The One Resolution that Really Will Change *Everything*

You got some big goals brewing for next year? Me too. SUPER excited. But let's not lose sight of the most vital resolution (and biggest game-changer) of them all. |

Oh, I love the goal-setting, resolution-making days. I love that unique energy that fizzes around the end of the year.

How's your 2016 looking? Do you have some really big plans? 

High five. I do too. Dreaming so big for this new year! It's going to be amazing—I can't even wait.

But lately I've been realizing that, in this storm of resolution-making, it's easy to overlook one of the most important parts of our writing lives.

It's the thing that is absolutely critical to your happiness and well-being as a writer. The thing that can transform the quality of your writing life entirely.

It's this super-obvious truth, but it's really easy to miss.

Ready? Here it is:

The quality of your writing life, and my writing life, isn't really defined by the Big Moments.

You know. Those big things like: Finishing the manuscript. Publishing the manuscript. Sending out the story. Sending out the query. Getting an agent. Getting a publisher. Hitting a sales goal. Hitting an income goal.

The big stuff. It doesn't define us.

Those moments are super important, obviously. Some of them are turning points. Some of them are just events that are nice but then fade away. Some of them, certainly, adjust how we'll be going forward.

So, please: I don't mean to say that they aren't important. 

But what I do want to point out is: while the Big Moments are worth moving toward, our writing lives are actually made up of days.

Little days of doing our writing. 

That is what the vast majority of our time is going to look like.

The writer + the project + the keyboard + a lot of hours over a long period of time. 

That's a writing life.

Which means that: the quality of our writing life will be immensely and overwhelmingly shaped by the quality of our writing days.

And I don't just mean writing excellent quality.

I mean having a happy writing day. A fulfilling writing day. 

Getting up from a writing session, whether it was twenty minutes or four hours, and thinking: That was good work. That was actually fun! That was creatively fulfilling.

You know what I mean?

I've realized in my own self that it is so tempting to focus on the HUGE things that I need and want to move forward.

It can be really easy to make the writing days slaves to the big writing moments.

And then suddenly, I have a long string of frenetic days. I'm running around feeling stressed and crazy, trying to beat myself into becoming a more disciplined person, all in the service of getting to the next Big Thing, the next Big Goal, whatever that is. 

Aiming for a big goal is really nice.

But using a long string of really sucky, miserable days, in order to get to that big goal? Not so much. Not so nice.

So I've fallen out of love with that way of thinking. With having really horrible days, all in the service of a really important goal. I've just stopped wanting to do that.

Don't get me wrong: Goals are vital. (Seriously, please read The One Thing if you haven't yet. You'll loooove it.) 

Goals are wonderful. But your individual writing days are EQUALLY vital, wonderful, beautiful, and important.

Especially the ones that don't feel important.

My writing life is made up of a very long string of very un-flashy writing days. 

I don't have any legitimately Big Moments yet, but I do have some highlights. Getting a call to say that my short story was chosen for first place. Monetary awards for words I'd written, work I'd done. A few times when I was publicly cheered on for what I do and how I do it.

That was nice. That was pleasant.

And that had absolutely no bearing on the quality of my writing days either before or after the event. 

It still came down to me, alone, with the words, with the insecurities, trying to work. 

I think that when we seek the next Big Writing Moment, it's pretty tempting to believe that the quality of our writing days will magically shift and change. They will absorb all that bigness and now be beautiful.

That we will be stunningly confident. That we will write with poise. That we will look really good while we do it. (All good hair days, from here on out.)

And while there might be some truth in some of that, and while opportunities do create a new direction, I think that, at the base of it, the quality of our days is really up to us.

This is good news, by the way.

It means that, if you want a really happy writing life, seek a really happy writing day. 

Not agents, publishers, movie deals, multibook contracts, six-figure sales, bestseller lists.

Aim for excellence, by all means. Focus on your goals, and godspeed. 

But if you want a quality shift, look at your days, not your goals. 

Nicole Johnson wrote, "The quality of my life is determined by one thing: my attitude toward it."

Whoa. You get to pick how awesome your writing life is. No one else gets to dictate that: just you.

So, if I could make a suggestion: Choose happy, and choose it right now. Love your writing life because it's your writing life.

Not for the things it will get you, the attention it might win you, or any kind of glamour that might be down the road. Not for the big moments. 

Love it because you love words. Love it because it's challenging and enjoyable and incredible.

Be happy today, be brave today, and write your heart out. 

That will be the biggest and best change you can make.

This idea—that we really live in the small moments and the days, and not in the big, once-in-a-lifetime moments—was first introduced to me in a talk by Paul David Tripp(He was talking about this principle in terms of marriage and spiritual life, but it's completely true for writing lives as well.)

I was shocked by how much I thought the big moments mattered, and how much I thought the little moments didn't. Totally backwards, haha! 

Here's What Your Insecurities Won't Tell You

They show up for nearly every writing session, and they talk a *lot.* But this is what your insecurities aren't telling you... and it's the most important stuff! |

If you've ever sat down to write anything before, you've probably met allllllllllll your insecurities. 

Here's what I think I can guess about them: 

  • They are loud
  • They seem to have good points (they remember your past with staggering clarity)
  • There are about two thousand more of them than you remembered, and they keep inviting friends

They might have plenty of reasons why you should delay your writing, why you shouldn't write about that topic that's so close to your heart, or why you should maybe just not write at all.

But since they're ragged little liars (and you can tell them I said that), I'd like to offer the counter-view.

Here's what your insecurities aren't telling you.

1) You're a learner.

Did you know that's one of the most powerful things you can be? If you're open to learning, then you're pretty well unstoppable. 

Insecurities pretend that you can't learn, that your flaws (which they magnify enormously) are the definition of you and shall be so forever. 

Totally not true. You can learn, you can practice, and you can practice even more. 

You can learn to minimize your weaknesses. And you can learn to maximize your strengths.

2) You already know SO DANG MUCH about life. 

I say that with total confidence. No matter who you are, wherever you're from, and whatever has happened (or hasn't) to you: You already know so much stuff about the world. Especially about the corner of it where you are. 

Insecurities hold up blinders to everything that you already have access to. They make you think that you're too unobservant, or too dull to have anything interesting or valuable to say. 

Pfft!! That is so much crap

One of my favorite quotes about the writing life comes from Eudora Welty, who wrote:

As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life.
A sheltered life can be a daring life as well.
For all serious daring starts from within.

Let that soak in a bit, especially if this has been a concern for you. She said that, and she was Eudora Freaking Welty!! 

Don't let the jabbering insecurities fool you into thinking that you have nothing to say. You already have plenty of material, no matter how sheltered your life: all you need is the daring to say it.

3) You can help someone. No matter where you're at in life. 

You have something to offer. Yes, you.

You're full of insight, awareness, an alternate point of view. If you feel the pull to write, then it means that there's something in you that would be valuable to someone else.

You might not know how that shows up in a project yet. And you might not know what form it will take.

That's okay. You don't need to know all the answers yet.

But what you do need to know and trust is this: Whatever your project is, it has the power to make a difference for someone else. (Even if it's "just" a silly book.)

When I started to write in earnest, a very wise writer told me, "Your biggest struggle is going to be believing that your words are worthwhile."

Dang. She was so right.

Because all the other stuff—the figuring out how to structure a novel, or learning how to be productive, or improving vocabulary, or figuring out the whole publishing game—all that depends on actually writing in the first place.

On actually writing at all.

I've met so many people who would like to write, but whose insecurities stop them. And I'd just love to say: Insecurities, you're off the boat. Off the island. Off the whole dang world.

Because what you have to say—you, lionheart—is worth saying.

Keep learning, keep using what you've been given, and trust that it will be valuable for someone. 

Drown those insecurities in a flood of written words.

A Quick Happy Christmas from Me to You

The whole reason I write is right there in Christmas. |

Dear Lionhearts, 

I'm just spending today being happy and floating about and enjoying the holiday. Not writing. Probably doing some cooking. Definitely hanging out with family. (It's my parents 35th wedding anniversary, so yeah, there should be some confetti for that!)

So basically, all I want to do today is wish you a Happy Christmas, wherever this finds you. 

It can seem like a weird thing to say, but honestly, Christmas itself is such a core part of why I'm writing at all.

I believe that stories have the power to change the world, primarily because that Christmas story—a true story, which continues to be told and retold—has done and continues to do exactly that: 

Change the world.

By spreading truth. By spreading light. And by spreading hope.

I think that stories are woven into who we are as human beings. That stories can and do shape us. That we are—wildly enough—part of an actual mega-story ourselves.

It's the kind of thing that makes me giddy. But it can also make me just sit in silence, amazed. 

A story-making life is such a beautiful one.

I'm acutely aware of the gifts I've been given this year, all year long. One of those gifts is this wonderful little writing blog. It has been so awesome to watch it grow from March til now! And it has given me so much joy to be talking writing with you.

Especially about a healthy writing life, and a ridiculously happy one. 

So thanks for being part of my year, and part of my own writing life.

It wouldn't be this bright without all of you!!

Merry Christmas, my lovelies!!

I hope you get lots and lots of books! :)

Writing Is Not Instant.

Wanna be done with your novel, like, *yesterday*?? I'm with you. |

This is basically a footnote to the previous post, and yeah, it seems kind of obvious, right?

Writing isn't instant. We're all well aware of that.

But I think that, in an age of next-day shipping, and instant downloads, and having so much change immediately at our fingertips... 

It can start to feel like we should have novels that happen overnight. 

You know? Just snap your fingers, and, voilà!

I start feeling a creeping sense of impatience.

I can be working merrily along, following all the smart, good systems that work well for me, I can keep pacing myself and moving forward, with everything going reasonably well, very steadily, with definite progress—

And then I just want to throw it all out the window and have a BOOK already!

Anyone with me?!

Can my novel please be done in the next five minutes. 

Look, this is an interesting character, a fun setting, and an intriguing problem... Just add water and INSTA-NOVEL!

Oh, why doesn't it work like that.

And then I have to go sit quietly in a corner and remember the books that I most love to read. The stories that stay with me. The movies that make me cry.

I remember that the process takes time, and that the time is worth it. For that kind of high-quality project? Yeah. It's worth it. 

Sometimes I have to remind myself of this every day. (Okay, okay. Every hour.)

Writing isn't instant, Lucy. Take the time that it takes. Don't settle. 

... Granted, I'm not opposed to learning to write faster. I'm about to reread Rachel Aaron's excellent book, and I just started reading Monica Leonelle's book Write Better, Faster. (I think some writing quota experiments are in my future!) 

I want to learn how to optimize what I'm doing, by all means. And I'm gulping down productivity podcasts and applying what I already know for the best way to write a lot of excellent words.

But even with the best systems and strategies in place, I still firmly believe that any book worth reading is still going to take a bit of time to create.

And too: it takes time to learn the skills to create that good thing in the first place. 

Doesn't mean we can't get there, doesn't mean that the creation time can't become shorter... It just means we aren't there immediately.

Writing is not instant. 

And I, for one, need to skip comparing myself to other writers, or other careers. (Yeesh!!!) 

One day I want to be massively prolific, but right now, I'm learning how to create a quality product. That's not an immediate process.

How about you? Are you feeling that itch of wanting to be done, done with learning, done with this book, done with whatever you're working on? 

Ooof. I hear you. Let's go eat Christmas cookies until the feeling passes. 

And then, after the sugar coma wears off, maybe we can accept that we will always be improving. Always learning. Always finding aspects of our writing (or our thinking, our reading, our self-management styles) that need to grow. 

I think that, instead of viewing that as something awful, something that says "we aren't there yet," or something that feels like a setback, we need to see it as something else.

Growth equals life, my friends. 

If we keep finding places where we need to, want to, have to improve, then we're finding evidences of life. 

Which is a GOOD thing, by the way.

What I keep telling myself is: It is okay if this learning process takes a really really long time.

Like: the rest of our lives.

It doesn't make us stupid. It doesn't mean we won't write amazing things in the meantime.

Okay, lionheart? Okay. How about that. Let's create stories and novels galore, even as we keep on learning, keep on growing. 

(But seriously, let's have a few more cookies in the meantime.)

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. |

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. 

Four Resources to Check Out for Building a Better Novel

Right now, I'm ALL about story structure. These four resources are transforming the way I look at storytelling in general, and my trilogy in particular. Want a more awesome story? Click through to check them out! |

For so many years, and to so many people, I said that learning to write a novel was like learning to build a house.

On your own. From scratch.

I LOVED using this metaphor. There are so many aspects to creating a finished home, let alone a livable home, let alone a charming home that someone would willingly purchase.


You've got to deal with electricity and roofing, windows and foundations. You need to have the gas hooked up correctly and you need to get the insulation in. 

Kind of like dealing with conflict and theme, characters and setting. So many elements, so many systems. It takes a lot to create a quality product.

I loved saying this to people, because it seemed that they understood, then, why I could take so dang long working on these manuscripts.

It got me off the hook. That's what I'm saying.

Want to hear something embarrassing? The person who missed the biggest and deepest aspect of this metaphor was... me.

Because, for all my layers of comparison, I didn't realize that a house, at its essence, is a structure.

Take away the roofing, the carpet, the doors, the wallpaper, the electricity: a house is a system of walls and floors and ceilings. It's a structure.

Guess what a novel also boils down to. STRUCTURE.

How conflict and plot and theme and character all fit together. It's a story system. 

And there are strong, predictable similarities, from one story to the next. Kinda like how houses have a similar structure.


Understanding that sooner would have saved me, um, some time

I mentioned in the last post that I've been asking myself some major focusing questions when it comes to writing. I've realized that, yeah, I want to write dozens of novels in my lifetime. 

Like, maybe a hundred. (I know, I know. Dreaming so small.)

And when I thought about which core skill would take me the furthest, which would make the biggest difference: it all came down to structure.

If I understand story structure, if I get it down, then I'm in a really really good place to write this trilogy, and then a seven-part series, and then, you know, ninety more.

So now I'm taking serious aim at understanding novel structure, and I fell in love with these four amazing guides. I'd love to introduce you to them as well:

1) If you haven't met The Story Grid yet, it's time to fix that.

This summer, I came across Shawn Coyne's invaluable Story Grid, which is AMAZING.

I've read it through at least three times: there are flash cards and sticky notes all over my work space. I'm working to absorb every bit of it.

Seriously, it'll change the way you think about stories. At every level.

Spend some time on the Story Grid website, and see if you don't learn something within the first five minutes.

2) And then, you need to meet this cat that's worth rescuing.

Next up: Blake Snyder's Save the Cat. 

Yes, it's about awesome screenwriting. But that's another way of saying: it's about awesome storytelling. I highly recommend this one for a bit more of a birds'-eye view of story structure.

It's a quick read, conversational, funny, and immediately applicable.

And the fact that it's about screenwriting instead of noveling doesn't really make a difference. (Besides, it's a lot faster to watch a bunch of movies and analyze their structure than it is to read a bunch of novels. Whew!)

I also took the entire section on "beating it out" to heart: I finally have a huge board up on my wall, littered with story beats and scene ideas.

... Why didn't I do that sooner?! Now I can literally trace the flow of my story, as it moves from act to act. It's amazing. I feel like a very swanky story maker.

(Which I totally am. You are too. High five.)

3) Tie it all together with a book/workbook one-two punch.

Between The Story Grid and Save the Cat, I was feeling pretty clever. I had the macro-to-micro all-weather all-purpose manual from Coyne, and the screenwriting, beat-sheet perspective from Snyder.

What more does a new structure convert need?

K.M. Weiland's Structuring Your Novel and the Structuring Your Novel Workbook.

Honestly, when I picked up these two, I figured "I'll just give them a quick read through, but basically, I've got this."


By the third page of Structuring Your Novel, I realized how much I NEED this book: I slowed way, way down and took a TON of notes.

Because Weiland's two resources are amazing. She filled in all the structure gaps that I didn't even know I still had, explaining how everything weaves together and flows toward the climax.

And the workbook! I usually have a "meh" opinion about workbooks, but this one asked the perfect questions to help me translate the ideas to my story: Reading it was like taking a structure class expertly tailored to my novel.

Which now feels so much stronger. And more doable.

4) So now we'll just go get awesome, yes?

I know it's possible to go way overboard on new resources. I could overdose, and keep grabbing structure books off the shelves, and keep chasing knowledge. 

But I feel really strongly that these three writers have given me everything I need to know for an incredibly well-built trilogy.

I feel ready, y'all!! And crazy excited.

And I cannot recommend all these resources enough.

They all mesh well together. And yet, thanks to their three different perspectives, there isn't an unbearable amount of overlap, either.

They each cover structure from a unique angle, and when one doesn't answer the question I have, another one will.

Together, they are giving me an incredible masterclass on a part of novel writing that I had (shockingly) overlooked. 

My trilogy is freaking out about this. All the characters are thrilled: it's a very happy Christmas already in my brain. 

I'm super energized for a new year of writing!

And I'm finally confident that I'm building a structure that will last.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do that thing.

With exclusive focus. With the bulk of your time.

Focus on that ONE Thing. 


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

It's exciting.

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

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

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

It just might transform your 2016. 

This Is The Essential Holiday Survival Guide for Writers! (Part TWO.)

For starters, I want to say that I'm not taking back anything that I said in Part One of the holiday survival guide. Okay? I truly have used and loved using every tip in that post, and I mean every single one.


I also really needed to say this, too.

Three things you absolutely need to practice doing, if you're gonna survive this holiday season. (And they probably aren't what you'd guess.) Part TWO of my essential holiday survival guide for writers. |

This has been my usual writing practice during the holidays:

I get really psyched up about the holiday season, and I promise myself that this will be the Year of Balance and Harmony between writing and everything else.

And then I crash and burn, berate myself, and flounder around until, oh, about February. When I finally piece myself together again.

Honestly, this season throws me for a loop. And I'm finally realizing that it will just go ahead and keep doing that

I used to attack myself for how lazy I was, how undisciplined and unfocused.

I thought that a real writer would just keep on working, whatever the date on the calendar. Sure, take off for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but otherwise: I should be able to sail right through the season, full of words. 

I have spent so much time hating myself for missing writing sessions in December. 

I felt like a fraud, a hypocrite. And people think I'm actually WRITING! I'd shriek, and then flail about.

Holiday stuff, or writing stuff? Family gatherings, or character gatherings? Which do I skip? How do I clone myself already?

I spent so much time doing this. So much time being angry at myself for not managing it all flawlessly.

And now I think that, actually, all that time could have been better spent.

Instead of flailing, what if I just got back up, and learned to love writing more, learned to love my story more?

What if I just focused on getting back into the game?

Without all the blood and all the tears and all the flailing limbs.

There are going to be days (and weeks and even months) when writing just does not happen.

And I'd like to say: don't waste your time on the negative emotions. You don't need them.

Just come back and read. Come back and write.

So you've missed a day, or two, or eight, or thirty.

It's OKAY.

I just want to say that. It's okay.

Yes, you will feel rusty when you start again. Yes, you will probably think everything you're writing is crap.

Ignore the voices. They just show up after you've taken a break from writing, because they think that's their job. They are the gnats of the writing practice. Just brush them off.

That's your starting over plan: Shrug off the internal resistance. And simply paddle toward the words again.

Remind yourself of this as often as you need to, during the on-again, off-again, on-again writing schedule of the holidays.

Above all, skip the shame and the guilt.

Drowning yourself in misery because you haven't written in a while doesn't actually work. 

It doesn't make you a better writer. It doesn't make up for the time you spent away from the work. And it doesn't endow you with all kinds of discipline for the next time your work is disrupted.

I PROMISE you this.

If shame and guilt worked wonders in a writing life, then by now I'd be a multiple bestselling writer, fa-la-la-la-la-ing my way around the country on a book tour.

(Which I'm not.)

So, I've tried out that writing tactic, and I'm here to spread the word that it doesn't work. Let's try new tactics.

Let's try self-forgiveness.

Let's try getting up again and just brushing ourselves off and carrying on with the work.

So far, that's worked really well for my writing life. (And life in general.)

Yes, try to steer through the storm of events. Try to hang on to your story. Try to stay upright.

Snatch time for your work. Try all the fun suggestions from Part One of this guide, and see which ones work for you.

But also, please know this: If you do fall down, if suddenly you realize you've missed a whole month, it really isn't as big of a deal as it can sometimes feel like. 

It doesn't make you undisciplined, lazy, or a liar if your writing practice just sort of implodes during the holidays. 

It doesn't make you bad. And it doesn't mean you aren't committed.

It just means that life is big, and that stuff happens, like it always does.

It also means you don't control everything. (Which isn't such a bad thing after all.)

Most of all—and this is actually a rather exciting and good thing—it means that you and I can practice getting up again.

We can practice our agility. Which makes us resilient and strong in our writing, instead of brittle and defensive. It's a good direction to go. 


So these are my three absolute essentials for the holidays:

1) Forgive yourself when you fall down. 

Be relentless about forgiveness. Keep giving it to yourself.

Even when you think you should beat yourself up, try forgiveness. Tell yourself it's okay. (Out loud is best.)

2) Refuse to believe all the lies about what this says about you as a writer, and about your discipline. 

The lies are totally uninformed. You don't have to listen to them. They don't realize all the other ways that you're growing as a person during this season. Down the road, that will translate to more writing and better stories.

So, ignore the lies.

3) And heck! Enjoy those holidays!!

If, like me, you are celebrating the birth of a King, then those celebrations really do deserve all the time and energy they take. And then some!

Yeah, I might not go to many parties, and I keep my shopping minimal, and I really will try to write as many days of December as I can...

But I also don't want to miss Christmas. I don't want to be over-focused on work, and under-focused on what matters most. 

So if it is a cold hard choice between participating in the holiday or writing, then choose the holiday.

And don't beat yourself up about it.

But choose that holiday with a wide open heart and wide open mind. Experience all of it.

And when it's all over, write down what you remember.

Start up again. Dust off your keyboard, your notebook, your pen. Re-establish your writing groove.

Starting over has been a consistent part of my writing life: I'm finally learning to treat it like a skill. I want to get really good at restarting. Instead of being afraid of it.

Are you on board with that?

Let's use this year's post-holiday season for practice. 

And don't forget: Kindness eases everything.

(Peppermint mochas don't hurt either.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aka, writing novels

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

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

Are you up for that too? High five.

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

1. Preserving the time to write.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let's not do that this year.

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

2. Finding the words.

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

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

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

You get my point.

Brainspace is extremely crowded this time of year. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What kind of list? Try these:

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

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

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

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

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

Other ways to find the words this month: 

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

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

3. Getting out the nets.

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

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

We can turn into clever little explorers, and seek material

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good plan, right?

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

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

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

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

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