Let's Raise Our Glasses: Here's to All the Goals We're NOT Pursuing This Year!

This year's batch of resolution-making is as much about the goals we AREN'T pursuing as it is about the ones we are. Choice is where the magic happens for 2017. | lucyflint.com

It's impossible for me not to think about goals during the first month of the year. It's as fun as jumping on the whole back-to-school train in September!

And I'm not the only one who geeks out over these festivals of productivity, right? ;)

Only trouble is, it's incredibly easy for me to go overboard when it comes to New Year's Resolutions. As in: waaaaaaaay overboard.

Y'all know this about me already: Plans and goals go right to my head.

So when January 1 rolls around, I itch to get my hands on some graph paper and just plan the snot out of the next twelve months. I mean... come on. That's what graph paper was invented for!

And this is why I'm so proud of myself right now.

Because I spent some serious time sifting through my priorities and I narrowed my list of would-be goals to three.

JUST THREE. That's like superhuman restraint for me! 

Because usually I'll decide that there are, oh, about eight sections of my life that need overhauling, like yesterday, and then I'll brainstorm a dozen goals for each section (just to be safe!). And I'll narrow them down to maybe three or five or eight per section.

And then I'll come up with targets I need to hit to make those goals work, so now I have an army of sub-goals, and before long, they'll have multiplied into more fierce little ambitions than I can count, let alone track, let alone work toward. 

But I'll make a massive tracking chart thing anyway, and right at that point all my giddiness will burn out and I'll just sit there choking on overwhelm, staring at my perfect chart.

At which point I'll decide to go binge-watch moody British mysteries until springtime.

Yeah. A hundred percent. That's the usual goal-making process for me, if I'm not very, very careful.

And that's why choosing only three (amazing, exciting, challenging) goals for this year is practically an act of heroism.

I didn't do it alone, though. I had high-quality help in the form of two books: Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, and The Accidental Creative, by Todd Henry (which I fell in love with this fall).

Two super-excellent books for defining what matters in your life as a creative, and then doing it. 

The practice of Essentialism is all about focusing on doing less but better. Stripping things down to their essentials and then putting all your energy behind them. (Guess where the name comes from!) After falling head-over-heels for Deep Work and the power of mega-focus, I was ready to dive into Essentialist thinking.

Confession: Left to my own devices, I'm a die-hard Non-essentialist. In McKeown's terms, this means that I'm focusing on "the undisciplined pursuit of more."

In practice, this is a lifestyle of piling on commitments, scattering focus and energy everywhere, and saying yes to everything. And, oh yeah, feeling overwhelmed and like I can't make any progress.

It looks like sitting in front of a big chart of 73 goals with zero energy left to pursue them.

A lifestyle of Essentialism, on the other hand, relies on powerful decisions.

I love how McKeown takes his time with definitions in the book: He points out that the word decision comes out of the Latin for "to cut," or "to kill."

Meaning? When we decide on something, when we choose it, we're killing a different decision. We're cutting ourselves off from a different route. We are actively choosing to NOT do something else.

It's not a "pick both!" situation, even if that's how I try to make it play out. I want to ask, How can I do everything? How can I pick all the things I like? Everything I want, and right now?

But the real, amazing power of a decision comes from the fact that, when you pick one thing, and also pick to NOT do the other thing, you've freed up the resources and time and energy and attention and creativity that would have gone to that second thing.

Which means that your chosen path has gotten a lot stronger. You can do it far better than if you insisted on trying to do more things.

See where we're going with this? 

It's worth really wrapping your mind around this. Because if you're like me, it's so easy to believe that we have endless energy, plenty of time, no worries, we don't have to rule anything out! 

No matter how many times we prove that that's simply not true.

Anyone with me on this? 

It is so much better, more truthful, and less stressful, to take a deep breath and gather the focus to make an actual decision. The kind of decision that cuts something off, that kills the other option.

THIS thing. NOT that thing.

McKeown makes a compelling case, and he totally sold me on Essentialism. And I'm working to mend my scattershot ways!

(There's a lot more to his work than just that, and it's really good! But that's the section I used as I planned my goals. Definitely check out the book for yourself!

The idea of focusing on only three goals came to me while I was reviewing the notes I took from The Accidental Creative, which is a book about developing a sustainable rhythm to support your creativity. (SO. GOOD.)

One of Todd Henry's concepts is The Big 3, which is just "the three things I need to gain creative traction on right now. They aren't necessarily my biggest projects, though they often are. ... The Big 3 is a constant reminder of where I need to dedicate my creative bandwidth."

For Henry's purposes, the Big 3 can be updated whenever necessary. They can shift from week to week, depending on the progress you make. They're always what you're mulling over, and working to move forward on.

For me, three felt like a magic number. Just enough breadth to dodge boredom, but not so much variety that I lose my grip on what's essential.

I figured: why not have a Big 3 for the year? Aka, my Resolutions?? 

So I did it. I made a master list of projects and ideas and things that I care about, and then I weeded them out, one by one, until I focused in on my Big Three. 

Three super powerful goals. Two are work-related, and the third one is personal. Each of them is a game changer, no wait, a life changer for me.  

I made sure they were each fairly clear: measurable, and not just subjective. And then I did all my happy-nerd planning: I looked at where I'd need to be by the end of each month, in order to check off all three by the end of the year.

Each one is a VERY big stretch for me, but at the same time, each one is also truly doable. ... So long as I don't listen to fear, focus on my faults, and spend the year curled up in a corner!

Three mega-exciting goals.

And by not choosing those other seventy ideas, I'm aware of just how huge my attention span is, and how much energy I have, since I'm not spreading it around as much. 

What's also surprising is how respected I feel.

These are challenging things that I'm aiming for, but by not adding a dozen more goals on top of them, I feel like Boss-Me is being pretty reasonable toward Working-Me. I'm not thwarting myself from the outset, burying the important goals in a landslide of other attempts and commitments and initiatives.

So: they're actually possible. They will truly happen.

Which is why I seriously can't stop grinning. My heart's beating faster. But I'm not overwhelmed either. Challenged, yes. Overwhelmed? Well, no.

Because I can wrap my mind around each of these three things—there's only three, after all! And I have enough space and resources to seriously make them happen.

One, like I said, is personal. But what are my other two? Well, I definitely and absolutely and no-matter-what-ably am publishing my first book this year.

For SURE.

The date might change, but it is happening, and my current best estimate for publication is July 1. That is what I'm committing my schedule and my focus to. 

The other work-related goal is just as big and exciting: I'm committing to sell 1000 copies of that first book in the first six months of publication. WHOA. That's a big, exciting, time-to-put-my-big-girl-pants-on kind of goal! 

No chance that I'm going to be bored this year, haha! 

... So. Where are you at, my lionhearted friend, with the January goal-making and resolution seeking? 

Let me encourage you to pick very few. Just a few goals that are exciting for you, that are extra-important, that are worthy of the bulk of your time and focus and heart.

That would change your world a little—or, oh, even a lot.

(And no, sorry, a dozen goals isn't a few. I get it, and I feel you, but no.)

Challenge yourself to try for just a few big things. Try three. Three is such a great number.

And then feel the rush of empowerment as you line up what you would need to meet that goal.

What kinds of things you would do, in order to make it inescapable that you will hit your goals. Like, no question. Of course they are going to happen. They are definitely going to work out.

And, scary empowering question, what kinds of things will you not do, in order to make each of your goals a reality? 

Because it isn't just about setting up a killer action plan. It's about making sure that the time, energy, resources, excitement, and courage are all lined up and available for you from the start.

And then: make the daring, brave commitment to yourself that these things are your Most Important. They are your Essentials, your Big 3.

And if something else comes up, if there are obstacles, if you wake up and stop feeling like it: These goals still win

That's the power: You're deciding in advance they will happen.

You're calculating the trade-offs in advance. You're invested. You're not chasing after all the other pretty ideas on purpose, so that you have the resources and energy you need.

Focusing on these things is worth it.

So what are your Big 3? What's on your plate this year?

What is going to consistently win your focus and excitement, week after week this year, until it's done?

Ooooh. That's the kind of amazing attitude and bold commitment that's gonna get things done.


Want more resources? If you eat this kind of stuff up, definitely check out the book The One Thing, because it's also really helpful with questions of focus and purpose and what's essential. 

Also, there's my new favorite podcast (!!!!!), which is The Life Coach School Podcast, by Brooke Castillo. Seriously, y'all, the more I listen to it, the more I am CONVINCED that it is essential listening for every writer who is trying to publish and sell her work. For everyone who has to manage their own thoughts and goals and emotions and attitude: it is a MUST LISTEN. It just gives you such incredible tools for motivating yourself!

Definitely check out her episode on goal making, her episode on self doubt, and her episode on what you want to create in your life. They will rock your world, and get you thinking of how to tackle huge wonderful things in your life!!

Buckle up, 2017!

My Best Advice for Sticking with Nanowrimo (or Any Fierce Drafting Project!)

What does it take to survive Nanowrimo (or any fierce drafting project)? Hint: it's not just about words-per-day. | lucyflint.com

Happy November, and Happy NaNoWriMo to all my crazy scribblers!!

I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I am doing my own version of a writing marathon. I'm taking aim at my long-suffering work-in-progress, and I'm going to marathon through to see how far I can get with it in November.

... Because if you're going to try and work at an astonishing pace, November is the time to do it! ;)

Before we get into today's post, I have a little housekeeping announcement for you lionhearts.

First off: thank you SO much for being kind and patient with me as I took October off to replenish. Oh my gosh. It was the BEST possible thing I could have done. I'm feeling so much better!

Secondly: I've been looking at my writing goals and my writing pace over the last year. 2016 has been a tough year for my work-in-progress. October's break from blog production helped out my novel so much that I've decided to make a change to the blogging schedule.

Starting this month, 
I'm going to post just two articles a month.

And we'll just see how that goes for a while. 

Why two articles? Well, for one, I can never manage to write short posts. You probably noticed, haha!

I've tried—really I have!—but I'm always wanting to cram them full of all the info and supporting detail that I can muster. ... I always figure that if a topic is resonating for someone, I wanna make sure they get everything valuable that I can give them on that topic.

But, I get it: that can be overwhelming to keep up with, both as a reader and a writer!

In the past year and a half (has it been that long?!) I've written about so many of the writing topics that are close to my heart. I have been able to say a lot of what I most wanted to say about writing. (Have you been able to check out the Archives yet? They're bursting!)

So a more gentle pace with blogging seems the way to go, at least for now. Expect to see me here on the first and third Thursday of every month! 

Sound okay? Any questions? Just let me know in the comments. (Also, if there's something about the writing life that I haven't really tackled yet, or if there's something you'd love to hear more about, please do let me know!)

And thanks so much, as always, for being the awesome bunch of lionhearts that you are. You encourage me so much, and I'm so privileged to be writing alongside you!

Speaking of writing... 

Let's talk about mega-fast drafting, marathon writing, and NaNoWriMo.


Whenever I charge into some speedy drafting goals—like NaNoWriMo, or my self-designed drafting marathons—I always start by getting really clear on my purpose.

NaNoWriMo is such a huge event: it's become one of those rites of passage for writers today. Something to aim for, something to try at least once. 

Which is great! But before you get swept too far along, you need to grab a little bit of time to check in with why you are doing it. 

What's the point? 

If you are doing this crazy cliff-dive of a writing exercise, what's the goal? What are you aiming for?

Here. I'll let you think for a sec. ...

.

.

.

The reason why I love NaNoWriMo, why I love drafting marathons, is because of the core goal.

The goal is what shapes the whole experience; the goal is what makes it.

Because the goal of NaNoWriMo isn't perfect writing. 

Heck, the goal isn't even GOOD writing. 

The goal is: Mass ink. 

Word-shaped blotches and sentence-like creations and LOTS of 'em. 

For a recovering perfectionist, overachiever, and overthinker, this kind of drafting marathon feels like the craziest kind of indulgence. Abandon expectations. Abandon most-to-all standards. In a race like this, they'll just hold you back.

NaNoWriMo is about momentum and velocity, and it feels more than a little dangerous at times. 

It's risky

It's risky in the same way that running down a steep hill is risky, and I do it for the same reasons—

To see if maybe I start flying.

Or if at least I'll feel like I'm flying. 

Only instead of wings, we're sprouting a glider made out of words and pages, and seeing if maybe, just maybe, our feet lift off the ground for a while.

When you're moving this fast through storyland, after all, it has a way of seizing you.

You start living half-in and half-out of two realities: There's your day-to-day "real" life concerns (food and errands and whoa, actual humans)—

And there's the world of your story, your characters pressing in around you, holding onto your sleeve, putting their hands in your pockets, telling you secrets.

We do NaNoWriMo because, when we drop the bar of our expectations, and when we run in the biggest writerly wolfpack eversomething happens.

We literally achieve liftoff.

Even if you don't "finish" NaNoWriMo, even if you don't "win," you still get the experience of making a run for it.

Barreling across the plains of story, galloping faster than maybe you ever have before.

Do it for the rush, for the thrill, for the crazy swooping sensation in your stomach as your story grabs your hands and waltzes you across whole continents.

Let your NaNoWriMo goal be: that rush. 

Chuck perfection and standards; burn your outline if it gets in your way; and do whatever you can to get close to the heart of your story.

Don't worry, quite so much, about words per day. Filling out that word count graph can feel like the main goal, but I promise it's not the main thing to worry about. 

So instead of asking, "How can I crank out even more words," try asking: What can I add to this scene that would thrill me? 

Because the best way to write a ton of words is to answer that question. That's when your word counts will start shocking you.

Ask some follow-ups: 

  • How can I love writing about this character more? What quirks, traits, inner darkness, or outer hope can I layer into them that would keep me engaged while I write? 
  • What curve to the conflict would pull me to the edge of my seat? How can I weird up the story a bit? How can I add all my favorite story traits to it? What would keep me entertained?
  • What settings would I just love to pepper my story with? What do I want to explore with words?

Start answering those questions in your draft, and you'll find that the words and the masses of ink take care of themselves.

For the record, this is my best advice for NaNoWriMo, or for finishing any draft well. This is what has always worked the best for me.  

When you're worrying about quality, remind yourself that your real goal is just: tons of words on pages.

And if you find yourself worrying about how to write tons of words, throw that goal out the window, and just ask: What gets me excited, really excited, in a story? 

And start sprinkling—no, dumping—that into your draft. You'll feel the difference immediately. 

You just might start flying.


I'll check back in with you in two weeks with a big inspiration post, which I'm super excited about!

But til then, if you're looking for more NaNoWriMo cheerleading, check out this post on diving in, this post on the main NaNoWriMo fear (and why it's not true), and this undervalued—but super useful!—writing strategy.

Finally, here are 50 plot twist ideas... one of them is sure to bail you out of your next plot conundrum!

Best of luck—and happy flying!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right?!

Without commitment, we're anchorless.

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

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

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

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

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

How's your sense of commitment lately? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's dive in.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Nope. Not doing it.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

This Is How We Get Fiercely Productive and Fiercely Happy At the Same Time

When we have meaningful downtime, everything changes. Our brains focus better ... and we have a lot more fun!! | lucyflint.com

One of my favorite sections in Cal Newport's Deep Work was a section within the chapter "Work Deeply." I was reading along, getting all fired up about the untapped potential of my mighty brain and all it could do for my work, when I hit the subsection titled "Be Lazy."

Wait—what?? 

Is this still the same book?

As I kept reading, Newport convinced me. The lovely balancing truth is, in order to work deeply and to focus extremely well, we also need to know how to recharge, refuel, and regather our strength.

Which is, of course, right up my self-care alley!!

When I read that, I realized yet again: I want to be as good at refueling my mind as I am at spending it.

Those two skills go hand in hand: they depend on each other.

So today? We're going to talk about strengthening our ability to refuel, our ability to be lazy, our ability to play.

Ahhhhhh... This sounds fun.

How's that shutdown ritual coming along? 

As I've mentioned before, Newport makes the point that we need a clear, concrete end to our workday, in order to transfer all our unsolved problems and undone work over to the world of the unconcious.

... Which I still think is the coolest thing ever. (Cue a fun dream sequence.)

So, what do we do when all our focused work is done? Dive headlong into a night of Pinterest and Buzzfeed and Netflix and Facebook and all the media stimulation we can handle?

Um, no. 

That would be kinda like watching our diet and counting calories really strictly during the working hours ... and then binging on ice cream and brownies and cupcakes and peanut butter when we're done with work. (Aw, come on, peanut butter, you know I love you.) 

In other words, just because we're not actively working, it doesn't mean we can just jump back into the distraction festival.

That would undo all the brain training that we're striving for with deep work! 

So, um ... what can we do?

After our work is done for the day, we're free to pursue what Newport calls meaningful leisure.

Here's what he says:

If you give your mind something meaningful to do throughout all your waking hours, you'll end the day more fulfilled, and begin the next one more relaxed, than if you instead allow your mind to bathe for hours in semiconscious and unstructured Web surfing.

Whoa. Quite a concept, right?

Meaningful relaxation. Taking your downtime with a serious dose of intentionality.

So... I have to think about how I relax?

Well, yes. 

In Deep Work Newport references a few different ways to do that: spending time with hobbies, and going for nature walks, and simply indulging in recreational idleness. 

He says,

Decades of work from multiple different subfields within psychology all point toward the conclusion that regularly resting your brain improves the quality of your deep work. When you work, work hard. When you're done, be done. 

From reading the rest of the book, it doesn't sound like feeding the brain a steady stream of distractions and media is really the rest that it's looking for.

I'm convinced. Since reading that, I've started experimenting. I've brought back some old hobbies and started using my after-work hours to pursue them instead of pursuing news feeds and cat videos.

So I'm brushing off my piano skills a smidge, using my fingers for something other than typing words. I dug out an old pack of cards, and I've gotten back to my childhood love of solitaire games. 

I've even picked up something that I was never interested in before: jigsaw puzzles. No kidding! I didn't know if they would make me crazy or not, but so far, I've been shocked by how meditative and restful they've been.

There is something very humbling and very big-life-metaphor about assembling a big, complicated picture one piece at a time. I've found it utterly addictive.

And as I've reinvested in these three hobbies, I've found that the urge to jump back into the Internet has dwindled a lot. And I'm feeling more peace in my thinking.

Really. I'm not making it up. I feel different. Honestly... it's lovely. 

Let's overhaul our approach to downtime, shall we?

Here's the challenge, then. When we're not working, let's be actively rejuvenating. Not just doing low-grade Internetish activities that are somewhat fun but not at all memorable.

Those social media or infotainment sites that absorb a lot of time, give us a few laughs maybe, give us a few spurts of inspiration maybe, but then don't leave us with much when they're done.

Know what I mean? 

So, what old hobbies are calling to you? What did you love doing as a kid, but haven't picked up in a while? 

What kinds of things have seemed too nerdy, or a bit of a hassle, or a little old-school ... but secretly you always liked doing them? Maybe you could pick them up again?

Try that. Chase down three old hobbies, or even just one. Start spending time with them in your after-work hours, and just see what happens. 

Be patient if it seems slow at first. It might be challenging, but you're up for that, right? Go easy, and then start to feel yourself relax into it.

Yes, this takes more thought. Yes, it even takes (until you get used to it) more effort.

But it is INFINITELY more rewarding.

So worth it.

... If you're stumped for hobbies or pastimes, try asking yourself these questions.

(And yes, that sound is me cackling a little bit, because when I asked myself these questions they dramatically changed my life and how I see myself. I'm not kidding. So, buckle up, lionhearts.)

Here we go:  

  • When you're on Pinterest, what do you tend to pin the most? What boards do you compulsively fill out? What imagery do you get excited over? What pins give you that eager zing in your mind and heart?
  • When you're on Facebook, who do you most want to keep in touch with? Who do you want to know about? What do you love seeing? What do you always click on?
  • What Instagram accounts get you excited? What kinds of accounts fill up most of your feed? What photos make you happy, inspired? What do you love to see?
  • In your other social media accounts: Where do you enjoy spending your time? What are you drawn to? What kinds of posts and images do you respond to readily? What do you most like?

Here's my sincere challenge to you: Go back and really answer those questions, okay? Be as honest and thorough as possible. Try to put down at least one thing for each site that you go to, and if you're really brave, list four or seven or twelve. 

Okay. Wanna change your life? Here's the simple and radical thing to try: 

Instead of pinning it, try living it. 

Instead of liking a friend's post, write a postcard or a letter. Instead of filling a comment box with confetti emojis, send actual confetti!!

Instead of watching hours of funny cat videos, check out the classics of film comedy, and have a movie festival. (I was raised on the Marx Brothers, btw.) 

Instead of oohing and ahhing over a photostream, go after that skill, that environment, that style, that fill-in-the-blank in your real and actual and daily life.

Instead of filling out Pinterest boards, try collecting the objects you're pinning, visiting the kinds of places you adore, making the things you admire.

Resurrect an old hobby, or fall in love with a new one. Visit a place instead of dreaming about it.

Take your own photos. Make your own emojis. Do your own stunts.

I know. This can feel like a lot of effort, but my friends, it's been life-changing for me! 

Case in point: It took me along time to realize that I was pinning a lot of art. I mean, a lot.

I had a Pinterest board for patterns and a board for brilliant design and a board for photography that thrilled me and a board for amazing illustrations and a board of sketchbook spreads.

And only this past summer did it hit me: Ummmm, Lucy, how about taking an art class?

I debated for a while. For a long time, actually. 

I'm a WRITER, I told myself severely. I write. I do not take art classes.

And then Deep Work came along, and Cal Newport says my brain needs a rest, so now I have a year-long subscription to CreativeBug. And I am definitely taking art classes. 

Right after I enrolled, I watched preview after preview of class options. And at one point, I actually had tears in my eyes while listening to one woman describe the joy of keeping a sketchbook. 

Something in me has been wanting this, needing this, for a long time. And because I needed to be a "serious writer," I kept saying no to myself.

What I LOVE is that being a serious writer means I actually get to say yes.

Yes to a more meaningful downtime. Yes to those non-work pursuits. Because those yeses translate to a better, sharper focus when I'm at my desk.

HOW CRAZY AND WONDERFUL IS THAT?!

In total honesty, I have not been doing a lot of pinning lately. I haven't been on Instagram in a long while. (And you can tell because those dang photos of mine aren't changing, sorry!!) 

But I really loved my line drawing class, and that sketchbook spread I painted last night makes me smile every time I think of it.

... You see what I mean, right? 

It's worth it. Figure out what your social media habits are telling you, and then try pursuing the real thing. 

If you're feeling resistant to this, believe me, I've been there.

I've had plenty of weeks, plenty of months, when my brain felt like melted butter, and all I wanted after work was a nice media snack and then bed.

I get it. I really, really do. 

But diving into a hobby instead of merely media-ing it has been incredible.

I'm seeing myself differently. When my writing is done for the day, I start feeling like I'm also an artist. I'm a pianist again. And after a long jigsaw puzzle stint, I start to see the physical world around me differently, noticing how objects look side-by-side in a totally new way.

Because of my overhauled recreation time, I have a broader sense of what I can do and who I am.

Also, it is so incredibly energizing, in a way that all the Internet-inspiration-browsing has not been. Choosing to live your inspirations changes you from a spectator and a consumer to a maker. An artist. A creator.

... So THAT, my lionhearted friends, is my challenge to you. What would you make, who would you reach, where would you go, what would you try, if social media wasn't the answer? If the Internet wasn't waving its big, distracted arms at you?

What would you do, and who would you be, instead?

Mmmmm. Be very excited: your answers just might change your life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all want high quality writing, yes? 

So this is our next thing to learn.

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

Eye-opening, and oh-so helpful.

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

He has this equation that I just loved: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This book is for you.

It's for all of us.

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

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

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

Definitions first. Newport defines deep work as: 

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

What does that mean for all of us writers?

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

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

So that's why it's seriously important.

Deep work means that you're writing valuable things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep work is worth pursuing.

... But then we hit a few snags.

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

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

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

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

And we're gonna have to change some things.

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

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

Yikes.

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

And ... it gets worse:

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

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

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

And attention residue can last for ten to twenty minutes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is going to take training.

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

For serious.

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

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

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

Why is it so important to know this?

Because the breakthroughs are on the other side of perseverance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He points out,

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

That resistance? Super important. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For me, it means:

Sounds simple, right? 

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

Yes, really.

And here's why that's so cool:

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

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

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

Newport says it like this: 

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

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

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

What does the unconscious do? Newport continues:

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

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

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

You too, right?

Let that sink in for a second.

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

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

Your unconscious mind is your hero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He says, 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Which, honestly, is super empowering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Explode Your Creativity (and Just Have a Lot More Fun!) by Strengthening This One Dynamic Skill

An essential skill that's usually in desperate need of strengthening, if we want to create better stories ... and a more satisfying writing life. | lucyflint.com

Have you ever read a book that felt like the author was standing waaaaay too far away from you?

There's this weird kind of distance—like they're standing outside of their own book. That incredibly tedious, frustrating sensation that the writer is writing about their story. 

Know what I mean?

Their scenes feel like static, lifeless things that the writer is pointing to and explaining to me.

... Instead of whisking me up and sticking me right in the middle of the story itself. 

Confession One: With this kind of book, I don't last long as a reader.

Confession Two: And I can totally become this kind of writer, when I'm not careful.

Yiiiiiiiiikes.

Spoiler alert: I'm not about to dive into the differences of "showing versus telling." And I'm not going to unpack the more descriptive styles of writing as opposed to the more stark.

Nope. What's on my mind is the big, overarching, world-shaping superpower that we all have access to as writers. 

Imagination.

Today we're gonna dive into how we can strengthen that oh-so-vital aspect of our craft.

But before we start, WHY does it feel so silly to talk about imagination? Like it is so very uncool and unadult.

After kicking off this series on strength-building, I feel like I've just waltzed into a weightlifting class and announced, "Today, we fingerpaint!"

And yet. Training our imaginations has a lot more to do with athletic prowess than anything goofy or simplistic. (Not to knock fingerpainting. Fingerpainting is awesome.)

After all, my friends, we're creating people and conflicts and settings and whole worlds in our minds

That's one heck of a barbell to hoist off the ground.

Okay? So let's not belittle ourselves by sneering at the term "imagination."

It's just the name of the muscle we happen to use for this incredibly powerful work we do.

How We Get Toned, Build Muscle, and Increase Imaginative Flexibility

As I come back to my novel after a turbulent summer, I'm realizing how much time I've spent away from the inner workings of my story. I've used my creativity to solve daily problems ... instead of using it to dive into my characters' world.

So my imagination has lost a whole lot of muscle mass. It's gotten scrawny. It skips the stairs and heads for the elevator. And its joints are all stiff and inflexible. 

So when I ask it to work hard on my novel, it kinda gasps and shakes and then looks around for a bag of chips.

No bueno.

I want my novel to thrive this autumn. Right? And you want yours to be amazing too, I'm sure. 

Which means it's time to build some serious strength in imagination!

So ...

So, how do we do that?

Well, a lot goes into this, for sure. We could talk about nurturing our curiosity, pouring ourselves into wonder, and taking ourselves exploring on artist dates, all of which are essential components to a full imagination-health routine. 

But I think that there's one skill that's more vital than all the rest.

Something that can totally dry up when we forget how important it is. When we start "coasting," and skimp on our attention to it.

But when we practice it over and over, ohhhh, look out.

Our writing gets richer, stronger, and generally more awesome.

I'm talking about the simple yet incredibly challenging practice of fully visualizing what we are about to write.

This is the practice of taking a scene that exists as an idea in your head, and then experiencing it. As if you were there, in the scene. 

Being present inside it, as completely and totally as possible.

THAT.

Yeah. Like I said: it's simple. Yet super challenging. 

James Scott Bell sums up this kind of imagination practice so well in his book Plot & Structure: "Be an actor." He says: 

I'll ... try to live the emotions. I'll act out the parts I've created. Almost always what I feel "in character" will make me add to or change the scene. ...
     Vividly imagine the scene, step by step, in your mind. Let it play like a movie. But instead of watching the movie from a seat in the theater, be in the scene.

Be. In. The. Scene.

So—we've probably all done this to some degree. There are scenes and moments in our stories that tend to just drop into our imaginations, right? And other pivotal scenes can be easy for us to tumble into and experience vividly.

But I know that, for myself, I tend to not make this immersive imagining a key part of my writing routine.

Instead, I get by on low-grade visualizing. Barely seeing it in my head, I instead think my way through: I guess the character could say this, and then he'd reply with this, and so she'd counter with this

But too much of that, and writing just feels like manipulating ideas of people, notions of conflict, rough sketches of setting.

Instead of the living, breathing story itself. 

Instead of the kind of story that makes its readers stay up waaaaay too late at night finishing it.

The kind of story that haunts readers and inspires their dreams.

My friends, visualizing our stories changes everything.

It keeps us from standing outside a scene and writing about the action. Instead, it plunges us inside it, so that we create the scene. First in our heads, and then on paper.

And our readers? Better be prepared to be carried away.

Five Essentials for Imagination Practice

This is a practice, so be super patient. Especially if you're as rusty at it as I am!

Be incredibly kind to yourself, refuse to expect perfection, and just keep coming back to it.

As you do, here are five things to remember that might make all the difference for you.

1. Be willing to move slowly.

It's when I'm trying to hurry through my work that all pretense of richly imagining the scene just goes straight out the window. 

I'll have the merest glimmer of the scene in my head as I pound it out on a keyboard.

Now, I'm not at all against writing fast: I think it's the coolest thing ever, and I want to get better at it. (Because THIS!)

But as we get ready to write quickly, our preparation time is a key moment for visualizing. 

That's when we can slow down, and take the time to fully sink into whatever it is we're about to write. 

If you're tempted to rush, like I can be, it's good to take a deep breath and remember what it feels like to be totally blown away as a reader.

Is it worth it, for an incredible scene? 

OH yeah. Totally worth it. 

2. Build the whole scene.

It's terribly easy for me to fall into a rut with what I imagine for my scenes. If I could get away with it, I'd have faceless, undetailed characters and nearly blank settings. I'm stronger on voice quality and emotional beats and overall action. 

But setting details? Physical characteristics? 

Ack! I have to remind myself to not leave them out.

So, as you plunge your imagination into the scene, feel into all these lifelike details: 

  • The sensations of the air, the temperature, dampness or dryness...
  • The quality of the space—claustrophobic, exposed, oppressive, frivolous, light...
  • All the sounds: of gadgets, people, movement, weather, animals, distant traffic, or hollow stillness...
  • Scent. It's so easy to forget! The smells of the people, the rooms, the outdoor spaces, fabrics, foods, mustiness...
  • And then of course, the feel of the emotions: tension, excitement, nerves, hope, shame, uncertainty, expectation...

We could probably come up with a list five times as long as this. (Which would be awesome, but really overwhelming too, haha!) 

The point is: try to be as present in your visualization of the scene as you would be in real life.

Notice what you notice. Feel what you feel. And figure out alllll the little details that affect you.

3. And definitely expect it to feel super weird.

It can help to remember: this might be really uncomfortable.

Sometimes, when I'm visualizing a scene, something in my head says, "Hold up. This is a really strange thing to be doing. NOT very normal. Not very adult. So let's not." 

Right? 

It's important to remember that, especially when we're new to this kind of imagination training, it might seem really weird, or childish, or wild, or uncertain. 

But it's still worth it.

Basically? Keep on going, even when it feels strange.

Even if something in you wants to say, "Ack, that's enough, right? We have a general idea of this scene. Let's just hurry up and write it already." 

Hang on. Even in that tough place.

Why? Because this is where strength starts to build.

Strength happens every time we don't quit when we want to quit.

Just like when we're jogging a longer route than usual, or wobbling in a yoga balancing pose, or lifting a weight that's right at our limit—we will want to quit.

We cry, "Okay, enough, I'm done!"

But if you push through the discomfort, if you hold on, then you get better, stronger, more flexible, more stable. 

You're inventing worlds in your mind, my friend. It takes strength and skill. Keep going. It's worth it.

4. Don't grab the distraction bait.

When it gets tough or challenging, it's so easy to think, "I need back-up!"

So we drop out of our intense imagining, and go find: a good Google image spread, or a Wikipedia page, or maybe check out that one Instagram account, or go make coffee.

Or basically do anything but the imagining.

But the longer we can focus allllllll our attention on this, the more rich and deep and well-constructed it will be.

So if you need more details in your scene, just make them up. Even if they might not be accurate or will need updating later.

If you're getting bored and this visualizing feels tedious, add something that puts you back on your edge. Raymond Chandler would send in a man with a gun. Personally, I like to throw in something weird, off kilter, askew.

What would most re-engage your attention? Send it in there.

5. Whatever else you do, don't hold back the most essential part of the scene. 

Deeply imagining a scene is a choice. And a skill. I've felt it get easier with practice... and then much harder when I'm out of practice.

So when we engage with this, we're increasing our skill, for sure. 

But we're also re-choosing and re-committing to our own story. 

We're deciding to live in it. Inhabit it. Participate inside it.

When I do this, I'm pushing myself to experience my story not just as a reader, but essentially as a character. 

I become someone who can peer into the absolute central workings of it. I get to witness all the exquisite moments that won't make it onto the "main stage" of the finished page. I spend my working hours wandering other realities.

And that is when I feel like the writing life is the most incredible, satisfying, and adventurous life that there can be.

It's pretty freaking amazing, in other words.

What we have to remember is that this isn't just an exercise.

It isn't just a strength-building, creativity-enhancing strategy.

It's a way of life. A way of working.

And it's the most literally mind-bending part of our craft.

It gifts us with the ability to write our stories from inside of them. Instead of from a distance, like we're merely pulling puppet strings.

If we’re not imagining, we’re settling for less. Less from our stories, less for our readers, but also less of an experience as writers.

When I think of fully imagining a scene, I'm reminded of this quote by—guess who!—Julia Cameron, in her book Walking in This World. (She's referring to the start of a larger project, but I think it applies equally well to this idea of visualizing our stories.) 

She writes: 

Horseback riders who jump the Grand Prix fences of terrifying heights talk of "throwing their heart" over the fence so their horse jumps after it. We must do the same.

That image just grabs me. Can't that be how we pursue this?

Let's not make visualizing just one more static exercise for mere technical improvement. 

Let's turn it into an opportunity to throw our hearts more fully into our scenes.

And let the action and the details and the writing itself jump after it—to great heights.

If We Don't Ask Our Writing Lives This Question, Really Bad Things Happen. (Like Block, Burnout, Discouragement, and Dead Ends.)

There's so much going on that it's easy to work on autopilot. But if we don't dig into how we define this one aspect of our writing lives, we could be setting ourselves up for serious trouble. | lucyflint.com

Oh look, another month! How the heck did that happen??

Autumn is my favorite time of the year, so as soon as I hear the word September, I'm already daydreaming about apples with cinnamon and pumpkin-spiced everything and cooler days and the smell of bonfires and the sound of the marching band on football nights and snuggling my toes into cozy knitted socks ...

Whoops, got carried away. (Besides, it's going to feel like summer around here for the whole month anyway, so no need to rush things, I suppose.)

Ahem. 

I love the beginning of a month, because it's always a good time to take stock.

... Oh, who am I kidding. I like taking stock at the end of the month too. And every day in between.

So, whenever you read this, here's the question: Where are you at right now? 

How are you doing, in your mind? Your heart? Your creativity? 

How's the work-in-progress? How's the writing life?

It's been a whirlwind of a year (on my end, at least). And I'm more than a little amazed to be facing the last four months of the year. 

I loved—and desperately needed—August's self-care focus. All that self-understanding and self-nurturing was absolute balm to my hassled soul.

And now that we're on this side of it, I asked myself what we should do next. The answer was clear and immediate:

I want to gather strength. Build stability. Stamina.

So much of this year has been about taking things apart and trying to put them back together in a better way.

That has been amazing. It's been (seriously) life-changing. 

And also a bit, um, disruptive.

I'm ready to find a good groove and to get back in it, know what I mean?

Personally, I love the idea of following a month of self-care with a month of strength-building. We're taking better care of ourselves to a purpose, you know?

Now that we're better at nurturing, now that we're alert to better ways of operating—what do we do with ourselves?

Get stronger. Build strength. Yes!

But as soon as I knew that, I had another problem. 

Strength? 

What the heck does that even mean?

Because if you spent any time watching the 2016 Olympics, you've realized that there are about a bazillion different kinds of strength.

Watching those athletes compete, you can totally tell: what makes someone the best at one type of sport would be completely destructive to someone in another sport.

So if I want to build strength in my writing life, I have to do a little digging to figure out exactly what I mean by that.

Where does that desire—I want to feel stronger!!—come from? What's the urge behind it?

Part of me was echoing Julia Cameron's statement: Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong

Yes! Let's keep building strength with nurturing! Let's have incredibly strong imaginations! Let's have writing days that come from a strong sense of enthusiasm!

And another part of me was saying, "Also, let's do a ton of writing, please."

It's worth remembering: We build strength physically by repeating a difficult action. By challenging ourselves.

By going right up to our limits (we find where they are by "failing"), and then building strength and skills right on the borderlands of our ability.

I want to get better at working hard, at the very same time that I want to get better at working happy

So what might that look like in our writing lives this month?

In other words, here's my question for you today:

How do you, personally, define strength?

What kind of strength are you looking for right now, in your writing life?

It's worth doing a little digging, a little self-reflection. It's important to get clear on what we mean by it.

Because if we don't check our unspoken definitions now and then, we can slip into this funny little habit of valuing opposing things.

Conflicting habits. Mutually exclusive "strengths."

Here's what I mean:

Sometimes I tell myself that I really value a distraction-free environment. Strength of focus is a beautiful thing!

But then, I discover that I'm secretly also valuing hyper-productivity: "I can't let a single unread email sit in my inbox!"

Funny how those two ideas don't work together very well. (More on all that later this month.)

Or I can tell myself that I want to be really well-rested. Feeling healthy: definitely makes me feel stronger.

But then, as I work on honoring that, something else in me freaks out. "No, no, wait," it cries. "I also have to work at least ten hours a day with no breaks, or I feel like a slacker." 

So apparently, somewhere in my inner workings, I've mislabeled "working incessantly" as another sign of strength.

Hmm. 

It sounds a little silly, but I think it's worth taking the time to investigate. Because if we dive into the idea of "strength" on autopilot, without thinking about what we value, we can sabotage ourselves. 

We might find that we're holding ourselves to a dozen competing standards. And that's not gonna go so well.

Honestly, whenever I've burned out in the past, this has been part of the problem. I've mislabeled something as strong, and then worked to build that strength ... in spite of warning signs. In spite of a need to balance it out.

So. Take a little time today, or this weekend, and just check in: 

What kind of strengths do you most value?

When you think of yourself growing in stamina and building strength as a writer, what kinds of things come to mind?

Skills? Habits? Attitudes? 

If you gave your writing life a kind of athletic identity, what would most symbolize strength to you? 

In other words: for some people, strength looks like a body-builder's physique. For someone else, it's a yogi's amazing flexibility. 

There's a gymnast's incredible sense of balance, the endurance of a rowing team, or the sheer speed of a sprinter. Or what about a hurdler's take on navigating obstacles?

I've narrowed down my own sense of writing life strengths to a handful of traits. These are the things I really want to dig into this month. 

I want to put in my time in the weight room, and nurture these skills with habits, with practice, with good stretches, with quality repetition.

I want to check in with how we treat our work. With how our imaginations and attitudes work to strengthen our writing. 

I want to definitely build muscle around the whole strategy of routine, schedule, and balance. 

And then I want to check in with the obstacles we face. What saps our strength? And what's our vision for all this work and effort, anyway?

Mmmm.

So, that's what's ahead in September! Let's take allllll the good wellness we explored in August, and let it support us as we move into muscle-building mode.

It's time for more flexibility. Better endurance. And the ability to heft some serious poundage.

Let's create a stronger writing life.


What's going on in your life when you feel strong as a writer? What skills are in place, what habits? 

Have you seen how the right habits build strength in you, as a thinker, a creator, a writer? What creative muscles are you most itching to target?

Where do you most want to increase strength this fall?

Here's How I'm Fixing an Old, Incredibly Bad Writing Strategy

It's tempting to think that we can writing at an amazing level, while still keeping this bad (deceptive!) habit around. But I'm slowly learning: I can't do both. Here's why. | lucyflint.com

You know that feeling of being sore in muscles you didn't know you had? It's kinda weird, but at the same time, it gives you a bigger sense of yourself, right? 

You see yourself a bit more clearly (if with surprise), and at the same time, you're a little astonished to realize that you're more complex than you realized.

... Or maybe I'm the only one who feels shocked like that after an unusual workout. ;)

That's the same feeling I've been getting as I keep applying The Artist's Way to my creativity and my writing life

Only, it isn't just creative muscles that are waking up. It's creative needs.

Again and again, Julia Cameron's essays and tasks are introducing me to needs that I didn't realize I had. 

Or even needs I'd just miscategorized. Things that I vaguely knew were "important" when I could get to them, but ... maybe I could also just shrug them off indefinitely.

But that's all changing.

As I settle into Cameron's way of thinking, as I journal about these new insights, I'm gaining a broader, more accurate sense of what my needs are as an artist. As well as what it takes to meet those needs.

Honestly? It's been pretty dang startling. 

Super exciting. But also startling.

And so, as I'm repairing my work habits and settling into a fresh work routine after the craziness of this summer, I'm really taking into account the things that Cameron urges in her book. 

In other words: I'm breaking my "let's shrug it off" habit.

No more shrugging. No more dismissing.

Instead I'm seizing this lovely back-to-school vibe that's in the air (can you feel it?) and I'm designing my work space and work routines with all these needs in mind. 

If I don't set up my schedule with time in it for the creative nurturing I need on a regular basis (time refilling the well and writing morning pages, as well as time for the writing itself), it's just not going to happen.

And that's simply not an option for me anymore.

(Pardon me while I sing a quick fight song, and do a few high kicks.)

Ahem.

Here's the scary thing. Here's what is so important for you, for me, and for all of us who want to work with integrity and creativity.

Preserving the time for this kind of work, preserving the energy and the ability to focus—it takes effort! 

Showing up for your creative self on a regular basis and taking care of all these legitimate and vital needs:

It's delicious and exciting and exactly what I want to be doing.

But it also means that, to clear that space, I'll need to say no to some other stuff.

Feel where I'm going with this?

Because, spoiler alert: I do not (yet) have a clone.

I would love to have a second Lucy running around here, who could take care of all the out-and-about stuff, who could buzz around and meet friends for coffee all day, and take care of everyone's needs and preferences—

While I just focus in on becoming the artist and maker that I so desperately want to be.

The clone thing hasn't worked out yet.

So until that mind-boggling day, there's just me.

And I can't do everything.

Throughout The Artist's Way, Cameron spotlights helpful quotes from other artists in the margins of the book. And one of my favorites was this one:

"Saying no can be the ultimate self-care."
— Claudia Black

Whoa. I just sat and stared at that one.

Here's what I'm realizing. Saying no to other people is super hard for me. 

Really really hard.

I used to think that I wasn't a "people pleaser." I'm pretty quiet around others and tend to keep to myself and sing little introvert songs to quiet my nerves. 

And yet.

It's only recently that I'm seeing how much I want everyone to like me. I fall into this scary habit of trying to make sure that I don't disappoint anyone.

No matter how bad the timing is, no matter how unrealistic the expectation: It's really stinking hard for me to turn people down.

And in The Artist's Way, Cameron reminds us that we need to know how to say no to other people.

Why? To protect your art. To preserve space for all that thinking, dreaming, brewing, sketching. Your time. Your energy. 

She warns against letting the wants and requests of others drown your ability to work on your creativity. 

She's not being unrealistic or horrible with this, by the way. She is not saying we need to let other people wither without us during crises. 

Instead, she's pointing out that there will always be opportunities for us to do other things—seemingly noble ones, in fact—instead of our work. 

And it will be easier to show up for other people than to show up for ourselves.

And I don't know about you, but that is completely and terrifyingly true of me.

As I've wrestled with this, here's what I've realized: 

The hardest person to turn down is myself. 

And I'm not just talking about the times when I want to wander off and not work.

The hardest thing is: Saying no to a version of myself that I simply cannot be if I also want to write amazing books. 

The hardest "no" that I say is when I say, No, Lucy, you're not going to be everyone's favorite person because you're not the utterly reliable, always-there-for-everyone-no-matter-what person anymore.

You're not going to be the one who steps up and pitches in every time someone else has a project going on. 

You're not going to be the person everyone thinks of when they want a helping hand.

You are not constantly available. Your schedule is not endlessly flexible.

You can't keep everyone happy all the time. You can't keep the people around you 100% disappointment free.

You can't do those things and still write at the level at which you most want to write.

Seriously, friends: This is a really hard thing for me.

And guess what. When I do say no to something—an event, an opportunity, a low-grade preference of someone else's—there are other people who can step up.

Other people who are excited and committed to the event. Other people in the right place to take advantage of the opportunity. Other people who are well-positioned to fill the need.

I've seen it happen time and time again. And re-learned the truth: this whole thing's success did not depend on me. It's okay. I can say no.

So, the very hard truth of it is, I'm not actually leaving people out to dry. That's not the main difficulty. 

The real trouble is, I have to give up this vision of being a person who keeps everyone happy all the time. The person who never disappoints. Who always has time for everyone.

That is what is so tough for me. 

I want everyone to be glad I showed up. I want to swoop in and make everything better, for everyone, all the time.

Fantastic. Nice idea. 

... Doesn't so much lead to good novels though.

(Because I've tried. It is an incredibly bad writing strategy.)

Not to sound too lofty, but: I am convinced that my biggest service to the world isn't through my being everyone's best friend.

It isn't through helping everyone around me when they'd like some slight assistance. It isn't through making everyone's life easier.

My biggest service is going to come through writing the best dang novels I can muster. It is going to come through my craft, my stories. 

And to write them, I need to feed my artistic side consistently.

I need to protect the time it takes to do the work. To give as much as I want to give in my novels, I have to take relentless, consistent, compassionate care of myself.

I have to say no—to others and to the crazy super-human ideas I have about myself—as an act of self-care.

I need to say a lot of noes to a lot of different things (and different versions of always-nice Lucy) in order to be available to the people I most want to assist. 

And part of that group is my future readers. The kids who will fall in love with this trilogy.

I want to be there for them. I want to drop everything else and show up for those readers.

I want to do whatever it takes, so that my books can be there in a pinch for them. I want to bring refreshment into hard places through my novels. I want to help other people put their oxygen masks on.

To do that, I have to find my own mask. Pull it toward me and put it over my head. Pull the little tab thingies to tighten it. Get it on straight. And breathe.

I have to take very good care of myself. So that I can serve through writing. 

How about you, my lionhearted friend? Are there some commitments that have somehow snagged you, that you really don't belong to? That you don't truly need to participate in?

Can you do the amazing, daring, self-caring thing, and free yourself with a kind but firm "no"?

Where is saying no the best kind of self-care for you? And where do you, like me, have to say the hardest noes to yourself?

We've gotta learn how to do this, my friends. Our future readers are counting on us.

Your Secret Weapon (And Why You Need One) For When You'd Really Like to Throw a Fit

There are a zillion moments when a writer is tempted to totally lose patience and throw a fit. Here's why that's the most toxic thing you can do for your writing, and what to do instead. | lucyflint.com

If you haven't noticed already, there are approximately a billion skills that go into writing well. And a few more skills to shape that good writing into a specific form (like our old friend, the novel).

Here's what I keep figuring out about that whole process. It doesn't advance your learning if you're shrieking at yourself for not being faster.

Know what I mean?

This is why patience is central to being a lionhearted writer. It's why aiming for peace is a huge part of enhancing your courage. 

And that's why patience and peace belong in our Anatomy of a Lionheart series.

Okay, but here's the first problem with that. Peace—as in, holding your peace, keeping the peace—sounds meek. And super old-fashioned.

How can staying peaceful, of all things, have any role in our impressive writing feats?

For starters, I'm going to define peaceful as being okay with what we can't control, because we're totally rocking the things that we can. Make sense?

Obviously there are exceptions to this, and of course we shouldn't be "okay" with truly ugly and unbearable circumstances. I'm just saying, for general, run-of-the-mill frustrations, lionhearted writing means choosing peace. Patience.

In other words, this is about not thrashing

If this still sounds lame and unappealing, I totally get it. I used to think that aiming for a peaceful or a patient approach was kind of wimpy.

Like you're putting all your ambitions on a shelf, and you're just floating along, not caring. And I cared!

So I didn't think a peaceful mindset was worth aiming for... 

Until I met this guy at the post office.

Without intending to, he taught me a ton about how truly powerful peace and patience can be. 

So—the post office. There was a line. Each transaction was taking a while. One person working the desk. 

I was next in line, but it was taking for-ev-er to be called up. None of us in the line were thrilled to be waiting for so long, but we were all dealing with it... 

Except the guy right behind me. He was livid.

He was the whole furious rage package. Angry snarling expression, overly loud voice, throbbing veins. Venting his anger to all of us. Ready to fight the entire freaking postal system because he had to wait for twenty minutes.

There was something about watching that up close that taught me, vividly, that anger—or, impatience to the breaking point—makes you rigid. In every single way.

It shuts down your ability to think creatively. To give other people the benefit of the doubt. To be generous.

You lose your mental agility (which is precisely what you need if you're facing something you don't like).

And the entirety of your life shrinks down to this one fight: You vs. the Thing.

(In this case, a twenty-minute wait at a PO.)

Also? It makes everything very unfun for you and unpleasant for everyone else.

It's bad enough to encounter this in a post office. 

(And yes, I did let him go in front of me, because otherwise I thought he and maybe several more of us would have a heart attack.)

But what happens when we do this in our writing lives??

Because I have totally done this in my writing life.

I have had so many huge exaggerated flip-outs, which felt justified to me at the time.

The process is taking forever! This isn't going how I wanted it to go! 

The novel isn't working, the research isn't working, the dialogue isn't working, the ideas aren't working... and frankly, the whole lifestyle is crap. 

Stomp, stomp, stomp. Fume, fume, fume.

Huge angry scribbles in a journal. Venting to anyone near me.

The works.

Believe me, I know that kind of anger. Wanting to burn down everything that I'd built, every single word, and start over.

Time and time again.

And it's exhausting.

It narrows you. Makes you stingy. Shuts down your idea-making

It darkens your overall creativity (which is a huge part of what we're relying on, so that's not a good thing to lose either).

And it will definitely make it harder or impossible to get back to your desk and do the thing that you wanted to do:

Write an amazing story.

Patience and peace, old-fashioned though they sound, belong in our work.

Because they outdistance the angry-guy-at-the-post-office response, every single time. 

Bonus: Less wear and tear on you.

Also a bonus: Happier writing life.

Cultivating an ability for patience and peace actually keeps your head clear.

If you're calm, you can see opportunities glimmering there in the distance. And you have the energy and the creative chutzpah to invent your way out of your predicament.

All right: let's be practical. Where is it hardest for you right now to wait it out? 

Where are you feeling like the angry post office guy, ready to make some noise and flip tables and bellow? 

It's weird, but when I tell myself (sometimes out loud), "I'm going to choose patience here," I can feel myself start to shift.

Sometimes, of course, I don't feel anything. But I try to model patience for myself anyway.

I take a few deep breaths. (That helps with the peace part.) I try to think past the roaring frustration that wants to loom up in me.

And if I can't muster it, I'll fake patience if I have to. 

So: whatever the tough thing is that you're facing, can we try this?

For me, it's the renovation draft of my work-in-progress. At the end of last year, I tore my novel apart and applied awesome structure advice, and then rebuilt the outline.

I have a story that I love now. And I was going to finish writing the new draft by the end of February

It's, um, May now. And I've gotten the first quarter of the draft almost done.

There were legitimately difficult circumstances in February, so it isn't a lapse of focus or purpose. It's just that life happened, and so—this is where I'm at.

And I can twitch and get angry about it, and believe me, I'm tempted to.

But I can just feel what that does in my head (makes it tiny and uncreative) and my heart (it shrinks and snarls) and my body (tense and stubborn).

Not great things.

Not "oooh, let's make the yummiest story ever!" kinds of things.

So even though it's a wildly different plan than my first one, I'm gonna draft this story in May.

I'm picking intentions over goals. Letting go of rigid plans. 

And most of all, I'm leaning into this with a conscious decision to be patient—with myself, with changing circumstances, with new routines.

I'm choosing to bring peace to my desk.

It's not easy—that's why this is a lionhearted skill, after all!

It takes courage to keep your calm. To practice a peaceful attitude, even about the stuff that you're actively working to change.

To balance your ambition (because heck yes, we're keeping our ambition!) with a steady, grounded patience.

That's tough and it's brave and it's one of those put-your-grown-up-pants-on kind of skills.

And it's totally the best thing for the story and for the otherwise-frazzled writer.

So that's my challenge.

What's yours?

Where are you picking patience and peace over the total flip-out?

(Guy at the post office, I really did sympathize with you. But I'm not going to imitate you. And neither is the rest of the lionhearted crew.)

Here's to leaning toward peace. And here's to practicing patience. 

The Power of a Good, Long, Concentrated Dose of Shhhhhhh.

We're enjoying the beautiful benefits of a Distraction Detox today. (Take some time away from everything that's splintering your focus into a thousand little pieces. Yeah. ALL that. Then see how you feel.) | lucyflint.com

Hello you wonderful lionhearts. How is your Distraction Detox going? (If you missed Monday's explanation, check it out! It's not too late!)

I hope that you're feeling a little more space in your thinking and your attention, and that your creativity is showing up in bigger and brighter ways.

Oooh. That's always worth the effort, isn't it? 

It TOTALLY is. High five.

So I'm just going to leave you with two things today. A lovely quote, and a lovely image. 

The quote is from Elizabeth Berg, and I keep going back to it, because it sounds so magical to mega-introverted me. She says:

I believe that solitude, perhaps more than anything,
breeds creativity, breeds originality.

That's what we're after this week, right?

Finding our way back to our originality. Re-encountering the mass of untapped creativity we each have.

And the source for that: Solitude.

This little Distraction Detox is about protecting our precious mental space, so we can get back to a kind of solitude of the mind.

A short, healthy break from so many of the other voices that surround us. 

... Which includes mine.

So I'll stop chatting, and instead, let's look at these waves: 

Shhhhhhh. We're on a Distraction Detox. | lucyflint.com

Mmmmmm.

I hope you have a super restful weekendbrimming with creativity.

See you on Monday.