34 Ways to Deliberately Grow Your Writing Practice (and Meet Your Edge!)

If you want to improve your writerly skills, without trading in a happy writing practice, I've got your back. Here's how to meet your edge, with grace and goodness. | lucyflint.com

Hello, my lovely lionhearts! Welcome back. We kicked off this month by getting excited about how we, as writers, get excellent at our work.

In other words, we talked about deliberate practice

If you missed it, here's the idea in a nutshell: Deliberate practice is about leaning forward in our work. Not just going through the motions, or merely putting in the time. It's about making each minute count.

My gut response to that idea is: Sounds awesome! But then I have to ask: Will this turn me into a very stressed out, jittery, grim sort of writer? Because if so, no.

Fortunately for all of us, there's a simple way to make deliberate practice sustainable. A way to bring as much curiosity and playfulness into it as we do perseverance and intentionality.

The key to it all is this little phrase: Meet your edge. 

As a process, it looks like this: Seek out the rim of what you are used to doing. Find the place where you would naturally want to give up, where you hit the limit of what's comfortable. 

Then take one step out of your comfort zone—not fifty steps out, not even ten steps out, just one step outside your comfort zone—

and work there.

THAT is how growth becomes doable, sustainable, practical, and, oh yeah, super dang effective.

Excited yet? Me too.

Now, because this kind of thing doesn't work at all if it isn't practical, I've brainstormed a bunch of ways to put this to work, right this minute, wherever you're at.

Most of them are pretty small moves, designed to make one aspect of your writing game a little bit sharper. And how you use them is up to you: You might take just one and focus on it for a week (or a month!) and watch yourself steadily improve.

Or grab a handful that seem to fit you, and work with them. Or try a new one each day, for more than a month of deliberate, edge-expanding practice. 

(Of course, everyone's "edge" is different, depending on where you are in the writing life. But take a look at each suggestion anyway, because getting even better at the basics is one way we can all meet our edge!) 

... Oooh, do you hear that? The next level of writing excellence is calling.


Here are 34 ways to practice writing deliberately!

1. Internalizing Story Structure: After finishing a novel or a movie, take five minutes to jot down the key structural points of the narrative. (I like using the three-sentence Story Spine model that Shawn Coyne describes at the beginning of this article.)

2. Dissecting Scene Structure: While reading a novel or watching a movie, pause after an especially loaded scene and take a moment to break it apart. How exactly did it begin and end? How did the writer build it to a climax, and what did it change for the overall narrative? Sketch out the skeleton of the scene to see how it was achieved.

3. Honing Dialogue: Copy out the guts of a dialogue exchange (just the stuff in quotes, without any of the extra descriptions or tags). Read those spoken words out loud, and get a sense for how dialogue sounds—especially the rhythms and beats behind a really good exchange. (This is great to do for published works you admire, or for tightening your own work.)

4. Analyzing Wordcraft: There's something about copying out someone else's work by hand. It helps you go from merely reading it, to seeing its nuts and bolts. Grab a work you admire and copy out an especially well-constructed paragraph. Study it phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence. (But obviously, um, don't take credit for someone else's work.)

5. Sprucing Vocabulary: Shake up the words that you tend to rely on by doing a deep dive into a book of poetry, a children's reference book, or your favorite dictionary. Savor the new mix of specific nouns and verbs, and push yourself to use a few in your next writing session.

6. Surveying Novel Skills: Grab a few favorite novels and check out how each author handles something you're having difficulty with. Try comparing story openings; chapter openings; chapter endings; dialogue; descriptive passages; or action scenes. Get really clear on how each author is choosing to address that area, and how effective their choices are—why they work, why they don't. (And there's nothing like forcing yourself to write down one clear sentence describing what you've learned, to be sure that you're actually figuring it out. So scribble down specific notes as you go!)

7. Clarifying What Didn't Work: When you encounter a novel or a movie that you hate (or even just felt meh about), push yourself to pinpoint exactly what didn't work for you. Where, precisely, did they fall off track? What could they have done differently to improve the whole story? The more specific and comprehensive and relentless you are with this, the more you build your own story-rescue muscles.

8. Taking Action: I don't know if you're this way, but it's easy for me to read helpful writing books without taking any real action. Next time you find some helpful writing advice, instead of nodding and then maybe forgetting about it (though with great intentions, of course!), challenge yourself to take whatever extra step is required to put part of it immediately into practice... right away.

9. Listening for Cadence: Read your own work out loud. This is common advice for a really good reason—the ear can catch what the eyes sometimes miss when it comes to pacing, rhythm, and overall coherence.

10. Improving Description: Take an extra five minutes to sharpen a descriptive passage in your work. Challenge yourself to choose extra-clear nouns and vivid verbs. Make each sentence as specific as possible.

11. Interviewing Characters: Take the character who feels the weakest in your project, and give them five minutes of your undivided attention. Imagine them sitting with you in the room. I mean, really. Try to bend reality. Freak yourself out a little. And then jot down anything that they decide to say to you. (The more I come back to conjuring up my characters, to making them real and alive and right next to me, the more amazing my story becomes.)

12. Expanding the Brainstorm: The next time you need to brainstorm something, push yourself to come up with twice as many ideas as you think you'll need—in half the time. Try fifty ideas in five minutes. You just might astonish yourself at how creative you get in that last minute.

13. Sharpening Observation: Take a familiar object and come up with five new ways of describing it. Try using senses you don't usually apply in this case. Brew new metaphors; create an unusual significance.

14. Noticing the Details: After you've been away from your writing desk, challenge yourself to create a clear, accurate, two-sentence description of something you've just experienced: maybe the quality of light in your kitchen, a summary of the conversation you just had with friends, or the feel of the weather outside.

15. Enlivening Setting: Challenge yourself to make a list of what makes a place (real or imagined) feel unique. And try to work the senses that you tend to forget about—maybe the quality of the air, the less noticeable sounds, the textures, the smells. 

16. Visualizing Specifics: Sketch a five-minute map of one of the settings that you're working on. A piece of storyscape that you haven't mapped yet: maybe a road, a section of a city, or even a room—in as much detail as if you were going to literally build a set for it.

17. Defining the Problems: When you're facing a story snag or other problem in your work, take a few minutes to very clearly articulate what's wrong. Force yourself to get specific and succinct about exactly what isn't working and why. (It's too easy to have a vague sense of unease and then rush off to fix it, without being certain about what has gone wrong. But finding clarity can be half the battle!)

18. Stimulating the Imagination: Take five minutes to think about how well-fed your imagination feels right now. What are you missing? What are you craving? Brainstorm a mini list of creative inputs that sound amazing—do you need a great nature documentary, a trip to an art museum, a visit to the best bakery in town, a travel book with tons of pictures, or a TED talk festival? Get clear on what you need, and block out time soon to do it. 

19. Nurturing Curiosity: Grab a reference book at random and browse it for 5 minutes. Let your imagination get excited. (Seriously, do it. You never know where your next incredible idea is going to come from. It could be waiting for you in that reference book!)

20. Journaling Your Life: One way to keep growing as a writer is to take notes on your own life. If you don't yet have a journaling practice, try writing just one page a day—maybe first thing in the morning, or last thing before you go to bed. (If that's too much, try half a page. You can seriously handle half a page.)

21. Redirecting the Overplan: If you tend to fall down the overplanning spiral of hundreds of to-do items on dozens of lists, this is your deliberate practice! The next time you catch yourself overplanning, go ahead and finish your list. Then walk away—into another room or just outside. Take a few deep breaths and clear your mind for a sec. And then decide, from your gut, what the top three-to-five items should be. The things that honestly, truthfully, you-know-it-in-your-core matter the most. Write those down on a tiny slip of paper. And begin by working only on those things. (This works for me every. single. time.)

22. Accepting Rest: It is impossible to work well for long when you're overtired. If meeting your edge means showing up for your work well rested, then take a nap. If it means napping every day, then nap every day! 

23. Revolutionizing Your Mindset: Take five minutes at the start of every writing session and practice believing in yourself. (I know. It sounds hokey, but it could literally change everything for you, especially if you've been struggling. Read the second half of this post if you need more convincing.)

24. Protecting Boundaries: Step back from one thing this week that you know will drain your energy/creativity without giving much back to you. Practice saying no. (You have my permission to get addicted to this: protect your writing time and energy, my friend!)

25. Deepening Self-Kindness: If it's easy for you to be harsh with yourself, then meeting your edge is gonna look a lot like practicing grace. Take two minutes to write yourself an encouraging note, and post it by your writing spot. Work on consciously agreeing with it when you see it. High five yourself.

26. Focusing Consistently: Do a little distraction clean-up. What tends to slice into your focus while you're working? Texts? Music? Internet? Notifications? Whatever it is, eliminate your pet distraction for a week. (And then another week. And then another...)

27. Bettering Your Work Space: What's the one thing that bugs you the most about your writing space? Is there something that's just a little out of place, that keeps slowing you down, that needs a little extra organization or cleaning or attention? Take five minutes to make it better.

28. Braving the Blank Page: Teach yourself to conquer the blank page by practicing with five-minute segments. (No kidding!) Pull out a blank sheet of paper. Commit to having no standards whatsoever for the quality of the writing you're about to do. If it comes out all wonky, that's great. Seriously. Set a timer for five minutes, and the moment you start the timer, just write. It can be about how your day went; it can be the secret history of every little knick-knack on your writing desk;  or it can be about your favorite character in your current writing project. Anything. Write till the timer stops. Repeat, until blankness no longer scares you. This has actually worked for me, I promise. (When we stop being afraid of the blank page, we become literally unstoppable as writers. Think about that for a sec.)

29. Holding Space: Practice accepting the truth that the writing process is messy. It just is! Allow a bad sentence (section, chapter, subplot) to exist in a draft for now. Let yourself be okay with the roughness of a rough draft, instead of tumbling into a hyper-perfection-seeking cycle. 

30. Refusing to Be Bullied: The next time you feel like comparing your work with someone else's work, or comparing where you are in your writing life with where someone else is: Stop. The next time self-doubt comes prowling and wants to sharpen its claws on you: Stop. Comparison and self-doubt do not have your back, and you don't need to listen to them. Be on your own team. Take a deep breath, and accept yourself and where you are. You are exactly where you need to be, my friend! 

31. Increasing Your Writing Stamina: Start adding a little more time to your writing sessions, or working a smidge past your usual stopping point. Maybe add 50-100 more words than you normally aim for, or working 5-10 minutes longer at a stretch.

32. Knowing When to Pause: If you tend to work yourself too hard and burn your brain to a crisp (you know who you are!): one way to meet your edge is to give yourself an honest-to-goodness break in the midst of your work. Take three-to-five minutes and step away. Close your eyes, or give yourself a chance to stretch, or go outside and stare at something non-digital for a while. 

33. Extending Attention: Instead of giving in to the impulse to rush (we all fight it!), try sticking with a writing project a little bit longer. Maybe spend five more minutes on a paragraph you're tempted to hurry through, or one extra week on a development stage that you're itching to skip over.

34. Releasing Finished Work: And sometimes, the thing we most need to practice doing, is letting something be done, instead of endlessly nitpicking at it. Everything on earth has a flaw in it, my friend. What is it truly time for you to release?


Deliberately Practicing Deliberate Practice

This all comes down to being on the lookout for your own edge. Where do you feel yourself shrinking and saying, Nah, no, not today, not feeling it, not now

Where is it easier to slump right now—in your craft, in your emotional health, in how you set up your work? How can you encounter that edge of yours, and work there?

Again, this is not about leaping way past our edge, about doing things that are unwise, or working where we are honestly not ready to work.

Instead, it's about noticing where we want to dodge something that feels a little too hard, a little too real, a little too taxing. Something that's a bit uncomfortable.

And instead of skipping over it, we focus in.

Take a deep breath. Choose to smile through it. And work right there.

Where can you bring extra curiosity, attention, playfulness, and grit, into your writing work this week? If you have more ideas for ways to "meet your edge," I'd LOVE to hear them, so please post a comment!

Re-energize Your Whole Writing Practice with These Three Little Words

This one shift makes all the difference. | lucyflint.com

If you've hung out on this blog for a while now, you've probably noticed that I'm a bit of a self-improvement junkie. If there's an interesting way to grow, I'm in.

I wanna give just about anything a try, when it comes to kicking out the meh and bringing in the yay. 

In all that self-improvement learning, I keep coming across the idea that not all time spent practicing a skill is equal. Just showing up and messing around isn't the same as practicing, and merely practicing isn't the same as deliberate practice.

Have you heard of deliberate practice? Essentially it means practicing with a ton of laser-like focus. 

It often includes pulling apart weaknesses; working on each tiny, building-block stage of the craft until it's polished; and then putting it all together again to get even better. 

Deliberate practice is the best possible way to improve at a craft, at a skill.

It's the way committed beginners work, and it's the way that experts continue to grow.

The first time I heard a discussion about deliberate practice, I got excited. REAL excited. It sounds awesome, right? I mean, you and I, we lionhearts, we wanna get really good at the craft of writing.

Which is why I want to dive into a big pile of deliberate practice this month. ... But there's one thing that scares me off. 

Each discussion of deliberate practice that I've come across tends to stress that this way of working is fiercely challenging. Grueling.

You don't always see the rewards right away. It can take a lot of work on those tiny micro-skills in order to see the larger progress. In talking about this process, some people use words like tedious. They say it's painful. It sounds grim.

And wow. I just want to sit back and applaud the heck out of anyone who wants to work like that.

And then I want to run away. (Am I allowed to say that??)

To be clear: I'm not scared of hard work. I'm not scared of seeing that my craft isn't excellent yet. I'm not even scared of results taking a long time in the making.

What I am really, truly scared of is this: I don't want to create a writing life and a writing practice that feels grim.

I don't want a writing life that feels dark and toilsome and unrewarding, because you know what? I won't be able to stick that again. I used to think that's what it meant to write seriously, and it nearly killed my writing life. (Didn't do anything wonderful for me as a human being, either. I wasn't the easiest person to be around.)

I am not willing to be consistently miserable in order to get better at my craft. I'm just not.

Hard work is okay. The fact that there is no such thing as instant gratification: also okay.

Horrible days and weeks and months of chipping away at an unattainable skill and therefore always feeling like I'm just not any good: REALLY NOT OKAY.

So what do I do with this? Did I just disqualify myself from aiming for writing excellence? Do I have to be grim and miserable in order for deliberate practice to work? No more smiling?

I wondered about that for the last couple of months: How do I relentlessly improve my writing, without feeling like a failure every step of the way? Is it even possible?

Spoiler alert: YES. Yes, it's possible.

It dawned on me in a beautiful way: You can keep getting better with every single practice, you can make that practice time count, and you can do it all without hating yourself or the process.

Which means I don't have to resign from being a lionheart, and neither do you. We can practice deliberately: pursuing excellence with focus, and doing it happily.

Know how I know? Because I've just been living it: with my yoga practice. And I'm convinced that it will translate beautifully into writing as well. 

Here's what you need to know about me: bodily strength is not my natural gifting. I do not tend to be flexible or graceful.

But there's something that goes off in my heart when I see people doing yoga. It looks like such an incredible mix of strength, flexibility, and serenity—and whoa, I just want more of those things in my life.

So I started doing yoga about two years ago. It was pretty hit and miss. I'd do it a couple of times one week, and then I'd miss a few weeks or months, and then come back to it.

No big deal: it was just something I was curious about. I found an amazing online teacher (!!), I got a yoga mat, and I kept it up with the hit-or-miss approach.

Each time I practiced, I knew I wanted to get better, but I was also dealing with a ton of crazy things happening with my family, my health, and oh yeah, I was trying to learn how to pull a few novels out of my hat. Yoga excellence pretty much stayed on the back burner.

But a couple of months ago, I got much more serious. I realized that I wanted to really grow at it. To get good and legit.

I knew the first steps: I found a great, free, 31-day yoga program from my fave teacher. I cleared the time in my daily schedule, and I committed to showing up.

And then, and then. I went one step further, almost by accident, and I discovered the huge difference-maker. Such a simple little thing, but it made the biggest change. So listen up:

I intentionally latched onto that hip little phrase that I've seen flapping around the internet—on Pinterest, on Instagram, in all sorts of sports/fitness/training discussions. You've probably run across it too: 

Meet your edge. 

It suddenly held meaning for me, that phrase. So I wrote it next to my daily reminder to do yoga: Meet your edge. 

And unexpectedly, I had a total breakthrough. Because that little phrase changed how I approached every move of every practice session.

"Meet your edge" leads me straight into a mindset of deliberate practice, but without getting all grim about it. And here's why.

For starters, "meet" means meet.

It means approach, see, encounter, connect. It does not mean "destroy!" or "shatter!" or "obliterate!" 

In other words, we're not talking about a ton of oomph here. No mighty exhausting battle cries. This isn't about doing anything reckless, or mega-mega-hard.

It's pretty simple. Meet it. That's not so terrifying, right?

So when I begin my yoga practice with meet your edge in mind, I'm automatically on the lookout. I am literally scouting for my edge—for the rim of my ability. The end of the territory of What Comes Easily.

I am looking for the places where I would naturally give up. 

... Like five seconds into plank pose, or a few push-ups past my comfort zone (which was basically, uh, one push-up). The limits of a stretch, or the arm-trembling aches of downward-facing dog.

These were the times when, in my hit-or-miss yoga days, I would reason: You know what, I'm not feeling it. I'll take a child's pose, a time-out, and call it good.

(And, hear this: that was a totally okay call to make at the time, because right then, upping my yoga commitment wasn't something I was aiming for. So, no self-judgment, and no worries.)

But when I encounter those same places now, I actually truly get excited. Because I snap back to that phrase. To that prompt.

And I think, This is it! This is the edge! What I was looking for! 

I can almost see it, this boundary line. That divide between where I am, and where I'm heading, and you know what? That's flipping exciting!

It shifts my focus. It used to be, I'd focus in on that surge of ugh, here's what I can't do, here's where it gets hard. 

But "meet your edge" reframes that whole question. It isn't asking me to become a yogi superstar. All it's asking me to do is encounter that boundary.

And now I'm staring at growth—in an area where I'd really love to grow. So instead of trying to back away, my curiosity shows up. And it's energizing

Even though my arms are shaking, I think: Can I stay here longer? Can I keep going? What happens if I breathe more deeply?

And I get just a little bit better.

With excitement. With a spirit of playfulness and curiosity. It isn't grim at all!

With that attitude, improvement is possible in every difficult pose, with every sighting of my edge, with every attempt. Every time I stay. Every time curiosity wins over quit.

And now, I can stay in plank for two minutes. Downward-facing dog is a breeze. I can actually see my triceps (hey there!), and my abs are showing up for the party as well. 

All from finding my edge, and working there, in that space.

Yes, it's still hard work. But it's freeing, too: It sounds obvious, but the amazing thing about your edge is that it's literally within your reach. 

If you can't reach it, then you're focusing on the wrong thing.

So I don't have to pretend that I can do something that I literally cannot do yet. If I tried to do full-out splits or a headstand right now, I'd need to put in a quick call to 911 first, just so they can be on their way. 

I know I can't do those things. And there's just no point in trying to gallop past my edge and right into bad news territory. 

This isn't about being where and what you aren't. It's focusing in on something much closer to home. It's in your reach.

This is about finding that boundary between what you can do and what's just past that point. And working there: right at the edge.

Which means that real growth is totally doable—while staying curious and having fun. And that's exciting, isn't it? 

THAT, my friends, is the attitude that I want to bring into my writing practice.

What does meet your edge look like in the writing life?

That's what I'm learning right now. And so I'm asking myself:

  • Where is that boundary between what comes fairly easily, and what feels like a stretch?
  • What do I try to back away from, to not look straight at?
  • Where do I ease up too soon?
  • Where do I listen to quit before curiosity? Where does the ego want to quit, before the imagination does?
  • Where would just a smidge of perseverance make all the difference?
  • Where would a healthy dose of playfulness change everything?

How can you meet your edge, and hang out there? Camp there for a while? What does it feel like, to work there and even play there?

To stay curious, breathe deep, and not give up?

... If you're a stickler for the true definition of Deliberate Practice, some of this might make you a little bit nuts.

Because I feel like I just waltzed into the whole deliberate-practice conversation asking if we could also play kazoos and eat pizza. (But seriously, if we're going to work really hard, wouldn't it be fun to have a kazoo?)

All I know is that, if I'm going to try and get better every single day, I'll only be able to stick it out if I bring playfulness, curiosity, and grace into the mix. 

THIS is what I want to get good at this summer. And that's also what I want to invite you into. 

Where's your edge? And what does it look like to work there—to stick it out, to press a little deeper, stay a little longer?

How can we take one skill one step further than comfort?

If we do that, that one tiny movement, while staying curious and playful—caring more about growth than about perfection—oh. I think we'll wind up pretty dang awesome.


For a super helpful and illuminating discussion of what Deliberate Practice is, as well as what it looks like in different fields, these are a few great articles to check out from James Clear:

And if you're feeling intrepid and want to keep challenging your comfort zone, check out two of my posts on how to survive in those wonderful wilds: 

The Key To Everything Is a Crazy Amount of Focus.

The megaskill that makes way for all other skills: the ability to focus, intensely. (Like ... more intense than ever before. A whole new level.) | lucyflint.com

If you saw my last post on Cal Newport's stirring & motivating book Deep Work, you know that a radical new approach to focus is totally necessary if we want to write with super-high quality. It's also vital if we want to grow exponentially in our writerly skills.

Which: we do. Right? All of us. That's what we signed up for.

Focus. It's a big deal.

So ... how do we learn to focus with that kind of intensity? How do we adopt that training program mindset, so that we become writers who dive in deep and write our most incredible stuff? 

From the last post, we already know that deep work requires literally rewiring our brain. Which ... is hard. We know that this is going to be a challenge.

So, do we have patience with ourselves as we practice, and a readiness to encounter difficulty? Check and check.

High five. Let's go strengthen our ability to focus. 

Where do we begin?

1) Develop a deep work ritual.

Is it just me, or is everyone talking about rituals lately? Morning rituals, bedtime rituals, getting-ready-for-exercise rituals, planning rituals... 

Personally, I love 'em. (Shocking, right?!)

Yes, I love the idea of using a clever sequence of little behaviors to naturally lead my mind into the next important thing I'm doing.

It's like an on-ramp for the brain.

Welp, Cal Newport says we need to ritualize our deep work sessions as well. Why?

After describing the rituals of a few successful deep thinkers, he points out:

Success in their work depended on their ability to go deep, again and again—there's no way to win a Pulitzer Prize or conceive a grand theory without pushing your brain to its limit. Their rituals minimized the friction in this transition to depth, allowing them to go deep more easily and stay in the state longer.

Minimizing friction: that is key!! I don't know about you, but some days I feel like my writing time is friction. I can be forever transitioning between activities and making decisions, instead of getting into a good groove and staying there.

I'm sold, Mr. Newport. So, what does a deep work ritual need to do?

He lists three things in particular that a ritual has to incorporate: where you will work, how you will work, and how you'll support your work.

If we're making and remaking these decisions every time we need to settle in, we'll be flooding our deep work time with that transitioning friction. 

So, for starters, you need to ensure that your deep work area is a good environment. With a low chance of distractions and interruptions, and enough space to think.

And then, when working: how do you want to structure it? Do you need to keep a certain kind of pace, or consider a certain number of questions or read a certain number of pages? 

Finally, do you need some good food (he suggests some good coffee, and you know I'm all "amen to that!"), and some space to move around a little? (He repeatedly recommends walking as a way to enhance thinking ability.)

Personally, I don't have a clear, solid ritual in place yet. But I do have bits of one: 

  • In my planner, I write deep work mode! next to the hours when I'm planning on being uberfocused. That extra bit of intentionality reminds me to be sure and keep distractions out of my work zone.
  • Before I dive in, I sweep my desk space, and clear out anything that would derail me.
  • Like my phone. I march it over to my closet, tuck it into a little drawer, and leave it there.
  • I pull up a soundtrack of nature sounds on my computer. The rhythm of ocean waves works like an audible cue: time to go deep.
  • Finally, I keep a notepad nearby, so that if a distracted thought drops in (I need to text so-and-so! I have to track down that one recipe! Did I ever deal with that one email?) I can note it and not lose it ... but without pursuing the distraction itself.

Yeah, I know. This is pretty basic, and certainly isn't up to the more quirky and eccentric rituals that we hear about. But I'm willing to get there. ;)

And so far, this has been a good framework for supporting my early deep work efforts.

The real key here is to experiment with whatever works best for you. To take care of all those moving parts that would derail you, and make sure that you have everything you need ... and nothing that you don't.

2) Have a plan for your precious deep work time.

The time to figure out how your session is going to go is before the session starts. We don't want to waste precious deep work minutes planning our deep work time, right? Right!

So before you start, be sure that you know how long you're going to work deeply. When you're starting and when you're stopping.

Because when we're working this intensely, it's vital to know that there's only a finite amount of time we're doing this!

Newport says,

Be sure to also give yourself a specific time frame to keep the session a discrete challenge and not an open-ended slog.

And yes, I've thought, "Oh, I'll be fine. I'll just work til I'm ready to stop." Hahahaha—no. For some reason, when my mind doesn't know when it's going to get a break, it starts tempting me to give up, get up, slow down, get bored, and get distracted.

Let's not do that.

Know when you'll start, and when you'll stop. And when you're done, get up and move around and take that break!

One more point about how long we're working: It's tempting to learn about the value of deep work, and then to swear you'll have an eight-hour deep work day, and charge out to save your world with focus.

But that doesn't work so well. That's kinda like me dashing out to run a marathon. (You'd have to scrape me off the pavement after about four miles.)

When we're new to this, it's essential that we start small

Newport recommends that we aim for an hour of this kind of pure focus to begin with. And actually, it's really all we can muster before our brains are retrained.

If even a full hour sounds especially difficult, I hear you! There is zero shame in starting with even smaller amounts. Twenty minutes of total focus can be really challenging and super rewarding!! 

And it's shocking how much good thinking you can get done, in twenty focused minutes.

(When we get super good, we'll be looking at four hours of deep work a day. Even the masters can't do this indefinitely!) 

Also, what kind of work will you be doing? We'll answer that next:

3) Know the difference between deep work and shallow work.

Shallow work is another central concept in this book. Shallow work is the stuff that we still need to do ... but it doesn't require the same amount of focus, and it isn't generating huge value like deep work.

Newport defines shallow work like this:

Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

For me, shallow work is the busywork of dealing with computer updates and gathering resources. It's filling out forms, running errands, editing photos, fixing the printer. It's dealing with email and shuffling files and organizing papers.

Anytime I think, if I had an intern or a clone, I'd have her do this!—that's shallow work.

Shallow work isn't bad. In fact, it's completely necessary! It doesn't take as much focus, so it has a lighter feel to it. 

The reason we need to recognize it is because we're tempted to drip our shallow work all through our day. It can sprawl across our schedules and just take over.

But it simply isn't coming from the same place as our deep work. If we blend the two all day, we keep ourselves from going deeply and doing the kind of lasting work that would, well, make a name for ourselves.

(Doesn't that give you shivers?)

If you have days that look like this kind of once-typical day of mine, then you get where I'm coming from: 

  • work a bit on the draft
  • um, I'm bored/stumped, so I'll check email... 
  • oh, sweet, blog comment! I'll dash over and answer that!
  • okay, right, focus: work a bit on the draft
  • I need a new computer update!
  • Oh, I should back up my computer while I'm thinking of it, can't risk losing data!
  • while it's rebooting, let me just clear my email inboxes on my phone . . . 
  • that outfit on Pinterest is so cute. So are a dozen of the recommended pins alongside it...
  • Oh, right! Drafting. Drafting drafting drafting.
  • Geez, I'm hungry...

THAT is an oh-so typical blend of shallow work and deep work attempts. Sure, I can get some important shallow work done, but when I keep switching back and forth, my drafting (aka deep work!!) suffers.

Because when I'm drafting from a shallow-work mindset, my scenes feel more sketched than deeply dreamed. My characters act more clichéd, their dialogue a little too rehearsed.

We can't completely cut out our shallow work—some important things would fall apart. But, we can't let shallow work take over our valuable deep work time, either.

Newport recommends, instead, batching our work. That's why the deep work ritual is so important: Get into deep work mode, and do the deep work, no distractions!

And then, get into shallow work mode. Scrape all those lighter tasks together and knock them out at once, staying in that mindset throughout. 

4) In fact, give yourself a shallow work budget.

This is such a cool suggestion, and it's one I have yet to implement. But I think that, when I do, it's going to be huge.

Here's the idea. Newport recommends talking to your boss (for those of us writing for ourselves, that's us) about the difference between deep work and shallow work.

Our deep work time will bring the most valuable work to our "company." Our shallow work time won't be so much about generating value, but it will keep everything running smoothly.

Both are important, no question.

Here's the question for our bosses, aka us, to wrestle with:

How much time per week should we spend doing each?

Wherever you're at, this is a great question to think through.

His suggestion for self-employed knowledge workers (like me, like you, if you're working on your novel and/or building your brand): the ratio should probably be around fifty-fifty.

So, roughly half our time we spend digging in deep with our novels, writing our best stuff. Working with pure focus, operating as our absolute best and smartest selves. Thinking amazing thoughts. Growing our skills.

The other half of the time we're answering emails, editing photos, planning social media campaigns, tweaking newsletters, etc.

Make sense? 

And then, as you settle into this rhythm, track your time each day. He says it's an eye-opening and helpful way to keep yourself honest: to keep shallow work in check, and to keep your deep work in your sights.

So, if anyone has swamped her day/week/month by deciding that she needs to clean out allllllll her file folders instead of facing the next few scenes (who, me?? never!) ... yeah, this is gonna help with that.

5)  We already said it, but, it's time to make it official: Distraction, we're breaking up with you.

Oh, Distraction. You talk so sweet, but you clearly don't love us as much as you say you do.

You mess with our game, you change our brains, and you keep us from doing our best work.

And you pretend it's all in fun.

Nope. Not okay anymore, Distraction.

We're all signing off. We're done with constant notifications, chiming, buzzing, dinging, ringing. We're going deep. We're practicing mega-focus.

We're not afraid of being bored. We'll find new ways to stay entertained. We'll notice what's around us and be fully present, instead of disappearing into your mile-a-minute maelstrom. 

And when we truly need a Pinterest hit or a Facebook fix, we'll schedule that time like the deep workers we are, and go check our sites happily for that pre-scheduled half hour, or however long we've decided.

We aren't at your mercy anymore, Distraction. We're taking our power back. No more falling into your lost minutes, lost hours, lost days.

Distraction, we're done. It's not us: it's you.

Ya gotta go.


On the face of it, a lot of these tips are common sense, right? This "deep work" stuff can sound like just cleaning up some habits around working well. I get that.

I think what makes these ideas feel so weighty to me, though, is because Cal Newport treats deep work like a whole new level of working.

Near the book's conclusion, he says,

Deep work is way more powerful than most people understand. ... To leave the distracted masses to join the focused few, I'm arguing, is a transformative experience.

He makes the case that as we learn to do this, we won't be saying, "oh, yeah, I guess I polished that novel rather nicely."

It's more on the level of, "holy crap, I just took that whole GENRE to new heights," or, "I created a different kind of story form," or, "I destroyed the pre-existing limits on this kind of publication launch."

It's about solving problems in a huge way. It's about shattering our previous ways of working, our small successes and tiny increases. Trading all that in for absurd levels of growth, productivity, and understanding.

This is rocket fuel, in other words. 

So, if you're in, if this sounds awesome, here are a few deep-workian questions to consider:

What's your deep work ritual look like? Or, if that sounds daunting, what's at least one way you can signal to your imagination and your brain: we're goin' deep!

How long of a deep work session do you want to start training with? Remember, a killer twenty-minute block is much better than a terrifying one hour, when you're getting started! Don't be ashamed to start small.

What kinds of activities in your typical work week qualify as "shallow work"? Nothing wrong with them, but they just don't come from that mega-focused place. What would it look like if they had to take up only half your time (or less!), and the rest of your time went to pure, total focus? 

And yeah, we just broke up with Distraction. What do you need to do to make it official?

Remember: It's easy to feel like we're focusing well enough. That we already know what focus feels like, thanks, and why must we go to extremes? Isn't that a little harsh, a little crazy, a little weird?

The truth is,we underestimate the power of this level of focus, because most of us (myself included!) have never really, actually, consistently tasted it.

We don't know what it can do, and we assume that we're working as well as we can.

I think it's worth it, my lionhearted friends, to dig in and really try for this. 

Personally, I love the idea of my time—that very finite resource!—doing radically more than it currently is. Of having richer insights, more imaginative work, and better everything.

Woo! I'm getting chills.

So I'm on board with this.

Oh, okay, and one last thing: If all this focus talk makes you feel like your brain is going to fall out, and also like, what the heck, Lucy, that last month was all self-care all the time, and now I feel like you want me to be a machine... 

I got you. On Thursday we'll be talking about strengthening our ability to play. Which is the other half of this deep work equation. 

OH yeah. We'll balance it out. High five, my friend.

Wanna Write the Absolute Best Work You Possibly Can? Me Too. And I Just Found Our Training Program.

I've got a great book recommendation for you. If you want to make the most of every writing session, improve your skill, and produce your best-ever work, this is a must read. | lucyflint.com

Well, my friends, get ready to toss some confetti. Because I've just discovered another awesome book that you are going to love. 

It's exciting, compelling, and challenging. It's definitely going to force us to build strength in a few areas. 

But best of all? It works at developing a key skill in creating high quality work.

Which is what you're working on. Which is what I'm working on.

We all want high quality writing, yes? 

So this is our next thing to learn.

The book is Deep Work, by Cal Newport. It's a bit of a wake-up call about how we are currently working, and what the results of that kind of work are.

Eye-opening, and oh-so helpful.

The subtitle is, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. No surprise, then, that Cal Newport is discussing how we can habitually work with a serious, life-changing amount of focus.

He has this equation that I just loved: 

High-Quality Work Produced = 
(Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

... And if the math-ness of that makes your head explode (I hear you!), then here's the game-changing truth: 

To make the best kind of work, we need to focus acutely within the time we have. 

In fact, our ability to focus intensely makes a huge, across-the-board difference, within every single minute we spend at our work.

If you only have half an hour to write each day, you need deep work practices, to make that the most dynamic half hour possible. 

And if writing makes up the main part of your day, like mine does: we need deep work practices as well to make the most of each day ... and to keep us from tricking ourselves about how productive we are.

(He makes it clear early on that mere busyness isn't the same thing as creating valuable, quality work. Yipes!) 

Oh, and my friends who are gearing up for NaNoWriMo in a couple of months? Yeah. Cal Newport's got your back too. The principles of deep work are gonna make that your easiest 50K ever.

In other words, if you've ever gotten to the end of a writing session, or a writing week, or heck, a writing year (yup, been there!), and said, What did I do with all my time

This book is for you.

It's for all of us.

Yes, some parts are challenging. But hey, you're a writer. You've signed up for challenging. You eat challenging for breakfast. So this is right up your alley.

Ready to start? Here are four of the best things I learned in Deep Work.

1) What the heck is deep work anyway? And why is it so dang valuable?

Definitions first. Newport defines deep work as: 

Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

What does that mean for all of us writers?

Deep work is about using our total abilities to do our work. It means doing our writing with full imaginative capability, full mental capacity. The works. 

ALL our brain cells doing their part, to help us dream up, draft, revise, sculpt, polish, and complete our amazing bit of writing.

So that's why it's seriously important.

Deep work means that you're writing valuable things.

It also means that you're getting better at what you do. 

Just by working in this way, you're improving your characterization, dialogue, the flow of information in your story, the pacing, the structure, killer conflict, sentence style, all of it.

Bonus: Deep work practices help make sure that your work is especially unique.

Because you're dialed in, you're working with your whole self. You're tapped into your best ideas. You're digging past those surface clichés and narrative reflexes that we all are familiar with (and accidentally add to our stuff when we're not thinking deeply, whoops!).

In a nutshell, pursuing deep work means that you're going to write the best darned work that you can possibly muster.

Oh, and since your skill is growing all through the process, that next book? Will be even better. You'll keep breaking through your old limits.

... You can see why I'm sold on this, right?? Heck yes, give me a huge helping of deep work! I will sprinkle it on my cereal and stir it into my coffee and have it all the time

Deep work is worth pursuing.

... But then we hit a few snags.

2) So, why has distraction stopped looking so cute and friendly?

Did you see the words "distraction free" up in that definition?

So ... yeah. Distraction free. That's kinda the first real bump in the road.

To pursue deep work, we need to take a hard look at what we're comfortable with. Where we're already operating from.

And we're gonna have to change some things.

If we're working in distraction-supportive environments (notifications dinging, email chiming, text messages chirping, Facebook facebooking, Twitter twittering), then, um, we aren't doing deep work.

Meaning: we are severely limiting our ability to write valuable things, to come up with our most original stuff, and to grow in our skills.

Yikes.

I mean, YIKES. That's a pretty sizable hit to take.

And ... it gets worse:

In Deep Work, Newport explains the concept of attention residue.

We experience attention residue when we're working on one thing, and then we switch reeeally quick to just check something else—a little look at email, a tiny Facebook snack, a peek at Twitter—and then go back to our first task.

When we come back to our original task, we have this kind of attention hangover. Even if we don't consciously notice it, part of our brain is still paying attention to the email, or Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever else we checked out "real quick." 

And attention residue can last for ten to twenty minutes.

In other words, our five-minute break isn't five minutes in its effect. Even if we come right back to our work. 

We all basically knew that distraction wasn't harmless, but, if you're like me, it seemed like such a fun thing to keep around.

I'd go through periods of cracking down on distractions, but then I'd fall in love with Instagram again. Or want to keep tabs on something on Facebook. Or listen to an Internet radio service with those jarring ads. Or, or, or...

Newport's description of attention residue really convinced me. That hidden cost of switching tasks just seems way too expensive.

Up to twenty minutes of really bad brainpower, for every quick break?! Wasting twenty minutes of work time? Ack!

So, as I type this, my smartphone is shut in a closet. My computer isn't registering any notifications and I don't have any other tabs or windows up. No music playing.

My focus isn't perfect by a long shot. But I can feel it getting better. 

(Stay tuned: We'll talk a lot more about how to strengthen our ability to focus in the next blog post!)

3) What do we have to know before we start practicing this stuff?

One of the points that Cal Newport really dwells on is the idea that 1) deep work is hard, and 2) it is a skill that we have to train.

It's not something we can just pick up and be great at. It's going to take work.

It is going to take training.

In other words, we are going to want to stop, give up, shrug our shoulders, and go back to our old ways. 

For serious.

In the book, he quotes some really compelling research findings about how our brains don't just snap back to being able to focus intently. 

In other words, this isn't just a question of motivation. It's not just about trying hard and seeing if it works.

It's about taking a muscle that has atrophied and bringing it back to full health and then some.

Why is it so important to know this?

Because the breakthroughs are on the other side of perseverance.

Part of our brain has to learn to walk again: It's going to be painful! Progress might be really slow.

We might forget why we're even doing this, or if it even matters, when it seems like all the cool kids are interacting on Twitter every five minutes.

And if we know, in advance, that it's GOING TO BE HARD, we'll be more willing to stick it out through the challenging parts.

Right now, most of us work in a near-constant exposure to distraction mania. And those distractions actively deteriorate our ability to focus deeply.

Chasing distraction isn't a neutral habit, in other words. Running scared of being bored, scrolling through countless media sites as a reflex, keeping multiple windows going as we work—it's not just slightly bad for us.

It is actively, persistently, and ruthlessly breaking down our chances at doing our best work. 

And it's creating a mental dependence on distraction, which is going to make it even harder to learn to truly focus.

Did I say yikes already? Because: yikes. Again.

So, he says, we have to wean ourselves off of distraction.

We have to stop letting our work sessions and our work breaks and our evenings  and off times be defined by distraction-oriented activities.

It doesn't mean we all have to swear off Pinterest and the like. But it does mean that we have to be intentional about our use of Pinterest and its friends.

Newport recommends that we schedule our distraction time. That we, quite literally, write down on a piece of paper when we will be indulging in the distractions. 

He points out,

The key here isn't to avoid or even to reduce the total amount of time you spend engaging in distracting behavior, but is instead to give yourself plenty of opportunities throughout your evening to resist switching to these distractions at the slightest hint of boredom.

That resistance? Super important. 

He mentions elsewhere that, by doing this work, you are literally working to rewire your brain. To retrain it. To pull it back from being distraction-craving and distraction-driven.

And to turn it into something that can focus well and work hard.

(And, you know, write deep and amazing books.)

4) And why does it matter how we end our work session?

One of my favorite favorite parts of the book is Cal Newport's powerful idea of a shutdown ritual. 

And believe me, a shutdown ritual is your new best friend.

It's a set series of things you do at the end of your work session to close things down. Pretty basic territory. You might even do a version of this already.

For me, it means:

Sounds simple, right? 

Here's the key thing, though: our brains need us to officially stop thinking about our work at a certain point.

Yes, really.

And here's why that's so cool:

Apparently our conscious mind and our unconscious mind operate super differently. We all pretty much knew that, right?

The thing that I, at least, didn't realize, was that, both parts of our mind are incredible problem solvers.

The conscious mind—the thing that's clattering along right now as you read and as I type—is super good at solving a certain kind of problem. 

Newport says it like this: 

Your conscious mind ... is like a home computer on which you can run carefully written programs that return correct answers to limited problems. 

Cool, right? Good job, brains. Very nice. 

Here's the interesting part of that description, though: limited problems. The conscious mind handles the smaller things.

What does the unconscious do? Newport continues:

Whereas your unconscious mind is like Google's vast data centers, in which statistical algorithms sift through terabytes of unstructured information, teasing out surprising useful solutions to difficult questions.

Huge amounts of unstructured info: uh, that sounds exactly like all the info I generate while plotting.

Surprisingly useful solutions to difficult questions: sounds like exactly what I'm looking for!!

You too, right?

Let that sink in for a second.

Your unconscious mind holds spot-on solutions for your very complex, difficult questions.

Like how to save your character from the mega-mess she's made in chapter 47. Like how to figure out your business and marketing plans. Like how to do any of the other myriad, gnarly problems that we face all. the. time.

Your unconscious mind is your hero.

And I don't know about you, but when I'm trying to solve a big problem I can kind of panic, trying to just chug chug chug uphill with my dinky little conscious brain, thinking: If I just work later, if I just keep going, if I just don't let it go til I figure it out...

But this section of Deep Work convinced me: We have to send hard-to-solve problems over to the unconscious mind. To do that, we have to deliberately take them off the conscious mind.

What that means is, we need to kind of train our brains to make the switch. We need a clear, concrete end to our work days. Which is why that shutdown ritual is so dang important.

Newport recommends doing the same sequence of steps, each time you finish your work.

And he even makes the case that, it helps to say something out loud to help make this transition. You're essentially telling your brain, "Okay, the conscious mind is done with this. Over to you, unconscious!! Make me proud!" 

This part of the ritual can be simple. Newport says out loud, "Shutdown complete."

I'm usually talking to a bunch of characters, so I say, "Good job, everyone! That's it for today! Sleep well!" 

It doesn't matter so much what you say, but keep it consistent.

And the final super-critical key to a shutdown ritual is this: You stop trying to think about your work. For the rest of the day. Yes, really.

He says, 

No after-dinner e-mail check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about how you'll handle an upcoming challenge; shut down work thinking completely.

And instead of panicking about the problems that are unsolved, we're free to go about our evenings, or whatever our time off is—knowing that the massive resources of the unconscious are working hard on our problem.

COMPLETELY amazing, isn't it? And so very freeing. The shutdown ritual has been one of my favorite parts of applying this book so far.


There's a lot of really compelling information, insights, and suggestions in this book, my friends.

Honestly, it's a must-read for all of us who want to write things that will be valuable for our readers. Who want to write works that will last.

I'm applying the book slowly and steadily, so I'm not on top of everything he says yet. But the small progress I've made has felt really invigorating. 

My mind feels a bit less like a sieve, and more like a machine that actually works. I feel less ready to jump up or click away at the slightest craving for a distraction. I feel more on task, more content, and more satisfied in my work.

Which, honestly, is super empowering.

So if you worry sometimes about how well you're working, or how deep you're digging: this book is for you. Get your hands on Deep Work, and let me know what you think.

In the meantime, let's challenge ourselves to get rid of distractions.

Let's be willing to engage our minds in this training work.

Let's give our conscious minds a rest at the end of the work day ... so the big scary-exciting work of the unconscious can begin.

Most of all, let's take courage. One of the best resources for a successful and fulfilling writing career is this deep work ability. And it's right here! Right within our grasp!

It requires no fancy equipment, no flashy tools. Just you, your mind, your willingness, and a whole lotta grit.

Let's practice it, get better at it, and write those amazing stories that the world needs.

Explode Your Creativity (and Just Have a Lot More Fun!) by Strengthening This One Dynamic Skill

An essential skill that's usually in desperate need of strengthening, if we want to create better stories ... and a more satisfying writing life. | lucyflint.com

Have you ever read a book that felt like the author was standing waaaaay too far away from you?

There's this weird kind of distance—like they're standing outside of their own book. That incredibly tedious, frustrating sensation that the writer is writing about their story. 

Know what I mean?

Their scenes feel like static, lifeless things that the writer is pointing to and explaining to me.

... Instead of whisking me up and sticking me right in the middle of the story itself. 

Confession One: With this kind of book, I don't last long as a reader.

Confession Two: And I can totally become this kind of writer, when I'm not careful.

Yiiiiiiiiikes.

Spoiler alert: I'm not about to dive into the differences of "showing versus telling." And I'm not going to unpack the more descriptive styles of writing as opposed to the more stark.

Nope. What's on my mind is the big, overarching, world-shaping superpower that we all have access to as writers. 

Imagination.

Today we're gonna dive into how we can strengthen that oh-so-vital aspect of our craft.

But before we start, WHY does it feel so silly to talk about imagination? Like it is so very uncool and unadult.

After kicking off this series on strength-building, I feel like I've just waltzed into a weightlifting class and announced, "Today, we fingerpaint!"

And yet. Training our imaginations has a lot more to do with athletic prowess than anything goofy or simplistic. (Not to knock fingerpainting. Fingerpainting is awesome.)

After all, my friends, we're creating people and conflicts and settings and whole worlds in our minds

That's one heck of a barbell to hoist off the ground.

Okay? So let's not belittle ourselves by sneering at the term "imagination."

It's just the name of the muscle we happen to use for this incredibly powerful work we do.

How We Get Toned, Build Muscle, and Increase Imaginative Flexibility

As I come back to my novel after a turbulent summer, I'm realizing how much time I've spent away from the inner workings of my story. I've used my creativity to solve daily problems ... instead of using it to dive into my characters' world.

So my imagination has lost a whole lot of muscle mass. It's gotten scrawny. It skips the stairs and heads for the elevator. And its joints are all stiff and inflexible. 

So when I ask it to work hard on my novel, it kinda gasps and shakes and then looks around for a bag of chips.

No bueno.

I want my novel to thrive this autumn. Right? And you want yours to be amazing too, I'm sure. 

Which means it's time to build some serious strength in imagination!

So ...

So, how do we do that?

Well, a lot goes into this, for sure. We could talk about nurturing our curiosity, pouring ourselves into wonder, and taking ourselves exploring on artist dates, all of which are essential components to a full imagination-health routine. 

But I think that there's one skill that's more vital than all the rest.

Something that can totally dry up when we forget how important it is. When we start "coasting," and skimp on our attention to it.

But when we practice it over and over, ohhhh, look out.

Our writing gets richer, stronger, and generally more awesome.

I'm talking about the simple yet incredibly challenging practice of fully visualizing what we are about to write.

This is the practice of taking a scene that exists as an idea in your head, and then experiencing it. As if you were there, in the scene. 

Being present inside it, as completely and totally as possible.

THAT.

Yeah. Like I said: it's simple. Yet super challenging. 

James Scott Bell sums up this kind of imagination practice so well in his book Plot & Structure: "Be an actor." He says: 

I'll ... try to live the emotions. I'll act out the parts I've created. Almost always what I feel "in character" will make me add to or change the scene. ...
     Vividly imagine the scene, step by step, in your mind. Let it play like a movie. But instead of watching the movie from a seat in the theater, be in the scene.

Be. In. The. Scene.

So—we've probably all done this to some degree. There are scenes and moments in our stories that tend to just drop into our imaginations, right? And other pivotal scenes can be easy for us to tumble into and experience vividly.

But I know that, for myself, I tend to not make this immersive imagining a key part of my writing routine.

Instead, I get by on low-grade visualizing. Barely seeing it in my head, I instead think my way through: I guess the character could say this, and then he'd reply with this, and so she'd counter with this

But too much of that, and writing just feels like manipulating ideas of people, notions of conflict, rough sketches of setting.

Instead of the living, breathing story itself. 

Instead of the kind of story that makes its readers stay up waaaaay too late at night finishing it.

The kind of story that haunts readers and inspires their dreams.

My friends, visualizing our stories changes everything.

It keeps us from standing outside a scene and writing about the action. Instead, it plunges us inside it, so that we create the scene. First in our heads, and then on paper.

And our readers? Better be prepared to be carried away.

Five Essentials for Imagination Practice

This is a practice, so be super patient. Especially if you're as rusty at it as I am!

Be incredibly kind to yourself, refuse to expect perfection, and just keep coming back to it.

As you do, here are five things to remember that might make all the difference for you.

1. Be willing to move slowly.

It's when I'm trying to hurry through my work that all pretense of richly imagining the scene just goes straight out the window. 

I'll have the merest glimmer of the scene in my head as I pound it out on a keyboard.

Now, I'm not at all against writing fast: I think it's the coolest thing ever, and I want to get better at it. (Because THIS!)

But as we get ready to write quickly, our preparation time is a key moment for visualizing. 

That's when we can slow down, and take the time to fully sink into whatever it is we're about to write. 

If you're tempted to rush, like I can be, it's good to take a deep breath and remember what it feels like to be totally blown away as a reader.

Is it worth it, for an incredible scene? 

OH yeah. Totally worth it. 

2. Build the whole scene.

It's terribly easy for me to fall into a rut with what I imagine for my scenes. If I could get away with it, I'd have faceless, undetailed characters and nearly blank settings. I'm stronger on voice quality and emotional beats and overall action. 

But setting details? Physical characteristics? 

Ack! I have to remind myself to not leave them out.

So, as you plunge your imagination into the scene, feel into all these lifelike details: 

  • The sensations of the air, the temperature, dampness or dryness...
  • The quality of the space—claustrophobic, exposed, oppressive, frivolous, light...
  • All the sounds: of gadgets, people, movement, weather, animals, distant traffic, or hollow stillness...
  • Scent. It's so easy to forget! The smells of the people, the rooms, the outdoor spaces, fabrics, foods, mustiness...
  • And then of course, the feel of the emotions: tension, excitement, nerves, hope, shame, uncertainty, expectation...

We could probably come up with a list five times as long as this. (Which would be awesome, but really overwhelming too, haha!) 

The point is: try to be as present in your visualization of the scene as you would be in real life.

Notice what you notice. Feel what you feel. And figure out alllll the little details that affect you.

3. And definitely expect it to feel super weird.

It can help to remember: this might be really uncomfortable.

Sometimes, when I'm visualizing a scene, something in my head says, "Hold up. This is a really strange thing to be doing. NOT very normal. Not very adult. So let's not." 

Right? 

It's important to remember that, especially when we're new to this kind of imagination training, it might seem really weird, or childish, or wild, or uncertain. 

But it's still worth it.

Basically? Keep on going, even when it feels strange.

Even if something in you wants to say, "Ack, that's enough, right? We have a general idea of this scene. Let's just hurry up and write it already." 

Hang on. Even in that tough place.

Why? Because this is where strength starts to build.

Strength happens every time we don't quit when we want to quit.

Just like when we're jogging a longer route than usual, or wobbling in a yoga balancing pose, or lifting a weight that's right at our limit—we will want to quit.

We cry, "Okay, enough, I'm done!"

But if you push through the discomfort, if you hold on, then you get better, stronger, more flexible, more stable. 

You're inventing worlds in your mind, my friend. It takes strength and skill. Keep going. It's worth it.

4. Don't grab the distraction bait.

When it gets tough or challenging, it's so easy to think, "I need back-up!"

So we drop out of our intense imagining, and go find: a good Google image spread, or a Wikipedia page, or maybe check out that one Instagram account, or go make coffee.

Or basically do anything but the imagining.

But the longer we can focus allllllll our attention on this, the more rich and deep and well-constructed it will be.

So if you need more details in your scene, just make them up. Even if they might not be accurate or will need updating later.

If you're getting bored and this visualizing feels tedious, add something that puts you back on your edge. Raymond Chandler would send in a man with a gun. Personally, I like to throw in something weird, off kilter, askew.

What would most re-engage your attention? Send it in there.

5. Whatever else you do, don't hold back the most essential part of the scene. 

Deeply imagining a scene is a choice. And a skill. I've felt it get easier with practice... and then much harder when I'm out of practice.

So when we engage with this, we're increasing our skill, for sure. 

But we're also re-choosing and re-committing to our own story. 

We're deciding to live in it. Inhabit it. Participate inside it.

When I do this, I'm pushing myself to experience my story not just as a reader, but essentially as a character. 

I become someone who can peer into the absolute central workings of it. I get to witness all the exquisite moments that won't make it onto the "main stage" of the finished page. I spend my working hours wandering other realities.

And that is when I feel like the writing life is the most incredible, satisfying, and adventurous life that there can be.

It's pretty freaking amazing, in other words.

What we have to remember is that this isn't just an exercise.

It isn't just a strength-building, creativity-enhancing strategy.

It's a way of life. A way of working.

And it's the most literally mind-bending part of our craft.

It gifts us with the ability to write our stories from inside of them. Instead of from a distance, like we're merely pulling puppet strings.

If we’re not imagining, we’re settling for less. Less from our stories, less for our readers, but also less of an experience as writers.

When I think of fully imagining a scene, I'm reminded of this quote by—guess who!—Julia Cameron, in her book Walking in This World. (She's referring to the start of a larger project, but I think it applies equally well to this idea of visualizing our stories.) 

She writes: 

Horseback riders who jump the Grand Prix fences of terrifying heights talk of "throwing their heart" over the fence so their horse jumps after it. We must do the same.

That image just grabs me. Can't that be how we pursue this?

Let's not make visualizing just one more static exercise for mere technical improvement. 

Let's turn it into an opportunity to throw our hearts more fully into our scenes.

And let the action and the details and the writing itself jump after it—to great heights.

How To Love the Worst Parts of the Writing Process: Your Six-Step Plan!

So, are there parts of your creative work that you find challenging? Stuff you dread? Tasks that you, um, hate? Yeah. Here's how to discover an affection for the most unlovable parts of your writing process. | lucyflint.com

We're halfway through our Anatomy of a Lionheart series! I'm loving this review of all the traits that go into making us amazingly courageous and happy writers.

The kind of writers that can stay the course. 

But also the kind of writers who actually love what they do.

Which is why today it's time to come out and say it: 

The lionhearted writer brings love into the process.

Parts of the writing life are totally easy to love, right?

Some bits are just intoxicating.

Books, words, stories. 

Sentences so good they make your scalp tingle.

Mmmm. Yeah.

And then you adore your own stories, which feels incredible.

You fall in love with your characters. You love moments in the story that make you want to cheer because, somehow, you nailed them.

Am I right? (Yup, I just heard a "Heck yes!")

So it's pretty easy for me to say that a lionhearted writer has love somewhere in her. Love for this whole writing world.

You know what is one of the most powerful places for us to apply that love?

To the actual creative process itself.

You heard right. The nitty gritty. The day in/day out. 

... If you're like me, you might have this slight reaction to that statement. "Oh. Love the creative process. Right. That."

Because, um, the creative process can be a bit ... difficult.

There's a flash of inspiration, or there isn't.

Sometimes you have an idea that lights you on fire and all you do is burn it onto the page.

And sometimes you feel like you're just nosing at something cold and dead and maybe there's something better to be doing with your time?

Exhilarating days, days that are just fine, and days that feel like you're at the dentist with anxiety through the roof and a slow numbing sensation.

There are the highs in the midst of the work, and then there are the long tedious slogs

Right? 

So what happens to us when we learn to love every bit of the process

For starters, we stop avoiding the hard parts. (Which means everything moves more quickly, smoothly, and coherently. YAY.)

Also, we can see the strengths and the good parts of our work more clearly (whew!), which gives us the courage to deal with whatever needs repairing.

So, guess what. I want a writing life I can love completely.

I want to love every day of it. 

Even when it's "Okay, Let's Figure Out Technology" day.

Or, "Chopping Up My Manuscript with Actual Scissors So I Can Try and See What's Happening in These Dang Scenes" day.

Or, "Taking Apart the Villain's Motivation to Figure Out What's Wrong With Itday.

In other words, there are some moments in the writing process or the creative life that it's challenging to love.

Maybe impossible.

... Or, I would have said "impossible," except that something strange happened to me recently.

I've just learned to enjoy something that I originally despised.

WHAaaaaat??! Trust me, it's big.

And, me being me, I figured out exactly what kind of process happened as I went from hatred to enjoyment. 

Because, if I learned to like this one despicable thing, then ... what else could I learn to appreciate?

Maybe every single part of the creative process that currently stumps my affections?

Yeah. That's exactly what I had in mind.

If you want the full context to my hate-to-love story: I was recently assigned a series of difficult physical exercises to do every single morning right when I get up. Doctor's orders.

We were figuring out just why my health had gotten so screwed up this spring. And one of the things he prescribed is a ridiculous amount of movement.

I'm much more of a "let's wake up gently and think thoughts quietly" kind of person, so the idea of working up a sweat and a pounding heart immediately after getting up is not my thing.

The first morning of the exercises, about six weeks ago:

Instant hate.

And, bonus, I almost threw up.

This morning? I felt a wry affection for it, an "aw, you're not so terrible, are you?" kind of tolerant appreciation.

That's a pretty big change.

So what happened? And, the more exciting question: how could we try this in our writing lives?

Before we jump in, take a sec to think: What is it in your writing process, your creative work, that you're having a lot of trouble loving right now?

Get it firmly in your mind, and then let's just see what happens.

Here's where to start:

1) Recognize what is good about it. 

If something has zero worth at all, then, um, don't try to spend time loving it. Right? Just rule those things out.

So, whatever it is you're doing, there must be some good reason for it. 

And if we can mentally appreciate why something is important to do, then we at least have our feet on the right track.

With my exercises, I knew I was dodging medication by doing this. I still despised it, but at least I was motivated to keep going.

So, what's the creative task that you don't like? That moment in your work that makes you feel a bit sick or miserable?

And what's valuable about it?

What does it help you do, what next step does it position you for, what does it make easier, what does it help you avoid? 

Name the good thing (and as specifically as possible!), and you'll be one step closer to affection.

2) Practice technical gratitude.

If you know what this stage in the process is doing, what good it is, then you can be technically grateful for it. 

As you dive into that task, as you see it approaching on your to-do list: practice mentally acknowledging that gratitude. 

I don't mean that you're ready to hug it yet. Or even that you feel grateful for it. 

Just that you can nod at gratitude and say, yes, okay, I suppose I'm thankful for this, if I really think hard about it.

Okay?

For my new wake-up exercises, these were the mornings when I was glaring at the wall, puffing and sweating, and saying to myself, At least this is going to help get my body back to normal. 

Or, doing this lets me have enough energy in the day to function. 

Or even, It's almost over. At least they're fairly quick.

What does this look like for your dreaded step in the process?

Even if you don't feel grateful for it, how can you be at least mentally grateful for it?

3) Notice what you actually do like about it.

Once you've let yourself practice that kind of cognitive gratitude for a while, it's time to push a little deeper. 

At this point, is there anything that you might—even grudgingly at first—like about doing this thing? 

Even a teeny tiny super-hard-to-see little bit of it?

This realization hit me after I'd been doing those morning exercises for a while. One day I noticed that my endurance was increasing—and that felt kinda cool.

Another day, the first sequence was a lot easier than it used to be. Which was nice. And empowering.

A few of the moves even felt—dare I say it out loud?—a little fun.

SUPER weird. I tried not to notice.

Is there anything in this part of the process for you that's just a little bit enjoyable?

Try to scrape together a list, even if it's a list of one item.

But whatever part of the task is likable, focus hard on that. 

4) Support the dreaded task with a lot more enjoyment.

You know this already. It's a lionheart standard! But whatever challenging thing you're working on, do this: 

Pour a ton of other things you love right on top of it.

Use the best paper, break out the pens that make you swoon, and fancy up your work space

Listen to music that you adore or find deeply inspiring. 

It was a major day for me when I finally made a playlist exclusively for those morning exercises! I could move faster and better: it stopped feeling so brutal. And it doubled my motivation each time I pressed play.

It's never easy to work on something we dislike. So, recruit your surroundings. 

Let your environment be your cheerleading squad: make everything as enjoyable as possible, each time you approach that task.

5) Practice relish.

After practicing those steps for a while, things might begin to shift in your mind and heart. 

Hopefully you're noticing a few blips of felt gratitude for this tough thing you're doing. Hopefully you're able to see a bit more of its good effect. 

Which means it's time to just go for it: Lean into everything you enjoy about this task. 

Take those slightly-positive feelings and intentionally crank them up.

Mega-celebrate every small thing that you're liking about this task you're doing.

Try smiling when you do it, even when you don't feel like it. (Because you're unleashing great stuff in your brain when you smile, and this is exactly the kind of work when you'd like some extra greatness in your brain, right?)

Just keep pouring on the positivity ... until you start to find yourself not dreading it when it's time to dive in.

6) Repeat.

In spite of the huge strides I've made, I'm not at the point where I can just coast with these morning exercises. I still need to focus on what's good about them, and feel gratitude, and crank up the tunes. 

Some things might always be a bit easier to hate than to love. 

So, for the sake of your writerly well-being, keep this cycle up. 

Keep affirming your gratitude, surrounding the task with more positivity, and amping up your enjoyment.

Hold that dread at bay. Stagger it with goodness.

That's honestly what's happening with my crazy morning exercises. In a month and a half, I've gone from pure hatred to actually feeling a zing of excitement about them.

So weird, right?

And that good effect just keeps on giving: It's actually turned into a wonderful ritual to start my day.

Imagine that: Transforming your dreaded task into a powerhouse of energy and empowerment for your work. 

... Or at least, into something you can manage to do without ruining your day.

Worth trying, right?

Personally, I'm excited to start applying these steps to the writing stuff I've been avoiding...

Such as, um, research! And fixing the tinier plot holes that I've somehow let stay. And doing a much better job with setting. And... oh, there's probably a whole list.

But how amazing would it be, to keep working on the less lovable parts of the process. To turn them into our allies—tasks that inspire our gratitude and fire up our energy? 

DANG. Talk about a game changer.

So what will you be learning to love?

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.

Remember This When All Of Your Writing Plans Blow Up

When everything goes crazy in your life, and your plans for your writing blow up: what can you do? What can you count on? I've got your answers here. | lucyflint.com

I am a recovering control freak. (HUGE surprise, right? I know, I know.)

I still have a major fondness for one-hundred-item lists. For plans that map out the next three years with precision. 

I love the idea of my personal universe clicking along, on well-oiled gears, everything spinning just as it should.

I love that. It's so tidy.

And when I'm on a planning tear, it feels so, so possible. Give me a calendar and a notepad and a pen, and you will see me work up some serious control-freak euphoria.

There's only one thing more dependable than my desire to plan: The way those plans almost always explode. Or dissolve. Or vanish. 

They tank, they go south, they self-destruct. Swept overboard by crises, illness, injuries.

(What's that? Oh yes. I'm still fending off a four-week sinus-infection-meets-bronchitis supervirus from hell. It has slowed down my writing progress a tiny bit. ... It is also gross.)

Plans blow up, and then I'm reminded—oh, yet again—that I am actually operating in a world that I don't control. 

Whoops.

So I take a little time to recover, to soften my grip on the calendar and the pen and the hundred-item list. I give myself some chocolate, find a cozy blanket, and then remind myself of this quote. 

This fantastic, writing-life-altering quote: 

Teach yourself to work in uncertainty. — Bernard Malamud

That's the kind of quote that used to reduce this control freak to a quivering wreck. Because that is not what I wanted Mr. Malamud to say. 

I wanted him to say: "Never fear, writer! You actually are a little god! You can make everything go your way if you just PLAN HARD. Don't give up!! Fight! Grip it all too tight! Insist on your own version of reality in the face of everything else! Mwahahahaha!!"

He did not say that.

Teach yourself to work in uncertainty.

"Teach yourself to work in uncertainty." - Bernard Malamud // There are three constants in a writer's life: the writer, the work, and uncertainty. Now that we know that, let's write anyway.

Kind of makes it sound like the certain thing in the writing life is actually—its uncertainty

I'm finally waking up to the fact that the thing I can absolutely predict is that there will be chaos, there will be some event that checks my plans, there will be evil-minded germs.

And the writing itself can jump the tracks: Outlines suddenly sound like gibberish. Favorite characters start acting like morons. Dialogue devolves into silly clichéd exchanges. 

An appetite for reading goes dry. A disciplined working routine fizzles. Plans fail.

There is always uncertainty. We can count on it. 

It took me a while to see how hopeful and wonderful Malamud's quote is. Because yes, there is always uncertainty.

But there are also two other constants in that quote. Two other things to be counted on:

There is always the work. That work we're called to, like someone tied a string to our hearts, and tied the other end to stories. 

That work. 

And then, there is always the writer. 

She might be beaten up, she might have suffered loss, she might look like she's just clambered out of a shipwreck.

She might have just drunk all the tea in the house and be sitting amidst a pile of used tissues. (Who, me?) 

She might not be able to save her writing with plans and schedules. She might not be able to see clear to the end of the endeavor like she wants to. 

But that's okay. That's the thing. That's the really, really good news:

There is always uncertainty. There is always the work. And there is always you, my dear lionheart.

And when we train ourselves to work, despite the uncertainty, then we actually become invincible. 

We don't have to understand exactly how we're going to get this draft done on time. We don't have to be able to diagnose all the ills of our upcoming months in advance. 

Spoiler alert: 2016 is NOT going to go according to plan.

Seriously. There is some major stuff heading toward our lives.

Some of these plans for our writing—so neat! so clever! so possible!—will absolutely be swallowed by the perfect storm of crazy that is coming. 

I'm guaranteeing it. 

That used to make me tense and white-knuckled. That used to make me run around, screaming. 

Guess how I thought I'd fix everything? By planning harder.

Granted: A bit of good strategizing will help. Of course it will. 

But it is so easy to get trapped in a cycle of overthinking and overplanning: Let's get all the variables accounted for! Let's find three ways to defeat each obstacle! Let's make a list of forty things I have to do every single day to stay on schedule!!

But the best, best, best thing to do in the face of uncertainty is the work

The ACTUAL work. 

Not planning the work. Not analyzing notes. Not listing new ways to research.

But the real, true, sweet storytelling work itself. 

Craft the next sentence. Write the very next paragraph. Sketch out the next chapter. 

Actual words for the actual story.

Even though you're not sure! Even though everything's shivering and unstable! Write. Even then.

Over the last three years, life has dealt me a serious amount of bizarre and frustrating and crazy circumstances.

Planning has its allure, but it has never, ever saved the day like writing has. 

It gets easier with practice. It comes more naturally. It's a skill we can grow.

So let's practice that together, okay, lionheart? 

Whatever form of uncertainty is facing you right now—whether big life circumstances, or just the normal plain uncertainty of how the heck are you going to finish that novel?!—whatever that is, consider it for a moment.

And then take a really deep breath.

Right now. Yes, really. 

A super deep breath. And then let it all out. Then do it two more times. (Something about three deep breaths. It's a thing. I love it.)

And then do a little writing. It doesn't have to be much. 

Grab an index card and write the very next sentence of your story. A line of dialogue that's spot-on for your protagonist. A smidge of description for your favorite bit of setting.

Write down something, anything, that reconnects you to the heart of the tale you're telling.

Not to the planning. To the work.

Writing is the best medicine, the best antidote, and the best safeguard in the face of uncertainty.

Use it well. And use it often.

(Don't you feel just a little bit better now?)

What Happens to You If You Actually *Enjoy* Writing?

Welcome to Week Three of the Fall In Love with Your Writing Life series! I can't believe that we're this far along already!

Can I just say, y'all are troopers. You are amazing.

I'm so proud of all the lionhearts who dove into this challenge, and I hope that you're feeling a little weak in the knees about your writing life!

And there's more fun up ahead! It's just going to get better! (Have I mentioned that I'm still super excited?? I have so many exclamation points I haven't used yet...)

This week is all about enjoyment. About a writing life that is marked by joy, pleasure, and fun. 

Why be grim and tense about writing if we really don't have to be? Right?

Yeah. That's why we're here.

So let's dive in!

That old mentality that says writing must be grim and excruciating? Pffft. The old school isn't always best. Let's shift that paradigm. What would happen to you if you actually *enjoyed* writing?? Come find out. | lucyflint.com

February 15: Take dancing lessons.

Today, we're talking about dancing.

And not in my usual, dance-your-writing-anxieties-out way. (Although that's still a good idea. By all means, let loose.)

I'm talking about dancing with your writing life.

And before that gets any weirder than it already sounds, what I mean is:

Write some poetry.

... I just figured we'd all freak out if I led with the "poetry" thing. So try to think of it like dancing lessons. I promise it will help.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Yes. Really. You. Poetry.

In particular, I'd love, love, love it if you wrote a haiku. (Or two. Or seven.)

What's the point of taking dancing lessons in a relationship?

It's about spending time with each other, learning a skill that brings you (literally) closer, and doing something beautiful together—or, actually, doing something silly. 

Yes, you'll totally step on each other's feet. Yes, you might look ridiculous. But that's great!

It's a wonderful reminder that the point of dancing with someone you love isn't about doing it perfectly, or even about doing it right.

The point is: enjoying each other's company. 

So, if this exercise makes you laugh, bonus points for you.

If you throw all kinds of words at the haiku but they just sound lame, bonus points for you!

And if you try this and find that you love it, then bonus points for you.

Get my point? It isn't about being a haiku master. It isn't about creating award-winning poetry.

It's about doing a dance with language. About putting your feet here and then there and then there, a little awkwardly, a little out of rhythm, but practicing at it—simply because those are the steps of the tango, the foxtrot.

Or the haiku.

A haiku is a three-line poem, and the length of the line is governed by syllables. Five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, five in the third. And that's it!

Here's a more detailed explanation... but seriously, just dive in for ten minutes and have fun. Let the syllables fly.

Forget about perfection: this is about enjoying your time together.


February 16: Contemplate.

Sometimes the mark of a really great relationship is that you can sit there in silence together.

Is that really the prompt for today? 

Yes! Yes it is! 

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Free yourself from the need to be demonstrably productive. Just for fifteen minutes. 

Can you sit in your writing area, and just practice feeling happy and peaceful there?

Think about enjoying the space, the feel of it. The ghosts of the words you've written here. The nebulous stories that you will write someday.

... If the idea of fifteen minutes of doing nothing makes you break into a rash, I get it. No worries: you can doodle on some scrap paper.

Or maybe scrawl a sentence... but try to write slowly.

Make a list of nouns you like, but in really, really slow motion. Like you're drawing the letters for the first time.

Or invent a word even longer and funnier than Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Maybe you do that. 

Or maybe you don't: And you just sit there, feeling open and available to the writing life, but without demanding anything back from it.

Is this a little weird? That's okay. It's just fifteen minutes. After this, we can all get back to optimizing and producing and tallying and researching and media-ing. 

But I love to take the pressure of being productive out of the equation, just for a bit. 

And let the life of words and writing mean more than just "getting this project finished."

Maybe, for these fifteen minutes at least, the writing life is a way of being. A direction. A type of feeling, and considering, and dreaming. 

What if the writing life wasn't a career at all, but instead it was a life that loved stories and language? 

What if all the books and blogs and essays were simply the by-products of a very happy marriage between a person and words? 

Hmm.

If nothing else appeals, try spending your fifteen minutes contemplating that.


February 17: Get a little fancied up.

I love the freedom of working from home. Of being comfortable. Of wearing whatever.

But sometimes—I gotta be honest—my whole style statement can be summed up as "Didn't actually think about it."

(Fair enough. I'm working on figuring out the intersection between being extremely comfortable and having a legitimate style choice. At which point, I'll discover my dream writing uniform. One day, folks!! One day!)

There's this funny correlation between what I'm wearing and how I feel about my work.

It isn't necessarily dramatic. But it creeps in now and then.

And, if I'm in sloppy clothes, I can start feeling like my whole posture toward my work is, "I honestly don't care."

It can feel demeaning. I start saying, "Why bother."

Suddenly I feel a lot less like writing and a lot more like, say, polishing off a package of Oreos. (Let's be real.)

On the other hand: when I dress up—and I mean just a smidge, just a bit, just a little—it sets an intention.

It sends me a message about my work: I care about this. This matters to me. And I'm bringing my best.

That's how we want to show up to our work. And that's what we want the writing life to see from us.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Dress up a little for your writing today.

This isn't about being uncomfortable, or hiding yourself, or being less like you. Not at all!

It just means leaning into the work a little bit. Bringing a little sparkle. Doing something a little extra.

And that can look however you want it to.

Maybe this means just wearing some lip gloss, or maybe you're writing in a party dress today.

When I want to take things up a notch, I pull out this perfume. It's called Paper. (I promised you I was a nerd, right?)

It smells like the sweetness of—no kidding—paper.

*swoon*

When I feel like I'm having a drab writing day, sometimes I change my clothes, do something halfway decent to my hair, spritz this on, and then get back to work.

It doesn't make me an instant genius, but it does make me feel much more confident about what I'm writing and why.


I hope you have an incredibly yummy and fun week with your writing! Check back on Thursday for four more ways to dive deeper into joy and love in your writing life. 

Want to revisit the older prompts? Here are the first four posts in the series: one, two, three, four.

Happy writing!

We're Brave Enough To Embrace Change. (So bring it on, 2016.)

Our resolutions and challenges are going to change us: maybe every single part of us. Super exciting. A bit scary. Here's where we get the courage to tackle the big stuff. | lucyflint.com

The courage that we need to dive into a challenge isn't just the bravery to face big obstacles, big effort, big problems.

We need the courage to face a new self.

Whatever challenge we are heading toward—whatever resolution we are most aiming to keep—it's going to turn us into new people. 

Which is amazing, wonderful, and worthwhile. But tough.

The courage it takes to dive into a challenge is transformative courage.

It's the kind of bravery we need while we change from the old person into the new one. 

Good stuff, right? I can nod along to all this: Yes, I want to be the kind of person who is professional, who reads a lot more fiction, who works out every day, who writes a bazillion books!

I want all those things! I'm up for the challenge! And I'm really excited to go for all my dreams.

 And yet, I don't want to give up my grip on the old person.

She's familiar. She's comfortable. Now and then she would eat a lot of cheese, curl up in baggy sweats, and watch black & white mystery shows on Netflix.

Might not be the stuff that moves mountains, but it was super.

Anyone with me on this?

Okay, so how do we do this thing: How do we find the courage to let go of our old selves, and reach for the new?

The courage to be transformed, the courage to become the new person who does the big thing?

A bit of understanding goes a long way.

It helps to see why we got to where we were before. 

Instead of shrieking "Baggy sweats again! You slob!" I've realized that I was doing something really necessary in those Netflix binge nights.

Those sweats were a haven for a while: it was a good place to be. And those mystery movies helped me deal with tough times. Three-times-a-week gin & tonics were a lovely reward at the end of some really hard, emotional days.

I made those choices for certain reasons, and I did the best with what I had. (Survival mode isn't always pretty.)

Don't leave a gap.

If that was the old way I relaxed, it's not going to work to just cut that habit out and replace it with "celery sticks and a nightly run." 

Yeah, that would take me toward my new goals, but the courage to stick that habit: it's just not there. I know that.

Instead, I'm looking at what I was accomplishing, with the g&t and Netflix. I felt cozy, relaxed, and nourished. (Kinda.)

Replacing this with a habit that thwarts that old instinct isn't going to last. But what if I replace it with: Fantastic fiction to read, a snuggly and beautiful afghan, and fruity green tea.

Whoa. Suddenly I have a new cozy, relaxing, nourishing habit. Which will be so much easier to fall into. 

When you want a new, splendid habit, try to line it up with something you were accomplishing in your old habit. I'm guessing we'll stick with it so much better.

Make a date with the Old You.

I don't know, maybe strict habit-setters would howl at this, but I think it's valuable: 

When I outlaw something entirely, forever and ever, I do a really bad job of sticking with it.

The habit itself feels really brittle. I start to think that if I backslide once, I'm done for.

... And then all I can think about is backsliding. 

Instead, I'm a fan of making a date with the old me. Of doing something I used to do all the time, but doing it intentionally, with boundaries.

So, I'm not trying to fall back into bad habits (and obviously, this won't work for certain toxic behaviors). 

Instead, I'm intentionally revisiting an old space, in a healthy way. 

I still love a good gin & tonic. I still love a mystery movie binge. 

But not every night. Maybe only on the weekends. Or even: every other weekend.

See what I mean?

What's really exciting is when you've lost your taste for the old thing: Discovering that the old behavior has lost its grip on you. That's what makes this step so powerful

If the old habit wasn't a terrible thing, it can be safely revisited and enjoyed, without wrecking all your plans.

Stay close to your deeper reasons.

As I'm implementing new behaviors and new routines, small step by small step, it helps me to keep remembering why these small things matter. 

I remind myself all the time how the small parts of these habits add up. How the bigger habits move me more toward the kind of writer, the kind of creative, and the kind of woman I most want to be.

I mentioned this in the last post, but it's worth saying again: Having a really deep purpose, and a clear vision of what you're aiming for, goes such a long way for anchoring new habits. 

If a resolution is surface-based, it can be shrugged off as a whim. 

But when I've attached it to more deep and true ideas of who I want to be, my motivation increases. 

Like my new reading plan: It isn't about checking titles off a list. It's about becoming the kind of thinker and wordsmith I want to be for the rest of my life. 

That's the kind of motivation I need to give up Netflix.

It's so much easier to let go of old habits when I have my heart firmly set on becoming more of who I was designed to be.

So try it. Surround yourself with encouraging quotes, with handwritten reminders. Journal about it. Do some freewriting.

But keep pointing yourself toward the kind of person you want to be, and keep that vision clear and strong. 

The clearer that vision is, the easier it is to love every step of the process.

Celebrate. Every step forward.

If you've hung out here a while, you know that this is how I like to do things: We celebrate. We celebrate every little thing.

Because I think that joy and courage can go hand in hand. Bravery strengthens enthusiasm; cheerfulness empowers courage. 

It's a brilliant cycle.

So, seriously: congratulate yourself for every tiny step (and half-step) that you take forward. 

Don't shrug it off, don't roll your eyes, and don't berate yourself for not having everything done at once

Love yourself through the whole process of this transformation, and you'll find more and more courage rising to help you. 

You want a quote? I totally want a quote. I saw this recently on Twitter, thanks to the brilliant K.M. Weiland

Remember that writing is translation, and the opus to be translated is yourself. — EB White.

WHOA, right? I mean—right?? Isn't that the truth of it? 

Every piece I've written, every single one, has translated some of me into the piece.

But it's also translated me into a whole new version of myself.

Pretty incredible, when you think about it.

Even little pieces, like these blogs: it doesn't seem noticeable, one blog at a time, but can I just say that I'm such a different person now, thanks to nearly a year of steady blogging? 

And honestly, I'd rather be this version of myself. (She's so much more fun!)

So, I'm up for it, 2016. I don't know what this will look like. Maybe the changes will be small, or maybe I won't even recognize myself. 

Either way, I'm in. I'm all in.