Five Ways to Spark Energy and Excitement for Your Work-in-Progress!

Enthusiasm is our best best friend when it comes to staying the course with our writing. So how can we boost our enthusiasm? I've got five super fun ways right here. |

Welcome back to the Strength Building Series! So far, we've talked about what strength even means (because the wrong definition is the first step to sabotaging it). And then we focused in on building strength of imagination (because imagination is central to everything we do!).

And today—I'm really excited. Which is appropriate. Because today we're talking about how to increase our enthusiasm for our work.

I know! I know! I'm gonna have to simmer down so much to even write this thing...

Ahem. Okay. Being sensible. 

So, first thing: why even bring up enthusiasm? Why is this a place where we need to build strength?

To find the answer, think back for a sec to our Self-Care Series, when we talked all things Julia Cameron.

And one of the more mind-blowing things that she pointed out was: when it comes to sustainable momentum in our work, enthusiasm trumps discipline.

Yeah. It's still incredible. 

And that shifted my focus from "How can I be more disciplined?" to "How can I be more enthusiastic?" Which is a pretty huge course correction.

Building enthusiasm. It's essential for the kind of work we want to do.

... And before anyone gets worried that I'm about to base all our hard work on a mere feeling, let's refresh on Julia Cameron's definition of enthusiasm. She says: 

Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us. ... 
     Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work. ... It is joy, not duty, that makes for a lasting bond.

Okay. If that was waaay more mushy-sounding than you really care for on a Thursday, let's look at it like this:

The way Cameron is using enthusiasm isn't about "how we feel right now." 

It's about 1) commitment, 2) openness, 3) creativity, 4) process, 5) play, 6) joy and 7) yes, okay, love.

Which is why, to build enthusiasm, we're going to dive into the work itself (commitment!). No matter where we're at in it (process!). 

We're going to mess around (creativity!) and try new things (openness!). And yes, it's going to be playful. It's going to be about enjoying what we're making. And even, dare I say it, loving it.

Sound good? Sound ... fun? 

Here are my five favorite ways to build playfulness and enthusiasm for my work-in-progress.

Check them out, stay open, and don't worry about "doing it right." Just dive in and give these a try.

1) Embrace the Souvenir Method.

... I was about to say "this is one of my favorite things to do with a piece I'm working on!" and then I realized I'd just be saying this about everything I'm talking about today.

So I figured I'd spare you the repetition...


The souvenir method is a gorgeous little way to keep your mind and heart centered in your story. Plus it's fun.

.... Annnnd it gives you a rush.

Okay. Here's what you do: 

First, get your mindset. 

This is super important to remember: You're going to be visiting your draft-in-process as if it's a place. As if you're an explorer. You're going to be looking for souvenirs: things to take out of context and bring to a new place.

In other words: You are not about to spiral into a critique-festival. You're not going to indulge in beating yourself up. You will not, even for a moment, whisper to yourself that your draft is "crap." Okay? 

This isn't about judging what's there. Not at all. This can be done with the messiest, crappiest drafts, I promise you. (Because I definitely have.)

Pick up your draft. You can start from any place. From the beginning if you like, or any chapter at all.

And read. Read slowly. Let yourself explore. 

Read like you're looking at something new. Switch off your editing brain, and just experience the story.

While you're doing that, keep your eyes open for any line, any sentence, any phrase, that seems to especially capture the feel of a particular moment of your story. 

Such as:

  • a passage that pinpoints a vital aspect of the setting
  • a line of dialogue that shows off your protagonist's snarkiness
  • an exchange or moment between two characters that hints at the truth of their relationship
  • a key moment in the rise of the conflict
  • any moment that sums up a character's personality 

Don't think perfection here. Think "candid snapshot."

You're looking for moments that get the feel of your story, even more than the accuracy. 

And—even more importantly—you're looking for bits and phrases and scraps that mean something to you. 

You're looking for the sentences that register in your writerly heart. The little "aha!" feeling when a phrase resonates especially. 

Another reader might look at what you've chosen and see a bunch of scraps of sentences, bits of paragraphs.

But when you read it through, you hopefully hear your protagonist's voice, or sense a moment between the two love interests, or feel the prickle of anxiety before a major plot point.

Go for resonance and atmosphere more than just "yes, this sums up the passage well."

Does that make sense?

Personally, I copy and paste what I've chosen into its own document. I play around with the formatting: I put little separators between each passage.

Sometimes I'll have three sentences from a section, and other times I'll just have lifted one little phrase. If one of the clips needs a brief note to remind me of context, I throw that in as well.

When I'm done, I have about a page or so of moments from my story that set my mind and heart ringing. Moments that, when I read them together, as a whole, re-immerse me into my story. 

Which is oh-so helpful for those times when I've been away from the work, and am trying to find my way back in. 

2) Create a Gallery of Nouns.

This is one that I've used recently. It's fun and seemingly simplistic... but it's been part of my post-summer re-entry to my novel, and has helped so much!

Here's what I did: While rereading my draft so far, I paused every few pages, and doodled one of the nouns that had been mentioned in the story. 

That's it.

So, as I read, I made little silly sketches of things like: the cat a character dreamed about, the spider my main character chased from her room, the row of herbs on her mom's windowsill. 

I gave each little drawing a label: "Olivia's splendid lemon cake," "a gorgeous straw hat for the beach," "the mailbox with one postcard inside." 

And then I went through and colored everything in.

I didn't care that the drawings didn't look perfect—they were meant to just be light-hearted, quick, and fun. And when I sat back, I had a kind of visual catalogue of my story so far.

Images that stood in for character moments, points of tension, or just part of the opening setting that my characters will miss later in the story, when they're far away.

What's valuable about this technique is how playful and simple it can be. But it slyly involves our ability to visualize our own story, and to translate it into another art form: a doodle, a sketch, a selection of colors.

And there's something pretty magical about being able to see bits of your story laid out on a page. 

3) Let Music Be the Food of Story.

If you've been a long-time reader, you've heard me mention this a time or three. But that's because it's my all-time favorite!!

And I'm especially smitten with it because this simple tool, more than anything else, saved my connection to my story over a long, difficult summer.

Because of some tough circumstances, I had to let weeks go by without drafting, yet I stayed open and connected to my novel idea. How?

With a playlist of music.

I've slowly built a playlist of songs that remind me of key moments in my trilogy. These aren't soundtracks, by the way. The playlist isn't focused on instrumental songs.

It's a compilation of pieces that somehow link me to a character as a whole, to a character's backstory, to a moment of the plot, to a key relationship, to a story transition... the possibilities are, of course, endless!

The lyrics don't have to be 100% applicable to my story moment. If a handful of key lines resonate, that's good enough for me.

It turns out that it's the atmosphere and the mood of the song that's absolutely pivotal.

It's hard to just talk about music, so here are three examples from my playlist: 

Example 1: Scarlett Johansson singing "Before My Time."

Yes, it's from a movie about ice. But on my playlist, it's linked to the moment we meet an old resistance leader. When she comes on stage for the first time, she's tired of hoping, and tired of trying for change. 

Some of the lyrics are spot-on for her character, but I especially love the weariness in ScarJo's voice and the lament of the violin. I can practically feel my character when I hear this. SO perfect.

Example 2: Lana Del Rey's wonderfully depressing "Once Upon a Dream."

It's a more chilling version of a familiar song from kidhood... which is why it's spot on for my playlist. In my mind, this song references a fairly evil character who creeps around within, yup, dreams. And he's just focused his attention on my protagonist.

He's tricked her once before into believing he could be helpful, so the lyrics in the song even hint a smidge at the character's backstory and their history together.

There's also a kind of fatal inevitability in the song that I love... It helps me remember how trapped my protagonist feels in this moment, and how high the stakes are for her. Oooh. So good. 

Example 3: Of Monsters and Men's live version of "King and Lionheart."

It's more simple and haunting than their original version, and it's one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands. *high five*

It's also totally perfect for late in the trilogy, when my protagonist has been through a lot. She and her ragged friends are working alongside a king, and they're all gearing up for a climax that's sure to be very, very messy.

But the feel of this song and a fair amount of the lyrics are just exactly right. And honestly? I still get chills listening to this song, thinking of my main character. 

Whew! So. Those are some that have worked for me. 

The main thing to remember is that you're looking more for atmosphere and mood than for lyrics. A few spot-on lyrics are excellent, of course, but it's the feel of the song that seals it. 

So, see what you think. Basically, you'll know it when you hear it.

When it hits just right, I feel this incredible expansive rush, where I can see my characters in my mind, and—more importantly—feel what they are feeling, and hear what they are thinking.

I sense their weariness, or their uncertainty and fear, or their dogged hope. 

I can't say this enough: building a playlist is RIDICULOUSLY FUN.

It feels like procrastinating, but let me say it again: nothing saved my work this summer more than this. You can totally justify the time, in other words. ;)

Once you have a playlist—even if it's just a handful of songs—you have gold.

Play it in the car, listen to it while you cook, dance to it, take walks with it. And when you hear the songs, send your heart and your mind right into the center of your story.

You don't have to do any hard-core plotting (although I've definitely discovered plot this way). You don't have to jot down notes, or expand characterization (although, again, that has happened along the way for me).

You don't have to be "productive" with this tool at all. The biggest and best gift that it gives is a connection to the emotional and mental climate of your work.

It keeps it real and breathing and lively in your mind. 

And when that's true, allllllll good things can follow. 

4) Give It the Big Screen Treatment.

If the above strategies have been at all up your alley, don't stop there! This next idea can feel a little more tricky, but once you get the hang of it, it is pure fun and super helpful.

It also might keep you from sleeping, if you choose to do this right before bed. (So. Many. Times. I get all story-giddy and lie awake for hours. You've been warned.)

So: I love to dream up trailers for my book. As if it were a huge summer blockbuster.

I do this all in my head: I slowly fade in to some kind of panoramic story-view. Introduce characters in a moment, a glance, a funny line. 

And then I try to zoom in on the most tantalizing moments. The funniest lines, the jaw-dropping cliff-hangers, the moments of loss. You know. The way a good trailer does.

I cut from one moment to the next to the next in my mind. I imagine stirring epic music, or heart-stopping silence. Even a little slo mo, when it feels right.

... Basically I just have a blast. That's it in a nutshell.

And each time I do this, the resulting "trailer" looks different. 

What's glorious about this is how it, again, forces you to get visual about your story.

But also, it helps you focus on what movie trailers do best: excitement, intrigue, resonance. It helps you connect with the emotional points of your story. 

When I'm mired in too much thinking about structure and plot, and when my work starts to feel tedious, I retreat to this strategy. I pull up IMDb and watch a bunch of movie trailers.

And then, comfortable with the whole movie-trailer genre again, I close my eyes and dream up my own.

Seriously, my friends, when you start to get the hang of it, this can inspire enthusiasm like nothing else.

5) Believe In Where It Could Go.

Okay. This final enthusiasm-builder might sound more than a little goofy. BUT I've read this advice from several other writers (James Scott Bell and Heather Sellers for a start), and so I had to give it a try.

... And when I did, I couldn't stop smiling. 

Here it is: Make up endorsements for your work-in-progress, from authors you admire.

Yes really!

(IMMEDIATE DISCLAIMER: Don't, for the love of pete, publish them or pretend that they are real or everyone gets into trouble. Okay. Just had to say that. Common sense. Right. Okay.) 

Anyway: Write that kind of endorsement that would just thrill you. What you'd dream of them saying.

Write endorsements that emphasize those key parts of the story that they most loved. Everything that you're aspiring to in your work.

Type the endorsements onto a mock title page, and print it off. Hang it in your work area, or put it somewhere else where you can see it. 

Read them often. Smile.

... This isn't about getting our hopes up, or setting our hearts on something perhaps won't happen. Dream endorsements are a long shot, sure. 

But the strength of this tool is a lot like the strength in affirmations. When we state the direction we're heading in, it helps us change course. Saying out loud what we want can keep us on track.

Plus, if these "endorsements" make you smile... then why not? 

The main point is: they are a fun way to help you remember your goal. Your vision for the story.

The fact that, all this work, all these words, all these hours, are going into a craft you're making to give other people an experience.

Maybe you're trying to make them laugh. Or make 'em cry. (In a good way.)

Maybe you want to whisk them off to strange lands for strange adventures. Or maybe you're trying to open their eyes to what's in their backyard.

You want them to think. You want them to feel

Write little blurbs for yourself that point you in that direction: that help you remember you're inventing an experience. It's about a heart, about emotions.

This little endorsement-writing trick can seem so small, so silly.

But it can lift us above the daily grind, just when we need it most, and set our focus back on the big picture.

And there you have it! Five ways to strengthen your enthusiasm and stay playful with your work-in-progress.

All five of these have been absolutely key at different points in my writing life. They have cheered me, excited me, steadied me, and brought my stories back from near-death.

Pretty dang exciting, frankly. 

Which ones have you tried before? What will you try next?

Do you have any favorite ways to stoke writerly enthusiasm? Pass 'em along!! We all need plenty of good tools for this!

We're Going to Be Invincible Writers! (Welcome to Idea Camp.)

It's one of the best feelings as a writer. And I'm gonna get it back. Wanna join me? |

One of my favorite feelings in the writing life is when I'm just brimming with ideas.

You know the feeling?

When you feel like your mind and heart are just giving off sparks. When your creativity feels warm and flexible. 

Solving plot problems feels like a fun challenge (instead of something crushing). Creating stories feels like the best kind of adventure (instead of like bashing your face against a wall).

With plenty of ideas at my fingertips, I feel basically invincible as a writer.

Mmmmmm. It is completely awesome.

It is also completely not how I'm feeling at the moment.

(Anyone with me on that?)

The first half of this year has been more than a little rocky. And in all the chaos, I lost the knack for searching out ideas. 

Worse than that, I fell out of the habit of finding them and picking them up. Collecting ideas like the best shells and seaglass on the beach.

Without the continual practice of finding ideas, writing feels incredibly, um, uphill. As in, completely vertical. Cliff scaling.

It's a struggle, is what I'm saying.

I'm finally getting back into my draft-in-progress, and I want to dive in deep! But the idea-making-machine in my brain is rusty and cold. (Yowch.)

So ... I have this plan. 

I'm declaring June the the month of idea-making.

This is the perfect time to get back into the habit of finding amazing ideas. To practice snatching them out of the air, and spying them around corners. 

I want to pull apart all my favorite idea-gathering practices, remember everything that works, and then open my arms wide to a zillion new ideas.

Does that sound good to you?

Can we create and cultivate a healthy idea-gathering practice?

So that each of us has a huge crop of ideas that get us excited, ideas that motivate us to write and write and write?

Because THAT is how I want to spend my summer. Brimming and sparking with incredible ideas.

Mmmm. Heck YES.

Welcome to Idea Camp. Let's jump in.

Today, let's start by laying a foundation. Getting the ground of our minds ready to explode with ideas for the rest of the month.

(I'm practically jumping up and down with excitement here. Don't mind me. This is just going to save my sanity and my story, so ... let's do a few high-kicks for that!)

I'm a sucker for a definition, and, bonus, I love inventing my own. 

So, for the purposes of Idea Camp, this is our definition of an IDEA (just so we're all clear on what we're looking for): 

an appealing, useable concept with velocity.

Appealing: I am not super interested in just cranking out a bunch of so-called "ideas" that I have zero desire to work on. 

Believe me, I've done it before. I've followed prompts from creativity books and generated a list of stuff that seemed tired and unappetizing. 

That is not what we're looking for this month. 

We want ideas that beg to be used. That hit that mental sweet spot. 

Useable: Obviously. I want stuff I can plug into my writing life, my story-in-progress, or whatever I've got going on. And you do too, right? 

Velocity: When I think of a good idea, it has movement. It pushes me, pulls me, practically shoves me toward a writing pad.

I almost don't notice that I'm jotting it down, but I do feel an incredible rush of energy.

Good ideas aren't static. They have a buzz.

So that's what we're looking for this month: A bunch of ideas that you love, that suit your work, and that fizz with electricity.

Let's start by exploring the most essential part of that whole equation: You. 

Today we're going to create two lists that will be gold in our search for ideas. 

We're going to start by creating a big list of things that you find interesting, intriguing. The subjects that naturally draw out your attention, excitement, and passion.

Maybe that sounds obvious, too easy, or pointless. But here's what I've found: I can be spectacularly blind to what I love. 

Shocking, but true.

When casting around for a new idea, I can totally forget the subjects that most excite me. And then I wind up with a dud that my brain might find "acceptable, workable," but which my heart and creativity absolutely veto.

It's frustrating.

Save yourself the time and the slog by building a catalogue of topics that get your heart racing and your fingers tingling.

Woo! You ready?

Grab some paper or pull up a blank document, and just hang out with these questions for a while.

You can start at the top and work straight through, or start with the ones that seem easiest, or the ones you're most excited to probe into.

However you do it, write down as many answers as you can for each prompt.

  • In general, what intrigues you, draws you in? What kinds of situations, people, occupations, places?
  • What topics, problems, or subjects are you naturally passionate and excited about? 
  • What makes you angry? (On the news, on Twitter or Facebook, in books, in relationships...)
  • What situations, questions, or images fill your brain with interesting possibilities? 
  • What do you find yourself always noticing—in relationships, in public places, in families, in stores, in cities?
  • What do you keep taking pictures of? 
  • What themes and scenarios crop up in your favorite books?
  • What magazines or blogs are you most pulled toward? Which sections in particular? Which columns, articles, posts?
  • What documentaries are you always interested in watching? 
  • What kinds of books are you always ready to pick up?
  • What types of art just grab you? Which forms, what colors, what presentations?
  • What movies are you always willing to see? What themes or premises or genres are your favorites?
  • What are your most recent favorite ideas? (For stories, characters, other projects...)

YUP, I know. It can be hard to step out of the way you think, and take notes on your own mind. It's tough for me too!

Come back to this list a few more times, cycle back through the questions, and add to it. The longer your list, the more options you'll have later.

Because this, my friends, is an extremely valuable practice: to find out what you love. To keep studying where your best ideas will spring from.

We'll be coming back to this list again and again this month.

Whew! Shake out your hands, shake out your brain, and then:

Let's make a second list. This is the Curiosity List!

It's definitely related to the first list, but it has a slightly different flavor.

Ever since reading Elizabeth Gilbert's fantastic book on creativity, Big Magic, I've started keeping a Curiosity List.

And I LOVE my Curiosity List. 

It's pretty self-explanatory: Any time something crosses my path that makes me think, "huh, that's kind of cool," I add it to the list. (My latest entries: the dances of bees, and mimes in Paris—they even have a school!) 

Unlike our first list, this isn't necessarily stuff I know a lot about. It's not going to be the subject of a bunch of conversations of mine, or something I've diligently been studying.

I don't even have super strong emotions about any of the items.

It's just a list of little things that sort of nudge my mind. Things I'm, well, curious about. (Bats that live under bridges, Cambridge University, the legends of Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest, near-space travel...) 

So what good is a Curiosity List?

Well, in Elizabeth Gilbert's terms, it's a list of clues.

Clues to where your next ideas could be. Clues to what projects you'll want to pursue, what subjects you'll want to learn more about.

(I spend twenty minutes on Fridays just diving into one of the items from my Curiosity List. I just explore, I take notes or I don't, and I have a lot of fun doing it!)

Like the first list, this is a map to where some of your best ideas are going to be.

So, what are you curious about? 

What beckons you? What's intriguing—even if only slightly?

Even if it doesn't seem to have anything to do with writing, your work-in-progress, or anything you could create with?

Even if it seems "dumb" or random? Write it all down.

Push yourself to list at least twenty things that nudge your curiosity. 

Topics, stories, types of architecture, animals, situations, people, occupations... anything at all. 

Once you start, you might get on a roll. And that's great.

If you can, get fifty down. Or more. 

Keep coming back to it, during the rest of this month, and keep building it.

Try to notice when something catches your heart, makes you smile without realizing it, makes your heart leap a bit. 

Stay alert to anything that catches your interest, anything that snags your curiosity. Even just a little. Even just barely.

Whew! THAT was some seriously important work! Everyone go get chocolate, or wine, or both. (Wait, is it still morning? Cream in your coffee, then.)

These two lists are going to be super helpful the rest of the month.

They're gonna shape where and how we dig for new ideas. They can help us resuscitate ideas that aren't quite right (by sprinkling in one of our beloved or curious topics).

Best of all, they'll help us know when we're on the right track toward ideas that feel like magic. 

Ooooh, feel that?

I think my idea-making machine just gave off a few sparks.

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

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

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

The kind of writers that can stay the course. 

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

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

The lionhearted writer brings love into the process.

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

Some bits are just intoxicating.

Books, words, stories. 

Sentences so good they make your scalp tingle.

Mmmm. Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

To the actual creative process itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I want to love every day of it. 

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

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

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

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

Maybe impossible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instant hate.

And, bonus, I almost threw up.

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

That's a pretty big change.

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

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

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

Here's where to start:

1) Recognize what is good about it. 

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

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

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

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

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

And what's valuable about it?

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

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

2) Practice technical gratitude.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

3) Notice what you actually do like about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUPER weird. I tried not to notice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to music that you adore or find deeply inspiring. 

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

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

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

5) Practice relish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) Repeat.

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

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

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

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

Hold that dread at bay. Stagger it with goodness.

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

So weird, right?

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

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

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

Worth trying, right?

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

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

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

DANG. Talk about a game changer.

So what will you be learning to love?

Free Your Ability to Focus By Cleaning Up Your Digital Landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That stuff.

Get it all written down, all in one place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Room for All that Writerly Brilliance (In Other Words, Let's Clean Already!)

Heads up: It's about to get really practical in here.

It's hard to think in a cluttered space. You know that. I know that. We all know that. ... So let's take some time and kick the clutter today! |

Why are we going to talk about actual cleaning on a writing blog?

Because, my lionhearted friend, a cluttered physical writing space takes up too much room in our minds

If, in the midst of our writing, we're dealing with broken tools, pens that don't work, lost papers, and junk-filled drawers... it's going to be really hard to hear all the plot breakthroughs we're listening for.

You know? 

Tough to be wildly creative if part of our brains are stuck fighting our environment, trying to find the plot bunnies amidst the dust bunnies.

It's so easy to neglect where we're working. After all, our main focus is on just getting our writing in, day after day.

It's totally understandable.

If you're like me, you generally know how to clean. It's just ... it doesn't happen.

Which is why today isn't so much of a "how to" guide. Just a bit of a nudge in a tidier direction.

So let's grab a little bit of time for this today, and dive in!

You can do this in one of three ways: 

1) Go BIG.

Pull everything off your desk, out of drawers, off bookshelves. Empty file folders. Make a day of it! 

Haul bags of recycled papers out of your office. Purge your shelves of books that you don't need, or don't absolutely love

Deal with all the old drafts you've printed out and kept hanging around. (If you're feeling up to it, toss them all out. Dance in the space you've just cleared.)

Dust everything! Vacuum! Polish! 

And then feel that wonderful sense of wellbeing that comes after a day of cleaning hard.

2) Or, go MEDIUM.

If life is crowded and spring cleaning—while a nice idea—just isn't going to work this week (or this month!) then try this option. 

Focus on just one zone in your writing space. Try to pick the area that's been bugging you the most. (You know the one!) 

Budget just an hour or two. 

Whatever area you decide on, try to get it as decluttered and spruced up as possible. 

A little can go a long way, you know? Even if you just have time for that, you'll feel such a huge relief and clarity afterward.

3) And we totally won't judge you if you decide to go MICRO.

I get it. Personally, I'm super low on stamina lately, so if this is the best option, then that's great. No worries at all. 

Pick one small thing and clean it up. Tidy it. Declutter it. Or just get rid of it.

And whatever that looks like is fine.

Maybe you just empty out a pencil cup: make sure every pencil in it is sharpened, and every pen actually works. And that you even like all of them. And that you like the pencil cup, too.

That's it! 

And then—ahhhh. Feel that little rush of peace, every time you look at it, every time you reach for a pen. 

See what I mean? Even dealing with just a small space can have a big reward.

But no matter what amount of cleaning and clearing you did, bring something lovely into your writing space.

Yes! You know I'm a sucker for this. But take some time and bring some beauty into your writing area. 

Maybe it's a small vase of flowers. Or a candle that smells ah-mazing. Or even something that makes you laugh.

Heck, you can go crazy and just re-beautify everything in your writing life. Get allllll the lovely stuff. 

On the other hand, it doesn't have to be major: I have an owl mug that holds my Sharpies. It's a sly reference to my work in progress, but it's also just dang cute.

I've also spent an afternoon stamping silly polka dots on all my file folders. (I just used a little paint and the eraser on the end of a regular pencil. Easiest. Craft. Ever.) They still make me smile!

So it can be small. But treat yourself to something lovely in your office.

... There. Isn't that better? Can you feel the extra space in your head? It's almost a physical sensation, isn't it? Crazy how that works. 

So here's to a freshened writing zone, and a fresh writing week!

Random-ish side note: Yes. I DID just read Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and yes, it is my new favorite thing, and yes, I now want to overhaul EVERYTHING. Trying to pace myself. We'll see how that goes...

The Best Opportunity of the Month (We're Making the Most of February Today!)


Seriously, we just claimed February as a month of writing love, and I'm all kinds of thrilled about that!

After a month of fun writing life prompts, it's time to take stock, figure out what was best, and carry that into the rest of the year! A game changing day? Heck yes! |

And now we get this amazing gift of an extra day in February (which I'm in nerd heaven about... I know, I know, I should be over the whole concept of Leap Day by now). 

Before this month wraps up, can we grab a moment and take stock? 

Whether you were only able to do a prompt or two, or whether you were here every day this month: TODAY is actually the day when we make the most of February. 

Yes! This is the most important day of the whole challenge

February 29: Keep the best. Change your writing life.

So I've had this really, really terrible habit that I'm trying to change. 

It used to be that I could find something that I loved, something that seemed to nurture me, something that made me feel more alive, or stronger, or more healthy. AWESOME, right?

And then ... I'd label it as optional.

This isn't something I have to get to. There are other things more mandatory, I'd figure.

Decide something is healthy; decide to skip it. That's what I would do.

Turns out that's a really great road to take if you're looking for burnout, discontentment, inauthenticity, and perpetual illness.

It's not so fun. Whoops.

So, for the last two years or so, I've been doing some major work, in all areas of my life. I keep asking myself, over and over: what is the best set of practices here? How can I get to them on a regular basis? What's getting in the way? How can I get rid of the obstacles?

It's the self-reflection version of heavy lifting.

And it is so essential to crafting an intentional, healthy writing practice!

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Grab a little chunk of time and think back through the prompts from this month.

(I know, there were a bunch! If you need a refresher, here they are: Feb 1-3; Feb 4-7; Feb 8-10; Feb 11-14; Feb 15-17; Feb 18-21; Feb 22-24; Feb 25-28.)

  • Which prompts were an immediate win for you? The easy ones, the ones you were excited for, the ones that felt fun?
  • Which prompts presented the best challenge for you? The ones that might have been a stretch, but which brought you into a better place? Which did you get the most out of? (If you haven't had a chance to try them, which ones look the most helpful for you?)
  • And, hey, were there any that didn't work for you at all? What seemed like a terrible fit? (There's plenty in this writing life that isn't "one size fits all," so no worries if a prompt was a total fail for you. Now you know what not to do, right?)
  • What did you discover about yourselfas a writer? as a reader? as a manager? What did you learn about your approach to the writing life? Did anything surprise you?
  • Out of the prompts that you skippedwhich do you think could still bring something good into your writing life? (And can you schedule a time this week to try it?)
  • What do you want your writing life to look like, going forward? Which exercises or prompts do you want to do on a regular basis?

If you learned anything useful about your writing life, or about how you operate as a writer, or about what helps you thrive: you owe it to yourself to make that part of your regular practice. 

Find out what strengthens your writing, your voice, and your contentment, and pursue that. 

Seek what nourishes you.

Make it a constant in your writing life. Make it unmissable, unskippable. Treat it as sacred. 

And you'll be on your way to the healthiest and happiest writing life you can possibly have!

Oh, and as for me and the prompts this month: here's some of what I learned...

I needed those reading dates so badly! Somehow my reading life had jumped the tracks, and so the Sunday readings were exactly what I needed to relish some words again. (I've been reading this completely gorgeous book and maybe drooling just a little.) I'm going to keep leisurely Sunday afternoon reading as a priority.

I loved having the writing exercise refresher on February 10, as well as the haikus on February 15... definitely will be adding more freewriting into my mornings!

I'm thrilled with my refreshed writing areaclean and clutter free, thanks to February 13! 

And it's always so, so good for me to think about the kind of writing heart I want to have one day (February 25).

What about you? Which prompts were your favorites?

And what kinds of habits do you want to take with you from this February challenge?

My Favorite Writing Strategy: Take Super-Good Care of the Thing that Takes Care of the Writing

During a mega-drafting marathon (hey there, Nanowrimo!), one of your best writing tools can take a big hit. Here are some quick ideas for how to avoid that. |

It's too easy for a writer to treat her body like an afterthought.

It's just the mass of bones and muscles that keep our writing brains from scrabbling around on the ground, right?

Our fingers are simply the instruments our brains use to reach the keyboard, and mouths were clearly made for just one thing: Coffee reception.

It's too easy to fall into that trap, but I have a suspicion: A ridiculously healthy body just might be a writer's best weapon.

It hit me recently how easy and typical it is for me and my friends to all categorize ourselves as "Busy and Tired."

Suddenly I wondered: What would happen if I were, instead, Focused and Deeply Rested? 

How clearly would I think if my body were at its best condition? 

What would happen if my wrists weren't on the brink of carpal tunnel syndrome? What if I wasn't putting my back in permanent danger, and what if I wasn't burning my retinas out by staring at a screen without blinking? 

Would I--shocking thought--actually be better able to do my job? 

Would I think more clearly, and have more interesting ideas, and have more attention for each project? Maybe, you know, be a better writer?  

I think it's pretty dang possible.

During a drafting marathon, it's SO easy to make your body suffer on behalf of your draft. But honestly, you might pay for it later.

I have a writing friend who totally fried her wrists in an attempt to meet an aggressive writing deadline... She ended up in physical therapy, and yeah, her writing had to sit on the back burner for a while. (Not to mention: OUCH.)

Can we maybe not make ourselves sick and broken in the pursuit of that 50,000th word? Can writing "The End" not kill us, please?

I know you're already keeping track of a lot. But maybe, consider loving your body a little during the remaining days of your drafting marathon. 

Here's a list of some teeny tiny little moves toward health. It won't ask much from you, but your body will be THRILLED ... and it just might reward you with that plot breakthrough you've been begging for! 

Give 'em a try:

  • If you're writing longhand, try using markers instead of pens, because they slide over the page more easily. Good news for your wrists!
  • Every fifty minutes, stand up from your desk for a five minute dance party. (Set a timer to remind yourself if need be!) Yes, you. Yes, really. Getting your blood moving around means more idea power, so get twirlin'!
  • Better yet? Stand up every thirty minutes and just shake everything out! Or, if dancing isn't appealing, try these five simple yoga moves for a fantastic stretch. They always make me feel more awake!
  • Protect your eyes by giving them a break too: look away from your screen for at least five minutes, every half hour. Go look out a window while you brainstorm your next paragraph. (I tend to get my best ideas away from the computer anyway!)
  • Skip chocolate as a drafting snack (once in while, at least!), and fill up your bowl with celery sticks, carrots, red pepper slices, and hummus. (And grapes! And pomegranate arils! Go crazy!)
  • Dare yourself to drink a big glass of water before you refill your coffee mug. (If you're really health-bonkers like me, grab a green juice now and then. Kale LOVES helping with your plot.)
  • Can you stand and type? I plunk my keyboard on an upside-down trashcan and tip my screen up. Voilà! DIY standing desk! My brain feels instantly perkier.
  • If you find you're always zoning out, give yourself a nap. Subconsciouses like to dance around while you're sleeping anyway: you might wake up to brilliance.
  • And while we're talking about sleep: Send yourself to bed a half hour earlier: what you lose in drafting time, you'll regain in mental clarity. (This has worked SO well for me lately!)

It's not rocket science. None of this is shocking health news.

But I know that I need to forcibly remind myself, mid-draft, that my body doesn't just exist to write words down!

So here's my challenge to you: Try to do at least ONE THING each day that your body would genuinely thank you for. (No fibbing.)

And seriously, from one writer to another: Please don't burn out your body for the sake of your book. There are other ways to finish, which don't include totally trashing your self.

Sound good? 

Okay, my lionhearted friend... back to those words! My celery sticks salute you. 

Got a good health tip? ... Especially something easy to apply in the midst of drafting season? Do share in the comments!! I'm always up for feeling more awesome!

Does Your Writing Life Need a Mega Makeover? (Here's how I transformed mine.)

If your imagination is a little tired, if the fears are getting a little out of hand, if your writing isn't *fun* anymore... TRY THIS. It's time for a makeover. |

In spite of all my inherent nerdiness, I was never much of a devotee of writing exercises.

I mean, come on. We all know it takes about a thousand years to write a really good novel. Why waste writing time dithering around with some set of practice pages that would never see the light of day?

If I was going to practice writing, I would practice on my novel, thanks very much. 

... But the writers around me kept praising writing exercises. So I picked up some books of writing prompts and tried a few.

But the prompts were a bit lame. And my resulting pieces were kind of dull. They felt false, canned, pre-packaged. Not the kind of work I enjoyed. Not pieces of writing that I respected. 

Exercises. Pffft.

What changed all that? Three things. 

This book. The concept of a passive idea file. And an eight-week experiment.

What happened? My writing life changed completely. For the much much better.

I was between drafts of my novel-in-progress. I felt tired and grumpy about writing in general.

I wanted to take a break from the long-haul drafting process, but I didn't want my writing habit to atrophy entirely. What to do?

My mom (also a writer) mentioned that she liked the book A Writer's Book of Days, by Judy Reeves. She said it was a book of writing exercises that actually felt doable.

So I picked up her copy and flipped through it, looking at the writing prompts.

They weren't lame. They didn't feel silly. They were actually ... intriguing.

And there was one for each day of the year. (Ooh. I love a good calendar system.)

Bonus: All these prompts were surrounded by wonderful short articles (and quotes, lists, challenges, cheerleading) about the writing life, the writing habit, tips from other writers, and other advice that was cheering, practical, and exciting.

And did I mention that the prompts weren't lame??

Like, here, listen to these: February 12: Write about an eclipse. February 13: What was seen through binoculars. February 15: Write about animal dreams. 

Or September 13: She left a note. September 14: A collection of lies. September 15: "Houses have their secrets" (after Yannis Ritsos).

See? Not the standard. Just enough direction to get the brain involved, but not so much direction that the exercise feels false.

So I swiped Mom's copy. I carved out eight weeks between drafts.

And because I love to do a thing with gusto, I spent those eight weeks writing my way through all of Reeves' 366 exercises. 

Nine or ten exercises per workday. Ten minutes per exercise. 

I filled a lot of spiral notebooks. My handwriting fell to pieces. 

And I became a whole different kind of writer.

Honestly? It's one of the best things I've ever done.

Here's what I found out. 

It helps--a lot--to bring an idea file to the game. 

Like I mention in this post, I keep files full of teeny little ideas. Names that I find intriguing. Phrases that get my imagination swirling. Concepts for settings, situations, relationships. Titles that are begging for a book.

When faced with a writing prompt alone (even one that isn't lame), my brain could still go blank.

But when I also swiped a few ideas randomly from an idea file, and combined those things with the prompt: Magic happened. 

The blank page doesn't have to be terrifying. Neither does "bad" writing.

After facing 366 blank pages? After getting into the rhythm of "ready, set, GO," day after day, time after time? No matter how you're feeling, no matter how creative or not creative, no matter how tired, no matter how many words you've been writing?

Yeah. The blank page loses its fangs and its big scary voice.

Instead, it becomes a means to something much better: a full page.

I also learned not to over-emphasize the importance of my own bad writing. 

With that many pages filled, you better believe that a lot of them were pretty crappy. And yet a lot of them were also rather brilliant. Some of those pages still give me chills, and I'm planning stories around them. 

And the crappy work existed right alongside the brilliant gems.

It didn't matter how I felt about writing each day: whether I felt up for it, or whether I didn't. I still could write total slop and the next minute write something incredible.

So all those feelings we keep feeling about writing? Yeah. They stopped meaning so much.

And I just got to work.

The imagination is a much, much, MUCH bigger (and weirder) place than I thought.

Filling that many pages taught me this for certain: that my imagination was up to the challenge. 

Those 366 pieces of writing covered all kinds of crazy territory. I wrote spy stories, historical sketches, action sequences, serene tea-drinking scenes, wild off the wall stories for kids, bizarre internal monologues... 

It made me realize that my three little novels-in-progress (at the time) weren't the only things I could write.

I got a clear look at my own creative agility. I saw that I could write in almost any direction, that I could improvise on almost any theme.

I stopped feeling so dang TIMID.

When you see what your imagination is capable of, the tasks of writing, rewriting, and revising become a lot less frightening. 

And oh yeah, the writing itself was a lot of fun. 

(See what I did there? I just used "fun" and "writing" in the same sentence. And it wasn't a typo.)

Judy Reeves recommended not planning what you were going to write for an exercise. She said to write down the first sentence that came to you, and go from there.

Rule-follower that I am, I tried that technique. And loved it.

It felt like holding a camera above your head, snapping a Polaroid picture, and then shaking it around, wondering what exactly you had captured. Excitedly watching it develop.

I never, ever knew where my pen would lead. I was half-writer, half-reader, racing over new territory. 

My only goals were: to keep writing, and to not be bored. So I threw in as many twists as I liked, riffing on whatever tangents occurred to me.

You GUYS. It was so much fun.

I almost couldn't believe it: I was writing my brains out, working hard, and yet having a blast.

Writing felt like playing again, like the kind of marvelous inventive play I used to do as a kid.

Every day of writing held dozens of discoveries. I never knew what it would be like.

I got hooked on it.

I began writing for the buzz of it, the glee of making something new.

Again, and again, and again.

So: I'm a writing exercise convert. Utterly and completely.

I don't do writing exercises daily, but when my writing life needs a jolt, or when my imagination is sagging, I pull out A Writer's Book of Days and dive in for a while. 

If you're in need of a boost (and who isn't!?), try it.

It will caffeinate your writing, change how you see yourself as a writer, and massively expand the territory of your imagination. 

Yeah. ALL that. It will totally make over your writing life.

... And here you were thinking it would be just another Thursday.

Superhero Your Writing

When you lean into your strengths, you become extraordinary. |

It can seem very heroic, can't it, to have an all-embracing sense of your flaws. To beat our critique partners to the punch by saying, I know it's terrible because of x, and y, and z. 

And because drafts have flaws, and because we aren't perfect (yay!), we have a point.

There will always be weaknesses in what we do.

But there will also be strengths.

I don't care how execrable your latest draft was: If you itch to write stuff down, then you have a strength.

Whether it's your point of view, your perspective, your sense of pacing, your grip on setting, your flair for unusual conflict, your lovable characters...

Face it, writer-friend: Somewhere, somewhere, your writing has some strengths.

Here's what I want you to do: Make 'em stronger. 

Work on your best points. Find where you glow, and become incandescent. Light it up.

"But no, no," comes the protest. "We have to focus on our weaknesses, right? Find all the bad places and make them better. Right?"

Well, okay. There's a time to focus on weaknesses and make them better. To build up those places.

But I want to introduce you to this crazy, revolutionary practice of appreciations, taken from Making Ideas Happen:

When Scott Belsky went to a storytelling workshop, led by Jay O'Callahan, he and the other participants took turns telling their stories. And after each story, the rest of the group would talk about what the teller had done well, what they appreciated.

They talked about the strengths. 

And then, the storyteller would take all that feedback, rework the story, and share it again. 

If you're like me, your first reaction to this is: But what about all the weaknesses? 

Here's how Belsky describes the effect:

"I noticed that a natural recalibration happens when you commend someone's strengths: their weaknesses are lessened as their strengths are emphasized. ... The points of weakness withered away naturally as the most beautiful parts became stronger."

So... the weaknesses get taken care of, when we bring out what was good? 

When we lean on our strongest and best points, the crappy bits fade?

BONUS: The storyteller is not writhing on the ground in tatters. I call that a win.

So here's what I propose: Next time someone reads your writing to give feedback, ask them to tell you the three things that they most appreciated.

And try revising based on that.

Belsky writes: "A creative craft is made extraordinary through developing your strengths rather than obsessing over your weaknesses."

Made extraordinary.

See, that's what got me thinking about superheroes.

Superheroes tend to have one specific extreme ability. And then there are a few strengths that support that, that help make that useable. (And they have a suit, maybe a cape. You can get those too if you like.)

Find your three top strengths (or more!). Nourish them. Exercise them. Make them stronger still.

And then you're basically a writing superhero. And that piece of writing you've been revising? Extraordinary.

Not because you've been focusing on a detailed list of all your failings, and trying to bring them up to par. Nope. You already have some gold there.

Get your readers' help finding it, polish it up, and make it the centerpiece.

Unleash your strengths.