Breaking a Deadly Habit: Are You Abusing Your Creativity? Let's Rescue It.

This is such an easy trap to fall into, an easy habit to pick up. But it's literally killing our creativity--and starving our work. We have to stop. Here's your invitation to a rescue mission. | lucyflint.com

As writers, one of our most vital resources, our most prized possessions, is our creativity. 

That's a fair thing to say, right? If there's no creativity, there are no words on the page, no stories brewing in the mind, no plots, no outlines, no characters.

Creativity is a tool, a source. It's the thing we use constantly in our lives and our work.

Given that, we should be as invested in protecting it and caring for it as we are our other important tools—our computers and software, the copyrights for our work, our access to books. 

Right?

But it's so easy to forget to see it that way. 

It's easy for me to make sure my fancy computer is well taken care of, but creativity, well, it's there when I need it, right?

We can get kind of blasé about our creativity. Careless. We can take it for granted. Leave it out in the rain, let it pick up a few dings, stop putting it in its protective case.

You tracking with me? 

Not that I want to get too precious about this, but I want to be a better protector and champion of my own creativity. 

I want to treat it like it's the thing that's bringing home the bacon. The central engine for everything I'm trying to run. 

I want to take better care of my creativity.

One thing that kinda shook me up with The Artists's Way was how Julia Cameron kept calling it a course in creative recovery.

I feebly tried to fend this off a little, when I picked the book up in the spring. "My creativity is basically fine, I'm just looking for a little pick-me-up, it's not like I'm in trouble here or anything..."

( ... Whoops, sorry, I snort a little when I laugh sometimes.)

Ahem.

The more I read, the more I realized I'd been so casual about creativity. So narrow-minded in how I think of it. And so dismissive about the possibilities and the power of creativity, that I'd been kind of strangling mine. 

Not that it was dead, but it was definitely a bit winded and it didn't want to sit too close to me.

And since I want to take everything I've learned and plunge oh so deep into writing my trilogy this fall, I don't want to alienate creativity. 

Instead, I want to put a huge welcome mat by my desk. I want to hand it a hot drink and give it the comfiest seat in the house. 

Creativity!! It is so good to see you. Please come in. Please make yourself at home. What can I do to make you comfortable and happy? 

... How about you? How are you and creativity doing these days? Are you on speaking terms? Best friends? Or avoiding each other's eyes?

The books that I've been studying have a bit to say about ways that we thwart our own creativity. So if you, like me, want to get super imaginative in the upcoming weeks, you'll want to keep reading.

We've been feeding cyanide to our creativity.

Just a little warning: None of us are going to like what's ahead here. 

Because if we know how important our creativity is, and how beautiful it can be, it's going to be a real bummer to realize that most of us have been slipping cyanide into its food. 

And maybe even kicking it a little, as it writhes on the floor.

How are we doing this? 

Through comparison. Competition. Measuring our work against someone else's, and focusing on the differences we see. 

This will literally shut down creativity. 

It changes everything. 

Think back to times when you've done this. Can you kind of feel, in slow-motion, how those comparison-driven thoughts flooded your ability to create with poison? 

I don't know how it looks for you, but this is how it goes down for me:

When a classmate of mine got an interview with a big-name author I admire, and when I found out that she'd published quite a few books as well, I didn't think, "Marvelous! Good for her! And I'm going to my desk right now!"

I didn't. 

Instead I felt like my lungs had filled up with poison gas, and my arms and legs felt hot and slow and my mind was yelling at me that I'm so stupid, and I've lost all my chances, and everyone's given up on me by now, and what the heck have I been doing with my time? 

I looked at my novel and thought, "Pfft! Books for kids! I'm just writing silly stuff and I can't even do that very well!"

I dismissed everything I've worked for and everything I've become with one contemptuous shrug of the shoulders.

(Plus I was LYING to myself in a huge way and pretended it was the whole truth. Not a helpful move.)

My work-in-progress didn't really thrive that day.

Neither did its writer.

... I know I'm not alone here.

This is such an easy thing to fall into, and I'd love to take a lot of time to talk about how our culture encourages this, how crappy teachers and vile schoolmates do it to us, how misguided "encouragers" can point out where we should be more like so-and-so...

But no matter how we got here, the point is: when we let comparison and competition into our writing lives, it cackles a bit and then strolls over to murder our creativity.

And frankly, my friends, that's not great. Nor is it a useful long-term writing strategy.

I love how Julia Cameron says this—it's just so helpful to me:

When we focus on competition, we poison our own well, impede our own progress. When we are ogling the accomplishments of others, we take our eye away from our own through line. We ask ourselves the wrong questions, and those wrong questions give us the wrong answers.

I LOVE that. She's so right: it switches our attention.

I so wish I could time travel back to when I found out about my classmate. I wish I could have just taken a huge breath, said "Good for her," out loud, and then put the information aside.

And then I wish I would have surrounded myself with my beautiful characters, my incredible storyworld, and the next hilarious scene.

Instead of asking, "Why can't that be me?!" I wish I would have gently and compassionately asked, "What is the best thing I can do for my story today? What is the next exciting thing to write?"

THAT is what I wish I had done.

Instead of wallowing in hateful comparison, I wish I had just thrown my arms around creativity.

Cameron goes on to say,

The desire to be better than can choke off the simple desire to be. As artists we cannot afford this thinking. It leads us away from our own voices and choices and into a defensive game that centers outside of ourselves and our sphere of influence. It asks us to define our own creativity in terms of someone else's.

Gaa! Doesn't that last line just get you?!

Comparison isn't our friend. It's not on our side. 

Creativity is. 

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown talks about how comparison is the thing we need to let go of, if we're going to cultivate creativity. She says,

Comparison is all about conformity and competition. ... The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of "fit in and stand out!" ...
     Letting go of comparison is not a to-do list item. For most of us, it's something that requires constant awareness. It's so easy to take our eyes of our path to check out what others are doing and if they're ahead or behind us. 

She goes on to say, 

If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. ... Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared. 

If you're struggling with this whole comparison thing like I am, please do this for yourself: Write down that last bit and stick it to your computer, your mirror, your forehead. 

Remind yourself of it often!

What you bring to the world—your story, your writing style, your characters, your take on the genre, your setting—it's COMPLETELY ORIGINAL.

It cannot be compared. 

If we're going to move forward as writers, if we're going to keep growing in our work, then we have to put to death this habit of comparing. 

Comparing ourselves to peers, to the people who are writing in a similar genre or sphere.

Comparing ourselves to established masters of the craft.

Comparing ourselves to people who seem to be doing "worse" than we are.

Comparing ourselves to unattainable perfection.

We've gotta stop doing it, my friends. 

How to embrace a radically new perspective on creativity.

One way to help loosen our grip on comparison is to have an even clearer sense of our own creativity.

Julia Cameron uses one metaphor for creativity over and over, and honestly, at first, I thought it was a bit hokey.

And then, the longer I sat with it, the more I realized she was totally right.

(This is true for about 99% of my experience with the book, by the way. I'd react with, "Gaa! That's so silly." Pause. "Well, she might have a point." Pause. "Oh gosh, actually, that's dead right." And the book would just grin up at me.)

Cameron talks about creativity, about our inner artist, as a child.

(I know, I know. Just go with it for a bit.)

If you've been around kids for ten minutes, you've seen how explosively, endlessly creative they can be. 

So, what's the best way to grow your creativity? Cameron says, throughout her book, that the way to grow it is by nurturing it—just as you would nurture a child.

Give it a sense of safety. Protect it from unkind influences (like the nasty lies that rear up in our minds). Provide it with fun things that it wants to play with.

Do not abuse it with harsh words, the silent treatment, lies, or starvation.

She says, 

We must actively, consciously, consistently, and creatively nurture our artist selves. ... Only when we are being joyfully creative can we release the obsession with others and how they are doing. 

Can you practice treating your creativity like it's a child that you dearly love? Can you practice giving it room to play? Handing it every fun tool or toy that it wants? 

Can you let it make a mess? 

Can you talk to it with compassion, gentleness, as if it were someone you loved?

One of the best ways to do this is through a core principle in The Artist's Way: the artist date.

From the start of the book, Cameron asks that we make a commitment to a weekly artist date. 

What does that mean? 

She says, 

An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. ... The artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers.

YES.

I just love this concept. And the rare times (I mentioned the summer was crazy, right?) that I was able to do this, I felt so much better.

More connected to my imagination, to a wider sense of the world, to my ability as a creator.

The amazing thing is, an artist date can be so simple. An outing to a beloved art store, or a nearby quirky furniture/home store are two favorites. Or sometimes I block off the time to sit and paint with watercolors. 

I'll be the first to say: I'm not great at doing this yet. It's an area where I really have to practice defending my time (from others and from myself!).

And it's hard to let myself have fun. (Honestly, if there was a rehab center for learning to play and have fun, I'd probably have to check myself in. So, if this doesn't come easily to you—solidarity, my friend.)

I really believe that these artist dates—time set aside for pure nurturing—are truly worth it. 

So here's my crazy suggestion: Can you, can I, can all of us give ourselves permission to take an artist date this week? 

To block out time and go on an outing? Or to pull out some dusty hobby that we love but feel sheepish about, and pursue it for a while? 

Can we essentially hand our inner artist a huge ice cream cone and say, "Go to town, kiddo! Today we're just going to have fun together!" 

Maybe this means buying yourself balloons or maybe it means going on a long walk by a lake.

Maybe it means buying the huge pack of fifty markers from the back-to-school display and a coloring book or four.

Or maybe you grab a bunch of sidewalk chalk, and let loose on your patio.

Maybe it means getting messy, or maybe it means wandering in a new place.

If you're stuck for ideas, try these quick prompts: 

  • What are twenty things that you love doing? 
  • What hobbies did you love as a kid? 
  • What were your favorite toys as a kid? What did you just love playing with? Where did you most love to go?
  • What did you love to do in art class? Music class? 
  • Where do you like to explore?
  • What kinds of activities or places seem to release something good in you?

Remember, you are not allowed to label your artist date as something "silly." (That's comparison sneaking in again, and remember that it just wants to slit creativity's throat. Don't let it.)

Aim for delight. Play. Fun. Joy.

Even if you're not good at it, like me, practice anyway. 

Even if you get caught up in questions like, "am I doing this right?" ... practice anyway

Why? Because it's worth it.

As Cameron says,

Serious art is born from serious play.

Let's make our creativity feel welcomed, supported, nurtured, and loved.

And let's take our artist date this week.

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

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

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

Contentment? 

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

It sounds so simple-minded. So basic.

But it's absolutely vital. 

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

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

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

And that I'm fine, right where I am. 

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

SUPER helpful, right?

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

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

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

(You know. All the usual threats.)

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

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

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

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

2) Don't let writing be your everything.

Sound good? Let's do this.

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

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

But let's say it again anyway:

Comparing ourselves to other people doesn't work

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

You know the math, right?

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

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

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

This math does not help. 

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

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

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

I can practically feel myself disintegrating.

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

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

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

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

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

So let's not do it.

No more comparing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can we do that? A mass reinterpretation? 

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

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

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

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

Let's stick with it.

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

You are so much more than a writer.

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

We can't let writing be our everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But don't let writing hold your whole heart.

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

Hahaha! Okay. But seriously.

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

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

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

Truth, right??

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

Enjoy everything. Deeply. On purpose. 

Relish every single thing.

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

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

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

This is hugely important, my friends!

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

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

You're so much more than just a writer.

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

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

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


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

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

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

Kicking Out the Negativity (So We Can Fall in Love with Writing!)

We're going to keep shedding the negative ways we think about writing... so that we can open ourselves up to a super healthy and, yes, head over heels relationship with our writing lives! | lucyflint.com

How are you feeling, lionheart? How were the first three days of the challenge for you? (If you're new to this series on Falling in Love with Your Writing Life, check out the first post right here.) 

My hope is that we're all shaking out some of the negative feelings we've carried around about writing. That we're shining some light on them, and scaring them out of their dark corners.

For the rest of this week, I'm hoping we can either squash them, or at least send 'em skittering on their way.

(Is anyone else thinking about roaches right now, or is that just me? Ahem.)

Sound like a plan? Cool. I'm excited. 

Okay, here are the prompts for the rest of the week... 


February 4: Write a letter.

There's something downright magical about writing a letter. Something about that format, that invitation to be honest.

Today, we're writing two letters. One of them is from you to your writing life. And in the other, the writing life will be writing back to you.

(Just go with me on this.)

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Take a little bit of time, and write a letter to your writing life. And begin by saying: "Dear Writing Life, I'm afraid that you will..."

And then go from there.

Tell it all the things that you're worried about in your writing life. All the fears you have—the big ones, and the really really little ones. Everything you'd try to dismiss if someone asked about it. The things that maybe embarrass you.

No one's going to read this—except your Writing Life, and it probably already knows all this anyway.

Dig deep. And be as honest as possible. Get it all down.

Because, seriously, you don't need those thoughts just scampering loose on their own in your mind. Grab them, drag them into the light, and pin them onto the paper with words.

Whew. 

Then, write that second letter. The Writing Life is going to write back to you, and answer your fears.

It can't guarantee things that it has no control over (audience response, family response, critics, money, fame). But there are a lot of other things that it can promise. There are a lot of wonderful things that it can give in return. And there is a lot of courage in it, just waiting for you.

The writing life is really wise. It's been around a long, long time.

Give it a chance. Listen hard. And see what it writes back to you.


February 5: Let's redefine "bad" writing days.

I recently came across this idea from Rachel Aaron, and I absolutely love it.

She explains that difficult writing days—days where our imaginations seem to go on strike, where the words won't come, or where we can't seem to get to our desks—are actually telling us something important.

And—spoiler alert—it isn't telling us that we're lazy, unmotivated, undisciplined, stupid, ignorant, blah blah blah.

That's not what bad writing days mean at all. 

She says: "Instead of treating bad writing days as random, unavoidable disasters to be weathered, like thunderstorms, I started treating them as red flags."

She realized that they meant: Her story had gone in the wrong direction.

Or, that she didn't actually love what she was writing about. 

The most effective way to get back into writing, to be writing with joy, was to fix those problems. Whatever they were.

Which did NOT mean: beating herself up. 

Isn't that an incredible shift? Such a game changer.

She comes from the point of view that maintains: Writing is enjoyable. Telling stories is fun.

This writing life is an inherently good thing, which means that, if it doesn't feel good, something's gone wrong.

And that something isn't you.

You're not the problem!! Isn't that a lovely thought?!

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Maybe you haven't had a bad writing day in months; or maybe you're having one right this second

Either way, let's practice shifting our focus. Let's take it for granted that a bad writing day doesn't mean anything bad about you, the person, the writer.

Actually, you're great. Let's just all accept that.

And it doesn't mean that the writing life is a terrible, stingy, horrific machine of punishment for the unsuspecting.

Nope. The writing life is great too.

Instead, let's assume that something else is going on. 

Let's assume that a bad writing day is more like seeing the first few symptoms of flu show up. 

It really doesn't help to be angry at ourselves for catching it. It doesn't help to rail against immune systems having a momentary weakness and letting those germs grow.

All that really matters is that partnership between Human and Immune System, and blasting those germs together. Yes? Yes.

The same thing goes for tough writing days. It isn't your fault, and it isn't the writing life's fault. Something else is amiss.

Today, take fifteen minutes and list everything else that might be contributing to a bad writing day for you. (If you're not having a bad one, think back to the last one you did have.)

What else is going on? Maybe it's external, non-writing stuff. Maybe you don't have enough energy.

Or maybe something's gone off in your work-in-progress. Do you love the subject? Has something shifted? Did you lose an element that made you happy? 

What is your absolute favorite thing to write about? Have you lost track of it, in this story, in this bad writing day?

You get the idea. Probe around. Try to find out what might have gone wrong.

Keep reminding yourself: it isn't you. It isn't the writing life.

Instead, explore what might have happened together, and play around with ideas for how to get it back on track.


February 6: Discover the best true advice.

I don't know about you, but when I'm in the midst of a problem, I can be totally blind to something I already know.

But if someone I care about goes through the same thing—I become a fount of wisdom. I have legitimately helpful things to say. 

Sometimes we don't have the right words for ourselves. Sometimes, we find them when we help other people.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: On your best day, on your absolute best day, when you are your wisest, happiest, kindest, and most content self... what would you tell someone else about the writing life?

Imagine that you're describing it to someone who hasn't really tried it on yet, but someone that you think would be an excellent fit. Someone who you know will be a good writer and will thrive... but who needs your nudge to get started. Someone you genuinely want the best for, and you believe that that's the writing life.

How would you sum it up?

What true things would you say about what the writing life has meant to you? What is it really like, this pursuit of words? What can your friend expect? What will she find?

Write it down. Write as much as you like. Try to write for about ten minutes, if you can.

Then look over your words, and choose a sentence or a phrase that really sums up what you've written down, and copy it separately onto a little sticky note.

And above your sentence, write: "This is what I REALLY think about writing." 

And then post it in your writing area. 

Those are your words. Your real definition of writing. And it's true.

Steer by it. On days when you're tempted to be frustrated at writing, let your own words remind you of what you really believe.


February 7: Enjoy the reward of reading.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: This is what we're going to do every Sunday this month. We're going to find about half an hour and we're going to read something lovely.

That can mean whatever you want it to. Grab a favorite novel or a new one. Find some really excellent non-fiction, or a book of letters, or poetry. (Mary Oliver and Billy Collins are my favorites!)

Or dive into some kids' books. Because language always sounds better after Dr. Seuss has been playing with it.

All I want you to do is make some space, and fall into a pile of words. 

Without envying the writer's skill. Without even a whisper of comparison. 

Enjoy the words simply because you enjoy them. Let them transport you.

Let yourself love the reading life with absolute abandon.

Because the reading life is always our way back to a truly wonderful writing life.


I hope this first week of prompts goes really well for you! Feel free to leave comments on how it's going, and please do share with anyone who might love this too!


Ready for more? Get the next prompts right here!

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

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

For some reason, it tends to happen around holidays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which can get a bit depressing.

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

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

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

1) Know your enemy and its tricks.

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

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

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

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

This feeling is relentless.

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

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

It is such a trap.

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

Something good and new for yourself and your writing.

Preferably something nourishing.

To that end:

2) Try a writing challenge.

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

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

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

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

3) Actively nurture your curiosity. 

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

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

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

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

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

And then look around for the next clue.

4) Explode your creativity. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outrun the thing.

5) Remember how creative rhythms work.

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

I think everything's over. 

... And then something happens.

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

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

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

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

This has happened so many times. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Resuscitate an Envy-Ridden Writing Life

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

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

You might have met him. His name is Envy.

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

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

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

Kinda makes a vulture metaphor sound cute in comparison.

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

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

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

Meanwhile, everyone else I knew sprinted past me. 

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

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

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

Some days it was hard to get out of bed.

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

Get the picture? It's an ugly one. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can we just NOT DO THAT.

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

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

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

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

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

About what we're grateful for.

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

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

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

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

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

Start by making a big list of words you like.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay? Good.

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

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

What do you love about the writing life? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then add to it, every day. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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