How to Use Your Writing-Life Magic Wand (Or, Finding Your Groove, Part One.)

How to find and use that most powerful of things in the writer's life: the creative groove. | lucyflint.com

Sometimes I am all about balance. I want to work in that exact rhythm of nurturing all parts of my life: getting good work done, but also seeing plenty of friends, discovering new places in the city, and being an all-around good citizen.

Sometimes, I do whatever I need to in order to stay right in balance. 

And other times, I'm ready to help balance straight off a cliff.

There's this mad, maniac side of me that would really like to disappear completely from the world and drown myself in work.

Probably this is not very healthy.

But I've been thinking of it because I read Susan Branch's delightful memoir, Martha's Vineyard - Isle of Dreams. At one point, she describes how she began working on her very first cookbook—an intense project, because it featured not only her own recipes, but also watercolor illustrations on every page, and, bonus, she hand-lettered the entire book. ALL the text.

Mind = blown.

Her creative process was all-consuming. She started getting up at four or five in the morning, working all day in her pajamas, eating whatever came to hand while standing up in the kitchen. (Tater tots seemed to be a fave, which just makes me like her even more.)

And then back to work, and then early to bed, with her cats for company. 

She was warning all us readers that this isn't especially wise, and isn't anywhere close to balanced, and that there are much better ways to live...

But, crazy me, I was reading that and thinking, That sounds WONDERFUL!

I mean, I can see what she means about quality of life over the long haul. Yeah, probably not a good place to stay for long ... but in short spurts, perhaps? 

Because this is where I am, my friends.

I'm at that exact point in my creative process, where my deepest desire is to become a total hermit.

I've written too much about sustainability to believe this urge for long. And I've known burnout too well not to recognize the road that goes straight toward it. All this stuff about staying healthy and stable—it's legit, and I know it.

But still ... that little hermit-dream persists.

Which is what got me thinking: okay, okay, not a total maniac.

But what's the next best thing? 

I got my answer by going back to one of my favorite books on creativity, Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit.

Lemme read you her gorgeous description of a creative groove: 

When you're in a groove, you're not spinning your wheels; you're moving forward in a straight and narrow path without pauses or hitches. You're unwavering, undeviating, and unparalleled in your purpose. 

A groove is the best place in the world. It's where I strive to be, because when you're in it you have the freedom to explore, where everything you question leads you to new avenues and new routes, everything you touch miraculously touches something else and transforms it for the better. 

Let's all just gaze at that with heart-eyes for a minute. 

All right. If I can't be a total hermit right now, the next best thing I can do is generate a groove. Put myself in the sweetest of sweet spots with my work. 

I want to be unwavering, undeviating, and unparallelled in my purpose. Yes, please!!

But according to Twyla Tharp, there are no guarantees with what will exactly work to launch someone into a groove. There's no exact formula. And dang it, I like exact formulas.

So I did some looking around at my favorite writing books. And I thought through what's happened around the grooves I've found in the past.

And I cobbled together all those things and figured out some characteristics, common traits that, if I pursue them hard enough, just might help shove me not off a cliff, but into a good, strong, writing groove. 

And I'm EXCITED. 

Because best practices like these are kinda like a magic wand. Wave 'em around long enough and hard enough, and I think some magic just might happen.

Maybe transformation.

And not into a raggedy bearded hermit, but maybe into the next best thing: A bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked, ink-stained novelist working her groove.

Want to come along? Cool. Because unlike the hermit, I don't mind a bit of company.

(Oh, and this will be a two-parter, so check back in two weeks for the second half of our groove-making work. Perfect.)


1: Save your environment.

Where do we begin? With the stuff that's right in front of us: Our place, our time, our space. Our work environment.

Because the first thing we need to do if we want a groove is make room for it. 

What kind of space, what kind of schedule, what kind of environment, would help you to write the most deeply and consistently? What would let your imagination have the freedom, space, and support, to just run wild? 

Oooh. 

This might mean adding in more beauty, comfort, or quirkiness to your writing space. (Never underestimate the power of quirk.)

It might mean adding encouraging messages and reminders around your desk. Putting pep talks on Post-Its, and sticking 'em to your computer screen.

Or, maybe it means you need a blank slate, go minimal, pare everything down til it's clean and spare and fresh.

What would help you go deeper into your work? 

The other half of this question is: How does your time look? 

What is the best time of day for you to work? How long of a writing session feels optimal to you? 

I've had months where the yummiest writing work got done between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., and I just went with it.

Now I'm on the other side of the spectrum—for some reason, waking up at 5:30 a.m. gives me such a sense of expanse and freedom and clarity that I dive into my days feeling full of promise. (And okay, maybe planning a nap later, but nevertheless.)

When is it best for you to write? Not for other writers, not for other people—when is it best for you? When do all your creative juices get going, and when do you feel that release from other obligations? 

Speaking of obligations: You're already heard me say this, but I'm gonna say it again. One of my favorite practices is clearing out commitments. No, this isn't easy. Yes, you might feel like you're stepping on other people's toes. 

But it is so helpful to do this from time to time. Check out everything you've been participating in, and if something is draining you more than it's feeding you, give it a very stern look.

And see if you can get out of it. If not, try to soften it, or lessen the impact of it in some way.

This could be something as tiny as unsubscribing from an email newsletter that's stopped being helpful. Or it might be stepping back from some small weekly thing you've been doing for a while. Or you might turn down a bigger commitment that you've been having second thoughts about for a while. This is the time for it to go. 

You need to free up that creative energy, my friend! 

So cancel some things, take a good look at what writing times work the best for you, and give your space a good sweep.

... I think that writing groove just moved a whole lot closer.

(If you want some more cheerleading or ideas for how to do this, check out these three posts to build a "moat," lighten your load, and shake up your space.) 

2: Build a food pyramid.

It is really hard to work in a groove if all your wells have run dry.

There's no way to sustain continual, deep, yummy work if you have nothing to draw from, nothing to paint with. If your imagination has shut off, gone cold. That's the way to get into a rut or a block, not a groove.

Which is why it's worth figuring out a good, reliable answer to this question: 

How can I continually feed my imagination what it needs?

What kinds of things do I need to take in on a regular basis, for my creativity to be strong and ready for anything? 

This is one of those habits that is ESSENTIAL to working well and working sustainably. It's also one of the first things I cut.

(This is why you hear me say the same things over and over, y'all. I have to keep re-learning these lessons myself!) 

Feeding the imagination is one of those vital but seemingly unimportant skills. And in order to get into a good, rich groove and stay there, we have to find ways to keep the nutrition flowing in.

So: what do you need?

For my imagination to thrive, I need it stocked with a lot of odd fascinating facts that don't necessarily have a place in my immediate writing.

That's why I'm smitten with the randomness of dictionaries and encyclopedias, why I swoon over amazing, comprehensive wonder-sites like Atlas Obscura. It's why I need to keep reading widely, why I have to keep learning. 

Because all those little images and facts and tidbits and impressions and shards of atmosphere and tiny details—they're all the building blocks of what we make, right? They're what we invent from.

They're like the amino acids of the creative process. They're essential.

Last fall, I ran out of steam, out of juice, out of everything. So I blocked off a whole month for a sabbatical. The goal? To stop all output, and focus only on input. Getting those amino acid levels up again.

So I thought about what my imagination and my writerly heart were most craving, and I drew myself a little food pyramid of what I most needed.

At the bottom? Books, books, and more books. I wanted to read a ton of fiction, but also some really yummy non-fiction, and on top of that, some of my favorite reference books. 

Then I also wanted to see movies that would capture my excitement, as well as gorgeous documentaries (I am so not over Chef's Table, btw). 

And then I wanted to watch a bunch of TED talks, I wanted to do a lot of painting and art-making, and I wanted to watch and read interviews with other makers—not just writers, but calligraphers and musicians and anyone who does any kind of art. 

That was my pyramid: what's yours? 

What do you need an enormous amount of right now? Give yourself permission to take it in. Maybe you need a bunch of creative, stimulating, exciting outings. Maybe you need to take a lot of pictures, or visit an art store and then get paint in your hair.

Or maybe you need to make a ton of tea and grab a stack of library books and just get lost in pages for a while.

Or maybe the thing you most need is actually silence.  

Listen in. See what you're saying, down deep. And then go after it. 

(Want a few more ideas for nourishment? Maybe give yourself a distraction detox, go looking for wonder, or take a revolutionary writing pilgrimage.

3: Apprentice yourself to a master magician.

One of the qualities of a good writing groove is that you can solve the problems that arise without too much bleeding.

You know what I mean? Sure, you'll hit an obstacle, but you're all warmed up and ready to tackle it, and you find inventive solutions. 

The more flexible our skills are, and the more skills we have at our disposal, the more likely we are to find ourselves working from an excellent groove.

Without craft and skill, the wheels will keep coming off, and we'll get stuck.

In The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp tells how she found herself in a mega-groove of choreographing one excellent dance piece after another.

What triggered it? A leap forward in her skill as a choreographer.

Through inventing one piece with a specific kind of style, she learned an entirely new dance vocabulary. And that breakthrough unlocked so many possibilities that the next several dances came together with a special wonderfulness. 

This makes total sense, right? When we get better at the raw skills of what we do, everything gets a little easier. We're more flexible, quicker at solving problems, and we can reach for more creative solutions. 

Everything clicks along more happily.

So where do you want to give yourself a skill upgrade? Where would you appreciate a mini-class, a workbook session or two, or just some solid time practicing?

Who do you want to learn from? What's the next step in your apprenticeship?

For me, it's learning story structure in a deeper and deeper way. I've been hard at work on all things Story Grid, listening to the podcast and applying it to my draft. (Whew! So much good stuff to learn!!) I'm especially working on shaping scenes.  ... I want to become a scene NINJA. Seriously.

What does that look like for you?

(If you want more craft and skill pointers, check out these posts on escaping miniature writing ruts, tiny craft improvements, and creating your own master class.

And then, if you want to get REAL serious about learning from the best, raise your noveling skills to epic status by checking out the resources here, here, and here.)

4: Put on your workout clothes.

Here we go: The most glamorous groove-inducing method of all.

Hard work.

Sweat.

A run-a-marathon level of effort. 

(Paired with rewards, kindness, naps, and dance parties, of course! I promise I haven't forgotten sustainability already!)

True story: sometimes a groove has to be earned.

Like one of those "buy 9 cups of coffee, get the 10th free" cards that I treasured in college: sometimes you have to put in a lot of effort before you get the free stuff.

Sometimes it takes me two weeks of super hard work, slogging straight up hill, yowling the whole way. And then, suddenly, momentum kicks in, and I'm sailing along.

If you've ever done Nanowrimo and found a real sweet undertow pulling you along late in the process: you've experienced this too. 

This is the power of the marathon mindset. Having that keep moving mindset can vault you over so many obstacles—through sheer momentum. 

Let me tell you: momentum can be your best friend.

The best thing about this one is that you can create a marathon on your own. Hard work is totally free. All it costs you is time and sweat.

You don't need Nanowrimo to come knocking, and you don't need a special event or a class.

All you need is a target of words (or exercises completed, or pages written) and some kind of deadline (just to spur you on—and to let you know when you get a big break!).

Maybe it's a full draft in 6 weeks, or 50,000 words in 30 days, or it could be 366 10-minute exercises in 8 weeks (what can I say, it was fun!). 

The things that make a marathon rewarding and valuable for me (as opposed to miserable and burnout-inducing) are:

  • maintaining a tone of utter kindness;
  • focusing on the quantity of work instead of nitpicking about the quality;
  • and just keeping myself entertained in the words.

If I hold to those three things, a writing marathon becomes my best friend.

So give it a try. What kind of parameters could you put in place to let loose a hard work marathon in your writing life? And ooh, what might it catapult you into?

Make yourself a fun chart (or am I the only one who thinks the graph is one of the best parts of Nanowrimo?), set up some lovely rewards for yourself, and dive in.

(Want a little bit more of a push before committing to a marathon? You've got it. Check out my best stuff on the Nanowrimo mindset—here and here—plus dealing with marathon-level fear, and keeping your body happy while you write so much.

... Plus one more post on the delirious, let's-all-sing-sea-chanties word drunkenness that happens mid-marathon. Yup.

This is why I'm telling you that hard work doesn't have to be miserable: it can be incredibly blissful as well. And it can be easier to keep writing than it is to stop... and that's exactly where I want to get to again!)


And there you have it: four of my best tools for launching myself into a better writing rhythm and a deep writing groove.

Whew!! I'm excited to dive in and apply the heck out of all four of these things. Thanks for staving off total hermit syndrome with me. Seriously, it was about to get real weird here. ;)

Check back in two weeks for the second half of the post... and till then, good luck finding your groove. Go make some magic.

The Epic Grace Workshop: Practical Ways to Better Your Writing Life, Starting Now

Make yourself some tea and settle in: We're tackling some questions that will lead you into a more kind, peaceful, and happy writing life. This is the Epic Grace Workshop. | lucyflint.com

First things first: I am beyond amazed that this quiet little blog found a spot on the 100 Best Writing Websites for Writers in 2017 list, curated by The Write Life.

The nominations all come from readers, and so can I just say: to those of you who nominated me, THANK YOU, and I would love to just give you a huge hug and throw some confetti so that we all get it in our hair and wear it that way for the rest of the day.  

Seriously, maintaining any blog takes some work, and I make absolutely no money off this site right now: I do it as a gift and a way to give back.

All this to say, I want what I put here to be helpful. And to have it called a "best writing website" was just a huge encouragement that yes, you are finding it helpful.

So, one more time: Thank you, thank you, thank you. For spreading the word and for putting up with my ultra-long blog posts and my ridiculously low-tech approach to websites. (I promise I'll have an email-delivery option one of these years!! ;)) 

But most of all, thank you for believing a courageous and joy-filled writing life is possible, worth working toward, and worth telling people about.

So go buy yourselves some flowers or a great new notebook or something and celebrate! And most definitely check out the other writers on that listit's an incredible round up.

Okay. Cut yourself a big piece of celebratory cake, and then let's dive into this post, because I promise it's a good one...


I loved talking last time about flooding our writing lives with grace. I am convinced, from my own writing life, that grace is the best way forward when things get sticky, hard, or dark. 

Facing a block? Apply grace. Received some ugly criticism? Apply grace.

Your relatives asked you what you were writing about, and you stammered out something contorted and blush-worthy? Apply grace (and tell me about it because I have SO been there and can totally commiserate). 

When you're running behind schedule and the draft is sticking its four paws in the air and looking very dead, and you're sure you're not going to make it and you should have definitely picked a less-painful thing to do with your time ...

Apply grace. 

When you think beating yourself up will surely be what gets you back on track: apply grace and more grace, my friend.

... I believe all this firmly, but it's easy for me to type all that and then say: Um, so HOW?

How do we apply grace? Does that mean just shrugging and letting everything slide? Is it Netflix for days and hiding under the covers and just blowing off our writing?

Definitely not. I know that much.

But to be honest, I'm still learning how to do this. I spent a long time in the opposite camp, so my grace muscles are kinda tiny. 

So for today's post, I wanted to do something that's always a favorite around here: A quote-based post. I rifled through my enormous collection of writing quotes and found some that light the way toward a more grace-filled writing practice.

Here are four major places where we can immediately opt for more grace in our writing lives.


Let's give ourselves grace by paying attention to our needs. By being for ourselves, and for our process:

I'm much more creative when I've actually taken care of myself. – Arianna Huffington (in this excellent interview with Marie Forleo)

You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your side. – Anne Lamott

Sometimes the mind needs to come at things sideways. – Jeff VanderMeer 

Realize that you are going to resist change. ... But if you have outgrown this self, you have to say: "I need more. I need a bigger self, one that fits who I am going to be." – Heather Sellers 

I LOVE these quotes, because they force me to check in with how I'm treating myself.

Am I getting what I need, physically and creatively (sleep, food, nature, great fiction, art)? Am I staunchly on my own side, choosing to believe in myself?

Am I letting my thinking take the path it takes—by following my curiosity, by bringing wonder into my days? Am I giving myself the grace to grow, with all the messiness that comes from it? 

Mmm. Good questions. 

How about you? Grab a few moments, maybe a journal or the back of an envelope, and a big mug of tea or coffee or wine, and let's do a little thinking together. 

  • Where in your life right now can you take a little extra care of yourself? How about a lot of extra care of yourself? 
     
  • What would be the biggest gift to your physical wellbeing right now? Taking a nap once a day for a week? Drinking a green smoothie every afternoon? Making time for walks, or yoga, or dance? 
     
  • What would be the biggest gift to your creative wellbeing right now? Watching that cool documentary you've had on your list for forever? Sneaking over to the art store and actually getting a set of paints? Plunking yourself down in the kids' section of the library and reading picture books for a few hours? An hour of stargazing (with a thermos of spiced hot chocolate of course)? 

    What would it look like? What sounds impossibly wonderful to you?
     
  • This is a tricky one, but hang with me: Where do you need to be militantly on your own side right now? Where are you tempted not to trust yourself? Where do you tend to assume the worst about yourself? 

    For example: I always kind of assumed I was lazy. (This cracks up some people I know, because I can also work like a maniac.) But I was always sure that, at my core, I wanted to avoid work at all costs.

    So whenever my creativity was begging for some time to refill, restore, renew, I treated it like laziness, and instead whipped myself back into shape. I'm verrrry slowly learning to recognize that inner sense of "take a break" for what it is—an invitation to strengthen creativity, and not a caving in to laziness. I'm slowly building that confidence in my own judgment.

    So what does that look like for you? Where can you recognize your deeper better motivations? And where can you just plain cut yourself some slack?
     
  • Where does your writing process refuse to be linear, predictable, neat and tidy? (My answer: Just about ALL of it!!) Can you let your mind come at things sideways? Can you give it the space it needs to sidle up to something, to be a little roundabout? Can you give yourself permission?
     
  • Finally, if there's something in you that is begging to expand, to be on a bigger stage, if something in you is ready to step out: Can you give yourself the grace of supporting that? Of clearing the space, of canceling competing commitments, of giving yourself what it takes to birth that thing

    Frankly, this is a stage that I'm in right now. I'm right in the midst of that Heather Sellers quote about moving to a bigger self. ... I know that talking about a bigger self can sound a little "woo woo," but it's absolutely true for me. This is a year for expanding and pushing forward, and I can feel the need in myself to have more internal acreage. To take up more space.

    So I've gotten very very careful about what I commit to, what else I show up for, because in order to write the novel I'm working on, and in order to bring it to its next stage, it's taking a bunch of inner energy and resources and attention. There just isn't much left over.

    And I'm realizing that it's grace that tells me: you don't have to be involved in everything! You don't have to solve every problem you hear about. You don't have to be everyone's best friend right now. It's okay to keep your schedule clear; it's okay to keep your focus. Birth this thing.

    That's what it looks like for me. 

    How about you? Where would you love some extra support? Extra resources? Do you need to learn something? Or quit something? Let yourself do that.

Oooh. Okay. I'm all warmed up now. Let's move on to the next set of quotes and what they help us do:

Let's give ourselves grace by remembering that we are not our work

This is such a common pitfall among writers and artists and makers of all kinds. It's too easy to tie our identity and our worth to the thing we make. And that's a mistake that can absolutely block you and torment you.

It doesn't work out so well, is what I'm saying. 

Here are two rather gorgeous quotes to set us straight: 

You as the writer are not the problem; the problem is the problem. – Shawn Coyne

Part of being a writer is the capacity to live with imperfection, particularly as a work of fiction first takes shape. – Thomas Farber

(This Farber quote was captured in Barbara Abercrombie's excellent book A Year of Writing Dangerously. ... My slightly wry note to myself on the ragged index card where I scribbled this says, "So—how's that going?")

I love love LOVE both of these quotes, because it is so dangerous to let our sense of worth rise and fall on the quality (perceived quality, I should say!) of the work we did on any particular day. 

So dangerous.

And yet, it can feel so noble to hate our work, to beat ourselves up, to make impossible comparisons between our day's output and the polished paragraphs of some master craftsman. It can feel like the best way to grow. 

As someone who tried to grow that way for eight years of writing, can I just report back and say: It doesn't work.

I promise you. It does not work. You cannot kick yourself into being a better writer, not reliably, not long term, and not without breaking those parts of you that just might've delivered your best stories. 

Okay? 

What sets us free to grow in our craft, grow in excellence, grow in perception, grow in creativity: is separating the actual problem from our actual selves. Which is why I love that Shawn Coyne quote, and as I've said elsewhere, I might have cried just a little the first time I read it. 

So. Practical grace, here we come:

  • Be gently honest with yourself: Where do you tend to believe that you are the problem? Where do you tend to say "I'm not enough, my writing is worthless" as opposed to "Hm, interesting problem, let's see how to fix it."

    The tone and the approach you use with yourself is everything, my dear. Please make a big, serious promise to yourself to stop kicking yourself when you find your writing needs more work.
     
  • I love the phrase capacity to live with imperfection, because of that word capacity. Because that kind of phrasing makes the ability to live with imperfection sound like a skill. And a necessary skill at that! 

    Because when we can live with the imperfections in our work, instead of flailing about and sentencing our work to execution, we can actually, you know, work on them. Improve them. Get better. Without all the scarring and bruising we'd otherwise get.

    So what does your writing life look like, if you think of it like that? If you treat tolerating the "bad" writing as a skill, something to develop? Oooh. Such good possibilities.
     
  • The most practical form that these two quotes/directions can take that I can think of, is a persistent permission slip. Signed by you, written to you, that lets you write badly, that lets your plot be full of holes, that lets the quality of your work be separated from the quality of you (which is fixed, my friend: you are here on this planet, therefore you're worthy. If you wanna argue, take it up with Brené Brown.)

    Yes, this kind of distinction takes work. It takes practice and repetition. It takes a lot of notes on your mirror and your computer monitor and anywhere else your eye falls.

    But it's worth it. Let's keep working to have a bigger capacity, a larger tolerance for the troubles of our work-in-progress.

    What can you do to remind yourself of this? What can you do to expand your capacity for imperfections? 

Are you getting excited yet? Because I'm totally getting excited. Let's move on to Part Three... 


Let's give ourselves the grace of time and space. The time to work, to discover our work, to improve our work. The space in which to learn.

You have to give yourself the space to write a lot without a destination. – Natalie Goldberg

It takes time to write what wants to be written. – Judy Reeves 

One of the most difficult skills to develop as a writer is patience. – Shawn Coyne (again!)

Your writing session, your writing year, your writing life must be padded, anchored, and illuminated with time to wander, get off track, launch a different writing project, lose yourself in reading, write for no purpose, just to explore. You need leisure writing, reading, walking. You need to play. And you need solitude that is not writing time, too. – Heather Sellers

This. Has been. One of the hardest. Lessons. Ever.

Okay. It's still hard. But I've practiced trusting the process: believing that it takes the time it takes. And the hardness of this doesn't overwhelm me like it used to.

My temptation is to keep thinking I can outsmart my own learning curve. That I can superspeed my way forward while skipping huge gaps of learning.

Nope. Those gaps sneak up on me, tap me on the shoulder, and require the time it takes to learn them. 

How about you? Where are you at with this? How's your relationship with time?


Okay. Our last section. You ready for this? 

Let's give ourselves the grace of writing what delights us. Of sticking with the material we love, no matter what.

And doing whatever it takes to have a writing practice that we truly enjoy.

This is the grace that grants all other graces. This the thing that will bring you back to writing again and again. Getting this one down. 

Check out these five quotes and see what they do to your amazing, writerly heart:

You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment. – Annie Dillard

I have written because it fulfilled me. I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever. – Stephen King

Taking your writing seriously doesn't mean giving up the fun of it. – Judy Reeves

Love your material. Nothing frightens the inner critic more than a writer who loves her work. – Allegra Goodman

I make it an adventure every day. – Willa Cather

  • Hear me on this: one of the biggest and best and most daring things you can do for yourself is work to make a writing practice that you actually love. If you're not there yet, it can take a little extra thinking, a bit of mental rearranging ... but it is doable and wonderful to upgrade your approach to writing. How you think about it, how you work at it. 

    So: What are the hardest parts of your writing life right now? What have you been struggling with? What does it look like if you take a deep breath and apply all your thinking, all your creativity, and all your kindness to solving that problem for yourself?

    What would be the biggest game changer for you? 

    What if you take some space and quiet to discover what you most truly need, and then get that for yourself?
     
  • Next question: Are you writing something (a genre, a storyline, a topic) that you completely love? If so, cool, you may pass "Go" and collect $200. But for the rest of you: it's worth digging deep for a moment and asking why. Why write something that you don't love? 

    I get it. We can fall into this so easily, right? I tried writing "good for me" kinds of things when I first started. Important essays and very serious short stories and edgy poems. But I didn't love it. I just felt like I "should." 

    It took a while, but I started abandoning what I should write, until I finally found my sweet spot with middle grade adventure. Which I LOVE. Like, love-love, a "for keeps" kind of love.

    Like if we go out for coffee, you won't get me to shut up about it. THAT kind of love.

    So what does that look like for you? Are you writing what you most love to read? And if not... why not?
     
  • Can we just take a moment to applaud Willa Cather for making her work an adventure every day? I love that. So much. And it begs the question of all of us: How are you approaching your work?

    Does it feel exciting to you? Like anything could happen in the words today?

    It can sound weird, but we actually have a choice in how we feel about our work. We can approach it like it's drudgery, back-breaking, miserable.

    Or we can face it like an adventure, something with an exciting destination. We might not know how we'll get there, but we know that we're going, and that's enough to get our blood racing.

    See what I mean? Grace is making your work enjoyable. So how can you bring more playfulness to your tasks? How can you bring a more adventurous spirit (of discovery, of exploration)?

    Can you value your curiosity and wonder, by investigating what you're interested in, and then putting that into words? It's worth it. Every day.
     
  • Finally, and this is a big one: What is your work space like?

    If you're like me, it is so easy to undervalue the feel and quality of my surroundings. To think, "Meh, it doesn't matter, right?" But oh. It seriously makes a difference to create a work environment that you love.

    I spent time sprucing mine up last summer—so now I face a window. I have a plant (and sometimes flowers!) on my desk, and there are pretty trinkets to look at, and quirky little things that make my heart happy. Candles that smell lovely, and beautiful desktop patterns to further yummy up the space.

    It can seem like a small, dismissible thing. But the happier I am to sit here, the longer I work, and with a lighter heart. 

    (Which means: More work gets done. Cheerfully.)

    Take a look at your writing space, and ask yourself: What are three things you could do, right now, to bring more joy and beauty into your writing area?

 WOW. That was HUGE. 

Seriously, that was an epic amount of thinking, journaling, and brainstorming that you just did! High five.

I hope that you found some great ideas to take into your writing life. Doable ways to bring more light, more joy, and more goodness into your days.

Remember this. When you hit a snag, a block, a rough patch: take a deep breath and come back to these practices. 

And apply more grace, my friend.


* Okay, so we need to talk real quick about Shawn Coyne and The Story Grid. If you're a fiction writer, his book is a must read. 

And I'm not just being cute and enthusiastic, I mean it's like getting a freakin' degree in story structure. And it's also all on his blog (along with lots of other great information and help), so—go there, you must. (If you need more convincing, I raved about how much that book helped me here and here.)

What's been rocking my world lately, though, is that Shawn Coyne and Tim Grahl are doing a Story Grid podcast together.

Grahl is the one whose books are guiding my whole book-launch process, and Coyne's book is on my desk as I rebuild the structure of my current draft. 

So, the two of them together, explaining how to get better at fiction? I'm thrilled.

I found myself dogsitting for the last month, and that podcast has transformed every dog walk into Story University. And I couldn't be happier. 

I'm getting so much value out of every episode, but my absolute favorites so far are these: Creating Great Writing Habits; How to Write Faster; Special Guest Steven Pressfield parts 1 & 2; and Turning Pro

SO. GOOD.

And if you are in the trenches of writing a novel, or outlining one, or revising (which is the trench I'm camping out in right now!), all the other episodes will also help you immensely with the gritty details of exactly what you're doing. Highly recommended. Check 'em out!

The Strength That Supports the Others: Tending Our Commitment to Writing

If we're not committed to our writing--mentally, emotionally, and creatively--we're just not gonna go very far. How to forge a stronger commitment? Check out this list. | lucyflint.com

As we wrap up this month's series on building strength, I want to finish by digging into what might be the biggest, most vital strength of them all.

Without it, all the other strengths will eventually derail or atrophy.

I want to think a bit about what it looks like to strengthen our commitment.

YES! Our commitment to our work, our commitment to the overall shape of our writing lives, and our commitment to our own health as writers.

Right?!

Without commitment, we're anchorless.

When our enthusiasm runs dry (because it sometimes will), and our imagination is out of gas (yup, it happens), and our routines go belly-up, and our focus is shot to pieces—what is going to be the rallying force that brings everything together again? 

What's the thing that sends us looking for better answers, for new ways back into the work, for growth and freshening our skills?

What makes us discontented with our apathy, and motivated for change?

Our commitment. To ourselves, and this crazy-wonderful writing life, and our precious works-in-progress.

So basically, at the end of this Building Strength series, I just want to do a little check-in. For you, and for me. 

How's your sense of commitment lately? 

On a scale from Ugh to Obsessed!, how's your attachment to your writing life looking? Are you hovering around a Meh, or is your heart beating a little faster these days?

... Before we go much farther, I hafta say: I'm not approaching this whole commitment thing like it's something you or I have to muster up out of thin air. We can't just generate it.

We have to grow it, fertilize it, tend it carefully.

It's essentially our root system, the thing that holds us in place in our writing lives, no matter what crazy storms blow up. And when those roots grow, we grow. 

So if, in your heart of hearts, you're feeling a serious amount of Blerg toward your writing life right now, I totally hear you.

And I think that the most important thing you can do for yourself is 1) Listen to that, and 2) Start looking for ways to honestly encourage a bit more excitement.

Not fake excitement. But things that would actually nourish and guide you back to more readiness and enjoyment of your writing work.

So! To that end, here's a kind of Commitment Scan. This is what I want to check in with, and what I want to know about my own writing life right now:

Are there practices that I've forgotten about, or worthy habits that I've let slide? Are there toxic mindsets that I've somehow absorbed, or burdens I've picked up without noticing? 

Where have I been having a hard time lately with writing, and how can I swoop in there and fill those places with more creative nourishment, more genuine excitement? 

THAT is what I want to figure out today. And I'm guessing that the results ... could be rather transformational.

Let's dive in.


For starters, what does it look like to commit to your writing life, your writing project, mentally? To have your whole mind on board, committed, excited?

Here's a quick checklist on what it means for me:

  • Clearing all distractions. Yep, I know, you're already convinced: Distractions are Creative Enemy #1. And it's a sure sign for me, that when I'm letting distractions invade, I'm not really committed to whatever's going on.
     
  • Bringing the focus. High quality focus is the best way to make use of the time we have for our writing. But if I'm approaching my desk lackadaisically, the thoughts zipping through my head aren't so focused about work. They're more of a collage of everything that's been going on the past week. It takes intentional effort to narrow my thoughts, but when I do, I can start to really engage with the material I'm working on.
     
  • Rallying mental resources. When I'm fully committed, I'm ready and willing to do what the work requires. The thinking, the decision-making, the learning. This means clearing the time and space when I realize that I need to do a brainstorming session, or when I need to scout out better research material
     
  • Working on the skills that it most needs. When my work-in-progress or my writing life as a whole is telling me that I need to learn more about story structure, or character development, or I need to enrich my vocabulary: this means I put a plan in place to grow and learn those things.

Mmmmmm, that sounds good! Those are the four areas where I want to develop my mental commitment to my writing work this autumn.

How about you? Which ones stand out? Or are there other signposts of mental commitment for you? 


Next on our check-in: What does it look like to commit to our writing work and writing lives emotionally? 

  • Not sniping about it. Ever notice how our commitment, or lack thereof, leaks out of our mouths? When I'm excited about something, everyone around me knows because I will not stop talking about it. (Oh, you noticed that?) And the reverse is also true: when whining and complaining are all that's coming out of my mouth, you can tell: my heart is not on board with this. It sounds old-fashioned, but when we steer our speech a certain way, our actions follow. I wanna commit to my work by what I'm saying.
     
  • Ousting Resistance. OH yeah. Seriously, I had no idea what a huge burden Resistance had been for me, until I started consciously choosing to drop it, and to relax into the task at hand instead of maximizing its difficulty. This is one of the biggest game-changers in my emotional health lately, and it has been huge!
     
  • Practicing gratitude. For a couple of months now, I've been jotting down at least three things I'm grateful for every night before I go to sleep. It's been a really wonderful practice—a way of reframing the day, no matter how difficult it was. I'd love to get even more intentional about bringing this gratitude mindset into my writing life specifically. The Amazing Brené Brown points out in Daring Greatly that without gratitude, we can't know joy. And I don't know about you, but I want to keep bringing joy into my writing life!

Wow. YES. These are three practices that I've just started working on in general, and basically, I'd like to crank up the volume on all three this autumn. By, um, a LOT.

How about you? What's going on in your mind and heart when you're deeply committed emotionally? And how can you bring some of those practices into your writing life right now?


And then, what does it look like to commit to something creatively?

  • Showing up with your imagination. Even when your imagination is rusty, sticking with it, and trying not to just write on automatic pilot. ... Let's be real: I totally get that some days, we all just put words down instead of having a rich imaginative experience as we do. Sometimes, that's where we're at, and we're just getting through. But the more we can nourish our imagination and bring it fully into the game, the richer our commitment is going to be. And then everything gets better. ... More on that next week!
     
  • Nurturing your creativity in every way. We owe it to ourselves and our work to be growing creatively. Even when, and perhaps especially when, off the clock. Being creatively committed means that we're always putting ourselves in the path of inspiration. Going on those artist dates, reading widely, and learning about more things than just writing. (Again, more on this next week!)
     
  • Staying alert to obstacles. When our creativity is gasping, that's an important warning sign. And keeping our creative commitment tuned up means that we take those warning signs super seriously. They give us the essential chance to ask: what's not serving the work, what is getting in the way, what's not working? And then, commitment means we reach for our courage, and go find the answers to those hard questions. (Um: yep, more on this next week.)
     
  • Staying in touch with wonder and curiosity. One of the best ways to keep our creative commitment healthy and thriving is to always be seeking wonder, always be awake to our curiosities. Whether they overlap with the work at hand or not, we have to keep in touch with those things that get us excited, that make us lean in. Our creativity depends on it. (Pssst. Next week. Yep.)

This section, even more than the others, is what's got my attention right now. This is where I need the most work, the most time, and the most relentless self-compassion. Mmmm! But good things are coming, my friends. 

How about you? How's your creative commitment these days?

Does your imagination feel nourished, or slightly starved? Is it full of good nutrients, or has it been binging on junk food a leetle too long, and that's starting to show a tiny bit?

How can you nurture it like crazy this weekend? Can you grab an hour or two for a fabulous little artist date? And what are the topics that give you that zing of excited curiosity? Can you go chase after one for a while this week?


If you've been hanging out on this blog for a while, you probably know by now: I have ZERO interest in being an incredibly prolific writer at the cost of my health (whether that's physical, emotional, or any other kind of health we can think of!).

Nope. Not doing it.

So, as you and I think through all those questions above, let's also ask this: What does it look like to be committed to your own health?

  • Physically, this means sleeping, getting those veggies (my two favorite cooking blogs, if you need veg inspiration, are this one and that one), drinking plenty of water (let's do it like this!), and seeking fun ways to move throughout the day.
     
  • Creatively, this means pursuing non-writing hobbies. SO important. And it also means making your environment—where you live, where you sleep, and especially where you work!—pleasing and inspiring and yummy in every possible way.
     
  • And then emotionally. This means pouring truth into yourself, healing old scars, surrounding yourself with positive people. This especially means that you remind yourself over and over, that you are not your work. You are WAY more valuable than whatever it is that you do each day. This is essential to know no matter what, whether the writing is going well or poorly. 

I keep coming back to this over and over, because if there's one thing that my writing life has taught me, it's this: if the writer isn't doing well, her writing's going to suffer. A lot. 

And it becomes this horrible little spiral of suffering that does no good and also doesn't write a lot of books.

SO. What's one way that you want to commit more deeply to your own health and well-being? How can you make sure that you're getting the support and fuel you need, so that you're strong enough to commit to your writing work?


Welp, I'M all excited. I hope that those questions helped stir some ideas for you.

Where do you most want to start? What little practice could you add in this weekend, and work on next week, that would strengthen your commitment to your work, your healthy writing life, and your amazing lionhearted self?

(And if you're looking for a few more ideas about this kind of thing, check out The Enormous Virtue of Showing Up, and Finding the Energy to See Our Writing Through. They'll be right up your alley!)

Here's to more health, excitement, vitality, and commitment this autumn.

The Key To Everything Is a Crazy Amount of Focus.

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

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

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

Focus. It's a big deal.

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

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

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

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

Where do we begin?

1) Develop a deep work ritual.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newport says,

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

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

Let's not do that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newport defines shallow work like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Doesn't that give you shivers?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both are important, no question.

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

How much time per week should we spend doing each?

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

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

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

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

Make sense? 

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

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

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

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

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

And you pretend it's all in fun.

Nope. Not okay anymore, Distraction.

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

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

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

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

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

Ya gotta go.


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

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

Near the book's conclusion, he says,

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

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

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

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

This is rocket fuel, in other words. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woo! I'm getting chills.

So I'm on board with this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all want high quality writing, yes? 

So this is our next thing to learn.

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

Eye-opening, and oh-so helpful.

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

He has this equation that I just loved: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This book is for you.

It's for all of us.

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

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

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

Definitions first. Newport defines deep work as: 

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

What does that mean for all of us writers?

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

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

So that's why it's seriously important.

Deep work means that you're writing valuable things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep work is worth pursuing.

... But then we hit a few snags.

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

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

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

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

And we're gonna have to change some things.

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

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

Yikes.

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

And ... it gets worse:

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

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

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

And attention residue can last for ten to twenty minutes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is going to take training.

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

For serious.

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

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

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

Why is it so important to know this?

Because the breakthroughs are on the other side of perseverance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He points out,

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

That resistance? Super important. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For me, it means:

Sounds simple, right? 

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

Yes, really.

And here's why that's so cool:

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

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

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

Newport says it like this: 

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

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

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

What does the unconscious do? Newport continues:

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

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

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

You too, right?

Let that sink in for a second.

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

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

Your unconscious mind is your hero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He says, 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Which, honestly, is super empowering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's Stop Overlooking This Pivotal Aspect of Our (Soon-to-Be Amazing!) Reading Routines

It *seems* like a small, silly, forgettable piece of our reading habits. ... But is it? I'm pretty sure it's gonna be a game-changer for me, and you, and everyone else! | lucyflint.com

Sometimes, the most important parts of a routine are precisely the parts we consistently overlook.

So even though today's topic may seem like a silly, frivolous question to ask about our reading routines, I'm convinced that it's worth digging into.

And for those of us who struggle with getting to our reading, it could be a complete game-changer. 

(Also? It just might be the yummiest part of this reading recess series. Ooooh. Gettin' excited.)

All right, lionhearts. So, we know that where we work, and the quality of the place where we write, has a bearing on how we FEEL about doing that work, right?

Our working environment is sending us a message. It might not even be a message we consciously notice—it's probably just under the radar. 

But it is definitely telling us how we feel about ourselves as writers, how we feel about this work, and what our approach to writing is. 

I keep coming back to this truth: that when my writing life feels out of whack, one of the questions I need to ask myself is, has my writing environment gone offline somehow? 

It's an important question.

So... now I want to try something I've never done before. I want to apply that same question to reading.

For the first time basically ever, I want to ask the question: Where do I do most of my reading? 

And, more importantly: What is that space communicating to me? 

See, when I was working really hard to tell myself that reading really does count as work, I moved my reading to my writing desk. I sat upright, typed notes into my computer, elbows on the hard wooden surface.

Conscientious. Disciplined. Focused.

Um. Yes, it did feel like work...

TOO much like work. 

So then I moved my reading practice to my bed. I sprawled among the pillows, covered up with a soft afghan...

annnnd I definitely fell asleep. More than once.

So this month, as I've been powering through fiction, I've felt a bit displaced. Nowhere feels quite right.

Hmm.

I've also been reading The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. (Which, like I've said before, you are going to hear MUCH more about later, because it is the most insanely brilliant thing ever and it is totally changing my life. It's AMAZING. I'm so thrilled.) 

Ahem.

Anyway, Cameron keeps talking about how our artistic nature, our artistic self, is very much like a child.

Bright. Curious. Full of questions. 

And also? Largely motivated by play. By joy. By enthusiasm. 

What I keep finding out as I read, is that: Our artistic self loves to play and make messes. It does not so much love a life ruled by rigid, strict discipline.

HUH.

So—because Cameron's book has been right about SO MANY THINGS—I have to believe that this is true too.

And that's got me thinking. 

I'm wondering about how to apply the child-like joy I used to feel about reading ... to my actual reading space.

Heh heh heh.

I'm getting super super excited about this. Like, I almost can't believe I'm thinking about it. But: 

I'm considering making myself an all-out reading nook.

With yummy pillows and mosquito netting and heck, maybe even twinkle lights. 

Maybe that sounds silly. Foolish. 

But I know that reading is darned important. (Not to mention, it's basically half of my job description.)

And I know that I'm much more motivated by the idea of reading as play, as joy, as curiosity. That's how I read when I was a kid, when reading was fun and simple and easy.

So, I think it's time to appeal to that child version of me. And ask her what she wants.

And she says: "All of the pillows, and how about adding big cozy pouf? Also, yes to the netting, and are you kidding me, of COURSE the twinkle lights!!"

So that's my answer then.

Oooooh.

Well, that's going to be my project in the next couple of weeks. (I have a massively tight schedule for a week and a half, but then: I'm gonna rearrange some furniture and set this thing up!!)

Okay. I'm grinning ear to ear while I type this. I can't help it. Yeah, I'm over thirty years old, but what does that even have to do with it?

Why not have a totally scrumptious reading nook for myself?

... And what about you? Do you have an place that you tend to use for reading more than other places? 

What does it say to you—about yourself as a reader, about the act of reading?

Does it invite you in? Or does it feel cold and strict? 

When you think about a place to read, what's appealing for you? What makes you think, "HECK YES, I'm going to go read for an hour!"

Can you take a little time this week, and make your reading place a bit more intentional? Inviting?

What tweaks would it take, to make your reading area much more appealing? 

If you want some crazy inspiration, I found three roundups of swoon-worthy reading nooks: here, here, and here!  

I'd love to hear what you're going to do!! And I'll keep you posted on how my reading nook comes together. 

I think it's gonna be very much worth it.


Reading report: Yes, I finished the second book of my challenge!! I was a little disappointed with the ending of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. I didn't feel like there was really enough satisfaction to the climax and conclusion. But there were still bits that I liked (especially how he developed the world of Haarlem). Most of all, the experience of reading itself was still worth it. 

I've already plunged into my next bookone I've been looking forward to for a long time: Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, by Lynne Jonell. I read the third Emmy book awhile ago (not realizing it was part of a set!) and I loved it. So funny and charming. I've been looking forward to reading the first book in the set for a while. 

Mmm! Nothing like a good middle grade adventure with a talking rat. Right up my alley. ;) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whew! That's a lot of power tools!! 

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

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

1) Remember the value of bridging ideas.

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

Why is that important? 

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

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

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

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

Know what I mean? 

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

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

Exciting, right? 

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

2) Shake your imagination up with a crazy challenge.

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

Such as?

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

No, seriously. That's what she said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Turn random into spectacular.

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

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

Here's how it works:

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

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

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

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

Make sense? 

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

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

And then? And then it gets really exciting: 

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

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

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

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

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

4) Get a new environment.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The kind of writers that can stay the course. 

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

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

The lionhearted writer brings love into the process.

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

Some bits are just intoxicating.

Books, words, stories. 

Sentences so good they make your scalp tingle.

Mmmm. Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

To the actual creative process itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right? 

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

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

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

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

I want to love every day of it. 

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

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

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

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

Maybe impossible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instant hate.

And, bonus, I almost threw up.

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

That's a pretty big change.

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

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

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

Here's where to start:

1) Recognize what is good about it. 

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

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

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

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

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

And what's valuable about it?

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

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

2) Practice technical gratitude.

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

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

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

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

Okay?

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

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

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

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

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

3) Notice what you actually do like about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUPER weird. I tried not to notice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to music that you adore or find deeply inspiring. 

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

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

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

5) Practice relish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) Repeat.

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

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

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

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

Hold that dread at bay. Stagger it with goodness.

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

So weird, right?

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

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

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

Worth trying, right?

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

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

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

DANG. Talk about a game changer.

So what will you be learning to love?

What to Do with Way Too Much Good Information

It happens to all of us: Suddenly you're in a deluge of excellent content (and social media, and classes, and webinars, and books)... and it's all really excellent, but you find you can't think straight. Ring any bells? Yeah, me too. Here's the cure. | lucyflint.com

I have to admit: The main reason I wanted to do a Spring Cleaning for Writers Series is because of this week. 

Mmmmm. Let's savor the moment.

Take a second to just breathe in, really deeply. And breathe out.

I'm about to propose something new. It's kind of a challenge within the spring cleaning challenge. It might be the very best part of it! 

I'm calling it: The Distraction Detox.

And here's why I've needed it so desperately (and maybe why you need it too... if any of this rings a bell!).

I've had a lot of good things going on lately—really good things.

I've just finished a quick bit of traveling, I'm working on some good new systems for better health, and I'm reading some excellent nonfiction books so quickly that I'm practically swallowing them whole.

I'm reading great email newsletters, falling in love with marvelous Instagram accounts, tuning in to all you lovely people on Twitter, scrolling through visual feasts on Pinterest, filling my ears with Spotify and podcasts, texting pals on my writing breaks, and tumbling down the Netflix rabbit hole.

It's all so good. It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet of words! information! sound! ideas! 

And (not super surprisingly) the inside of my mind is feeling a little ... jittery.

I'm not talking negativity—we cleaned that out already!

I mean there's just too much going on in there. Too many new ideas, too many sound bites, too many concepts I want to rearrange my life to include. 

My lovely work-in-progress is quiet. And it's not really interested in jostling to make itself heard above the rest of the (exciting, wonderful) crowd.

I'm craving the sweetness of singleminded focus. The beautiful quiet of an undistracted mind.

The quick pace of all that media is exciting and inspiring. But my creativity truly flourishes the still moments.

The gift I really want to give myself (and you too, if you're up for it!) is a week off from distractions.

What?! Yes.

Seriously. 

Okay: Let's define it. What is a Distraction Detox?

A break from anything that's destroying your ability to focus. Any times you have competing projects. Anything that splinters your attention.

For me, it's a chance to: 

  • Break the habit of grabbing my iPhone and carrying it around with me everywhere.
  • Stop checking emails first thing in the morning. And also the moment they come in, all through the day. *slaps forehead*
  • Replace my nightly Netflix with something a little more creatively yummy. (I'm addicted to Columbo lately... I just love Peter Falk!)
  • Keep my desk totally clear of other notes, reminders, charts, etc.
  • Take a break from Spotify. (And listening to music with lyrics while I'm writing... oops!)
  • Put social media (all of it!) on the backburner. Just for a little while. Just for a week. (And if I simply MUST show up, I'll stick to a brief timed session.) 

And I don't mean just during my writing day: I'm talking all day long!!

I especially want to look askance at multitasking. I know it torpedoes my focus, but I've picked up the habit again, and it's time to set it back down. 

I want to be clear: All these things I've listed—the newsletters, the social media accounts, my beloved Peter Falk—are good things

But, because I haven't really put limits on the time I spend with them, they've been stealing my precious writing headspace.

... Until I'm getting more anxious about missing Instagram updates than I am about feeding my characters.

Which is why a little break sounds amazing.

How about you? 

Your Distraction Detox doesn't have to look like mine: your triggers are probably different. 

But grab a few minutes to think about all the different sources of information you're encountering: all the miniature narratives that intersect your day, all the virtual people you come into contact with. 

All of it. 

And ask yourself: What's going on when you feel an information overload in your head? Or when you feel like your attention is being fractured into three or four directions?

And then think about what a good, helpful, restful break would look like for you. 

Maybe just take a break from a few of the smaller things, things that it's easier to abstain from.

Or maybe you just take out your two biggest culprits.

Maybe you do it for a day or two, or maybe—like me!—you want to give yourself a WHOLE WEEK OFF.

You know in your gut how drastic or not drastic you need this to be. A small adjustment, or a big media/information vacation.

Your pick.

For me, this week will also be a chance to break my little addiction to new information. I can start believing that I just need a little more advice, in every single area.

... Because there's so much great free content out there right now! Have you noticed? Amazing webinars, classes, email courses, tutorials... I love it. 

But I can also get mired in way too many new ideas to apply at once. Too many lists of "3000 ways to optimize your entire life."

Okay, okay. It just feels like 3000.

You get my point. 

I don't want this week to be brutal: just the opposite.

I want permission to let emails accumulate through the day (and then zip through them in a half hour at night). I want to stop feeling twitchy when my phone isn't nearby. 

I want to come back to those lovely old-fashioned concepts like, an actual attention span.

And I want to listen to what's going on in my own head—my relationship with my work-in-progress, and my sense of how much internal space I need. 

Instead of trying to juggle hundreds of competing ideas and tips in my head all at once. (Anyone else feeling this way?!)

Ahhhhh. Distraction Detox. I'm so excited.

Whatever this looks like for you: Give yourself the gift of a bit of extra space this week.

Pause the information rush (especially good information! that's the hardest to resist!). Ease back on social media (just a smidge).

Don't do anything that cuts you off or causes you anguish. Just give yourself a lovely little vacation. 

And when the vacation is over, you can re-evaluate. You can add things back in as needed... or not!

The point of the detox is to just give us room enough to think. To get squarely back into our own minds for a while, and to decide from there what information and media we need.

Instead of being, you know, constantly bulldozed by it.

Can you feel a little peace sneaking in? Or even a rush of restful, soul-restoring silence??

Mmm. That. 

Happy Distraction Detox.

Free Your Ability to Focus By Cleaning Up Your Digital Landscape

We're not physically confronted by all our ties to the digital world... maybe that's why it can get out of control? Today's the day we tame the chaos! Let's get started! (In other words, a lot more spring cleaning for writers!!) | lucyflint.com

Welcome to the next little challenge of this spring cleaning series!

How's that writing life of yours feeling? A bit cleaner? A bit brighter? Happier? High five!

Let's start today's challenge off with an honest confession: I'm much more of an analog girl than a digital one. 

Don't get me wrong: I love what technology is able to do (letting me hang out with you, for instance!), but I'm much more comfortable with tangible, tactile things.

Paper, pens, physical books. I know where I'm at with all that stuff.

... Which is probably why it's easy for me to let my digital world get out of hand pretty dang quickly. 

Our virtual and online landscapes require maintenance, just like everything else. But it's so easy to let things go undone!

It's basically invisible, after all, which means that we're not physically confronted with the untidiness. But, if you're like me, you might be feeling a kind of ... digital chaos. 

There are so many things I've put off or left undone or haven't checked on. (It's a long list. Like: embarrassingly long.)

So whenever I'm on my computer, or doing anything online, I feel the pressure of allllllllll the little things I've been putting off.

Kinda makes it hard to get the important stuff done, you know?

So let's take today to clean up our digital landscape! 

The simplest way to round up everything that needs to be done is, of course, make a list!

(Fellow list nerds: Yes, you can absolutely break out the good coffee and the excellent notepads and pens for this. Everyone else: just carry on as planned, and ignore our maniacal laughter. It's all good.)

All set? Let's jot down everything that comes to mind. Some places to start:

  • computer maintenance: anything your system needs? new hardware? or any old cords and expired batteries to get rid of? 
     
  • computer files: is your desktop cluttered with documents, just like mine?? Let's clean 'em up! Or is your machine chugging slowly because it's clogged with photos you've been meaning to go through? Today's the day!
     
  • software: security updates? new versions to install? (Am I the only one who puts this off forever?) any software you need to buy?
     
  • email accounts: time to deal with any old accounts you want to delete and close down, address books you want to purge, email newsletters you want to unsubscribe from, passwords to update, other security protocols you've been meaning to deal with...
     
  • websites you manage: any design issues that are bugging you? pages that are begging for an update? how's your about page, or your profile section? any sidebars that need cleaning up? 
     
  • social media: profile pictures to update, freshening up your personal information, cleaning up any photos you've stored, answering any outstanding messages...
     
  • online friendships: any online buddies you've been meaning to contact? replies you want to send? questions you've wanted to ask, or connections you want to make? groups you want to update? 

There's so much more going on in the digital arena than I can possibly grasp (and expanding all the time!), so my bulleted list is just a starting point.

You know best what you need: it's the thing that you keep forgetting to do, the stuff that you remember only when you're driving, or you're taking a shower, or you're in the middle of something else and you can't get to it right away. 

That stuff.

Get it all written down, all in one place.

Whew!! Seeing everything on your mind can be pretty daunting, but it's also a relief. Now we can deal with it!

And just like when we cleaned up our work spaces: you can choose how big you make this catch-up. 

If it's a super long list, try just tackling half, or a third.

If you're short on time, pick the three biggest wins. What takes the least time, but will make the most impact? Start with those!

Whatever you can fix, catch up, install, delete, consolidate, or update quickly: do it! 

But no matter what you decide to do, today is a great day to keep all your amazing words and ideas safe by ... backing up your computer. 

Tell me I'm not the only person who perennially forgets to do that! Yikes! 

... But no excuses. Every little lionheart has to do this today. Okay? Your stories are too precious to risk a computer glitch.

There!! Now let's sit back and enjoy our cleaner, safer, happier, digital world!