If Your Writing Life Feels Like a Series of Face-Plants, This Is What You Need to Know (Or, What to Think When Failure Comes Calling)

Sometimes we get caught between a fear of failing, or a denial that failure can happen. Either way, we get paralyzed. Here's how to keep moving. | lucyflint.com

If you've hung out on this blog for a little while, you've probably noticed: I really love inspiring quotes.

They're like little chocolate-covered coffee beans for the writer's heart. When I need an emotional pick-me-up, a good powerful quote can get me moving again.

Which is why it's weird to tell you this: I'm starting to feel a little allergic to one of the most standard-issue inspirational sentiments.

It shows up in a variety of ways, but it has a similar vibe throughout. 

It's in the kind of quotes that say: What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail? Or, leap and the net will appear. Or any of the similar ideas running around on Pinterest and Instagram that tell you: to dance like no one's watching, or even if you're afraid of falling you just might fly, or if you miss the moon you'll land among the stars

Any quote that talks about risking like there isn't a cost: they used to get my wheels turning, used to stir up my boldness, my willingness to dive in. 

Lately, though, they've left me feeling flattened.

Because, while I love inspiring words, the truth is that I've done a lot more falling than flying.

Either the net doesn't work or I broke it with my plummeting.

I haven't yet landed on the moon or among the stars, thank you very much.

So I want to dash around on Pinterest, on Instagram, and snag those quotes so that I can draw a footnote underneath them, add a little appendix.

I want to say: Um, it might take a LOT of leaping before you learn what a net even looks like, let alone aim yourself to land in it. In the meantime, there will be some bruises.

It might take a lot of falling in order to learn how to fly. 

See, I don't think that those risk-without-worrying-about-the-cost quotes set us up for anything good or healthy. They seem encouraging... but are they telling the truth?

Like I said, my experience doesn't involve a lot of flying. My specialty is actually tumbling. I wipe out like it's my whole job. Frankly, I'm getting pretty good at it. And then what comes next: learning to crawl forward anyhow (after making sure nothing's permanently broken).

From my own experience, and from that of friends, and from the behind-the-scenes conversations with other creatives, I am convinced: This falling down is part of the path of everyone who wants to create.

In other words, get ready to fail.

(Oooh. That's not very chipper, is it. Sorry. But I've actually found some deep and resilient inspiration in considering our failures, so keep reading, my friend! I promise this gets happier.)

Yes, it is dangerous to let our fears stop us from creating. And I understand, that's what those inspirational quotes are trying to address. They want to get us moving anyway!, and that's great.

But I'm convinced that it's equally dangerous to pretend that hard landings don't exist. That falling doesn't happen a LOT. 

In other words: I don't want to fear failure, but I also don't want to pretend that it can't happen.

Well, shoot. So ... now what? What's the solution? 

I think that the best way forward, in the face of all this, is to change our focus, and to change our definitions.

For starters, whenever we bring up the idea of "failure," it means that we're focused on the outcome. On the result of the thing that we do. 

Obviously it's good to care about the result of our work. Plenty of us are looking for an audience one day, for people who will encounter—and appreciate!—our work. We'd like that whole exchange to turn out well, and that is totally fine and as it should be.

BUT.

I know that I can get really, really preoccupied with the result of my work. I can care about it waaaay too much and way too soon. And I isolate the result from the much bigger, much more important thing:

The process of doing the work itself. The making. The writing.

After all, isn't that process what we are actually committed to?  The day in, day out, showing up, learning more, trying again, adjusting, evolving, getting better ideas, trying new techniques, finding more and more of what we want to say.

That's what we're in this for, am I right?

When we get over-anxious about the outcome, it's easy to have forgotten it: we're not in this for the outcome of a single piece. Which means, this isn't a pass/fail game. It's a whole lot broader than that.

So that's part of what we have to remember, when we get hung up on the idea of "what if I fail." 

But the even bigger thing to attack here is our whole definition of failure itself.

Take a sec and think about it: What does failure mean?

What does it really mean to you? What are all the hairy, fanged, ugly things that it has come to mean ... and what is it really, when you take the big scary costume off of it and see it for what it is? 

Where is its power really coming from, my dear?

In Brooke Castillo's ah-mazing podcast, she tackles failure in an incredibly inspiring episode. (It's only 27 minutes long and it will rearrange your life, so give it a listen!!)

One thing she points out is the true definition of failure. What is failure really? It's this: Not meeting expectations.

That's it.

That's IT. That is all it is.

I expected my book to sound better than this, I expected that the trilogy would kinda magically pull itself together after I reread all the drafts, I expected that four drafts would be enough for this project, I expected to research by osmosis instead of actually doing it, I expected worldbuilding to take care of itself.

I expected it to go faster, easier, simpler. I expected to feel smarter, to work more quickly. I expected to be done by now.

Those are a bunch of the expectations currently running around in my head, and yes, these same unsatisfied expectations are the seeds of the big ugly failure weed that's taking up space in my mind.

THIS is why I've been feeling like a failure: because I've had all these expectations—pretty much not based on anything real. They've just kind of happened, without any real intention from me.

I just expected things to go differently. They didn't. And then I feel like a failure.

Okay, friends: Hands up if this describes what's happened in your writing life too?

I don't know about you, but it helps me SO MUCH to realize that I've fallen into these expectations without meaning to, and then I've let them determine this weird creeping sense of failure in my writing life.

... Which usually shows up in my head around midnight and then torments me for an hour. SUPER FUN.

When we arbitrarily decide what our writing lives "should" look like, how projects should go, how fast or how smooth or how easily, how many drafts—we are setting ourselves up for a sense of failure.

You tracking with me?

And then we take that failure, and we make it mean really huge, awful things about ourselves, our work, our potential, our talent, our prospects. We pile the miserably onto the failure for a nice sense of failed miserably.

We let it damn us into silence, and then we declare the whole experience one big crash-and-burn.

(Or mayyyyybe that's just me. But seriously, this is how I roll if I'm not paying attention to what's happening in my mind.)

We give the concept of failure all this power that it really doesn't have to have. We draw the wrong conclusions from it. Which makes it hurt so much more than it needs to, and which makes it paralyze us, when what we most need is the opposite of paralysis: 

We need to keep going!

I know it can be hard to root out all our expectations about how work should go. Mine tend to hide, until they leap out in their failure-suits to gnaw on my sense of worth. (Not cool, guys.) 

But it can help to do a kind of "Expectation Dump." Grab a sheet of paper, and just see what comes up. Try to jot down 10 expectations that you have about your work, whatever your work-in-progress is right now.

Here's the thing: I'm not saying expectations are terrible. It's good to have aims, and to aim high. After all, I do want my trilogy to just sing when I'm done with it. I do want the worldbuilding to be spot on, and I want it to sound better than it currently does. (A LOT better, please.)

The thing that traps me in Failureville is when I start saying, It should have happened already, It should have been sooner, I should know better, I should learn faster, I should, I should, I should ...

or else I'm a failure.

That's when things get sick, and flat-out untrue.

Here's my favorite anti-failure mantra. Here's what we meet all this with. Here's what we sing at the tops of our lungs from our writing desks:

I am going to learn from this.

So simple, but oh-so effective.

Deciding that everything is about learning just kind of deflates the whole "I should have by now" parade.

My trilogy doesn't sing right now. It doesn't even creak pleasantly. But you know what? I'm going to learn from this.

The backstory for book one has waaaaaay more holes in it than I feel like I can manage, but guess what: I'm going to learn how to fill them.

I'm going to learn how to make my protagonist stronger, how to smooth out my clunky worldbuilding, how to nail dialogue.

I'm going to keep. on. learning.

When we decide to keep learning, failure loses all its power. All it can do is kind of blink and say, You expected something different than this ... do you, um, care? And then it sees that you're taking notes and that you have your power-student face on, and you're going to use the mistake as a fresh jumping off point ...

Well, it doesn't really know how to counter that.

Yes, it can still sting. It can sting a lot.

But when we roll up our sleeves and decide to be learners instead of "failures," we'll remember this gorgeous thing about the creative life:

The lovely thing about writing is that you can do it from anywhere. From the tip top, or right down at the bottom of all things. You can write your way out of any hole at all.

Sometimes with bruises, abrasions, sore places. When breath comes back, you're reaching around for your pen again, before you even sit up. 

So even if you don't know how to fix your work-in-progress right now, you can practice something else. You can fill journals, you can make dozens of funny lists, you can do creative writing exercises ... and maybe discover a new project to ease the pressure from your first one—who can tell?

When we defuse expectations and remove their power, when we shrink the sway of failure, when we see ourselves as Learners with pens in hand: 

We get pretty dang invincible.

And that's exactly the kind of space I want to work from.


Okay. I have a bunch of lionhearted links and goodies for you, so if you want to go further on this topic, check these amazing things out: 

  • First, seriously, listen to Brooke Castillo's podcast episode on How to Fail. It will rock your world.
     
  • Then, check out this lovely podcast episode of Elizabeth Gilbert interviewing Brené Brown. This is where I first heard people taking to task the quotes about "leap and the net will blah blah blah" and also "what would you do if you couldn't fail." These ladies get real clear about how failure feels in the creative process... plus they're just incredible. You'll love this one.
     
  • Bonus: If you're an Elizabeth Gilbert fan, check out this mini TED talk (just 7 minutes!) on Success, failure, and the drive to keep creating. SUCH a good reminder.
     
  • And for an INCREDIBLE sense of perspective, jump into this video, as Marie Forleo interviews Bryce Dallas Howard: If you pick up at the 11:48 mark, you'll hear Bryce Dallas Howard explain that it takes real working actors (in other words, not wannabes, but legit actors) an average of 64 auditions to get a role. SIXTY-flipping-FOUR. How is that for a mind-bender? And a redefinition of what failing is?? After all, auditions 1-63 are not failures; they're the steps you have to take to get a job. I loved how Howard talked about this in a really matter-of-fact way. SO refreshing and super inspiring.
     
  • Finally, finally: yes, dealing with a sense of failure isn't fun, and even when we get clear on expectations versus a sense of failure, and even when we get our Learning Hats on ... well, it can still sting. For that, I recommend an all-out dance party. Shake it off, and crank up the volume on this song: Sia's Never Give Up.

You are a dauntless, lionhearted learner. A maker of many things. Don't forget it.

Two Ways to Disaster-Proof Your Writing Life (and Your Writing Heart)

What to do, when the people around you are succeeding, but you... um, aren't? What to do when you feel like you're failing? This powerful trait is what protects our writing lives from all the storms and things that threaten it. | lucyflint.com

My last two years have been a rocky but determined progression toward contentment in my writing life.

Contentment? 

Why is contentment such a powerful trait to have in our lionhearted arsenal?

It sounds so simple-minded. So basic.

But it's absolutely vital. 

Contentment is the characteristic that takes care of us when our writing life feels threatened.

It means being okay, happy, satisfied. (Even while we're striving to get better.)

For me, it includes a fierce belief that I am learning exactly what I need to be learning right now.

And that I'm fine, right where I am. 

If this sounds a bit familiar, it's because contentment operates a lot like peacefulness and patience. They work to protect us from anger and frustration in our writing process—freeing us up to focus on the problem, instead of flipping out.

SUPER helpful, right?

Contentment protects us too. It keeps us from being derailed by other people's successes, or by our own failures.

To put it another way: If your writing life is a huge cruise ship (um, YES), then peace and patience are all the systems and designs that keep the crew and passengers all okay. They manage the day-to-day actions onboard and keep everything working smoothly.

Contentment is what keeps the whole ship from capsizing. It protects you from waves, storms, icebergs, and zombie shark attacks.

(You know. All the usual threats.)

The last thing our writing lives need is to fall prey to a zombie shark attack. (I mean... ew.)

So let's take a few minutes to boost our contentment levels, shall we?

There are two things that can really keep your contentment strong:

1) Don't compare yourself to alllllllll the other writers and creatives out there.

2) Don't let writing be your everything.

Sound good? Let's do this.

You are where you should be (and so is everyone else).

There are dozens of great quotes about this. We read them and think, heck yes, that is how to think about all this*.

But let's say it again anyway:

Comparing ourselves to other people doesn't work

It doesn't do any good to look at the wunderkinds we hear about (oh, you know I love you, Internet!) and then to do the seriously unhelpful math.

You know the math, right?

"Oh, when that person published her amazing, award-winning novel, I was still freaking out about not knowing enough, instead of actually writing." 

Or, "when this famous person was my age, he already had four books out, and they were so intelligent and smart! Meanwhile I've forgotten all the stuff I knew and my grammar has gone seriously downhill."

This math of comparison—my age vs. her age; my speed vs. his speed; my use of years vs. her use of years; I did this much, he did that much—

This math does not help. 

This can't be what we do in our spare time anymore, my friends!

Putting ourselves back to back with other writers, other creatives, and deciding that we come up short. Let's not.

Comparing ourselves to other people eats away at our hope and our courage, like acid eating away at stone.

I can practically feel myself disintegrating.

Listen up: The shape of someone else's path (to writing, to publication, through life), actually has nothing to do with my own path.

It isn't actually a guide for where I should be. 

When we compare ourselves with other people, we're saying that we all had the same stuff to deal with.

But that person's story material, skill status, obstacles faced, and other life circumstances are so complex and so different from our own complex and specific situations, that it's just impossible to compare them.

Oh—and it's mean. It is severely mean to do this to ourselves.

So let's not do it.

No more comparing.

I am the strongest and best writer I can be when I let everyone else's writing lives and successes belong to them.

Their victories in the writing life can inspire me, but other than that, they have no bearing and can pass no judgment on my own writing life.

Taking this stance in your writing requires a lot of pluck. 

It is darned courageous to say: I see what you're doing, and good for you, but I'm going to just be different over here.

It takes guts, but it's also incredibly freeing.

You're allowed to work at a different pace, a different schedule.

Write your own projects, forms, genres. Do it your own way. To your own timing. 

Yes, it can be hard to keep our grip on this mindset, but it's 100% crucial to our writing lives.

See, we want to believe that we all have unique voices, that we all bring something original to the writing world, right?

So how can we demand that how we get there looks like everyone else's path?

I'd like to give you permission, here and now, to have your writing life be what it is. Whatever shape it takes.

We are each so unique. We have different hearts, voices, stories, ideas. That's brilliant and dazzling and every inch what it should be.

So how could our writing journeys look alike, when we're each so different?

I'd like to see this crazy totally-my-own path as a good sign, rather than something else. 

Can we do that? A mass reinterpretation? 

So you're not doing something on the same schedule or at the same rate or to the same degree as someone else.

WHEW! Good news, right? You'll have something different to give your readers, then. Something original.

See what I mean? Yes, this might take some practice. Okay, a lot of practice. But it's worth retraining our minds.

Focus on the truth: Your writing path is teaching you all the stuff you need to put into those stories you're telling. It's a good path (even when it's really hard).

Let's stick with it.

(And if using affirmations works well for you, this could be a great place to use it too!)

You are so much more than a writer.

We all know this with our brains. But it's so tempting to forget it with our hearts: 

We can't let writing be our everything.

Don't get me wrong: I love this work we do. Stories amaze me and always will. 

But this can never be the thing that you and I live for above all others. Because if it is, then we'll be totally flattened by any difficulty, any "failure," any long blocked period.

If writing is the thing that matters most to us, then we'll have some really dark days ahead. 

So let's be intentional about leaning into something else. Diversify. Pursue other arts now and then that delight you.

Be a human being first and foremost, and love what you see and what you do and all the good people around you. Enjoy every bit of living that you can.

And write, of course! Write with a full heart.

But don't let writing hold your whole heart.

If you're looking for a stellar writing quote about this, I've totally got one. Oh wait, it's actually about the Olympics, from a movie that I adored as a kid: Cool Runnings. (Hands up, everyone who loves this with me!)

Hahaha! Okay. But seriously.

Instead of gold medal, let's think publication, or bestseller status, or whatever form of writerly success you're thirsting for: 

"A gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it."

(Here's the quote in action, if you want the full effect.)

Truth, right??

Whenever I need to work on this, it helps me oh so much to crank up the level of gratitude I feel—for every tiny piece of my life.

Enjoy everything. Deeply. On purpose. 

Relish every single thing.

It takes the pressure off of writing: it keeps my work from being the single thing that will deliver all the magic and excitement and meaning and joy to my life.

It reminds me that my life is enough, even when my writing doesn't work so well.

So writing is free to be wonderful, and it's free to have difficulties, and my life is still intact.

This is hugely important, my friends!

This is the difference between having a healthy writing life and having one that will destroy you.

(Believe me—I had some rough days before I got this straight.)

You're so much more than just a writer.

And the writing life path that you're on is exquisitely tailored to shape your unique stories and your one-and-only voice.

And the more we let that sink in, the more content we'll be, come what may. 

... Zombie sharks, we are so ready for you.


*If you'd like a mega-dose of a You are totally fine right where you are message, check out this amazing article by Jamie Varon.

This is the kind of message I need to scrawl on my walls and tattoo on my arms. It is true and good, and you might need to read it forty times a day with chocolate when you're working on being cool with where you are in life.

(Just a heads up, there's some strong language in there, so if you're around sensitive eyes, look out for that.)

When Doubt and Negativity Come Looking for You (and Your Writing), Here's What To Do.

It isn't about talent. It isn't about feeling GREAT about your writing all the time. It isn't about perfect schedules or exquisite time management or an elegant vocabulary. It all comes down to just one thing. | lucyflint.com

This is just a plain old straightforward quote. But it's totally lovely.

And I still need to hear it. And you still need to hear it.

This is just a lionhearted essential.

Doris Lessing, writer extraordinaire (she won this tiny, obscure award called the Nobel Prize), said: 

"What I did have, which others perhaps didn't, was a capacity for sticking at it, which really is the point, not the talent at all. You have to stick at it.

Happy Monday, in other words. 

"What I did have, which others perhaps didn't, was a capacity for sticking at it, which really is the point, not the talent at all. You have to stick at it." -- Doris Lessing | lucyflint.com

This kind of philosophy sometimes requires a very large coffee mug, so by all means get one. And then let's have a little chat about perseverance.

... Got your coffee? Me too.

Okay. Look: There are a million things that are going to show up to knock us off course. 

Legitimate things, and not so legitimate ones. True reasons for slowing down, and lies that slow us down too. 

We're facing redirections, obstacles, setbacks. There are new skills to learn, old habits to discard, better patterns of thinking we can embrace.

It's complicated, busy, and ever-changing. 

It can feel like a lot. Heck, let's get real: it is a lot!

Total true confession: I still have moments when I think, just out of the blue, maybe I should chuck it? 

This was me. Just last night.

Lying in bed, explaining to my pillow, "It would be so much simpler if I just worked for a bookstore and stopped all this writing nonsense. I would do great at a bookstore. I love recommending books to people! I could read a ton, yay, and there would be so much less wear and tear on my brain. Also, um, paychecks."

Of course, I didn't believe myself as I said all this. Not really.

(Neither did my pillow. It is never fooled.)

In the morning I pulled out this quote and thought, right. 

Sticking with it. That's what's right. That's the answer.

This whole writing gig—it isn't won by brilliance. It isn't won with perfect writing routines and spotless writing schedules.

It isn't a game of ideal circumstances

Nope.

So if you don't feel brilliant this instant, and if your writing routine has developed a serious wobble, and if your schedule has faltered a smidge—no worries. 

You are still in the right place.

Because it all comes down to sticking with it. Stick with the writing life.

On the glorious, exhilarating days, yes!

And also on the ones where you feel ragged and dry and aren't really sure it makes sense anymore.

We stick with it. 

Which is why I got to my desk today anyway.

Which is why I pulled out my characters (even though I felt grumpy, and I probably did a few big dramatic sighs) and I said, "Hey kids, what should we talk about?"

Which is why I still plunged into my book today. And it maybe wasn't spectacular writing, but it was still right and good and exactly where I should be.

Don't believe the weird funky lies that show up at midnight, or at four on a rainy afternoon, or at a bleak eight-thirty on an overcast morning.

Okay? Don't let those lies seep into your soul.

We're sticking with it, you and me. 

Because it doesn't have to look perfect, and it isn't about talent, and it isn't always neat and tidy. 

It's just about endurance.

About scribbling a few sentences even on our worst days. About carrying on, learning what we need to learn, and digging a little deeper. 

Also, of course, dancing. And also chocolate.

(And if you haven't had a good, shake-everything-loose dance party in your office for a while, you need to. I did today and it fixed so much. And then, of course, so did the chocolate part.)

All of this to say, sometimes it isn't super helpful to pay attention to all of our writerly feelings.

Feelings pretend to be absolute truth tellers, but sometimes, they're full of crap. Or they're only partly true. 

I try to say, Thanks for the input; your complaint has been acknowledged. And then I go to the desk anyway.

On my pillow, I said, "Work in a bookstore? Hm. How interesting. You're right, I could wear a collection of brightly colored tights and dye my hair a shocking color and strike up conversations with the charming barista. What a nice idea. ... And then, at night after closing down the shop, would I be crying about the novels I didn't write?"

"Um," said the traitorous feelings. "Um, yeah. Probably."

"That's what I thought." (And my pillow totally agreed.)

Stick with it. 

Even if you have the worst case of the Mondays, stick with it.

Sometimes that means you shrink your writing practice to the smallest possible unit. To a mouse-sized writing practice, just to get by.

And then you can blow it back up later to a big, splashy, wonderful writing practice.

Sometimes, if you're a bit battered, you give yourself a week of just reading, all novels all the time, or all poems, or all essays...

But you're still sticking with it. That's the thing.

Move toward it, even on your awful days. 

Don't give up.

5 Things To Do (Right Away!) When You Feel Like Your Life Is Stuck

It can build for a while in an ugly spiral, or it can spring on you out of the blue. Either way, here's what you can do when it happens: Five things to do right away when you feel like your life is stuck. | lucyflint.com

For some reason, it tends to happen around holidays.

Maybe because there are so many conversations, so many people to catch up with, and so many chances to rehash the "so how is your writing going" question. 

Maybe because it's also a hard season for focusing. Writing projects, writing progress, writing in general: it can all feel kind of stuck.

Ohhhh, that Stuck Feeling. It can get bitter. It can get ugly. It can spread. And fast.

This used to happen to me a lot. And yes, weirdly enough, right around Christmas time, it would hit me in a bad way. 

Suddenly I'd find that at night, I did not have visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. I had visions of being exposed as a total failure at the whole writing thing. Visions of giving up writing, of doing something else, anything else.

And then I'd realize that I'm not just bad at writing, I'm bad at everything. And actually, I wouldn't be able to think of a single thing I was good at.

Which can get a bit depressing.

... Does this happen to anyone else, or is it just me?? Whew. Let's all have some chocolate.

That Stuck Feeling and I: we go way, way back. We have a lot of history. And I've learned some things about how to deal with it. (Besides the chocolate, which I'm guessing is obvious.)

Here's what I'm practicing, any time that Stuck Feeling shows up. Read on and arm yourself!

1) Know your enemy and its tricks.

For starters, this is a feeling, and that's important to know.

Like all feelings, it will insist that it tells the absolute, unvarnished truth. 100% reality. It will cross its arms and try to stare you down.

It will remind you of the zillion things that you are waiting on, which are all outside of your control. 

Money, lodgings, opportunities, access, time, space, ideas, skills, did-I-mention-money, teachers, fellow writers, paid professionals, attention... It can generate an endless list of Things Waited On. 

This feeling is relentless.

When it shows up for me, it works SO HARD until I finally say back to it: "Yes, you are right. I am stuck. Everything is stuck."

At which point, the Stuck Feeling puts a bag over my head, just in case I wise up and start seeing all the opportunities around me. 

It is such a trap.

The best and most effective way to expose this feeling as a definite lie, the best way to banish it, is to do something New. 

Something good and new for yourself and your writing.

Preferably something nourishing.

To that end:

2) Try a writing challenge.

It doesn't have to be a huge challenge; you might not have the energy for huge effort. 

Design your own tiny challenge instead. Grab a book of writing exercises (I always recommend this one) or find some online.

Grab a notebook and a timer. Try writing just five minutes on a prompt, and force yourself to do five prompts in a row. After just that half hour of work, you might feel completely different. 

(Of course, if you get carried away, feel free to do the whole dang book. It might change your life.)

3) Actively nurture your curiosity. 

I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic, and she makes a wonderful case for following your curiosity. She says that anything you're interested in—even if it's just the tiniest bit of interest—is worth focusing on. 

She writes: "It's a clue. It might seem like nothing, but it's a clue. Follow that clue. Trust it. See where curiosity will lead you next. ... Following that scavenger hunt of curiosity can lead you to amazing, unexpected places." 

So when the Feeling of Stuckness rises up, try seeking your curiosity. Force your attention away from all the wailing internal voices (I know, they're super loud!), and ask yourself:

Is there anything that you're interested in? Anything? At all?

And then treat that bit of interest like a clue, and follow it. Learn a little more about it. Explore.

And then look around for the next clue.

4) Explode your creativity. 

Move in a direction other than writing. Give the words a break. Give 'em some space to refresh.

And go try something else for a while. Go dance wildly and awkwardly to some loud music: get a bit sweaty. 

Or try picking up a pen and sketching. Grab some simple, schoolkid watercolors and dabble in painting for a while. 

I started doing that this summer, and every time I pick up my sketchbook, I feel wonderfully calm and focused. (In other words, the opposite of stuck and screaming.)

... The main thing is: move. This Stuck Feeling can work like a numbing drug, and make you forget how strong you are, in your mind, your body, your heart. 

If it says you're stuck, go out and learn. Go out and do. Make something with your hands. Go on a hike. Explore.

Outrun the thing.

5) Remember how creative rhythms work.

I've seen this pattern again and again in my writing life (and the rest of my life too!). I'll feel stuck (and wretched) and I'll think that's whole story: I'm not moving forward and I'm awful.

I think everything's over. 

... And then something happens.

It turns out that, during that Stuck time, something inside me was gathering. Energy was building, getting ready to connect with an insight that was just around the corner. A revelation, an epiphany. Something that makes all the difference. 

Or I suddenly encounter a bunch of resources that are exactly what I need, and I leap ahead.

Or I experience some other major shift in how I think about myself, my creativity, my writing life, and the whole shebang.

And not only am I moving again, I'm racing.

This has happened so many times. 

Here's what I think: Before our brains and hearts do something big, they sometimes pull in for a while. They get quiet and still.

And sometimes this goes on longer than we feel comfortable with.

I don't know if it's like that for everyone, but it has happened to me more times than I can count. 

And I'm slowly catching on. I am trying to remind myself to not go running and wailing that I'm stuck.

I tell myself that what I think of as stuck might actually be a period of invisible growth. Something good is brewing, even if I can't tell what it is yet.

So no more running. No more wailing. I need all my energy for the Big Thing that is just around the corner, moving slowly toward me. 

So that's what I'd say to you. The next time you feel stuck, like everything has just stopped, like there's no momentum:

Lean toward the next challenge. Even though you can't see it yet.

Take really good care of yourself and give yourself a lot of grace and a lot of room. Practice a skill, learn something new, listen for your curiosity, keep working.

When you sense despair thrumming beside you, shift away from it.

Because something fantastic is up ahead. And it will need all the energy you can spare. 

Can I Tell You a Secret? No One Really Loses Nanowrimo. (drafts don't Have To "fail.")

Even the crappiest drafting experience EVER can be redeemed if you dig deep into these four questions. | lucyflint.com

I heard someone once refer to "failed drafts" and it totally weirded me out.

A failed draft? Great, one more thing to worry about.

I thought I might believe that for a while. I looked at some of my works-in-progress like they were actively failing. (This did not make me feel inspired at all, by the way.)

I don't think that any more.

Look. Here's what you need to know today, the final day of Nanowrimo

Drafts themselves don't fail. They always do exactly what they need to.

Maybe you finished your 50,000 words for Nanowrimo. Maybe you wrote more words than you hoped you could.

Maybe you fell in love with all your characters, and you all just had a huge party together, a wonderful word fest. That is great.

Or maybe you're finishing Nanowrimo by the skin of your teeth, squeaking in this evening with your final word count. You're not sure what you ended up with, and you suspect it might read like cat puke, but heck, you did it. 

Or maybe--maybe it wasn't even close.

Maybe you burned out early, or your novel idea fell apart in your hands and you stopped, discouraged.

Maybe Life happened--as it does--and you had million other things to cope with this month, and writing took a back burner. Or even no burner.

And maybe you're bummed, frustrated, and upset with yourself.

No matter who you are, and no matter what happened in November, here's what you need to know:

Your draft, and your experience while writing it, is telling you something. Not just the story (or lack of story), but something about you, the writer, and how you write.

And if you listen to that, and actually learn from it, then you didn't have a failed draft. 

Sound good? 

Even the crappiest, most miserable draft can bring valuable insights. I promise. And between you and me, I have written some stunningly bad pieces before.

And it's what I learned through those bad pieces that made me a much better (and happier!) writer. Okay?

Here's what I want you to do, especially if you didn't "win," (though you can do it even if you did).

Look at these four questions and come up with at least one answer for each. (All four answers are massively important: no skipping!)

(It would be great and probably more helpful to you if you actually wrote your answers down, but... I'm guessing your wrist and fingers are all burnt out by now.)

Ready? Okay. Think back over your Nanowrimo experience, or over your most recent draft, and answer this:

1.) What was your favorite thing about the story? A character, an image, a moment, a setting? A plot turn? A chapter? A dialogue exchange? What was it?

2.) What was your favorite thing about the drafting process? What went well for you? If you had a single good writing day, or a single good writing session: what was it that made it good?

Okay. Now, be nice and play fair (meaning, no name calling):

3.) What were you less than thrilled with in your story? A character that went flat, a dramatic scene that died, a non-existent setting? Conflict that fizzled? 

4.) And what were you less than thrilled with in your writing process? Was there a consistent pattern in the writing days that went belly-up? Something in your environment, mindset, tools, skill sets, or habits that you think sabotaged the work?

Whew! That was some important thinking. 

Here's what I've learned through doing so, so many drafts: The draft you learn from is a good draft.

It can be the worst pile of slop: if you honest-to-goodness learn from that thing, then it is a slop pile of gold. 

Learning is totally antithetical to failing. If you're learning, you're just not failing

I'm not being goofy about this: I understand, things can go really, really wrong, and all the learning in the world doesn't change the fact that it is supremely unfun and painful to have something go wrong.

I get that. I really do.

But I also know that when pain and frustration turn into ways of doing it better: That's when those difficult days are redeemed.

So. You've got at least four answers to those four questions? Cool. Here's what to do (and you already were thinking of this, I bet):

Your answer to question one: Your favorite parts of your draft? Lean into those. What you loved in your story--do more of that. Turn up the volume.

If it was a theme, expand it. If it was an image, do more images like that.

Maybe it surprised you a bit. Maybe the thing you loved most is the thing that you didn't think you were going to write about. Maybe it just showed up in the draft, and you fell in love.

Or maybe, you planned for it, and there it was, perfect and happy-making and smiling at you from the draft. Your impulse to write about it was totally confirmed.

However you came across it: I want you to give yourself massive permission to do more of that!! 

Same thing goes for your answer to question number two. I'm deeply convinced that it pays to know what makes your writing day run well, and then to do those things, as much and as often as you can.

What can you do to bring more of answer #1 and answer #2 into your writing life?

Okay. Now looking at the answers to #3 and #4: 

Obviously, the first thing to say is: let's do less of that! 

But I'd like to expand that by saying: Make sure you're really listening to yourself.

If you discovered that you don't like the genre you're writing in, start playing around with a genre that might suit you more.

If your villain absolutely failed to thrill you, think about the antagonists in the stories that you love, and what made them so chilling.

... Typed out, on a screen here in black and white, that seems kind of no-brainerish, kind of obvious, right? Sure it does.

And yet.

I chained myself to a draft I disliked for four years, absolutely failing to see that I didn't like the story, the main character, most of the villains, the side kick, and pretty much the whole shebang.

(I did like the outrageously quirky characters that randomly showed up near the end, but I ignored that.)  

I was focused on finishing it, not so much how I felt about it. Essentially, I was working blind.

Which is why your answers to #3 and #4 are so dang valuable in guiding what you do next.

For me? I wrote another manuscript pretty similar to my first one. (I'm not always a fast learner.)

But now--I'm writing a middle grade trilogy that is chock-full of everything I LOVE in stories.

Outrageously quirky characters definitely take a starring role. And every single thing I like is in there somewhere. 

But that's only because I finally, finally, let myself figure out what I liked and what I didn't, what drew me in and what repelled me.

I finally let that tell me what to write.

You can save yourself a bunch of time and anguish, and do that right now!

And with your answer to #4: How can you protect your writing life from those things happening again?

Is there a skill you'd love to learn, a class to take? Do you need to change where you work, or make sure you take a walk in the sun now and then, or get lost in a library for a while? 

I'd love to challenge you to do this: Answer #4 as deeply and in as many ways as you can, and then set out to learn what you need to, to establish whatever boundaries, to change your office around if you need to. 

In short, get every single thing that you need to be the amazing and happy writer that you can be. Please, please, please. That's Priority Number One.

... If you do that, then this could be the most successful draft you've ever written! Even if you just wrote fifty words on it!! 

So whatever happened to you in November, whatever happened in your latest draft:

Let it tell you which direction to go. What to do more of, what to embrace. What to let go of, what to seek.

You just might discover a story that's closer to your heart, populated with characters you adore, and fueled by a fascinating conflict. 

And you just might renovate your writing process and writing life, so that you're filled with everything you need to thrive as a writer and creator.

You can be gloriously happy with your writing life.

And then, your "failed" draft becomes the most exciting thing: a turning point. 

How to Resuscitate an Envy-Ridden Writing Life

Sometimes Envy shows up when we're writing, and everyone else's successes poison our work. It's a bad feeling. A bad cycle. Here's how to step out of it. | lucyflint.com

If we're going to talk about celebrations this month--and we totally are!--then we need to talk about the big, oily vulture that camps in front of the party store, glowering at everyone.

You might have met him. His name is Envy.

... Yes, I realize how goofy that metaphor sounds. Here's something a lot less goofy:

If you're letting Envy hang out in your writing life, you're poisoning your work environment, your work-in-progress, and your imagination. And you definitely won't be celebrating much.

It's BAD NEWS, is what I'm saying.

Kinda makes a vulture metaphor sound cute in comparison.

Envy is a pretty easy companion to pick up. It slips in without you really knowing it. 

Here's how it found me: I was doing my work, minding my own business. Learning about the writing life, learning how to write novels. I realized how good I wanted to be, and how far I still had to go to get there.

The "apprenticeship" phase of my writing life has taken a lot longer than I ever expected. I can now say that's a good thing, but while I was courting envy, I really REALLY couldn't see that.

Meanwhile, everyone else I knew sprinted past me. 

Former classmates, who I didn't think could even speak whole sentences clearly, began writing books and were apparently having much more fun than I was. The next publishing phenomenon was the same age I was when I started writing. 

I was even irritated by the non-writers: They were getting promotions, moving up career ladders, earning secondary degrees, traveling to every continent.

It seemed like everyone else was successful: And I felt like I was actually getting dumber. Losing my grip on words. And kind of generally hating everyone. 

Some days it was hard to get out of bed.

And that's when I realized that, hey, I wasn't alone in my writing work anymore. I had this huge stinking vulture keeping me company, clicking its talons on my desk and grinning at me. (Vultures can grin. I just decided that.)

Get the picture? It's an ugly one. 

And when there's a vulture on your writing desk, well then. It's pretty obvious why you're not hanging balloons in your study, stringing up banners, baking cakes, and giving yourself and your writing life party favors.

Envy is the anti-party. The total opposite of celebration.

Look. I get it. I'm kind of making light of it here, but when you're really stuck in this cycle of envying others' successes, and hating your own work, things look pretty bleak. The reasons to not celebrate are everywhere. 

And there's a pretty big trend of writers hanging out in frustration and sadness and depression. How many stories have you heard of writers wallpapering their offices, bedrooms, or bathrooms with the rejections that they received? 

Can I just go ahead and say: that is the WORST idea for wallpaper I have ever heard.

I know, I know. I'm probably getting kicked out of all the writing clubs for saying that. But SERIOUSLY. Staying surrounded with failure? (Even if you're being very grown-up about it and not seeing it as failure... or pretending you don't see it as failure...) 

Can we just NOT DO THAT.

Because I have a much, much much better idea for wallpaper. 

It is backbone-strengthening, vulture-banishing, and probably a lot prettier than those form rejections.

Also: it just might get you out of your envy cycle. Yes, you. Yes, really.

But it does take a tiny commitment on your part: You have to get some paper (any kind of paper!) and a writing instrument (any kind! it's your wallpaper after all: what do you want to look at?). 

Okay, got it? Here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna make some lists.

About what we're grateful for.

No, don't roll your eyes at me. I get it: Gratitude is having a moment right now, and if the gratitude posts on Facebook from the writers you know are what got you into this mess, then I'd say very lovingly that you need to get off Facebook for a while.

Seriously. The vulture LOVES it when you go on Facebook. Take a break.

Gratitude is our anti-poison. The antidote to envy.

Envy blinds us to what is good, right now, right here, in our writing lives as they are. Gratitude fights back, by lighting up what we know. Showing the truth. It helps us see clearly again. 

So are you ready? Here's the first one: 

Start by making a big list of words you like.

Let's celebrate words! They can be your favorites, or they can be ones you like the sound of right now. They can have lovely definitions and etymologies, like gossamer, or they can be comic-book words, Dr. Seuss words, like zap and kerfuffle and pow.

Okay? Take at least five minutes. Fill as many pages as you can. Go, go, go!

Yes, you really have to. You can't just think these words: it doesn't work like that. You're a writer with a case of the Envies: you get out of it by writing. I promise.

(If you can't think of a single word you like, run grab a dictionary--yes, a real dictionary--and just flip through the pages. Take some time. Get acquainted with words. The weird ones, the prickly ones, the impossibly long scientific jumbles of suffixes and prefixes, the simple little two-letter ones. Fall in love with words again.)

Done with that one? Okay, here's your next: 

List the best moments you've ever had as a reader. All those times when you fell in love with a story, a setting, a character's voice. The moments when the writer was actually writing about you somehow, and you nearly fell off your chair when you read it. THOSE moments. 

Just capture those times, quick and fast, just a few words for each one will do. It's not for other people to read, it's for you, just to remember those wonderful times when someone else's words transformed you.

Okay? Good.

(If you can't think of any times when you loved reading, then go put your face into a bookstore, a library, SOMEWHERE where you can browse books, open them at random, find a new one that you love.)

Here's the last one. The trickiest, and yet the most important:

What do you love about the writing life? 

If that's too complicated, let's switch the question: What do you like about the writing life? What might you appreciate about it--you know, on a good day? What are the good places?

Is it the buzz of a new idea, just at the moment when you realize it will be your next story? The hole-in-one feeling when you finally get the right name for that one character? The dialogue exchange you wrote, and you felt like you were taking dictation, and not like you were thinking at all?

Maybe it's the writing tools you love--watching ink seep into paper, or text fly across a once-blank screen. Maybe you like the feel of a book in your hand. Or writing in a truly lovely leather journal.

Try to get as many things down as you can. Try for a dozen. If you can't get to a dozen, try at least six. If you can't get to six, try for two.

Write down at least one good thing about the writing life. One good thing.

And put it above your desk. Put it where you'll see it.

And then add to it, every day. 

Make it as easy for yourself as possible. Go basic. Go simple. But this is part of how I crawled out of envy, how I lost my vulture writing companion:

I figured out what was good. And I wrote it down. 

So, what about you? Did you do it? Did you make your three lists? How did it go?

Keep them handy. And try to add to them whenever you can. Read them over to encourage yourself.

We writers need to remember our love of words, our love of stories, and our love of this chosen vocation. Yes?

Because we survive the dark places in the writing life by feeding what is good. Writing them down. Turning them into wallpaper.

Focusing on the good has been one of the best ways for me to turn around my ugliest writing moods. That and, you know, chocolate.

Use 'em both. Use 'em often. Whenever you suspect a vulture approaching.

How to Survive Writing Life Culture Shock

If you're having a hard time adjusting to this crazy writing life, you're not alone!! You have culture shock. Here's what to do. | lucyflint.com

When you dive into the writing life--especially if you're going full tilt, full time--you might experience culture shock. And frankly, it might be severe.

Wait a sec, you might be thinking. Isn't this taking the whole "travel" metaphor a bit far?

Nope. 

When I was in college, I spent a semester studying in England. We were prepped with a discussion or two on culture shock before we left. 

Okay. Things will be different, I thought. So I went with my teeth gritted a bit, expecting to enjoy my host country, but also to face a bit of culture shock as well.

Guess what. I had absolutely NO culture shock symptoms at all. I wanted to stay there forever. (Sniff. I love you, England.)

But fast forward to, oh, about 24 hours after college graduation: I developed a major case of culture shock. Which lasted about seven years.

Learning to check my instincts before crossing a road was SO EASY compared to navigating the full time novelist's life!

Culture shock + the writing life. Let's talk about it. 

I love this description of culture shock, from the University of North Carolina - Greensboro. (Not my college, but they do an awesome job of discussing symptoms and adjustment.) 

They define culture shock as "the way you react and feel when the cultural cues you know so well from home are lacking."

What do you think, lionhearted writer? Did your cultural cues shift when you started the writing life?

All the things that made sense in your normal job, or in school--when they disappeared and were replaced by the writing life's cues... how did that go for you?

I found that I was desperate for a syllabus. I wanted someone else to have a plan for my writing life. I missed feedback at every step of the way--from fellow students, from professors.

And I couldn't figure out why working all day and night was burning me out instead of getting stuff done. The harder I pushed, the worse things got.

Here's what I found: All the skills I had developed to do really awesome work in school were the exact skills that set me up to do really badly as a full time novel writer. 

Seriously. 

So did I get some major culture shock? Yup. 

And not just metaphorically. I had the symptoms

Check out that list on the U of NC page: I developed a BUNCH of them as a full time writer!

This is a little embarrassing, but seriously, I checked pretty strong on: tiredness, irritability, depression, crying for no reason, homesickness, and (ahem) hostility toward host nationals. (I hated hearing about other writers doing well. Like I said: embarrassing.)

I have finally crossed through that stage, but I think I could have passed through it much MUCH faster if I realized what the heck I was dealing with. I could have learned to adapt, I could have thought like an expat, instead of just fighting it all.

I love the tips for coping on that study abroad link. Seriously, these are GREAT for writers. Let's translate them into writer-speak:

Learn as much as possible about the writing life. 

Not just the writing craft, but the writing LIFE.

That's a huge part of why I have this blog in the first place: because all the books on craft weren't helping me get better.

It was only when I learned more and more about how other writers  survived, how other writers tick, how other writers navigate productivity and creativity... only then did I start to calm down, and figure this stuff out.

So what can you do?

  • Read writer's memoirs! Books about how other writers deal with this funny writing life. (The Writer's Desk is a gorgeous and very pick-up-able intro to the writing life.)
  • Gulp down interviews with other writers. (The website Writer Unboxed has an incredible archive of interviews. Read 'em all!!)
  • I will crawl over shards of glass to hand any writer a copy of Page after Page or Chapter after Chapter by Heather Sellers. More than any other books, these helped explain to me what it feels like to be a writer. 

Find logical reasons for the cultural differences.

So, the writing life doesn't look like a bunch of other kinds of lives.

It is not the same thing as a full time student life. Or full time work with a boss and clear instructions. Okay? 

If you've only ever been a student, or if you've only ever worked with fairly clear guidelines--you might feel like your identity has gone all shaky on you. 

You might feel like you've been tossed in a lake with a pen and paper. (And if so, yup, that's right on track.)

It's a fluid kind of life, with room for creativity and curiosity. You learn how much discipline you need, and how to keep discipline from choking creativity. (And creativity from choking discipline!) You learn how to push yourself and how to let yourself rest. 

And it's darned hard! 

I spent so much time highlighting the differences between the writing life and my former life. And then I reinforced  those differences by fighting the writing life. And fighting hard.

I kept thinking: it shouldn't be this way. It should be a lot more like college.

That kind of thinking didn't help me. At all. It kept me locked in culture shock for a long time:

I shouldn't have to have an apprenticeship. I should be able to write a perfect novel in a year. Other people should understand exactly what it is I do (and be encouraging, for pete's sake).

Creativity should follow neat, organized paths. I should be able to stay perfectly on my predicted schedule. Every day should be productive in a quantifiable, check-off-that-box kind of way.

That kind of thinking helped me graduate with honors. I did really great in school. So, yay. Yay for that. But it was time--past time--to let that thinking go.

To tuck those ideas, that way of working, in a box with some tissue paper, and put a freaking lid on it.

If, say, creativity followed neat and organized paths, guess what. IT WOULDN'T BE CREATIVITY. It might be, say, website coding, or architecture, or algebra. But it wouldn't be CREATIVITY. 

See what I mean?

What about you? What are your biggest arguments against the creative writing life?

Maybe it's time to acknowledge that this kind of thinking helped you do whatever it is that you did before. Maybe it even helped you do really, really well. And that's great. Really.

But it will strangle your writing life. Time to let it go.

Don't whine about your new culture.

Ahem. Right? We need to resist the temptation to get together with other writers to have a big moaning festival.

I'm only one week into my No Whining Challenge, but I'm already discovering three great benefits to refusing to whine: 

1) If I can't vent about something, I find that I can laugh about it. And not just in a bitter way, but I can genuinely find it funny. It's like all that whining energy puts on party hats and makes me laugh. I can't explain it. But it's a good thing.

2) A bigger sense of gratitude. When I'm not clouding my general outlook with a lot of complaining, my vision is clearer to see all the good stuff. Which has been pretty cool.

3) If something's really bugging me and I can't whine about it, I channel all that energy into just fixing it. Shocking, right? Instead of griping, I can, you know, DO something about it.

So instead of whining about the writing life (the instability! the disorganization! the many tempting chances to go insane!), find what's funny about it. What's genuinely humorous about the writing temperament, the quirkiness of what we do, the way writers talk and think.

See the freedom with gratitude. 

And if something's really nagging at you--try to fix it.

Talk to someone who has acclimated to this new culture.

YES! Meet other writers! Seek friendships with the non-whining people who are navigating this life, and who are doing a decent job of it. Find 'em on Twitter, on Instagram, through other social media channels...

Or hey, talk to me, I'm right here! Ha ha! But seriously, leave a comment or catch me on Twitter @reallucyflint, and say hello. We can talk about this totally unusual writing life!!

Talk with your new writing friends about how your old cultural cues worked and how these new cues are so different.

Talk about how your sense of expectations changed, how success is totally different, how freedom sometimes feels like it's strangling you, how all those books on creativity make you feel squirmy.

And learn about how this other person has made their adjustments, what mindset tricks they use, how they think about it now. This can be so so helpful!

Know that you can make it.

You really can. (Heck, if I can do it, I'm pretty sure anyone can!) 

If you're writing at all, if you're drawn to the writing life, then some part of you, somewhere in your personality and psyche, some part of you really will thrive in this life. Some part of you is urging you to jump in.

And the rest of you? The rest of you really can catch up. I promise.

The writing life is a pretty broad and forgiving thing, when you get used to it. There's a lot of room for variety. As you adapt, you'll find ways to make it your own. One day you might wake up and find that you're right at home, talking and giving directions like a native!

It helps if you aren't super strict with yourself as you adjust. Give yourself so much grace. Don't demand perfection. Don't try to push yourself harder when you're still learning the ropes. 

That study abroad page has a list of character traits that are good for helping you adjust and cope: And even though they say that they're helping you travel to a new culture, I think that they are IDEAL for a writer's toolkit!

A tolerance for ambiguity? YUP.

Open-mindedness. Flexibility. Curiosity. Sense of humor. Ability to fail.

Yes to all that.

Look, friend. If you really want to be a writer, but are having the hardest time adjusting, I totally hear you. 

Try this. It really is more than just a nifty metaphor this time. Try thinking of it as culture shock. You learned how to survive in your old culture, and you probably were really, really good at it.

But this is a new place. 

Don't beat yourself up. The new culture simply won't look the same as the old, in so many ways. The cues are not the same.

Don't hold yourself to old standards when you're in a new land. At the very least, you'll be uncomfortable. At the worst, you'll be a bit of a wreck, kinda like me. 

What is the thing that you trip over the most, the cultural cue that is the most frustrating and infuriating? The thing that makes you snap, and holler about how much you hate writing, you hate this crummy life? What is that thing?

Try to see it in light of this new culture. Maybe there's a reason things are different here. Maybe the reasons are even understandable, even good somehow. Learn how other writers made that adjustment. Make friends with writers who are adjusting right alongside you.

Practice flexibility. Practice your sense of humor. Let yourself fail. 

And become a citizen of a new (and ultimately super wonderful!) culture.


What is the toughest part of adapting to this new culture? Or what are you overcoming; what have you overcome? Let us know in the comments. Let's be a writing community that supports each other!