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!

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!!) | lucyflint.com

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?

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whew! That's a lot of power tools!! 

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

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

1) Remember the value of bridging ideas.

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

Why is that important? 

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

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

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

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

Know what I mean? 

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

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

Exciting, right? 

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

2) Shake your imagination up with a crazy challenge.

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

Such as?

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

No, seriously. That's what she said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Turn random into spectacular.

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

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

Here's how it works:

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

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

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

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

Make sense? 

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

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

And then? And then it gets really exciting: 

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

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

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

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

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

4) Get a new environment.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

When Life Steals Your Writing Time, Here's How You Fight Back

In spite of your best intentions, there will be weeks when life overwhelms your writing. What's a lionhearted writer to do? Here's a quick, fun way to fight back and reclaim your story. | lucyflint.com

Sometimes, in spite of all your best intentions, your schedule gives a bit of a shiver and then chucks your writing time to one side. 

Maybe you're traveling, maybe you're sick, or maybe you're in the midst of a big lovely celebration. Happy reasons or frustrating reasons, but one way or another, it gets hard to reach your work.

And if you're writing a novel, all those characters stop standing on their tiptoes. Their shoulders sag. They stop talking to you.

What's a lionhearted writer to do?

Here's a little secret of mine, a "technique" I've used from time to time, although it's really too silly to be called a technique.

But because it is silly, and also oh-so-doable, and also because it usually WORKS--usually keeps my brain tied to my book in spite of whatever is going on--you should try it!

Here's what I do. I write letters. To the thing that is standing in the way of my book.

Not to the traveling, and not to the being sick, and not to the family reunion. 

I write my letters to Creep. 

Heather Sellers is the one who introduced me to Creep formally, though I knew it by its ways long before that. Here's her explanation (from the fantastic, yes-you-must-get-your-hands-on-it book, Chapter After Chapter): 

Most people, especially on their first book, struggle with a terrible insidious mental weed called Creep. If you don't surround yourself with your book, you risk it creeping away from you--or you unintentionally creeping away from it. Creep is bad, and it's as common as the common cold. ... The dreaded Creep is always out there, slowly trying to steal your book from you.

Yes? Right?

You've met Creep before too, haven't you?

I started writing letters to Creep when on a long trip to Florida, visiting family. I was having a lovely time, but my characters were shrinking, and I was terrified of losing them. 

Terrified, but also exhausted, and my writerly brain was only playing static. 

I couldn't work. I couldn't do the plotting and the characterizations that I so needed to do.

But I also hated feeling my novel dry up.

So I grabbed some paper. I clicked a pen. And I wrote--in big, angry letters:

Dear Creep, 

I see you, you mangy destroyer. I see you trying to plant your clawfoot in my days. I see your twisted fingers clutching for my story. I can smell your turnip breath. And I see the oily gleam in your eye.

I can tell you think you've won.

And then I told Creep that I was coming for it. That trips don't last forever, and when I got enough brain cells together, I would write my story with everything I could muster.

I told it all the reasons why I still loved my book. I told it why my characters were worth it.

I told it I was going to fight. 

And at that point, my pen was warmed up, and I was furious and also thinking about my story.

Guess what happened naturally? I started telling myself about scenes that I loved the most. The ones that still grabbed my heart, in spite of the days and activities that filled the space between me and my book.

I started scribbling about other things I would write, about the scenes still to come. I wrote about why I loved my protagonist. I wrote why the antagonist scared me. I wrote about the core images from the book: the moments that I could close my eyes and see.

... And oh, look what happened: The novel's heart started beating again.

Even on a tough day. A mental static day. An I-haven't-written-in-too-freaking-long day. 

I loved how Sellers named this force Creep. I loved that it gave me something to fight. 

Instead of living with that withering feeling of, "It's easier and easier to not write, and also I am probably the worst kind of writing fraud." 

Writing letters to Creep brought my focus back to my book. And it helped me be angry at the right things: not at the circumstances, not at the people who legitimately needed me, not at the days for going by, and not at myself.

I got mad at the thing that was sucking the life out of my work. At Creep.

And I got mad by writing. 

I thwarted it by writing.

I brought my story back to mind. By writing. 

So if your October is filling up with non-writing things, and if your characters are shrinking by the second, and if you're starting to feel desperate...

Well, for starters, please give yourself a huge hug from me, because that is such a hard and terrible feeling, and one I know only too well. One I still fight. 

Give yourself a hug. Get yourself some chocolate. 

And then find a scrap of paper. Flip over an envelope, turn over a receipt, get a little sticky note. And a pen.

And I want you to tell Creep exactly what you think of it. (Be ruthless.) And then write why your story matters. (Because it DOES.)

Put that monster in its place. And remind yourself of how much love you have for your story. 

Tell that piece of paper exactly what kind of lionhearted writer you are.

The kind of writer who will save her story.

The kind who keeps writing.

Making It Easy to Write

While it will never be confused with a piece of cake, writing *can* be made easier. The trick is to keep your mind warmed up. Always. | lucyflint.com

Yeah, I know. The words easy and writing don't usually belong in the same sentence.

And maybe writing will never be truly easy, but I think that we can all agree that--on the best days--it can be easier rather than harder.

When my writing is going okay, I lean deeper and deeper into this practice of staying connected to the work. 

Because isn't disconnection half of what's hard about it?

If my characters are strangers, if I can't remember the knack of their voices, if I've lost the atmosphere of their world, and the thread and threat of the conflict has evaporated...

That's when writing feels impossible. That's when I start giving up.

But when the world of the novel stays alive in my mind, when all my mental machines for writing stay on and humming, when the engine is warm:

Those are the enchanted times when I get three new ideas during dinner, when I step out of the shower with a paragraph written in my head, when I hear a chance phrase from someone else and solve a major plot concern instantly.

We want to keep that engine warm! It's a massive game changer in this whole enterprise.

We have to never stop writing. 

No, I don't mean we're tied to our desk, and I don't mean we never have a day off. I mean that we never let the engine get truly cold

In Chapter after Chapter, Heather Sellers describes the practice of "positioning," a term she got from her writing friend Eric. 

She says that he decides exactly what he'll be working on the next day. He makes a list, staying businesslike and professional about it. He sets out the files he'll need, getting everything ready for the next morning.

"Purposeful book authors ... lay out their things, mentally and physically preparing for the next writing day. ... Everything is set up for the next day, like dominoes, and in the morning [Eric] just has to get his butt to the chair, flick his finger, and the process immediately has its own momentum."

Heather describes her own positioning process while writing a collection of short stories: every evening she would review her notes, touch the printed pages of her draft, and glance over her outline.

Nothing intense. Just a nightly visit to her writing studio.. But this kept the book alive in her mind, day after day after day, in spite of massive changes in her personal life.

James Scott Bell, in Plot & Structure, describes his habit of writing 350 words in the morning, practically first thing.

He says it's a good jump forward on his quota of words. But I think it also keeps that story alive, by immediately connecting writer to words at the start of the day.

I've found half a dozen ways to stay connected to my story, and to keep that writing engine warm:

  • When I'm in the thick of drafting, I always start the day's work by rereading what I wrote yesterday. (I'm not allowed to cringe too much.)
     
  • If I'm drafting by hand (and I usually am), I also type the previous day's work. Usually, I tweak it a bit as I go, and this light editing gets my brain all kinds of warmed up.
     
  • When I get up from my desk during the day (you know I have those dance parties!): I jot a few notes. Whatever I already know about what comes next: any details, any fragments. It's like a quick Polaroid of what I was writing toward. 
     
  • If I have to leave for a longer time--doctor's appointment, coffee date--I'll take a much more complete snapshot. I layer in more details, roughing in a view of the rest of the scene. Even if a whirlwind of distractions follows, that next bit of writing is safe. And it doesn't take much for me to get back into the groove.
     
  • At the end of the work day, just like Heather Sellers and her friend Eric, I make a plan. I'll look at my notes, my outlines. Maybe tidy up the clutter. Set out all the working pieces in places of honor. 
     
  • ... And when I'm really, really working hot, when the days feel like I'm living more in the book than in the "real world," more in ink and paper than in oxygen and carbon, I do one more thing: I sleep next to the manuscript. It's right there next to me in bed. Yes. I do realize that this is TOTALLY weird. But there's something about the notebook sitting there, with all those words. It feels like the book is truly alive, like my brain is still connected. The last thing I want to do is break that spell. So instead, I try to put a huge sign on my subconscious, saying: I'm Still Here. (It's a little less weird if you think of a newborn baby sleeping in the same room as its parents. See? That's normal, right? And you never know when the manuscript might wake up in the middle of the night and need you to rock it back to sleep...)

If you've ever had a block. If you've ever had a rough day. If you've ever totally lost the thread of what you're working on because life showed up. If you've ever been in a groove and then so unexpectedly fell right out of it. 

If that's ever happened to you (and that's all of us, right?), then you owe it to yourself to lean in. To make the most of the good times. 

Learn how to stay connected to your work. Refuse to take the good days for granted. Don't start skipping out. Don't trust the sunshine to stay forever.

Keep the engine warm; keep moving forward.

Make it easy (or at least easier) to write.

Do you have strategies for staying connected to your book? I'd love to pick up some new tricks... Do share!