The Conversation You Need to Have with 2016 Before You Let It Go

My 2016 wasn't what I thought it would be. But it was worth it. How about yours? | lucyflint.com

Sometimes I make my New Year's Resolutions with a sense of revenge. Frustrated at the year I just had, I shake the dust off my feet with a set of goals that will make things right. That will prove something and somehow cancel out whatever was difficult about the year I just had.

The trouble is, while that feels really cathartic and promising, it doesn't really help.

And you know what? I don't want to do that this time around.

I recently came across this beautiful, insightful quote from Zora Neale Hurston: 

There are years that ask questions
and years that answer.

When I dove into this year, I was convinced it would finally answer the big question I've been carrying around for over a decade: 

When will I publish my first book? 

"2016, baby!!" was my hearty reply.

Only it wasn't. 

It turned out to be a year of asking new questions—incredibly important ones. Like: 

2016 went every single direction except the one that I had planned. I was reeling through most of it, trying to catch up, catch my breath, catch on to whatever was happening. It felt like one big, slipping-on-a-banana-peel kind of freefall.

It was so not what I expected. 

Here, let me put it this way: I'm something of a Doctor Who fan. (In a nutshell, I'm underwhelmed by the monsters and the production value, but I'm heartily in love with the story concepts, dialogue, and relationships. So, yes, I'm hooked, sometimes in spite of myself!) 

And in one episode, the TARDIS (their spaceship + time machine, and yes I'd like one for Christmas) says that, while it doesn't always take them where they want to go, it always takes them where they need to go.

And frankly, that's what 2016 was for me.

There was a lot of kicking and screaming. A LOT. 

But looking over my shoulder now at all these filled calendar pages, I feel so grateful for all the learning I did. For the amazing resources that came my way (like this one and this one and this one and this one!).

I'm so glad I spent weeks—months!—doing the hard mental and emotional work of excavating old beliefs, old thought patterns, and questioning them. (Like this, and this, and this!) 

2016 didn't answer "When am I going to publish the book," but it did do an incredibly good job of asking: "So, what kind of work should I do right now, to clear room for publication, by changing my heart and my mind and the messages I believe?"

It was slow work, and it's certainly not finished, but it's begun, and I'm on better ground because of it.

It's what I needed. It's where I had to go. 

And knowing that, deep down, and truly accepting it is what's letting me look at 2017 calmly. I am making my peace with 2016, so that I can plan 2017 boldly—but not angrily, not desperately.

(When am I going to publish my book? 2017, baby!!)

So. How are you doing? What was your 2016 like? 

How did your goals and your hopes fare?

What worked out? What blew up?

And—most especially—what interesting paths did you take on the way?

Where did your unexpected learning and new ideas and surprises bring you? Where are you standing, right now?

What were all the resolutions that the year had for you, which you didn't know about? What amazing things did you learn?

Above all, can you accept 2016 for what it was? Maybe even learn from it? 

Can you have compassion on yourself, too, for playing the difficult cards you were dealt, as well as you knew how?  

And, not to get too weird, but can you thank the year for everything it did—whether you made huge strides (yay!), or whether it felt like a year of spinning your wheels (I'm with you!).

So there it is, my friends. That's what I'm thinking through, in these last few weeks of December:

Let's take everything this year taught us, forgive everything that went awry, and set our faces toward 2017—not in a furystorm of resolution-making, but calmly.

Mmmm!! Exciting! 

That's my hope, for you, for me, for all of us lionhearted writers, as we wrap up the year and look to the next.

... It always feels like an adventure to me, flipping that last calendar page, and turning my gaze to the new year, wondering where I'll be at the end of it.

Woo!! December 2017, what do you hold for us?? Where will we be by then?

No idea, but I'm excited to travel toward it with you. :)


Okay, a couple final notes! 

First: if you want one of the best-ever New Year's Resolution ideas for your writing life, check out this post: I promise it's a resolution that you'll never regret.

And then, I couldn't let 2016 end without telling you about my most recent favorite discovery!! It's the Life Coach School Podcast, by Brooke Castillo, and OH MY GOSH. I've just started working through them, beginning with the very first episode, and I'm so hooked.

It is an amazing resource for self-management—which is ideal for us writers, because we have to be our own bosses, our own creative directors, and our own coaches, right? And Brooke Castillo's work is INCREDIBLY HELPFUL for handling things like: facing failure, dealing with fear, taking action, and setting goals in a whole new way.

I especially loved this episode for defeating that sneaky and untruthful thought pattern that says everything will be better when: a book is published, or more money is made, or any other goal is reached. Give it a listen!!

Annnnnd this episode is brilliant for fighting off any kind of weird thought/feeling spiral that happens in the midst of a crappy writing week, because I know you've been there and so have I!! 

Anyway, check out the podcast soon! I'm pretty sure you will LOVE it.

Okay, my wonderful friends! That's it for me. I hope you have a restful and merry Christmas, and a happy and hopeful New Year's!

And I'll see you in January. :)

You Know That Voice That Says You Can't Write? Today We Take It Down.

There's that voice in our heads that says we're not good enough to be writers, or who do we think we are to try big things. The good news? That voice has a definite source, and we can learn how to take it down. A better internal message starts right here. | lucyflint.com

You know that feeling of being hit between the eyes when you read something: hearing your own life in someone else's words? 

For me, it was equal parts electrifying and clarifying, when I read this in The Artist's Way:

If a child has ever been made to feel foolish for believing himself or herself talented, the act of actually finishing a piece of art will be fraught with internal shaming.

WHOA, I thought. That sounds ... eerily familiar.

I kept reading: 

Many artists begin a piece of work, get well along in it, and then find, as they near completion, that the work seems mysteriously drained of merit. It's no longer worth the trouble.

How did Julia Cameron know what I'd been doing with my writing projects for so long? How was she so dang accurate??

I felt stunned, glued to the page. And she didn't let up:

Often we are wrongly shamed as creatives. From this shaming we learn that we are wrong to create. Once we learn this lesson, we forget it instantly. Buried under it doesn't matter, the shame lives on, waiting to attach itself to our new efforts. The very act of attempting to make art creates shame.

This is the part when I put the book down and staggered around my house, saying, "Everything makes sense now!!"

And this is when my sister told me about Brené Brown's work on shame and I began devouring everything I could find about it. 

Because those paragraphs were talking about me. My childhood.

And the mega-frustrating cycle that had trapped me, one work-in-progress after another. 

Each project seemed to blow up in my face, just as I got to the halfway point. And I went back to the drawing board, convinced down to my toes that I needed forty more skills (and at least five more how-to books) to write the work in question.

I thought I was the problem—too skittish, too perfectionistic, too lazy, or just too stupid. I couldn't tell: one of them, or maybe all four. 

Whatever the root cause, I was getting really, really tired of people asking me, "when will your book be done," and my falsely cheerful reply, "Not sure, but thanks for asking!"

But now, thanks to Julia Cameron, I had a way in. There was some shame lurking in my past, something that I'd buried deep. And somehow that was part of this problem.

And thanks to Brené Brown, I could figure out what to do next.

... And since I know I'm not the only one dealing with this stuff, let's talk it through.

Let's have a little heart-to-heart about shame in our writing lives.

Brené Brown says that shame (she calls it "the gremlins") has two main messages. It's the ugly voice in our heads that says, "You're not enough."

And it's other main message is, "Who do you think you are?"

MEAN, isn't it?! Ack! And if I'm having a slightly off day at the writing desk, that's what I get in my head.

How about you? Any of that sound familiar? 

If I'm not careful, I can hear that whining, nagging voice start up:

Your book isn't good enough, interesting enough, important enough. Your characters are flat and foolish and your dialogue is all dumb. The settings are cardboard. You're not good enough at social media. Your website is super dull and basic and you keep saying you're going to fix that and then you don't. There are a thousand things you could be better at right now. You'll never...

And on and on and on.

It boils down to this: Lucy? A writer? Pah. She's not good enough to pull that off.

On the other hand, if I'm doing okay, and if I'm working on the plans for revision and educating myself about the publishing process, then the other voice starts up.

Oh? Oh really? Publishing, hmm? You were a boring kid, a boring teenager, and a boring college student. If you ever had talent, it's definitely gone by now. Why would anyone want to hear what you have to say? Who do you think you are?

... Is that familiar to you at all? 

Let's all take a moment to blow a loud blast on the airhorn of clarity. Because this, my friends, is not the voice of truth (though we TREAT it that way!).

It's the voice of shame.

Which is why I am steeping myself in the book Daring Greatly. Because Brené Brown is talking all about a process she calls shame resilience. 

This is the process by which we can encounter shame, deal with it, and, as she puts it, "come out on the other side ... with more courage, compassion, and connection than we had going into it." 

Whew!! That sounds amazing to me.

Okay. Field trip: Take two minutes and check out this lightning-quick video on how to combat shame. (If you'd like a more thorough description of how to move through shame, with an example, check out this great article on Brené Brown's blog as well.)

Shame resilience. I love those steps. I am super new to this process, but I'm learning and practicing it, one baby step at a time.

Let's go through them:

Understand what triggers shame for you. And reality check those messages of shame.

What are the gremlins saying in that moment? What are they telling you you should be?

And then, is that message even true? Are those values your values? Does this even apply to you?

Stare very hard at the voice, the message, and say: Is this legit?

I love this next one. She puts it beautifully in the book. She says in the midst of a shame attack, she needs to:

"Talk to myself in the way I would talk to someone I really love and whom I'm trying to comfort in the midst of a meltdown."

I love that. I love that. 

We would NOT say: You're right! You're a really boring person! And you're terrible at writing! These paragraphs are a mess! Have you ever heard of topic sentences?! 

What would we say instead? 

Think of who that is. Who brings out your tenderness, your compassion? Who would you never be harsh with?

What would you say to that person in this situation? 

I'm imagining my oldest niece, coming to me and saying that she feels like she's a bad writer, that she'll never be any good, that she has no talent.

And I can feel all my righteous aunt-ness rising up in me: Drafts are supposed to be messy, darling! They're supposed to be imperfect. You are doing wonderfully. Let's take it step by step. 

Use those same words you'd give to someone you love. Use that kind, compassionate tone. Use them on yourself, in the face of the gremlins.

Tell your story. Connect. Reach out. Own your story.

She makes the very good point that you share your story with someone who has earned the right to hear it. Not someone who will shame you further, mock you, or use it against you. So, wisdom is definitely called for here.

But I love how she describes owning our stories in Daring Greatly:

Don't bury it and let it fester. ... I often say this aloud: "If you own this story you get to write the ending." ... When we bury the story we forever stay the subject of the story. If we own the story we get to narrate the ending. As Carl Jung said, "I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become." 

BAM.

Okay, friends. How are you feeling? Is this hitting a chord?

As I dove into learning about shame, I also started excavating my past. Digging up the dirt, looking around, scouring the area for any hidden messages, any gremlin outposts.

And it's been incredible. SO freeing. So clarifying. And I'm learning to have so much grace for myself.

I processed old stories out loud with my Brené-Brown-loving sister. Then I journaled about them and dug even deeper.

I'm learning that basically anything in my work can operate as a shame trigger: quality of writing, genre I'm working in. Productivity, networking skills, habits. 

It's pretty clear: the gremlins loooove to get their hands on anything to do with my work, and to hold me to a perfectionistic, unreachable standard.

It seems like their favorite thing to do is keep me quiet. I've mostly snuck past them with this whole blog thing (yay!), but when it comes to the novels, they dig their claws in deep.

They are sending me a very clear message, and lately I've realized that it's linked to one particular episode from kidhood.

And because I would love to blow the gremlins up (and also because this is a perfect example of how buried shame messes with us), I'm going to dive into this a little bit.

Do you mind coming along with me? I want to own this brief, but long-festering story from my past:

It was fifth grade. My school's administration was really trying its best, I'm sure, and it didn't know it was consigning me to a special little hell...

But when the standardized tests came back and said I was "gifted" (sounds like something out of dystopian YA, yes?), I got to leave class once a week and hop on a bus with a handful of other "gifted" kids, and go to another elementary school, where we could, apparently, all be gifted together.

There were about nine of us on the bus, and I was the only girl. One week, we were supposed to bring our rulers with us.

And I don't remember provoking anything (because I'd already learned to be mouse-quiet). 

But for some reason, the boys spent our trip slapping me hard with their metal-edged rulers. All of them. Against mouse-me, in the back of the bus. 

Eight versus one—I didn't even try to fight back. Instead, I did what I knew to do: I tried to hide.

I wedged myself between the hump of the wheel well and the overhang of the seat, so that they'd have less of me to hit. And then I literally just rode it out, protecting myself as best I could.

When we got to the school, they filed out and I tried to get up. But fear had done its work, and I was snugged in there pretty tight. 

In my memory, it takes a shame-filled eternity, but it probably only took a few moments to wiggle my way free.

(What the heck was the bus driver doing all this time?? I'd like to time travel back and tell him to get with the program. Ahem.)

I went into the school feeling very shaken, foolish, and ashamed somehow.

I didn't tell my teachers. I didn't say anything to the boys. I didn't tell friends. 

I tried to pretend it hadn't happened.

I wasn't bruised or cut. So I just sat and learned about whales and nautical charts and used my ruler to work on my map. And then we rode back home.

No big deal.

But it was a really big deal.

There were no marks on me, but I had changed that day. And I received the message, loud and clear: Your gifts are not wanted.

And: This is what happens to gifted girls.

... And that is why, when I read Cameron's words about learning that we are wrong to create, and forgetting it instantly, and saying "it doesn't matter," I heard my own voice. Saw my own story.

That's the same message I hear in myself, halfway through every novel project. When I suddenly feel stricken, exposed: I'm an idiot, what was I thinking, why am I doing this, no one wants to hear this kind of story! 

All the encouragement I've received over the years boils away to nothing, and I'm still that fifth grade girl, alarmed at something she doesn't know how to fix, ashamed of gifts and creativity that somehow make her unworthy.

Well, GEEZ. No wonder it's hard to get things done around here!!

So, this is what I love about shame resilience: I get to own this story. 

This is me. I am that girl in the ruler story. And I'm also this woman typing.

There is more to my story than that one day, that long-internalized message. And I'm going to write the ending to that ruler story by continuing my work. 

By publishing a trilogy that puts evil in its place and gives an eleven-year-old girl a voice and the courage to fight back.

Antidotes and Cures.

I'm not sharing that story as a ploy to receive hugs. I'm sharing it because Brené Brown has convinced me of a few things.

So I wanted to talk about the bus and the rulers because I want to speak my shame story—to pull it out of the dark and let it wither in the beautiful sunlight.

But also because of the power of empathy.

Empathy is the thing that says, You are not alone

And I know I'm not the only person that this has happened to. Maybe it wasn't rulers on a bus. Maybe it wasn't eight against one. 

But I know that there are stories out there like this one, that sent the same message. A message that shows up right when you most need to believe in yourself, and find that you suddenly can't. 

I want to reach out to the others who were told to shut up.

I want to send up a flare for the people who got really, really good at being silent, at hiding, at escaping notice.

I want to connect with the people who found out that gifts get you hurt, and it's safer to hide them. 

I want to look you all in the face and say, I have been there, I have cried those tears, and you, my friends, are not alone

I love Daring Greatly and Dr. Brown's other work because she shows that there are tools we can use. There is a proven process. There are resources.

We can learn how to do this!! We can learn to speak to ourselves with love and self-compassion. To practice authenticity.

So, raise your hand, wherever you are, if you've encountered shame in the midst of your writing life. If there's something in your head saying that you're not good enough, or fill-in-the-blank enough.

Raise your hand if you've ever heard in your head, Who do you think you are, to write a tweet, a blog, a novel? Who do you think you are, to share your voice, to write from your perspective?

Who do you think you are, to say anything to anyone at all?

This is when we remember our steps. When we practice them, like the new and special dance they are:

Talk to yourself like you are someone that you dearly love.

Reach out to someone you trust. 

Speak your shame. Tell—and own!—your story, so that you can write the ending.

In Daring Greatly, she gives this great example of how we can talk back to shame. She writes:

Shame whispers in the ear of the woman who's out of town on business, "You're not a good mother because you're going to miss your son's class play."
     She replies, "I hear you, but I'm not playing that tape today. My mothering is way bigger than one class performance. You can leave now."

I freaking LOVE that.

And so I'm practicing.

I'm trying to catch that smothering sensation when it comes, that feeling that silence and hiding are the only things that can keep me safe. Because who am I, to dare to have a voice?

And I'm saying, "Shame, I hear you. But I'm not playing that tape today. I'm choosing courage as a value. Courage is even more important to me than the suffocating safety you're offering. And that means I'm showing up and speaking up. You can go now."

... I may or may not seal that with a little heck-yes dance move.

What's your version? What can you say back, when that nasty gremlin voice shows up? 

What can remind you of self-love and self-compassion? What can bring you back to authenticity?

Who do you trust to tell your shame stories to? And what old stories is it time for you to own?

This is a tough battle, my friends. But it's one that we can (and must!) learn to win.

Because the gremlins are lying. Because we really are enough, just as we are. Because we all have voices and stories that need to be heard, to be written, to be read.

Don't let shame silence you.


WHEW. Yep, I just spilled my guts all over a webpage again.

But seriously: thank you for being a place where I can be real, authentic, and honest, even when I'm typing with shaking fingers.

You lionhearts are amazing folk, with sturdy courageous hearts, and a willingness to grow, and I LOVE that in you. You inspire me.

Thank you for listening, for hanging with me.

Because, geez, what was I thinking with this blog series?! Why didn't I pick something a little less rough on all of us?

Maybe our next series should be about, I don't know, cloud gazing. Doesn't that sound lovely? Mmm. :)

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

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

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

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

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

Yikes. Not a great situation for a fiction writer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, it can feel a little selfish.

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

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

Selfish.

Does this ring a bell for anyone else? 

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

With anything. At all. Ever.

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

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

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

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

Which makes me sad.

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

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

Okay.

But.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a service.

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

The generosity of working on creativity. 

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

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

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

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

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

I have no idea what it all adds up to.

But I bet it's a lot. 

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

Sharing creativity is generosity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The throwing everything out and starting over. Multiple times.

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

ALL that time. All that effort.

This is the stuff we have to guard and protect.

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

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

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

Okay? 

We are working to build gifts for other people.

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

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

To make stories that readers will dream about.

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

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

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

IT ISN'T SELFISH.

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

Whew.

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

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

When does it seem selfish to protect writing and creativity?

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


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

When You Doubt the Value of a Lighthearted Book in a Tough World, Remember This

It's easy to think that, in a tough world, we don't need the lighthearted books, the "silly" ones. But when I saw what they could do--precisely IN those tough times--I changed my mind about that. I think you will too. | lucyflint.com

Well, we're coming to the end of this gorgeous month of Reading Recess

I don't know about you, but it has been SO GOOD for me to slow down, to focus on reading, and to remember why we read.

To set up good, nurturing structure around the reading habit (in the mornings! in a nook!), but also to remember why we have permission to do this amazing thing: falling into novels and reading, reading, reading.

We have that permission, because we're the makers of this art as well. We have to keep experiencing novels as readers, to remember, again and again, everything that they can do.

Because books can be the loveliest of vacations, the sweetest escapes.

Because books connect people: they link hearts with hearts, and remind us that we're not alone.

And sometimes, they do both of these things at once.

In my reading history, there is one moment that stands out above all others.

One moment when a light-hearted, even "silly," book gave an amazing gift to me, my parents, and someone else we didn't know.

In the midst of fear, heartache, tension, physical pain, and hope, there was a story. 

I've talked about it before on the blog, when the memory was especially fresh. (I can't beat that version of the story, so I'm just gonna reprint it below.)

But seriously: for amazing moments with a novel, nothing in my life beats this:

We were in my mom's hospital room.

Waiting with her as they tweaked her pain medication, waiting for her to recover just enough from the surgery to go home. We were looking out at the amazing view from the seventeenth floor. Letting her rest, grabbing coffee from the lobby, keeping each other company.

And then: we were reading out loud. 

My family has always read out loud to one another: it's something my parents did for us when we were kids, and none of us got around to outgrowing it.

So my mom packed a lighthearted novel for her hospital stay, and Dad and I read it out loud.

And something funny happened.

Instead of being overwhelmingly conscious of I.V. cords and hospital gowns, the smells of antiseptic, the sounds of the equipment in the room (I never knew hospital beds were so loud)

Instead of all our worries about the surgery itself, and the outcome, and what the rest of recovery would be like, and if any other treatment was needed

We all teleported. 

To 1930s England. To chauffeurs in uniform, to having tea and lemonade on the lawn, to entertaining the vicar.

To frivolous women and pompous young men and imperious great-aunts. To thwarted love and silly mix-ups and endangered inheritances.

It was one of those comedy-of-manners kinds of books, trivial and subtle and funny. 

The only thing I had to focus on was reading the very next sentence. Everything else faded away. Mom listened and rested. Dad and I wrapped ourselves up in the story. 

And at one point I looked up to see my mom's roommate standing there, listening to me read.

She was holding onto her I.V. pole, with a feeding tube snaking into her nose, but she was with us in the 1930s, standing there in England, just for a little while. 

(She told us—in a beautiful accent that none of us could quite place—that she and her husband had been listening to us for a while, that it was lovely to overhear someone reading, instead of the noise of the TV. "There's a TV in here?" I said later, surprised. We had never even noticed.)

In other words—I tell this emphatically to the doubting voice in my head—in other words, books are still important.

Even when your family gets all shaken around and can't figure out what normal is for a while.

Even in a land of diagnoses and tests and results and lab reports and waiting, waiting, waiting.

After all, anything that can make two women forget—even for an instant—that they are in a lot of pain; anything that can move a group of people over a continent and back about eight decades; heck, anything that can keep me from realizing I'm in a hospital

Well. That's a very powerful force.

Whether the story reminds you of green lawns and sparkling lemonade, or whether it's populated with aristocratic assassins and monocled crime fighters [like the one I'm writing!]:

Stories are important.

And maybe there is no such thing as too silly, when even the silly stories can remind us who we are.


In reading news: I finished Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat! SO much fun. And so I've started my final novel for this four-in-four challenge.

It is in the favorite-of-mine genre of British mystery. Thought I'd save the easiest for last! Somehow, I can never, ever read enough British mysteries.

This one's a recommendation from my mom (who is totally healed and healthy now, by the way!). It's called Bellfield Hall, Or, The Deductions of Miss Dido Kent, written by Anna Dean. 

Wahoo!! I'm super excited to dive in!! 

How's your reading going? Can you spend the last week of July splashing around in some fun-for-you (or dare I suggest it, even silly) novel??

Maybe in a lovely nest or nook? Maybe while eating something nourishing and delicious?

(Or a crisp gin and tonic: also fine with me. Heck, have two. It's been a tough summer.)

Wherever you are, whatever's going on: Save some time for yourself and a splendid book. 

Re-anchor yourself in the worlds of what you're reading. Switch your perspective for a while. Nourish yourself with words.

It's vital.

Happy reading to you, my friends!

Responding To That Insidious Lie People Still Tell About Fiction

I keep meeting people who believe this. You probably meet them too. What to say, what to remember, when someone tells you fiction doesn't matter. | lucyflint.com

So, HERE'S some good news. The more I throw myself into reading these novels, the more I want to keep reading. 

It's that lovely truth: You can re-develop a taste for good things. It happens to me when I start drinking more water, eating more veggies, exercising steadily, or, for the past couple of weeks, falling headlong into one marvelous story after another. 

So, if like me, you've been away from fiction for a while, I hope this is encouraging!

The more I practice giving myself permission, and the more that I start my day with reading, the easier it gets to keep going. 

Yum.

I'm a good two-thirds the way through Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire. Oh, I love a good fairytale retelling!

There's always that delight of seeing how your expectations are handled—which events feel familiar, which ones are stood on their heads, or fleshed out in completely unusual ways... Mmmm.

It also reminds me of my struggles with the first novel that I seriously tried to write. For five years, I beat my head against an ever-expanding saga that I invented around the story of—brace yourself—The Princess and the Pea. 

More specifically, it reminds me of how hard it was to talk about the fact that I was writing a fairytale retelling.

All those conversations with the skeptical people who asked, "So what are you writing about?"

And I would perform whatever linguistic contortions I could to avoid saying, "Uh, there's a princess and a curse and an impossible test and the threat of madness and a huge journey and interactive memories and definitely a love interest and a fair amount of violence? Can we talk about something else?" 

I'm having better luck now, talking about my current work-in-progress. In part because I've learned my lesson, and I'm making sure that I love what I'm writing about

But also, I believe even more in the power of fiction. 

Any kind of fiction.

So "even though" I'm writing about an eleven-year-old girl going on an incredible, fantastical adventure in another world, with a crazy cast of characters and daunting challenges and mysterious spiders and possibly telepathic lizards and brain washing and aristocratic assassins...

I'm much more certain of its importance.

This book matters. I'm sure of it.

But some people don't really get how valuable fiction is.

Have you noticed this? Have you run into these people before?

The ones who will state—loudly and with a kind of bravado—"Oh, I don't READ FICTION."

Not in the contrite, confessional, okay I'm burnt out and what do I do about that kind of way. Or even the, I just can't seem to get to it lately way. Or the ones who say, I haven't found an author that really grips me yet. 

I get all that. That's totally fine with me.

I'm talking about the people who are essentially saying, "I don't need such fantasies to survive, thank you very much." 

It's smug. There's this belittling tone. As if they could say, "You poor children and your silly stories." 

In other words: Fiction is worthless.

When confronted with this attitude, I used to scramble for a response, feeling vaguely ashamed of myself, trying to find the scraps of my dignity.

As if I'd just invited someone to watch my homemade puppet show, only to receive a scathing response.

Or as if I'd just made a public announcement that I was, in fact, an idiot. 

Now I see it very differently.

And I've settled on a new reply.

So the last time someone told me, with a very superior grin, "Oh, I don't READ fiction. I've NEVER read a novel," I just took a deep breath, looked at him with all the pity I could muster, and said,

"I am so, so sorry to hear that."

As if he just announced that he'd had an amputation.

Because that's how I feel about it.

People who cheerfully choose to avoid all novels are literally cutting themselves off from a certain kind of understanding. Of a way to see other people, a way to connect.

Novels get to a place that movies and most non-fiction can't quite reachBecause there's an intimacy in fiction, an immediateness.

You see the characters' minds plainly, you hear their motivations, you're right up close to their struggles.

I think that what this man wanted me to say was: "Oh, wow, so you're not as frivolous as the rest of us, we who fill our heads with dumb lies. Good job, you superior person, you!"

Instead, I saw someone who was brittle and maybe even a bit scared.

Someone who didn't want to risk all the emotions and connections that happen when we put ourselves into the flow of stories, into novels. 

Someone who has no idea what he's missing. Or who he might be, if he let a stellar novel get under his skin.

I've mentioned a few times that I've been reading Brené Brown's amazing work. If you're familiar with her at all, you know how much she talks about the power of empathy.

Empathy—the statement that you are not alone

She's totally opened my eyes to how we need connection to other people. How we need to treat ourselves with compassion. How we need courage to live a Wholehearted life.

Guess what.

When we read novels, we get a sense of how other people share our struggles.

Have you had that incredibly powerful feeling, when you're reading a novel, and the main character experiences something similar to what you've gone through?

Whether it's an event, or a subtle feeling, or even a line of dialogue that you've said before: There's that shock of recognition, right?

Like you've suddenly caught your face's reflection in an unexpected mirror.

You are not alone.

Whew! That is powerful.

Novels have a unique ability to get in close to us, to wait until our guard is down, and then to say those life-giving words:

You're not alone. Someone else has been there. This writer gets it.

And then—there's a chance for a conversation. Maybe with the writer. Maybe with other people who have read it.

Suddenly there's connection, there's courage, and there's hope.

Maybe something that was shameful is now brought into the light where it can heal. And maybe there's some good self-compassion, as you realize that you're not the only one struggling. As you accept who you are and where you've been.

Dang it, I get all excited just thinking about this!! 

And as a writer, this is incredibly motivating to me.

I want to be honest in the story I'm writing.

I don't want to shrink from telling the truth about what it feels like: to risk big, to worry about your family, to face danger. To hope for change, to face day after day when you don't know what will happen, to heal broken relationships.

Besides. I owe fiction a debt. 

As an incredibly lonely kid, I saw people like me in books, even when I couldn't find them at my church or my school.

That sustained me during some really hard years. It helped me trust that there were other kids who felt like me, who understood me, who had been where I was.

Who survived

Like I said, that's powerful.

It makes me wonder, what is fiction about, anyway, if not connection? 

And are any of us actually above the need to be connected to one another? Above the need to belong?

Spoiler alert: Nope. Brené Brown is a very smart woman, and she says that the data says that we all need these things.

No one is exempt from this stuff. From these needs.

Which is why I'm convinced that to intentionally snub fiction is a sad, sad thing. An emotional amputation.

Let's not make the mistake of undervaluing the incredible novels that we read and write.

Instead, let's celebrate how they connect us, challenge us, and empathize with us. 

And if you're spending your time writing such things, good for you. It is a vital gift to other people. 

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Don't let the smug fiction-abstainers get you down.

Keep going.

Who knows who you might be giving courage to with your words? 


What about you? Have you seen yourself in fiction before? Have you had that shock of recognition, that sense of being understood? 

And have you run into people that don't seem to understand the value of fiction? What do you say to them?