If Your Writing Life Feels Like a Series of Face-Plants, This Is What You Need to Know (Or, What to Think When Failure Comes Calling)

Sometimes we get caught between a fear of failing, or a denial that failure can happen. Either way, we get paralyzed. Here's how to keep moving. | lucyflint.com

If you've hung out on this blog for a little while, you've probably noticed: I really love inspiring quotes.

They're like little chocolate-covered coffee beans for the writer's heart. When I need an emotional pick-me-up, a good powerful quote can get me moving again.

Which is why it's weird to tell you this: I'm starting to feel a little allergic to one of the most standard-issue inspirational sentiments.

It shows up in a variety of ways, but it has a similar vibe throughout. 

It's in the kind of quotes that say: What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail? Or, leap and the net will appear. Or any of the similar ideas running around on Pinterest and Instagram that tell you: to dance like no one's watching, or even if you're afraid of falling you just might fly, or if you miss the moon you'll land among the stars

Any quote that talks about risking like there isn't a cost: they used to get my wheels turning, used to stir up my boldness, my willingness to dive in. 

Lately, though, they've left me feeling flattened.

Because, while I love inspiring words, the truth is that I've done a lot more falling than flying.

Either the net doesn't work or I broke it with my plummeting.

I haven't yet landed on the moon or among the stars, thank you very much.

So I want to dash around on Pinterest, on Instagram, and snag those quotes so that I can draw a footnote underneath them, add a little appendix.

I want to say: Um, it might take a LOT of leaping before you learn what a net even looks like, let alone aim yourself to land in it. In the meantime, there will be some bruises.

It might take a lot of falling in order to learn how to fly. 

See, I don't think that those risk-without-worrying-about-the-cost quotes set us up for anything good or healthy. They seem encouraging... but are they telling the truth?

Like I said, my experience doesn't involve a lot of flying. My specialty is actually tumbling. I wipe out like it's my whole job. Frankly, I'm getting pretty good at it. And then what comes next: learning to crawl forward anyhow (after making sure nothing's permanently broken).

From my own experience, and from that of friends, and from the behind-the-scenes conversations with other creatives, I am convinced: This falling down is part of the path of everyone who wants to create.

In other words, get ready to fail.

(Oooh. That's not very chipper, is it. Sorry. But I've actually found some deep and resilient inspiration in considering our failures, so keep reading, my friend! I promise this gets happier.)

Yes, it is dangerous to let our fears stop us from creating. And I understand, that's what those inspirational quotes are trying to address. They want to get us moving anyway!, and that's great.

But I'm convinced that it's equally dangerous to pretend that hard landings don't exist. That falling doesn't happen a LOT. 

In other words: I don't want to fear failure, but I also don't want to pretend that it can't happen.

Well, shoot. So ... now what? What's the solution? 

I think that the best way forward, in the face of all this, is to change our focus, and to change our definitions.

For starters, whenever we bring up the idea of "failure," it means that we're focused on the outcome. On the result of the thing that we do. 

Obviously it's good to care about the result of our work. Plenty of us are looking for an audience one day, for people who will encounter—and appreciate!—our work. We'd like that whole exchange to turn out well, and that is totally fine and as it should be.

BUT.

I know that I can get really, really preoccupied with the result of my work. I can care about it waaaay too much and way too soon. And I isolate the result from the much bigger, much more important thing:

The process of doing the work itself. The making. The writing.

After all, isn't that process what we are actually committed to?  The day in, day out, showing up, learning more, trying again, adjusting, evolving, getting better ideas, trying new techniques, finding more and more of what we want to say.

That's what we're in this for, am I right?

When we get over-anxious about the outcome, it's easy to have forgotten it: we're not in this for the outcome of a single piece. Which means, this isn't a pass/fail game. It's a whole lot broader than that.

So that's part of what we have to remember, when we get hung up on the idea of "what if I fail." 

But the even bigger thing to attack here is our whole definition of failure itself.

Take a sec and think about it: What does failure mean?

What does it really mean to you? What are all the hairy, fanged, ugly things that it has come to mean ... and what is it really, when you take the big scary costume off of it and see it for what it is? 

Where is its power really coming from, my dear?

In Brooke Castillo's ah-mazing podcast, she tackles failure in an incredibly inspiring episode. (It's only 27 minutes long and it will rearrange your life, so give it a listen!!)

One thing she points out is the true definition of failure. What is failure really? It's this: Not meeting expectations.

That's it.

That's IT. That is all it is.

I expected my book to sound better than this, I expected that the trilogy would kinda magically pull itself together after I reread all the drafts, I expected that four drafts would be enough for this project, I expected to research by osmosis instead of actually doing it, I expected worldbuilding to take care of itself.

I expected it to go faster, easier, simpler. I expected to feel smarter, to work more quickly. I expected to be done by now.

Those are a bunch of the expectations currently running around in my head, and yes, these same unsatisfied expectations are the seeds of the big ugly failure weed that's taking up space in my mind.

THIS is why I've been feeling like a failure: because I've had all these expectations—pretty much not based on anything real. They've just kind of happened, without any real intention from me.

I just expected things to go differently. They didn't. And then I feel like a failure.

Okay, friends: Hands up if this describes what's happened in your writing life too?

I don't know about you, but it helps me SO MUCH to realize that I've fallen into these expectations without meaning to, and then I've let them determine this weird creeping sense of failure in my writing life.

... Which usually shows up in my head around midnight and then torments me for an hour. SUPER FUN.

When we arbitrarily decide what our writing lives "should" look like, how projects should go, how fast or how smooth or how easily, how many drafts—we are setting ourselves up for a sense of failure.

You tracking with me?

And then we take that failure, and we make it mean really huge, awful things about ourselves, our work, our potential, our talent, our prospects. We pile the miserably onto the failure for a nice sense of failed miserably.

We let it damn us into silence, and then we declare the whole experience one big crash-and-burn.

(Or mayyyyybe that's just me. But seriously, this is how I roll if I'm not paying attention to what's happening in my mind.)

We give the concept of failure all this power that it really doesn't have to have. We draw the wrong conclusions from it. Which makes it hurt so much more than it needs to, and which makes it paralyze us, when what we most need is the opposite of paralysis: 

We need to keep going!

I know it can be hard to root out all our expectations about how work should go. Mine tend to hide, until they leap out in their failure-suits to gnaw on my sense of worth. (Not cool, guys.) 

But it can help to do a kind of "Expectation Dump." Grab a sheet of paper, and just see what comes up. Try to jot down 10 expectations that you have about your work, whatever your work-in-progress is right now.

Here's the thing: I'm not saying expectations are terrible. It's good to have aims, and to aim high. After all, I do want my trilogy to just sing when I'm done with it. I do want the worldbuilding to be spot on, and I want it to sound better than it currently does. (A LOT better, please.)

The thing that traps me in Failureville is when I start saying, It should have happened already, It should have been sooner, I should know better, I should learn faster, I should, I should, I should ...

or else I'm a failure.

That's when things get sick, and flat-out untrue.

Here's my favorite anti-failure mantra. Here's what we meet all this with. Here's what we sing at the tops of our lungs from our writing desks:

I am going to learn from this.

So simple, but oh-so effective.

Deciding that everything is about learning just kind of deflates the whole "I should have by now" parade.

My trilogy doesn't sing right now. It doesn't even creak pleasantly. But you know what? I'm going to learn from this.

The backstory for book one has waaaaaay more holes in it than I feel like I can manage, but guess what: I'm going to learn how to fill them.

I'm going to learn how to make my protagonist stronger, how to smooth out my clunky worldbuilding, how to nail dialogue.

I'm going to keep. on. learning.

When we decide to keep learning, failure loses all its power. All it can do is kind of blink and say, You expected something different than this ... do you, um, care? And then it sees that you're taking notes and that you have your power-student face on, and you're going to use the mistake as a fresh jumping off point ...

Well, it doesn't really know how to counter that.

Yes, it can still sting. It can sting a lot.

But when we roll up our sleeves and decide to be learners instead of "failures," we'll remember this gorgeous thing about the creative life:

The lovely thing about writing is that you can do it from anywhere. From the tip top, or right down at the bottom of all things. You can write your way out of any hole at all.

Sometimes with bruises, abrasions, sore places. When breath comes back, you're reaching around for your pen again, before you even sit up. 

So even if you don't know how to fix your work-in-progress right now, you can practice something else. You can fill journals, you can make dozens of funny lists, you can do creative writing exercises ... and maybe discover a new project to ease the pressure from your first one—who can tell?

When we defuse expectations and remove their power, when we shrink the sway of failure, when we see ourselves as Learners with pens in hand: 

We get pretty dang invincible.

And that's exactly the kind of space I want to work from.


Okay. I have a bunch of lionhearted links and goodies for you, so if you want to go further on this topic, check these amazing things out: 

  • First, seriously, listen to Brooke Castillo's podcast episode on How to Fail. It will rock your world.
     
  • Then, check out this lovely podcast episode of Elizabeth Gilbert interviewing Brené Brown. This is where I first heard people taking to task the quotes about "leap and the net will blah blah blah" and also "what would you do if you couldn't fail." These ladies get real clear about how failure feels in the creative process... plus they're just incredible. You'll love this one.
     
  • Bonus: If you're an Elizabeth Gilbert fan, check out this mini TED talk (just 7 minutes!) on Success, failure, and the drive to keep creating. SUCH a good reminder.
     
  • And for an INCREDIBLE sense of perspective, jump into this video, as Marie Forleo interviews Bryce Dallas Howard: If you pick up at the 11:48 mark, you'll hear Bryce Dallas Howard explain that it takes real working actors (in other words, not wannabes, but legit actors) an average of 64 auditions to get a role. SIXTY-flipping-FOUR. How is that for a mind-bender? And a redefinition of what failing is?? After all, auditions 1-63 are not failures; they're the steps you have to take to get a job. I loved how Howard talked about this in a really matter-of-fact way. SO refreshing and super inspiring.
     
  • Finally, finally: yes, dealing with a sense of failure isn't fun, and even when we get clear on expectations versus a sense of failure, and even when we get our Learning Hats on ... well, it can still sting. For that, I recommend an all-out dance party. Shake it off, and crank up the volume on this song: Sia's Never Give Up.

You are a dauntless, lionhearted learner. A maker of many things. Don't forget it.

Why I'm Embracing Total Inefficiency (In Other Words, How Do You Do Your Best Work?)

When we try to learn the way *other* people learn, it doesn't always work out so well. Here's a bit of encouragement for embracing your own natural process. | lucyflint.com

Welcome to April, my friend! I don't know what the weather's been like for you, but where I live, it's been cloudy and stormy and cloudy again—both outside, and inside my own writerly heart.

I've found myself slogging through waves of discouragement, some internal dark, rainy days. So I thought: Why not? Let's spend April tackling two sources of deep discouragement in the writing life. 

I'm calling it our Anti-Glum First Aid Kit. *high five*

First up: I've been struggling with the way my learning-to-write path has looked. For starters, it's LONG. And it's darned hard to explain, when someone asks me why I'm not published just yet.

How about you? Has the learning process been smooth sailing all the way?

No? Great, we can keep each other company. ;) Let's tackle this together, my friend, and shed that discouragement.


I've always admired people who seemed to learn in a straight line. Who could understand something fairly quickly and reproduce it. People who manage to absorb foreign languages, or who can do math in their heads.

I love that. I think it's awesome. And I keep trying to learn like that: in a quick and orderly way. 

... But that's just never been me. 

My mind tends to waltz up to something sideways. Or it comes wandering around, behind the solution, and then stumbles into it. And that's usually after passing it by three or four times. 

Take math: I've never been able to do math in my head and I never felt natural or easy with numbers. But it wasn't obvious to my classmates in school, because I took serious math classes and did really well in them.

The key to my math success? TONS of scrap paper. 

If you gave me enough scrap paper, I could figure almost anything out. Of course, I'd fill every sheet, and I needed time to meander all over the map before I got to the solution, but I usually did get there.

And it wasn't just math. That's how I learned anything, in any class: with a lot of paper, and a lot of time.

When I studied for finals, I would get a huge stack of scrap paper and rewrite the highlights from the whole semester's notes. And then I read them through, highlighted those, and rewrote the most important parts again.

And on, and on. I distilled and re-distilled. Lots of paper. Lots of time. ... Then I'd go ace the finals.

It was a crazy process, but it actually worked.

The more I look at my learning history, the more I see evidence of this—the roundabout path I take toward the right answers. 

It's how I make friends, how I make changes, how I learn any new concept.

I always, always take the long way around. I cycle past the truth a few times before coming to rest on it. I need to learn and relearn before it takes, working it through and summarizing, again and again.

... I've been thinking of this because I feel like I'm learning to write novels exactly backwards.

For one thing, I started at the wrong end of the whole enterprise, obsessing about what comes last: money! fame! ... Okay, okay, I mean: Publication. ;)

I wanted that result. I spent so much time flailing around to try and figure out how to get there, and—until recently—I didn't spend time learning how to do what comes first: building habits, working on great ideas, figuring out how creativity works, structuring a solid story.

And now that I'm finally focused on those good things, I find myself processing and reprocessing the best way to do each one.

I look over my learning-to-write path, and I'm chagrined because it's not a clean, clear path.

It is so not how anyone would recommend learning how to write.

It's all patchworky. It's a mass of scribbles and backtracks, broken ends and do overs.

And I was kicking myself over this—over all the time I've wasted and all the wrong directions and how long it's taking me—when suddenly I realized: 

Huh. Sounds familiar.

Sounds like how I've learned a lot of things.

Sounds like how I did math. Flail around, fill tons of scrap pages, take way too long, but then—I do finally get to the good stuff. 

Well, shoot, I thought. That's not exactly what the productivity blogs say to do. Flailing isn't efficient. Bad Lucy.

But then, but then, I thought: OH, WAIT. This is actually good news. REALLY good news.

Because, inefficient or not, it actually works for me. This is how I got stellar grades. Top of my class in high school—not that I'm bragging, because it was flailing and scratch paper all the way.

Which means, no matter how weird it looks—backwards and forwards and backwards again—in spite of all that, this is what it looks like when I'm learning

My roundabout learning-to-write process doesn't mean I'm doing a terrible job, it means I am doing my job. It means I'm working my process. It means I'm finding my way, because this is how I find my way!

No wonder I keep taking a zillion notes on how my process is going, and why I distill them, again and again, into this blog. This is just how I learn.

I've never been able to take the shortest distance between two points. I have wanted to—oh, so much—but somehow, that's just not how my mind works.

And each time I try to beat my own brain and take a shortcut, the path zags yet again. And it's still the long way around, baby.

I am, alas, never going to be the poster child for anyone's productivity system. I convolute. It's my natural process. 

But even though the path I'm taking looks bizarre, I'm actually on my way to the center of the maze. And given time enough and paper enough, I have a history of making it to the center of a lot of mazes. It's never elegant, but I do get there. 

... Realizing all that has calmed me down these last few weeks. Filled my pockets with courage.

My job isn't to try and learn like other people learn. My job is simply to learn. The way I learn.

So here's my question to you, oh lionhearted writing friend: What's your usual learning process? And are you beating yourself up for learning how to write the way you best learn?

Are you comparing your own process—however it looks—to anyone else's process, and feeling like a failure as a result?

How do you learn? It can be hard to spy on ourselves, so think through your own history: how have you learned hard things in the past? Especially anything that had a lot of steps in it, a complicated array of systems all working together. What did that look like for you?

What happened in your head, with your hands, how you thought? When did you get your best results?

How can you work with your natural process instead of against it? How can you be your own best support? 

Release the idea that your process has to look the same as anyone else's. No matter how much you may admire them, they're not you. 

Here, check out this lovely encouragement from Bernard Malamud (taken from the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, ed. Mason Currey). When discussing work habits, Malamud told an interviewer:

There's no one waythere's too much drivel about this subject. You're who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. ... You suit yourself, your nature. ... Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you. 

That quote just fills me with optimism. We will learn our own best way! (And I, for one, will be rocking out the eventually part of that line. Just keep that scrap paper coming, and I'll be set.)

However it looks, embrace your own process, my friend.

Lean in to how you best learn.

Dealing With Our Kryptonite: Recognizing and Overturning Writing Life Weaknesses

Four major writing life weaknesses that can sap our strength and torpedo our energy. Know 'em, and know what to do to overcome them! | lucyflint.com

So far in this Building Strength series, we've covered a lot of ground!

We talked about being clear on what we consider strength is (because different strengths matter to each of us!), and we've talked about ways to strengthen our creativity, our enthusiasm, and our overall writing sustainability.

And then, just to kick things up a few notches, we checked in with the book Deep Work, because it has great points that will make us stronger writers: like how to supercharge our ability to focus. And, at the same time, how to deepen and strengthen our ability to recharge.

WOW. So, you feeling those muscles yet?

Today I wanna switch gears a little and work on strength from a different angle.

Namely: What makes us weak? What weakens our writing lives? 

What saps our strength, drains our energy, muddies our abilities? What's our kryptonite?

I've rounded up the usual suspects in my own writing life. See if any of these behaviors have snuck into your writing life too:

Skipping breaks.

Let's start with this one, because I have our last post about recharging on the brain

I know that this won't apply to everyone, but for anyone pursuing full-time creativity, this can be a struggle. And I personally fall into this trap a lot.

Here's the deal: I cannot be purely creative and focused and hardworking for eight hours straight. Cannot be done.

... And I can type that, and nod very sincerely at my computer screen, and even mean it, and then go off and think that I am invincible and needeth not such breaks.

This is a problem.

My best true version of my work schedule looks like this: Two hours of intense, focused, deep work, followed by one hour of pure recharging. (Which usually means, getting some good food, moving around, doing a workout, or even taking a nap.)

Then two more hours of intense work, and, yep, another hour to recharge. (A snack, maybe time spent outside if the weather is nice, doing some art...)

Finally two hours of taking care of all the shallower work, the smaller things, and then my shutdown ritual. With that, I'm done for the day.

Sounds straightforward. Super health-focused (because I've learned the hard way that I've gotta be). 

This is what can happen, though: I'll start late. Maybe because I slept in after a late night. Or maybe I got caught in a morning discussion or media dive that got all my creativity fizzing but also made me late for work. 

So I plow into the day, and work straight through my breaks, because I think don't have the time to stop.

And at the end of the work day, I'm a zombie.

I mean it. You can't get any sense out of me. I'm stumbling around, bleary-eyed and brain dead. And, at that point, my next work day is automatically harder. I have less mental flexibility, and less focus, and less motivation.

It's a really bad cycle! Easy to fall into; hard to break out of.

Those recharging periods within my work day are absolutely essential to my creativity: I need to refresh my mind by getting back into my senses. I need to stare at clouds, eat some good food, take a walk. Besides, we're not supposed to sit for hours and hours! 

The biggest single help in fighting this has been to remind myself of two things: 

1) That rest is one of my new core values. I have to be rested to work well, to do what I love, and to enjoy life. It's just that true, that simple.

2) That play and rest are prerequisites to doing good work. Period. 

My reminder of choice is an index card near my computer. "Rest is a core value," it announces. "Don't neglect your breaks!" 

It reminds me that this is the kind of writer I want to be: One who is rested, one who isn't a zombie, and one who has a wealth of imaginative details in her pockets.

Breaks ensure a better writing day, and a better writing week. Even if they need to be much less than that luxurious hour, they have to happen, or I'm toast. 

How about you? Do you interject moments of rest within your creative work? Even if you're working in shorter spurts, do you still get a moment to pull back and recharge, before diving back in?


Overthinking.

Overthinking has been my lifelong nemesis.

And "lifelong" isn't an exaggeration: I have memories of being super young and paralyzed by decision-making overload, going back and forth between two possibilities. (There is an epic family story about my inability to choose between a hamburger and a cheeseburger. Yep, it's real.)

It is so easy for me to get stuck, to get pulled into this trap of cerebralizing and analyzing. Breaking down the problem from every single side, every possible angle.

Instead of diving into what I need to do, I sit there at the edge and worry, make lists, plan things, consider endlessly. 

Obviously, there are times for deep deliberation.

Equally obvious: Not EVERY time.

Usually, this overthinking is a fear tactic. A stalling technique that feels intellectually noble.

How do you tell the difference? For me, when overthinking smells like panic, it's fear-based. It's coming from that frightened part of me, and so it's a way to stall.

This is when perfectionism is singing over my head that if I screw this up, I'll never recover from it. 

When I truly need to think something through, it feels different.

It's much more calm—a reasonable analysis. It's when I ask myself, "should I do this project now, or can it reasonably wait?"

And I answer, "Well, if I go down the wrong path, I'll just make it right, I'll just turn around." 

Fear-based overthinking just keeps inflating the issue. It gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger. It says, But I might never have a chance for a cheeseburger again!!

There's a rigidity in it. It's insisting, just below its surface, that I must make the perfect choice, the irreproachable way forward.

Everything gets dramatic. The shadows get longer and darker, and suddenly you and your pros & cons list are in a battle of good versus evil.

Yeah. It gets ugly.

I am only just beginning to find my way out of overthinking. 

One thing that has helped enormously is the way that Julia Cameron describes overthinking in Walking in This World (her lovely sequel to The Artist's Way).

She compares working on an artistic project to the moment of firing an arrow at a target. 

She says that if we overthinking the project, we're essentially standing there, pulling back the arrow, and then just waiting. Analyzing, heart pounding, while our arm loses strength and the arrow begins to sag.

So when we finally fire it, it doesn't hit the center.

She sums it up by saying,

In short, you have mistaken beginning something with ending something. You have wanted a finality that is earned over time and not won ahead of time as a guarantee. You have denied the process of making art because you are so focused on the product: Will this be a bull's-eye?

Ouch, right? She's got me. Most of the time, I'm overthinking because I want a shiny guarantee: "Yes, go for it, because it will work out swimmingly and everyone will pat you on the head and say that you've done something amazing."

But we don't work with guarantees. We work with our hearts, we learn on the way, and yes, it gets messy. But that's what we've really signed up for, and if we're all in, it can be a wonderful way to work.

Cameron adds,

We have attached so much rigamarole to the notion of being an artist that we fail to ask the simplest and most obvious question: Do I want to make this? If the answer is yes, then begin. Fire the arrow.

I love that straightforwardness. Yes!

How about you? Where in your creative life do you get swamped in overthinking?

And where is something inside you saying, let's fire the arrow!


Treating myself harshly.

One of the most effective ways to undermine our own strength? Talking bad about ourselves. Diminishing what we do, calling our work crap, saying that we'll never finish or improve.

This can be hard, hard, hard to shake.

For me, this comes directly out of shame, fear, and doubt. 

I can still be nervous about the fact that I'm a writer, that I've yet to publish. It makes me feel childish when it seems like my peers have glorious, flashy, paid grown-up careers. (Nothing's ever quite as glorious as it can look from the outside, of course, but I never remember that when I'm struggling.) 

I can feel the sting under someone else's words when they say doubtfully, so, not published yet? And I'm ready to disparage myself so that they don't have to.

As I talked so much about it last month, y'all already know that I've been learning about shame resilience from my new best friend Brené Brown. (Okay, we're only friends in my head, but whatever. She's lovely.) 

So, I'm working on this. I am trying to remember to breathe through it, to remind myself that I am not my job and I am not what I produce and I am not my salary, thank God! 

So that's half of the battle.

The other half, is to sincerely tend to what I know I need.

I am starting to develop a habit that helps me break out of this inner harshness and, bonus! that overthinking cycle too.

Here's how it works. Let's say I'm trying to decide which direction to go with a project, and there seem to be three strong options.

And the Overthinking Monkey is saying don't screw this up, you've gotta look at all these different parts of the different options. And THEN what if this happens, and look, here are more reasons for each thing over here, and oh my gosh this is hard isn't it...

And the Shame Monkey is saying, this is why it's taking you so long, you can't figure anything out, and you don't know even a quarter of what you need to know, and meanwhile everyone thinks you can actually write, so you better not mess up...

SO HELPFUL those monkeys, aren't they?!

So I've started to catch when this cycle is happening. And here's what I've started to do. It's so simple but it helps so much:

I get up and move away from my desk. I go to the other side of the room and I lie down. I take a few huge deep breaths, and I close my eyes and I just hold still.

(This is great, because the monkeys freak out. "She's walking away?!? It's like she doesn't even care about us!")

I breathe for a little while, and then I tell myself in my kindest, and most calm voice: You know the thing that you need to do next. You have one option that seems like the right one for now. What's that option? 

And I give myself permission to 1) pick something, and 2) that it doesn't have to be the perfect choice. It's the choice that seems right, for now, and that's good enough for me, I tell myself.

In about ten minutes, I'll get up with a very clear calm-ish path in my head, and dive in. And I end up not regretting my choice, even if I have to revise it later.

Seriously, this has been huge.

So if you're nodding along with this, and you get what I mean about overthinking + harshness, here are my four steps again. I apply: 

1) Oxygen. For real. Because I start breathing too fast, or holding my breath when I'm anxious. Good decisions require oxygen! Try to relax, unclench, and breathe deep.

2) Space. I can't find my way out of a spiral if I'm staring at a bunch of lists or all my different options. I need to separate myself.

3) Clarity. I try to boil it down: I just have to take one step, and I just have to pick that step. It isn't rocket science or brain surgery. If they all seem equally good and even equally risky, then I really can't go wrong. I can simply choose.

4) Permission. I take the idea of a "right answer" off the table. I'm not looking for a perfect choice. (And yes, sometimes I have to say this out loud.) I'm just looking for a choice. A starting point. I'm allowed to change my mind later when I see things even more clearly. But at the same time, I'm not going to second guess myself just because

This little sequence has been a game changer! 

How about you? Where in your writing process are you most tempted to be hard on yourself? And what would it look like if you gave yourself a tiny dose of kindness instead?

And what would it look like if you gave yourself a really, really BIG dose of kindness?


Resistance.

For anyone who's read the excellently butt-kicking motivational books of Steven Pressfield (I'm thinking especially of The War of Art, Do the Work, and Turning Pro), Resistance is something you're already familiar with.

For the rest of you ... well, you're familiar with Resistance too. You just might not have called it that.

Here's how Pressfield introduces the concept in The War of Art:

There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write.
     What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

He goes on, 

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
     Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? ... Are you a writer who doesn't write, a painter who doesn't paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.

It's an internal, persistent, relentless force that keeps us from doing our work. That's it.

That slippery, negative feeling that we get before we do something that we honestly, in our heart-of-hearts want to do ... but in this moment, we seem to want to do ANYTHING else.

You get this, right? I mean . . . anyone who's tried to write for about two seconds understands this feeling.

There is so much good in Pressfield's books. He is super helpful when it comes to understanding Resistance and the whole creative process. Definitely ones to pick up, if you haven't yet!

I'm half tempted to type out the whole second half of his book right here in this post ... okay, actually the whole book.

But I won't because of plagiarism and rules and all that. You'll just have to read it for yourself. It's a quick, very helpful read—which is great because you can flip it over and reread it and get it deeper into your brain. 

But anyway, here is the Resistance-fighting technique I've been using lately, and, amazingly, it's been working.

It's deceptively simple. Ready? Here it is:

I'm working toward a bunch of goals right now. Seriously, so many. And though they're worthy, I can feel a ton of Resistance anytime I'm working on the next step toward a goal.

What's suddenly changed for me is that I've realized where that huge burden feeling is coming from. The real burden, the real problem, isn't the task itself.

So, the problem isn't actually the intense, complicated scene I need to write today.

The real problem is that Resistance tells me that I'm not up to working on something so complicated. It tries to convince me of this by flooding my mind with dread.

Resistance tries to convince me that the task is the problem. That the task is why I have dread.

When really, Resistance is why I have dread. The real problem is Resistance. 

So I wrote myself another note, and I stuck it to my computer monitor: 

It's not the task that is burdensome, but the Resistance to the task that is.
 

It's Resistance that's killing me.
Drop Resistance.

Yes, I know. That sounds simplistic.

But what's happened in my head since realizing this is amazing. 

By rereading that note, I can catch Resistance when it sneaks in. And I can remember that its chief trick is to make me think that something else is the problem—instead of the Resistance itself.

So, when it's time to write, and I sense that slow build of "Meh, I'd rather not" working its way through me, I'm alert to it. I snap out of it.

I say, AHA, look, it's Resistance! You, Resistance, are the thing that's even harder than the hard work. You're the thing that's worse than bad writing. You're worse than brain cramps and elusive sentences and revisions. 

So I'll get rid of you.

And I'll stop resisting the task.

... And that simple moment of reframing the situation WORKS. And it's lovely.

So, try it. Identify your real enemy.

It isn't the writing. It isn't the scene that will come out somewhat backwards (though with a few glowing phrases, a few spot-on descriptions!). It isn't the journey we take into the unknown every day.

It's the thing that would block us, with no truly good reasons, with no clear helpfulness. It's the thing that creates a mood, a doubt, a dread. It's fat angry Resistance squatting in the middle of our road.

Refuse to buy into it. Refuse to welcome it, listen to it, pick up the burdens it hands you. 

When you feel it rising, remember that it is the difficulty, not the thing that it's pointing to or hiding behind. Don't listen to it, and dive into your work.

And then see if that makes a difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right?

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

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

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

You tracking with me? 

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

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

I want to take better care of my creativity.

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

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

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

Ahem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We've been feeding cyanide to our creativity.

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

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

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

How are we doing this? 

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

This will literally shut down creativity. 

It changes everything. 

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

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

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

I didn't. 

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

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

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

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

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

Neither did its writer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THAT is what I wish I had done.

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

Cameron goes on to say,

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

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

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

Creativity is. 

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

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

She goes on to say, 

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

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

Remind yourself of it often!

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

It cannot be compared. 

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

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

Comparing ourselves to established masters of the craft.

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

Comparing ourselves to unattainable perfection.

We've gotta stop doing it, my friends. 

How to embrace a radically new perspective on creativity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She says, 

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

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

Can you let it make a mess? 

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

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

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

What does that mean? 

She says, 

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

YES.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aim for delight. Play. Fun. Joy.

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

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

Why? Because it's worth it.

As Cameron says,

Serious art is born from serious play.

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

And let's take our artist date this week.

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

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

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

The kind of writers that can stay the course. 

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

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

The lionhearted writer brings love into the process.

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

Some bits are just intoxicating.

Books, words, stories. 

Sentences so good they make your scalp tingle.

Mmmm. Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

To the actual creative process itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right? 

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

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

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

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

I want to love every day of it. 

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

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

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

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

Maybe impossible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instant hate.

And, bonus, I almost threw up.

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

That's a pretty big change.

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

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

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

Here's where to start:

1) Recognize what is good about it. 

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

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

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

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

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

And what's valuable about it?

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

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

2) Practice technical gratitude.

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

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

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

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

Okay?

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

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

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

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

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

3) Notice what you actually do like about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUPER weird. I tried not to notice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to music that you adore or find deeply inspiring. 

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

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

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

5) Practice relish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) Repeat.

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

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

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

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

Hold that dread at bay. Stagger it with goodness.

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

So weird, right?

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

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

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

Worth trying, right?

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

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

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

DANG. Talk about a game changer.

So what will you be learning to love?

Four Ways to Spark Your Writing Ambition If You've Been Feeling a Bit Meh

Ambition is one of those writing life essentials. If you feel like yours has gone wandering off, check these four ways to relight that ambitious fire. | lucyflint.com

Even though we're practicing radical happiness and cultivating patience, we still want to aim super high with our writing, right?

I mean—I want to write the most amazing book ever. I'm guessing you do too.

There's a readiness to conquer, an excitement for improving. That's the lion part of lionheart, right?

Which is why our next lionhearted trait is ambition. We are ambitious for excellence in our work.

OH yeah.

Let's define it: Ambition is about pressing toward success and achievement, especially with the elements that we can control. 

Healthy ambition looks a lot like that line used in so many good fitness challenges: "The only one you're trying to beat is yourself."

So, just to be clear, when I'm talking about ambition, I'm not saying to be ambitious about the things that are up to the people around us. Awards, huge pats on the back, and all other subjective things.

They're nice, and it's fine to strive for them. But the trick is that they don't always correlate with our best efforts. (And wanting them too hard can kinda burn up your heart.)

So, for this post, let's focus on what we actually do control.

Which is, frankly, a lot.

Our quality of work. The quality of our ideas. Choosing projects that stretch us in one way or another.

Writing faster. Writing better.

A richer conflict. A scene accomplishing more purposes. Stronger subplots. Stellar structure.

Working hard and aiming high: that's what we do. 

Mmmm. Gets my writerly juices fizzing.

But—if you're reading this and thinking, that used to be me, maybe, but right now, not so much— 

I get it. 

Maybe you're feeling burned out. Or maybe it's not even that dramatic: you just feel like your ambition has gone missing.

If that sounds like you (or if you'd just like to give your ambitions a good stir), try this:

1) Double check your circumstances.

I know. I've been talking about this a ton lately.

But that's because I used to demand that I jump over buildings in a single bound, during times of intense family or personal stress.

Whoops.

Those usually aren't good times for leaping.

Sometimes, when the rest of life is especially hard, the ambitious response actually looks like: showing up for my writing every day, even in really small ways.

That's super ambitious!! Showing up during hard times? That's huge. You don't need to add some big achievement on top of that.

Focus on smaller achievements. Thumbnail-sized ones.

Maybe just bringing your attention back to the work. Or journaling a certain number of pages a day. (Say, three). Or reading fiction, a chapter a day.

Okay?

Ambition can be redefined.

Heather Sellers writes in Chapter after Chapter about how we writers need to "cycle through standards."

She says, "When you're stuck or stranded or bored with your book, lower your standards. Slouch your way through it. When you're writing high and hard and strong and solid, raise your standards."

I fought this idea for a long time (and kept burning myself out, ha ha). Now I realize how incredibly wise it is.

If your circumstances are going nuts, or if you're in the middle of a big transition, it's time for smaller ambitions.

Don't worry: when the sky clears, you can let it all out and shoot for the moon. 

For now, small successes are plenty.

(And yes, I'm totally preaching to myself on this one.)

2) Double check your fuel.

Okay, a cheesy metaphor so we're all good with this point: 

You can have the flashiest, reddest, raciest car there is, but if it's out of gas, then even I can run faster.

All engines require fuel, and our creative machine is no different.

Sometimes your life circumstances are okay, but there's some part of your mental/creative fuel that you just haven't been getting for a while.

Take a second to self-diagnose:

Do you need to just go get lost in words? Or strike out in a new reading direction?

Or fall into a pile of really excellent movies, the kind that stir your desire to tell stories? (For a while, I would watch Finding Neverland, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland, every time I felt my story engine faltering.)

Or maybe you need to stir your creativity by playing in other ways.

Do you just need a bit of a spark? A new way to approach your work for a day or a week?

What does it look like, to really recharge your creativity and give your brain the space it needs to dream up stories?

3) Double check the kind of project you're working on. 

If you're good with your circumstances, and if you're creatively fueled, then there's still something else to try. 

Get really still and quiet and then think about your story.

Not from a frantic point of view, or a burned out & done with it point of view.

But think about the story or the work itself, and especially what drew you to it.

Have you veered off the path that you loved? Are you working in a format, a form, or a genre that you don't enjoy? Maybe the characters aren't the ones that you want to write about. 

Is there a crushing deadline that has dampened the thrill of ambition? (Deadlines can be the perfect spurs or the perfect smothers. Double check yours and revise it if it isn't working!)

Here's another test: this is a fun, quick exercise from Chris Baty, in his Nanowrimo guide, No Plot, No Problem.

I tried it once on a whim, and I was shocked at the results. So give it a try, especially if you've felt less than inspired lately.

It's pretty simple: He has you write down everything you love in a book, in a story. Go crazy. Write it all down.

Nothing is too small or too big. You just want to list everything that gets your heart beating faster when you're reading.

And when you've filled out everything, make a second list.

This time, it's everything that you can't stand in a story. Anything that dries up your enthusiasm as a reader or viewer.

What makes you want to chuck a novel across the room? And warn all your friends away from it? 

Write all that stuff down. Alllllllll of it. Every single story-esque thing that gets on your nerves.

And then, you get to sit back and review your lists. (Baty calls them the two Magna Cartas.)

The whole point is: write a book that's got a lot of stuff from the first list! And nothing from the second.

Pretty simple, right? Straightforward?

Can I tell you a mortifying secret?

When I did this with my first novel, I was blown away to see that I was writing a lot of stuff from my second list, and very little from my first. 

What?! How did that even happen?

(I still don't know! And actually, Baty says the same thing happened to him, so... it's definitely possible.)

I instantly made the changes, throwing out every hateful thing that had crept into my story.

Baty writes, "Write your joy, and good things will follow."

YEP. I was much happier after I decided to intentionally write toward everything that I most enjoyed. 

So try that. Make sure that your material isn't somehow thwarting you.

4) Give yourself a fun challenge.

If everything else is fine, but you still feel a little lackluster, then maybe it's time for a lighthearted challenge?

Not something crushing. Just a friendly prompt to stir the juices and kickstart a little magic.

Maybe go on a few little writing adventures.

Or maybe give yourself a writing exercise program, and explode your sense of storymaking that way.

Consider which areas of your writing life you haven't really touched on in a while, and give yourself something extra to aim for. Or a small daily task to build your strength.

Just for fun.

And watch your ambition rise.

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. 

Four Steps to a Radically Happier Writing Life (Spring Cleaning for the Writer's Mind)

We've turned April into the month of Spring Cleaning the Writing Life! Because it's too easy to get swamped by clutter... and I'm not just talking papers and old pens. Check Monday's post for a guide to spring cleaning your goals, and when you're ready, read on!

It's easy to accept that we'll always have negative, doubting voices in our heads, frustrating us as we try to write. We *could* accept that. ... Kinda like we *could* accept being poisoned all the time. Let's not. Today, a four-step process for cleaning out the voices in our heads. Leaving us with a radically happier writing life. | lucyflint.com

Today's challenge might not be what anyone thinks when they consider Spring Cleaning... But it's way more important than the dusting and vacuuming we'll be doing later. 

You don't need a lot of supplies for this one. But it just might have the biggest effect on your whole writing practice.

Whew! Deep breath.

Today, let's take a look at what we're telling ourselves. 

Yep. We're gonna clean out all the negative, doubting voices in our heads.

What's happening in your mind lately?

What are the voices that show up when you sit down to write, when you take aim at a new challenge, or when you're lying awake at two a.m.

Take a few minutes and jot down what they say to you. As exactly as you can remember.

I know. It doesn't feel awesome to do this. But trust me, you need to haul those invisible little spooks into the cold light of a computer screen. Or onto the beautiful plain of a piece of paper.

Write them down. Because a lot of their BS becomes clear when we're actually looking at the words.

Look at how they're talking to you. (And feel free to get mad about it.) See how they go for our effectiveness, our quality. They pull out small, isolated moments of our pasts, and project a whole bleak future out of them.

This has come up for me a lot lately.

I've realized: it's so easy to just let those voices stick around. 

To think: Sure, I don't like them, but they're there, and that's life, whaddya gonna do about it? 

I've changed my mind.

I've decided that, being okay with negativity in our heads is exactly like being okay with asbestos in our apartment building, or with radon gas in our basement.

You can't just live with it: that stuff's gonna kill you.

And there's nothing especially heroic about breathing that in, day after day after day.

So I'm not going to let them stick. (And neither are you!) And there is something concrete that we can do about it.

(Oh, here I go, getting fired up now...)

How do we do that? Well, it involves an idea that I used to be extremely skeptical about.

So before we get to the good stuff, let's do a quick little mental experiment. 

Imagine that there's a person sitting there on your desk. A real, breathing human being. And what this person does is talk to you during your writing day. Out loud. Face to face. 

And let's say it's a terrible person.

All they do is talk to you about the times you've failed in your writing life. The ideas and projects that haven't worked out. Times when luck went against you. Pieces of your writing that were horribly misunderstood. Missteps. Topics that didn't work out well. 

Based on all that, they forecast your future. They predict how this piece of writing is going to go. They tell you all about the prospects of your dear little work-in-progress.

Okay. 

Seriously, now. 

How the heck could you get any good writing done?

Even if this person takes breaks, and only sounds off, say, once an hour: you would be so alert to every negative indicator. Every bad possibility.

So that everything else in your writing and your life will just confirm the person's bleak outlook.

Even though it's obvious, let's just spell it out: You're not going to get any thing great done. Even if you manage to persevere under that onslaught, it's going to be very, very hard going.

It will be next to impossible to believe in yourself. To attempt any new challenge. And even the normal trials of a good writing life will feel too impossible.

Ick. 

So let's rewind.

Now let's say the person on your desk is me. 

I'm sitting on the edge of your writing desk. And all through your writing day, whenever you take a break, or at chance moments during your work, I just pepper you with examples of when you were amazing.

(And I have SO MANY examples.)

So you sit there, writing, surrounded by all the moments when you got it just right. Memories of when you sat down with confidence and wrote.

I chatter on about the pieces that delighted other readers. The natural way you have with words. The wonderful things your teachers or friends or family have said about you. All your victories.

I remind you of your persistence, your courage, your unique insights, your incredible ideas, and how we need that in the world.

Well... geez.

You would do your writing in a significantly different way. Right?

When you're surrounded by the positives, you would rise to meet challenges. You'd step into hard tasks knowing that you have what it takes to figure it out because, hello, you DO.

Even when a piece "fails," you'd have the gumption to figure out what went wrong, and how, and why. You'd learn from it, and come out of that as a better writer.

See what I'm getting at? In both examples, it's the same writer. Same you.

But the voice is different. 

It matters where our brain is hanging out. What we're hearing in our heads profoundly affects what we do.

And we are better, more resilient writers, when the voices in our heads are on our team.

Which brings us to the new-to-me concept of affirmations.

Affirmations are a way of undoing the damage that the negativity does. Affirmations are that good voice sitting there on your desk, talking to you all day long.

If the horrible, negative doubts are poison, affirmations are the antidote. 

... If you're feeling like this all just got WAY more touchy-feely than you really wanted for a Thursday, I understand. I was incredibly skeptical of affirmations for a long time, but I've been rereading The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. And it is, oh my goodness, SO HELPFUL. 

Cameron is pretty dang strict about applying affirmations to your writing life, and—obviously—she won me over.

Here's how it goes:

1. Take one of the ugly mean phrases that you wrote down. 

2. Create an affirmation that deals with the same idea, but goes in a positive direction, or declares a positive outcome.

So, "You'll never publish anything" turns into I have the skills to publish this project. Or even I am a published author.

"No one's going to read this" turns into I have devoted readers. Or I have an audience that is excited to read my books.

See how it goes? (You can find more examples of affirmations here and here, to get the gist. Like I said, I'm still a beginner at this!)

3. Say your affirmation out loud a few times. 

Or write it down five times. Or ten times! 

Or heck, you can write it and say it!

4. Notice how you feel.

This is what got me. This is what sold me on it.

I felt so silly while I was saying these affirmations out loud. It just seemed so goofy, and it wasn't even close to true yet.

(Here's what I noticed about that supposed silliness, by the way: I could let negative voices stick around, forecasting a terrible future that they couldn't guarantee. But when I even considered replacing those voices with a positive affirmation of the future, that seemed too silly to try. Funny, right?)

So I was saying things like, "I am a brilliant and prolific novelist" (straight from Cameron's book), or "I create wonderful art even in difficult circumstances." 

Even though I wasn't sure I believed what I was saying entirely, it still had an effect. I sat up a little taller. I surveyed my day's tasks with more confidence.

And then I was grinning in spite of myself. 

My work for the day felt a lot less heavy. I felt more aware of all my gifts, and all my resources. And generally, a lot less daunted.

THAT is what we need, right? 

So take a little time today, and DO THIS, even if you feel so skeptical. Even if it is the silliest thing ever.

TRY it. Take one strand of negativity and replace it with an affirmation. And then, keep going down your list! Julia Cameron encourages her readers to do this at the beginning of each writing day—it's the ideal kickoff!

So clean out those voices. Replace them with better ones. 

And just see what happens.


If you want a bit more of a discussion about affirmations, this is a great article.  

Wahoo! We did it. Clearer heads, happier voices, and more TRUTH making room in our minds.

I LOVE IT. 

Check back on Monday for a more traditional week of spring cleaning... and til then, have fun making happier spaces in your brain! 

When Doubt and Negativity Come Looking for You (and Your Writing), Here's What To Do.

It isn't about talent. It isn't about feeling GREAT about your writing all the time. It isn't about perfect schedules or exquisite time management or an elegant vocabulary. It all comes down to just one thing. | lucyflint.com

This is just a plain old straightforward quote. But it's totally lovely.

And I still need to hear it. And you still need to hear it.

This is just a lionhearted essential.

Doris Lessing, writer extraordinaire (she won this tiny, obscure award called the Nobel Prize), said: 

"What I did have, which others perhaps didn't, was a capacity for sticking at it, which really is the point, not the talent at all. You have to stick at it.

Happy Monday, in other words. 

"What I did have, which others perhaps didn't, was a capacity for sticking at it, which really is the point, not the talent at all. You have to stick at it." -- Doris Lessing | lucyflint.com

This kind of philosophy sometimes requires a very large coffee mug, so by all means get one. And then let's have a little chat about perseverance.

... Got your coffee? Me too.

Okay. Look: There are a million things that are going to show up to knock us off course. 

Legitimate things, and not so legitimate ones. True reasons for slowing down, and lies that slow us down too. 

We're facing redirections, obstacles, setbacks. There are new skills to learn, old habits to discard, better patterns of thinking we can embrace.

It's complicated, busy, and ever-changing. 

It can feel like a lot. Heck, let's get real: it is a lot!

Total true confession: I still have moments when I think, just out of the blue, maybe I should chuck it? 

This was me. Just last night.

Lying in bed, explaining to my pillow, "It would be so much simpler if I just worked for a bookstore and stopped all this writing nonsense. I would do great at a bookstore. I love recommending books to people! I could read a ton, yay, and there would be so much less wear and tear on my brain. Also, um, paychecks."

Of course, I didn't believe myself as I said all this. Not really.

(Neither did my pillow. It is never fooled.)

In the morning I pulled out this quote and thought, right. 

Sticking with it. That's what's right. That's the answer.

This whole writing gig—it isn't won by brilliance. It isn't won with perfect writing routines and spotless writing schedules.

It isn't a game of ideal circumstances

Nope.

So if you don't feel brilliant this instant, and if your writing routine has developed a serious wobble, and if your schedule has faltered a smidge—no worries. 

You are still in the right place.

Because it all comes down to sticking with it. Stick with the writing life.

On the glorious, exhilarating days, yes!

And also on the ones where you feel ragged and dry and aren't really sure it makes sense anymore.

We stick with it. 

Which is why I got to my desk today anyway.

Which is why I pulled out my characters (even though I felt grumpy, and I probably did a few big dramatic sighs) and I said, "Hey kids, what should we talk about?"

Which is why I still plunged into my book today. And it maybe wasn't spectacular writing, but it was still right and good and exactly where I should be.

Don't believe the weird funky lies that show up at midnight, or at four on a rainy afternoon, or at a bleak eight-thirty on an overcast morning.

Okay? Don't let those lies seep into your soul.

We're sticking with it, you and me. 

Because it doesn't have to look perfect, and it isn't about talent, and it isn't always neat and tidy. 

It's just about endurance.

About scribbling a few sentences even on our worst days. About carrying on, learning what we need to learn, and digging a little deeper. 

Also, of course, dancing. And also chocolate.

(And if you haven't had a good, shake-everything-loose dance party in your office for a while, you need to. I did today and it fixed so much. And then, of course, so did the chocolate part.)

All of this to say, sometimes it isn't super helpful to pay attention to all of our writerly feelings.

Feelings pretend to be absolute truth tellers, but sometimes, they're full of crap. Or they're only partly true. 

I try to say, Thanks for the input; your complaint has been acknowledged. And then I go to the desk anyway.

On my pillow, I said, "Work in a bookstore? Hm. How interesting. You're right, I could wear a collection of brightly colored tights and dye my hair a shocking color and strike up conversations with the charming barista. What a nice idea. ... And then, at night after closing down the shop, would I be crying about the novels I didn't write?"

"Um," said the traitorous feelings. "Um, yeah. Probably."

"That's what I thought." (And my pillow totally agreed.)

Stick with it. 

Even if you have the worst case of the Mondays, stick with it.

Sometimes that means you shrink your writing practice to the smallest possible unit. To a mouse-sized writing practice, just to get by.

And then you can blow it back up later to a big, splashy, wonderful writing practice.

Sometimes, if you're a bit battered, you give yourself a week of just reading, all novels all the time, or all poems, or all essays...

But you're still sticking with it. That's the thing.

Move toward it, even on your awful days. 

Don't give up.

5 Things To Do (Right Away!) When You Feel Like Your Life Is Stuck

It can build for a while in an ugly spiral, or it can spring on you out of the blue. Either way, here's what you can do when it happens: Five things to do right away when you feel like your life is stuck. | lucyflint.com

For some reason, it tends to happen around holidays.

Maybe because there are so many conversations, so many people to catch up with, and so many chances to rehash the "so how is your writing going" question. 

Maybe because it's also a hard season for focusing. Writing projects, writing progress, writing in general: it can all feel kind of stuck.

Ohhhh, that Stuck Feeling. It can get bitter. It can get ugly. It can spread. And fast.

This used to happen to me a lot. And yes, weirdly enough, right around Christmas time, it would hit me in a bad way. 

Suddenly I'd find that at night, I did not have visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. I had visions of being exposed as a total failure at the whole writing thing. Visions of giving up writing, of doing something else, anything else.

And then I'd realize that I'm not just bad at writing, I'm bad at everything. And actually, I wouldn't be able to think of a single thing I was good at.

Which can get a bit depressing.

... Does this happen to anyone else, or is it just me?? Whew. Let's all have some chocolate.

That Stuck Feeling and I: we go way, way back. We have a lot of history. And I've learned some things about how to deal with it. (Besides the chocolate, which I'm guessing is obvious.)

Here's what I'm practicing, any time that Stuck Feeling shows up. Read on and arm yourself!

1) Know your enemy and its tricks.

For starters, this is a feeling, and that's important to know.

Like all feelings, it will insist that it tells the absolute, unvarnished truth. 100% reality. It will cross its arms and try to stare you down.

It will remind you of the zillion things that you are waiting on, which are all outside of your control. 

Money, lodgings, opportunities, access, time, space, ideas, skills, did-I-mention-money, teachers, fellow writers, paid professionals, attention... It can generate an endless list of Things Waited On. 

This feeling is relentless.

When it shows up for me, it works SO HARD until I finally say back to it: "Yes, you are right. I am stuck. Everything is stuck."

At which point, the Stuck Feeling puts a bag over my head, just in case I wise up and start seeing all the opportunities around me. 

It is such a trap.

The best and most effective way to expose this feeling as a definite lie, the best way to banish it, is to do something New. 

Something good and new for yourself and your writing.

Preferably something nourishing.

To that end:

2) Try a writing challenge.

It doesn't have to be a huge challenge; you might not have the energy for huge effort. 

Design your own tiny challenge instead. Grab a book of writing exercises (I always recommend this one) or find some online.

Grab a notebook and a timer. Try writing just five minutes on a prompt, and force yourself to do five prompts in a row. After just that half hour of work, you might feel completely different. 

(Of course, if you get carried away, feel free to do the whole dang book. It might change your life.)

3) Actively nurture your curiosity. 

I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic, and she makes a wonderful case for following your curiosity. She says that anything you're interested in—even if it's just the tiniest bit of interest—is worth focusing on. 

She writes: "It's a clue. It might seem like nothing, but it's a clue. Follow that clue. Trust it. See where curiosity will lead you next. ... Following that scavenger hunt of curiosity can lead you to amazing, unexpected places." 

So when the Feeling of Stuckness rises up, try seeking your curiosity. Force your attention away from all the wailing internal voices (I know, they're super loud!), and ask yourself:

Is there anything that you're interested in? Anything? At all?

And then treat that bit of interest like a clue, and follow it. Learn a little more about it. Explore.

And then look around for the next clue.

4) Explode your creativity. 

Move in a direction other than writing. Give the words a break. Give 'em some space to refresh.

And go try something else for a while. Go dance wildly and awkwardly to some loud music: get a bit sweaty. 

Or try picking up a pen and sketching. Grab some simple, schoolkid watercolors and dabble in painting for a while. 

I started doing that this summer, and every time I pick up my sketchbook, I feel wonderfully calm and focused. (In other words, the opposite of stuck and screaming.)

... The main thing is: move. This Stuck Feeling can work like a numbing drug, and make you forget how strong you are, in your mind, your body, your heart. 

If it says you're stuck, go out and learn. Go out and do. Make something with your hands. Go on a hike. Explore.

Outrun the thing.

5) Remember how creative rhythms work.

I've seen this pattern again and again in my writing life (and the rest of my life too!). I'll feel stuck (and wretched) and I'll think that's whole story: I'm not moving forward and I'm awful.

I think everything's over. 

... And then something happens.

It turns out that, during that Stuck time, something inside me was gathering. Energy was building, getting ready to connect with an insight that was just around the corner. A revelation, an epiphany. Something that makes all the difference. 

Or I suddenly encounter a bunch of resources that are exactly what I need, and I leap ahead.

Or I experience some other major shift in how I think about myself, my creativity, my writing life, and the whole shebang.

And not only am I moving again, I'm racing.

This has happened so many times. 

Here's what I think: Before our brains and hearts do something big, they sometimes pull in for a while. They get quiet and still.

And sometimes this goes on longer than we feel comfortable with.

I don't know if it's like that for everyone, but it has happened to me more times than I can count. 

And I'm slowly catching on. I am trying to remind myself to not go running and wailing that I'm stuck.

I tell myself that what I think of as stuck might actually be a period of invisible growth. Something good is brewing, even if I can't tell what it is yet.

So no more running. No more wailing. I need all my energy for the Big Thing that is just around the corner, moving slowly toward me. 

So that's what I'd say to you. The next time you feel stuck, like everything has just stopped, like there's no momentum:

Lean toward the next challenge. Even though you can't see it yet.

Take really good care of yourself and give yourself a lot of grace and a lot of room. Practice a skill, learn something new, listen for your curiosity, keep working.

When you sense despair thrumming beside you, shift away from it.

Because something fantastic is up ahead. And it will need all the energy you can spare.