Grow Better: Let's Own, Nourish, and Celebrate the Writing Phase You're In

Writing projects have life cycles, just like any growing, fruitful thing. Which season are you in? Here's how to embrace all it has to offer. |

I've spent nearly my whole life in the midwestern United States. And though we aren't a farming family, I'm used to marking the seasons by what the fields are doing.

Right now, at the start of summer, the bright green corn plants are coming up through the dirt, showing off their first few leaves. 

Over the next month, they'll rocket out of the ground, becoming bold walls of dense leaves, perfuming the air—a sweet, dusty, corny smell.

At the end of the season comes the goldening of everything. And suddenly the walls disappear as the machines march through.

In winter the colors all fade, and fields are quiet under November mud or January snow. I'm used to this, my whole life: it's how things work.

Seasons. Seedlings sprout, grow, ripen, disappear. Quiet takes their place. And then it starts again. 

The other day I was reading The Sound of Paper, by Julia Cameron—a meditative book of short essays about the creative life and creative droughts. (I'm really liking it, but that's no surprise! It's a lovely and helpful book.)

When I hit the chapter called Seasonality, I sat up straight. Her words illuminated something that's been troubling me: 

     There is a seasonality, a cyclicity, to creative work. There are ripening times of midsummer, when our ideas bob in our heads like a good crop of apples. There is fall, the time of harvest, when we take those ideas down and collect them. There is a wintertime, when our ideas feel ice-locked and dormant and we must wait them out ... and then there is spring, the stirrings of new ideas and new directions.

You get that? 

Our creative projects have a time of blooming, growth, harvesting, and dormancy. 

Oh, I loved this so much! Because instantly I saw myself, exactly where I was: deep in a creative wintertime, and no way of knowing how to claw out of it.

Restless, irritated. Like a bear who forgot to hibernate.

Here's what I think: We novelists need to understand this. We need to recognize these seasons in our creative lives, just like we midwesterners do. (If you only have one or two seasons where you are, you'll just have to kinda imagine with me.) 

Because once you wrap your mind around the idea of having a creative season, there's a lot that becomes clear, a lot that carries over in that metaphor.

Go with me on this, okay?

In real life seasons, each seasonal shift requires some prep.

There are things that this season is really, really good at—seasonal strengths. (Even the ugly seasons have strengths!)

And then there are some major weaknesses that come along, with each one. (Even the pretty ones.)

That's a reminder that I need to get squarely in my head, because here is my confession: 

I have idolized the creative seasons of Summer and Harvest.

Seriously, I love, love, love these creative seasons. I want to live in them forever.

I want to be producing stories at the blistering rate of corn plants (which grow so fast you can literally hear them grow).

And I want to be harvesting like the massive combines that go charging across the land, converting everything to piles of grain—quick, efficient, relentless.

Mega-growth. Mega-production. That's what I've fallen in love with.

That's when it's easier to say out loud, Of course, yes! I am a writer! When faced with inquiries from friends and family: it's so easy to sum up my progress in these seasons. I have something to report.

Everything is growing, growing, growing! I'm writing so fast, and the characters are talking quickly, and it's all going so well!

Or, for harvest: I'm starting the blog! Or, I'm wrapping up the draft! I'm sending it out to readers; I'm planning my publication! Confetti, cheers, marching bands!

And we all get to leave the conversation cheerfully. 


You don't have to be an agricultural whiz kid to know: fields can't just go from summer to harvest and back again. It doesn't work like that. 

And our creative seasons can't do that either. Our projects don't jump from mega-growth to mega-production and then back to growth again.

We have to go through spring, and we have to go through winter.

Can I be honest? It's hard for me to enjoy a creative springtime. It's such a prickly sort of creative season: how do I explain it, to others and myself?

The idea-seeds are in the earth. I'm watering them (brainstorming!) and watching them (freewriting!) and checking the soil (tending the imagination!).

I'm afraid to breathe too hard on the little ideas. I get nervous when it storms. Is there too much sun, too much shade? Did I plant a bunch of duds?

Everything feels fragile and nebulous, and I'm trusting that the little roots are shooting into the ground, that the stems are straightening, somehow feeling the tug of light, the call to come up, up, up.

Creative spring is hard for me. But what keeps me going is hope: there are seeds, so there is the hope of growth. And maybe something will come out of this, even if I don't know what it looks like yet.

Hope helps us hang on.

... And then there's creative winter.

The seaons that comes along with big, obvious challenges. The other seasons have challenges too, of course. But winter, with its ice and its blizzards and the way it starves your eyes of color—that's the one with the real problems. The light is short, and the dark is long. 

It's winter that leaves me speechless when people ask how the work is going. It's winter that I find impossible to explain out loud, or even to myself.

What is there to talk about? What is it that's happening, anyway, when things lie dormant, when everything looks abandoned? 

But this is why seeing it as a season is actually really, REALLY helpful. Seriously. It helps, when you call it winter. When you own it.

That little shift helps reframe the whole scenario. It reminds me of what I'm actually dealing with. Because all seasons, however long, do shift. They pass. They change. 

And every season has strengths, as well as challenges. Even winter.

No matter which season you're in, it's important to see it as clearly as you can. To name it. And to own that season. 

Because here's what happens, to me anyway, when I choose not to own the season: If I'm not intentional about this, I'll try to push myself to be in another season (preferably summer or harvest!).

And when I'm actually, truthfully, in the midst of a creative spring or winter, then this pushing can be downright deadly.

You can't force midsummer growth on a tiny little seedling—it can't sustain it.

You can't harvest before the grain or fruit or story is ready—it will be ruined.

And you can't scout for seedlings when everything is meant to lie fallow—you'll only find frustration.

Let your season be your season. Anything else will bring burnout, immature work, destroyed confidence, and heartbreak.

Look closely at your work right now. At the project you're facing. What season is it in?

Are you doing the seedling work, nurturing little ideas and hoping that they sprout? Are you shoveling fertilizer and sunshine and water over rapidly-growing stories?

Are you making the plans and gathering the resources for a harvest, a launch, a publication? Or are you in the season in between, the one that can seem like nothing is happening. (But oh, my friend, something is happening!)

Oh, and just to keep us all on our toes: you can be in several creative seasons at the same time. One project might be wintering while another is twisting out of the soil, or one might be in the thick of harvest, while secret seedlings send out their first roots with another. 

What creative seasons are you in? 

Once you know that, here's the exciting part: How can you take specific, concrete steps to support yourself, and care for yourself, in the midst of that season? 

Read on for some ideas:

If you're in a creative summer...

Congratulations! Summer is a super-exciting time. Send off some fireworks! Let yourself celebrate!

But keeping up with that pace of growth is no joke. It's important to keep yourself creatively nourished, and to stay connected to the people and rituals that will ground you.

Summer is when I'm tempted to make a habit of overwork. I have to insist on taking breaks, on making sure I get up and go for a walk, play with the dog, or stretch it out with yoga. 

In a creative summer, it's easy to burn out wrists, back, eyes. To fall back on crappy snacks that don't really help our brains come up with good stuff. To neglect sleep, and then poison ourselves with waaaaay too much caffeine.

So check in: 

More than anything, seek to enjoy this time. Growth is exciting; and watching a story come together is one of the most delicious experiences in a writing life!

If you're in a creative harvest...

First off, have yourself a little party. Even just right here, as you're reading this post: wave your hands in the air, and imagine a whole bunch of confetti falling down on you, because this is awesome. 

Harvest means taking your stories, your words, your article—whatever it is that you've bloomed and grown in your head—and setting it out for other people to experience. 

That is fantastic. So dance!

... And if you're stubbornly staring at this screen saying, Are you kidding, Lucy? I don't feel like dancing. I feel like throwing up!, then I get you too, because harvest can also kind of, oh, shred your soul a bit.

There is no creative season where Fear leaves us alone, but it has an especially good case to make when we're harvesting. Fear shows us what other people might say, how our work might be received, who's going to stop speaking to us, and so on, and so on.

A million nightmare scenarios, storming through our minds. And it can be enough to make us call off the harvest. Forget about it. Let's just not.

Harvest isn't easy. 

But crops don't wait forever. There is a time when it's just right to publish, to post, to hit "send." 

So check in: 

Harvest is nerve-wracking, but it's also incredible. It takes guts. Whether your harvest is tiny (sending an email, posting a comment, sending a newsletter), or big (publishing a book, landing a writing job), you owe it to yourself to celebrate

For serious. Go get that cake.

If you're in a creative springtime...

Oooh, spring! The butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling of tending a lot of tiny ideas, caring for them with an equal feeling of hope and nervousness.

It's a time of unbridled possibility, and that can be exhilarating! Enjoy it!  

But spring has its challenges too. We can get discouraged. Spring calls for patience, patience, and patience, as we deliberately brew our projects, as we watch the teeny roots take hold. 

We have to learn how to keep a steady hand as we fertilize the soil, as we keep weeds and harsh conditions at bay.

So let's check in: 

  • Perfectionism loves to visit in the spring. It pretends that we can sit and imagine our perfect blossoms, instead of diving in and risking failure. It'll whisper anything to keep us from writing those messy drafts! But creative spring is a time to embrace the mess: don't hold back.
  • Our fledgling ideas can sprout better with the help of a solid routine, or a good structure around them. If you're just coming out of a creative winter, it can be hard to get back into a groove. Time to rally your best practices, and build a solid working structure for yourself. (Need inspiration? I've got you: here, here, and here.)
  • As you get into the rhythm of springtime, you have to promise yourself that you will not compare your new growing ideas to anyone else's writerly garden. Okay? Comparison is one of the silent killers of creativity. It's not worth it.
  • Keep breathing. Growth can be slow. It takes patience.

Real spring is one of the most beautiful times of the year, and a creative spring is no less beautiful. Celebrate the joy of seeds becoming stems becoming buds becoming blooms. (And maybe buy yourself some flowers for your desk?) Keep encouraging yourself, and keep on keeping on.

If you're in a creative winter...

This can be the hardest place to find yourself. Winter is tough, and it can last a lot longer than we'd like. It's easy to focus on the ice patches, the blizzards, and long darkness.

But we can stay warm in the midst of creative winter when we choose to be gentle with ourselves. When we do things that are good for our souls and happy-making for our imaginations.

Find ways to endure the cold by lighting candles for creativity, and cutting cheery snowflakes out of bright paper.

Here are a few ways we can find our trusty boots, our beloved mittens, our best soup recipes. Here's how we can actually winter well: 

  • Right now, make a decision that you will not beat yourself up for being here. Winter is just a thing. It happens. It doesn't make you a bad writer, a bad creative, or any other shamefilled label that we might want to assign ourselves. Take yourself off the hook. Give yourself grace.
  • One thing that winter is really good for is naptaking. I'm serious. This season is when you can catch up on rest, both physically and creatively. Take super good care of your body. Take all producing pressure off. (Sometimes we actually need it to be winter, for exactly this reason!)
  • Nourish. Use winter as a time to put into your imagination, indiscriminately. Since you don't have to research for a specific project, you can just follow your own curiosity. This is actually a gift, and you're allowed to treat it like one. :)
  • Read. Read a lot. When I decide to really embrace winter, I usually end up reading a TON. Go to your library and check out more books than you can carry. Binge-read fiction for a few weeks. Grab stacks of non-fiction titles that intrigue you. Plunge into new subjects, rediscover old favorites.
  • Play. I know. It can be hard. But sometimes you need to just cut loose. Find ways to love your creative self by playing games, by picking up a different artistic skill for a while. Try your hand at collage, or calligraphy, or watercolors. Or get messy with sculpture, or repaint every room in your house. Stir it up.
  • Fertilize your soil, and ready your tools. You can keep learning your craft, even if you aren't working on something actively, by reading good books on writing. (Steer clear of angry, cynical books. Only grab the yummiest sort.) 
  • Let me just say this one again: Be relentlessly kind to yourself.

It can be hard to love winter. But when you really and truly let yourself off the hook, it can be a beautiful time. It can point you back to places you might have been neglecting: deep rest, deep refilling.

You're allowed to investigate creativity for its own sake, instead of so that you can meet a deadline, or crank something out. You're allowed to run down the path of your curiosity, without it needing to pay off immediately. 

So choose to give yourself a gift in your creative wintertime. Embrace rest, embrace care. Spread a little love over your writing life. 

Wherever you are, my friend, consider this: What does it look like to truly honor the season that you're in? To embrace its strengths, and gently account for its weaknesses? To accept it for what it is, and to celebrate it—difficulties and all?

For me, after an on-again/off-again winter that lasted a year and a half (I'm not making that up), I am in the midst of a springtime: there are so many little seeds in the ground right now, fresh growth on some older projects, and I'm excited! Committing myself to patience, and dancing with hope!

How about you? 

Three Critical Questions to Ask Right Now (to Transform the Rest of Your Year!)

Can you believe 2016 is half over? Time to check in! These three questions will help us map a good course for the rest of the year. |

Happy July everyone! And happy Independence Day to all the Americans! (To my British friends—no hard feelings, I hope. Wish it could've gone down differently, because I really do love y'all!)

Can you believe that we're in the second half of 2016?

I mean—WHOA. The first half just flew past me! It's like I stepped on a banana peel somewhere in the middle of January and just sailed all the way to this point.

Halfway through the year. Whew! 

It's been such a blur! So this is a really good time to pause and take stock, right? To check in with how everything is progressing and to see what's needed next. 

How are things going for you? What's been awesome in the first half of the year? What's gotten a little off track

Wherever you're at, midyear is the ideal time to ask three things:

1) What wins from the first half of the year can you celebrate? 

2) Where do you need to release guilt around anything that hasn't gone well?

3) How can you tweak, reframe, and readjust, so that some things run more smoothly during the next six months?

Yes? Can I get an amen? 

Personally, I'm celebrating a renewed dedication to cultivating my creativity. I'm rereading The Artist's Way and looooooooving it!! You will definitely be hearing more about that in the months to come! 

I'm also reading Brené Brown's work and dealing with some scars I have from the past—weird messages that I picked up about using my gifts, creating, and being noticed.

It's a little heavy, but oh-so freeing!

And I can't tell you how excited I am for the next chapter of my writing life. It's gonna be amazing, thanks to all the (totally unexpected!) head and heart work I'm doing this summer.

Whew! So, a fistful of confetti goes into the air over all that! 

What about you? What can you celebrate?

It's so important to appreciate the good stuff that's happened. Otherwise, if you're like me, you can overfocus on all the tough things, and forget how far you've come!

And that's a self-defeating mindset to bring into the rest of the year. Mmm.

So: let's dance for a sec. 

Okay? Cool.

... And now, what needs some attention, some extra love, some change?

For me, there is one part of a healthy writing life that I have totally neglected for the last few months. As in—completely. 

I haven't been reading fiction lately.


I know all the things. I know how critical it is to read TONS as a novelist, and how reading stretches you in such good ways.

But I just haven't. I lost my appetite somewhere in all that happened this spring. And instead of my usual reading material, I drowned myself in non-fiction.

Maybe it was because I suddenly felt like I had a zillion problems to solve? 

I plunged into The Desire Map, and I re-re-re-re-reread A Writer's Paris, and fell into The Artist's Way (hallelujah!!), and tumbled into Brené Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection (WHOA, recovering perfectionists, you gotta grab that one!!), and Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

I've been reading plenty!! 

Just not that lifegiving and gorgeous stuff we call fiction.

I'm not going to feel guilty about it: I know exactly how and why I got here. So, guilt, begone! 

But I still want to make some changes about that. I need fiction. So guess what July is going to be about for me. ;)

At my college—hopefully this happens at every college!—we had two days off right around finals time, for studying. But they didn't call it "Order a Bunch of Pizzas and Study Your Brains Out" days, though that's what we did.

They gave it the somewhat old-fashioned (and in my opinion, totally adorable) name, Reading Recess.

I always loved the image that conjured up in my mind. A recess, a break, just for READING.

Welp, that's exactly what's needed right now. I'm declaring July the month of Reading Recess.

Specifically? I'm gonna launch myself into reading four novels in four weeks.

I know—for you mega-readers, that's not much. But part of why I haven't been reading fiction is because my life and living situation is craaazy right now. I'm in a kind of survival mode. 

Four novels in four weeks is gonna be a big deal for me. 

So, I have to clear some time for reading somehow! To make the space in my schedule, my Thursday posts for July are going to be a little different—much more brief, just quick check-ins.

(Unless I get super carried away talking about what I'm reading. Which, let's face it, can definitely happen around here.)

Sound okay with you? 

So that's my challenge. That's what ambitious looks like for me this July.

What about you? How has your reading habit been lately? Do you have a stack of books calling you? A genre or a reading project you need to check in with?

Do you have this nagging feeling that, like me, you haven't been reading nearly enough lately?

Because I'd love the company! What if we all took July to plunge in, to go deep, with whatever we most need in our reading lives?

Or, maybe your fiction habit is tip top. Maybe there's something else tugging at you.

What little challenge feels exciting and daring right now? What sounds inviting? What would be completely yummy for your writing life?

Look, it's July. And where I live, it's the summeriest part of summer.

This is the perfect time to look around, take stock, and clear the space for moving toward whatever you most need. 

For me, that's a few weeks of gulping fiction. 

What does it look like for you?

Ooooh. I'm excited.

Second half of 2016, here we come!!

What are you celebrating after the first half of 2016? And what do you most need to do next?

Anyone else want to do a bunch of reading in July? I'd love to know! Tell me all about your plans in the comments.

On Thursday I'll let you know how I'm doing. And next Monday, I'll report that I've (hopefully!) crossed the first title off my list.

Not planning on being legalisticyou know how we operate on grace around here! Just looking for a little good-natured accountability. 

Til then, I've got some books to fall into!

Boldly Loving Our Writing Lives (Because Actions Speak Louder Than... You Know.)

February is all about falling in love... with your writing life! If you're new to this series, check back with the week one posts, here and here

It's the third installment of our Loving Your Writing Life Series... These prompts are gonna double-dare you to *act* like you love your writing life like crazy, even if you don't quite feel that way. Yet. (It'll come.) |

Last week we started clearing some ground, getting rid of negativity, and looking at how we think and talk about writing. 

This week, the fun really begins. We'll be playing around, being silly, and having a blast.

Yep. I mean it. Having a blast with our writing lives. Sound good to you? 

If it doesn't, if you're still not in a great place with writing, I'd like to just say this: 

There is some really fantastic advice out there, that says when you act as if something is true, you eventually start feeling like it's true.

Interesting, right? Emotions can follow actions.

And that's the principle that we're going to exploit this week. 

Let's practice acting like we love the writing life, and maybe those warm fuzzies will follow. Worth a try, right? 

Let's dive in.

February 8: Steal some moments.

I don't know exactly why this is true, but when I start stealing little moments out of the rest of my day to spend on writing, several things happen:

  • I start feeling more excited about my work.
  • It gets even easier to continue working, to keep stealing more moments... a nice little snowball effect.
  • And I generally feel happier. Like I'm doing something special.

It's a little like the phenomenon of keeping secrets about our work.

By the way, adding extra little sessions of writing isn't a productivity strategy. It can be, of course. But today we're doing it to have more fun, not to do more work. It's an important difference.

We're just turning our attention to our work, and giving it a wink. Taking a few minutes to play with characters, play with sentences, enjoy the words. 

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Take fifteen minutes today to write when you normally wouldn't.

And you can totally break it up: Maybe this means three little bursts of five minutes, or all fifteen at once, or a bunch of two-minute sessions. However you like.

Maybe you decide to write as the first thing in your day, or maybe the very last. Maybe you slip it in between appointments, or sit in your car for fifteen minutes after getting home—writing in that little space of quiet before diving back into the fray.

Maybe it's you and your morning tea, or maybe you're jotting notes in the line at the grocery store. 

However it looks for you, the main objective is: Write when it's not a usual time for you to write.

And the second main objective is: Keep it playful and fun. 

This isn't serious. It isn't work. It isn't burdensome.

It's meant to be lighthearted, and a little quirky. Have fun with it.

February 9: Write silly little love notes.

Yes. You read that correctly.

Just go with me on this. Remember, we're acting in the way that we want to feel, even if we don't feel this way yet.

Okay? Okay.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Write a silly little love note to your writing life.

Take that whole relationship of you + words. And send it a love note.

It can be super short. It doesn't have to be overly gushy. You can do this even if you think it's the dumbest thing EVER. 

You can just write, "I cannot believe Lucy is making me do this, but, Writing Life, I think you're pretty great." 

That's all it has to be! I promise! Just write it.

And then stick it somewhere where your writing life will see it. In your journal, in the pen cup on your desk, on your bulletin board.

If this is fun, and if you aren't rolling your eyes at me right now, you can write as many notes as you like.

Celebrate all the tiny little things about the writing life that often get forgotten. And feel free to keep it silly. 

February 10: Enjoy each other's company.

One thing about healthy relationships: you spend time in each other's company for no other reason except that you like each other.

Just hanging out, just having fun, just because you can.

What does that look like for us? 

Actual writing. 

(Don't get scared.)

Writing exercises are the perfect place to have some fun with words, in a no pressure situation. (No pressure writing. How nice is that?)

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Here's the deal. I'm going to give you six writing prompts, and you'll pick five.

Grab a timer, and spend three minutes on each writing prompt.

Just three minutes!! You can do anything for three minutes.

I'd encourage you to do this even if it feels like a TERRIBLE idea. Even if your brain has been blank for WEEKS.

You don't even have to write in complete sentences. You can write only nouns and verbs, or snippets and phrases, or just scratch your pen over the page in huge lines.

Just enter the writing space. Put down a few words. That's all.

But mostly? I'd love for you to enjoy writing just because you can.

Choose to enjoy it. This doesn't have to be hard. No one's going to read it.

You can write the silliest things, you can spend all three minutes writing down one sentence over and over, or creating a huge run-on sentence.

I don't really care what you come up with, but I'd love for you to write, and to write with the mindset of enjoying it. Words on pages. It really is a lovely thing.

Ready for your writing prompts? (If none of these work for you, I have fifty crazier ones over here.)

  • The flock of starlings tumbled around in the sky, and for a moment they formed the exact shape of...
  • When we finally opened the door, we saw...
  • It was the last thing I expected to hear on a summer morning.
  • "This," he said, "is why I never like poetry..."
  • The most eccentric babysitter I ever had was... 
  • Even when I'm old, even when I'm dying, I'll never forget the smell of... 

Pick your five favorites, three minutes each. Just write the first word or image that comes to your mind, and follow it. It can be from your own life, or just total fiction. Okay?

The main thing is, decide to have fun. Ready, set, go!

I really hope that you've had some fun with this challenge so far! I'd love to hear how it's going for you, so please do leave a comment so I can cheer you on.

And then come back on Thursday for more fun ideas for loving your writing life!! (And more exclamation marks. They'll be coming fast and furious for the rest of the month...)

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!!