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

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

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

In other words, we talked about deliberate practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

and work there.

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

Excited yet? Me too.

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

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

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

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

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


Here are 34 ways to practice writing deliberately!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Deliberately Practicing Deliberate Practice

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

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

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

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

And instead of skipping over it, we focus in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet your edge. 

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

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

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

For starters, "meet" means meet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I get just a little bit better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Let's Flood Our Writing Lives with This Powerful (Yet Underestimated) Perspective

Grace doesn't always get a lot of air time. It's not super flashy. But I guarantee, it's the best kind of glue to hold your writing ship together. | lucyflint.com

Well, hello there, February, month of all things love-related! 

Last year, we spent this month working through daily prompts on how to love your writing life. So much fun! It was a big, month-long love party for writing. If you missed it (or just want a refresher!), check out those prompts.

This year, we're going to take a close look at one of the facets of love. And it's something that we need a bunch of in our writing lives.

I wanna talk about grace.

Specifically, I want to throw the doors wide, and welcome much more grace into our writing lives.

Grace is one of those simple-yet-big concepts, and it has a ton of different, valid uses. So, for this blog, and for our lionhearted writing lives, here's what I'm going to say it means: 

Grace in the writing life means, we're not going to punish ourselves for being human. We won't beat ourselves up for learning. 

Of course we'll work on the things that need more work. And we'll keep pushing ourselves. But grace means that we won't treat ourselves badly when we're learning or even when we're failing (which is just learning with a bang).

Grace means that you're allowed to be human. Normal. And learning is allowed to take the time it takes.

Grace brings kindness into our writing lives. It permits ease. It means not being so strict with ourselves, cutting ourselves off from joys (what Julia Cameron calls artistic anorexia), or glaring at ourselves when we don't hit certain marks of quality or status. 

It means not saying nasty things about ourselves, our work ethic, our prospects, or our writing. Nope. No more.

Grace means we give ourselves permission to be who we are, to write the kinds of stuff we write. To be at this exact stage of our writing lives, and saying this is okay. 

This isn't to say that grace brings a lack of ambition. It doesn't mean giving up. And it definitely doesn't mean we stop growing. 

It just means we don't use whips and kicks and anger and hatred for our motivation. 

Grace says: You are okay, and the fact that you are working is good.

The results of that work might need a lot of revision. (In fact, that's a guarantee for me!)

But the fact that we are working (learning, falling, getting back up again, resting, playing, reading, learning some more)—that is good.

Oh, my friends. We need this kind of grace in our writing lives! In order to be writing at all, in order to keep growing, in order to survive writing blocks (or avoid some of them in the first place!). 

Because without grace, we tend to lean on perfectionism, guilt, frustration, and beating ourselves up. Which can leave us not wanting to face our work at all. 

Spoiler alert: Guilt and frustration are not inspiring. 

And perfectionism? It sucks the life out of creativity. Also not inspiring.

And when we're so bruised by the voices in our heads that we don't want to face our work at all... well, not only is that not helping us, it's for sure creating a block between us and our writing.

More than a block. Probably a whole brick wall.

But when I apply grace—like, a ton of grace—when I pour it on my writing life like syrup on pancakes, that's what brings me back to the work.

Back to the deeply flawed draft. Back to what I'm learning.

It lets me have absolute permission to be myself. The exact level of writer that I am.

With my hands covered in grace, I can actually welcome mistakes as signs of life and movement, instead of as proof that there's something wrong with me.

Grace makes us resilient. Grace lets us keep going. 

And because of that, it's one of the most powerful forces you can bring into your writing life.

So where are you at with grace? Does it already have an established place in your writing practice? Where are you already giving yourself grace?

Do you remember to ease up on yourself, to choose self-kindness over self-punishing? Can you let yourself be at the stage that you are? 

Where do you most need grace these days?

And how else can you welcome it in, invite it deeper, and bake it into your schedule, your approach, your self talk?

What would your writing life look like, if you flooded it with grace?

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.

Calling All Sore, Troubled, Tired, and Discouraged Writers: I Know Exactly What Book You Need To Read Next

This is the book that's been radically reshaping my approach to the writing life. It's an absolute must-read, especially if you've been feeling weary, discouraged, and frustrated. You won't regret diving deep into this one, my friends. | lucyflint.com

Let me just start by saying: I'm totally blushing.

Why? Because when I first read this book ten years ago, I blew it off.

I thought it was "nice." Had some okay advice. But I didn't really take it to heart.

I completely disregarded this book. For ten years!! 

WELL.

I am here today to set things straight.

To declare my deep, deep love of this book. To celebrate its profound impact on my view of writing this summer.

And to report that it's basically changing my life and rearranging my heart and all kinds of good, important, radical stuff.

It's a big deal.

Whew. Deep breath. 

So have you read The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron?! I've maybe mentioned it a half a dozen times this summer, so you've seen it go by a few times if you're a regular around here. 

But oh my goodness. I don't even know how to start talking about this book and how much it's helped me.

Let's rewind. Here's what happened ten years ago.

I was a mostly terrified and somewhat cocky college senior, a few months away from graduating, when I first read this book.

At the time, I felt fairly well supported. I was a student/writer who lived among students, who was praised by professors, who wrote a lot, who aced her assignments, and who could absolutely prioritize between School and All That Was Not School.

No sweat. 

The writing life? Pfft. My main concern was how do I produce fast enough? And, you know, make a wad of cash and meet Oprah?

(Pardon me while I laugh a whole bunch and wipe away a few tears. Ahem.)

What I didn't know at the time was that, at my core, I have a maniacal perfectionist bias.

Which means that, when it comes down to it, I'm convinced that I should work five times harder, five times longer, and make flawless things on the regular. (While being irreproachable in every area of my life as well.) 

I might have suspected that I had a slight perfectionism problem.

But if you'd asked me, I'd say that really, perfectionism is helpful, right? I mean, who wants to read crappy stuff? I'm all for excellence.

I had no idea how much of a block perfectionism is. How many awful messages are wrapped up in it, and how they've been trickling poison into my writing life. 

Yeah. Turns out, perfectionism is 100% toxic to a healthy writing life. (Whoops.)

I also didn't understand how my childhood (yep, I just went there) radically affected how comfortable I am at trying difficult things. Taking risks. Being seen. And maybe failing at them. 

I didn't realize that I have some really deep, persistent, gnarled roots of shame and frustration and anxiety that are all around the act of making something and presenting it to people.

As in, writing a novel, and, you know, publishing the thing.

Turns out, those kinds of scars, when not dealt with, will absolutely sabotage this kind of work. (Whoops again.)

But ten years ago, when I shrugged off this book, I didn't know that. I read all these same words, but I didn't really hear them. I definitely didn't see myself in what she was saying.

I just wanted some zippy advice for writing fast novels, perfect novels.

Heal and grow and take time to nurture myself? Nah. I want perfect novels, please, written at a blistering rate. Phone Oprah for me, okay? 

Well. Fast forward about ten years later, to January 2016. 

I was feeling some creative restlessness. 

No, it was more than that. I was getting really uncomfortable and anxious about this pattern that I kept seeing in my writing.

I could barrel along though a first draft and a second and maybe even a third, but then something would happen that would make me feel like my entire novel was broken. Beyond repair.

No editor, no amount of redrafting could save this manuscript.

So I'd chuck it and learn a bunch (characterization! structure!) and go on to the next thing.

Basically, in a nutshell: My progress toward publication kept getting derailed. It was uncanny. And I was getting really tired of it.

Something kept tripping me up, and though it had always seemed external, lately I'd started to wonder if it was partly ME, sabotaging myself.

And I felt this kind of nudge to go check out The Artist's Way again.

I was half rolling my eyes at myself. This book? How was this loopy, silly book going to help me?

So I dragged my feet about reading it. I ignored it, not really looking at where it sat on my nightstand. 

Until finally, in the spring, I began reading. 

And reading. And reading.

And—I'm not kidding—I felt like every single paragraph was written about me.

How did she know these things? She was describing everything I'd been wondering and feeling lately.

She talked about how artists can self-sabotage without even realizing it. 

She described the idea of a shadow career: one of the ways that artists try to skip being artists, or dodge what they're really meant to do.

How we can hide behind things that are like our main art while not actually doing our art.

(Which of course bears NO resemblance to my own path of working in two bookstores, working for two publishing companies, nearly becoming an editor, and now sometimes hiding behind a bunch of blog posts while neglecting a novel project. Doesn't sound like me at ALL, does it.) 

... Did I mention I'm blushing?

And then, yes, she looks back at the messages we received in childhood. Which I wanted to shrug off ... but which turned out to be one of the most vital parts of the book for me.

I was reading and rereading as I went. I kept circling back and finding even more insights. Which is part of why it's taken me so long to get to the end of it. 

It's set up as a twelve-week course. (Which is marvelous for those of you who, like me, still love thinking in school terms.)

Each "week" has a theme, and each theme is based around Cameron's idea of artistic recovery. So, for example, Week 1 is "Recovering a Sense of Safety," and Week 4 is "Recovering a Sense of Integrity," and Week 8 is "Recovering a Sense of Strength." 

(Doesn't that just sound gorgeous? Sigh. I'm definitely about to launch into a re-read.)

In each week, there are a few essays about that theme, and then some really amazing and helpful tasks at the end, followed by a weekly check-in. I loved the structure, and both the essays and tasks were massively helpful.

But the biggest and most healing thing for me is her constant, persistent, unflinching sense of support and love for the artist.

For you, my writing friend. And for me.

She keeps having the reader acknowledge the fear and pain and artistic mistakes from the past, through a variety of helpful prompts and exercises. And then we work on healing it, by nurturing our artistic selves. 

How do we do that? 

Oh. This gets really fun. (And terrifying, if you're like me and have a hard time with this kind of thing.)

We nurture ourselves with play. With joy. With little luxuries.

By doing silly things. By indulging. By spoiling ourselves.

(And yes, that death rattle noise is my inner perfectionist, who is hiding under a blanket. Because this goes against everything she stands for. How can being silly help make me a better artist? Indulging yourself?!? Where will it all end? Gasp, cough, wheeze, choke.) 

But basically, Cameron trains you to pamper and love and spoil and listen and treat yourself (and your work and your creativity), with utmost care and respect and kindness.

In other words, this book will help retrain all of us to stop beating ourselves up.

To stop starving parts of our creativity.

To stop submitting to the scars of the past and letting them destroy the future.

Nope. 

In fact, one of the mantras she recommends (which I both adore and really struggle with) is this:

Treating myself like a precious object
will make me strong.

Whoa, right? 

I mean... sit with that for a bit. Let it mess with you.

Where have you been believing that it's by beating yourself up, by being really harsh (and calling it accountability), by being inflexible and refusing to reward yourself, by nitpicking and sniping at yourself, by staring at your mistakes until you want to hide...

Where has that spirit of self-abuse been ruling your writing life? 

And do you, like me, feel like if you treated yourself super kindly—like you are in fact a precious Ming vase or an exquisite artwork—that if you do that, you'll just screw everything up, you won't be disciplined, you'll just get lazy, nothing will ever be done...

See, that's the argument that starts up in my head too. But Cameron calmly reasons it out of me.  

In a nutshell, she proves very conclusively that when our artistic lives are full of delight, excitement, and kindness, we are drawn to our work, we are truer to our own voices, and we write from a place of well-nourished strength. 

The results?

Are freakin' spectacular.

So, lean in to that.

Whoever you are, wherever you are at in your writing. Try to pamper your writing self.

Skip being harsh, skip self-punishment, skip all the nasty things we do to "keep ourselves in line." 

And try a softer, kinder, more intuitive way.

... You'll be hearing more about this book in the next couple of weeks, as I share some of the biggest lessons I've learned from it. Because this was just the tip of the iceberg, my friends.

But seriously, don't wait for me. You owe it to yourself to borrow The Artist's Way from a library, or grab your own copy and start underlining.

Dive in with an open mind and an open heart.

Commit to trying all her exercises. And get ready to discover yourself (and appreciate your instincts and your amazing writer's heart) in a deeper way than ever before.

This book will challenge and prompt and prod and hug you. 

I'm seriously going to reread mine, immediately, from front to back. Like, today. Right now.

Because it's changing everything.

And I'm convinced that it's absolutely essential to being the kind of writer I most want to be.

Today's A Really Good Day For A Writing Life Revolution

This is the underrated character trait that totally revolutionized my approach to writing. Made me happier, healthier, and way better at my work. It's a must for any lionhearted writer. | lucyflint.com

OH, I'm excited.

This is one of my favorite lionhearted characteristics.

I know, I know. They're all my favorite.

But this is a trait that will shake everything up, turn your life upside down, and generally turn you into a totally different writer. AND PERSON.

Or at least, that's what it did for me. 

Here it is:

A lionhearted writer is kind to herself. She gives herself grace. 

Does it sound revolutionary? Maybe not.

But it is. Ohhhhh, it is.

I have seen this play out in my own writing life again and again. When I'm kind to myself as a writer, versus when I'm not. 

Let me tell you: there is a mega-difference between kind Lucy and not-so-kind Lucy.

Kind Lucy is the more resilient, enduring, brave, spirited, wild, and patient writer. 

Not-so-kind Lucy isn't.

She flails around and burns out and is stingy with herself and everyone else. If she does get work done, it doesn't ring true to her real voice. (Also, she's all bruised and ragged and self-hating by the time the piece is done.)

Kindness wins.

Every single time. 

If you feel resistant to this idea, I understand.

Kindness can feel like the long way around. Because sometimes kindness means taking a vacation, or releasing a piece that doesn't work, or nurturing your creativity with a long walk alone.

Or taking two months off to just read novels, nonstop. (Yup. I've done it.)

Kindness can seem counterproductive, but don't let it fool you.

When you take good care of the writer, make no mistake: you're also taking excellent care of the writing.

We need to let go of the idea that being harsh with ourselves is somehow productive. That being intolerant with our "mistakes" (aka LEARNING) is going to help us learn faster.

That being inflexible means everything's gonna work out better. Because no, it won't. And that inflexibility only means you won't be able to deal with the fallout. I promise. (Like I said, I've been there.)

Friends, we need to let go of the idea that self-abuse makes for a strong, enduring writer. 

It just doesn't. Not in my experience. 

When I adopt harsh writing practices, I also go blind to my true voice, my best material. And all my characters start acting harsh too (which is deeply unfun to read later, by the way). 

And when we edit, we edit the work. We don't tear apart the person who created the work.

One of the zillion things I loved in the genius structure manual The Story Grid was this quote from Shawn Coyne: "You as the writer are not the problem; the problem is the problem." 

That quote has been so valuable for me, time and time again. (And I may or may not have cried a little the first time I read it.)

It is the essence of kindness. There is the writer, and there is the problem, and the two are not the same.

We have to make that shift, all of us. We have to be able to disconnect who we are—our worth and our value—from the quality of our work-in-progress.

We have to be kind as we're editing and revising and critiquing. Not that we let bad writing stand when we know how to fix it—of course not!

But we also recognize the crappy draft as the crappy draft. It's just doing its job. And the writer who made the crappy draft was also doing her job.

In other words: kindness means having a proper focus. The problem is the problem. No more, no less than that. 

So with that cleared up, we can then bring our laser-like attention to the actual problem. And get on with, you know, actually fixing it.

Bonus: We'll have the energy and stamina to do that, precisely because we haven't been brutalizing and savaging ourselves in the meantime. 

YAY for all that, right?

This is how kindness makes us resilient.

Which is why it's a key ingredient to a sustainable writing practice. To building a healthy and happy writer.

It doesn't mean sacrificing ambition or excellence. It doesn't mean we have a slack idea of what quality writing is.

It just means we don't confuse the problem with the writer. 

Kindness, in this sense, boosts our creativity, our ability to innovate, and our energy to keep moving.

When we are persistently and rightly kind to ourselves, we're free.

We can abandon the wrong ideas and the shabby writing, because we don't need to cling to them to prove ourselves. We can shed writing ideas that no longer fit us and writing strategies that we've outgrown.

We can be flexible, and, weirdly enough, we can afford to take risks.

Because in the eyes of kindness, failure doesn't mean we are a failure. It means "Keep going! We're learning!"

So is it basically a superpower? Yes. Yes it is.

One more reason why kindness is essential comes from this fantastic and spot-on quote from Betsy Lerner in The Forest for the Trees:

There is no stage of the writing process that doesn't challenge every aspect of a writer's personality.

That is something I have found to be completely, absolutely, and always true.

What keeps us going through those challenges, if not kindness along with strategy? And kindness along with persistence? And kindness along with purpose and vision and hope? 

So my friends. This is what we do, after all. This writing. 

And to do it well, to do it so that we last, to do it so that it doesn't chew us up and generally kill us, we absolutely must learn to be kind to ourselves.

Starting right now.

What stage of the writing process is especially tough on you right now?

Where do you need to add a dose of kindness to your writing life? And what might that look like? 

Four Ways to Spark Your Writing Ambition If You've Been Feeling a Bit Meh

Ambition is one of those writing life essentials. If you feel like yours has gone wandering off, check these four ways to relight that ambitious fire. | lucyflint.com

Even though we're practicing radical happiness and cultivating patience, we still want to aim super high with our writing, right?

I mean—I want to write the most amazing book ever. I'm guessing you do too.

There's a readiness to conquer, an excitement for improving. That's the lion part of lionheart, right?

Which is why our next lionhearted trait is ambition. We are ambitious for excellence in our work.

OH yeah.

Let's define it: Ambition is about pressing toward success and achievement, especially with the elements that we can control. 

Healthy ambition looks a lot like that line used in so many good fitness challenges: "The only one you're trying to beat is yourself."

So, just to be clear, when I'm talking about ambition, I'm not saying to be ambitious about the things that are up to the people around us. Awards, huge pats on the back, and all other subjective things.

They're nice, and it's fine to strive for them. But the trick is that they don't always correlate with our best efforts. (And wanting them too hard can kinda burn up your heart.)

So, for this post, let's focus on what we actually do control.

Which is, frankly, a lot.

Our quality of work. The quality of our ideas. Choosing projects that stretch us in one way or another.

Writing faster. Writing better.

A richer conflict. A scene accomplishing more purposes. Stronger subplots. Stellar structure.

Working hard and aiming high: that's what we do. 

Mmmm. Gets my writerly juices fizzing.

But—if you're reading this and thinking, that used to be me, maybe, but right now, not so much— 

I get it. 

Maybe you're feeling burned out. Or maybe it's not even that dramatic: you just feel like your ambition has gone missing.

If that sounds like you (or if you'd just like to give your ambitions a good stir), try this:

1) Double check your circumstances.

I know. I've been talking about this a ton lately.

But that's because I used to demand that I jump over buildings in a single bound, during times of intense family or personal stress.

Whoops.

Those usually aren't good times for leaping.

Sometimes, when the rest of life is especially hard, the ambitious response actually looks like: showing up for my writing every day, even in really small ways.

That's super ambitious!! Showing up during hard times? That's huge. You don't need to add some big achievement on top of that.

Focus on smaller achievements. Thumbnail-sized ones.

Maybe just bringing your attention back to the work. Or journaling a certain number of pages a day. (Say, three). Or reading fiction, a chapter a day.

Okay?

Ambition can be redefined.

Heather Sellers writes in Chapter after Chapter about how we writers need to "cycle through standards."

She says, "When you're stuck or stranded or bored with your book, lower your standards. Slouch your way through it. When you're writing high and hard and strong and solid, raise your standards."

I fought this idea for a long time (and kept burning myself out, ha ha). Now I realize how incredibly wise it is.

If your circumstances are going nuts, or if you're in the middle of a big transition, it's time for smaller ambitions.

Don't worry: when the sky clears, you can let it all out and shoot for the moon. 

For now, small successes are plenty.

(And yes, I'm totally preaching to myself on this one.)

2) Double check your fuel.

Okay, a cheesy metaphor so we're all good with this point: 

You can have the flashiest, reddest, raciest car there is, but if it's out of gas, then even I can run faster.

All engines require fuel, and our creative machine is no different.

Sometimes your life circumstances are okay, but there's some part of your mental/creative fuel that you just haven't been getting for a while.

Take a second to self-diagnose:

Do you need to just go get lost in words? Or strike out in a new reading direction?

Or fall into a pile of really excellent movies, the kind that stir your desire to tell stories? (For a while, I would watch Finding Neverland, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland, every time I felt my story engine faltering.)

Or maybe you need to stir your creativity by playing in other ways.

Do you just need a bit of a spark? A new way to approach your work for a day or a week?

What does it look like, to really recharge your creativity and give your brain the space it needs to dream up stories?

3) Double check the kind of project you're working on. 

If you're good with your circumstances, and if you're creatively fueled, then there's still something else to try. 

Get really still and quiet and then think about your story.

Not from a frantic point of view, or a burned out & done with it point of view.

But think about the story or the work itself, and especially what drew you to it.

Have you veered off the path that you loved? Are you working in a format, a form, or a genre that you don't enjoy? Maybe the characters aren't the ones that you want to write about. 

Is there a crushing deadline that has dampened the thrill of ambition? (Deadlines can be the perfect spurs or the perfect smothers. Double check yours and revise it if it isn't working!)

Here's another test: this is a fun, quick exercise from Chris Baty, in his Nanowrimo guide, No Plot, No Problem.

I tried it once on a whim, and I was shocked at the results. So give it a try, especially if you've felt less than inspired lately.

It's pretty simple: He has you write down everything you love in a book, in a story. Go crazy. Write it all down.

Nothing is too small or too big. You just want to list everything that gets your heart beating faster when you're reading.

And when you've filled out everything, make a second list.

This time, it's everything that you can't stand in a story. Anything that dries up your enthusiasm as a reader or viewer.

What makes you want to chuck a novel across the room? And warn all your friends away from it? 

Write all that stuff down. Alllllllll of it. Every single story-esque thing that gets on your nerves.

And then, you get to sit back and review your lists. (Baty calls them the two Magna Cartas.)

The whole point is: write a book that's got a lot of stuff from the first list! And nothing from the second.

Pretty simple, right? Straightforward?

Can I tell you a mortifying secret?

When I did this with my first novel, I was blown away to see that I was writing a lot of stuff from my second list, and very little from my first. 

What?! How did that even happen?

(I still don't know! And actually, Baty says the same thing happened to him, so... it's definitely possible.)

I instantly made the changes, throwing out every hateful thing that had crept into my story.

Baty writes, "Write your joy, and good things will follow."

YEP. I was much happier after I decided to intentionally write toward everything that I most enjoyed. 

So try that. Make sure that your material isn't somehow thwarting you.

4) Give yourself a fun challenge.

If everything else is fine, but you still feel a little lackluster, then maybe it's time for a lighthearted challenge?

Not something crushing. Just a friendly prompt to stir the juices and kickstart a little magic.

Maybe go on a few little writing adventures.

Or maybe give yourself a writing exercise program, and explode your sense of storymaking that way.

Consider which areas of your writing life you haven't really touched on in a while, and give yourself something extra to aim for. Or a small daily task to build your strength.

Just for fun.

And watch your ambition rise.

Keeping Resolutions 101: How to Relish a Challenge

You and I, we have some BIG plans brewing in 2016! How do we tackle our resolutions with grace? How do we actually *enjoy* the challenge? Six strategies for weathering whatever is ahead. | lucyflint.com

Day Four of the new year: How's 2016 treating you? And how does that list of resolutions look? 

Are they still exciting? Still inspiring? What are your plans for these next twelve months?

I have some big ones. And the biggest is: I want to publish Book One of my trilogy by the end of this year.

(Holy crap, did I just say that out loud.)

No matter what. Come what may. In spite of all the dissenting voices in my head.

It's time, and it's happening, and by the last day of 2016, that book will be for sale, y'all!!

I am super excited, and yes, a bit daunted. Right now the novel is in teeny tiny pieces taped to my wall. So I have a bit of a challenge on my hands.

But I've also realized this: I want to relish this process. I want to actually enjoy the road to publication.

I don't want to drag myself through these next twelve months as a nervous wreck. Whining. Complaining. Venting all my fears.

I've tried those strategies for weathering challenges before, and I have to say: I'm not a fan.

Chocolate, dance parties, not taking myself toooo seriously, and laughing: those are my preferred strategies for 2016. 

So this January, I want to psych myself up. I want to think about what it looks like to love a challenge: even a really big one like "publishing the beloved first novel." 

What's going on inside ourselves when we're totally up for something big? How do we weather a challenge with grace? And still have enough grit and fire to get the thing done?

I did a bit of digging and came up with six things that are all functioning when a challenge is handled well. 

1.) Get all that sleep.

It's an obvious one, but when I'm knee-deep in a challenge, sleep is the last thing on my mind. 

I need to stop messing around when it comes to getting a real eight-hour rest. It's good for the body, sure, but it's also incredibly good for our minds. And we writers want both to flourish, right?

Not to mention: emotional health. There's a lot less drama (shrieking, wailing, naysaying) in my head and heart when I've had enough sleep.

Getting enough energy for our bodies, minds, emotions: That's step one. And then we can bring all that power to bear on our challenge of choice.

2.) Take the ability to focus up a notch or two.

After reading The One Thing, I've become allergic to multitasking. Seriously. 

It seemed like I was always trying to do two or three things at once: Carry on a texting conversation while reading a book while checking in on Twitter. Watching a movie while researching a few things on my phone. Listening to a podcast while making dinner while having a conversation.

I felt like I was doing so many things, and nothing well. Ack.

The decision to do only one thing at a time has been huge. It sounds so small, but the change in my head is amazing. So much more ability to get something done. 

And if we're facing big challenges this year, why go about it with a totally diffused focus? With scattershot energy?

Try it. Give yourself a little dare. Do only one thing at a time. Step back from the noise, put away your phone, pause the music, and devote all your attention to just one thing.

And see what happens.

3.) And while we're focusing: don't over-challenge yourself.

It's so easy for me to want to overhaul my whole life, all at the same time.

Seriously. The last few weeks, I've been jotting down dozens of challenges and mini-challenges and goals and new habits. 

It's easy to go wild, to want to do everything, to make it all new. A fresh start. But that's one of the quickest and saddest ways to burn myself right out. 

So the other side of focus is: Try to limit the number of challenges you're giving yourself.

I am far more successful when I scale it back and try one major challenge at a time.

Or, if I have to try two or three big things at once, I keep them in separate arenas: One health challenge, one work challenge, one lifestyle change.

4.) Don't forget to play. 

When I'm starting something new, my terrified little brain will overthink. And overplan. And then overschedule the overplan. I will try to cover every single base, months (okay, okay, even years) in advance.

The funny thing is: I don't actually love to implement that overscripted plan. In spite of all the work that went into planning, that final arthritic schedule makes me a little nauseous. 

I need to leave room to play. Room for spontaneity, even in the midst of a serious challenge. 

Blanks to fill in "when I get there." Room to grow, to discover, to explore.

It can seem counterintuitive in the planning stage, but a bit of room in a challenge keeps me flexible (a valuable skill in itself!).

It helps me recover when my thinking has backed me into a corner. And it gives me the space to solve the new problems that come up (because they totally will).

How can you leave some room in your 2016 plans for a chance to discover? A chance to play with ideas a bit, a chance to incorporate information that you find along the way?

Can you leave some dots unconnected? A little wiggle room?

5.) Make space in your life for the challenge. And protect that space.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but I can't tell you how many times I charge into a big plan only to realize that it will take way more time than I guessed.

There are hidden parts to any challenge that take extra logistics, extra thinking, extra energy. 

(If you've ever had a mega computer malfunction in the midst of a writing deadline, then you're totally with me on this point.)

What has helped me so much in the last few months is clearing more space than I thought I needed. (Guess what. I totally needed it.)

We writers need a bit of solitude for our brains to sink into ideas. We need a bit of free space in our lives, space for ideas and thoughts to breathe a little. 

If you're aiming at something big in 2016, give yourself permission to clear the clutter from your life. The small nagging commitments, the extras that might have crept into your days.

Don't try to fill up every minute. 

Get yourself out of anything you don't need to be doing. Give yourself a lot of room. More room than you think you might need. 

6.) Find the deeper purpose.

I can't make an aimless challenge stick. Doing something "just because" has never worked out very well for me. 

The resolutions and habits that have actually stuck, have done well, have lasted: they've always had an extra purpose to them. 

They're always solving something at a deep level.

I used to think that "proving myself" was a good enough reason to write. That I could write "because I was good at it," or even "to earn money."

The last few years have shaken and kicked those ways of thinking right out of me. 

I'm writing harder than ever, but with a totally different motivation. 

I flat-out adore my characters, for one thing. They've taught me so much about the kind of human I want to be, about the family I want to have, about the changes I want to see in the world.

Telling their story has been such a privilege and a joy for me: and also a ridiculously good time. And so, yeah: I want to share that with people.

But also, this: being eleven years old totally sucked for me. It just did. It was a low point. ... Which is why I can't even tell you how happy it makes me to write a book for eleven-year-olds. 

A book about bravery, about fighting hard for what you love, about family, about adventures. About finding out that you are a bigger person than you ever dreamed. 

That kind of book.

It's a way of going back and doing something good about a tough time in my life. It's a way of solving something. Fixing something.

It used to be that I just wanted to prove all the naysayers wrong, and publish a whole bunch of books, and live happily ever after with my bestsellers.

Now it's about love. Loving the work, loving my eleven-year-old self, loving the kids who are that age now. 

Maybe that sounds soppy, but it's a much bigger, deeper, and more constant motivator for me than having some kind of credit by my name.

So what does that look like for you? What's the purpose behind the challenge you're facing? What's the real point of the story you're writing? What are you really trying to do?


Okay, lionhearts. So how are you feeling? Bold and brave? A bit nervous? Or all of that?

Are you on the brink of a big challenge in 2016? I'd love to hear about it. Let's cheer each other on this year!

This Is the Better Way to Dress Up: Imagining the Writer You Want to Be

Daydreaming a rosy-hued future writing life? Cool. Me too. Here's why that's *not* embarrassing (and how it will help you focus!). | lucyflint.com

So HERE'S an embarrassing question. It's Monday, and hopefully you have some coffee or some such thing, and hopefully you won't reach through your screen and wallop me for being so nosy. 

Besides, I'll even answer it first. 

Embarrassing question: When you daydream about your future as a writer, what does that look like? 

Not the humble, Twitter-acceptable version of "oh, I'm going to just keep growing and learning and eventually publish." (Even though that's all great.) 

I mean, what does it really look like?

In my daydreamed future, I'm usually living in an airy little bungalow--a ridiculously charming and cozy place, crowded with books (in the places where it isn't being airy, I guess). 

The bungalow was purchased with money made from selling books. (Probably a very small bungalow in that case. But nevertheless.)

I'm busy as a bee in my office, churning out one book after the next, creating books for a series that has mega fans.

MEGA. As in, readers dressing up as my characters, or naming children after them, or having themed weddings based on the books. 

(Ahem. Daydreams are allowed to be silly and totally unreasonable. It's their job.)

Daydreamed-Lucy is always full of ideas, always scribbling, and then maybe jaunting about getting coffee and meeting friends at a bookstore, and...

Yeah.

Happy, cheery, energetic writer, who writes, writes, writes, in the midst of a happy, cheery life.

Especially: Making an actual living with my writing. (Also consuming enormous amounts of baked goods and caffeine.)

That's what I dream up. 

And I usually dream it up when I'm not doing a lot of writing. 

I take refuge in this little daydream whenever life gets crowded and my writing habit slips. Or when I'm sick for a while and have a hard time working (I'm looking at you, epic sinus infection of September!!).

So, your turn: What do you daydream about, when you imagine your writerly future? 

(Nothing is too silly, too far-fetched, or too grandiose. I promise.)

What do you imagine? 

Got an idea? The general gist of your dreamed-up future?

Okay. Good. Here's what I want us to do:

In honor of the week of Everyone Dressing Up, aka, Halloween, let's think of what it would be like if that writing life became yours this week.

If you and I could put on our dreamed writing lives, if we could become that kind of writer by Saturday night, as easily as my neighborhood kids become ghosts, princesses, and the Avengers ... If we could do that, what would it look like?

I promise that this really is a practical question. I promise I'm not just being silly.

Because behind my dreams of the snug cheery bungalow and the brioche and the ever-intensifying caffeine addiction, there's something extremely concrete and real. Something that illuminates a goal that I can, shockingly enough, forget I have sometimes.

I want to make a living from writing and selling incredibly good books. Books that readers just LOVE.

Sometimes, I forget that.

Sometimes, I must think I'm aiming to be a binge watcher for Netflix, or a cookbook tester and reviewer, or professional Pinner of knitted goods. 

Because honestly, sometimes that's what my behavior looks like. That's what I get more enthusiastic about some days. 

And THAT, my friends, is why these slightly-embarassing, future-writer daydreams are so dang helpful! They aren't as foolish and time-wasting as I sometimes think. They don't have to be dismissed outright. 

They actually show us what it is that we'd really like to aim for. They point us where we need to go.

Time for an empowering quote? Sure. Here's one from Henry David Thoreau:

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost;
that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

HIGH FIVE, Thoreau. I am so with you. 

What does it look like, to put the foundations under your daydream?

For a little more illumination, here's some extremely practical insight from Heather Sellers. (Yes, yes, I quote her all the time, but she has saved my writerly skin so often, I can't help it!)

In Chapter After Chaptershe tells about her writing friend Rachel, who was writing her first novel in spite of an intense day job.

Sellers writes: "She wanted to become a full-time, well-paid writer, so she hired herself (without pay) and did what full-time, well-paid writers do: Write. A lot."

Makes sense, right? Pretty straightforward. Even simple.

But something clicked in me when I first read that. It was exactly what I needed to hear, to start putting the foundations under my castles in the air. 

What kinds of habits could you adopt now, to become that writer of your daydreams? 

Another way to say all this (and something that Austin Kleon writes about): Fake it 'til you make it.

Not the bad kind of faking. This is the good stuff. As Kleon puts it: "You have to dress for the job you want, not the job you have, and you have to start doing the work you want to be doing."

YES. Right? Let's do that.

Let's practice being the kind of writer we most desperately want to be. The writer of our dreams. Let's practice being that.

And you know what happens? We get to become that.

So what are you dreaming about? And what will you be practicing this week?

Let's treat our daydreams--even the silliest ones!--with the seriousness that they really do deserve. Let's honor them by practicing those behaviors.

By dressing for the job we want to have.

For me, this means:

  • Digging deep into revisions, building a solid story, fixing the structure, going crazy-awesome on the characters. If I want a trilogy that will inspire mass devotion, it needs to be the best dang thing I can muster! Editing without flinching. Game on.
     
  • Learning from the pros. I've been reading excellent books from Steven Pressfield (this and this), Rachel Aaron (this might change EVERYTHING for you!), and the amazing Joanna Penn
     
  • READING MORE FICTION! Ack! It keeps falling through the cracks, so I am scheduling it. An hour a day. (The schedule is legit. This is going to happen.)
     
  • Staying nice. It's all too easy for me to get wild-eyed and rabid when it comes to productivity and not screwing up. But that daydreamed version of me is happy as she is writing. Not glowering at everyone and hating everything. So I gotta remember to be a kind boss.
     
  • Drinking coffee. (DONE.)

How about you, lionheart? What's your list? How can you be a little more like that Future Writer You this week? 

Put on those habits. Just dress right on up in them. Act like that writer you want to be this week. 

(It's a waaaaay cooler costume than Iron Man. And it looks excellent on you. Just sayin'.)