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

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

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

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

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

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

Right?

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

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

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

You tracking with me? 

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

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

I want to take better care of my creativity.

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

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

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

Ahem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We've been feeding cyanide to our creativity.

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

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

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

How are we doing this? 

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

This will literally shut down creativity. 

It changes everything. 

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

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

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

I didn't. 

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

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

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

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

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

Neither did its writer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THAT is what I wish I had done.

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

Cameron goes on to say,

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

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

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

Creativity is. 

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

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

She goes on to say, 

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

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

Remind yourself of it often!

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

It cannot be compared. 

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

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

Comparing ourselves to established masters of the craft.

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

Comparing ourselves to unattainable perfection.

We've gotta stop doing it, my friends. 

How to embrace a radically new perspective on creativity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She says, 

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

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

Can you let it make a mess? 

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

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

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

What does that mean? 

She says, 

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

YES.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aim for delight. Play. Fun. Joy.

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

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

Why? Because it's worth it.

As Cameron says,

Serious art is born from serious play.

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

And let's take our artist date this week.

Are You Ready To Amaze Yourself? (Exploring Possibilities and Loving Writing. ... You Know. The Usual.)

These three prompts are gonna knock us out of any little ruts we've been in.

Instead, we'll practice being writers who see dazzling possibilities in the information we read, the places we go, and the projects we dream up.

It's going to be a lovely ride... 

Get your goggles on and let's get started!

We're investigating three simple ways to strike out in new directions with our imaginations and our words. Loving your writing life through new possibilities? Heck yes. Join us over at lucyflint.com

February 22: Be a sleuth.

I know, I know. I've already gone on record about my massive love affair with the reference section, and how it's like taking superpower pills for my imagination.

But it is so freaking worth it to make this a regular part of our writing lives!

So just go with me on this.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Pick up a reference book you don't normally grab.

Maybe something medical, or a botany index. A random chunk of the encyclopedia, or one of the incredible hyper-specific volumes in the reference section of your local library. 

Flip through it for fifteen minutes. And just write down everything that delights you.

This isn't RESEARCH. This isn't looking for FACTS.

This is about being exposed to and charmed by words and phrases and sentences that you aren't around all the time.

This is about wandering around, wearing your imagination's heart on your sleeve, and falling hard for the strangest and loveliest bits of information you come across. 

Go ahead. Let yourself geek out a bit.

(My latest delight? I just found out about the tradition of night climbing in Cambridge. Those photographs!! Swoon!)


February 23: Be a spy.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Go somewhere where you don't normally think of writing, exactly. Someplace that isn't overtly literary...

But bring the writing life with you.

Maybe you're sitting at the bar of a restaurant and watching the chefs zip around the kitchen.

Or maybe you're in a concert hall, an art museum, a church service, or a graveyard.

Wherever calls you most: Go.

And while you're there, imagine you're a literary spy. 

You're an emissary, a representative of the writing life.

Study everything, like you've just fallen into a novel. Like you could spin a story out of this moment, this place.

Bring a blank notebook and jot down phrases, notes on the atmosphere, or even just a single word that seems to sum it all up. Catch the juiciest bits of dialogue you overhear.

You don't have to write much. It can be just a few notes and scribblings... or it can be a huge, lyrical, epic poem.

But try to enter that place of having a writer's eyes in a "non-writing" place.

And just see what happens.


February 24: Be extravagant.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Start a dozen little projects today. Writing projects.

You and your writing life. Put your heads together, and dream. 

Yes, really.

Yes, even if you already have plenty of unused ideas floating around. (What's a few more, lionheart?)

These new ideas don't have to be more than one sentence, or even one word. 

Invent a series of books together. Maybe it's four novels, or sixteen quick chapter books for kids, or an epic saga cycle of five huge fantasy books.

Maybe it's a whole detective series based on the amazing bits of info you picked up on Monday, and the place you visited yesterday.

If this makes you feel crazy, just shake it off. Have a light touch. No sweat. This isn't "for real." You're not committed to any of this. It's just for fun.

This is like talking about the dream plans for a future house, or places you want to travel, or all the kids you want to have.

This is just about entertaining possibilities. 

So lean into it.

Suggest titles. Dream up the most off-the-wall protagonist ever.

Write a sentence or five for each of the ideas.

Or, just come up with a huge list of pretend character names.

Or invent the cities and empires that will rise and fall at your command. Make maps. 

Goof off together. Try to come up with bigger concepts, the more impossible the better.

Dream huge dreams, you and your writing life, together.

Give each other the moon, the world, a whole solar system. 

Dazzle yourself with the possibilities.

Isn't this dangerous? Nah. You can come back down to earth later, and have a renewed appreciation for the sweetness of your current work-in-progress. It's a wonderful thing after all.

... Or, wait. Yes. Yes, it is dangerous, incredibly so. We're playing with ideas, after all. It might as well be dynamite.

You might be laying the imaginative tracks that you will sail down in a year or two, on your way to becoming one of the most inventive writers of your generation. 

You daring lionheart, you!


We're coming down to the end of the month! Can you believe it??

Come back on Thursday for your last batch of writing life prompts... 

And in the meantime, happy dreaming!

How to Bring Playfulness Back Into Our Writing Lives

Here you go, four more prompts for loving your writing life like crazy.

Because writers who love their writing and who give it all they've got will create better books and a better marketplace and better readers with better lives for a better world. 

Whoa. Hold up. Did I just say we're changing the world?

Yes. Yes I did.

And here you were thinking it was just another Thursday. ;)

We're aiming for less angst and more play this weekend. Loving our writing lives.

We can camp out too long in the work and routines and productivity side of things... Every now and then, you gotta let loose and play. Your writing life with thank you. (Four more prompts for loving your writing life.) | lucyflint.com

Okay? Sound good? 

Let's go!


February 18: Write a letter.

It is so easy for me to get into a kind of productivity-and-optimization loop.

I'm trying to be a good boss, right? And it usually takes all my skills to manage some kind of balance between really hard work and excellent self-care. Whew!

I focus so hard on trying to do it all that I forget about... play.

About throwing every plan out the window now and then for the sake of a creative romp.

I forget to explore, to go on creative dates, to seek writing adventures.

Obviously, we can't play all the time. We've got books to write! And routines are the BFFs of productivity.

And yet...

Every now and then, the writing life—the creative life—needs a big injection of off-the-wall fun. It keeps us engaged, it churns up new ideas, it helps us be more advanced problem solvers. It keeps us from burning out, getting blocked, hitting walls.

It is super important. We have to take time to play and delight and discover.

What does that look like for you and your writing life? That's what we're going to explore.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: It's our third Thursday, and so our third letter-writing prompt!

This time, start by saying, Dear Writing Life, I wish we did more of...

And then go from there. Take ten to fifteen minutes, and have some fun with it. Dig around to find what it is that you're missing in your creativity, what you're craving in your writing.

What sounds outrageously fun to you? What kinds of "research" would be incredible? What kind of intrepid explorer-writer do you really want to be?

Go crazy. And fill your letter with all the things you genuinely wish you were doing more of in your writing life.

And then? Pick one. (If they all seem impossible, pick part of one.)

Choose something, and then, you know, do it. 

Try to do some version of it today, or this weekend, or sometime soon. But add a little taste of that off-the-wall play to your writing life.


February 19: Go off on an adventure together.

There's something extra special about going to literary places. Large dramatic libraries, the homes and significant place of famous authors, book-lover festivals... 

Mmmm. It's so nurturing to remember, now and then, that we're part of a much, much bigger tribe of readers, writers, scribblers, creators, storytellers, and dreamers. 

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Take some time to go on a literary pilgrimage. This can be as elaborate or un-elaborate as you like.

Maybe you go to a local literary site. (If you're fortunate enough to live near one, that is. But do a little searching before assuming you're disqualified, because you might be surprised at famous authors who lived near by!)

Or maybe you head off to a really glamorous library that's not too far away. (All those books... swoon!)

Maybe you hit your local university's library, but you finally nose around their rare books area. Or you finally go to that used bookstore you've been meaning to check out, and you just get lost for a while.

If you're in the middle of the middle of nowhere, it is totally okay to go online for this, and browse beautiful libraries, or investigate your favorite authorial places online.

(Oooh, look, here are 15 famous author's beautiful estates, and 12 literary pilgrimages, and the Library of Congress recorded podcasts from past book festivals...  ) 


February 20: Word revelry.

A love of writing and a love of reading: it boils down to a love of words. 

Which is why, today, we're going to browse a book about words, just for the heck of it. 

Have you gloried in the entries of a dictionary in a while? And I mean an actual, paper-and-ink-and-binding kind of dictionary, not just entries on a screen. (Shudder.) 

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Find a book that's full of words and what they mean. 

Some sort of dictionary or compendium or thesaurus. 

And just play around! Read entries at random.

Pronounce (out loud! dramatically!) all the words you haven't heard of before.  

Find the quirkiest ones. Read up on their etymologies, on the histories of where the words came from, their little family trees.

Summon the kind of mood that makes you want to buy souvenirs on your travels, or pick up river stones while hiking: Read these words with an eye toward taking them home with you. 

Look for words that are beautiful or strange, and pick 'em up. Put them in your pockets.

Write down your favorites and stick them in your writing area. 

Hold on to your delight in words. It's one of the most constant sources of magic we have.


February 21: Tumble into paragraphs.

Yep, the third Sunday of the challenge looks just like the rest. 

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Get a book and get cozy, and then fall headlong into a lazy pool of reading.

This isn't reading fast, to clock an impressive number pages-per-hour.

This isn't reading to cram for information.

This is reading for the love of it.

So let yourself slow down. Linger over the sentences.

This kind of slow, dreamy reading can be game-changing, by the way. It helped me through one of the hardest times in my life.

During an emotionally brutal year of college, I would sneak off to an empty little common room with a fireplace, and I'd sit there and read, very slowly. I imagined that I could hear the writer speaking directly to me, as if he had written every word just so I could hear it, just at that moment.

... And it wasn't any kind of dizzy gushy poetry, either. It was a few personal essays (from this book) by Max Beerbohm and G.K. Chesterton and E.B. White.

For those hours of reading, I pretended that they were all sitting around me, smoking pipes, and speaking these amazing sentences, making me laugh, and transporting me.

It was like a true teleportation experience, a vacation among literary uncles, and yes, it helped enormously.

That kind of reading is a beautiful thing.

So find some time, and go deep with your reading today. 

This Is the Essential Holiday Survival Guide for Writers! (Part ONE.)

I can't even begin to believe that it's December, so we won't start on that. Ahem.

How's everyone doing post-Nanowrimo? Fingers recovering? Brains regathering energy? You all okay? 

I love letting a theme guide each month's posts, but when I looked around for a central theme for December, nothing really fit. Instead I had a handful of posts that I really, really wanted to share with you before the year was out. Writer to writer.

So that's what our December will be: a heart-to-heart before the end of 2015. 

Sound good, lionhearts? Awesome. Let's dive in.


December can throw even the hardiest writing practice for a loop. Check out this essential survival guide for three ways I keep writing through the holiday season. | lucyflint.com

Let's be honest: with all the holiday festivities, it might be the most wonderful time of the year, but it's also one of the hardest times of the year for keeping coherent thoughts in your head.

Aka, writing novels

It is hard, hard work to keep writing in December.

I wanted to write myself a Survival Guide, just to round up all my little tricks for getting myself and my characters through the next few weeks in one piece. (More or less.)

Are you up for that too? High five.

Here are the three things I'll be focusing on to get through the month.

1. Preserving the time to write.

For most of the year, I tend to keep a pretty strict writing schedule... but everything gets messy in December.

There are ideal times for shopping, and there are times when shopping is unthinkable. Errand-running of any kind during December is usually best right in the middle of when I usually write. 

And then all the wonderful (and wonderfully exhausting) parties start up, and both time and energy for writing seems to disappear.

So it pays to make a new plan for finding writing time in this month, and letting it not look like all the other months.

This is when I start planning my writing time on a weekly basis, instead of a daily one. 

  • I'll try to group my errands together, to make the most of my breaks from work.
  • The hectic, errand-full days only get a little writing time: I'll try to work for a while before going anywhere, but once the errands start, I let myself stop for the day.
  • But on the non-errand days, I go big. I do all my good writing day things, and try to work as deeply and well as possible.
  • The day after a big party, I let myself start later (I don't regain energy very quickly!), but try to have a stellar afternoon.

Nothing really shocking here, right? The point is: try to work with your schedule, and with your own energy requirements. And just get really intentional about that, before all the chaos starts.

For years I insisted that December's writing schedule should look exactly like every other month's, and when I kept getting derailed, so much frustration ensued. 

Which isn't really what I'd like to be up to, when everyone's dancing around with candy canes. 

So let's not do that this year.

By all means, stick with your schedule for as long as you can. But when things get busy, it's time to get creative with the schedule too.

2. Finding the words.

Sometimes, though, the writing time isn't the problem. 

Sometimes, when everything gets mega-busy, it's just hard to hear the words.

Honestly, if part of your brain is working out what presents to get, and if another part is thinking about cookies and party menus, and if another part is wondering if your ugly Christmas sweater is ugly enough, and if another part is deciding which charities to give to, and if another part is realizing that your decorations are all looking a little tired, and if another part is debating what the Christmas cards will look like this year, and if another part is ...

You get my point.

Brainspace is extremely crowded this time of year. 

So even if you do plunk yourself at your desk for three hours or thirty minutes, you might not have so much actual writing happening.

This is hard. And for me, this is a lot harder (and ultimately more discouraging) than finding the time to write. 

I used to beat myself up about it. But now I've changed my tactic.

When the actual writing doesn't seem to work, I start making lists. (Yes, I've said it before, but I'll keep saying it! I've rescued myself with listmaking so many times.)

You can use lists to approach any part of your project, no matter what project it is.

It makes the best use of your time, and it also helps calm down your ping-ponging brain. It just feels more manageable than trying to sculpt paragraphs.

What kind of list? Try these:

  • Twelve things your character wants to do but shouldn't
  • Twelve things your character should do but doesn't want to do
  • Ten unusual details about the most common (or the most important) setting in the book
  • Five things your protagonist wants to say to your antagonist
  • Five things your antagonist wants to say to your protagonist
  • Twenty startling things that could happen in the very next scene 
  • Eight possible names for that shadowy minor character you just invented
  • Twenty possible titles for the novel
  • Fourteen lovely things that your future reviewers will say about you and your book ;)

See what I mean? Whatever is next, if you feel a bit blah about it, or if you can't quite envision it, no worries. See it as an opportunity. And start making lists.

Then when you do come back to work with a full brain, you'll have a lot of ideas to work from.

Honestly, I've shocked myself by being able to make lists in the weirdest circumstances. I can list when I'm barely awake, I can list in the middle of a crowded store, I can list when my brain feels full of other things. 

Use the hyper holiday energy in December to turn yourself into a list-making ninja. (Because I promise, it's a strategy you can rely on the rest of the year, too.)

Other ways to find the words this month: 

When all else fails: Read. Bring a book with you everywhere, and sneak little fiction snacks, staying as close to the flow of narrative as you can. 

Pour language into the cracks of your days, so that when all the activity dies down, your head is full of words again.

3. Getting out the nets.

Here's the really good news: If everything else goes belly-up, and you have no time to to write, and if the listmaking doesn't work and all you have is blank pages--

There is one more thing that we can all do in this crazy month.

We can turn into clever little explorers, and seek material

Here's the truth: I spend most of my time trying to be as reclusive as I can possibly be while staying mentally healthy. (It's a delicate balance.) 

December flips that formula upside down. It's bad news for my writing, but it's really really good news for my mind and creativity, when I choose to see it that way.

Holidays bring along with them all the raw ingredients for a zillion new ideas. They're a huge factory for the stuff of stories.

And if you bring along big mental nets for catching these ideas, you'll end this month with a pile of excellent material.

It comes down to paying attentionTaking notes. Jotting down what you hear, what you see. And staying alive to all the juxtapositions and paradoxes and beauties in this season.

Think like a collector. And make use of every errand, every outing, every party.

Speaking of parties, yes, I'm on Team Introvert, and every party—however happy—can feel like a slow death. Here's the idea-gathering strategy that helps me through:

Interviewing.

Seriously. Give this a try. Casually interview the people around you.

Ask interesting questions—ask about things that, as a writer, you genuinely want to know about.

Find out more about your cousin's unusual specialty, or the niche that your friend's husband is working in.

Ask everyone about their hobbies—not just what they do, but why they do it, how they got started, what the high points are, what they've found out.

Ask about the places they've been, where they've lived, where they travel to, and what it's like.

Ask about how they met the host, or how they met their spouse. Amazing stories come out of this.

These people know things, and better yet, they're usually quite happy to tell you.

Find the most eccentric person at the party, and get 'em to talk. What happens next will be GOLD, for you and your work. I promise.

Excuse yourself from time to time and go jot down notes, get down phrases, and write down how their facial expression changed, how they used their hands while they talked, or what details stood out to you.

You're a clever reporter, taking notes on life. You're a writer-explorer, doing field research, collecting samples.

And oh yes, you're also being an awesome guest, and not dying a slow introvert death.

Good plan, right?

When you see it this way, any outing can be an investment in your work. It can give you unexpected ideas, glimpses at rich characters, and snatches of dialogue.

Even though it's time away from the desk, it can at least be super productive for you.


Whoa, we just covered a lot of ground! But seriously, those are some of my best, most trusty holiday survival tips. Just going back through them helps me feel calmer about all the craziness to come!

But if you want to hear the real difference-maker for the holidays, come back for Part Two on Monday. Okay?

In the meantime, what about you guys? What's served you well during chaotic times? What keeps you grounded? I'd love to hear more from you in the comments.

You Just Might Empty Your Bank Account After Reading This Post (and book a few tickets!)

If you want some crazy inspiration for your next trip around the world... this is the book for you! | lucyflint.com

Yes, I know, I've been recommending a lot of great reads this month! But I couldn't let July wrap up without mentioning this exquisite book: Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman, by Alice Steinbach.

Educating Alice: the next book on your to-read list. | lucyflint.com

If you have a stubborn, persistent travel itch...

If you are a perpetual learner, always intrigued by new subjects...

If you--ahem--get a teeny bit bored with travelogues that are only about one place (or is that just me and my attention span?)...

Then this is the book for you! 

Alice Steinbach quit her job (as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist!) to travel the world. Cool. Sounds great, right? Lots of good initiative there.

But here's the rest of it:

Every place she went, she took a class or a course. She went ahead and LEARNED stuff.

... I don't know about you, but that's like the perfect crossroads for me: To travel and to take a course. It gets me drooling. (Have you heard of those cruises that are cooking schools? Just STOP, right?)

Ahem. So. Alice Steinbach learns about gardening in Provence, cooking in Paris, architecture in Havana, traditional dancing in Kyoto, and, among other trips, border collie training in Scotland. (Gaaaaaaaa!!! I can't stand it!) 

In her chapter with the border collies, "Lassie, Come Home," Steinbach writes:

Somewhere in the first ten minutes of my initiation into the art of being a shepherd, I found myself about to be charged by ten Scottish Blackface rams. Not Blackface ewes, mind you, but full-grown males who seemed to resent my attempt to redirect their usual movement patterns. Even from a distance I could see their eyes challenging me, the way New York City drivers challenge a cop who has the chutzpah to reroute traffic on Fifth Avenue. Go ahead, just try it and see what happens was the message I got from their wide-set eyes.

(ALICE. You are my writing-traveling-and-learning HERO.)

I liked her writing style, loved her travel/learning itinerary, and frankly adored the prospect of doing the same thing myself. 

Trust me: if you frequently itch to travel, or if you enjoy being a student, this book will have you daydreaming your own round-the-world learning trip.

... And who knows? It just might change your plans for the rest of the year.

Your Next Vacation Just Might Transform Your Writing Life

A paradoxical thing happens when we visit the places where famous writers wrote. And it just might change your writing life. | lucyflint.com

If you're itching to travel, but don't yet have a destination in mind, might I make a recommendation? (Of course I might. You know me. I totally WILL.) 

How about taking a literary trip? Go on a pilgrimage: Visit an author's home, a place where So-and-so penned their famous novels.

If you want a bunch of suggestions to get you ridiculously inspired, pick up this book: Novel DestinationsYou'll have a zillion ideas at your fingertips, and you can do a bit of armchair traveling in the meantime.

Going on a literary trip just might change how you think of yourself as a writer.

Really.

How? 

Well, for starters, the things that we celebrate have a way of shaping us.

So, if you're having trouble in your writing, or if you're having a hard time accepting the writing life, it might be really good for you to seek out another writer's haunts.

To celebrate the books they wrote, all the words they put to paper over the years, the gift their work was to so many people.

You know? Whip your book-loving heart into a frenzy. Take a tour of a few writerly sites. 

And celebrate!! Let your word nerd out. 

And as you value all the work that this Famous Author did, let your respect for them nourish your relationship with your own writing. When you're standing there, let it hit you: How hard they worked. How long their haul was. The obstacles they overcame.

Kinda like how hard you are working. How long your haul is. The obstacles that you have overcome; the obstacles that you will overcome. The gift that your words are to others.

Celebrate their words. And as you're doing that, celebrate the writing life in general.

And your writing life especially.

Okay? 

So, go to the places where they wrote. 

That's step one.

Here's step two--and stick with me, because it's a little paradoxical:

Notice how ordinary these sites are.  

Can I say that? 

Obviously there are some exceptions. Sure. But for the most part: we're talking about some pretty normal-looking places. 

Have you ever had this experience:

You're exploring a historical site, or yes, an author's writing place. And you smile around at all the details that your guide is pointing out, or you're dutifully reading brochures and placards. 

And then this voice in you rises up to say, UM, it's just an old house? Or, it's just another room? Or, I've seen plenty of old places by now, is this any different?

You look at the view that inspired so many stories, and you think, Sure, it's nice, but it's just trees and some distant hills...?

And of course, we try to shut that voice up. It sounds ungrateful and rude and unappreciative. Uncultured.

... And I actually can't believe I just blogged about it. I really hope I'm not the only one who reacts this way. Please don't throw things at me.

Because I think that voice has a really good point.

It's easy to start thinking that other writers, famous writers, have stuff that we don't.

We immortalize them in our minds, enshrine them. Maybe without even realizing it. 

So it's easy to start thinking that the place where they wrote will be amazing, in some way. That it will carry some kind of power, some forceful inspiration. We might start thinking, If only I had a place like that--then I could write.

When I was traveling in England, I stood outside the door of one of Jane Austen's residences in Bath. (For some reason, we couldn't go inside--I think it was already closed for the day or something.)

But I stared up at it and thought, Well, it's beautiful and all, but spoiler alert, ALL of Bath is beautiful. At that point in the trip, it looked just like all the other doors. 

Same thing happened when I saw the room where C.S. Lewis worked in Cambridge. It didn't have golden light pouring out of it, no fauns sticking their heads out and waving, no lions roaring. It was another window, like all the rest, looking down at this peaceful little courtyard (which was definitely lacking an eternal winter). Like all the rest.

There's no magic in the places where they lived--however inspiring they may have or have not been. There's no special spark we can soak up.

And that is exactly my point. 

We are the magic! We're the special spark! You, my lionhearted writing friend! You, and your crazy imagination and all the things you care about, all the stuff in you that turns into stories somehow. You're the magic. And so am I.

These places inspired these writers because they were working. Because they kept at it. 

In spite of dreary weather and long struggles and not enough money and lots of interruptions. 

Even if you'd like to argue that these writers had genius: well, genius doesn't write books.

It has to be disciplined, it still has to put in the time, and it has to fight against all those other character flaws that come with genius. 

So let's be done with the kind of thinking that says: they could, but not me.

Let's just LET THAT GO.

Okay? Can we agree to that?

So here's the plan: Go find a famous writer's famous writing site. Go visit.

And when you stand where that Famous Writer stood, go ahead and feel the rush. Connect to your writing life in a good way. Celebrate!

Celebrate the writers that came before you, who inspired you. And celebrate the writer that you already are.

Then let yourself see how ordinary it is. Even if their ordinary is different from your ordinary: notice that it isn't actually magic, however lovely or peaceful or chaotic or colorful or whatever. 

And step three, the kicker:

Find a little bench, a curb, some place to sit. 

And write something. 

It's the perfect culmination of your visit! It celebrates and honors the Famous Writer. It celebrates and honors the Writing You. And at the same time it says, this isn't a shrine. It is a place where writing happened, and where writing will keep on happening.

So write.

It can just be notes of the place where you're sitting. It can be a record of whatever the guide just said. It can be describing how totally inspiring/uninspiring the place itself is. 

Or maybe it will be the start of a new project. An unexpected scrap of poetry that makes your fingers tingle. An essay that captures a little shard of your heart. 

Or hey. I'm a big dreamer: Maybe it's the seed of the novel idea that will, one day, bring hundreds and thousands of people to visit your stomping grounds.

Yes?? 

Yeah. That's what I thought. 

The Ultimate Traveling Companions

Why I literally can't, won't, and shouldn't leave home without a book. | lucyflint.com

When it comes to "what to pack," this is the hardest decision:

Not what shoes to pack. Not what kind of jacket. Not how many pairs of jeans.

But this: What books will I need?

I am, possibly, the last person in the universe without an e-reader.

I just have a ridiculous fondness for the printed thing, the physical object of the book.

Even when it doesn't make sense. Even when you can fit forty thousand copies, apparently, of all the best novels in a teeny little device, therefore making it perfect for traveling. Even then.

So choosing which books I'll take: that's a major issue! There's obviously the question of weight/bulk, but far more importantly: how to cover all the possible emotional needs, the psychological issues that arise when journeying.

Whew! I spend a LOT of time thinking about this.

Because I just love traveling with books.

(Please, please, tell me someone out there still feels this way!)

I could go on and on about all the romantic and practical reasons why I love traveling with books... But Cornelia Funke describes it so beautifully in this little excerpt from Inkheart (which should be on your must-read list!! and which is, itself, perfect to travel with): 

"Take plenty to read!" Mo called from the hall. As if she didn't always! Years ago he had made her a box to hold her favorite books on all their journeys, short and long, near and far. "It's a good idea to have your own books with you in a strange place," Mo always said. He himself always took at least a dozen. ...

"If you take a book with you on a journey," Mo had said when he put the first one in her box, "an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. ... Memories cling to the printed page better than anything else."

He was probably right, but there was another reason why Meggie took her books whenever they went away. They were her home when she was somewhere strange. 

Isn't that right? 

The books I travel with--they fill up with airline tickets and boarding passes, brochures and maps, receipts and notes and lists. Sometimes with sand, sometimes with a squashed bug or two. (It happens.)

And at the same time: they make me feel at home.

Can we just take a moment to praise the books that accompany us on our journeys? 

There are the books that were just good entertainment, ways to rest, to add flavor to the time away:

- There's the Dorothy Sayers mystery (Have His Carcase) I read in Louisiana, between playing with my nieces and my nephew... 

- I read most of So Brave, Young, and Handsome in a library on my sister's college campus, escaping the fluorescent lights for the Wild West... 

- And then I read a lot of The Mysterious Benedict Society in a guest house in Nebraska... 

- I reread The Secret Garden while reconsidering my entire life in Bermuda, and on another visit, I read Frederick Buechner's The Storm while getting hideously sunburnt. (Whoops.)

But then, there are three books that come to mind for saving in me, one way or another, in tricky places: 

- I read most of The Eyre Affair on a plane over the Atlantic--which kept me from bawling after saying goodbye to the friends I'd made during a semester abroad. It was the perfect distraction.

- I soaked up the words of The Summer Book while in England for two weeks. It is the sole reason that I am still sane after standing in a line at least two miles long in Heathrow Airport. 

- And then, there's my favorite book of E.B. White's essays (One Man's Meat). Gulping down his gorgeous sentences kept me from strangling the guy I was sharing a ride with, when he was eight hours late (!) to take me home for Thanksgiving. Honestly. Jail time averted. Thanks, E.B.

What about you? Which books on your shelves did double duty as traveling companions? Which ones hold memories of other places on their pages?

Which do you recommend for travel? What will you be reading on your next trip? It's a tough question, right? Let's pool our ideas. (Oooh. Reading at the pool...)

Let's Use Writing to Prop Our Eyes Open

Can notetaking while on your travels enhance both your writing AND your whole life? What? It can? YES! | lucyflint.com

So there was this one time when I was in Sicily on a train, zipping around the coast. I was exhausted, disoriented, and exhilarated. (Typical travel state.)

I knew about eight words of Italian (none of which I could pronounce confidently), and I was feeling far away from my ordinary little county of cornfields in southern Illinois.

Mostly I was trying to absorb everything. Everything. All at once.

I tried to catch the scenery with my crappy little disposable camera (this was a lonnnnnnnng time ago). But the camera couldn't get the smell of the train car, wasn't fast enough to really capture the lemon trees outside, couldn't possibly imprint the mix of emotions among me and my friends.

So I put my camera away. I pulled out my journal. 

And I wrote as fast as I could.

I wasn't writing complete, magical sentences. I wasn't framing my experience in lovely, travel-memoir terms. I was just taking notes, as if one of my professors were rapid-fire presenting all this information in class somehow.

Writing fast, jotting nouns and verbs in a mess. Trying to write down everything as quickly as it was happening--

The sheep on the hills, the construction worker pausing as we rattled by, the laundry on wires between houses, the look of the rooftops, all the satellite dishes, the view of the sea.

And now, eleven years later, so many of my memories from Sicily aren't really preserved in the photos I took (though of course they help).

They're in the words. In the frantic-quick phrasing, in the cascade of nouns. The lists-turned-into-paragraphs.

I read that description, and I can remember it exactly, every part of it. The giddiness, the uncertainty, the strangeness, the beauty. And the immediate mad love I felt for the island I somehow found myself on.

So now I never leave home without bringing a notebook (even if it's just a teeny one in my purse). Whenever possible, when I find myself in a strange setting, I try to exercise this creative muscle, this freewriting-meets-notetaking, getting down my raw impressions.

It's one of my favorite-ever practices.

It helps me come up with fresh descriptions. Besides--as any artist will tell you--it's good to paint pictures from life, not from photographs or stale memories. 

But the best thing for me is this:

It gets me into my skin.

When I rely on a camera, I see everything in terms of a photograph. I get panicky about missing shots--that one is beautiful, and then, oh this one is perfect, and oh gosh what about that fountain, and maybe if I line up like this...

I find myself moving from photo op to photo op, missing the feeling of actually BEING THERE. 

(Anyone else get like this??)

But writing is different. When I sit down with pen and paper to capture my surroundings, I feel entirely present. I am fully there, a pure human recorder, getting every sense impression, everything down.

And it gets me to live more fully. 

How great is that? Writing serves your traveling; your traveling serves your writing.

Win/win.

But who says you have to go far from home to practice this?

Here's my creative challenge to you: go somewhere at least slightly unfamiliar--whether it's down the block, somewhere unexplored in your town, or a nearby city.

(Or, hey, I recommend Sicily. Unless you're from there. In which case: have you been to southern Illinois? Because it's super-different.) 

Open your journal, grab a good pen, and just get it down. 

Use your senses, all of 'em.

Not just the smell and the sounds and the tastes in the air, but--does it make you feel exposed and alone, or is it tight and claustrophobic? Is there tension in the environment, or peace? 

What kind of history lurks under the surface? What feels like it's about to happen?

Who knows. You might springboard yourself right into a scene for your novel. Or into a bunch of reflections about your own life.

Or, you just might get a breathless page or two of notes. However it works--it's writing and it's immediate and it's good.

Let's use the unfamiliar as a catalyst. And get really good at capturing the life that's happening around us and in us.

Where will you be writing from? 

Why It's Okay to Look Like an Idiot (Or, the Writer Is a Traveler)

Traveling and writing have loads in common. Most importantly, both pursuits make us new to ourselves. | lucyflint.com

Here in the midwest, it is definitely SUMMER. The days are sun-dazzled (or fiercely thunderstorming), and sticky with humidity. At night, the bats and fireflies take over the backyard, and fat junebugs whap against the windows. It all puts me in the mood for ice cream cones, barbecue, the smell of fireworks, and...

You know. A big VACATION.

Right?

Besides heat, summer is always synonymous with vacation. Traveling. Getaways.

I love to travel. Soaking in the atmosphere of some Other Place. Listening for the accents, changes in idioms, new conversation topics, or heck, a whole new language.

I like to see how the light feels different, to feel the switch in climate. I revel in all the sights, unfamiliar streets, new architecture. 

Best of all, I love how it changes the air in my brain. You know? Suddenly you're thinking new thoughts. When you're in a new place, a new context--

You get a chance to be a whole different person. 

It's kinda like being a writer.

Yes? Every time I sit down to work on a novel, I feel like I kind of unbutton part of my personality. I do a conscious context shift. I shiver into another kind of skin, another kind of mental place. 

And when I wrap up a writing session, there's that disorienting sense of coming back home. That muzzy, jet-laggy brain. And all the familiar objects seem a little strange, a little off.  

Okay. But then, there's this other side to traveling. 

To be honest, there's a lot about traveling that I honestly DON'T love.

I know. Super un-cool of me. But there it is.

I am not a big fan of hassle. I get a bit stressed when maps are pulled out. 

And when it comes to being daring in new places: I am about one-quarter brave and three-quarters big fat chicken. (I'm working on changing that ratio.)

I know it's very unsexy of me, but I actually enjoy routine, reliability, and certainty. I usually don't love surprises.

Like, say, the massive detour you weren't expecting because you're already exhausted and haven't had dinner and your bladder is about to explode. (Right? Anyone?)

Travel means being out of my element. And sometimes it means, being lost, staring around for some signage, pulling out the dreadful travel guide or phrase book...

Sometimes, travel means looking like an idiot.

Advertising the fact that you literally don't know where you're going or what you're doing.

It means being at the mercy of a whole bunch of other forces. (Rain, poor signage, crappy websites, hand-drawn maps, other travelers, extremely unpleasant restrooms, the locals, the germs of the person behind you on the plane...)

Huh. 

Kinda like being a writer.

I don't know about you, but when I started writing full-time, one of the things I most wanted was an ultra-clear, ultra-calm map. An infallible guide to this whole process.

Some very chill person with total authority, who would step in and say: Don't worry. This whole situation is totally under control. No muss. No fuss. 

But honestly, a lot of writing--for me at least--involves feeling like an idiot. 

Like I don't have the brains to write a clear sentence, let alone a chapter. (And never mind a novel, just don't, because that's like sprinting up Everest alone and without training.)

The writing life is full of uncertainties and massive detours. It yanks me out of my element time and again, forcing me to go somewhere that I'd rather not go. 

Sometimes, I get lost. I scramble for my best writing guides, and have agonized conversations with my best writing friends, and still end up feeling like I don't know which way is north. 

Sometimes with writing, I don't know what I'm doing.

The wonderful thing is that: I know why I endure the discomforts of travel. It's not about the creepy gas station toilet experience. Or the night I was pretty sure I was being sold to human traffickers. Or getting lost late at night in a place where I didn't know more than seven words of the language. 

(Though it all makes for great stories.)

I love travel because the process of it shapes me. Letting go of familiarity changes who I am, and how I see myself. 

And whether it's comfortable or very much not: the experience stretches me, broadens me, makes me new.

And that is worth it. 

(As are the amazing views and wonderful food and instant friends and the crazy stories and other incredible experiences...)

And as for writing: well. I endure the discomfort for the same reasons. 

Because after laboring up the steep hill of not knowing what the heck I'm writing, I sometimes reach a place where suddenly I see. And suddenly I know.

And that just fills me up. It makes me crazy-happy, delirious, and like this is the only thing I want to do.

Right? Have you found that you can go from total uncertainty to total clarity about the themes in your work, or the way the plot will unkink at the end, or who the characters really are... and isn't that an incredible moment? 

The process of writing--it changes me. All the thinking and working and fighting to see things clearly: it all scrapes the edges off of me

Writing--like travel--returns me to myself feeling a bit new.

And that is worth it.

(As are the amazing love of words and the wonderful books we get to read and the instant friends and the crazy stories and other incredible experiences.)

This July, we'll be teasing out the relationships between writing and traveling.

The overt ones (like what to read on a trip; how to write when you're on the road; how travel sharpens our observation skills), and the more metaphorical (like traveling the worlds of our own stories--woo!; or dealing with the culture shock of becoming a writer).

We'll be traveling, exploring, and getting all wanderlusty with our words. 

I'm stoked.

Because I'm convinced that travel can echo, illuminate, and shape our writing--our writing habits, our mindsets, our writerly hearts, and oh yes, our bravery.

Bravery! (You knew I was going to come back to that, didn't you, lionheart?)

So pack a pen and a notebook, gather a bit of courage, and let's do this.

A Survival Guide to Life Outside the Comfort Zone: Part Two

Still pushing into the unfamiliar? Four more strategies for life outside the comfort zone. | lucyflint.com

Two weeks ago, we started this discussion about stretching beyond where we're comfortable. If you missed that post, check it out for four more tips.

How are you doing, traveler? How's it going, stretching into new skills, facing your own awkwardness? 

I don't know about you, but my comfort zone is fairly small--it's a dwelling place, after all, not a county, not a continent.

When I leave it behind, the world is wide. 

And the survival guide should probably be a bit longer. 

So, if you too are exploring the world beyond familiarity, here are a few more tips for us all to keep in mind:

FIVE: Start small.

If you take off running, just barreling out of your comfort zone into the land beyond, you might get pretty far. You really might. And maybe you're the kind of person that would do just fine out there.

For me, I need to take it at a steady calm walk. Or possibly a crawl. Sometimes I just inch forward.

I've learned that I need new ideas to marinate in my brain a little. If you just pull the rug out from under how I do things, I usually end up screeching. And not really growing.

But if I have a little time, I can warm up a bit. I have a better shot at making it stick. I take it bit by bit.

So when I'm facing the great unknown, I take a deep breath, look down at my toes, and just take a teeny step. 

It's still progress. It's still forward. And I'm warming up the skills I'll need later--when I start to jog, when I begin to run.

SIX: Nurture your curiosity.

Curiosity is there to make bridges. Curious is what gets us to the other side of a question. And it's one of our best weapons when it comes to facing the unfamiliar or the uncomfortable.

But what if you don't feel curious about, say, learning a new strategy for outlining your novel? What if you don't feel curious about writing a memoir, or about posting flash fiction on your blog?

You might have to wheedle a bit. Just like you might encourage a child who very stubbornly and very certainly does not want to do something (sit on the potty chair, go to the classroom, get into the car, get out of the car).

Have you done this? Listen to the things you say: Hey, what's that over in the corner? It looks interesting, it looks fun, let's go check it out. I bet your doll would like to go over there and play. Let's go see. Let's see what it's like.

Take that same tone--patient, focusing on possibilities--with yourself. 

Start prodding different parts of the project. Start saying, Hey, what's that? A new technique? It looks interesting. It looks fun. 

And as the rest of you protests--lower lip out, I don't wanna!!!--insist on becoming curious.

Curious about how the new outlining strategy might look on your story--about the possibilities it might uncover. Curious about how a memoir might reframe your perspective on your present. Curious about flash fiction as a form, even if posting it terrifies you.

Tell yourself, Let's go see.

(You can fake curiosity too, in a pinch. Fake it long enough, and it might become real.)

SEVEN: Focus on gratitude.

A few months ago, I started learning some yoga moves. The resistance in my head about this was massive. And inwardly--as I started warming up--I'd make my list for all the reasons why this was a bad idea:

I'm not flexible, I'm not strong enough, it hurts to hold these poses, it probably looks really dumb, I'm bored already, this is so hokey, I could be doing something else right now, are my hands supposed to slip?, I'm going to injure something, I don't think this is how it goes...

And on and on and on. 

Until one day when I remembered a woman I know. She's suffering from a progressive disease, and she can't move easily at all. She needs a cane to walk (if she's feeling well enough to walk that day).

She has more bad days than good days. 

I thought of her one day as I was warming up, and it transformed my whole workout. 

What wouldn't she give, to be able to do what I was doing? Even as badly as I was doing it?

I realized I was so fortunate. And I felt grateful for a body that could move at all. Glad to have the ability to do any of the moves, even though I was just a beginner.

Even the simplest stretch filled my heart with thankfulness for my working arms, my working legs.

See what I mean? Whatever it is that you are doing, whatever you are pressing into: Think of the people who would trade their teeth to be able to do that same thing. Who would welcome the challenge of it, because they would be so glad to be able to do it.

Bring some of that gratitude into this journey outside your comfort zone. Reframe the struggle. See the grace.

EIGHT: Celebrate every milestone. (And have a broad definition of milestone.)

It's a heroic thing that you're doing. Now and then, come up for air. Pause. Look around at the new view you've discovered, at the new behaviors, the new skills.

Declare it a milestone. 

Pop some champagne and have a picnic. Take celebratory photos. Sing some songs.

You have come this far. And you will go farther. And that's worth a toast or two.