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. |

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.)


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.

Here's the Truth: You Are Extraordinarily Generous (Even If You Worry About Being Selfish)

Is taking time to do your work (or all the supporting work that *allows* you to work) ... selfish?? Oh. Have I got a good answer for you... |

When life gets frantic, it's been SO EASY for me to relegate reading to a "to do" item on my work checklist.

And when, inevitably, it falls off the list, it's so easy to just feel guilty and crabby about it.

Until all I associate with "reading novels" is guilt and frustration.

Yikes. Not a great situation for a fiction writer!

This month, in contrast, has been a sweet reminder of all the ways novels have been a joy in my life. How they've soothed and healed and delighted me.

And I'm so excited for these new strategies I have in place: I'm going to make my reading nook the most swoony place ever! I can't wait!

And reading in the morning still feels so rebellious to me, but I'm loving it anyway!

Oh, reading. It's so good to love you again. I feel like I've come back home.

I'm still thinking through that question of permission, though. Because, can I just say, this has been a very extreme summer for me. 

I've been spending a ton of time away from work over the last three months, to help out family members during an incredibly hard time. It's been worth it, for sure, but it has taken a lot out of me and my work.

(The month of August is going to be a month of rebuilding my writing practice: I can tell ya that right now!)

Forcing myself to take the time to read this past month: well, it's been lovely.

But it's also made me think about a key tension that's come up in my writing life, again and again.

No matter what the circumstances, I frequently trip over this: 

Sometimes, the time that I need to spend alone, so that I can grow as an artist, so I can work and dream and plan and read—

Well, it can feel a little selfish.

Of course, I know that "it's my work." In my brain, I can argue and reason enough to remember that it's important.

But sometimes it feels like I'm just "lookin' out for myself."


Does this ring a bell for anyone else? 

Especially if you live with other people. Or if you have friends. Or if anyone that you care about could possibly "need" you, or would appreciate your help. 

With anything. At all. Ever.

And you get that phone call, or text, or that request. 

And when that comes up during my writing time, or when it involves the time I planned to spend writing (or reading, or painting, or doing any kind of creative support work)—I have a real internal struggle on my hands.

If I choose to protect my time, and say no, I usually have to claw my way through a miserable storm of guilt. And I'm so exhausted by the time I get to my work (or so resentful), that it's almost easier to not work.

If I say yes, then I feel like I'm a superhero. But I also feel resentful and like I'm apparently the type of superhero who doesn't get to write fiction.

Which makes me sad.

... Does any of this sound familiar? Anyone with me on this?

I know what I'm supposed to do, usually. I know I need to choose the work more often than not. But sometimes, it just doesn't feel that simple, with layers and layers of What Other People Need.



Last week I caught Coldplay's concert in St. Louis. And it was so much fun. Confetti and lights and huge balloons and the band's infectious enthusiasm.

And so many times during that night, I thought: This feels like a gift. This concert feels like generosity.

Obviously our tickets cost money. Of course it wasn't a free gift.

But still. Something about the openness of the band, their cheerfulness and their message and their songs and their whole attitude—the joy and humor and sheer spectacle of it all.

I don't know how else to say it. It felt generous.

It felt like we, as the audience, were given the gift of that night, that experience. 

And for me, it was such a vivid picture of how creativity—in the words, the music, the art of the performance—is generosity to the people who get to witness it.

In other words: working on your creativity is not a selfish act.

I'm gonna say that again for everyone who needs it as much as I do: 

Working on your creativity, whether that means writing or dreaming or reading or doing any other kind of support, is not a selfish act.

It is a service.

As I watched Chris Martin zooming around the stage, part of me was dancing and singing, but the rest of me was trying to get a grip on this idea.

The generosity of working on creativity. 

I kept thinking about all the time that they've put into this.

The hours and hours and hours of honing their musical skills. And the time writing the lyrics. (Those amazing metaphors and phrases don't just happen, as we all know!) 

Then the creation work: creating songs, refining songs, throwing out the crappy ones, rewriting, remixing...

All of the effort that went into creating this music and this concert: I don't know how it felt to the members of the band.

How many times they had to say "no" to other things to make it happen. What sacrifices they repeatedly make, so that they can be who they are.

I have no idea what it all adds up to.

But I bet it's a lot. 

And the end result feels like total generosity. A connection with their audience. A festival, a spectacle. An uplifting and joyous night.

Sharing creativity is generosity.

Oh, lionhearts. Can we get a sense of that, down deep in our writerly hearts? 

The books we write, the tales we tell, the stories we share: it's about generosity. It's about giving gifts to our readers.

Sure, we'll be paid, and that's absolutely as it should be.

But in the quality of the work, the liveliness of the story, the beauty or the humor or the delight of the words: that's generous.

So let's just take a moment and apply that word, generosity, to everything that goes into making those stories.

All the time it takes to do that work. The dreaming, the doodling, the wondering. The plotting and outlining and structuring.

The throwing everything out and starting over. Multiple times.

Rebuilding chapters. Writing, rewriting. Re-re-re-rewriting. Revising and editing. Producing. Publishing.

ALL that time. All that effort.

This is the stuff we have to guard and protect.

This is what's behind the times when we say no to people we care about. The stuff we turn down. The sacrifices we make.

You're not being selfish, by protecting the time it takes to write well.

Which means that, it isn't selfish to say "I'm working" and then go read a story about a talking rat for two hours.


We are working to build gifts for other people.

Gifts that don't get written if we don't make the hard calls.

If we don't do what it takes to write them. To dream them up. To capture the nuances . To really sit with the ideas we have, and take the time to sculpt them, drive them deeper. 

To make stories that readers will dream about.

To write chapters that will be read in tense waiting rooms or in the midst of a heart-breaking season.

To write what will make people laugh. Or what will help them release tears that need to be shed.

To write what will connect strangers in the midst of pain. To write words that give other people a way to talk about their own experiences.


It is amazing, sacrificial, beautiful generosity to make the hard calls, and to protect what you need to protect, in order to be a storyteller.


So ... I basically need to get that tattooed on my arms or something. 

How about you? What's the hardest thing for you to say no to?

When does it seem selfish to protect writing and creativity?

(And if it doesn't, then for the love of pete, please help the rest of us out and tell us more about your mindset!!)

Reading Report: Well, I'm thoroughly enjoying Bellfield Hall. I just loooooove mysteries. AND, our weather here has been a bit gloomy and overcast. I meanhow perfect can you get? Tea & a cozy blanket, anyone?? 

Why We Won't Give Up: Finding the Energy to See Our Writing Through

It takes a colossal amount of energy to write a novel. It's a physical, mental, emotional, and creative game. So, where's all that energy coming from? Do you have enough? |

When our writing jumps the tracks, it's easy to blame our work ethic, discipline, or inspiration. 

But one of the huge players in this whole writing game is energy

Writing a novel takes a huge amount of oomph, every which way. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and creatively. It's big.

You gotta have enough fuel for this game, and you have to have enough each day. We can't show up half-hearted.

I hate to point out the obvious but: Allllllllll that energy has to come from somewhere.

We can't be too drained and depleted from other, non-writing things.

This has been a huge focus for me lately. I have finally realized that I simply don't have the stamina to have much else going on during the week, if I'm also writing hard every day.

My work thrives on eight-hour writing days: my characters love the attention, and they give me amazing stories to tell.

But if my evenings are taken a few times a week, it cuts my writing energy in half. No kidding.

I fought that for a long time, but finally faced it a few months ago. As an introvert, I've had to back away from commitments where I was regularly spending time with large groups of people—because I just couldn't, and still get my work done effectively.

So part of this whole energy equation is: figuring out what drains your energy away, and limiting that.

Or, if you're in the midst of a big challenge, if you're doing something major, then don't stop at just limiting this. Do the scary freeing thing and step away from that commitment completely.

Then there's the other side of the equation. And it's the part that I need to challenge myself to do more of. We need to ask ourselves: 

What gives you energy? What fills you up?

And—because it's 2016 and we've got some stuff to do—I'm not talking just a teeny little smidge of an energy buzz. This isn't just a bit of caffeine.

I'm talking more on the level of: A scandalous amount of energy. 

Like, a two year old on a sugar rush. That kind of energy.

That's the kind of drive we'll need to meet these amazing goals.

So I've been asking myself some questions, looking at what's worked well for me in the past, and how that might look for me now. 

If you're looking for a mega-boost of energy, join me for a bit of brainstorming. Sound good?

PHYSICAL: Can't get around the fact that all this writing affects our bodies. 

  • When was the time in your life when you had the most physical energy? What did that feel like, and what were you able to do?
  • What were the components it took to get that level of energy? Such as: 
    • How much were you sleeping? Were you taking power naps?
    • What were your eating habits like? Plenty of green veggies? 
    • What kinds of exercise were you doing? How regularly?
  • What do you think would make the biggest difference for your physical energy right now? Any kind of adjustment in your habits of resting, eating, and moving?

EMOTIONAL: Writing a novel means we're playing all the roles of an entire cast of characters. We feel all the feelings... and that takes a lot of effort.

  • When was a time when you felt really emotionally healthy? Low stress, low anxiety? Feeling peaceful, cheerful? Relationships going well?
  • What else was going on in your life at the same time?
    • Were you journaling? Practicing a degree of self-awareness? Pursuing a spiritual practice? Meeting regularly with a friend, a mentor, a counselor? 
  • What do you know is good for your heart? 
  • When do you have a chance to be around beautiful things? How often do you let yourself go and do something truly fun? When do you feel most peaceful?
  • What are you craving emotionally? What do you think you need the most?

MENTAL: Obviously our brains are hard at work, and they need the energy to gulp down facts, to research, and to analyze our stories. We gotta be on our toes!

  • When have you felt the most mentally sharp? When were you at your best thinking critically, analytically? When were you best at learning, at processing information?
  • What else were you doing at the time? 
    • What kinds of information were you around? What were your reading habits like?
    • Were you part of a discussion group, either formally or informally?
    • Were there trusted people you bounced ideas off of (colleagues, friends, professors)?
  • What never fails to bring out your best thinking? What kinds of books and media stretch your mind in the best ways?
  • What concepts are intriguing to you right now? What mental habits are you interested in? What would you really like to learn about?

CREATIVE: We are problem solvers and image makers. We're constantly inventing! We have to be overflowing with creative energy to see these stories through.

  • When have you felt the most dazzlingly creative?
  • What's going on around you when you're most on your game as a creative? Are you doing any creativity exercises (freewriting, problem solving games, visualizing challenges)?
  • How else (besides story telling) have you explored creativity? How else have you been a maker? What did you create? (Music, paintings, crafts, food, woodwork, kids, gardens, photographs... )
  • Are you still participating in those creative outlets? Do they get a little chunk of your time still? Which do you miss doing?
  • What topics do you feel curious about? What do you wish you were doing more of, creatively?

So, what did you come up with?

If any of these prompts made your heart leap, or excited you a bit, I'd say: do whatever you can to try and make that a reality for yourself. 

What would happen if you picked one energy-maker in each category, and gave it a regular place in your week?

What would that look like? 

You know I'm a big believer in starting small. If this is at all overwhelming, maybe pick a single tiny habit. Just one little thing to start doing, to bring a stream of extra energy trickling into your life?

But then, I'm also a big believer in going big: What is the most radical thing you could do, to make sure you have a scandalous amount of energy for your work? 

Just think what would that look like! How that could feel, to have huge reserves ready to go straight into your writing?? 

What could you do this weekend, or during the rest of January, to move yourself closer to being that amazingly energized writer?

Oooh, this is the kind of thing that makes my fingers tingle. 

So, what are my big energy initiatives? Because yes, I definitely thought my way through these questions too! 

  • Physically: I'm adding a lot more physical movement throughout my day (standing desk! dance parties! yoga! brisk walks!), and I'm drinking a green smoothie every morning. (Love that!)
  • Emotionally: I'm getting back to journaling my prayers in the morning, and getting rid of extra noise in my life so I can feel more peaceful.
  • Mentally: I've added some more challenging reading to my must-read list for each month, I'm listening to some great podcasts every day for new ideas, and I'm also dipping into some beautiful essays and poems every night. 
  • Creatively: I'm devoting regular time to exploring my curiosities, and I'm finding ways to make some art every day. 

So far, I've been bouncing off the walls! (And I promise it's not just the vat of coffee I drink every morning.)

Your turn! What will you be doing to get yourself some extra energy? Share tips in the comments below!

How (and Why) to Put Your Heart on a Platter (or, Writing What Scares You)

Everyone's always saying to do what scares you... But what does that *actually* mean? How do we write like that? |

We're told over and over to do what scares us.

You've heard that too? As writers, as artists, as creatives, but also just as human beings: do what scares you. 

Write what scares you, do something that scares you every day, take risks.

Honestly, I do find this very exciting. I get all up in arms about it.

Rah rah rah! Yes! Do what scares you!

And then I calm down and think: 1) What the heck does that even mean?

2) And also, actually, no thank you.

Since "doing what scares me," applied literally, would involve a lot of stepping into traffic, leaping off cliffs, and working in a chemistry lab, I'm guessing that all these risky artists are talking about something else.

Besides. I'd like to have a decent life span. And fill it with daring books.

So what does it mean, to write what scares us? What does that look like?

For starters, here's what I don't think it means: 

I don't think anyone needs to share the brutally tragic stuff of their past before they feel ready to. 

I don't think it means writing anything self-abusive. 

Pretty sure some people would disagree with me on that, but I don't care. I just don't believe writing should be about impaling ourselves on our pens.

Okay. So what does it mean, then, to be risky, to do the scary thing? I think it boils down to three things.

First, there's a sense of risk anytime you start something new (What if I fail?).

And second, there's the risk of doing something in a new way, the risk of being original (But no one's done it like this before!), which is kind of an echo of the first risk--what if I fail?

But this idea of what scares you sounds like it lies closer to home.

And actually, I think that the answer isn't so much about asking "what scares you?"

Instead, let's look in the opposite direction: 

What grabs your heart?

What do you care about? Specifically, what do you care about so much that you would fight for it, tooth and nail? 

If all the stuff of your life were stripped away for some reason, if you lost everything, but you could keep three things, what three things would they be? 

Home, family, faith, pursuits, friends, land, health, abilities, memories, possessions?

At the core, what do you love?

... Do you have a general idea? A specific idea? Awesome. Me too.

Next question. (And this is where it gets really good.)

Who in your story loves what you love, to the same degree that you love it? 

Which characters are passionate about what you value? And not in a vague, of-course-they-do kind of way. But in a specific, definite, extremely-clear-to-the-reader way.

Do we get to see them fight for it? Scratching and kicking?

Do you ever strip everything else in their lives away, boiling it down, till their life is about fighting for this one thing?

Here's my confession: I've written characters who cared about stuff I just don't care about. Or, they shared my values, but in a general yeah-whatever way.

I tried to make those books work, but, um, nope. I couldn't really believe in the characters. I clearly wasn't invested in it.  

This trilogy I'm writing, though... At its core, it's about truth and family. 

Stuff I care about. In a tooth-and-nail way.

There's a scene, midway through the third book, where the aunt says a line of dialogue to her oldest niece--and writing that line just about destroyed me. I had to put my notebook down and bawl for a moment.

What?! Why?? My writing process doesn't normally involve snot, so what's up with that?

I'd somehow put everything I feel about being an aunt--all the crazy, insane love I feel for my nieces and nephew--into that one line. 

Especially how it was delivered, in the context of that moment. After everything desperate that had already happened. With everything climactic still to come.

The wording isn't fancy. The setting is simple. 

But when I wrote it, I put a piece of my core out there on paper.

And yeah, that does feel scary.

I mean, there they are, my guts, in between quotation marks!! 

I do feel a little exposed by that. 

And that's what I think is at the center of all this do-what-scares-you talk. 

If we aren't invested in these stories, why write them? If we aren't bringing our values, our emotions to the book, why bother? 

I'm guessing that you and I, we both want to write books that will grab our readers by the shoulders and not let go. We want to draw characters that will live in their minds and their hearts. 

Who might even inspire them. Maybe even give them courage. 

To do that, we need to dig deep into the things we care about. We've gotta get really personal.

We need to feel the pain of what it would be to lose those things, to have them threatened or taken away. And then put that fight and those feelings into words.

That, to me, is a recipe for a story that will grip. A story someone won't be able to put down.

What does that require of us, though? Being generous. Generous to the point of discomfort. (Maybe even generous to the point of snot.)

It means stretching ourselves: when I'm writing scenes like this, my heart beats faster. Literally. I'm breathing faster as I write. I get a bit anxious. And at the end of the day, I feel like I've been through something. Like I've been crying, or shouting. 

Is that weird? Yes! It feels super weird

But it has also helped me turn out manuscripts that I'm proud of. Stories that are saying what I want to say to the world

So that's what it means to me. It means: you have to dare.

Dare to be utterly honest about the exact kind of human you are.

Show what it means to care so dang much about the things you care about.

It means writing the scenes the way they should be written. Even if you look over the page and see your own guts, laid bare for everyone to see.

It means not racing over those parts in your story that would challenge your characters in the same way you dread being challenged. 

It means not letting clichés fill your pages, but instead, asking yourself how it really feels, what it's really like, and daring to be honest about that. 

It means flinging yourself into your story, no matter what.

Why Cake and Confetti Should Be a Part of Your Writing Life

A sense of celebration in your work will ABSOLUTELY help you become a better storyteller. Here's how. |

Here's the sad truth: Until a couple of years ago, I thought that if something was worth doing well, it was worth doing STERNLY.

Work ethics are not for being happy and enjoying life, I thought. They are for GETTING STUFF DONE.

So. I got a lot of stuff done. A lot of words written. 

But frankly, it wasn't a lot of fun. I didn't enjoy the process. And it made the writing life feel about a thousand times harder than it really needed to feel.

So I've changed my tune. I'm bringing a more celebratory attitude into my writing life!

And you know what I've figured out? It actually makes me a BETTER WRITER. Crazy, right? And yet so true. 

Wanna join me? Here are four ways that celebration makes us better at our job of making stories.

1: Enjoyment is a currency.

Let's be real: If writing is your gig, you're either a) not getting paid a TON, or b) not getting paid at ALL.

(If money is pouring into your lap, then I'm super happy for you. Cake is still a good idea, though.)

If you're not getting paid much for writing, then how much sense does it make to also have no fun when you write? How wise is it, really, to have an anti-celebration mindset? 

One of the ways that I "pay" myself for writing is by loving it. Does that make sense? 

I mean, I know plenty of people who get paid real money for what they do all day. And they hate what they do. Real money ... for a job they really hate. 

That just doesn't sound like a great deal to me. What's a better deal? Getting little-to-no money for a job I really really love. 

(I know, I know. The best option is for us to get a lot of real money for a job we really love. We'll get there one day, lionhearts.)

In the meantime, having a job that I love, a job that feels festive, that feels like a word-party and a story-celebration... that's my take-home pay.

2: An attitude of celebration makes us generous.

Have you ever read a book that felt like it was a gift? Like every sentence was crafted and given to you? 

Those are the reading experiences we dream of and long for, right? 

Think back to the last time you felt that way. The last time a book absolutely wrapped you up in delight. Remember the title, the feeling?

Okay. Here's my theory: I don't think the author of that book was the Ebenezer Scrooge of writing.

I doubt very much that the author was sitting at a desk, piecing the words together with an I-hope-you-burn attitude toward readers.

I'm guessing this author wasn't a miser with imagery, description, and the emotional force behind the words.

I bet they shared themselves with you, the reader. And that the book was born out of an attitude of joy for the work. 

Even if the book was hard to write. Even if the subject matter was difficult. Nevertheless: a deep joy for the process of writing itself. A sense that this transaction between writer and reader is worth celebrating.

This feeling was wonderfully expressed by a Pixar animator, in one of those bonus feature interviews on a DVD. (I can't remember which movie or which animator. Super unhelpful, I know. Sorry. Maybe it was Monsters, Inc. Try that one.) 

Anyway: He said that the work of making the movie--though long and hard--was like creating a surprise party for the viewers. 

A surprise party.

Every amazing frame of the movie, or the next twist in the plot, was like another gift that they were handing their audience.

And he was grinning as he said it. His excitement for the process: it was completely evident in his face, his manner. 

I love that. It's the ideal attitude for us story-tellers.

We should be writing surprise parties for our readers. And the process of putting those parties together? It wouldn't hurt for that to feel fun and festive as well. 

3: Celebration is anti-perfectionism. (You know I'm all about that!)

Where there is a real, healthy, hearty celebration, an honest-to-goodness party, perfectionism has to leave. It just does.

Because everyone can tell it's not enjoying itself. It's too busy freaking out about how the napkins aren't lined up exactly, and the cheeseball is slumping a little, and the frosting on the cake isn't QUITE the best consistency--

And yet. Everyone is having a good time, people are laughing, the kids are running around like little crazies, and the guest of honor can't stop smiling. 

There is no room at the party for perfectionism.

Everyone's having a great time. Even with the mess, even with the uncertainties, even when things don't go exactly perfect

Everyone's doing great. So perfectionism is out of a job.

And it's the same in the writing life.

When you are determined to enjoy the process, when you're tossing confetti at your story in spite of the way the plot doesn't line up, and even though there's a massive disconnect in your characterization, and even when you have millions of hours still to put in--

When you're still enjoying it, and when you're still treating it like a party, perfectionism gives up on you.

And that is the best news for your story. 

4: Celebration welcomes creativity.

When I'm really enjoying the process of putting together a story, I'm willing to stick with it even longer. I'll tease out certain elements that I would otherwise rush over. 

When I'm enjoying the brainstorming sessions, I'll push to keep searching for the exactly spot-on idea, instead of just grabbing the first workable one I think of. 

It all starts to work together! The generosity mindset plus a willingness to hang with the process a bit longer: that means more ideas to choose from, and a broader range of possibilities.

Which means more time practicing craft. Which means an all-around better and more creative story. 

And THAT'S the grand prize. That's the whole piñata! A wonderful story coming from a healthy writing life: that's exactly what we were here celebrating to begin with.

5: Um, also... my birthday is coming up!!

I turn 31 on the 31st! Gaaaa!!! 

Probably that's not going to make a difference in your writing life. (Though I'd hate to make assumptions or anything.)

But seriously. On my birthday last year, it dawned on me how profoundly bad I am at most celebration. Really. REALLY

want to celebrate, I see the need for it, and it sounds like a good idea--but when it comes right down to it, I'm not awesome at this whole party-making thing. 

So I'm looking at this month in general--and the thirty-first in particular!--as a chance to get a LOT better at celebrating. 

Celebrating the birthday: yes. But more than that.

I want to get so much better at recognizing opportunities for celebrating everything else around me: The stuff I take for granted, as well as the chances that drop in my lap. I want to bake a cake for the things that are ordinary and mundane, and I want to rise to the occasion when something grand and spectacular is afoot.

This August = Celebration Rehab. 

Will you join me?

Let's go get some confetti.

If you want to get celebrating right away, here are a few ways to bring a more festive mindset into your writing life: Have a Dance Party, Make Your Office Awesome, and Give Yourself Permission to Play.

Whoa. You're off to a great start!

Here's the Truth about What You Can't Fake in Your Writing

Ever find yourself just going through the motions as you work? Me too! But that's a dangerous place to be... |

It was a normal piano lesson. A normal Tuesday morning. And I was playing the assigned piece while my teacher sipped her coffee and squinted at my open music book.

Suddenly she stopped me. She leaned forward and stabbed at a single note. 

"You played THAT note as if you didn't care about it," she said in her dry voice.

I sat there silently for a second, fingers hovering over the keys, smarting at the interruption. 

I DON'T care about it, I thought. But it wasn't the kind of thing I could say to my teacher.

A couple of months before, I botched my initial piano audition. Thanks to that crappy performance, I was playing songs beneath my level. I hated the pieces she assigned me: I should be playing something more challenging! I always thought. Something gorgeous and exciting. 

Not this lame little dance tune.

Plus, the note I didn't care about was just a pick-up note: the eighth note that introduced the much more interesting and much more challenging run of sixteenth notes on the next page. 

No one cares about the stupid pick-up note. It was just the welcome mat, the indicator that a beautiful bit was about to happen.

So I never thought about that note. I played it without a thought. Without a care.

And my teacher--darn it!--noticed.

I didn't get up from the piano bench that day until I gave the eighth note, that stupid little pick-up note, its full due. Until I played it with good tone, the right amount of attention.

Guess what. The run of sixteenth notes sounded all the better for that firm introduction. 

So why am I telling you all this? Not so that we all become amazing pianists (though that would be fine), but because my teacher was darned brilliant. I mean: she was good.

She knew when I didn't care about something I was playing. She heard it. 

She was the unfoolable listener. 

Kinda like a really good reader. 

Did you know that you can't trick a reader? You can't fake your work. Readers are good.

They know when someone is talking down to them. They know when a writer should have cut a lame-o passage. They know when the writer stopped caring.

They don't stab the page with a finger and tell you about it, though. Instead they chuck the book, or close the web browser, and just find something else to do. 

Yikes, right?? 

So what don't you care about in your current piece? What feels like it's not worth your time? 

Where do you tell yourself: "Aw, man, this part of writing, this part of the work--it's beneath me. I should be doing something flashier, something more impressive."

What in your writing feels like the stupid little introduction for the main attraction, the pick-up note to the place where you prove yourself, to the place where you'll get the applause?

Here's where it lurks for me. Here's what happens when I start to care a bit less:

  • I'll fill my cast of characters with people I feel obligated to include: token players. Stand-ins. Characters just to add balance or dimension, just to round things out. But then I stop caring about them, because I'm not really invested in them.
  • I rely on "standard scenery." I'll plunk a scene in the first setting that comes to mind (kitchens! nameless outdoor areas!), not because it serves the story but because I'm so darn LAZY. Whoops!!
  • In between the larger plot points, I am tempted to let my story slump. Settling for humdrum plot movements. Clichéd conflict. Canned antagonists. 
  • And, oh yeah, RESEARCH. (Oh poop, can't someone else do this for me?)

What about you? Where do you find yourself throwing material on the page without a care?

I think what my piano teacher was saying to me boils down to this: 

You are not above any of the notes that you're playing. If you're too good for this song, then prove it by playing every single note with excellence.

And she was so right.

We prove ourselves on those pick-up notes. We prove ourselves on the small things.

It's those details, after all, that show the kind of writer we are. It's the care we lavish on what could have been a throwaway scene; the precision we use on the introductory moments; the careful construction of all our marvelous settings. 

Let's take a lesson from my piano teacher, that savvy listener.

And let's be worthy of every word we write.

How to Be a Kinder Boss

If you're self-employed, you're your own boss, right? Here's how to be a better one. |

I kind of love the rush I get, filling out forms that want to know who employs me. You know? Confronted by this: Employer: ______________________. 

And in my head, I sing out: Oh, I'm self-employed! I work for myself! I'm a savvy little boss lady! I've hired myself to work for no pay for about nine years, that's the kind of boss I am.

I might, occasionally, have little nervous breakdowns about it.

Or, I should say, I used to. 

It's only recently that I've fully realized the implications of that. I'm my own boss.

Which means that I have the power to shape my days. I decide how I think about work. I set the emotional environment in my "office." I decide what everyone on my team does--and by "my team," I mean myself, wearing all the hats that every writer (and every self-employed person) must wear.

I'm the boss, the full committee (from idea-maker to skeptic), every level of worker. I'm the marketing department, the intern, the fetcher-of-coffee, and the janitor. 

Right? But the boss--the boss sets the agenda, the feel, the pace.

Here's the truth (and you've probably guessed it already): For a lot of years, I was a pretty awful boss. 

I figured that to make my team run well, I needed discipline, restrictions, deadlines, discipline, hard work, high expectations, and a lot more discipline. 

For some reason, my team kept burning out.


Is anyone out there like me?

If so, a word of advice: Don't do this.

Just ... don't.

It's an understandable trap. I mean, you read these amazing novels and then you look at your own prose. And your fledgling work-in-progress is a pretty mixed bag. A lot of crud, and then some wonderful parts that make your heart lift right out of your chest ... followed by, yep, more crud.

It's an automatic response to want to whip that mess into shape. And maybe whip yourself into shape along with it.

But the funny thing is, whips don't work especially well. 

About a year ago, some pretty crazy circumstances hit my life. I became so exhausted that I couldn't work, I couldn't do anything. Really. Anything. 

It took a while to get back on my feet, but when I did, I realized that a terribly strict boss just wasn't going to cut it. Out of necessity, I became a really kind and understanding boss instead.

Guess what. My writing life got a whole lot happier. And the weird side effect: My writing TOTALLY improved as well.

Crazy, right? Being kinder to yourself. Who would have thought. Sounds like everyone who's talking about self-care these days... well, they might be on to something.

I still have a long way to go before kindness becomes my home base, but I've learned a lot. And it's been so worth it.

Want to renovate your own self-management style? (Don't wait for a total breakdown!) Here are some of the qualities of a kinder boss:

1. A kind boss is not a pushover. Okay, so kind doesn't mean stupid. They know when you're full of crap, and when you're being honest. So, probably you can't go watch TV all during your writing time. But on the flip side: you are definitely allowed to go take a walk to collect your thoughts. 

2. A kind boss wants you to grow. Both as a writer and as a person. So, they're not really interested in beating you down just for the heck of it. 

3. A kind boss realizes that you have a life outside of work. Extenuating circumstances? Yep, they happen. A good boss knows that. They let you off the hook when something major comes up, or they help you find a way to work around it.

4. But a kind boss does expect you to do your work. And they'll gently push you to do your best. Accountability isn't a bad thing.

5. A kind boss does not write UGGGGGH in the margin of your work-in-progress. Ever. (Um... whoops.)

6. A kind boss knows the difference between a healthy challenge and an impossible stretch. This can be a hard one to figure out. But after some testing, the kind boss understands when a task is hard-but-doable. Or when the task is really just out for blood. Good to know the difference between those two.

What do you think? Any of these traits resonate with you? What's on your good boss list?

Wanna keep reading? Check out The Truth about those Interruptions and All Marathons Have a Finish Line.

Please encourage a self-employed buddy by sharing this post.

Empty all your pockets.

Empty all your pockets.

Yesterday I was thinking of sustainability, of making sure this day's work can lead to tomorrow's work. Building a groove. (I have my heart set on a groove right now.)

And this quote--I love the recklessness of it--says: drop it all right here, right now. Put it all down on that page. Spend everything. 

For me, this gets at the generosity of a creator. Writing generously means, you don't hold back.

When I'm at my most generous, I'm ready to mine and use every single experience I can recall, stories I've heard through the years, characters I've met, dialogue I witnessed, my own most embarrassing or difficult moments.

I become the best-ever reference librarian of my own experiences, and I pore over my inner catalogues tirelessly; I am an A-1 pack rat, ready to bring my entire hoard out for the story's sake.

It's too easy to pull back from this. To be stingy, to write from the very top of the brain--that place where all the clichés hang out and make bad jokes.

Stinginess lurks in my bad time management, in a reluctance to sift through memories for the right details, or--especially lately--a stinginess of attention.

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