Grow Better: Let's Own, Nourish, and Celebrate the Writing Phase You're In

Writing projects have life cycles, just like any growing, fruitful thing. Which season are you in? Here's how to embrace all it has to offer. | lucyflint.com

I've spent nearly my whole life in the midwestern United States. And though we aren't a farming family, I'm used to marking the seasons by what the fields are doing.

Right now, at the start of summer, the bright green corn plants are coming up through the dirt, showing off their first few leaves. 

Over the next month, they'll rocket out of the ground, becoming bold walls of dense leaves, perfuming the air—a sweet, dusty, corny smell.

At the end of the season comes the goldening of everything. And suddenly the walls disappear as the machines march through.

In winter the colors all fade, and fields are quiet under November mud or January snow. I'm used to this, my whole life: it's how things work.

Seasons. Seedlings sprout, grow, ripen, disappear. Quiet takes their place. And then it starts again. 

The other day I was reading The Sound of Paper, by Julia Cameron—a meditative book of short essays about the creative life and creative droughts. (I'm really liking it, but that's no surprise! It's a lovely and helpful book.)

When I hit the chapter called Seasonality, I sat up straight. Her words illuminated something that's been troubling me: 

     There is a seasonality, a cyclicity, to creative work. There are ripening times of midsummer, when our ideas bob in our heads like a good crop of apples. There is fall, the time of harvest, when we take those ideas down and collect them. There is a wintertime, when our ideas feel ice-locked and dormant and we must wait them out ... and then there is spring, the stirrings of new ideas and new directions.

You get that? 

Our creative projects have a time of blooming, growth, harvesting, and dormancy. 

Oh, I loved this so much! Because instantly I saw myself, exactly where I was: deep in a creative wintertime, and no way of knowing how to claw out of it.

Restless, irritated. Like a bear who forgot to hibernate.

Here's what I think: We novelists need to understand this. We need to recognize these seasons in our creative lives, just like we midwesterners do. (If you only have one or two seasons where you are, you'll just have to kinda imagine with me.) 

Because once you wrap your mind around the idea of having a creative season, there's a lot that becomes clear, a lot that carries over in that metaphor.

Go with me on this, okay?

In real life seasons, each seasonal shift requires some prep.

There are things that this season is really, really good at—seasonal strengths. (Even the ugly seasons have strengths!)

And then there are some major weaknesses that come along, with each one. (Even the pretty ones.)

That's a reminder that I need to get squarely in my head, because here is my confession: 

I have idolized the creative seasons of Summer and Harvest.

Seriously, I love, love, love these creative seasons. I want to live in them forever.

I want to be producing stories at the blistering rate of corn plants (which grow so fast you can literally hear them grow).

And I want to be harvesting like the massive combines that go charging across the land, converting everything to piles of grain—quick, efficient, relentless.

Mega-growth. Mega-production. That's what I've fallen in love with.

That's when it's easier to say out loud, Of course, yes! I am a writer! When faced with inquiries from friends and family: it's so easy to sum up my progress in these seasons. I have something to report.

Everything is growing, growing, growing! I'm writing so fast, and the characters are talking quickly, and it's all going so well!

Or, for harvest: I'm starting the blog! Or, I'm wrapping up the draft! I'm sending it out to readers; I'm planning my publication! Confetti, cheers, marching bands!

And we all get to leave the conversation cheerfully. 

But.

You don't have to be an agricultural whiz kid to know: fields can't just go from summer to harvest and back again. It doesn't work like that. 

And our creative seasons can't do that either. Our projects don't jump from mega-growth to mega-production and then back to growth again.

We have to go through spring, and we have to go through winter.

Can I be honest? It's hard for me to enjoy a creative springtime. It's such a prickly sort of creative season: how do I explain it, to others and myself?

The idea-seeds are in the earth. I'm watering them (brainstorming!) and watching them (freewriting!) and checking the soil (tending the imagination!).

I'm afraid to breathe too hard on the little ideas. I get nervous when it storms. Is there too much sun, too much shade? Did I plant a bunch of duds?

Everything feels fragile and nebulous, and I'm trusting that the little roots are shooting into the ground, that the stems are straightening, somehow feeling the tug of light, the call to come up, up, up.

Creative spring is hard for me. But what keeps me going is hope: there are seeds, so there is the hope of growth. And maybe something will come out of this, even if I don't know what it looks like yet.

Hope helps us hang on.

... And then there's creative winter.

The seaons that comes along with big, obvious challenges. The other seasons have challenges too, of course. But winter, with its ice and its blizzards and the way it starves your eyes of color—that's the one with the real problems. The light is short, and the dark is long. 

It's winter that leaves me speechless when people ask how the work is going. It's winter that I find impossible to explain out loud, or even to myself.

What is there to talk about? What is it that's happening, anyway, when things lie dormant, when everything looks abandoned? 

But this is why seeing it as a season is actually really, REALLY helpful. Seriously. It helps, when you call it winter. When you own it.

That little shift helps reframe the whole scenario. It reminds me of what I'm actually dealing with. Because all seasons, however long, do shift. They pass. They change. 

And every season has strengths, as well as challenges. Even winter.

No matter which season you're in, it's important to see it as clearly as you can. To name it. And to own that season. 

Because here's what happens, to me anyway, when I choose not to own the season: If I'm not intentional about this, I'll try to push myself to be in another season (preferably summer or harvest!).

And when I'm actually, truthfully, in the midst of a creative spring or winter, then this pushing can be downright deadly.

You can't force midsummer growth on a tiny little seedling—it can't sustain it.

You can't harvest before the grain or fruit or story is ready—it will be ruined.

And you can't scout for seedlings when everything is meant to lie fallow—you'll only find frustration.

Let your season be your season. Anything else will bring burnout, immature work, destroyed confidence, and heartbreak.

Look closely at your work right now. At the project you're facing. What season is it in?

Are you doing the seedling work, nurturing little ideas and hoping that they sprout? Are you shoveling fertilizer and sunshine and water over rapidly-growing stories?

Are you making the plans and gathering the resources for a harvest, a launch, a publication? Or are you in the season in between, the one that can seem like nothing is happening. (But oh, my friend, something is happening!)

Oh, and just to keep us all on our toes: you can be in several creative seasons at the same time. One project might be wintering while another is twisting out of the soil, or one might be in the thick of harvest, while secret seedlings send out their first roots with another. 

What creative seasons are you in? 

Once you know that, here's the exciting part: How can you take specific, concrete steps to support yourself, and care for yourself, in the midst of that season? 

Read on for some ideas:


If you're in a creative summer...

Congratulations! Summer is a super-exciting time. Send off some fireworks! Let yourself celebrate!

But keeping up with that pace of growth is no joke. It's important to keep yourself creatively nourished, and to stay connected to the people and rituals that will ground you.

Summer is when I'm tempted to make a habit of overwork. I have to insist on taking breaks, on making sure I get up and go for a walk, play with the dog, or stretch it out with yoga. 

In a creative summer, it's easy to burn out wrists, back, eyes. To fall back on crappy snacks that don't really help our brains come up with good stuff. To neglect sleep, and then poison ourselves with waaaaay too much caffeine.

So check in: 

More than anything, seek to enjoy this time. Growth is exciting; and watching a story come together is one of the most delicious experiences in a writing life!


If you're in a creative harvest...

First off, have yourself a little party. Even just right here, as you're reading this post: wave your hands in the air, and imagine a whole bunch of confetti falling down on you, because this is awesome. 

Harvest means taking your stories, your words, your article—whatever it is that you've bloomed and grown in your head—and setting it out for other people to experience. 

That is fantastic. So dance!

... And if you're stubbornly staring at this screen saying, Are you kidding, Lucy? I don't feel like dancing. I feel like throwing up!, then I get you too, because harvest can also kind of, oh, shred your soul a bit.

There is no creative season where Fear leaves us alone, but it has an especially good case to make when we're harvesting. Fear shows us what other people might say, how our work might be received, who's going to stop speaking to us, and so on, and so on.

A million nightmare scenarios, storming through our minds. And it can be enough to make us call off the harvest. Forget about it. Let's just not.

Harvest isn't easy. 

But crops don't wait forever. There is a time when it's just right to publish, to post, to hit "send." 

So check in: 

Harvest is nerve-wracking, but it's also incredible. It takes guts. Whether your harvest is tiny (sending an email, posting a comment, sending a newsletter), or big (publishing a book, landing a writing job), you owe it to yourself to celebrate

For serious. Go get that cake.


If you're in a creative springtime...

Oooh, spring! The butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling of tending a lot of tiny ideas, caring for them with an equal feeling of hope and nervousness.

It's a time of unbridled possibility, and that can be exhilarating! Enjoy it!  

But spring has its challenges too. We can get discouraged. Spring calls for patience, patience, and patience, as we deliberately brew our projects, as we watch the teeny roots take hold. 

We have to learn how to keep a steady hand as we fertilize the soil, as we keep weeds and harsh conditions at bay.

So let's check in: 

  • Perfectionism loves to visit in the spring. It pretends that we can sit and imagine our perfect blossoms, instead of diving in and risking failure. It'll whisper anything to keep us from writing those messy drafts! But creative spring is a time to embrace the mess: don't hold back.
  • Our fledgling ideas can sprout better with the help of a solid routine, or a good structure around them. If you're just coming out of a creative winter, it can be hard to get back into a groove. Time to rally your best practices, and build a solid working structure for yourself. (Need inspiration? I've got you: here, here, and here.)
  • As you get into the rhythm of springtime, you have to promise yourself that you will not compare your new growing ideas to anyone else's writerly garden. Okay? Comparison is one of the silent killers of creativity. It's not worth it.
  • Keep breathing. Growth can be slow. It takes patience.

Real spring is one of the most beautiful times of the year, and a creative spring is no less beautiful. Celebrate the joy of seeds becoming stems becoming buds becoming blooms. (And maybe buy yourself some flowers for your desk?) Keep encouraging yourself, and keep on keeping on.


If you're in a creative winter...

This can be the hardest place to find yourself. Winter is tough, and it can last a lot longer than we'd like. It's easy to focus on the ice patches, the blizzards, and long darkness.

But we can stay warm in the midst of creative winter when we choose to be gentle with ourselves. When we do things that are good for our souls and happy-making for our imaginations.

Find ways to endure the cold by lighting candles for creativity, and cutting cheery snowflakes out of bright paper.

Here are a few ways we can find our trusty boots, our beloved mittens, our best soup recipes. Here's how we can actually winter well: 

  • Right now, make a decision that you will not beat yourself up for being here. Winter is just a thing. It happens. It doesn't make you a bad writer, a bad creative, or any other shamefilled label that we might want to assign ourselves. Take yourself off the hook. Give yourself grace.
  • One thing that winter is really good for is naptaking. I'm serious. This season is when you can catch up on rest, both physically and creatively. Take super good care of your body. Take all producing pressure off. (Sometimes we actually need it to be winter, for exactly this reason!)
  • Nourish. Use winter as a time to put into your imagination, indiscriminately. Since you don't have to research for a specific project, you can just follow your own curiosity. This is actually a gift, and you're allowed to treat it like one. :)
  • Read. Read a lot. When I decide to really embrace winter, I usually end up reading a TON. Go to your library and check out more books than you can carry. Binge-read fiction for a few weeks. Grab stacks of non-fiction titles that intrigue you. Plunge into new subjects, rediscover old favorites.
  • Play. I know. It can be hard. But sometimes you need to just cut loose. Find ways to love your creative self by playing games, by picking up a different artistic skill for a while. Try your hand at collage, or calligraphy, or watercolors. Or get messy with sculpture, or repaint every room in your house. Stir it up.
  • Fertilize your soil, and ready your tools. You can keep learning your craft, even if you aren't working on something actively, by reading good books on writing. (Steer clear of angry, cynical books. Only grab the yummiest sort.) 
  • Let me just say this one again: Be relentlessly kind to yourself.

It can be hard to love winter. But when you really and truly let yourself off the hook, it can be a beautiful time. It can point you back to places you might have been neglecting: deep rest, deep refilling.

You're allowed to investigate creativity for its own sake, instead of so that you can meet a deadline, or crank something out. You're allowed to run down the path of your curiosity, without it needing to pay off immediately. 

So choose to give yourself a gift in your creative wintertime. Embrace rest, embrace care. Spread a little love over your writing life. 


Wherever you are, my friend, consider this: What does it look like to truly honor the season that you're in? To embrace its strengths, and gently account for its weaknesses? To accept it for what it is, and to celebrate it—difficulties and all?

For me, after an on-again/off-again winter that lasted a year and a half (I'm not making that up), I am in the midst of a springtime: there are so many little seeds in the ground right now, fresh growth on some older projects, and I'm excited! Committing myself to patience, and dancing with hope!

How about you? 

Eight Pieces of Writing Life Wisdom I Received as a Beginner (And They're Still Schooling Me, Eleven Years Later!)

This is the kind of foundational wisdom you can build a writing life on. | lucyflint.com

I tumbled into the writing life with a lot of ideas and a lot of advice.

Luckily for me, I wrote all that early thinking down as one of my final class projects before graduating from college: a long essay spelling out what I hoped and expected the writing life to be.

And at the beginning of this month—eleven years after writing it—I dug out that paper and reread it. After all this time, I was curious. I wanted to sift through the mix of hopes and fears that filled my transition from the student life to the writing life, and see what I thought I was getting myself into! 

Some of my expectations were pretty ridiculous—even damaging. I'm so relieved to have chucked those old beliefs and to have learned a better way forward.

Today, I'm looking at the other half of the paper—at the best tips and advice that I compiled after interviewing writers and professors, and reading a ton of articles and writing books before taking the plunge. 

Because I was surprised: there was some advice in there that I'd forgotten, some tips that I'd discarded without thinking, and some points that could breathe new life into my writing practice.

Who would have thought??

So I've pulled the best of it together to share with you: the solid stuff that still rings true. This is what I want to keep applying to my writing days.

Read on for some of the best, most lasting advice about the writing life!

1. Love of the work = the very best fuel. Eleven years ago, I had just read Julia Cameron's incredible book The Artist's Way for the first time. And, I'm ashamed to say, I totally blew her off.

So I casually wrote in my paper:

Julia Cameron warns that discipline can be seductive and counter-productive. One danger for artists is over-focusing on the discipline rather than their love of the work.

I cheerfully scribbled that down, and then went off to do precisely that: I overfocused on discipline. For, um, eight years.

Instead of focusing on my love of the work. Love? What did love have to do with it? I was used to doing assignments and handling deadlines—who cares about love?

Better to hold myself accountable for every single five-minute period of my life, and rate my output with pass/fail grades all the way, right? 

Hahahaha. Nope. 

It's taken a long time, but I am finally, finally applying Cameron's excellent advice to my writing life. I'm aiming at love and enthusiasm in my work.

How about you? Being super disciplined is all the rage right now, and it definitely has its points ... but it can also backfire.

Let's bring discipline back into balance with enthusiasm and love of writing.

2. Long live the daily brain-dump! Another brilliant piece of advice from The Artist's Way is Julia Cameron's classic practice of writing morning pages: three pages of stream-of-consciousness, written longhand, first thing in the morning.

I tried them for the first month after graduation. With a lot of griping. And then I decided "they did not work."

But I'd forgotten their whole purpose: to just clear your mind first thing in the morning. They aren't supposed to be nice. They aren't supposed to even be readable. They can be as whiny and grumpy as you feel: that's their job. To just catch what's in your mind.

Now that I've relearned what they're for, and now that I've been practicing them for a year, I can't not do them. If I skip a day, I feel more mentally cluttered. I get off-balance.

They're every bit as essential to my mental hygiene as brushing teeth first thing is to my mouth.

Have you experimented with adding morning pages to your days? Even if you've given them up like I did, they're worth trying again. I promise!

If three pages feels daunting, try starting your day with at least one, or even half of one. Do them simply to do them, to clear your mind.

3. Our MAIN job might not even be actually writing. So, fair warning: rereading this forgotten piece of advice blew me away. And it's been seriously messing with my mind ever since.

In the paper, I quote from an interview with Gary Paulsen (anyone else grow up adoring Hatchet?), in which he said:

You can't learn to write in a workshop. You can't learn in school or through a class. Writing is not going to help you learn to write. ... You have to read, and I mean three books a day. ... Reading is the thing that will teach you. Make it an occupation.

Holy moly! Can we just, uh, take a moment? Because he just said "writing is not going to help you learn to write," and I'm reeling at that.

Because, well, it kinda makes sense.

I don't know about you or what your writing journey has looked like, but it's so easy, embarrassingly easy, for me to downgrade the importance of reading fiction.

Over the past decade, I've been writing and writing and writing, and yes, it is gradually getting better, but I'm wondering if some of my rather slow progress is because I've been reading-starved?

Possibly?

Rereading this quote re-convinced me. Or, actually, it kicked me in the pants: I need to turn the dial way, way up on my reading life.

"Make it an occupation," he said. Ooooh. 

How's your reading life been lately, my friend? Are you, like me, a bit under-fed in that area? Let's dive in, big time, this summer! To a HUGE stack of books.

4. Respond to everything you read. As far as reading goes, one of my professors recommended that I keep a kind of Reading Journal.

She said that I needed a place to respond to what I read—where I could talk back, critique, delight, and explore.

This is one of the pieces of advice I actually stuck with, I'm happy to say. As I read (not as fast or as much as Gary Paulsen recommended, but I did still read), I took plenty of notes on lines I enjoyed, on what didn't seem to work, and on the overall feel of the book.

I compiled all these notes in a series of Word documents, in a huge and ever-growing folder on my computer. All very tidy, searchable, cross-referenceable.

But rereading that line in the paper, I suddenly have this wistful wish that I'd kept it in a physical journal. Something that feels more warm, more personal, instead of the lab-note feeling of my digital files.

Hmmm. Maybe a change is in order.

Tell me friends, do you take notes on what you read? Do you ever come back to those notes? How do you organize them?

And are you for digital or analog reading journals?  

5. Make good self-management a top priority. One thing that I was rather accurately worried about was burnout.

In that paper, I wrote,

I routinely hit a point in each semester when it feels as though I can't go on: I become very sure that every assignment will fall lifeless to the ground, that my GPA will plummet, and that there will be no recovery, not this time. I'm afraid that if I'm my own boss, I won't be able to pick myself up and keep on keeping on.

I always knew that managing myself well would be a key part of the writing life ... but I didn't really know what that looked like for a long time. It's taken a while, but I'm slowly learning to be much more kind to myself, and to trust my instincts (instead of automatically assuming I'm lazy).

This is why I want to keep asking questions about how to manage well. What does it look like to be a good boss, a kind boss, a wise boss? I never want to stop learning about that.

How do you feel about your own self-management style? Where do you most want to grow as a boss?

Let's keep working toward sustainable creativity and kind productivity. Let's keep learning how to manage ourselves well!

6. We are not machines. When I get overfocused on my work, on all that good reading and writing and time management and productivity and focus ... I kinda forget that I live in a body.

Which is why this bit of advice still rings true: Several professors pointed out that I'd need to balance reading and writing with plenty of actual physical stimulus.

Oh, the body. We don't just live in words!

I read a lot of Annie Dillard while at school, especially Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and I was captivated by how Dillard's time in nature and her time spent reading all poured into her writing.

Which is probably why one of my writing professors recommended I follow Dillard's example: read, write, and roam.

To be honest, that's something I really haven't done much.

It's one thing for me to remember to take good care of myself. And another to remember to take good physical breaks, like stretching it out on my yoga mat, or shaking it off with a dance party. I'm doing pretty well at those things, though I always want to get better at health and movement.

But what I most want to come back to is that idea of a clear, even balance between read, write, and roam. To do that kind of wandering and watching.

As spring spills into summer, I want to really sink in to the habit of taking long walks, and spending as much time among trees and lakes as I do around words.

Sooooo many writers swear by the power of walks, of spending time in nature, of honing their ideas on long rambles. I don't want to just shrug that off anymore. 

How about you? How do you balance all the time around words?

7. The order of occupations is extremely important. This is one of my favorite, favorite pieces of advice. It can clear up 90% of my troubles when I get panicky or anxious.

One writer I interviewed made this lovely point: that if everything I did was in pursuit of Great Art, and The Writer Within—then I would collapse under the pressure of becoming that snooty kind of "Writah." (She said it like that, nose in the air. Writah.)

She said: never forget this.

She said, "You're a person first. You are a person who writes."

There in the coffeehouse on campus I earnestly scribbled down what she said, sensing the truth in it, the reasonableness of it, the way it would save me from my extreme moods and punishing systems...

... And then I spent far too many months trying to become a writer, and forgetting to be the person. Any non-writing thing that fell into my life, I tended to see as trouble, as distraction, as difficulty.

I'd forgotten this so-important truth: We are people first. We have to learn to be good humans before we're good writers.

Personhood has always interrupted me, as my family rode through years of change and illnesses and sadness and hey, even more change.

I did, eventually, remember this advice, and when I remembered the truth of it, I could let go the panic, the deadlines, the dented plans I'd made.

We are not machines, we're not robots, we're not heartless Writahs.

We are people. People who write.

And I think that's lovely.

8. How to defeat the obstacle of all obstacles. In spite of my eagerness to take the plunge into the writing life, and in spite of all the preparation I did beforehand, I was still terrified. 

I wrote: 

The humming of insecurities is building to a roar. Despite all voices of encouragement, I wonder if I'm being frivolous and ridiculous after all.

A roar of doubt. Before I'd even begun.

(Hands up if you've felt this!)

One of my professors warned me that the hardest thing for me would be to take myself and my ideas seriously. Confidence, she said, will make or break your writing life. 

Confidence! I had maybe a teaspoonful. 

Another interviewee put it this way: "Ignore your own insecurities. Act like you have direction."

This still makes me laugh, because in one way or another, I have done exactly that.

Sometimes it took a while for the ignoring insecurities part to kick in, but acting like I had a direction and moving forward, carrying my teaspoonful of confidence—yes, that I've done.

And in spite of the doubts and insecurities, and the ways they've shapeshifted and reappeared year after year—in spite of all that, I'm still here! Still writing!

Still picking words out and setting them in sentences!

Which is why I can say that perseverance is everything it's cracked up to be. We really can keep on keeping on, and if I can do it in the face of withering doubt, so, my dear lionhearted friend, can you.

But how to make it practical?

There are five little tips for dealing with doubt that I kinda slipped into my paper (and more or less acted on, actually, right at the beginning), which came from an article in The Writer magazine, written by Polly Campbell.

She recommends blasting away at doubts by: 

  • surrounding yourself with people who encourage you;
  • learning about the challenges of famous writers;
  • saving all positive feedback in a file; and
  • writing an essay that explains why you write.

She also says to "set a regular writing routine and keep to it. To succeed, you've got to believe. Act like you do, until that belief becomes reality."

And finally, she says, "Nothing destroys doubt like a good day at work."

That. 

That, my friends, is oh-so true. 


Mmm. There's nothing like a good Advice Festival to get me stirred up, ready to re-evaluate how I approach my work, how I think about it and structure it.

I'm definitely looking forward to reading a LOT more (thanks, Gary Paulsen!), to adding more roaming to my writing days, and to let myself be a person more than I'm a writer.

And too, I'm looking forward to using those tips for defeating doubt. You can never have too many tools in your anti-doubt toolkit!

How about you, my friend? What's some of the best advice that you've heard about writing? What kind of tips did you fill your pockets with, when you set out on your writing journey?

And, because surely I'm not the only one, what good advice did you actually ignore at first? 

What would you tell someone who is just starting out as a writer?

How to Mind the Gap: Shedding Old Expectations and Embracing the Real Writing Life

What did you think you were getting into, when you started this writing journey? | lucyflint.com

Welcome to May, the month of graduations! I'm not graduating from anything this year, but I always love this season of grand finishes and completions.

And too, each year I wave to May 20 as it goes past: the anniversary of my graduation from college a few years ago. (Okay, okay, eleven. Eleven years! How did that happen?!)

It always makes me a bit nostalgic. And by nostalgic, I sometimes mean the happy-warm feelings that bubble up as I remember late night pineapple pizzas, the view from my apartment balcony, and the fantastic discussions in my literature classes.

Annnnd sometimes when I say nostalgic, what I REALLY mean is: I thought I'd be further in life than I am.

Eleven years after graduation, I was supposed to be somewhere, you know what I mean? More things figured out, more shiny accomplishments lined up, more bits and pieces I could point to and say, Look! I've done so much.

This year, as I eyed the approach of May 20, I made a deal with myself: No self-abuse allowed. No kicking myself for not being the impossible version of myself that I'd dreamed up.

It's true that I'm not as far along as I thought I would be in some ways... but in others, I've come a long, long way. I've learned a ton about self-understanding, being kind to myself, and working with wisdom.

In other words: I'm kinda glad I haven't reached all the impossible heights I'd dreamed up for myself, because if I had, I wouldn't get to be this version of me. This Lucy, who has let go of a lot of poisonous beliefs (yoo hoo, perfectionism!!), a lot of choking shame, a lot of the wrong reasons that would have driven those nice accomplishments.

I still hope to do a lot, write a lot, reach a lot of people. I'm still working on excellence. But it's so nice to be in this place.

To celebrate that, I found myself wanting to get a clearer picture of what I thought the writing journey would look like, versus what it actually looked like. 

Lucky me: Just before I graduated I wrote a paper about exactly that topic. I wrote a complete picture of what I thought my writing life would/should look like.

I was a bit terrified at the time, so I interviewed professors and professionals, read tons of articles, gathered and assimilated as much advice as I could. And then I put it all in paragraph form, and kept it.

So the other day, I was wondering: What did I think the writing life would look like? Where was I right, and where was I way off base? 

I did a little digging around, I managed to not drop a filebox on my head, I got a little dusty, but I found the paper. I read it through, and sure enough: there were some expectations that were nowhere close to reality.

But also? There was some really, really quality advice buried in there. Stuff that made me lean forward and actually jot down a few notes. Ooh.

... It's the month of graduations, of that ceremony we call "Commencement." A month of endings that create beginnings. Commencement, after all, means beginning, means Start!

So I thought: Why not?! Why not celebrate all our graduations, our endings, our beginnings, our big transitions, by looking back at this huge educated guess I made about the writing life, and where I actually ended up?

Are you up for joining me on a little time-traveling exploration?

Let's do it. Because, no matter how long you've been on this writing journey, I'm guessing that there were ideas you had about how it would look, and then ... well, then there was reality.

I think it's healthy, now and then, to take a closer look at what we thought we were getting into, you know what I mean?

So I'll get this conversation started. This is how I thought I would be as a writer.


1. The overactive writer: It's a little thing, but I found this pretty surprising. Turns out, I had grand ideas of being very active in my community—joining societies and clubs, volunteering in several places, tutoring kids.

I thought that this was how I'd find inspiration and material. And too, I was scared of adjusting to a life of more solitude—what would happen if I was alone at my desk a lot?

Annnd let's face it, it also sounded nicely grown-up, responsible, and unselfish. Pointing to my secret terror that, by charging into a writing life, I was pledging to be childish, irresponsible, and selfish.

I'm an introvert's introvert, which means that signing myself up for a lot of things is exactly the way to drain every ounce of energy away from writing. So all those ideas of being a busy bee in the community... not so much.

But what's even more interesting to me is what it said I was afraid of. I still fight off a fear that I've chosen to be childish, selfish. Most days, I know that's not true: the act of creating is a generous one.

And as anyone knows who's charged through the steep work of revision again and again, well: there's nothing childish about doing the hard, meticulous work to hone your words.

What about you? What were you afraid a writing life said about you?

2. The Jane of all trades: Okay, this one just makes me laugh. After writing in a variety of forms all through college, I expected to just keep right on going, with basically every format I'd tried.

Poems, short fiction, medium-length fiction, short reflective essays, longer pithy and intellectual pieces, blogs, as well as learning to write a novel. I expected to keep doing all of these at once, with deadlines and goals and charts and such.

I would overflow with words!! And find homes for all of them!

I'm so glad to report that this fantasy died after about six months. It took me half a year to realize that, while I could write in all those forms, I didn't necessarily want to. And certainly not all at once.

Instead, I've learned the joy of focusing, of choosing the few forms that I thrill to, that I thrive in. Long-form fiction and blogging. That's my sweet spot.

And I've realized that focus isn't a negative restriction; it's a way to make my writing life more my own.

How about youdid you think you'd be working in a different form? Have you made a shift, from one type of work to another?

3. The serious literary lady: Even when I started focusing on fiction, I still wasn't clear on what kind of fiction I'd be writing. At school, I immersed in a more literary style, so I assumed I'd be writing literary fiction.

As I tried to get going, though, I kept being swamped by Resistance. Good little writer me, I knew to expect Resistance, so for a while, I didn't realize what was truly going on:

I don't enjoy literary fiction as much as I thought I did.

Whoops.

There are exceptions, for sure, but it's just not my main love. I had to force myself to read it, force myself to try to appreciate it. (No offense, my literary-fiction friends!! You keep doing your thing!)

We each have genres that we're more drawn to, and I didn't realize that mine lay in pretty much the exact opposite direction.

Finally, finally, I found my way to middle grade adventure stories: the best fit with my voice, with my sense of what's fun to read and fun to write, and the best fit with all the characters and worlds roaming around in my head.

I might still try my hand at other genres (why not?) but I'm requiring that I genuinely like those genres first. Otherwise, it's not fair to the readers who love that genre, and it's not fair to me, writing in it.

Oooh. How about you? Ever charge out in a writing direction that just wasn't a good fit? Have you found the right genre for yourself?

4. The staunch traditionalist: I also assumed I'd be following the traditional publishing model.

No, not assumed: I was adamant. Absolutely 100% certain.

See, I'd actually worked for a while as a proofreader for a self-publishing company, and I had a pretty dim view of the manuscripts that came through. I thought that self-publishing was only for work that was too rough and too damaged to go to an official, real publisher. 

(Ahem. Excuse me, I'm blushing.)

Imagine the craziness, then, of this complete change of heart, when a few summers ago I had my mind turned inside out as I learned from amazing professionals like Joanna Penn and Chandler Bolt and Tim Grahl.

And I realized: this whole do-it-yourself thing can actually work, without sacrificing quality, without giving up anything you don't want to give up!

You can even actually sell books. And, you know, make a living.

Woo! I went from adoring the romanticism of the traditional publishing world, to being thrilled with the prospect of making my own way as an independent author-entrepreneur. 

Who could have guessed?

5. The ascetic: This is a small one, but it surprised me so much that I had to tell you.

For some reason, I had heard that a writing workspace wasn't supposed to be pleasant and comfortable.

How crazy is that?! I've obviously turned that completely around too. Anything I can do to beautify and add comfort to my workspace, I will absolutely do

I'd like to enjoy my work and where I work. Is that weird? I don't think that's weird.

6. The quick turnaround: Okay. This is one of the biggest differences between how I thought my writing life would start, and how it actually did.

I thought that 15 months would be long enough to decide whether or not I was going to stick with writing novels. By which I meant: 15 months was long enough to learn how to write my first publishable novel. And, you know, sell it.

I mean, seriously: How hard could it be?

Ha! Hahahahahaha!!! Woohoohoo!

Ahem.

Here's what I've learned since then: I am not a straight-line learner.  And learning to write a novel is pretty dang different from learning to write a five-page short story for class. 

(This is one of the many reasons why I love the Story Grid Podcast. Because you get to literally eavesdrop on the learning-to-write-a-novel process. And even with a super-smart professional editor helping, it's still not instant. SO much comfort in that!)

So did it take me 15 months? No. No, it did not.

7. The ultra-successful superstar: And finally, there's the thing that I didn't write in the paper ... but which I still wanted. I wanted it so badly I could see it, so much that I wrote about it again and again in the journal I began after I graduated.

I wanted to write three bestselling novels in my first four years of writing. 

They needed to be amazing. Traditionally published, hardcover, beautiful works of art. They needed to win attention, interviews, money.

I put this incredible, outrageous pressure on myself, hounding myself, never forgiving myself if I felt like I'd slacked off.

Why? Because I had to prove myself.

That's what I thought, anyway. I had to show myself as successful, in a way that no one could contradict.

Otherwise—what was I even doing? Otherwise—why even take the plunge?

Otherwise, I figured my life didn't make sense.

If it wasn't going to pay off, dramatically, superbly, with a ton of fanfare and confetti—then maybe I was being lazy, idiotic, and foolish by choosing a writing life.

It makes my heart beat a little quicker to confess this, but if graduating-me had a picture of current me, of the actual Lucy who is typing this right now... 

Well, I don't know if she could go through with it. 

Because her definition of success was so narrow. She had a completely unrealistic idea of what it took to write an incredible novel. She thought she understood more than she did.

And she didn't think she could tolerate even a whiff of failure.

Three bestsellers in four years: I hung my heart on that, and left it there for far too long. That was what "real talent" looked like, I decided.

That was my outrageous threshold for success, and if I reached it (I had to reach it!) then it would solve the Fear Problem, the Money Problem, the Did I Make the Right Decision Problem.

It's taken me such a long time to learn to value success differently. To decide that real talent is not necessarily flashy. 

To learn to love the writing life because I actually love writing: that is what feels like success to me now.

To be swept away by the thrill of a story, as it unravels out of my heart and mind and life—that is the thing that proves to me, again and again, that this is the work I am meant to do.

Joy and a sense of calling: this is the currency that I'm paid in.


Okay, my friends, over to you: What did you expect the writing life to look like when you began—whether that was twenty years ago or twenty days ago? 

Some misconceptions are funny, laughable—like why did I ever think a workplace needed to be cold and boring?

Some are just interesting—like my complete about-face from traditional publishing to independent.

But other misconceptions can stifle you. They can strangle your creativity and your joy if they go unquestioned, unchallenged, and unchanged.

So in this month of celebrating endings and beginnings, of tossing caps in the air and swishing around in robes, it's worth having a graduation ceremony of our own.

Let's move on, move forward. Let's be done with believing the wrong things about writing, about success, about what progress looks like.

It's worth doing a little digging, my friends, and pulling up those toxic old ideas by their roots. Yank them out, let them go.

Move your tassel to the other side, and start the next phase of your wonderful writing life.


The Person You Will Be at the End of This Year

My two best tools for reaching incredible, impossible, transformative goals. | lucyflint.com

Here's the thing about focusing on a few goals that profoundly matter to you:

If you go after them earnestly, you will change.

Period.

I mean, there's no other way around that, right? 

If you've picked goals that will stretch you, you will stretch.

If you've chosen goals that represent a place that you aren't at right now, then you'll grow to get to that place.

You will end up changed.

Personal growth is kind of like the goal under the goals: To level up in every way. To upgrade our courage and our vulnerability. To gain stamina and broaden the reach of imagination.

To see ourselves differently: more capable, dreaming bigger dreams, and working consistently toward what we want.

That kind of growth is a pretty incredible process, but also just as challenging (or maybe more so!) as the goals themselves.

To help us all out with that, here are two powerful tools that I'm leaning on big time as I reach for my goals this year.

1) Let's recharacterize our old buddy Fear.

When you aim for a big goal, Fear shows up.

It's a guarantee. 

Maybe you've already felt this happening? Because I definitely have!!

Like . . . okay. Seriously. Early last week, I had a little meltdown. Without even realizing it, I was slipping back into old, fear-based ways of working. 

I started treating my work habits with deep suspicion. Cutting the time I usually spend nurturing creativity. Rushing myself through each day, and then beating myself up for not accomplishing 50 hours of work in a single work day.

Yeah. Those old habits. 

But here's the lovely, encouraging sign of growth (thanks to ALL the hard work and emotional heavy-lifting we did together last year!): I realized that I was running scared after only a day and a half in that crazy-making mindset.

It used to take me weeks to pull out of this (or to crash-land out of it), but last Tuesday afternoon I realized what was going on and I had a good laugh. Then I asked myself: Do you really want to spend the rest of the year working like this, even if it means achieving those goals perfectly?

I heard a resounding HECK NO. I tore up my manic scheduling efforts and my hyper-controlling time sheets, took some deep breaths, and reset my course: 

Steady action toward my goal. Building momentum, one day at a time. And honoring the power of systems over the power of daily goals.

And when Fear shows up—because it will—I'm taking a new tactic. I'm not gonna let fear push me into scheduling every single minute in my day. (Fear pretends it's to optimize productivity levels ... but it never works.)

Instead I'm recharacterizing my fear. 

And I'm calling it a lane departure warning.

You know, those fancy systems that tell drivers (through beeping or buzzing or, I don't know, maybe a Dr. Seuss-esque gloved hand that pops out of the ceiling and smacks them) that they are leaving the lane that they're in

That they are drifting unintentionally. That maybe they aren't safe.

Because usually, that's what Fear means when it shows up for me.

It's crying, GAAAAA, Lucy!! You're leaving the lane you were in!

That lane was cozy and safe, and yeah, maybe you didn't always like it, but you knew it, and now you're talking about doing really big things!

That's a WHOLE DIFFERENT LANE, girl, and I don't know, it's pretty freaky! So you need to stay put!

Here, I'll run around screaming, I'll put you on a ridiculous kind of time schedule, I'll make you shut down or burn out, because I'll do whatever it takes to keep you from leaving this lane.

Because who knows what will happen if you leave it?! Who knows what's out there?!

Ahem. 

Get what I'm saying? 

It REALLY helps me to think of fear in lane departure terms, because then I understand it. I know to expect it.

And I can say, Look, Fear. This year I am publishing my novel.

Yup. I know. HUGE lane departure. I haven't published a novel yet, so I know you're going to be blinking and honking and shrieking at me.

So here's the deal, Fear:  

You do what you do. And I will take your voice and your presence to mean two things: 

1) That I'm doing what I intended to do: switch lanes.

2) That I have a chance to check in and reaffirm my commitment. You are essentially asking, Am I sure this is what I'm intending to do? Am I committed? Do I really want this? 

And in that way, your voice and your jumping up and down are going to be really, really helpful to me in this upcoming year.

So thanks.

... But you'll need to sit down and strap yourself in, because we are DEFINITELY changing lanes.

I can't tell you how helpful this metaphor has been for me. It keeps me from fighting fear (which is exhausting). It keeps me from seeing it as a 100% enemy. It's just an over-active safety device.

So I don't have to freak out and react and slam on the brakes when it shows up. Instead I can keep my eyes on the road, and keep moving toward my goal.

How about you? Is there a lane departure warning going off in your life as you look at your new goals?

How does it show up for you? (And am I the only one who turns into a manic time keeper when fear's around??)

Try seeing it as an indicator that you are doing what you meant to do: creating change, striving for new things, and growing. 

And all Fear is saying is that, you're heading for a new lane.

... I know. That can be easier said that done. And it takes a lot of practice. Which brings us to the other tool that can HUGELY help when approaching these new goals: 

2) Let's change what we believe about ourselves and our work. 

In order to reach my three goals for 2017, I've started this one amazing habit: Every morning, I spend thirty minutes practicing what I believe about myself.

Sounds weird? Yeah. It does. 

But it's been the most essential habit of my new year.

I discovered this kind of belief work because I was reading Book Launch Blueprint, by Tim Grahl. (I'm relying on it and on Grahl's Your First 1000 Copies to shape my whole process for selling my book this year. Aka, #2 of my Big 3 goals. Woo hoo!) 

Right near the start of Book Launch Blueprint, Grahl says this amazing, insightful, and totally petrifying thing. He writes:

The one component that separates the successful launches from all the others is this: 
     In a successful launch, the author believes that buying their book is actually a
good thing for people to do. ... 
     You have to believe, in the deepest part of your soul, that it is a
good thing for readers to buy and read your book. 

Okay. Whoa. 

So: What I believe about my book is going to dramatically impact my sales.

What I believe about my story
is going to affect how many people
get to read it.

That is a very, very big deal, my friends, for all of us who are hoping to publish and sell our writing.

To be honest, my first instinct was to kind of freak out about that, pretend I didn't believe him, and then skip to the next section. "Great, yeah, solid advice, thanks. Now where are the charts and graphs and practical stuff?" 

The trouble is, I've been listening to enough of Brooke Castillo's work that I'm realizing: Looking hard at what I believe is incredibly practical. 

She has me convinced that our beliefs drive everything else in our lives. They're at the root of what we think, feel, do, and achieve.

Pretty dang practical.

So when Tim Grahl pointed out that believing in your book is essential for a successful launch, I had to dig into my beliefs about my own story.

Do I believe that buying my novel is one of the best things someone can do?

Oooh. Kinda yes. Kinda no. And those kindas are gonna trip me up in a really big way if I don't deal with them.

So—how to do that?

I did what I've been doing a lot of lately. I dove in to the backlist of the Life Coach School podcast and I found this incredible, beautiful, life-changing episode on How to Believe New Things.

Bingo. 

I know that I keep going on about this podcast, but ... you guys. You have to listen to this one. (Your future book sales just might depend on it!)

So I took notes. And then I did what Brooke Castillo recommends:

  • I listed (brain-dump style) everything I believe about myself in regard to all three of my goals. You know. Those seemingly random, nasty little thoughts that dart by when I'm working.
     
  • Then I took a closer look at a few of them and what they set loose in my life, just to see them in action. How did those crappy little beliefs make me feel? What did I do when I felt that way? And how did that end up? (Usually, not well.) Proving that yes, beliefs impact results.
     
  • Okay. So then I listed the things I wanted to believe about myself and these new goals. Not gushy, goofy, impossible things, like "I'm the best writer ev-ah!!" Instead, I worked on coming up with things that I did, at base, believe about myself. Or that I could believe about myself. 
     
  • And now I practice them. Every morning.

As in: I sit at my desk, and I look at the belief typed out in a super-big font so it takes up my whole screen. I say each belief out loud, and I work on actually believing what I am saying.

I remember when I've proven it in the past, I affirm all the parts of my character and habits that line up with it, and I just believe that it's true. 

And on to the next, and the next.

Does it seem a little hokey? Maybe. 

But does it work? ABSOLUTELY YES.

I can practically feel my courage rallying, my spine getting stronger. I've been feeling less panicked, less doubtful.

My friends, you've gotta try this! It is absolutely worth the time and the effort. 

And if you've ever been interested in practicing affirmations, Brooke's podcast episode explains them beautifully. Her version of creating beliefs has been even more helpful than the written affirmations I'd been doing—it kinda picks up the same concept, but then turns it into a superpower tonic.

Which is just what we want for 2017, right? ;)

Not sure where to start? Here, these are my four favorite all-purpose beliefs to practice so far: 

  • I am capable of immense courage.
  • I know the very next step I should take, and that's enough to go on for now.
  • I will do whatever it takes.
  • No matter how this turns out, I will have my own back.

Those are four that I've been working on to get ready for all the work of this year. They kind of throw a switch on in me, activating all my best traits. 

And, I promise you, when I'm believing all that, I can face my somewhat daunting day with a lot more courage and conviction.

From that place, I have compassion on myself when Fear shows up. I remember how to redefine it, and how to move ahead anyway.

That is the kind of work that's going to make me—and you!—a stronger and more courageous person by the end of the year.

How does that sound to you?

Honestly, when I think about sticking with these goals, and these beliefs, and this practice of moving forward in the face of fear—that's the kind of stuff that gets me very excited to see who I'll be by the end of 2017.

And who will you be, my amazing lionhearted friend? Where will your writing be, if you've been believing the best about yourself and your work, all through the year? And departing your old lanes like crazy, aiming at new and wonderful directions? 

Ooooh. I can't wait to find out.


PS: February, aka the month of all things love-related, is coming up in a few weeks! Which means now is the time to start planning a big date with one of the main loves of your life...

Your writing! 

Yep. It sounds cheesy when I read it too. But that's okay. It's February. Valentine's Month. Cheesy is totally allowed.

... But I'm also kinda serious, and if you want to add a big dose of love and commitment to your writing days, I've got you covered! 

Last February I did a series of daily prompts, all to help you fall deeper in love with your writing life.

YES! Yes, you. Yes, your writing life.

Wanna check it out? Here's your link buffet:

Part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven, part eight, and the finale

Happy writing, and happy loving how you write! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I kept reading: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because those paragraphs were talking about me. My childhood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How about you? Any of that sound familiar? 

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

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

And on and on and on.

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

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

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

... Is that familiar to you at all? 

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

It's the voice of shame.

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

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

Whew!! That sounds amazing to me.

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

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

Let's go through them:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love that. I love that. 

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

What would we say instead? 

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

What would you say to that person in this situation? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BAM.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I tried to pretend it hadn't happened.

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

No big deal.

But it was a really big deal.

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

And: This is what happens to gifted girls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antidotes and Cures.

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

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

But also because of the power of empathy.

Empathy is the thing that says, You are not alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reach out to someone you trust. 

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

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

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

I freaking LOVE that.

And so I'm practicing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't let shame silence you.


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

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

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

Thank you for listening, for hanging with me.

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

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

Dare to Transform Your Writing Life with This One Strategy

If I had started doing this sooner, my whole writing career would look different!! But better late than never. All you need? A little time and a little courage. But the rewards? Huge. Do you have the guts to try? | lucyflint.com

When I officially launched this blog last March, one of the toughest decisions to make was the title for the blog.

If you've started a blog, or website, or similar project, you get this, right? Sum up all your hopes and dreams for the project in one teeny phrase

I knew some of what I was looking for: I wanted it to be happy. I wanted to talk about the kind of writing life I had just started to explore—what I most wanted to grow into.

I tried everything. For a long while, this blog was almost subtitled, "Pursuing the Merry & Wild Writing Life."

I loved the idea of an unusually joyful approach to writing. Merry, for sure!

And I also liked not fitting so neatly into a box, not being so darned meek and quiet about our writer selves. Being fierce in our creativity. More than a little wild.

Merry & Wild. Close. But not quite there.

When I hit on the term lionheart, I knew my blog had met its destiny.

Because when I say lionheart, I don't just mean "courageous person" (although of course that's part of it). The word has absorbed a host of other senses, elements, and ideas.

And so when I say I aim to be a Lionhearted Writer, it's shorthand for all the traits I'm aiming at.

The entire bag of tricks that make up my exact ideal way to be a writer.

... And since I'm obsessed with definitions, I thought maybe it's time to lay that definition out completely.

For the month of May, we're going to explore everything that goes into being that kind of writer. 

It's the anatomy of a lionheart! 

And just so we're clear: When I say lionheart, I of course mean you, me, and the hundreds of other writers who are reading this post. There are a lot of us.

Get ready for some roaring.


So! Lionhearted writers! Let's do this! Let's break it down!

Where to start? With something really quiet, small, and incredibly powerful.

The lionhearted writer trusts herself.

What?! Trust?

Yes. 

It seems like a little thing, but the more I think about it—oh, is it valuable!

Let's back up: Recently my younger sister and I were talking about Brené Brown, and how she's the coolest ever, and how we're both diving into the material she's created, and how much we loooooooove it.

My sister recommended her talk on trust, which I hadn't seen yet. And when I did, I was blown away.*

I loved the talk. (And as soon as you have twenty-four minutes available for awesomeness, you should go listen to it!) She defines trust, the elements that go into it, how it's built, how it's destroyed. 

But the thing that made my eyes open twice as wide, and start talking back excitedly to my computer screen, and then tell everyone else about it—was right at the end.

When she talked about applying all those trust-building skills to yourself

Are we trustworthy to ourselves? Do we honor our boundaries and do what we say we will? Do we take good care of our more vulnerable secrets, do we treat ourselves with generosity? 

I started applying that to myself, of course, with general life stuff. But then I asked another big question:

Do I trust myself as a writer?

For the first eight years or so of writing full time, I was the poster child for NOT trusting myself.

I essentially treated my creativity, my writing impulses, and my time, with utmost distrust and suspicion.

I worked in a panic. (Just to be clear, this is a very unpleasant way to work. Please don't do this.)

Of course I didn't trust myself! I didn't even want to. I was too new at this, too ignorant, so (I thought) how could I have anything in myself worth trusting? 

I had too much to learn, and not enough time for it. And I never wanted to give myself time to learn. Ever.

I had no faith in my instincts about how I needed to work. Instead, I was terrified that I wasn't challenging myself enough, so I pushed super hard—then burned out.

Scraped myself back together and pushed to burnout again. 

Um. It wasn't a healthy cycle.

All I had to show for it—after years—was a bunch of bruises, a total lack of faith in myself, and a lot of that time (which I was so scared about wasting) gone.

Now I think that if I had taken the time to actually listen to what I deep-down knew I neededtrusted it, and acted on it, I'd have a whole different story! 

Here is what I know: It is scary hard to trust yourself.

Especially when you're new at this... but I'm guessing it's going to be hard for a while longer than that. (Heck, right now, I probably trust myself 65% of the time. HUGE for me, but definitely not to 100 yet!)

It is hard to get really quiet and still and ask yourself: Okay. What do I need next? It's even harder to believe that the answer is a good one!

And it's hard to not just freak out all the time.

But no matter how uncertain it feels, I promise that it is worth building trust with yourself.

And I don't mean the screaming, freaking out, panicking part of you. (That part needs a hug and then a whole bunch of chocolate chip cookies and then a fuzzy blanket. But its screamed suggestions probably don't need to be followed.)

The truth that I've been stepping into lately, is that I understand a heck of a lot about how I need to work, what I need to be saying, and how I need to say it. 

The same thing is true of you. (Even if you're brand new to this!)

There's a part of you that does understand how you work. And even might hold some clues about how you work best

If you really pay attention to it, you can start to understand from that clever part of you: where your best material lies, and what you most need to learn

That part of you.

Find it. And then clear space, time, noise, and listen. 

I'm serious. Get a notebook, take some deep breaths, and just ask that deeper, wiser, word-loving part of you: What do I most need in my writing life right now? 

New resources, or time to play? A creative date where you go and wander and don't have to talk to anyone?

A different project? A crazy-fun class? A group? Or alone time?

Just listen in. Listen deep and listen long.

Find those gut instincts, and then trust them.

Show up for that part of yourself. It's something we all need—including me, for sure—to do more often.

... Oooh, what if once a week, we took fifteen minutes for this. Listening, writing down notes, just checking in.

And then, we acted on the good stuff that bubbled up about the direction of our writing.

Wouldn't that transform your approach to your work? What you work on? How you approach social media, marketing, all of that?

Again, I'm not talking about the million lists that all of our busy brains could frantically generate.

We're seeking that deeper, intuitive understanding.

If you're more extrovert style, I love and respect you: do this in your marvelous extrovert way. Maybe you'll want to grab a close friend who gets this kind of writing/creative lifestyle, and talk it through.

But however this looks for you, find a way to give your instincts a lot more trust. Let them make the call. Steer by them for a while.

That could be the key to a transformational amount of amazingness.


* Yep, I only just realized that Brené Brown's talk is called The Anatomy of Trust, though somewhere in my head that must've stuck. ... Which is probably why "The Anatomy of a Lionheart" struck me as a great series title!

Haha! Thanks, Brené Brown!!

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.

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

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

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

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

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

I don't think that any more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound good? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whew! That was some important thinking. 

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

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

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

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

I get that. I really do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I finally let that tell me what to write.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can be gloriously happy with your writing life.

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

My Super Grown-up Anti-Fear Technique

Sometimes when fear shouts, we shout back. Sometimes when it throws things, we . . . duck. | lucyflint.com

Sometimes I fight fear by being louder than it is. By snarling back. By singing fight songs and shouting rah-rah-rah and doing a few high kicks. Sometimes that's what works.

But sometimes, when fear throws itself at me, I duck.

A few years ago, I was ready to walk away from writing. I'd tried, I'd failed (or so I thought). I wouldn't miss writing, and writing wouldn't miss me.

And in the midst of my certainty that I was done-done-done... I got this beautiful novel idea.

A middle-grade fantasy meets magical realism meets historical meets I'm still not very sure what.

I fell completely in love with this story. 

But for some reason, every time I worked on the draft, I panicked.

I got all skittish. Twitchy. I found myself backing away from the desk. 

Something about this project ignites all kinds of fear for me. And I'm still not 100% sure why. 

Maybe because it's full of the things I care most about: moments of beautiful truth, light versus dark, what it means to be a family, and finally a bunch of outcasts fighting for the sake of a city (which seems to be what I write about, time and time again). 

It's quirky, funny, very dark, very bright. It haunts me.

I was terrified to write it.

After a few weeks of "writing"--which was really me wandering around and doing anything but write--I figured out what to do.

I didn't get serious about making progress no matter how I felt. I didn't post motivational quotes all over my work space. I didn't make a big show of cheering myself on.

I went to bed.

I glanced over at my desk, over at fear, and I said, "oh, don't mind me." I dragged my papers over to my bed, arranging all my reference material. Off-handedly. Casually.

This isn't a big deal, I told myself. Probably I'm just going to nap. 

But I didn't. I snuggled under those covers, I turned my bed into a writing cave, and I wrote that story. 

I coaxed myself forward, one page at a time, one paragraph at a time. "I will just write this next sentence," I'd say. "And isn't it nice and cozy in here?"

Fear was still nosing around at my computer, so I just stayed in bed. I stayed in the place where I felt like I was whispering my story, like I was telling secrets. I ate cookies. I said, "We'll just see what comes next."

And that's how I got the draft done.

Ducking fear every step of the way.

I know that I tend to take the opposite route. After all, fear bullies us around plenty. I like bullying back, when I can.

But some manuscripts are too fragile for shouting.

When things are hard--when they are really hard, when it's storming inside--here's what you do. 

Be ridiculously nice to yourself. Do outrageously kind things for you and your writing life. 

Do whatever it is that makes a safe zone around you. Tell yourself whatever it is that you need to keep you safe. 

What would that look like for you? Light some candles. Crawl under your coziest blankets. Buy yourself a few armloads of fresh flowers and put them all over your office.

Maybe you surround yourself with photographs of everyone who believes in you. Or maybe you eat all the chocolate, or maybe all the cheese. (And then have some carrots with dinner, okay, because health and stuff.)

Create a safe place. Tell yourself it's okay. And believe it, when you say it.

And from that safe place, with the blankets around you and the candles lit and the good music on:

From that place, you write. 


This is what happened to us when a story showed up.

It doesn't happen as much as it used to, but I still get that voice in my head at 1 a.m.

You know the voice?

It shows up with a list of things that I can't do anything about. And it rattles them off, accompanied by a dangerous amount of emotional pull and flawed reasoning. 

This voice is always convinced that it is right, it never lets me argue back, and it's sporting a t-shirt with the slogan "IT IS ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE."

I haven't heard from this voice in a few months, but as of last Wednesday night, it's camping next to my pillow, knitting long unhappy scarves and crowing over my frustrations. 

It's really fun. Definitely has put me in the Christmas spirit.

It's been a long time since I've felt like my job is useless, but that's one of those happy little thoughts that show up at 1 a.m.

My family and I have been immersed in the medical world lately. I've learned to be so grateful for skilled nurses and doctors and surgeons: If you can wield an I.V. without traumatizing your patient, if you don't flinch at the word "catheter," and if you are compassionate on top of all that...

Well. You're a superhero. 

I have a long gratitude list right now. So many people, in so many different roles, have held my family together, given us the information and courage and support we needed. 

But it gets easy to think that everyone else is doing important work, while I somehow lost myself in a silly dream of putting words on pages.

The books that I'm writing--well, I love them. No matter what the 1 a.m. voice says, I still do love these stories. But they aren't important. You can't confuse my work with, say, a doctoral thesis. I'm writing about themes I love, absolutely, and this trilogy is for an age group (eleven-year-olds!) that I care deeply about, but the books are also very ...

Wacky.

(I'm secretly terrified that my friends will read them and then take five quick steps away from me. You can know me pretty well and never guess the kinds of things I'm writing about. Because... how do I put this... there are telepathic lizards in these books. I'm still surprised that they're in there, but, yup, that's what they are.

And there's a family of aristocratic assassins with funny names, and a whole town devoted to jam-making, and these spiders that became really important to the plot somehow, and a whole troop of monocle-wearing superpowered who-knows-whats. 

It's goofy, is what I'm saying.)

Right. So I've had a few interactions with an insanely gifted surgeon, and then I go back to my desk and write about lizards. And then I stare at the ceiling past 1 a.m. wondering what on earth I'm doing with my life.

Do you have these kinds of nights?

But then I remembered one very important moment, and it shut the voice right up.

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

And then: we were reading out loud. 

My family has always read out loud to one another: something my parents were doing for us when we were kids, and none of us got around to outgrowing it. So my mom packed a lighthearted novel for her hospital stay, and Dad and I read it out loud.

And something funny happened. Instead of being overwhelmingly conscious of I.V. cords and hospital gowns, the smells of antiseptic, the sounds of the equipment in the room (I never knew hospital beds were so loud)... instead of all our worries about the surgery itself, and the outcome, and what the rest of recovery would be like, and if any other treatment was needed--

We all teleported. 

To 1930s England. To chauffeurs in uniform, to having tea and lemonade on the lawn, to entertaining the vicar. To frivolous women and pompous young men and imperious great-aunts. To thwarted love and silly mix-ups and endangered inheritances. It was one of those comedy-of-manners kinds of books, trivial and subtle and funny. 

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

And at one point I looked up to see my mom's roommate standing there, listening to me read. She was holding onto her I.V. pole, with a feeding tube snaking into her nose, but she was with us in the 1930s, standing there in England, just for a little while. 

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

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

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

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

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

Well. That's a very powerful force. Whether the story reminds you of green lawns and sparkling lemonade, or whether it's populated with aristocratic assassins and monocled crime fighters: Stories are important.

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