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

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

OH, I'm excited.

This is one of my favorite lionhearted characteristics.

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

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

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

Here it is:

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

Does it sound revolutionary? Maybe not.

But it is. Ohhhhh, it is.

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

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

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

Not-so-kind Lucy isn't.

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

Kindness wins.

Every single time. 

If you feel resistant to this idea, I understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It just doesn't. Not in my experience. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YAY for all that, right?

This is how kindness makes us resilient.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting right now.

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

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

Free Your Ability to Focus By Cleaning Up Your Digital Landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That stuff.

Get it all written down, all in one place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember This When All Of Your Writing Plans Blow Up

When everything goes crazy in your life, and your plans for your writing blow up: what can you do? What can you count on? I've got your answers here. | lucyflint.com

I am a recovering control freak. (HUGE surprise, right? I know, I know.)

I still have a major fondness for one-hundred-item lists. For plans that map out the next three years with precision. 

I love the idea of my personal universe clicking along, on well-oiled gears, everything spinning just as it should.

I love that. It's so tidy.

And when I'm on a planning tear, it feels so, so possible. Give me a calendar and a notepad and a pen, and you will see me work up some serious control-freak euphoria.

There's only one thing more dependable than my desire to plan: The way those plans almost always explode. Or dissolve. Or vanish. 

They tank, they go south, they self-destruct. Swept overboard by crises, illness, injuries.

(What's that? Oh yes. I'm still fending off a four-week sinus-infection-meets-bronchitis supervirus from hell. It has slowed down my writing progress a tiny bit. ... It is also gross.)

Plans blow up, and then I'm reminded—oh, yet again—that I am actually operating in a world that I don't control. 

Whoops.

So I take a little time to recover, to soften my grip on the calendar and the pen and the hundred-item list. I give myself some chocolate, find a cozy blanket, and then remind myself of this quote. 

This fantastic, writing-life-altering quote: 

Teach yourself to work in uncertainty. — Bernard Malamud

That's the kind of quote that used to reduce this control freak to a quivering wreck. Because that is not what I wanted Mr. Malamud to say. 

I wanted him to say: "Never fear, writer! You actually are a little god! You can make everything go your way if you just PLAN HARD. Don't give up!! Fight! Grip it all too tight! Insist on your own version of reality in the face of everything else! Mwahahahaha!!"

He did not say that.

Teach yourself to work in uncertainty.

"Teach yourself to work in uncertainty." - Bernard Malamud // There are three constants in a writer's life: the writer, the work, and uncertainty. Now that we know that, let's write anyway.

Kind of makes it sound like the certain thing in the writing life is actually—its uncertainty

I'm finally waking up to the fact that the thing I can absolutely predict is that there will be chaos, there will be some event that checks my plans, there will be evil-minded germs.

And the writing itself can jump the tracks: Outlines suddenly sound like gibberish. Favorite characters start acting like morons. Dialogue devolves into silly clichéd exchanges. 

An appetite for reading goes dry. A disciplined working routine fizzles. Plans fail.

There is always uncertainty. We can count on it. 

It took me a while to see how hopeful and wonderful Malamud's quote is. Because yes, there is always uncertainty.

But there are also two other constants in that quote. Two other things to be counted on:

There is always the work. That work we're called to, like someone tied a string to our hearts, and tied the other end to stories. 

That work. 

And then, there is always the writer. 

She might be beaten up, she might have suffered loss, she might look like she's just clambered out of a shipwreck.

She might have just drunk all the tea in the house and be sitting amidst a pile of used tissues. (Who, me?) 

She might not be able to save her writing with plans and schedules. She might not be able to see clear to the end of the endeavor like she wants to. 

But that's okay. That's the thing. That's the really, really good news:

There is always uncertainty. There is always the work. And there is always you, my dear lionheart.

And when we train ourselves to work, despite the uncertainty, then we actually become invincible. 

We don't have to understand exactly how we're going to get this draft done on time. We don't have to be able to diagnose all the ills of our upcoming months in advance. 

Spoiler alert: 2016 is NOT going to go according to plan.

Seriously. There is some major stuff heading toward our lives.

Some of these plans for our writing—so neat! so clever! so possible!—will absolutely be swallowed by the perfect storm of crazy that is coming. 

I'm guaranteeing it. 

That used to make me tense and white-knuckled. That used to make me run around, screaming. 

Guess how I thought I'd fix everything? By planning harder.

Granted: A bit of good strategizing will help. Of course it will. 

But it is so easy to get trapped in a cycle of overthinking and overplanning: Let's get all the variables accounted for! Let's find three ways to defeat each obstacle! Let's make a list of forty things I have to do every single day to stay on schedule!!

But the best, best, best thing to do in the face of uncertainty is the work

The ACTUAL work. 

Not planning the work. Not analyzing notes. Not listing new ways to research.

But the real, true, sweet storytelling work itself. 

Craft the next sentence. Write the very next paragraph. Sketch out the next chapter. 

Actual words for the actual story.

Even though you're not sure! Even though everything's shivering and unstable! Write. Even then.

Over the last three years, life has dealt me a serious amount of bizarre and frustrating and crazy circumstances.

Planning has its allure, but it has never, ever saved the day like writing has. 

It gets easier with practice. It comes more naturally. It's a skill we can grow.

So let's practice that together, okay, lionheart? 

Whatever form of uncertainty is facing you right now—whether big life circumstances, or just the normal plain uncertainty of how the heck are you going to finish that novel?!—whatever that is, consider it for a moment.

And then take a really deep breath.

Right now. Yes, really. 

A super deep breath. And then let it all out. Then do it two more times. (Something about three deep breaths. It's a thing. I love it.)

And then do a little writing. It doesn't have to be much. 

Grab an index card and write the very next sentence of your story. A line of dialogue that's spot-on for your protagonist. A smidge of description for your favorite bit of setting.

Write down something, anything, that reconnects you to the heart of the tale you're telling.

Not to the planning. To the work.

Writing is the best medicine, the best antidote, and the best safeguard in the face of uncertainty.

Use it well. And use it often.

(Don't you feel just a little bit better now?)

The Best-Ever Program for Designing Your Writing Life (It's Closer than You Think)

If you're looking for someone else to show up and fix your writing life (and I totally hear you on that!), then this post is for you, my friend. | lucyflint.com

Today's life-shaping quote comes from a story that Heather Sellers shares in her (stellar, fantastic, sanity-saving) book Chapter after Chapter

She writes: 

     Don't be like the man I met ... when I was speaking at a writing conference. He said, "I have ideas for five books. Do you know what software I should get?" ... 
     "Software?" I said.
     "Yeah. You know. The software makes out the structure and you fill it in. They have programs. Do you know a good one?"

     You're the program, baby, I did not say.

... How great is that, lionhearts?? I just love that line:

It's so easy for us to want to hide behind something else: a teacher, a boss, a guru, a program. But guess what. The best boss of your writing life is right there inside you. You're the program, baby. | lucyflint.com

So many times, I've wanted some writing wizard to show up, sit on my desk, and rescue me. 

To tell me everything. What to write. How to write.

Annnnnnd then how to manage everything else, too.

When I finished school and started writing for myself, I missed having live teachers so desperately—and not always for the right reasons. 

I wanted to have a teacher or a boss so that I could blame them if anything went wrong. I wanted someone to hide behind. Someone whose expertise would, hopefully, guide me to great heights... 

But if they misstepped, I could point and say, "THEY did it! Not me! Not my fault."

Basically, this was another way of being afraid.

I was afraid of the responsibility, so I dodged it by wishing for someone else to take charge of my writing life, my creativity, my output, my education.

It was a way of avoiding the super-deep thinking I needed to do. The soul searching. The slow learning process of discovering my limits for myself. Learning what I need and how and when.

Being my own writing boss: It's messy. It's unpredictable. It's frustrating. 

And really, it wasn't my favorite thing ... until I slowed down and started asking better questions. Until I finally shifted my focus, and stopped demanding that I get it all right the first time.

I started asking myself, How do I really need to work? What is best for me? 

What do I actually, honestly need? And what do I need in real life—not in some "everything goes perfect always" version of life.

My real life includes everlasting sinus infections (!!!!) and family crises and mental setbacks and days of zero imagination: so what do I need for that life?

You're the program, baby, is the quote that reminds me: The responsibility for figuring this out is mine. No one else can do it for me. 

And I can either let that freak me right out ... or I can step up. And get learning.

And not learning in a terrified, panicky way. Not spinning my wheels and flinging things out at random. And not searching for some writing book, blog, or guru to idolize and copy. Nope. 

I can show up, calmly, as my own boss, and learn what I need to learn, each day.

Because I'm the program.

Designing my own writing life, my own creative life, has been hard but also immensely rewarding. It's been one of the best tools for understanding myself better.

And every time I add better practices back into my setup, into my routine, and keep tailoring it for myself, for my books, for my process...

Well, it's exhilarating! 

Yes, it's a lot of responsibility, and that responsibility can feel pretty heavy some times. 

It's easy to fall into a spiral of nerves: What if I'm doing it wrong, what if I've missed something big, what if I screw everything up? 

Am I making the right choices? Did I make the wrong call? Should I push harder? Or should I take more breaks? Or both?

The wonderful, wonderful thing is: For every time I've messed up or made a bad call, I've also found the tools I need to fix it. And in the fixing, I learn even more.

I burned myself out, and then I learned how to recover from burnout.

I shackled myself to a book with no clear center. ("People doing stuff" isn't actually a plot, whoops.) So I wrote it four times through before pinpointing its problems. And then I learned how to write a book with an actual center.

I wrote a story that had zero structure and therefore didn't function at all. And then I learned a ton about proper story structure. (Wahoo!)

It's like any complicated skill. When you only know one way to do it, to run your writing life, you can feel brittle, fragile. If something goes wrong, it's all over. 

But as you grow, you learn how to correct, how to save a bad month, how to fix things. 

Those skills, the correcting and recovering skills, are the real power tools. They are what make you flexible, less afraid, resilient. 

They are what's saving my bacon right now, after a February with basically no progress on my so-called work-in-progress.

And as far as I know, the only way to learn that flexibility, is by diving in and doing it yourself. 

You are your own program.

You're the vocational designer. You're your own—and your best!—boss. 

You get to create an amazing workplace for yourself. You can learn how to take the best care of your mind, your energy, your creativity. 

And learning how to take impeccable care of your writing self? That's maybe one of the most rewarding things ever.

What do you need to do, to take super-good care of yourself this week?

Don't panic. You really do know the right answer. Or the half-dozen right answers. Or at least a really good starting point.

Just take a deep breath. And trust yourself.


Want a little more direction on accessing your self-management superpowers? Check out these posts for a be-your-own-boss celebration:

And then if you want to just become an all-around unstoppable director and leader of your own life, you must check out the amazing book that I discuss in this post: This Is the ONE Thing You Need to Plan Your New Year.

Ooooh, baby. Look at you go!

The Secret Weapon: Why You Really Don't Need to Talk about Your Writing Yet

There's the courage to do the work, and then there's the courage to *talk* about the work. Let's not get those confused. | lucyflint.com

I'm about to make a lot of high achievers really, really mad at me. Because I'm going to go right against one of the most common tips on reaching your goals. (Something about Mondays. I always get rebellious.

On just about every "How to Set a Goal" article flying around the Internet, you'll see this tip: Make your goal public. 

Find a group of likeminded people. Get someone to hold you accountable. Post about your progress. Get others on board.

I don't have a problem with that in general, okay? I promise. So if you love the whole "be accountable" thing, then go for it.

But here's my counterargument. 

Sometimes, we might have just barely enough courage to do the New Difficult Thing, whatever that is. 

And maybe there's not quite enough courage left over to tell other people about it. To hear their comments mid-process. To check in with them. To let them challenge you. 

Oooh, I have SUCH a good solution for this problem. You ready? 

DON'T TELL ANYONE.

I mean it. Don't tell anyone!!

Start your crazy new project and keep absolutely quiet about it. Do your writing on the sly. Scribble away furtively in your closet. 

No one has to know about it right now.

That wonderful secretive silence gives the new idea some safe room to rattle around in your head. It gives you time to freewrite about it, explore the possibilities, refine your thoughts, and even play a bit.

At some point, you can definitely get other eyes and ears on the idea. Eventually, you can run a later draft past a few people.

But not yet. Not while it's soft; not while it's growing.

I'm convinced that there's more than one kind of courage at work in our writing lives. And it trips us up if we think that they're all the same, all the time. 

Don't confuse the bravery of doing the New Difficult Thing with the bravery of Telling People About It. 

You really don't have to be ready to tell people what you're up to at the same time that you are up to it

So, if you're feeling overwhelmed and not brave enough to do a goal that you'd really like to go after: I give you permission to zip it. Don't say anything. Keep it a secret.

What you might find is that secret keeping generates its own energy, and—what's really cool—its own bravery.

When I'm working on a story that no one else knows about, I feel like I've gotten back to the absolute heart of my writing: telling myself a story. Just for the heck of it. Just for the thrill of the tale.

That is a wonderfully exciting, pure, and yes, courageous place to work from. 

So don't feel like you need to muddy it by talking about it too soon. 

Keep it a secret for as long as you can manage. You'll be building your bravery as you develop your relationship with the project. You might be able to hear it more clearly, and work on it with more boldness.

And then, when the timing is right, you might find that you're actually ready to tell someone.

You were building the courage to speak up all along.


This Is the ONE Thing You Need to Plan Your New Year

Let's get real: the process of writing a novel is fiercely overwhelming. How do you pick what to do next? How do you use your time with laser-like efficiency? I just found a resource that changed EVERYTHING for me. Come find out about it. | lucyflint.com

Ohhhhh, lionhearts. I have to tell you about the book that has been revolutionizing my writing life lately. 

It's The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

How do I even sum this up?? ... Oh wait. They did it for me. Check out their one-minute video

Yes, it looks like a business book instead of, say, a writing book. But it's a quick, fun read, and a total game changer. Especially if you:

  • Struggle to decide what to focus on, while feeling overwhelmed by everything you need to do.
  • Feel like you're doing a ton of work and yet not moving very fast.
  • Want to make the most of the time that you have to spend... on anything

I'm the type of girl who can, without much trouble, come up with a list of fifty things that I feel like I should be doing right now. Things for health, for writing, for reading, things to improve my living space, my cooking skills, my relationships...

I once, rather memorably, came up with a list of over one hundred things I wanted to do over the course of a three-day-weekend. 

I also have a habit of working long hours, and then feeling like none of it made a difference.

It gets DISCOURAGING. Especially in a field like novel writing, where there are a bazillion skills we can be practicing, ways we can be improving our work, marketing techniques to learn for the future, classes and conferences and free downloads to try...

If you're like me, if you do this too, then you know that you can feel persistently overwhelmed, and yet undisciplined, and like you're never going anywhere. *cue the meltdown*

Hey. You and me, we don't need that kind of stuff in our lives!

Enter: This book. And its ability to mega-focus you on what matters.

The ONE Thing is all about figuring out what you need to do that will bring about the most change.

Or, as the authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan put it so elegantly: "What's the ONE Thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?"

They go on to explain that, for any work that you're doing, there are a variety of things (behaviors, skills, projects, outcomes) that will matter more than anything else. That will improve your results, more than anything else.

And of those that matter more, there's one thing that will matter the most.

Do that thing.

With exclusive focus. With the bulk of your time.

Focus on that ONE Thing. 

...

Whoa, sorry, had to do a few cheerleadery high kicks there. This just gets me so dang fired up! 

The whole book is about learning how to apply that question, what it means, what it doesn't mean, what it looks like, and how it can fit in every area of your life. 

They also talk about six lies about productivity and how those lies can mess you up. ... I'm blushing a bit while I tell you this, but I have believed and been motivated by each of those lies. Persistently.

They're super common. For instance, ever heard that: You need to lead a disciplined life. Or that everything is about finding balance. Or that you can always just summon your willpower. Or that you can and should get everything crossed off your to-do list. Or that multitasking is the only way to get everything done. Or that you should aim small.

They blow up each of these lies, and show a better, more humane, and more productive way to operate.

WHAT. 

No wonder I used to feel so exhausted and crazy! And no wonder my last few weeks have felt marvelous in comparison!

I'm using their goal-setting methods to focus on exactly what skill I should be learning for my writing (more on that in the next post!).

And I also narrowed down my health goals from about, oh, 400 ideas to just two, simple goals. And I can already tell a difference in how I feel.

... Time to do a few more high kicks!

I'm applying this thinking elsewhere too, and I already feel like my mind is clearer, my work is more productive, and I'm going in the direction I most want to go.

It's exciting.

Trust me: you want to read this book. Especially if you want to do big things next year. Especially if you want your time to make the biggest possible difference in your day and your work.

And especially if you want to move forward in a serious way—in any or every area of your life.

This is the next book on your reading list, okay? Get it for yourself for Christmas. 

It just might transform your 2016. 

How to Keep Your Reading Life Fresh

Writers have to read--but it doesn't have to feel like drudgery! Keep your reading life inspiring with these fun tips. | lucyflint.com

When writing became my full-time job, my reading life got all professional too.

Kinda makes sense, right? The best writers are super well-read people. I mean, they know everything. They make all these literary allusions, they quote passages from beloved books, you can't stump them with an author reference...

Basically, when it came to my reading life, I kind of panicked.

In spite of graduating with an English major, I still had some holes to fill. I'd never read The Great Gatsby--how had that happened? And Moby-Dick and The Tale of Two Cities. A lot of classics to catch up on, and oh, in the meantime, amazing writers are still actively writing...

Really, it was a paralyzing scenario. And in true Lucy Flint fashion, I came up with a plan:

READ EVERYTHING AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

... It didn't exactly work.

I made lists. A lot of lists. I read to balance out deficiencies in my book knowledge. I finished every book I started, with total seriousness. I took very detailed, I-could-give-a-presentation-on-this kind of notes on what I read.

Heck, if the quality of my own writing depended on what I read, I didn't see how I could do it any differently.

Funny thing happened. My reading energy dried up. And I got really into reading magazines instead.

Eventually I realized I needed to lighten up. I redesigned my reading life to blend structure with a bit of quirk. And now? I'm always energized by what--and how--I'm reading.

Here are my new guidelines:

I keep a huge list of books to read. And I do mean huge. At last count, I have over 1300 books on my reading list, and I'm adding to it all the time.

This used to be a bit crippling--until I changed my perspective.

Here's the thing: I'll never get all the books read. Never. There will always be worthwhile books out there that I won't get to.

Why is this good news? Because it gives me the permission I need to quit reading books I don't like. I want to find the ones I love! So if a book doesn't win my heart over pretty quickly, I toss it. 

I build a monthly reading list. Because 1300 books is still a bit daunting, I break it down and focus on a select number of titles each month. I pick out fifteen, a dozen of which are novels.

Buckle up, because this is where structure meets quirk: Each month has a theme.

Yes, really.

I know, I know, it's a little goofy. But I can't even tell you how much it delights me to do this. One month, it's books with an animal in the title. The next month features titles that start with the letter M. The month after that, it's books with a color in the title, or one-word titles, or every thirtieth book on the list.

I once explained this system to another writer, and she had such undisguised pity on her face. Apparently this way of reading is lunacy. But whatever. It's my lunacy! My reading list! ... Ahem.

I order more books than I can read. So, I order those fifteen themed books through the library, even though I know I won't get through them all.

Because I'm not that quick of a reader. In all honesty, I read about three to six full books in a month. So why order so many? So I'm free to discard the ones I don't like! It keeps me from feeling trapped with a few selections. 

(Plus, it really does feel cathartic to chuck a book. Pffft, I'm not reading this! It's a weirdly great feeling.)

I give a book twenty pages. In spite of my delight in tossing a book, I really do commit to read the first twenty pages. At that point, I know if I'm interested in continuing or not.

Twenty pages is long enough to give you a good feel for the style, the characters, and what you're in for. 

And I've found--after suffering through all too many--that if I'm snarling or rolling my eyes during the first twenty pages, I'm going to feel that way all through the rest of the book. So I chuck it. No guilt necessary.

I know, I know. This totally horrifies some people.

My only requirement in tossing a book: I try to pin down what exactly made me drop it

Was the style obnoxious? How? Was the main character totally unsympathetic? Where did I lose interest? Why wasn't it working for me? This little step lets me extract a bit of learning... without enduring the next 350 pages.

Obviously, then, I still do take notes. Yep. It's still my job, after all. But my note-taking is a lot more casual.

I'll write down what worked the best in the book, what kept me reading. I'll try to capture what exactly was disappointing or what was so moving. How did they make that setting come alive, why was that dialogue exchange so spot-on, or how did they pace the climax? 

I'll copy out paragraphs that I loved, or ones that were confusing so I can avoid those mistakes.

So yeah. There's still note-taking. But I try to keep a light hand.

I wipe the slate clean. At the end of each month, I return all the unread books along with the rest.

It gives me a light heart to chuck out the books I didn't get to, instead of making myself complete the list. It's freeing.

Sometimes you just have to be in the right mood for a certain book. So if it fell through the cracks this month, no worries. I'll probably reorder it again, some other month.

... So there it is. That's my reading life. Somehow, that blend of structure and freedom works just right for me. I don't feel so pinned down, but there's enough of a challenge that I get excited to dive in, month after month.

What about you? Do you toss books freely, or have you found it's worth it to persevere? Do you keep a reading list? Or do you like to browse and pick up what sounds good to you?

What works well for your reading life: Let's continue the discussion in the comments.

Wanna keep reading? Check out: Frivolity + Wisdom and The Power of an Explosively Good Book.