Give Yourself This Simple, Powerful, Life-Sustaining Gift This Weekend

Let's not underestimate how sweet, blissful, and powerful a reading vacation can be! (Not to mention cheap. And totally doable!!) |

And then sometimes, reading is just a blissful escape.

A cheap—but incredibly effective!—mental vacation. 

Obviously this can be abused, and of course it's not the most healthy idea to keep checking out in the midst of circumstances that need your attention. (So let's not do that.)

But a well-timed book escape can also be balm

Find a good, absorbing novel, and it's a ticket away, a mind-spa. Nourishment.

When they're set in an exotic locale, a book escape makes me feel like I really have "seen" other places and other times. (Love Mary Stewart's books for that!)

But more importantly, reading in this way protects space and time for me to rest, to be nurtured. To remember what I value.

To hear about courage, to read about other people's struggles, and through that, to feel steady enough to re-enter the fray of my own life. 

Books have filled this place for me again, and again.

Let's never underestimate the delicious ability we have, to escape into a book. To give ourselves a getaway, just by tumbling into a novel for a while.

(Or that we are writing such getaways for other people. It's a huge service, and a wonderful one, too!)

The most vivid memory I have of taking a "book vacation" was a little over ten years ago. I was in an emotionally brutal living situation. My roommate convincingly hated me, and there was no getting out of it.

To put it mildly, I wasn't thriving.

One week, I worked extra hard to clear all my homework by Friday night. And then I walked to our college library. Hiked up the five floors to the children's department. And I grabbed two thick novels by Robin McKinley. (Swoon!)

That Saturday, I woke up early. I carted some snacks out to our balcony and dragged out a chair.

And then I just read.

I snuck back inside for more food or for a bathroom break, but otherwise I spent the whole day on that balcony, in that chair...

but in an entirely different world.

No terrible roommate, no passive-aggressive behavior, no manipulation. I was Elsewhere, and it was marvelous.

By the time the book was over, it was night. I fell into my bed and dreamed story-inspired dreams.

The next morning, I started the second book. This time in my bed. It was a top bunk, so I made myself a little reading nest: I brought my meals and snacks up with me, snuggled under a blanket—and roared through the second book.

By late Sunday night, I'd finished them both. My eyes felt a little warm, a little sore.

But I clearly remember having this exquisite, deeply-rested feeling. 

Like I'd truly been gone. 

Like I'd been able to catch my breath.

I had enough space and time and words pouring through me, and somehow that helped me remember who I was and how I thought and what I liked. (All things which had been under attack in my living situation.)

It can sound like a small thing: two books, one reading-binge weekend

But there was also rest, delightful words, stories of courage. They were big, beautiful books of adventure and facing obstacles, which was exactly what I needed to hear.

And which, I guarantee, helped me survive the weeks to come.

So, let's never underestimate the value of a reading holiday. The power of a well-placed story. The way good books shine light into dark, difficult places.

Mmmm. This is no small thing we do, my novel-writing friends!

Every story we write is a powerful gift to someone else. 

Have you ever had a "reading vacation"? (Or, do you maybe need to take one right now??)

How or where has reading done that service for you? How has it lifted your burdens for awhile, so that you could re-enter the struggle with new energy?

In all honesty, I've had a pretty chaotic summer, and I'm not always landing on my feet these days. So my decision to spend July falling into novel after novel? Has actually been a pretty great one. 

It is so, so lovely to hit pause on all the worries and concerns and challenges. To slide into a book for a while.

And then to step back into the day with a fresher perspective, a little more energy. A clearer head. More words.

It's just one more way that books are beautiful things, right?

Give yourself that gift today, or this weekend. How can you make some space, clear some room for reading, and splash around in someone else's world for a while?

It's worth it. Especially if you feel like you don't have the time.

Take a delicious, story-fueled break. 

Okay, so, reading report: I'm about two-thirds the way through Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, and snickering all the way through. I love books like this!! It will be no trouble to finish it by the end of the week. 

How about you? What have you been readingand lovinglately?

Let's Stop Overlooking This Pivotal Aspect of Our (Soon-to-Be Amazing!) Reading Routines

It *seems* like a small, silly, forgettable piece of our reading habits. ... But is it? I'm pretty sure it's gonna be a game-changer for me, and you, and everyone else! |

Sometimes, the most important parts of a routine are precisely the parts we consistently overlook.

So even though today's topic may seem like a silly, frivolous question to ask about our reading routines, I'm convinced that it's worth digging into.

And for those of us who struggle with getting to our reading, it could be a complete game-changer. 

(Also? It just might be the yummiest part of this reading recess series. Ooooh. Gettin' excited.)

All right, lionhearts. So, we know that where we work, and the quality of the place where we write, has a bearing on how we FEEL about doing that work, right?

Our working environment is sending us a message. It might not even be a message we consciously notice—it's probably just under the radar. 

But it is definitely telling us how we feel about ourselves as writers, how we feel about this work, and what our approach to writing is. 

I keep coming back to this truth: that when my writing life feels out of whack, one of the questions I need to ask myself is, has my writing environment gone offline somehow? 

It's an important question.

So... now I want to try something I've never done before. I want to apply that same question to reading.

For the first time basically ever, I want to ask the question: Where do I do most of my reading? 

And, more importantly: What is that space communicating to me? 

See, when I was working really hard to tell myself that reading really does count as work, I moved my reading to my writing desk. I sat upright, typed notes into my computer, elbows on the hard wooden surface.

Conscientious. Disciplined. Focused.

Um. Yes, it did feel like work...

TOO much like work. 

So then I moved my reading practice to my bed. I sprawled among the pillows, covered up with a soft afghan...

annnnd I definitely fell asleep. More than once.

So this month, as I've been powering through fiction, I've felt a bit displaced. Nowhere feels quite right.


I've also been reading The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. (Which, like I've said before, you are going to hear MUCH more about later, because it is the most insanely brilliant thing ever and it is totally changing my life. It's AMAZING. I'm so thrilled.) 


Anyway, Cameron keeps talking about how our artistic nature, our artistic self, is very much like a child.

Bright. Curious. Full of questions. 

And also? Largely motivated by play. By joy. By enthusiasm. 

What I keep finding out as I read, is that: Our artistic self loves to play and make messes. It does not so much love a life ruled by rigid, strict discipline.


So—because Cameron's book has been right about SO MANY THINGS—I have to believe that this is true too.

And that's got me thinking. 

I'm wondering about how to apply the child-like joy I used to feel about reading ... to my actual reading space.

Heh heh heh.

I'm getting super super excited about this. Like, I almost can't believe I'm thinking about it. But: 

I'm considering making myself an all-out reading nook.

With yummy pillows and mosquito netting and heck, maybe even twinkle lights. 

Maybe that sounds silly. Foolish. 

But I know that reading is darned important. (Not to mention, it's basically half of my job description.)

And I know that I'm much more motivated by the idea of reading as play, as joy, as curiosity. That's how I read when I was a kid, when reading was fun and simple and easy.

So, I think it's time to appeal to that child version of me. And ask her what she wants.

And she says: "All of the pillows, and how about adding big cozy pouf? Also, yes to the netting, and are you kidding me, of COURSE the twinkle lights!!"

So that's my answer then.


Well, that's going to be my project in the next couple of weeks. (I have a massively tight schedule for a week and a half, but then: I'm gonna rearrange some furniture and set this thing up!!)

Okay. I'm grinning ear to ear while I type this. I can't help it. Yeah, I'm over thirty years old, but what does that even have to do with it?

Why not have a totally scrumptious reading nook for myself?

... And what about you? Do you have an place that you tend to use for reading more than other places? 

What does it say to you—about yourself as a reader, about the act of reading?

Does it invite you in? Or does it feel cold and strict? 

When you think about a place to read, what's appealing for you? What makes you think, "HECK YES, I'm going to go read for an hour!"

Can you take a little time this week, and make your reading place a bit more intentional? Inviting?

What tweaks would it take, to make your reading area much more appealing? 

If you want some crazy inspiration, I found three roundups of swoon-worthy reading nooks: here, here, and here!  

I'd love to hear what you're going to do!! And I'll keep you posted on how my reading nook comes together. 

I think it's gonna be very much worth it.

Reading report: Yes, I finished the second book of my challenge!! I was a little disappointed with the ending of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. I didn't feel like there was really enough satisfaction to the climax and conclusion. But there were still bits that I liked (especially how he developed the world of Haarlem). Most of all, the experience of reading itself was still worth it. 

I've already plunged into my next bookone I've been looking forward to for a long time: Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, by Lynne Jonell. I read the third Emmy book awhile ago (not realizing it was part of a set!) and I loved it. So funny and charming. I've been looking forward to reading the first book in the set for a while. 

Mmm! Nothing like a good middle grade adventure with a talking rat. Right up my alley. ;) 

The Best-Ever Program for Designing Your Writing Life (It's Closer than You Think)

If you're looking for someone else to show up and fix your writing life (and I totally hear you on that!), then this post is for you, my friend. |

Today's life-shaping quote comes from a story that Heather Sellers shares in her (stellar, fantastic, sanity-saving) book Chapter after Chapter

She writes: 

     Don't be like the man I met ... when I was speaking at a writing conference. He said, "I have ideas for five books. Do you know what software I should get?" ... 
     "Software?" I said.
     "Yeah. You know. The software makes out the structure and you fill it in. They have programs. Do you know a good one?"

     You're the program, baby, I did not say.

... How great is that, lionhearts?? I just love that line:

It's so easy for us to want to hide behind something else: a teacher, a boss, a guru, a program. But guess what. The best boss of your writing life is right there inside you. You're the program, baby. |

So many times, I've wanted some writing wizard to show up, sit on my desk, and rescue me. 

To tell me everything. What to write. How to write.

Annnnnnd then how to manage everything else, too.

When I finished school and started writing for myself, I missed having live teachers so desperately—and not always for the right reasons. 

I wanted to have a teacher or a boss so that I could blame them if anything went wrong. I wanted someone to hide behind. Someone whose expertise would, hopefully, guide me to great heights... 

But if they misstepped, I could point and say, "THEY did it! Not me! Not my fault."

Basically, this was another way of being afraid.

I was afraid of the responsibility, so I dodged it by wishing for someone else to take charge of my writing life, my creativity, my output, my education.

It was a way of avoiding the super-deep thinking I needed to do. The soul searching. The slow learning process of discovering my limits for myself. Learning what I need and how and when.

Being my own writing boss: It's messy. It's unpredictable. It's frustrating. 

And really, it wasn't my favorite thing ... until I slowed down and started asking better questions. Until I finally shifted my focus, and stopped demanding that I get it all right the first time.

I started asking myself, How do I really need to work? What is best for me? 

What do I actually, honestly need? And what do I need in real life—not in some "everything goes perfect always" version of life.

My real life includes everlasting sinus infections (!!!!) and family crises and mental setbacks and days of zero imagination: so what do I need for that life?

You're the program, baby, is the quote that reminds me: The responsibility for figuring this out is mine. No one else can do it for me. 

And I can either let that freak me right out ... or I can step up. And get learning.

And not learning in a terrified, panicky way. Not spinning my wheels and flinging things out at random. And not searching for some writing book, blog, or guru to idolize and copy. Nope. 

I can show up, calmly, as my own boss, and learn what I need to learn, each day.

Because I'm the program.

Designing my own writing life, my own creative life, has been hard but also immensely rewarding. It's been one of the best tools for understanding myself better.

And every time I add better practices back into my setup, into my routine, and keep tailoring it for myself, for my books, for my process...

Well, it's exhilarating! 

Yes, it's a lot of responsibility, and that responsibility can feel pretty heavy some times. 

It's easy to fall into a spiral of nerves: What if I'm doing it wrong, what if I've missed something big, what if I screw everything up? 

Am I making the right choices? Did I make the wrong call? Should I push harder? Or should I take more breaks? Or both?

The wonderful, wonderful thing is: For every time I've messed up or made a bad call, I've also found the tools I need to fix it. And in the fixing, I learn even more.

I burned myself out, and then I learned how to recover from burnout.

I shackled myself to a book with no clear center. ("People doing stuff" isn't actually a plot, whoops.) So I wrote it four times through before pinpointing its problems. And then I learned how to write a book with an actual center.

I wrote a story that had zero structure and therefore didn't function at all. And then I learned a ton about proper story structure. (Wahoo!)

It's like any complicated skill. When you only know one way to do it, to run your writing life, you can feel brittle, fragile. If something goes wrong, it's all over. 

But as you grow, you learn how to correct, how to save a bad month, how to fix things. 

Those skills, the correcting and recovering skills, are the real power tools. They are what make you flexible, less afraid, resilient. 

They are what's saving my bacon right now, after a February with basically no progress on my so-called work-in-progress.

And as far as I know, the only way to learn that flexibility, is by diving in and doing it yourself. 

You are your own program.

You're the vocational designer. You're your own—and your best!—boss. 

You get to create an amazing workplace for yourself. You can learn how to take the best care of your mind, your energy, your creativity. 

And learning how to take impeccable care of your writing self? That's maybe one of the most rewarding things ever.

What do you need to do, to take super-good care of yourself this week?

Don't panic. You really do know the right answer. Or the half-dozen right answers. Or at least a really good starting point.

Just take a deep breath. And trust yourself.

Want a little more direction on accessing your self-management superpowers? Check out these posts for a be-your-own-boss celebration:

And then if you want to just become an all-around unstoppable director and leader of your own life, you must check out the amazing book that I discuss in this post: This Is the ONE Thing You Need to Plan Your New Year.

Ooooh, baby. Look at you go!

Let's Be Rebels: Take 15 Minutes to Upgrade Your Creativity

Sometimes radical things come in small packages: Here's a disarmingly simple idea for 15 countercultural minutes... which could shake up your day, your creativity, and (if you're like me), the rest of your life. This is big, exciting stuff: Don't say I didn't warn you! |

I'm in the mood to try something wildly countercultural. After all: It's Monday. Still the beginning of a new year. And we're creative people: switching things up is good for our souls.

So why not try a little rebellion, right? Sound good? 

Cool. Here's what we're going to do: 

We're going to not be afraid of being bored. 

Unafraid of blank moments in a day. Not at all worried about those minutes that have nothing scheduled, and nothing happening. 

No more hyperplanning around the possibility of "nothing to do."

I don't know about you, but I apparently have this protective reflex anytime I have a spare few minutes: I'll immediately cram them full of distractions, media, and busyness.

Instagram, Twitter, random Internet searches. Music, podcasts, or a crappy TV show that I don't care about and won't remember.

And if all that fails, my brain runs a list of dozens of things that maybe I could think about. 

Not important things, but just busy stuff. Low grade distractions. To do items. Ways to Fill Time.

I'm surrounded by a stream of noise that can be flicked on, with zero thought, to protect me from big bad boredom.

So I bring my smart phone everywhere, because I can always take a few seconds to check media. Keep Netflix up—I might want to watch something. Drag my planner around, in case I want to make some lists.

Whew. I can generate a lot of mental and media noise. 

And it drowns out this powerful truth, which I tend to forget: 

I am incredibly creative, when I give myself a chance to be.

I thrive in moments of intentionality. I flourish when I'm around quality.

In other words: not noise.

And the effect of all this self-distraction is to dull me to my creativity. To fill up my mind with more junk than it can digest. 

... Okay, before anyone gets worried, let me say: I am not anti social media. And I'm not trying to take some kind of stand against the Internet. (Big hug, Internet!!)

I'm not even against crappy TV. (I love some crappy TV.)

What I am very, very much opposed to is this:

Letting distractions bury what my creative mind might otherwise say. Filling my head with noise, at the cost of innovation, originality, or voice.

THAT is what terrifies me.

We're writers! We can't afford to suffocate our creativity. And certainly not on so flimsy an excuse as "but I might get bored," or "I had some time to waste."

Am I overreacting? I don't think so. Because something really cool happened to me recently.

In a group challenge (from coach Sarah Jenks), I was encouraged to give my brain some space and not fill every minute with some distraction. 

Instead, I would just listen. Not to all the mind chatter—like I said, I can make a zillion mindless lists, to fill up my time from here to eternity.

I was supposed to pay attention to whatever was going on under that. And if any big ideas showed up, I could jot them down.

I didn't think I really needed to do this, by the way. I write down big ideas from my brain all the time. (It's kinda my whole job description.)

But I gave it a shot. One evening, instead of browsing a dozen apps during a spare half hour, I just sat still with a notepad next to me. 

At first, it felt a little weird. I should be doing something. Right? 

And then, I started having a few quiet thoughts. Not for busywork, but actual intentional projects. They were little ideas, but they were sort of interesting.

I wrote them down, and then put the pad down and sat quietly again.

After about ten minutes, I started getting some amazing ideas.

Big dreams and directions for what I want 2016 to feel like. And I realized there are parts of my life that have been undernourished for a really long time, and maybe it's time to remedy that. 

With startling certainty, I realized that I want to create a lot more art, I want to make music on a regular basis, and I want to spend a ton of time outside. 


So, let's recap. I quit speeding through Instagrammed photos of art, I shut off Spotify, I stopped pinning pictures of other people's vacations.

And it only took half an hour of quiet to realize that I want to actually live those things, not just experience them third hand.

Well that's a pretty pithy revelation for just a little exercise. 

And when I act on that, and put it into practice during this year... well, it probably won't hurt my creativity as a writer. Might give me a little, no, a lot, more to work from.

Might even keep me sane while I do all that writing.

Oh, and P.S., I wasn't bored during that half hour of sitting.

Instead I felt very, very alive. 

It was so rewarding that I had to take a hard look at my habit of noise-making. Seriously, what's up with that? What am I so afraid of, that I can't sit quietly, that I have to have every minute filled with stuff?

... Why not stop?

How can we be fiercely creative if we're bombarded by noise?

It's a new year, and you and I have some really big goals. There are big plans afoot. 

And I'm guessing that those resolutions and goals are going to require a lot of our creativity. They'll need us to overcome new obstacles. We'll have to take fresh aim at our goals when we get knocked over, or find new information. 

Tackling a big project means we have to be problem solvers, we have to be hearty, we have to maintain our creative stamina. 

And if that's true... then I think we need to access our best ideas. Don't you? 

So let's give up our dependence on distraction.

Let's not be freaked out by the slightest chance that we may be bored with time on our hands.

Let's not underestimate the power of our creativity. ... It will probably have plenty to say when we quit drowning it in noise. 

Are you with me on this? Let's start small.

Try just fifteen minutes.

I'm not really interested in harsh decisions, or setting us all up for self-judgment. So I'm not saying "delete all your apps! this is a strict diet of silence!" or anything crazy.

So no worries. We don't need to outlaw all forms of distraction, all at once.

Instead, I'm looking for a small, sustainable shift. I'm going to find one place where I habitually rely on distraction and noise, and I'm going to replace it with a moment of stillness.

I'm going to give my mind a place to breathe.

I'm already excited about what might happen next.

Any of this resonating with you? What would happen if you swapped noise for silence? What if you risked "nothing to do," and ended up with some staggering ideas?

It doesn't have to be a huge time commitment: What if we found fifteen minutes of silence a day?

(Heck, if noise is as big a problem as I think it is, even five minutes could be huge.)

Let's be countercultural. Let's rebel against all this noise. Let's dare to give ourselves some space. 

... And then let's see what our minds come up with. 

A Survival Guide to Life Outside the Comfort Zone: Part Two

Still pushing into the unfamiliar? Four more strategies for life outside the comfort zone. |

Two weeks ago, we started this discussion about stretching beyond where we're comfortable. If you missed that post, check it out for four more tips.

How are you doing, traveler? How's it going, stretching into new skills, facing your own awkwardness? 

I don't know about you, but my comfort zone is fairly small--it's a dwelling place, after all, not a county, not a continent.

When I leave it behind, the world is wide. 

And the survival guide should probably be a bit longer. 

So, if you too are exploring the world beyond familiarity, here are a few more tips for us all to keep in mind:

FIVE: Start small.

If you take off running, just barreling out of your comfort zone into the land beyond, you might get pretty far. You really might. And maybe you're the kind of person that would do just fine out there.

For me, I need to take it at a steady calm walk. Or possibly a crawl. Sometimes I just inch forward.

I've learned that I need new ideas to marinate in my brain a little. If you just pull the rug out from under how I do things, I usually end up screeching. And not really growing.

But if I have a little time, I can warm up a bit. I have a better shot at making it stick. I take it bit by bit.

So when I'm facing the great unknown, I take a deep breath, look down at my toes, and just take a teeny step. 

It's still progress. It's still forward. And I'm warming up the skills I'll need later--when I start to jog, when I begin to run.

SIX: Nurture your curiosity.

Curiosity is there to make bridges. Curious is what gets us to the other side of a question. And it's one of our best weapons when it comes to facing the unfamiliar or the uncomfortable.

But what if you don't feel curious about, say, learning a new strategy for outlining your novel? What if you don't feel curious about writing a memoir, or about posting flash fiction on your blog?

You might have to wheedle a bit. Just like you might encourage a child who very stubbornly and very certainly does not want to do something (sit on the potty chair, go to the classroom, get into the car, get out of the car).

Have you done this? Listen to the things you say: Hey, what's that over in the corner? It looks interesting, it looks fun, let's go check it out. I bet your doll would like to go over there and play. Let's go see. Let's see what it's like.

Take that same tone--patient, focusing on possibilities--with yourself. 

Start prodding different parts of the project. Start saying, Hey, what's that? A new technique? It looks interesting. It looks fun. 

And as the rest of you protests--lower lip out, I don't wanna!!!--insist on becoming curious.

Curious about how the new outlining strategy might look on your story--about the possibilities it might uncover. Curious about how a memoir might reframe your perspective on your present. Curious about flash fiction as a form, even if posting it terrifies you.

Tell yourself, Let's go see.

(You can fake curiosity too, in a pinch. Fake it long enough, and it might become real.)

SEVEN: Focus on gratitude.

A few months ago, I started learning some yoga moves. The resistance in my head about this was massive. And inwardly--as I started warming up--I'd make my list for all the reasons why this was a bad idea:

I'm not flexible, I'm not strong enough, it hurts to hold these poses, it probably looks really dumb, I'm bored already, this is so hokey, I could be doing something else right now, are my hands supposed to slip?, I'm going to injure something, I don't think this is how it goes...

And on and on and on. 

Until one day when I remembered a woman I know. She's suffering from a progressive disease, and she can't move easily at all. She needs a cane to walk (if she's feeling well enough to walk that day).

She has more bad days than good days. 

I thought of her one day as I was warming up, and it transformed my whole workout. 

What wouldn't she give, to be able to do what I was doing? Even as badly as I was doing it?

I realized I was so fortunate. And I felt grateful for a body that could move at all. Glad to have the ability to do any of the moves, even though I was just a beginner.

Even the simplest stretch filled my heart with thankfulness for my working arms, my working legs.

See what I mean? Whatever it is that you are doing, whatever you are pressing into: Think of the people who would trade their teeth to be able to do that same thing. Who would welcome the challenge of it, because they would be so glad to be able to do it.

Bring some of that gratitude into this journey outside your comfort zone. Reframe the struggle. See the grace.

EIGHT: Celebrate every milestone. (And have a broad definition of milestone.)

It's a heroic thing that you're doing. Now and then, come up for air. Pause. Look around at the new view you've discovered, at the new behaviors, the new skills.

Declare it a milestone. 

Pop some champagne and have a picnic. Take celebratory photos. Sing some songs.

You have come this far. And you will go farther. And that's worth a toast or two.

A Survival Guide to Life Outside the Comfort Zone: Part One

Growing means that you won't always comfortable. How are you going to deal with that? |

One of the biggest reasons to not grow is that it's darned uncomfortable. It pushes you out of where you'd rather be. Out of the default position.

Even when I realize that growth is a good idea, that change is a good thing: when I get away from the familiar, away from the old ways, panic sets in.

But if we want to grow (and we do!), and if we want to keep it painless (and we do!), we gotta get this: The panic is usually more painful than the actual growth itself. 

How do you stay panic-free outside your comfort zone? Here are four steps that help me maintain my perspective, resist the panic, and keep growing.

ONE: Balance growth with self-care.

Growing just to grow has a tendency to make us brittle. You've seen trees whose limbs get all draggy and start snapping off, right?

Let's not do that.

Let's get support, let's take strength from what's familiar, and use it as a springboard to reach new places.

So as you start a draft, as you dive into a skill that makes you nervous, as you embark on a new project that has you a bit scared, a bit dry-mouthed: Be kind to yourself. 

Watch the silly TV show, the guilty pleasure movie. Eat the cupcakes. The macaroni and cheese is ALL YOURS. 

This isn't weakness. It's not a sign of giving up, and it's not a sign that you're not strong enough. 

On the contrary: it's giving you strength to step into the unknown.

TWO: Applaud the awkward.

Small talk at parties is one of my least favorite things in the world. I hold my glass too tight and scout around for exits. Seriously. Until I discovered a secret trick: Announcing to myself that this is SUPPOSED to be awkward. It's supposed to feel like I'm standing on needles. 

For some weird reason, knowing that I'm going to feel uncomfortable really helps me relax. This is supposed to feel strange. Supposed to be awkward. It's just doing its job.

I tense up when I'm frantic about the symptoms of change. Those prickle-pangs of growth. But when I say, hey, this weirdness is normal, I planned on this: that makes it so much easier.

Can you try that, with the blank page, or with the difficult phone call, or with the new writing exercise?

Hey, it feels like my brain is melting! My hands are shaking a bit! I'm doing it exactly right!

And then go back to step one and reward yourself with a cupcake. If you didn't notice, step one is very repeatable.

THREE: Have an unswerving focus on your goal.

Why do all this, though? I mean, really. Why do it?

Who needs the macaroni and cheese and the slow-breathing in the face of awkward? Who cares? Why do it?

To survive the process of growth, you need to be really clear on your goal. Be clear on what's great about all the happy milestones, too, but have a laser-like focus on the true big mother-goal itself.

Interview yourself to get clear on what that is.

So, for me: I want to write a book.

Yeah, sure. But what else? I want this to be a career. I know this is my career. I love words. I love stories.

All right, fine, what else. Money? Money would be so nice. Money is also not a super reliable goal.

What else? 

Well, there are aspects of my childhood that were pretty crappy. Same as a lot of people. Especially fifth grade through eighth.

So I want to write books for girls in those grades. I want to give them more good books, good stories. They're going through a really hard time, and I want to send them words and characters and ideas to keep them company.

That is a worthwhile goal for me. That's THE Goal. 

That is what makes the hard days worth it, the days of braving the difficulties that we all face as we try to improve our craft. That's worth it for me.

So what's that big goal for you? Narrow it down. Get to the place where you can almost feel it throbbing in your veins. The goal that makes all the hard stuff worth it. 

Write it down. Post it somewhere. And as you're applauding the awkward and scarfing cupcakes, stay clear on that goal. And let it guide you into deeper growth and steeper challenges.

FOUR: Claim this new place as a future comfort zone.

Strange but true: the thing that scares you today will get easier with practice. Maybe not exactly easy, but certainly easier.

Think back to what got you here. Where are the places where you had to step out, where it was mercilessly uncomfortable, where you thought you just might not make it? 

For me, facing a blank page isn't nearly as uncomfortable as it used to be. I know how to fling a few words on there and get rolling quickly. Posting these blogs three times a week? It used to be TERRIFYING. Now it's just a little bit of a "here we go!" in my stomach, and then I'm good. 

It helps to know that you've done this before. You really have. Stepping into the new, getting used to it, and finally planting your flag of "I've conquered this!" in that new soil? Yeah, you've totally done that before, lionheart.

From the first time that oxygen hit your little baby lungs to this exact moment: you've tackled so many uncomfortable things and made them your new home. 

You can do this. You really, really can. You know how to lean in, you know that it's worth it, you know how to keep going.

So what am I doing still talking? You already have everything in you that you need.

Enjoy those cupcakes. And have some fun outside the zone.