34 Ways to Deliberately Grow Your Writing Practice (and Meet Your Edge!)

If you want to improve your writerly skills, without trading in a happy writing practice, I've got your back. Here's how to meet your edge, with grace and goodness. | lucyflint.com

Hello, my lovely lionhearts! Welcome back. We kicked off this month by getting excited about how we, as writers, get excellent at our work.

In other words, we talked about deliberate practice

If you missed it, here's the idea in a nutshell: Deliberate practice is about leaning forward in our work. Not just going through the motions, or merely putting in the time. It's about making each minute count.

My gut response to that idea is: Sounds awesome! But then I have to ask: Will this turn me into a very stressed out, jittery, grim sort of writer? Because if so, no.

Fortunately for all of us, there's a simple way to make deliberate practice sustainable. A way to bring as much curiosity and playfulness into it as we do perseverance and intentionality.

The key to it all is this little phrase: Meet your edge. 

As a process, it looks like this: Seek out the rim of what you are used to doing. Find the place where you would naturally want to give up, where you hit the limit of what's comfortable. 

Then take one step out of your comfort zone—not fifty steps out, not even ten steps out, just one step outside your comfort zone—

and work there.

THAT is how growth becomes doable, sustainable, practical, and, oh yeah, super dang effective.

Excited yet? Me too.

Now, because this kind of thing doesn't work at all if it isn't practical, I've brainstormed a bunch of ways to put this to work, right this minute, wherever you're at.

Most of them are pretty small moves, designed to make one aspect of your writing game a little bit sharper. And how you use them is up to you: You might take just one and focus on it for a week (or a month!) and watch yourself steadily improve.

Or grab a handful that seem to fit you, and work with them. Or try a new one each day, for more than a month of deliberate, edge-expanding practice. 

(Of course, everyone's "edge" is different, depending on where you are in the writing life. But take a look at each suggestion anyway, because getting even better at the basics is one way we can all meet our edge!) 

... Oooh, do you hear that? The next level of writing excellence is calling.


Here are 34 ways to practice writing deliberately!

1. Internalizing Story Structure: After finishing a novel or a movie, take five minutes to jot down the key structural points of the narrative. (I like using the three-sentence Story Spine model that Shawn Coyne describes at the beginning of this article.)

2. Dissecting Scene Structure: While reading a novel or watching a movie, pause after an especially loaded scene and take a moment to break it apart. How exactly did it begin and end? How did the writer build it to a climax, and what did it change for the overall narrative? Sketch out the skeleton of the scene to see how it was achieved.

3. Honing Dialogue: Copy out the guts of a dialogue exchange (just the stuff in quotes, without any of the extra descriptions or tags). Read those spoken words out loud, and get a sense for how dialogue sounds—especially the rhythms and beats behind a really good exchange. (This is great to do for published works you admire, or for tightening your own work.)

4. Analyzing Wordcraft: There's something about copying out someone else's work by hand. It helps you go from merely reading it, to seeing its nuts and bolts. Grab a work you admire and copy out an especially well-constructed paragraph. Study it phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence. (But obviously, um, don't take credit for someone else's work.)

5. Sprucing Vocabulary: Shake up the words that you tend to rely on by doing a deep dive into a book of poetry, a children's reference book, or your favorite dictionary. Savor the new mix of specific nouns and verbs, and push yourself to use a few in your next writing session.

6. Surveying Novel Skills: Grab a few favorite novels and check out how each author handles something you're having difficulty with. Try comparing story openings; chapter openings; chapter endings; dialogue; descriptive passages; or action scenes. Get really clear on how each author is choosing to address that area, and how effective their choices are—why they work, why they don't. (And there's nothing like forcing yourself to write down one clear sentence describing what you've learned, to be sure that you're actually figuring it out. So scribble down specific notes as you go!)

7. Clarifying What Didn't Work: When you encounter a novel or a movie that you hate (or even just felt meh about), push yourself to pinpoint exactly what didn't work for you. Where, precisely, did they fall off track? What could they have done differently to improve the whole story? The more specific and comprehensive and relentless you are with this, the more you build your own story-rescue muscles.

8. Taking Action: I don't know if you're this way, but it's easy for me to read helpful writing books without taking any real action. Next time you find some helpful writing advice, instead of nodding and then maybe forgetting about it (though with great intentions, of course!), challenge yourself to take whatever extra step is required to put part of it immediately into practice... right away.

9. Listening for Cadence: Read your own work out loud. This is common advice for a really good reason—the ear can catch what the eyes sometimes miss when it comes to pacing, rhythm, and overall coherence.

10. Improving Description: Take an extra five minutes to sharpen a descriptive passage in your work. Challenge yourself to choose extra-clear nouns and vivid verbs. Make each sentence as specific as possible.

11. Interviewing Characters: Take the character who feels the weakest in your project, and give them five minutes of your undivided attention. Imagine them sitting with you in the room. I mean, really. Try to bend reality. Freak yourself out a little. And then jot down anything that they decide to say to you. (The more I come back to conjuring up my characters, to making them real and alive and right next to me, the more amazing my story becomes.)

12. Expanding the Brainstorm: The next time you need to brainstorm something, push yourself to come up with twice as many ideas as you think you'll need—in half the time. Try fifty ideas in five minutes. You just might astonish yourself at how creative you get in that last minute.

13. Sharpening Observation: Take a familiar object and come up with five new ways of describing it. Try using senses you don't usually apply in this case. Brew new metaphors; create an unusual significance.

14. Noticing the Details: After you've been away from your writing desk, challenge yourself to create a clear, accurate, two-sentence description of something you've just experienced: maybe the quality of light in your kitchen, a summary of the conversation you just had with friends, or the feel of the weather outside.

15. Enlivening Setting: Challenge yourself to make a list of what makes a place (real or imagined) feel unique. And try to work the senses that you tend to forget about—maybe the quality of the air, the less noticeable sounds, the textures, the smells. 

16. Visualizing Specifics: Sketch a five-minute map of one of the settings that you're working on. A piece of storyscape that you haven't mapped yet: maybe a road, a section of a city, or even a room—in as much detail as if you were going to literally build a set for it.

17. Defining the Problems: When you're facing a story snag or other problem in your work, take a few minutes to very clearly articulate what's wrong. Force yourself to get specific and succinct about exactly what isn't working and why. (It's too easy to have a vague sense of unease and then rush off to fix it, without being certain about what has gone wrong. But finding clarity can be half the battle!)

18. Stimulating the Imagination: Take five minutes to think about how well-fed your imagination feels right now. What are you missing? What are you craving? Brainstorm a mini list of creative inputs that sound amazing—do you need a great nature documentary, a trip to an art museum, a visit to the best bakery in town, a travel book with tons of pictures, or a TED talk festival? Get clear on what you need, and block out time soon to do it. 

19. Nurturing Curiosity: Grab a reference book at random and browse it for 5 minutes. Let your imagination get excited. (Seriously, do it. You never know where your next incredible idea is going to come from. It could be waiting for you in that reference book!)

20. Journaling Your Life: One way to keep growing as a writer is to take notes on your own life. If you don't yet have a journaling practice, try writing just one page a day—maybe first thing in the morning, or last thing before you go to bed. (If that's too much, try half a page. You can seriously handle half a page.)

21. Redirecting the Overplan: If you tend to fall down the overplanning spiral of hundreds of to-do items on dozens of lists, this is your deliberate practice! The next time you catch yourself overplanning, go ahead and finish your list. Then walk away—into another room or just outside. Take a few deep breaths and clear your mind for a sec. And then decide, from your gut, what the top three-to-five items should be. The things that honestly, truthfully, you-know-it-in-your-core matter the most. Write those down on a tiny slip of paper. And begin by working only on those things. (This works for me every. single. time.)

22. Accepting Rest: It is impossible to work well for long when you're overtired. If meeting your edge means showing up for your work well rested, then take a nap. If it means napping every day, then nap every day! 

23. Revolutionizing Your Mindset: Take five minutes at the start of every writing session and practice believing in yourself. (I know. It sounds hokey, but it could literally change everything for you, especially if you've been struggling. Read the second half of this post if you need more convincing.)

24. Protecting Boundaries: Step back from one thing this week that you know will drain your energy/creativity without giving much back to you. Practice saying no. (You have my permission to get addicted to this: protect your writing time and energy, my friend!)

25. Deepening Self-Kindness: If it's easy for you to be harsh with yourself, then meeting your edge is gonna look a lot like practicing grace. Take two minutes to write yourself an encouraging note, and post it by your writing spot. Work on consciously agreeing with it when you see it. High five yourself.

26. Focusing Consistently: Do a little distraction clean-up. What tends to slice into your focus while you're working? Texts? Music? Internet? Notifications? Whatever it is, eliminate your pet distraction for a week. (And then another week. And then another...)

27. Bettering Your Work Space: What's the one thing that bugs you the most about your writing space? Is there something that's just a little out of place, that keeps slowing you down, that needs a little extra organization or cleaning or attention? Take five minutes to make it better.

28. Braving the Blank Page: Teach yourself to conquer the blank page by practicing with five-minute segments. (No kidding!) Pull out a blank sheet of paper. Commit to having no standards whatsoever for the quality of the writing you're about to do. If it comes out all wonky, that's great. Seriously. Set a timer for five minutes, and the moment you start the timer, just write. It can be about how your day went; it can be the secret history of every little knick-knack on your writing desk;  or it can be about your favorite character in your current writing project. Anything. Write till the timer stops. Repeat, until blankness no longer scares you. This has actually worked for me, I promise. (When we stop being afraid of the blank page, we become literally unstoppable as writers. Think about that for a sec.)

29. Holding Space: Practice accepting the truth that the writing process is messy. It just is! Allow a bad sentence (section, chapter, subplot) to exist in a draft for now. Let yourself be okay with the roughness of a rough draft, instead of tumbling into a hyper-perfection-seeking cycle. 

30. Refusing to Be Bullied: The next time you feel like comparing your work with someone else's work, or comparing where you are in your writing life with where someone else is: Stop. The next time self-doubt comes prowling and wants to sharpen its claws on you: Stop. Comparison and self-doubt do not have your back, and you don't need to listen to them. Be on your own team. Take a deep breath, and accept yourself and where you are. You are exactly where you need to be, my friend! 

31. Increasing Your Writing Stamina: Start adding a little more time to your writing sessions, or working a smidge past your usual stopping point. Maybe add 50-100 more words than you normally aim for, or working 5-10 minutes longer at a stretch.

32. Knowing When to Pause: If you tend to work yourself too hard and burn your brain to a crisp (you know who you are!): one way to meet your edge is to give yourself an honest-to-goodness break in the midst of your work. Take three-to-five minutes and step away. Close your eyes, or give yourself a chance to stretch, or go outside and stare at something non-digital for a while. 

33. Extending Attention: Instead of giving in to the impulse to rush (we all fight it!), try sticking with a writing project a little bit longer. Maybe spend five more minutes on a paragraph you're tempted to hurry through, or one extra week on a development stage that you're itching to skip over.

34. Releasing Finished Work: And sometimes, the thing we most need to practice doing, is letting something be done, instead of endlessly nitpicking at it. Everything on earth has a flaw in it, my friend. What is it truly time for you to release?


Deliberately Practicing Deliberate Practice

This all comes down to being on the lookout for your own edge. Where do you feel yourself shrinking and saying, Nah, no, not today, not feeling it, not now

Where is it easier to slump right now—in your craft, in your emotional health, in how you set up your work? How can you encounter that edge of yours, and work there?

Again, this is not about leaping way past our edge, about doing things that are unwise, or working where we are honestly not ready to work.

Instead, it's about noticing where we want to dodge something that feels a little too hard, a little too real, a little too taxing. Something that's a bit uncomfortable.

And instead of skipping over it, we focus in.

Take a deep breath. Choose to smile through it. And work right there.

Where can you bring extra curiosity, attention, playfulness, and grit, into your writing work this week? If you have more ideas for ways to "meet your edge," I'd LOVE to hear them, so please post a comment!

The Great Setting Round Up: 65 Possible Settings For Your Work-In-Progress!

Dreaming up new settings is usually the last thing on my mind during a drafting marathon... which is why I've pulled together 65 ideas for settings, ready to use! Check them out, and see if you find the next location you were looking for. | lucyflint.com

When it comes to inventing settings, I run out of imagination pretty fast. Especially when I'm in the middle of a drafting marathon. I'm spending my efforts juggling characters and conflicts, and I'm not really paying attention to where these characters and this conflict are happening.

Basically, I'd love to just set everything against a green screen and go from there!

But the dedicated writer in me knows that setting is a huge opportunity for shaking up a scene.  

And since many of us are spending November drafting as quickly as possible, I thought I'd do a kind of setting round up, to help all of us out.

I'm not saying that these are all brand-new setting ideas you haven't considered before... but there's probably at least a few that might be good contenders for that one scene coming up.

Some are pretty basic, others are a bit more quirky ... and some are pretty out there. (Hey, why not?)

A lot of these ideas will depend on your characters and your story, and how the prompt would best work for you. Others are more scene elements (like weather) that you could layer into an existing setting to give it a little more oomph.

But whatever you're writing, I hope you'll find some fun ideas here to help you along!

Sound good? Here we go! In no order in particular, what if your scene took place in, on, or near: 

  1. A tree: in the trunk, or below the roots, standing on a massive stump, climbing the branches, or even up in a tree house
  2. A quarry or a mine
  3. A furnace or boiler room
  4. An ornamental garden
  5. Wherever they house the transportation: garage, airplane hangar, rocket storage facility, bicycle lot...
  6. A specialty shop: for glass knick-knacks, ornamental clocks, fountain pens, marbles... (for some ideas, check this, this, this, and this!)
  7. A sand bar in the middle of a river
  8. Any kind of kennel, stable, or animal housing
  9. A poison garden (yes really!) 
  10. A factory—maybe they make really basic everyday equipment, or maybe something ultra fancy and quirky and specialized—or maybe candy. Candy would be great.
     
  11. The sewer system or some network of underground tunnels
  12. An abandoned/ruined hospital or asylum
  13. A cave
  14. A plant nursery
  15. Your antagonist's favorite landmark: something extra-special from your antagonist's personal history
  16. The place where the people in your storyworld exercise: whether that means a track for running, a place for boxing or heaving weights, or training in whatever way
  17. An orchard or vineyard
  18. On top of something that they'd normally be traveling in: like a train, bus, car, subway, submarine, spaceship...
  19. Someplace where the air isn't good to breathe: maybe after a chemical accident, or a place that vents poisonous vapors from underground, or maybe the scene of a diabolical attack... wherever they are, the air is bad.
  20. A river crossing—maybe a ferry, or a footbridge, or stepping stones, or some kind of natural formation
     
  21. The place of greatest historical significance to your characters, their families, their government, or their storyworld: where the town was founded, where a great victory was won, where an old hero died, etc.
  22. A hot air balloon
  23. A field of grass, crops, or a pumpkin patch
  24. A laboratory
  25. The house of a person not in the scene... especially if that person would hate that they're there
  26. How about in a sinkhole? (Hey, it could happen!)
  27. Your storyworld's tallest building: put some clouds below your characters' feet!
  28. An immense beach: maybe a scuzzy, sludgy, awful one where you'd expect to find dead bodies, or maybe one that's packed with a zillion people, and, I don't know, a couple hundred corgis? Or maybe a sandcastle-making competition?
  29. A symphonic concert, a play, an opera, or a rock concert. Maybe in the crowd, or backstage, or heck, onstage in the midst of the action... 
  30. A lighthouse, beacon, or some sort of signaling tower
     
  31. A graveyard, cemetery, mausoleum, or a morgue
  32. At some kind of studio—for ceramics, or painting, or dancing
  33. A desert
  34. An unusual staircase (check out these amazing spirals!)
  35. Standing on ice (because slippery footing is always interesting and maybe even metaphorical...). Maybe in the middle of a parking lot, or maybe the middle of a lake
  36.  Wherever they might be if one of the participants in the scene is in a casket (dead or alive, your choice!)
  37. A greenhouse
  38. A coat closet, storage closet, or locker space
  39. An underground bunker or house—especially if it's deeper underground than your character would like to be
  40. Any place with ancient statuary, whether it's something major, like Stonehenge or Easter Island, or something tiny, and known only to a handful of characters in your storyworld
     
  41. Some kind of wind tunnel, or any place where your characters have to talk or fight against the wind
  42. In the middle of a lake, pond, ocean, on something other than a boat
  43. A desert oasis!
  44. The set of a film (a major Hollywood production, or a tiny indie film, or even a home movie) or a photo shoot
  45. The banks along a river
  46. An escalator, elevator, or moving sidewalk
  47. The cockpit of a plane that's maybe about to crash...
  48. A stolen boat (or yacht, or pirate ship, or cruise liner...)
  49. The tree in the forest that's haunted, cursed, the oldest, or just plain weirdest
  50. A war memorial or some other local monument
     
  51. Somewhere "behind the scenes" in your storyworld's most glamorous hotel—in the laundry area or the staff room or the cleaning closet, perhaps?
  52. A museum—whether especially grand, or tiny and quirky, or some specific niche. It could play to what your character most loves or most hates, or whatever most makes him/her uneasy...
  53. At (or behind, or under...) a waterfall
  54. An especially strange forest: maybe one that's crooked, intricate, despairing, massive, or just especially beautiful
  55. A quicksand pit, bog, marshy area, or mud slick
  56. An observatory
  57. In the midst of a mist
  58. At a funeral, visitation, or wake, of someone your characters may or may not know
  59. Or at a wedding, engagement party, bridal shower, or baby shower (and again, they might not know the people involved!)
  60. At the source of a river (oooh, great literary resonance in that)
     
  61. A rooftop with an incredible view
  62. A library
  63. A "field" of something manmade—like windmills, solar panels, fog catchers
  64. Someplace where the characters aren't supposed to be at the zoo—the lion's cage, perhaps?
  65. Whatever kind of setting is the total opposite of the conversation/action taking place: clearing up mundane information at a soaring, glitzy setting, or having an explosive discussion on the soup aisle at the local store.

And there you go! I hope a few of these triggered some fun new setting ideas for your story. Good luck! 


By the way: if you checked out a few of the links, you'll also see that Atlas Obscura is one of my all-time favorite sites for anything setting related.

They just published an excellent book that I looooooove, and they send out fantastic daily emails if you sign up. Plus the site is just incredible to explore! Highly recommended resource for stirring our writerly imaginations: check 'em out! You just might browse for ages!

PS: And just to clarify, this isn't an affiliate link or affiliate anything. I just love their work and want everyone to know about them! 

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whew! That's a lot of power tools!! 

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

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

1) Remember the value of bridging ideas.

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

Why is that important? 

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

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

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

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

Know what I mean? 

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

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

Exciting, right? 

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

2) Shake your imagination up with a crazy challenge.

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

Such as?

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

No, seriously. That's what she said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Turn random into spectacular.

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

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

Here's how it works:

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

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

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

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

Make sense? 

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

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

And then? And then it gets really exciting: 

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

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

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

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

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

4) Get a new environment.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Your All-Purpose, Idea-Discovering, Secret Weapon! (My hands-down, favorite, most-used technique.)

The easiest, clearest, best, favoritest, all-purpose idea making strategy EVER. (I love it. Can you tell? I really love it.) | lucyflint.com

Last November, I had a ton of fun inventing a list of fifty off-the-wall plot twists to help out all my writing buddies doing Nanowrimo.

Fifty plot twists! I was surprised at how quickly I thought of them all (more to come on that!). And I loved the quirky list when it was done. (It's a little bizarre. Just what I love, haha!)

Well, it turned into my most popular post of all time. I'm thrilled that it's been such a helpful resource for thousands (and thousands!) of people. 

But the coolest thing about all that and what I love most about it: It was so easy to come up with all those ideas! Seriously!

To generate so many crazy plot twists in just one afternoon, I turned to a method that I've enjoyed using for a long time.

I learned it from Roger Von Oech's A Whack on the Side of the Head—which is a MUST READ if you want to supersize your creativity! 

He calls it creating an oracle. (Check out more of his explanation on his blog.)

I've seen this method other places too, but Von Oech's book was the first place I saw it. And he was the only one who referred to it as an oracle. Which is, let's face it, a pretty cool name.

I've mentioned it before on this blog, but it's such a life-saver that I had to talk about it again, here in the midst of Idea Camp

The premise of the oracle method is really straightforward and simple. But it's incredibly powerful. Why? Because your brain brings all the magic. And our brains are pretty incredible.

So, buckle up!

At the heart of it, the oracle method is all about connecting two dots. You provide Dot #1 (your question or problem). The oracle provides Dot #2 (a random word or concept, which usually feels completely unrelated to your question).

And then: your brain steps in and connects the dots.

That connection—sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, sometimes wild, sometimes fantastic—that is your new idea.

Sound fun? Because it's totally fun!!

Give yourself some time to practice it, and then marvel as your brain provides one solution after another.

So here's the real step-by-step. 

1) Find your oracle.

Yes, that sounds a bit weird. But all Von Oech meant was some book or resource that provide you with nouns.

I use a dictionary, or an encyclopedia. Or even, in a pinch, any novel or book lying around.

(He says you can even use a magazine and refer to the pictures... but I'd get too distracted!)

2) Define your problem.

Yep, you're all over this step by now!

You don't have to go mega in-depth, but you do need a crystal clear sense of what your problem is. The clearer you are, the better. This is your Dot #1!

3) Open your oracle and get a noun at random.

Open the book at random. And then grab a word off that open page. 

Oh, and don't try to select a juicy word.

At least until you get the hang of this, force yourself to get a random one: the top left corner, or the bottom right are good places.

Pick the very first noun there, and then close the oracle.

4) Consider your "answer."

So this word you've just grabbed? That's your marvelous Dot #2. And you owe it to yourself to give it a little thought.

You don't have to do a ton of research about it (unless you really want to!). Just mull it over in your mind for a second.

What does it mean? What images does it bring to mind? What special meanings might this word have for you? 

And then what are its other uses? Is it also used as a verb, or a proper noun? How many things could it mean? Does it represent other, bigger concepts as well? Are there metaphorical uses you're familiar with?

What else does it make you think of?

Feel free to jot some of these down. Again, it doesn't have to be laborious... just see what comes to mind, and take down a few notes.

If you have several angles to work with, you're in pretty great shape.

5) Give your brain the chance to connect the dots.

This is where it gets crazy and fun: the creative process up close! 

Decide that this Dot #2 somehow gives you the answer to your problem or question

Yes, that can feel a little weird. You might stare at it in frustration for a while, thinking, how in the heck are these two things related?

Because that's what you're looking for: A connection. 

Any connection. 

Give your brain a little space. Doodle on the edges of your paper. Stare out the window for a while.

Just keep turning the two things over in your mind: the problem, and this weird, doesn't-make-sense "answer." 

And keep looking for how they might be related.

It could be really off the wall. It could make you laugh. It might be too strange to credit at first.

But the more you play with it, the more you see how it actually, really, truly could work.

6) Call in extra help.

Usually one word is all I need for this. But now and then, I honestly can't think of anything workable with my first chosen word. I'll do all the thinking, and give myself time, and nothing breaks loose.

What to do? Flip open the oracle and grab a second word! Sometimes even a third. 

Play around with a few more concepts. See how your new words interact with the first one, how they're similar, how they contrast. And see how they react with your proposed problem.

Give them some time, and see what shows up!

So far, I've never needed more than three words to hit on a brilliant idea. So, even if you're frustrated with the process, hang in there! Let your brain play longer. Take a break and come back. Doodle more.

7) Take notes on your fledgling idea.

As soon as you feel like you're on to something, take those notes that you need! 

Flesh out the idea, add anything else that you're thinking of, the supporting details, the other information you'll need, anything you see in your head.

If your solution has stirred up more problems, you know what to do: Grab that oracle and launch into the next idea-finding session.

And then apply it to your draft or project, and you're off and running!

8) Repeat as necessary (and feel like a genius).

This gets easier—a lot easier!—with practice.

The more you trust the process, the longer you can hang in there when it feels uncomfortable. You get into a rhythm. You instinctively feel your way to the wild possibilities a lot faster.

Best of all? You get kind of addicted to that miraculous feeling of a new idea sparking in your mind.

(Because it is SERIOUSLY cool. And really fun.)

And then... go crazy! Invent to your mind's content. You can solve a dozen story problems in an afternoon. Or dream up fifty plot twists! ;)

This is truly the problem-solving technique that I use the most. It's easy, it's quick, and it's deliciously fun. 

Please give it a try, and let me know how it goes for you. 

Here's to overflowing with ideas! 

You Are Completely Surrounded By Potential Ideas: Here's One More Way To Capture Them!

You have a wealth of ideas right at your fingertips: here's a fun, easy way to capture them! | lucyflint.com

One of the most stimulating forms an idea can take is that of a marvelous title

Know what I mean?

A really juicy, intriguing, provocative title just gets my imagination whispering (and maybe bouncing up and down a little). 

Obviously, titles do so much to set the stage for a book.

They create atmosphere and build the world. Or they nod to the main characters and what they're up against. 

The best titles are a tantalizing welcome mat for the story inside. They wave their arms to the ideal audience, saying, "Come read me! You will LOVE this story!"

... Okay. I know. I get a little worked up about titles. 

But for those of us who are idea-seekers, titles are incredibly valuable: Even if you only have a title, you're set. You have a potent, miniature writing prompt. 

Come up with a title with the right kind of ring to it, and it's a bit easier to invent a story to go with it.

You start to develop a sense for the story, for what it might hold, what it promises. 

Big surprise: I love inventing titles, even when I don't have any plans for writing books to go with them. 

So, by now, I have a huge Title File. It's ... well, it's really, really big. 

I've arranged it by category: titles that refer to a character, a conflict, a central image, a setting, a genre. (And then of course, a miscellaneous section for all the crazy titles that didn't seem to fit.) 

When I used Scout Files to write a novel for Nanowrimo, I also used my Title File. I pulled out a bunch of titles that seemed to have the same feel as my central idea, and I used them as chapter titles for the whole project. 

Every day, I wrote a new chapter. And each chapter had a delightful, pre-brainstormed title. Which gave me an incredibly strong launch point for that day's work.

It sped up my process and guarded me against clichés. And it hugely influenced the sprawling, rambling, fun-for-me feel of that draft. 

Oh, TITLES. Look out: They can steal your heart.

There are two ways that I go after creating intoxicating titles.

1. Remix.

We've already established—multiple times—that I'm a total word nerd on this blog.

So, maybe it won't surprise you if I confess that I, ahem, make a game out of remixing titles. 

It's so fun. Seriously—it is SO FUN.

Here's what you do: looking at a bookcase or a list of books, you grab a few juicy titles. You can look at books that are near each other, or just pick whichever ones you like best.

Write 'em down. 

And then you just jumble up the words. Mix and match. Swap parts of titles around, until you get compelling images, phrases, ideas. 

And then you write down those titles in your Title File. 

Super straightforward. 

Did I mention it's easy? And fun? 

So... just for kicks, just because it's Monday, just because we like to have fun: here are a handful of titles from my bookshelf. 

  • Great Expectations
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society
  • Peace Like a River
  • So Brave, Young, and Handsome
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  • Wildfire at Midnight
  • The Wind in the Willows
  • The Woman in White

All right, lionhearts! Get in there and mix and match. Make some new titles!

There's no wrong way to do it: You can even cut words in half, or sprinkle in extra parts of speech when you need 'em. 

Remixing the above list might give you titles like:

  • At the Bottom of the Willows
  • The Brave, Mysterious Peace
  • Handsome Midnight
  • Pie Expectations
  • The River Society
  • The Sweetness in the Wind
  • In the White Wildfire
  • The Young Woman at Midnight

Just play around until you find titles you like. 

And—this is important—not every title has to be amazing. In fact, they don't have to be amazing at all. They might just have a ring to them that you find... intriguing.

Like: Would Pie Expectations be a series of essays about pie? Or would it be a weird kind of modern day Hansel and Gretel retelling? Or maybe it would be about a young girl who works in a bakery and changes the feel of her whole city when she ... 

Hmmmmm. See what I mean? A pretty calm title. But some interesting possibilities.

This is a great thing to do when you feel stuck on your work-in-progress, or when you need a warm-up, or when you can't work for whatever reason: Look over your bookshelves and fill a page with remixed titles.

2. Out of not-too-thin air.

This is when you just pluck titles out of your surroundings. When you turn everything that you're observing around you into a possible title.

No big explanation needed, because that's really all there is to it: Turn your environment into titles.

So for me, sitting here at my desk and looking out the window, some titles could be: 

  • Wildflowers in a Pitcher
  • The Undrunk Coffee (Oh, doesn't "the undrunk" sound like a zombie spoof??)
  • Supplements: A History
  • Pinestraw Afternoons
  • Heat (and What Happens In It)

One of my favorite ways to do this exercise is when I'm sitting in a coffee shop or a waiting room.

I listen and observe for a while, picking up bits of the moods, of the other conversations and interactions between the characters, I mean, people around me.

And I'll start dreaming up as many titles as I can. Usually I'll challenge myself to fill a whole page, and I'll try to exhaust every possibility that's right in front of me. 

Obviously, some of them are more quiet and less noteworthy. But they can still be valuable. 

Title files especially earn their keep when you use them in conjunction with your Scout Files and Idea Lists.

Once you start taking entries from the lists you've made, and stir in a few great ideas from your Scout Files, and sprinkle in some of these titles to help guide the way...

Whew!!

Seriously, the ideas start flying, and your brain fills in the blanks with much more ease.

That's why it's good news for us that title making is kind of, um, addicting.

You can do it literally anywhere, and it's only going to strengthen your work. 


I would LOVE to hear any of the remixed titles that you created from the list I gave you... or even remixes from your own shelves! And if your surroundings start whispering titles to you as well, feel free to share those too in the comments!

The Fun Way to Build an Army of Brilliant Little Ideas (Ready to Conquer Your Future Story Snags!)

This is a fun daily (or almost-daily) habit, guaranteed to result in an army of awesome, useable little ideas, ready to march in and conquer your future story snags. Did I mention that it's fun? Did I mention that it's easy? And it really, really works? You've got nothing to lose: let's dive in. | lucyflint.com

Hey there, Idea Campers. How are your imaginations feeling? Excited to hit the trails? YES! But also a bit hungry? Yep, mine too.

We already have three awesome, idea-generating lists at our fingertips, right? (If not, create these invaluable resources here and here.) 

Today we're supplementing that foundation with an easy, fun habit. Which also packs a huge punch. 

This is the habit that helped me build my favorite writing project EVER. (So if I'm a bit excited ... that's why.) 

And it is so simple—you'll love it. Ready?

I call it Idea Scouting. And it's one of the best ways to build an army of ideas that will absolutely march in and rescue you, whenever you need 'em.

So get your word nerd on, and let's dive in to what Idea Scouting looks like.

1. Run to your most beloved reference book.

The point of Idea Scouting is to develop a rich catalogue of ideas, right at your fingertips.

Where do you find these ideas? From fantastic reference books.

Any compendium of words, phrases, or facts will work splendidly: I'm having a fling with a set of old encyclopedias, and I'm also still in love with my Collegiate Dictionary. So that's what I head toward.

But any other collection of facts, random entries, explanations, or odd tidbits will be perfect.

Browse the reference section and see what strikes your fancy.

(My most recent favorite place for this kind of thing is Atlas Obscura: I signed up for their emails and now get an incredible selection of fascinating info emailed to me every day. Trust me, it's completely addictive!)

2. Read like a scout (and not like a student).

Here's the great thing about this kind of work: You don't have to dutifully copy out facts and dates. You're not writing a report. You don't have to care about any entry that doesn't grab you.

You're a scout

You're on the lookout for anything that glimmers.

You're walking through the woods of all this information with your eyes wide open for any motion, anything out of the ordinary, anything that strikes you.

In other words, it's meant to be fun. You're searching for what you naturally like—and there are no wrong answers for that.

Notice what you notice. And leave the rest.

What's awesome about this: you are a totally unique, super original person. And by grabbing the ideas that appeal to you, you're building originality right into your idea files. 

Which is GREAT news for all your future writing.

So feel free to play to your quirks and lean on all the subjects you most love.

3. Take notesand write wide.

This is the most important part of the whole Idea Scouting ritual: where your simple habit turns into mega-genius. 

But it's super easy. Almost effortless!

When you're reading, and you notice something that catches you—a word, a concept, a phrase that's fun, an image, or anything at all—you write it down, of course. 

I've created separate files for different categories: character ideas, setting ideas, miscellaneous concepts, etc.

And I've arranged mine alphabetically because I adore the alphabet. But whatever suits you will work just fine. 

Pull up your appropriate file, and jot down the tidbit that caught your eye.

But then you press just a bit further: Write down anything that your imagination is already telling you. 

In other words, you don't just copy down the words that sparked you. Add everything else that showed up in your brain. 

Maybe a definition brings to life in you a particular character, with a certain tone of voice. You write down at that entry everything you sense about the character, and maybe some exact dialogue as well. 

If another entry sounds like the perfect place name, you write that down, and anything about the place itself that you can see or sense. 

Or maybe there's just a word that you love: if you can see it clearly, add in the specifics about what you can see.

Remember that great Heather Sellers quote about writing down images instead of ideas? Yeah. Do that.

Because this is definitely a place for images.

The more you can see and hear and sense, and the more you write alllll of that down, the much richer these files will be when you need them.

THAT is what makes your Scout Files so valuable. Every idea comes partially prepped! 

At the moment of writing it down, it feels like almost no work at all. It's easy to write when you can see something clearly in your head, right? 

But when you're searching for something later, you'll have all that juicy imagination work all ready to go. 

COMPLETELY amazing. It's a game changer.

4. Keep coming back.

Turn the process into a habit, and you'll never be low on ideas.

So when do you do this? It's up to you.

Maybe it's the first ten minutes of your writing day. Or maybe once a week you have a thirty minute idea-finding festival. Or some other pattern.

The most important thing is: To do it regularly, and to do it in such a way that it's a fun exploration.

Not drudgery. Not something you have to do.

Keep it light. Ten minutes really works just fine! Long enough to find some ideas, and not so long that your brain turns to mush.

The other thing is: You'll want to come back to your Scout Files from time to time and scan them. Just check 'em out, read some of the entries, and see what stands out. 

Maybe you'll want this review to be a regular habit too. It can be really inspiring to breeze through a list of ideas and feel your imagination revving up!

Or, you can just wander back through whenever the urge strikes.

However you choose to do it, you'll definitely want to do a major review of all your Scout Files before starting a new project. (Or, of course, whenever you feel stuck!)

See what works for you. The goal is to feel refreshed—not like you have one more homework assignment hanging over your head.

Scout Files in Action:

How is all this helpful? Well, the process itself gets you thinking and searching and imagining like a writer, which is incredibly valuable training.

But there's another huge reason why I love Idea Scouting  and my Scout Files so much: those files are what fleshed out my current work-in-progress.

I had a slim, quiet little idea, something that wouldn't leave me alone. But there wasn't much meat on it.

So when I decided to take that idea out for a spin during Nanowrimo (way back in 2009!), I combed through my Scout Files. Especially my huge lists of possible characters and quirky concepts. 

I pulled out everything that snagged my heart or made me happy or seemed to fit with the atmosphere of my new idea, and I put them in a separate file of their own.

And then, as I hurtled through Nanowrimo's daily writing quotas, I snatched those prepped ideas every time I needed a new character, a bit of setting, a detail, a plot twist, a new layer to the conflict, or a chance reference. 

The result? A wacky, marvelously fun book that's packed full of ideas I love. (And which wasn't too hard to draft!)

It's become a book that totally grabs my heart. And it's turned into a trilogy, as those ideas launched more ideas.

... Not a bad payoff, for spending ten or twenty minutes every day, cheerily reading the dictionary (and feeling quite writerly).

YAY for that, right?

As you settle into this habit, you'll see that it radically ups your confidence. Eventually, you'll have your own army of ideas.

Wonderful notions for characters, settings, and amazing little details begging to be sprinkled through your next piece.

With that kind of back-up, you can march into any writing project ready for action.

... And also, can the nerd in me just say: it is super fun to work with ideas in a no-pressure situation. To be looking for delicious ideas before you need them.

There's another name for that. ... Hang on, what is it? Oh yeah: PLAY.

This is a great way to play as a writer! Because you're just messing around, reading a bit and letting your brain look around and scavenge what it will.

Wahoo!! This is what we love, am I right?

So which reference book will you be taking out for a spin? The incredibly useful dictionary, an agreeable encyclopedia, or some other reference that you're partial to? 

Dig in. Let your imagination ramble.

And relish the ideas that come running out to meet you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also? It can generate a bunch of quality ideas.

Which is why it totally belongs in Idea Camp.

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

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

About family. About loneliness. About myself.

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

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

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

Meaning: What our hearts know.

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

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

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

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

The strongest, brightest, strangest, sharpest memories.

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

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

Mmmmmmm!! I'm excited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's going onto the list? Memories. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is ridiculously fun to do, by the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oooooh.

Happy idea finding!


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

This Book Will Teach You How to Steal, Why Be Boring, What to Subtract, and 7 Other Supremely Helpful Things About Creativity

In the market for a spot-on book about creativity, with loads of useable, practical advice? Look no further. | lucyflint.com

Happy Monday, lionhearts! I have another book recommendation for you. It's quite likely that you've already picked it up, but if not, if not, well... you must!

It's Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, by Austin Kleon

Every time I reread this book, I get more out of it. (The sequel, Show Your Work, is also awesome, and it was one of the main reasons why I started this blog at all.)

You guys!! It's excellent! There is so much that you're going to love about this book. And since it's based on a top ten list, well, I thought I'd give you ten reasons why you'll love it:

1. For starters, and because I'm related to a designer and therefore I now Notice Such Things, I love the design of this book: small, square, with tons of hand lettering (swoon!) and memorable Sharpie illustrations: Kleon considers himself a "writer who draws," and the drawings and edited photos in here are just as valuable as the text.

2. Also, Kleon does this thing called blackout poetry. It seems simple, and then you try to do it yourself, and, um, it's tricky. Blackout poems pepper the book, and like the illustrations, they give you an extra layer of content.

(Plus, a new hobby. All you need is a Sharpie and a sheet of text... Try it!!)

3. All right, but let's talk about his "Ten Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative."

The first five-ish are about how to look at the world like an artist, how to combine ideas and techniques to make new ones, what to do with your inspiration, when to get started, what material to work from, why analogue skills are still important (love that!!), and how to use all of yourself in what you do. 

WHOA, right? So good. And it keeps going.

4. The last five-ish are more about being an artist in the world: how to think about your obscurity in the beginning, how to reach your audience, how to interact with other creatives (the lovely ones and the meanies), how to respond to the people you admire, as well as some awesome practical advice on how to not burn out.  

5. He presents a good mix of the practical with the creative. The result is a book that is super accessible, broken into bite-sized bits, yet still with plenty of butt-kicking potential, if you know what I mean.

It's not all theoretical. You can get your teeth into it and start using it right away. 

6. This book will push you. It will help you see what was right in front of you, begging to be used in your work.

If you're like me, it will also call you out on the places where you might be getting a little bit lazy, or a teeny bit precarious. ... I always re-tweak my attitude to work after going through this book!

7. It's also going to comfort you. You'll see yourself in some of these pages and say Hey! Awesome! Yeah! I do that too!

It will give you permission to be yourself, and then to be more of yourself. To dive in to the places that you thought your art wasn't going to reach. To support your writing brain with other creative pursuits. 

8. It's going to help you with the question of how to live like an artist, like a creative soul. He'll remind you of things you might have known or suspected but forgotten.

It's going to feel doable, all over again: how to give your wonderful-crazy writing self a place to live in the real world. You can do it.

9. It's a fairly quick read, making it ideal for a weekend creativity-retreat for yourself, or a week-long master class.

It's an excellent companion on your journey to being a better artist, a better writer, a better creative. 

10. After spending some time reading this book, you will want to get Making Things. Your brain will itch. Ideas will flow. And you'll be ready to dive in again.

What could be better than that??

As Kleon says at the beginning of the book: This book is for you. Whoever you are, whatever you make. 

You will love it. 

Happy stealing.

Escaping the Rut You Didn't Know You Were In

Search your manuscript for mini-ruts and brainstorm your way out. | lucyflint.com

When I reread my current work-in-progress draft, I realized how often I set scenes in the rain. 

Um: so many times. 

And the rain isn't much of an obstacle, either. More of a mood-setter. An atmospheric thing.

When I stepped back and looked at the draft as a whole, I could see what was happening: when the action was slowing, or when it was about to build, I thought: let's make this scene stand out. Let's make it a little different.

And I hauled out the rain machines.

What I didn't realize as I was drafting: my "little different" was actually the SAME THING. 

EVERY TIME. 

(Okay, once I used sleet, but still. That's a lot of rain.)

It didn't turn into a big obstacle: no one got hypothermia, no one came close to drowning, and there were no floods. Not even a really significant puddle experience.

It was just my way of shaking things up. Without--it turns out--shaking them up at all.

Creative rut alert.

So I took two minutes and brainstormed other ways to mess with weather and atmospherics. There's gotta be more than just rain, right?

Here's what I came up with: 

  • storm rolling in, so the sky is all green and the air feels troubled and uncomfortable... gloomy-dark clouds, a tree creaking
  • what about a bird storm? too many birds. oooh, starling murmurations!
  • hail! the characters are outside a lot: hail would hurt
  • what about wind? strong destructive winds, slight winds, a breeze bringing cobwebs with it, wispy seeds blowing by on a bright day
  • unusual cloud formations: anvil head clouds, mackerel skies, red clouds at night
  • what about floods, mudslides, uprooted trees, sinkholes? 
  • forest fire...
  • solar eclipse, lunar eclipse 
  • a meteor shower, meteorite falling to earth, a convenient little UFO

Obviously I still had rain on the brain, but I also uncovered some more interesting ideas. Starling murmurations! That would totally suit my story.

I love a good excuse to go on a list-making tear. So I started looking around my stories for other places where I was stuck in a mini-rut.

Guess what. I found a few others.

  • I give fun characters red hair. All the fun characters. All the red hair. Whoops.
  • Mysterious characters get gray eyes. I like mystery. There are way too many gray-eyed people in these stories!
  • And, I'm embarrassed to say, I was so intrigued by the idea of a one-armed man, that I have one-armed characters in four of my six novels. Yikes. 

When we're in the thick of drafting, it's so easy to keep reaching for the same solutions over and over. Without even noticing that our favorite solutions are looking a bit... worn out.

So here's your Wednesday writing challenge: where do you fall back on the same way of shaking things up? What have you been overusing?

Take a few minutes and brainstorm new options for yourself.

It doesn't take long. (Plus it's pretty fun.)

And the next time you're drafting and need some pizazz, you already have your material. How nice is that?

You will feel like total genius. 

Future You is already saying thanks.