit like a spouse.

You've committed to it, for the dark times and the bright. And too, the writing life will shape you every bit as much as you'll shape it. It's a big deal.

So I'm going to go ahead and call it a marriage. You're married to the writing life.

What happens in healthy marriages? Now and then, they celebrate. They pull out the stops for big anniversaries, and they also celebrate the quirky anniversaries of events that only matter to the two of them.

There is a time when it is the best and healthiest and most right thing to have a bit of a party.

And if you're more of the part-time-to-hobbyist writer, you're not off the hook either! That's like having the writing life as a really good friend. And good friends: they have their celebrations too.

Real ones. With cake. And streamers

So at LEAST get yourself some flowers and a cheap balloon from the supermarket. Okay? Okay.

Got all your stuff? Great.

On the actual day of the party, take a little time to set everything up.

Light some candles. Make sure that the balloons and flowers are out and looking festive. Put your cookies on a tray. Do it all up, like someone is coming who you really think is special. 

Like you're celebrating something valuable.

Because you are.

All set? Okay.

So there you are, with your notebooks and your pens (or markers, or pencils, or whatever). And it's time for your party to begin!

Have some of the food, and the sparkly drinks, and a few cookies. Get into the party spirit a bit. And try not to feel--let's be honest--really really awkward about this.

You're having a party for yourself. For writing. Maybe that feels weird.

But hey, you're not the only guest: this is for your writing life, right? So let's make sure it shows up. This is how:

After you brush the macaron crumbs off your lap, grab your new lovely notebook, and write the answers to these questions. Try to write honestly and without belaboring it too much. Use complete sentences, or don't! Draw pictures too if you like.

But one way or another, write down the first things that come to mind:

- When did you feel like this writing life was a thing you were going to pursue? When did you start acting like a writer, one way or another?

- What has been the highlight of your writing life so far? Its best moment?

- On the best of all writing days, what does it feel like for you to be a writer? The writing sessions when you finish and say--maybe a little surprised--"that was really great!" What does that kind of day feel like, in your body, in your mind, in your heart?

- What kinds of things--places, people, books, images--consistently inspire you? What tugs at your imagination? 

Got all that? Feel a bit of that writing glow? Oooh. Me too.

Shake out your fingers, have some more cookies, and then we're going to do a little more thinking. Ready?

Okay. Give yourself a little more time to answer these. 

1) Think about your future writing career. Ten, twenty years down the road. Imagine that it's exactly what you dreamed of. Write down what you see--how many books you've written, and what kinds of stories they are. What your huge fanbase says about your books. Snippets of reviews. Blurbs and endorsements from famous authors. Sketch it all out.

2) Now, with all that future dream in mind, write down specifically what your future writing space is like. When your writing dreams are coming true, what does your writing desk look like? What kinds of tools do you use? What sorts of trinkets and things are around you? What have you put in your space that helps you be the astoundingly productive and well-loved writer that you've become?

3) In your dreamed-up writing future, how do you protect the time you need to work? What kinds of arrangements and understandings do you have with your friends, your family? What kind of working hours do you keep? What kind of time-space do you have for all the things you do for your writing? What is that idealized writing-routine like?

4) And finally, in your dream writing future, how do you feel about your work? How do you feel about the books you've written, and the books that you have yet to write? What kinds of emotions show up when you're at that future writing desk? How do you treat yourself and your work in your mind? 

Whew! That was a lot of good thinking. Take a break. Have more cookies. Walk around the room. Mingle with yourself for a sec. Shake out your fingers. Clear your brain.

We have one more round to go, and this is a super, super important one. So grab another glass of bubbly, and let's get to it. All set? 

Okay. Think about the writing life that you've just imagined so richly. The way you'll feel about your writing work, the kind of shape your writing life takes up, the things you'll do to be the writer you want to be.

I want you to make one more list: Write down all the ways that you can have that dreamed-up writing life, all the stuff you wrote down in #2 and #3 and #4, right now.

Don't get swamped by "I can't" and "but you don't understand" and obstacles. Try to boil it down, and get at all the ways you can make those things realities or near-realities.

For example: If you dreamed up a writing studio deep in the Rocky Mountains, but you can't exactly afford one now: what if you put a mountain-scene painting in your writing studio? A pine-scented candle? Can you create a mountain-esque space?

If you dreamed up a writing schedule that's impossible for you right now, how could you slowly work toward that? Can you build toward it, a half-an-hour at a time? Skipping TV, and forcing other commitments to respect your writing time?

If you thought up wonderful wild things like vacations where you simply get away to write... How could you find a way to do that now? Maybe not the beach for a week, but maybe a nearby lake for an afternoon?

And whatever mindset you wrote down in #4: you can practice thinking and feeling that way right now too, regardless of what your writing life looks like. You can practice being kinder with yourself, you can practice being more disciplined, you can practice treating yourself well.

See what I mean? 

There are aspects of your dream writing life that are truly within reach.

Write down as many of these as you can think of. Push yourself.

Can you come up with at least a dozen ways to come nearer to your dream writing life? (I bet you can.)

And then: can you put them into effect over the next week or two? Or even, today?? (You can! You totally can.)

Imagine what that would do for you both, your writing life and you! Just think how that would feel. 

Whew! That was a lot of festive work. Reward yourself with cake. Maybe have a little dancing party to celebrate new possibilities.

Before you go, pour yourself one last drink, and read yourself this quote from George Eliot. It's a toast, to you and your future writing life:

It's never too late to be who you might have been.

If you've been discouraged about your writing life lately, it's not too late. You can still be the writer that you want to be. So let's drink to that.

And now you're free to take your party favors and put them in your writing area. Tie the balloons to your writing chair, and set the flowers on your desk.

And maybe savor the celebration a bit longer, by diving into some lovely reading. Or even--you know--write something. 

Ooh. The ideal after-party.

Two quick side-notes: 

Heather Sellers is the first person I can remember who described the writing life as a relationship rather than just a "job" that you can pick up or put down. And that totally changed how I see my working life. I hope it's a metaphor that you like too!

- Sarah Jenks teaches how to make a future lifestyle possible right now (though she writes from the angle of positive body image and moving into a fuller life). I borrowed some of her principles for thinking about what we want in the future for our writing, and applying it to the present. So, thanks to her brilliant work for that!

Celebrate the Relationships that Make Your Writing Possible

It's tempting for us writers to think we're creative geniuses, at the center of our own little universes. It's tempting to forget (or ignore) everyone who is and has supported us. ... Let's not do that. |

When you're throwing yourself into your writing work, and putting every little bit of your brain and heart into it, you can get a little... how shall we say... self focused.

To an extent, that's a really good thing.

I will always champion self-care and self-awareness and grace and rest and all those things. You're the one most able to monitor how you're doing, how you're handling stress, and if your imagination needs some oomph. You have to pay attention to how you're doing.

But it's easy to let this self-focus thing get out of hand. Right?

It's ghastly to say it out loud, but after too many days of manipulating fictitious events, I can start thinking that I'm the creative genius at the center of the universe.

That's not a habit I want to develop.

And if you've ever met anyone with a runaway ego, you know how ugly this can get.

We can all see how disgusting it is when someone forgets how many people have helped them, supported them, sacrificed for them.

Yikes. But it's a cautionary tale for us writers.

Because it is so easy to get caught up in our work.

It's ultra absorbing, making worlds out of our brains! It's easy to take for granted the people we rely on--whether they're helping our households run more smoothly, or dishing out emotional encouragement, or helping us financially. 

It's so easy to forget what other people are doing for us. 

If you are fortunate enough to have a person, or a few people, or--let's dream big--a whole tribe who thinks that what you're doing is Okay, and who support you in any way--

Then how about celebrating them this weekend?

Whether with gifts and flowers, or a long coffee date that is not about all your writing dilemmas, or maybe some good old-fashioned public acknowledgement of everything that they've done to help you. Of what you owe them.

Thank them out loud.

Sound good? 

Here, I'll go first.

I know it's cliché to say that my mom is my number one fan, but, well...

My mom is my number one fan.

I'm super fortunate in that the rest of my family is awesome and extremely supportive as well. But my mom is the person who actually modeled writing for me. 

For as long as I can remember, she had a writing desk with story ideas posted above it, as well as a growing collection of books about how to write. She talked about her stories, her characters, and her work, which taught me that this writing thing was Normal and Okay to do.

She always encouraged my sisters and me to read, helping us haul our library loot home and back again. She read out loud to us at night. She made up stories on the spot when we were bored.

She gave me spiral notebooks and story prompts when I was in second grade, she read my first attempts at poetry (eek!!) when I was in fifth, she was one of my first readers of my honors thesis in college, and she's the first one I'll let read my ramshackle rough drafts now.

We share books, tips, conferences, and anything we're thinking through. We talk about process and structure; we share writerly woes and writerly joys.

We're in this together. 

I literally can't imagine what my writing journey would look like without her. Especially without her saying, from day one: 

  • You can do this. You are a writer.
  • Being a writer is a GOOD thing to be.
  • And also, you always double the amount of chocolate chips in a recipe.

We add books and words (and maybe chocolate) to the difficult places in our lives.

So clearly, I owe her a lot. And I'm realizing that I don't say that enough, out loud. 

It's her birthday this weekend, which is partly why I've been thinking about how much she's inspired me and how much I still depend on her encouragement.

And how I'd probably not be sane trying to write without her.

Who is that person for you? Who is it who gave you encouragement during a hard time, or who modeled reading or writing for you, or who believed in you early on?

Let's be bold in our appreciation. Let's celebrate the people who have supported us.

I'll be making my number one fan a cake this weekend. How about you?

Celebrate the Everyday (and Revolutionize Your Approach to Life!) with This One Little Habit

Give special attention to everyday moments, deepen your ability to observe, and, you know, generally revolutionize your whole approach to life with a simple, daily habit. Yes, really. |

For the last couple of months, I've been feeling restless and irritable and creatively unsettled.

I've had a hard time imagining scenes for my work-in-progress. And man, when your imagination bogs down, that draftwork feels pretty steep. 

And in spite of summertime's supposed reputation for laziness and rest, these weeks have been flyin' past. 

Anyone else been feeling like this? Anyone else with mid-summer blahs?

Well, about two weeks ago, something HAPPENED. My brilliant mother recommended this book to me: Art Before Breakfast, by Danny Gregory.


I know it's technically too soon to tell, but--I'm pretty sure it just changed my life. 

The book is about taking just a few minutes every day to make a teeny bit of art. Just doing a little bit of sketching. Maybe just drawing your breakfast.

No pressure. No trying to be a Picasso, a Da Vinci.

Just getting something down, one little line or squiggle at a time.

Danny Gregory makes a really, really good case for starting this habit. This little drawing habit.

I haven't been doing it for very long, but I can already feel a difference: in my brain, in my eyes, in the way I see things, in the way I think.

Crazy, right? I mean--just from doing a bit of drawing? Even though I'm not some kind of massively talented Artist?

YES! Here's what I've figured out: I'm always wanting to be better at observation, but I can't just think myself into being a better observer.

It's hard to just say, I'm going to see the world more clearly now!, and then try and do it.

I mean . . . what do you even do with that.

I've finally found a better way: Drawing is observation put to paper. Ta da! Which means it's a whole lot easier to practice than just randomly staring at the world. 

If you need a bit more selling, here's what's happening as I draw:

  • I'm suddenly surrounded by muses. Everywhere I look, I think: hey, I could draw that! I could draw that. I wonder how I might draw this? Which means that everything around me feels new and full of possibilities. And I feel more alert and live. (Goodbye, blahs!!)
  • The act of drawing forces me to confront my own assumptions. My brain has a shorthand answer for what I'm seeing: It's a round red tomato! But when I sit down to draw it, I notice all its bumps and flattened sides, the range of gold and brown freckles across the top, the long scar down its side. 
  • I'm finally in the moment. When I pause to draw something, I can feel myself slowing down in the best of ways. I feel myself breathing. My mind stops spinning and focuses in. I feel extremely present, extremely aware. 
  • It's one more kick in the pants for perfectionism. I'm embracing the beginner state: making messes, enjoying my mistakes, and trying ANYTHING! 
  • I'm stocking my writing-brain with TONS of visual details. I've said before that I can feel blind when I sit down to write. Well, I'm slowly filling up those reservoirs of imagery, texture, shading, and color. 

Can I be honest with you? I'm SHOCKED at how much I am loving this new habit. Really shocked.

I used to doodle off and on, for fun, occasionally. But drawing as a regular habit--well, that was something that Other People did, and I was fine without it.

I had no idea that a bit of sketching would unlock so much for me. 

And I've only just started! There's still so much more to do, so many more things to try! 

So--this is my Monday challenge to you, Lionhearted Writer! Try it. Just try it. Try drawing something every day this week.

Even if it feels a little silly. Even if you only have five minutes to spend on it. Even if the drawing is lopsided, or childish, or one-dimensional.

... Because it isn't about the final drawing at all, it's about the act of drawing, and what happens inside your wonderful writer-brain, your newly sharpened writer-gaze, your ultra-aware writer-heart.

This is especially especially for you:

- If you feel like you've been scooting over the surface of your life, and maybe not actually living it.

- If you feel like your ability to observe has grown dull. 

- If your writing life just feels less exciting than you'd really like it to be.

- If your imagination is a bit tired, and keeps handing you the same old answers.

- Orrrr, if you get an enormous case of the munchies when you're writing. (Tell me it's not just me.) Try this: draw instead. I don't know why it works, but it does for me!

Try it. TRY it. A teeny-tiny little sketch doesn't take long at all. Two minutes. You might change your whole life in two minutes! You have nothing to lose! 

One last thing: a bit of visual inspiration:

Creative juices stirring yet??

If you already do this--if you use drawing as a companion to your writing life--or if you're going to take me up on this and try a sketch or two this week, please encourage other writers (and me!) by leaving a shout out in the comments. Or, share it with someone who might need to hear it. The more sketching enthusiasts, the merrier!

Cool. Happy drawing!!

How to Resuscitate an Envy-Ridden Writing Life

Sometimes Envy shows up when we're writing, and everyone else's successes poison our work. It's a bad feeling. A bad cycle. Here's how to step out of it. |

If we're going to talk about celebrations this month--and we totally are!--then we need to talk about the big, oily vulture that camps in front of the party store, glowering at everyone.

You might have met him. His name is Envy.

... Yes, I realize how goofy that metaphor sounds. Here's something a lot less goofy:

If you're letting Envy hang out in your writing life, you're poisoning your work environment, your work-in-progress, and your imagination. And you definitely won't be celebrating much.

It's BAD NEWS, is what I'm saying.

Kinda makes a vulture metaphor sound cute in comparison.

Envy is a pretty easy companion to pick up. It slips in without you really knowing it. 

Here's how it found me: I was doing my work, minding my own business. Learning about the writing life, learning how to write novels. I realized how good I wanted to be, and how far I still had to go to get there.

The "apprenticeship" phase of my writing life has taken a lot longer than I ever expected. I can now say that's a good thing, but while I was courting envy, I really REALLY couldn't see that.

Meanwhile, everyone else I knew sprinted past me. 

Former classmates, who I didn't think could even speak whole sentences clearly, began writing books and were apparently having much more fun than I was. The next publishing phenomenon was the same age I was when I started writing. 

I was even irritated by the non-writers: They were getting promotions, moving up career ladders, earning secondary degrees, traveling to every continent.

It seemed like everyone else was successful: And I felt like I was actually getting dumber. Losing my grip on words. And kind of generally hating everyone. 

Some days it was hard to get out of bed.

And that's when I realized that, hey, I wasn't alone in my writing work anymore. I had this huge stinking vulture keeping me company, clicking its talons on my desk and grinning at me. (Vultures can grin. I just decided that.)

Get the picture? It's an ugly one. 

And when there's a vulture on your writing desk, well then. It's pretty obvious why you're not hanging balloons in your study, stringing up banners, baking cakes, and giving yourself and your writing life party favors.

Envy is the anti-party. The total opposite of celebration.

Look. I get it. I'm kind of making light of it here, but when you're really stuck in this cycle of envying others' successes, and hating your own work, things look pretty bleak. The reasons to not celebrate are everywhere. 

And there's a pretty big trend of writers hanging out in frustration and sadness and depression. How many stories have you heard of writers wallpapering their offices, bedrooms, or bathrooms with the rejections that they received? 

Can I just go ahead and say: that is the WORST idea for wallpaper I have ever heard.

I know, I know. I'm probably getting kicked out of all the writing clubs for saying that. But SERIOUSLY. Staying surrounded with failure? (Even if you're being very grown-up about it and not seeing it as failure... or pretending you don't see it as failure...) 

Can we just NOT DO THAT.

Because I have a much, much much better idea for wallpaper. 

It is backbone-strengthening, vulture-banishing, and probably a lot prettier than those form rejections.

Also: it just might get you out of your envy cycle. Yes, you. Yes, really.

But it does take a tiny commitment on your part: You have to get some paper (any kind of paper!) and a writing instrument (any kind! it's your wallpaper after all: what do you want to look at?). 

Okay, got it? Here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna make some lists.

About what we're grateful for.

No, don't roll your eyes at me. I get it: Gratitude is having a moment right now, and if the gratitude posts on Facebook from the writers you know are what got you into this mess, then I'd say very lovingly that you need to get off Facebook for a while.

Seriously. The vulture LOVES it when you go on Facebook. Take a break.

Gratitude is our anti-poison. The antidote to envy.

Envy blinds us to what is good, right now, right here, in our writing lives as they are. Gratitude fights back, by lighting up what we know. Showing the truth. It helps us see clearly again. 

So are you ready? Here's the first one: 

Start by making a big list of words you like.

Let's celebrate words! They can be your favorites, or they can be ones you like the sound of right now. They can have lovely definitions and etymologies, like gossamer, or they can be comic-book words, Dr. Seuss words, like zap and kerfuffle and pow.

Okay? Take at least five minutes. Fill as many pages as you can. Go, go, go!

Yes, you really have to. You can't just think these words: it doesn't work like that. You're a writer with a case of the Envies: you get out of it by writing. I promise.

(If you can't think of a single word you like, run grab a dictionary--yes, a real dictionary--and just flip through the pages. Take some time. Get acquainted with words. The weird ones, the prickly ones, the impossibly long scientific jumbles of suffixes and prefixes, the simple little two-letter ones. Fall in love with words again.)

Done with that one? Okay, here's your next: 

List the best moments you've ever had as a reader. All those times when you fell in love with a story, a setting, a character's voice. The moments when the writer was actually writing about you somehow, and you nearly fell off your chair when you read it. THOSE moments. 

Just capture those times, quick and fast, just a few words for each one will do. It's not for other people to read, it's for you, just to remember those wonderful times when someone else's words transformed you.

Okay? Good.

(If you can't think of any times when you loved reading, then go put your face into a bookstore, a library, SOMEWHERE where you can browse books, open them at random, find a new one that you love.)

Here's the last one. The trickiest, and yet the most important:

What do you love about the writing life? 

If that's too complicated, let's switch the question: What do you like about the writing life? What might you appreciate about it--you know, on a good day? What are the good places?

Is it the buzz of a new idea, just at the moment when you realize it will be your next story? The hole-in-one feeling when you finally get the right name for that one character? The dialogue exchange you wrote, and you felt like you were taking dictation, and not like you were thinking at all?

Maybe it's the writing tools you love--watching ink seep into paper, or text fly across a once-blank screen. Maybe you like the feel of a book in your hand. Or writing in a truly lovely leather journal.

Try to get as many things down as you can. Try for a dozen. If you can't get to a dozen, try at least six. If you can't get to six, try for two.

Write down at least one good thing about the writing life. One good thing.

And put it above your desk. Put it where you'll see it.

And then add to it, every day. 

Make it as easy for yourself as possible. Go basic. Go simple. But this is part of how I crawled out of envy, how I lost my vulture writing companion:

I figured out what was good. And I wrote it down. 

So, what about you? Did you do it? Did you make your three lists? How did it go?

Keep them handy. And try to add to them whenever you can. Read them over to encourage yourself.

We writers need to remember our love of words, our love of stories, and our love of this chosen vocation. Yes?

Because we survive the dark places in the writing life by feeding what is good. Writing them down. Turning them into wallpaper.

Focusing on the good has been one of the best ways for me to turn around my ugliest writing moods. That and, you know, chocolate.

Use 'em both. Use 'em often. Whenever you suspect a vulture approaching.

Why Cake and Confetti Should Be a Part of Your Writing Life

A sense of celebration in your work will ABSOLUTELY help you become a better storyteller. Here's how. |

Here's the sad truth: Until a couple of years ago, I thought that if something was worth doing well, it was worth doing STERNLY.

Work ethics are not for being happy and enjoying life, I thought. They are for GETTING STUFF DONE.

So. I got a lot of stuff done. A lot of words written. 

But frankly, it wasn't a lot of fun. I didn't enjoy the process. And it made the writing life feel about a thousand times harder than it really needed to feel.

So I've changed my tune. I'm bringing a more celebratory attitude into my writing life!

And you know what I've figured out? It actually makes me a BETTER WRITER. Crazy, right? And yet so true. 

Wanna join me? Here are four ways that celebration makes us better at our job of making stories.

1: Enjoyment is a currency.

Let's be real: If writing is your gig, you're either a) not getting paid a TON, or b) not getting paid at ALL.

(If money is pouring into your lap, then I'm super happy for you. Cake is still a good idea, though.)

If you're not getting paid much for writing, then how much sense does it make to also have no fun when you write? How wise is it, really, to have an anti-celebration mindset? 

One of the ways that I "pay" myself for writing is by loving it. Does that make sense? 

I mean, I know plenty of people who get paid real money for what they do all day. And they hate what they do. Real money ... for a job they really hate. 

That just doesn't sound like a great deal to me. What's a better deal? Getting little-to-no money for a job I really really love. 

(I know, I know. The best option is for us to get a lot of real money for a job we really love. We'll get there one day, lionhearts.)

In the meantime, having a job that I love, a job that feels festive, that feels like a word-party and a story-celebration... that's my take-home pay.

2: An attitude of celebration makes us generous.

Have you ever read a book that felt like it was a gift? Like every sentence was crafted and given to you? 

Those are the reading experiences we dream of and long for, right? 

Think back to the last time you felt that way. The last time a book absolutely wrapped you up in delight. Remember the title, the feeling?

Okay. Here's my theory: I don't think the author of that book was the Ebenezer Scrooge of writing.

I doubt very much that the author was sitting at a desk, piecing the words together with an I-hope-you-burn attitude toward readers.

I'm guessing this author wasn't a miser with imagery, description, and the emotional force behind the words.

I bet they shared themselves with you, the reader. And that the book was born out of an attitude of joy for the work. 

Even if the book was hard to write. Even if the subject matter was difficult. Nevertheless: a deep joy for the process of writing itself. A sense that this transaction between writer and reader is worth celebrating.

This feeling was wonderfully expressed by a Pixar animator, in one of those bonus feature interviews on a DVD. (I can't remember which movie or which animator. Super unhelpful, I know. Sorry. Maybe it was Monsters, Inc. Try that one.) 

Anyway: He said that the work of making the movie--though long and hard--was like creating a surprise party for the viewers. 

A surprise party.

Every amazing frame of the movie, or the next twist in the plot, was like another gift that they were handing their audience.

And he was grinning as he said it. His excitement for the process: it was completely evident in his face, his manner. 

I love that. It's the ideal attitude for us story-tellers.

We should be writing surprise parties for our readers. And the process of putting those parties together? It wouldn't hurt for that to feel fun and festive as well. 

3: Celebration is anti-perfectionism. (You know I'm all about that!)

Where there is a real, healthy, hearty celebration, an honest-to-goodness party, perfectionism has to leave. It just does.

Because everyone can tell it's not enjoying itself. It's too busy freaking out about how the napkins aren't lined up exactly, and the cheeseball is slumping a little, and the frosting on the cake isn't QUITE the best consistency--

And yet. Everyone is having a good time, people are laughing, the kids are running around like little crazies, and the guest of honor can't stop smiling. 

There is no room at the party for perfectionism.

Everyone's having a great time. Even with the mess, even with the uncertainties, even when things don't go exactly perfect

Everyone's doing great. So perfectionism is out of a job.

And it's the same in the writing life.

When you are determined to enjoy the process, when you're tossing confetti at your story in spite of the way the plot doesn't line up, and even though there's a massive disconnect in your characterization, and even when you have millions of hours still to put in--

When you're still enjoying it, and when you're still treating it like a party, perfectionism gives up on you.

And that is the best news for your story. 

4: Celebration welcomes creativity.

When I'm really enjoying the process of putting together a story, I'm willing to stick with it even longer. I'll tease out certain elements that I would otherwise rush over. 

When I'm enjoying the brainstorming sessions, I'll push to keep searching for the exactly spot-on idea, instead of just grabbing the first workable one I think of. 

It all starts to work together! The generosity mindset plus a willingness to hang with the process a bit longer: that means more ideas to choose from, and a broader range of possibilities.

Which means more time practicing craft. Which means an all-around better and more creative story. 

And THAT'S the grand prize. That's the whole piñata! A wonderful story coming from a healthy writing life: that's exactly what we were here celebrating to begin with.

5: Um, also... my birthday is coming up!!

I turn 31 on the 31st! Gaaaa!!! 

Probably that's not going to make a difference in your writing life. (Though I'd hate to make assumptions or anything.)

But seriously. On my birthday last year, it dawned on me how profoundly bad I am at most celebration. Really. REALLY

want to celebrate, I see the need for it, and it sounds like a good idea--but when it comes right down to it, I'm not awesome at this whole party-making thing. 

So I'm looking at this month in general--and the thirty-first in particular!--as a chance to get a LOT better at celebrating. 

Celebrating the birthday: yes. But more than that.

I want to get so much better at recognizing opportunities for celebrating everything else around me: The stuff I take for granted, as well as the chances that drop in my lap. I want to bake a cake for the things that are ordinary and mundane, and I want to rise to the occasion when something grand and spectacular is afoot.

This August = Celebration Rehab. 

Will you join me?

Let's go get some confetti.

If you want to get celebrating right away, here are a few ways to bring a more festive mindset into your writing life: Have a Dance Party, Make Your Office Awesome, and Give Yourself Permission to Play.

Whoa. You're off to a great start!