How to Use Your Writing-Life Magic Wand (Or, Finding Your Groove, Part One.)

How to find and use that most powerful of things in the writer's life: the creative groove. | lucyflint.com

Sometimes I am all about balance. I want to work in that exact rhythm of nurturing all parts of my life: getting good work done, but also seeing plenty of friends, discovering new places in the city, and being an all-around good citizen.

Sometimes, I do whatever I need to in order to stay right in balance. 

And other times, I'm ready to help balance straight off a cliff.

There's this mad, maniac side of me that would really like to disappear completely from the world and drown myself in work.

Probably this is not very healthy.

But I've been thinking of it because I read Susan Branch's delightful memoir, Martha's Vineyard - Isle of Dreams. At one point, she describes how she began working on her very first cookbook—an intense project, because it featured not only her own recipes, but also watercolor illustrations on every page, and, bonus, she hand-lettered the entire book. ALL the text.

Mind = blown.

Her creative process was all-consuming. She started getting up at four or five in the morning, working all day in her pajamas, eating whatever came to hand while standing up in the kitchen. (Tater tots seemed to be a fave, which just makes me like her even more.)

And then back to work, and then early to bed, with her cats for company. 

She was warning all us readers that this isn't especially wise, and isn't anywhere close to balanced, and that there are much better ways to live...

But, crazy me, I was reading that and thinking, That sounds WONDERFUL!

I mean, I can see what she means about quality of life over the long haul. Yeah, probably not a good place to stay for long ... but in short spurts, perhaps? 

Because this is where I am, my friends.

I'm at that exact point in my creative process, where my deepest desire is to become a total hermit.

I've written too much about sustainability to believe this urge for long. And I've known burnout too well not to recognize the road that goes straight toward it. All this stuff about staying healthy and stable—it's legit, and I know it.

But still ... that little hermit-dream persists.

Which is what got me thinking: okay, okay, not a total maniac.

But what's the next best thing? 

I got my answer by going back to one of my favorite books on creativity, Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit.

Lemme read you her gorgeous description of a creative groove: 

When you're in a groove, you're not spinning your wheels; you're moving forward in a straight and narrow path without pauses or hitches. You're unwavering, undeviating, and unparalleled in your purpose. 

A groove is the best place in the world. It's where I strive to be, because when you're in it you have the freedom to explore, where everything you question leads you to new avenues and new routes, everything you touch miraculously touches something else and transforms it for the better. 

Let's all just gaze at that with heart-eyes for a minute. 

All right. If I can't be a total hermit right now, the next best thing I can do is generate a groove. Put myself in the sweetest of sweet spots with my work. 

I want to be unwavering, undeviating, and unparallelled in my purpose. Yes, please!!

But according to Twyla Tharp, there are no guarantees with what will exactly work to launch someone into a groove. There's no exact formula. And dang it, I like exact formulas.

So I did some looking around at my favorite writing books. And I thought through what's happened around the grooves I've found in the past.

And I cobbled together all those things and figured out some characteristics, common traits that, if I pursue them hard enough, just might help shove me not off a cliff, but into a good, strong, writing groove. 

And I'm EXCITED. 

Because best practices like these are kinda like a magic wand. Wave 'em around long enough and hard enough, and I think some magic just might happen.

Maybe transformation.

And not into a raggedy bearded hermit, but maybe into the next best thing: A bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked, ink-stained novelist working her groove.

Want to come along? Cool. Because unlike the hermit, I don't mind a bit of company.

(Oh, and this will be a two-parter, so check back in two weeks for the second half of our groove-making work. Perfect.)


1: Save your environment.

Where do we begin? With the stuff that's right in front of us: Our place, our time, our space. Our work environment.

Because the first thing we need to do if we want a groove is make room for it. 

What kind of space, what kind of schedule, what kind of environment, would help you to write the most deeply and consistently? What would let your imagination have the freedom, space, and support, to just run wild? 

Oooh. 

This might mean adding in more beauty, comfort, or quirkiness to your writing space. (Never underestimate the power of quirk.)

It might mean adding encouraging messages and reminders around your desk. Putting pep talks on Post-Its, and sticking 'em to your computer screen.

Or, maybe it means you need a blank slate, go minimal, pare everything down til it's clean and spare and fresh.

What would help you go deeper into your work? 

The other half of this question is: How does your time look? 

What is the best time of day for you to work? How long of a writing session feels optimal to you? 

I've had months where the yummiest writing work got done between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., and I just went with it.

Now I'm on the other side of the spectrum—for some reason, waking up at 5:30 a.m. gives me such a sense of expanse and freedom and clarity that I dive into my days feeling full of promise. (And okay, maybe planning a nap later, but nevertheless.)

When is it best for you to write? Not for other writers, not for other people—when is it best for you? When do all your creative juices get going, and when do you feel that release from other obligations? 

Speaking of obligations: You're already heard me say this, but I'm gonna say it again. One of my favorite practices is clearing out commitments. No, this isn't easy. Yes, you might feel like you're stepping on other people's toes. 

But it is so helpful to do this from time to time. Check out everything you've been participating in, and if something is draining you more than it's feeding you, give it a very stern look.

And see if you can get out of it. If not, try to soften it, or lessen the impact of it in some way.

This could be something as tiny as unsubscribing from an email newsletter that's stopped being helpful. Or it might be stepping back from some small weekly thing you've been doing for a while. Or you might turn down a bigger commitment that you've been having second thoughts about for a while. This is the time for it to go. 

You need to free up that creative energy, my friend! 

So cancel some things, take a good look at what writing times work the best for you, and give your space a good sweep.

... I think that writing groove just moved a whole lot closer.

(If you want some more cheerleading or ideas for how to do this, check out these three posts to build a "moat," lighten your load, and shake up your space.) 

2: Build a food pyramid.

It is really hard to work in a groove if all your wells have run dry.

There's no way to sustain continual, deep, yummy work if you have nothing to draw from, nothing to paint with. If your imagination has shut off, gone cold. That's the way to get into a rut or a block, not a groove.

Which is why it's worth figuring out a good, reliable answer to this question: 

How can I continually feed my imagination what it needs?

What kinds of things do I need to take in on a regular basis, for my creativity to be strong and ready for anything? 

This is one of those habits that is ESSENTIAL to working well and working sustainably. It's also one of the first things I cut.

(This is why you hear me say the same things over and over, y'all. I have to keep re-learning these lessons myself!) 

Feeding the imagination is one of those vital but seemingly unimportant skills. And in order to get into a good, rich groove and stay there, we have to find ways to keep the nutrition flowing in.

So: what do you need?

For my imagination to thrive, I need it stocked with a lot of odd fascinating facts that don't necessarily have a place in my immediate writing.

That's why I'm smitten with the randomness of dictionaries and encyclopedias, why I swoon over amazing, comprehensive wonder-sites like Atlas Obscura. It's why I need to keep reading widely, why I have to keep learning. 

Because all those little images and facts and tidbits and impressions and shards of atmosphere and tiny details—they're all the building blocks of what we make, right? They're what we invent from.

They're like the amino acids of the creative process. They're essential.

Last fall, I ran out of steam, out of juice, out of everything. So I blocked off a whole month for a sabbatical. The goal? To stop all output, and focus only on input. Getting those amino acid levels up again.

So I thought about what my imagination and my writerly heart were most craving, and I drew myself a little food pyramid of what I most needed.

At the bottom? Books, books, and more books. I wanted to read a ton of fiction, but also some really yummy non-fiction, and on top of that, some of my favorite reference books. 

Then I also wanted to see movies that would capture my excitement, as well as gorgeous documentaries (I am so not over Chef's Table, btw). 

And then I wanted to watch a bunch of TED talks, I wanted to do a lot of painting and art-making, and I wanted to watch and read interviews with other makers—not just writers, but calligraphers and musicians and anyone who does any kind of art. 

That was my pyramid: what's yours? 

What do you need an enormous amount of right now? Give yourself permission to take it in. Maybe you need a bunch of creative, stimulating, exciting outings. Maybe you need to take a lot of pictures, or visit an art store and then get paint in your hair.

Or maybe you need to make a ton of tea and grab a stack of library books and just get lost in pages for a while.

Or maybe the thing you most need is actually silence.  

Listen in. See what you're saying, down deep. And then go after it. 

(Want a few more ideas for nourishment? Maybe give yourself a distraction detox, go looking for wonder, or take a revolutionary writing pilgrimage.

3: Apprentice yourself to a master magician.

One of the qualities of a good writing groove is that you can solve the problems that arise without too much bleeding.

You know what I mean? Sure, you'll hit an obstacle, but you're all warmed up and ready to tackle it, and you find inventive solutions. 

The more flexible our skills are, and the more skills we have at our disposal, the more likely we are to find ourselves working from an excellent groove.

Without craft and skill, the wheels will keep coming off, and we'll get stuck.

In The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp tells how she found herself in a mega-groove of choreographing one excellent dance piece after another.

What triggered it? A leap forward in her skill as a choreographer.

Through inventing one piece with a specific kind of style, she learned an entirely new dance vocabulary. And that breakthrough unlocked so many possibilities that the next several dances came together with a special wonderfulness. 

This makes total sense, right? When we get better at the raw skills of what we do, everything gets a little easier. We're more flexible, quicker at solving problems, and we can reach for more creative solutions. 

Everything clicks along more happily.

So where do you want to give yourself a skill upgrade? Where would you appreciate a mini-class, a workbook session or two, or just some solid time practicing?

Who do you want to learn from? What's the next step in your apprenticeship?

For me, it's learning story structure in a deeper and deeper way. I've been hard at work on all things Story Grid, listening to the podcast and applying it to my draft. (Whew! So much good stuff to learn!!) I'm especially working on shaping scenes.  ... I want to become a scene NINJA. Seriously.

What does that look like for you?

(If you want more craft and skill pointers, check out these posts on escaping miniature writing ruts, tiny craft improvements, and creating your own master class.

And then, if you want to get REAL serious about learning from the best, raise your noveling skills to epic status by checking out the resources here, here, and here.)

4: Put on your workout clothes.

Here we go: The most glamorous groove-inducing method of all.

Hard work.

Sweat.

A run-a-marathon level of effort. 

(Paired with rewards, kindness, naps, and dance parties, of course! I promise I haven't forgotten sustainability already!)

True story: sometimes a groove has to be earned.

Like one of those "buy 9 cups of coffee, get the 10th free" cards that I treasured in college: sometimes you have to put in a lot of effort before you get the free stuff.

Sometimes it takes me two weeks of super hard work, slogging straight up hill, yowling the whole way. And then, suddenly, momentum kicks in, and I'm sailing along.

If you've ever done Nanowrimo and found a real sweet undertow pulling you along late in the process: you've experienced this too. 

This is the power of the marathon mindset. Having that keep moving mindset can vault you over so many obstacles—through sheer momentum. 

Let me tell you: momentum can be your best friend.

The best thing about this one is that you can create a marathon on your own. Hard work is totally free. All it costs you is time and sweat.

You don't need Nanowrimo to come knocking, and you don't need a special event or a class.

All you need is a target of words (or exercises completed, or pages written) and some kind of deadline (just to spur you on—and to let you know when you get a big break!).

Maybe it's a full draft in 6 weeks, or 50,000 words in 30 days, or it could be 366 10-minute exercises in 8 weeks (what can I say, it was fun!). 

The things that make a marathon rewarding and valuable for me (as opposed to miserable and burnout-inducing) are:

  • maintaining a tone of utter kindness;
  • focusing on the quantity of work instead of nitpicking about the quality;
  • and just keeping myself entertained in the words.

If I hold to those three things, a writing marathon becomes my best friend.

So give it a try. What kind of parameters could you put in place to let loose a hard work marathon in your writing life? And ooh, what might it catapult you into?

Make yourself a fun chart (or am I the only one who thinks the graph is one of the best parts of Nanowrimo?), set up some lovely rewards for yourself, and dive in.

(Want a little bit more of a push before committing to a marathon? You've got it. Check out my best stuff on the Nanowrimo mindset—here and here—plus dealing with marathon-level fear, and keeping your body happy while you write so much.

... Plus one more post on the delirious, let's-all-sing-sea-chanties word drunkenness that happens mid-marathon. Yup.

This is why I'm telling you that hard work doesn't have to be miserable: it can be incredibly blissful as well. And it can be easier to keep writing than it is to stop... and that's exactly where I want to get to again!)


And there you have it: four of my best tools for launching myself into a better writing rhythm and a deep writing groove.

Whew!! I'm excited to dive in and apply the heck out of all four of these things. Thanks for staving off total hermit syndrome with me. Seriously, it was about to get real weird here. ;)

Check back in two weeks for the second half of the post... and till then, good luck finding your groove. Go make some magic.

Let's Get Adventurous. (An Announcement From Me + A Challenge For You!)

If you listen really hard, what is your writing life telling you? Bonus: Can you muster up the courage to *do* whatever it's asking for? That's what we're looking at, over on the blog today. | lucyflint.com

One of the skills that I've tried to improve this year is listening. Not just to the people around me (though that's hugely important!), but also to my own instincts.

Especially my instincts about my writing life. 

Not my fears, but my honest observations, my true best-self sense of how I'm doing and where I'm at. 

Every time I really focus on this and check in, I'm rewarded, big time. It's why I've written about it here, here, and kinda here too. ... I am smitten with the power of pausing the noise and listening to the truth of what's really going on, underneath everything else.

I have never regretted doing this.

And near the end of September, I started listening in again. (Something about whenever the seasons shift: I always want to do a big "How'm I doing?" check.)

I set aside my productivity schedules and wildly important goals and self-care strategies and I listened. And, yep, sure enough, my writing life was saying something. Over and over and over. 

It said, "Help me, I'm starving."

Wait, what?!

I've been doing all this stuff in earnest, after all. I've been working to help my imagination and writing life recover from a really tough year. Which is why we've been talking self-care and strength building here in the blog. 

In the last two months, I've rebuilt my writing practice and honestly, I've found a really sweet routine. My writing space is the prettiest, coziest, and happiest it's ever been, and I'm reading novels on the regular

I'm treating myself well in so many ways. And everything feels lovely except that when I've been drafting, I feel like I'm stripping myself dry.

Like I'm mining something that isn't there anymore. 

So I kept telling myself it was just a matter of time before my imagination really caught up and my writing got all juicy and self-propelling again.

Only . . . 

Only it hasn't. 

I've done all my usual tricks, I've applied the best that I knew to do, and I still feel like my imagination is gasping.

So why isn't everything fixed? 

I had a few days (actually, it was more like a week) of total consternation. 

And then I picked up the book The Accidental Creative, by Todd Henry. (Like so many other good things that come into my life, this one was a recommendation from my mother. Thanks, Mom!!)

I read it in a whirlwind of excitement and hope.

Amidst the many helpful concepts and ideas, there were two that especially leapt out to me: 

1) Todd Henry's idea that creativity follows a kind of rhythm, and 2) his concept of creative stimuli, creative nutrition.

It hit me that my crazy year had deeply disrupted my own creative rhythm. No surprise there. But in rebuilding my routine, I was only working on half the problem. The externals are all back in place, but that internal rhythm of creating? That hasn't fully come back.

And, to fix that, I need to go deep into the world of creative nutrition: taking in the best kinds of things, so that my creativity can thrive.

Okay. So, good creative stimuli = brain food, which is the sort of metaphor I can get pretty happy about. 

To camp out on this for a moment: As I read Todd Henry's ideas about how to take in better creative nutrition, it really hit me. I'm a big fan of eating well, and taking in nutrient-rich foods, especially as a way of getting healthier. I've seen it happen in my physical body, so using the same principles for my mind and creativity gets me pretty happy and excited.

Here's the thing: sometimes, when you need an infusion of health, it makes sense to take a superb daily multivitamin. Sometimes, it means you commit to having a daily salad or green smoothie.

Yay. Good effort, good work, good food.

But sometimes it means that you go on a radical course of overhauling everything you eat. And flooding your body with superfoods, with all the best nutrition, all. the. time. 

And that, my friends, is exactly what I need now.

My earlier attempts were the creative equivalent of upping my vitamins and adding in more salads to my days. It's good, and a great way to maintain health. But when a total overhaul is required—and when there's nothing there to maintain—it's just not going far enough.

And this is what was brewing in my mind when I wrote about commitment last week. 

I want to go all-in with committing to my creativity. 

I've listened hard, and I've decided that I have to do whatever it takes to flood myself with creative nutrition. I'm pretty dang sure that this is the missing piece, the thing that bumps me back into a good groove.

Thanks to Todd Henry's book, I have a much better grip on where to go next. He has a great section called, "Stimuli: What Goes In Must Come Out."

I'm taking that tagline to heart, and I'm preparing for a mega fueling session. Here's the scary-exciting adventure that I'm planning for myself: 

For the whole month of October, I'm doing a creative nutrition immersion sabbatical festival extravaganza.

All right, so I haven't figured out the name yet. ;) 

I'm turning my full writerly attention onto soaking up the best kind of inputs.

I'll be listening to quality podcasts and TED talks and documentaries. I'll check out the good fiction that gets my inner eleven-year-old all excited and swept up. And I'll take plenty of artist dates. 

I'm planning on more art, more nature walks, more luscious music. More excursions, and more solitude.

More of anything that's gonna fill my parched creative reservoirs.

But in order to do this at maximum, I'm going to take a break from productivity. I need to stop producing for a little bit, so that I can regenerate what I produce from.

Because what I said in the last post is oh-so true: I want to commit to creativity in a bigger way. I want to nurture it, so that I can show up fully. I want to live in wonder and curiosity. 

And this is the big creative obstacle that I'm focusing on: I can't dream up a book if there's nothing for me to dream with.

What this means for the blog is, 
I'm going to take the month of October off. 

Yep.

In the blog world, that can be a kind of yikes decision to make.

But I've thought it through, and my deal with you is that I owe you my best.

If I keep chug-chug-chugging along without taking this month to consume a huge amount of creative nutrition, I'll just start repeating myself, or blogging on autopilot. And I wanna write my best stuff for you—it's what you deserve, and it's what I signed on for.

So: this will be my only post this October. (At this point, I'm pretty sure I'll be back in November to cheer you on for Nanowrimo: so check back in with me then.)

In the meantime, three things for you: 

1) Check out The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment's Notice, by Todd Henry. Because it's lovely and helpful. It blends so much good wisdom together, and helps you apply it in a rhythmic way.

If you needed one more reason besides my jumping up and down: He calls himself an arms dealer for the creative revolution. How amazing is THAT?! I'm so on board.

2) Check in with yourself. Take a little time and listen in to your heart of hearts. What do you, my dear lionheart, need most from this October?

Where are you craving a bit of a sabbatical yourself—but it sounded too wild, or you feel like you're supposed to just be productive all the time?

Where do you need permission to unplug?

What's aching for some better care, some deeper rest, some quality nutrition?

And, especially those of you who are gearing up for Nanowrimo, can you do the crazy thing and give yourself some space to fill up your reservoirs?

3) Finally, if you're in need of a pep talk, inspiration, or some extra encouragement while I'm off refueling, check out my brand-new Archives! The link is up at the menu bar at the top of the page—the Archives is all spruced up and ready for you!

Every single blog post is here, from September allllllll the way back to my first wee efforts.

So please do check it out! Find a series that you missed, browse through the older posts, or just be slightly astonished at my obsession with really really long blog titles. *facepalm*


Okay. So, true story: I feel excited for this sabbatical in a totally new way. Like an impossible weight on my writerly shoulders has just tumbled off. 

I'll miss y'all, but I can't wait to come back with fresh ideas, richer insights, and so much more creative oomph. 

(I have been seriously missing my oomph.)

Til November, then. I love ya, and happy writing!!

Pssst. Go do something so gorgeous for your creativity that it scares you a little and excites you a lot.

Maybe that means taking a course in flower arranging, or reading through your favorite childhood novels for three days straight, or sketching a handful of paintings while roaming an art museum, or writing in the dark under the stars.

Or something else even wilder. Okay? Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right?!

Without commitment, we're anchorless.

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

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

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

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

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

How's your sense of commitment lately? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's dive in.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Nope. Not doing it.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Five Ways to Spark Energy and Excitement for Your Work-in-Progress!

Enthusiasm is our best best friend when it comes to staying the course with our writing. So how can we boost our enthusiasm? I've got five super fun ways right here. | lucyflint.com

Welcome back to the Strength Building Series! So far, we've talked about what strength even means (because the wrong definition is the first step to sabotaging it). And then we focused in on building strength of imagination (because imagination is central to everything we do!).

And today—I'm really excited. Which is appropriate. Because today we're talking about how to increase our enthusiasm for our work.

I know! I know! I'm gonna have to simmer down so much to even write this thing...

Ahem. Okay. Being sensible. 

So, first thing: why even bring up enthusiasm? Why is this a place where we need to build strength?

To find the answer, think back for a sec to our Self-Care Series, when we talked all things Julia Cameron.

And one of the more mind-blowing things that she pointed out was: when it comes to sustainable momentum in our work, enthusiasm trumps discipline.

Yeah. It's still incredible. 

And that shifted my focus from "How can I be more disciplined?" to "How can I be more enthusiastic?" Which is a pretty huge course correction.

Building enthusiasm. It's essential for the kind of work we want to do.

... And before anyone gets worried that I'm about to base all our hard work on a mere feeling, let's refresh on Julia Cameron's definition of enthusiasm. She says: 

Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us. ... 
     Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work. ... It is joy, not duty, that makes for a lasting bond.

Okay. If that was waaay more mushy-sounding than you really care for on a Thursday, let's look at it like this:

The way Cameron is using enthusiasm isn't about "how we feel right now." 

It's about 1) commitment, 2) openness, 3) creativity, 4) process, 5) play, 6) joy and 7) yes, okay, love.

Which is why, to build enthusiasm, we're going to dive into the work itself (commitment!). No matter where we're at in it (process!). 

We're going to mess around (creativity!) and try new things (openness!). And yes, it's going to be playful. It's going to be about enjoying what we're making. And even, dare I say it, loving it.

Sound good? Sound ... fun? 

Here are my five favorite ways to build playfulness and enthusiasm for my work-in-progress.

Check them out, stay open, and don't worry about "doing it right." Just dive in and give these a try.

1) Embrace the Souvenir Method.

... I was about to say "this is one of my favorite things to do with a piece I'm working on!" and then I realized I'd just be saying this about everything I'm talking about today.

So I figured I'd spare you the repetition...

AND YET IT'S TRUE!

The souvenir method is a gorgeous little way to keep your mind and heart centered in your story. Plus it's fun.

.... Annnnd it gives you a rush.

Okay. Here's what you do: 

First, get your mindset. 

This is super important to remember: You're going to be visiting your draft-in-process as if it's a place. As if you're an explorer. You're going to be looking for souvenirs: things to take out of context and bring to a new place.

In other words: You are not about to spiral into a critique-festival. You're not going to indulge in beating yourself up. You will not, even for a moment, whisper to yourself that your draft is "crap." Okay? 

This isn't about judging what's there. Not at all. This can be done with the messiest, crappiest drafts, I promise you. (Because I definitely have.)

Pick up your draft. You can start from any place. From the beginning if you like, or any chapter at all.

And read. Read slowly. Let yourself explore. 

Read like you're looking at something new. Switch off your editing brain, and just experience the story.

While you're doing that, keep your eyes open for any line, any sentence, any phrase, that seems to especially capture the feel of a particular moment of your story. 

Such as:

  • a passage that pinpoints a vital aspect of the setting
  • a line of dialogue that shows off your protagonist's snarkiness
  • an exchange or moment between two characters that hints at the truth of their relationship
  • a key moment in the rise of the conflict
  • any moment that sums up a character's personality 

Don't think perfection here. Think "candid snapshot."

You're looking for moments that get the feel of your story, even more than the accuracy. 

And—even more importantly—you're looking for bits and phrases and scraps that mean something to you. 

You're looking for the sentences that register in your writerly heart. The little "aha!" feeling when a phrase resonates especially. 

Another reader might look at what you've chosen and see a bunch of scraps of sentences, bits of paragraphs.

But when you read it through, you hopefully hear your protagonist's voice, or sense a moment between the two love interests, or feel the prickle of anxiety before a major plot point.

Go for resonance and atmosphere more than just "yes, this sums up the passage well."

Does that make sense?

Personally, I copy and paste what I've chosen into its own document. I play around with the formatting: I put little separators between each passage.

Sometimes I'll have three sentences from a section, and other times I'll just have lifted one little phrase. If one of the clips needs a brief note to remind me of context, I throw that in as well.

When I'm done, I have about a page or so of moments from my story that set my mind and heart ringing. Moments that, when I read them together, as a whole, re-immerse me into my story. 

Which is oh-so helpful for those times when I've been away from the work, and am trying to find my way back in. 

2) Create a Gallery of Nouns.

This is one that I've used recently. It's fun and seemingly simplistic... but it's been part of my post-summer re-entry to my novel, and has helped so much!

Here's what I did: While rereading my draft so far, I paused every few pages, and doodled one of the nouns that had been mentioned in the story. 

That's it.

So, as I read, I made little silly sketches of things like: the cat a character dreamed about, the spider my main character chased from her room, the row of herbs on her mom's windowsill. 

I gave each little drawing a label: "Olivia's splendid lemon cake," "a gorgeous straw hat for the beach," "the mailbox with one postcard inside." 

And then I went through and colored everything in.

I didn't care that the drawings didn't look perfect—they were meant to just be light-hearted, quick, and fun. And when I sat back, I had a kind of visual catalogue of my story so far.

Images that stood in for character moments, points of tension, or just part of the opening setting that my characters will miss later in the story, when they're far away.

What's valuable about this technique is how playful and simple it can be. But it slyly involves our ability to visualize our own story, and to translate it into another art form: a doodle, a sketch, a selection of colors.

And there's something pretty magical about being able to see bits of your story laid out on a page. 

3) Let Music Be the Food of Story.

If you've been a long-time reader, you've heard me mention this a time or three. But that's because it's my all-time favorite!!

And I'm especially smitten with it because this simple tool, more than anything else, saved my connection to my story over a long, difficult summer.

Because of some tough circumstances, I had to let weeks go by without drafting, yet I stayed open and connected to my novel idea. How?

With a playlist of music.

I've slowly built a playlist of songs that remind me of key moments in my trilogy. These aren't soundtracks, by the way. The playlist isn't focused on instrumental songs.

It's a compilation of pieces that somehow link me to a character as a whole, to a character's backstory, to a moment of the plot, to a key relationship, to a story transition... the possibilities are, of course, endless!

The lyrics don't have to be 100% applicable to my story moment. If a handful of key lines resonate, that's good enough for me.

It turns out that it's the atmosphere and the mood of the song that's absolutely pivotal.

It's hard to just talk about music, so here are three examples from my playlist: 

Example 1: Scarlett Johansson singing "Before My Time."

Yes, it's from a movie about ice. But on my playlist, it's linked to the moment we meet an old resistance leader. When she comes on stage for the first time, she's tired of hoping, and tired of trying for change. 

Some of the lyrics are spot-on for her character, but I especially love the weariness in ScarJo's voice and the lament of the violin. I can practically feel my character when I hear this. SO perfect.

Example 2: Lana Del Rey's wonderfully depressing "Once Upon a Dream."

It's a more chilling version of a familiar song from kidhood... which is why it's spot on for my playlist. In my mind, this song references a fairly evil character who creeps around within, yup, dreams. And he's just focused his attention on my protagonist.

He's tricked her once before into believing he could be helpful, so the lyrics in the song even hint a smidge at the character's backstory and their history together.

There's also a kind of fatal inevitability in the song that I love... It helps me remember how trapped my protagonist feels in this moment, and how high the stakes are for her. Oooh. So good. 

Example 3: Of Monsters and Men's live version of "King and Lionheart."

It's more simple and haunting than their original version, and it's one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands. *high five*

It's also totally perfect for late in the trilogy, when my protagonist has been through a lot. She and her ragged friends are working alongside a king, and they're all gearing up for a climax that's sure to be very, very messy.

But the feel of this song and a fair amount of the lyrics are just exactly right. And honestly? I still get chills listening to this song, thinking of my main character. 

Whew! So. Those are some that have worked for me. 

The main thing to remember is that you're looking more for atmosphere and mood than for lyrics. A few spot-on lyrics are excellent, of course, but it's the feel of the song that seals it. 

So, see what you think. Basically, you'll know it when you hear it.

When it hits just right, I feel this incredible expansive rush, where I can see my characters in my mind, and—more importantly—feel what they are feeling, and hear what they are thinking.

I sense their weariness, or their uncertainty and fear, or their dogged hope. 

I can't say this enough: building a playlist is RIDICULOUSLY FUN.

It feels like procrastinating, but let me say it again: nothing saved my work this summer more than this. You can totally justify the time, in other words. ;)

Once you have a playlist—even if it's just a handful of songs—you have gold.

Play it in the car, listen to it while you cook, dance to it, take walks with it. And when you hear the songs, send your heart and your mind right into the center of your story.

You don't have to do any hard-core plotting (although I've definitely discovered plot this way). You don't have to jot down notes, or expand characterization (although, again, that has happened along the way for me).

You don't have to be "productive" with this tool at all. The biggest and best gift that it gives is a connection to the emotional and mental climate of your work.

It keeps it real and breathing and lively in your mind. 

And when that's true, allllllll good things can follow. 

4) Give It the Big Screen Treatment.

If the above strategies have been at all up your alley, don't stop there! This next idea can feel a little more tricky, but once you get the hang of it, it is pure fun and super helpful.

It also might keep you from sleeping, if you choose to do this right before bed. (So. Many. Times. I get all story-giddy and lie awake for hours. You've been warned.)

So: I love to dream up trailers for my book. As if it were a huge summer blockbuster.

I do this all in my head: I slowly fade in to some kind of panoramic story-view. Introduce characters in a moment, a glance, a funny line. 

And then I try to zoom in on the most tantalizing moments. The funniest lines, the jaw-dropping cliff-hangers, the moments of loss. You know. The way a good trailer does.

I cut from one moment to the next to the next in my mind. I imagine stirring epic music, or heart-stopping silence. Even a little slo mo, when it feels right.

... Basically I just have a blast. That's it in a nutshell.

And each time I do this, the resulting "trailer" looks different. 

What's glorious about this is how it, again, forces you to get visual about your story.

But also, it helps you focus on what movie trailers do best: excitement, intrigue, resonance. It helps you connect with the emotional points of your story. 

When I'm mired in too much thinking about structure and plot, and when my work starts to feel tedious, I retreat to this strategy. I pull up IMDb and watch a bunch of movie trailers.

And then, comfortable with the whole movie-trailer genre again, I close my eyes and dream up my own.

Seriously, my friends, when you start to get the hang of it, this can inspire enthusiasm like nothing else.

5) Believe In Where It Could Go.

Okay. This final enthusiasm-builder might sound more than a little goofy. BUT I've read this advice from several other writers (James Scott Bell and Heather Sellers for a start), and so I had to give it a try.

... And when I did, I couldn't stop smiling. 

Here it is: Make up endorsements for your work-in-progress, from authors you admire.

Yes really!

(IMMEDIATE DISCLAIMER: Don't, for the love of pete, publish them or pretend that they are real or everyone gets into trouble. Okay. Just had to say that. Common sense. Right. Okay.) 

Anyway: Write that kind of endorsement that would just thrill you. What you'd dream of them saying.

Write endorsements that emphasize those key parts of the story that they most loved. Everything that you're aspiring to in your work.

Type the endorsements onto a mock title page, and print it off. Hang it in your work area, or put it somewhere else where you can see it. 

Read them often. Smile.

... This isn't about getting our hopes up, or setting our hearts on something perhaps won't happen. Dream endorsements are a long shot, sure. 

But the strength of this tool is a lot like the strength in affirmations. When we state the direction we're heading in, it helps us change course. Saying out loud what we want can keep us on track.

Plus, if these "endorsements" make you smile... then why not? 

The main point is: they are a fun way to help you remember your goal. Your vision for the story.

The fact that, all this work, all these words, all these hours, are going into a craft you're making to give other people an experience.

Maybe you're trying to make them laugh. Or make 'em cry. (In a good way.)

Maybe you want to whisk them off to strange lands for strange adventures. Or maybe you're trying to open their eyes to what's in their backyard.

You want them to think. You want them to feel

Write little blurbs for yourself that point you in that direction: that help you remember you're inventing an experience. It's about a heart, about emotions.

This little endorsement-writing trick can seem so small, so silly.

But it can lift us above the daily grind, just when we need it most, and set our focus back on the big picture.


And there you have it! Five ways to strengthen your enthusiasm and stay playful with your work-in-progress.

All five of these have been absolutely key at different points in my writing life. They have cheered me, excited me, steadied me, and brought my stories back from near-death.

Pretty dang exciting, frankly. 

Which ones have you tried before? What will you try next?

Do you have any favorite ways to stoke writerly enthusiasm? Pass 'em along!! We all need plenty of good tools for this!

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

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

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

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

Know what I mean?

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

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

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

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

Yiiiiiiiiikes.

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

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

Imagination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No bueno.

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

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

So ...

So, how do we do that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THAT.

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

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

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

Be. In. The. Scene.

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

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

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

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

Instead of the living, breathing story itself. 

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

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

My friends, visualizing our stories changes everything.

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

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

Five Essentials for Imagination Practice

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

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

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

1. Be willing to move slowly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it worth it, for an incredible scene? 

OH yeah. Totally worth it. 

2. Build the whole scene.

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

But setting details? Physical characteristics? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. And definitely expect it to feel super weird.

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

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

Right? 

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

But it's still worth it.

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

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

Hang on. Even in that tough place.

Why? Because this is where strength starts to build.

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

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

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

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

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

4. Don't grab the distraction bait.

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

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

Or basically do anything but the imagining.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's pretty freaking amazing, in other words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She writes: 

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

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

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

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

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

Calling All Sore, Troubled, Tired, and Discouraged Writers: I Know Exactly What Book You Need To Read Next

This is the book that's been radically reshaping my approach to the writing life. It's an absolute must-read, especially if you've been feeling weary, discouraged, and frustrated. You won't regret diving deep into this one, my friends. | lucyflint.com

Let me just start by saying: I'm totally blushing.

Why? Because when I first read this book ten years ago, I blew it off.

I thought it was "nice." Had some okay advice. But I didn't really take it to heart.

I completely disregarded this book. For ten years!! 

WELL.

I am here today to set things straight.

To declare my deep, deep love of this book. To celebrate its profound impact on my view of writing this summer.

And to report that it's basically changing my life and rearranging my heart and all kinds of good, important, radical stuff.

It's a big deal.

Whew. Deep breath. 

So have you read The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron?! I've maybe mentioned it a half a dozen times this summer, so you've seen it go by a few times if you're a regular around here. 

But oh my goodness. I don't even know how to start talking about this book and how much it's helped me.

Let's rewind. Here's what happened ten years ago.

I was a mostly terrified and somewhat cocky college senior, a few months away from graduating, when I first read this book.

At the time, I felt fairly well supported. I was a student/writer who lived among students, who was praised by professors, who wrote a lot, who aced her assignments, and who could absolutely prioritize between School and All That Was Not School.

No sweat. 

The writing life? Pfft. My main concern was how do I produce fast enough? And, you know, make a wad of cash and meet Oprah?

(Pardon me while I laugh a whole bunch and wipe away a few tears. Ahem.)

What I didn't know at the time was that, at my core, I have a maniacal perfectionist bias.

Which means that, when it comes down to it, I'm convinced that I should work five times harder, five times longer, and make flawless things on the regular. (While being irreproachable in every area of my life as well.) 

I might have suspected that I had a slight perfectionism problem.

But if you'd asked me, I'd say that really, perfectionism is helpful, right? I mean, who wants to read crappy stuff? I'm all for excellence.

I had no idea how much of a block perfectionism is. How many awful messages are wrapped up in it, and how they've been trickling poison into my writing life. 

Yeah. Turns out, perfectionism is 100% toxic to a healthy writing life. (Whoops.)

I also didn't understand how my childhood (yep, I just went there) radically affected how comfortable I am at trying difficult things. Taking risks. Being seen. And maybe failing at them. 

I didn't realize that I have some really deep, persistent, gnarled roots of shame and frustration and anxiety that are all around the act of making something and presenting it to people.

As in, writing a novel, and, you know, publishing the thing.

Turns out, those kinds of scars, when not dealt with, will absolutely sabotage this kind of work. (Whoops again.)

But ten years ago, when I shrugged off this book, I didn't know that. I read all these same words, but I didn't really hear them. I definitely didn't see myself in what she was saying.

I just wanted some zippy advice for writing fast novels, perfect novels.

Heal and grow and take time to nurture myself? Nah. I want perfect novels, please, written at a blistering rate. Phone Oprah for me, okay? 

Well. Fast forward about ten years later, to January 2016. 

I was feeling some creative restlessness. 

No, it was more than that. I was getting really uncomfortable and anxious about this pattern that I kept seeing in my writing.

I could barrel along though a first draft and a second and maybe even a third, but then something would happen that would make me feel like my entire novel was broken. Beyond repair.

No editor, no amount of redrafting could save this manuscript.

So I'd chuck it and learn a bunch (characterization! structure!) and go on to the next thing.

Basically, in a nutshell: My progress toward publication kept getting derailed. It was uncanny. And I was getting really tired of it.

Something kept tripping me up, and though it had always seemed external, lately I'd started to wonder if it was partly ME, sabotaging myself.

And I felt this kind of nudge to go check out The Artist's Way again.

I was half rolling my eyes at myself. This book? How was this loopy, silly book going to help me?

So I dragged my feet about reading it. I ignored it, not really looking at where it sat on my nightstand. 

Until finally, in the spring, I began reading. 

And reading. And reading.

And—I'm not kidding—I felt like every single paragraph was written about me.

How did she know these things? She was describing everything I'd been wondering and feeling lately.

She talked about how artists can self-sabotage without even realizing it. 

She described the idea of a shadow career: one of the ways that artists try to skip being artists, or dodge what they're really meant to do.

How we can hide behind things that are like our main art while not actually doing our art.

(Which of course bears NO resemblance to my own path of working in two bookstores, working for two publishing companies, nearly becoming an editor, and now sometimes hiding behind a bunch of blog posts while neglecting a novel project. Doesn't sound like me at ALL, does it.) 

... Did I mention I'm blushing?

And then, yes, she looks back at the messages we received in childhood. Which I wanted to shrug off ... but which turned out to be one of the most vital parts of the book for me.

I was reading and rereading as I went. I kept circling back and finding even more insights. Which is part of why it's taken me so long to get to the end of it. 

It's set up as a twelve-week course. (Which is marvelous for those of you who, like me, still love thinking in school terms.)

Each "week" has a theme, and each theme is based around Cameron's idea of artistic recovery. So, for example, Week 1 is "Recovering a Sense of Safety," and Week 4 is "Recovering a Sense of Integrity," and Week 8 is "Recovering a Sense of Strength." 

(Doesn't that just sound gorgeous? Sigh. I'm definitely about to launch into a re-read.)

In each week, there are a few essays about that theme, and then some really amazing and helpful tasks at the end, followed by a weekly check-in. I loved the structure, and both the essays and tasks were massively helpful.

But the biggest and most healing thing for me is her constant, persistent, unflinching sense of support and love for the artist.

For you, my writing friend. And for me.

She keeps having the reader acknowledge the fear and pain and artistic mistakes from the past, through a variety of helpful prompts and exercises. And then we work on healing it, by nurturing our artistic selves. 

How do we do that? 

Oh. This gets really fun. (And terrifying, if you're like me and have a hard time with this kind of thing.)

We nurture ourselves with play. With joy. With little luxuries.

By doing silly things. By indulging. By spoiling ourselves.

(And yes, that death rattle noise is my inner perfectionist, who is hiding under a blanket. Because this goes against everything she stands for. How can being silly help make me a better artist? Indulging yourself?!? Where will it all end? Gasp, cough, wheeze, choke.) 

But basically, Cameron trains you to pamper and love and spoil and listen and treat yourself (and your work and your creativity), with utmost care and respect and kindness.

In other words, this book will help retrain all of us to stop beating ourselves up.

To stop starving parts of our creativity.

To stop submitting to the scars of the past and letting them destroy the future.

Nope. 

In fact, one of the mantras she recommends (which I both adore and really struggle with) is this:

Treating myself like a precious object
will make me strong.

Whoa, right? 

I mean... sit with that for a bit. Let it mess with you.

Where have you been believing that it's by beating yourself up, by being really harsh (and calling it accountability), by being inflexible and refusing to reward yourself, by nitpicking and sniping at yourself, by staring at your mistakes until you want to hide...

Where has that spirit of self-abuse been ruling your writing life? 

And do you, like me, feel like if you treated yourself super kindly—like you are in fact a precious Ming vase or an exquisite artwork—that if you do that, you'll just screw everything up, you won't be disciplined, you'll just get lazy, nothing will ever be done...

See, that's the argument that starts up in my head too. But Cameron calmly reasons it out of me.  

In a nutshell, she proves very conclusively that when our artistic lives are full of delight, excitement, and kindness, we are drawn to our work, we are truer to our own voices, and we write from a place of well-nourished strength. 

The results?

Are freakin' spectacular.

So, lean in to that.

Whoever you are, wherever you are at in your writing. Try to pamper your writing self.

Skip being harsh, skip self-punishment, skip all the nasty things we do to "keep ourselves in line." 

And try a softer, kinder, more intuitive way.

... You'll be hearing more about this book in the next couple of weeks, as I share some of the biggest lessons I've learned from it. Because this was just the tip of the iceberg, my friends.

But seriously, don't wait for me. You owe it to yourself to borrow The Artist's Way from a library, or grab your own copy and start underlining.

Dive in with an open mind and an open heart.

Commit to trying all her exercises. And get ready to discover yourself (and appreciate your instincts and your amazing writer's heart) in a deeper way than ever before.

This book will challenge and prompt and prod and hug you. 

I'm seriously going to reread mine, immediately, from front to back. Like, today. Right now.

Because it's changing everything.

And I'm convinced that it's absolutely essential to being the kind of writer I most want to be.

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

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

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

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

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

Yikes. Not a great situation for a fiction writer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, it can feel a little selfish.

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

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

Selfish.

Does this ring a bell for anyone else? 

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

With anything. At all. Ever.

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

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

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

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

Which makes me sad.

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

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

Okay.

But.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a service.

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

The generosity of working on creativity. 

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

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

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

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

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

I have no idea what it all adds up to.

But I bet it's a lot. 

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

Sharing creativity is generosity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The throwing everything out and starting over. Multiple times.

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

ALL that time. All that effort.

This is the stuff we have to guard and protect.

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

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

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

Okay? 

We are working to build gifts for other people.

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

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

To make stories that readers will dream about.

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

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

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

IT ISN'T SELFISH.

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

Whew.

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

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

When does it seem selfish to protect writing and creativity?

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


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

Continue Your Idea-Making Awesomeness with These Six Amazing Guides!

My go-to team of books for when I'm in desperate need of a new idea. They'll have your back, too. | lucyflint.com

We writers live among our ideas. Kind of a cool reality, isn't it?

It's the truth: The degree to which our ideas delight us is the degree to which we're going to have exciting and enjoyable writing lives. 

That's what I'm aiming for! You too, I'm guessing. ;)

I hope that Idea Camp has been fun for you! You now have some fantastic strategies for making appealing, useable, and energizing ideas! 

SUPER good news for your work-in-progress, and for all those works to come! (Your future projects are all stoked, by the way.) 

But today's our last post for Idea Camp. And the writing life is a big one. Which means that, we're all going to appreciate having even more idea-making guidance in the days to come!

Here are six of my favorite books for creativity and idea-making. If you've been reading the blog for a while, you've heard of them all. But they're a part of my core team when it comes to creativity, so they deserve a big shout-out at the end of Idea Camp!

If you want to level up in terms of creativity, consistency with idea-making, and general awesomeness (that's all of us, right?!), then these are the books to read!

1) A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative, by Roger von Oech

This is, no surprise, a totally off-the-wall book. (Title kinda gives that away, right?) But it is super helpful at shaking up the way we normally think.

Von Oech asks provocative questions about creativity, and he flips the ways we normally approach problems.

This is where I learned about the oracle method, "stepping stone" ideas, and a bunch of other ways to reframe creative problems. (His concept of "the second right answer" is totally brilliant and oh so helpful!)

This book will help you with your writing, for sure, but—bonus!—it will also make you a creative, problem-solving dynamo in the rest of your life as well. 

2) Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Yup, it was a mega-sensation in all creative-minded circles for a while, and for good reason. I devoured it, and then listened in on the accompanying podcast, "Magic Lessons," as well.

I just love Gilbert's frank discussion of creativity, her view of the artist's life, and her perspective on ideas like inspiration, wonder, and following your curiosity.

It's also just a thoroughly enjoyable read! This isn't so much a book about actively generating ideas, but the way she approaches creativity will definitely shift the pressure you feel in your writing life.

And that shift will bring wonder-filled ideas in its wake!

(I especially loved: the trickster vs. martyr discussion; the "sandwiches" we eat in pursuit of what we love; and the story about the lobster. Oh my gosh, the lobster. I laughed 'til I cried!)

PS, if you can't wait to get the book, check out her fantastic interview about Big Magic with Marie Forleo. It's all the things!!

3) Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon

Yep, I've done a post on this one before. But it's worth bringing up again here, because Kleon has such a helpful way of describing idea creation: he breaks it down and makes it feel so doable.

I love his whole concept of "the genealogy of ideas," and how he recommends learning from the artists you admire. He says: 

Copy your heroes. Examine where you fall short. What's in there that makes you different? That's what you should amplify and transform into your own work.

How's that for inspiring?! Geez!

And then I'm also haunted by this bit of brilliance: 

Think about your favorite work and your creative heroes. What did they miss? What didn't they make? ... If all your favorite makers got together and collaborated, what would they make with you leading the crew? 
     Go make that stuff.

Riiiiiight?? Doesn't that just get your mind fizzing? The whole book is like that, so, if you haven't checked it out yet ... um, go do that.

(He has a pretty fantastic blog as well... hop on over. And also, if you're trying to wrap your mind around the whole Internet, social media, how-to-be-seen thing, his book Show Your Work! is also exquisite and deeply encouraging. It gave me the courage to start this blog.)

4) The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp

This one again! For sure. Not only does Tharp talk about all aspects of the creative life in a compelling and exciting way, but she also has incredible tips on how to find ideas.

The whole book is helpful for this, but the best chapter for finding ideas is "Scratching." Scratching is Tharp's term for that process of hunting for an idea. She has a bunch of great habits and routines for idea searching... you've gotta read that chapter and try her exercises! You'll have plenty of new ways to forage for brilliance.

5) The Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne

My favorite-ever structure book belongs in Idea Camp?! Yup.

Because if you're writing a novel, and you don't know what do to next, it helps soooooo much to remember the conventions of the genre you're dealing with, the parts of story form (in scenes, in acts), and the "change curve" that Coyne explains.

Having a solid grasp of novel structure definitely saved my idea-making bacon with my work-in-progress! And understanding story form is critical when you're defining the problem that you're trying to solve

6) A Writer's Book of Days, by Judy Reeves

This is THE BEST writing exercise book I've ever encountered and it literally changed my view of my writing and my imagination. For the much, much better. 

It is seriously good.

Working through her daily writing prompts showed me just how incredible my brain can be at making ideas. At creating stories out of thin air. Even on days when I felt dull.

If you give the habit of writing exercises a try, you'll get into the mode of having a flexible, ready, energized mind, eager to snatch and develop any idea that crosses your path. 

BASICALLY, you acquire idea-making superpowers. Yes, really.

Because some of the best ideas you'll ever get, you'll get while your pen is moving. And that is an exhilaration that's worth finding!

Oh, and the articles and essays that make up the rest of the content? MEGA valuable and encouraging.

Dive in: you won't regret it.


We did it!! A month of relishing all things idea-related. WHOA.

I'd love to hear how you're doing: which idea-generating practices have been the most helpful? Any writing blocks blasted away? 

The second half of our writing year is going to be so full of good ideas now! Mmmm. Happy dreaming, lionhearts!

Four Quick Fixes for the Next Time You're Looking for a Fresh Idea

A few more tricks for the next time you need a fresh idea! | lucyflint.com

Well, Idea Campers, how are you all doing? Do you feel armed and ready to face anything your work-in-progress throws at you? Because we have covered sooooo many idea-finding strategies by now!

When you're on the lookout for a new idea—an appealing, useable concept with velocity—it helps to have a range of techniques, right?

We have a list of major interests and a list of curiosities, to spark excitement in our ideas. We have a list of topics for which we've already done allllllll the emotional research (so let's put it to good work!). We have idea scout files and title files, ready to add shape and heat to our projects.

When things get really tricky, we know how to go over the problem in laser-like detail, to know exactly what idea we're looking for. And finally, we have the all-purpose skeleton key of idea-making: my favorite strategy ever.

Whew! That's a lot of power tools!! 

But just in case you'd like a little more back-up... 

Here are a few other idea-making techniques. Because it's good to have a trick or four up your sleeve for those really tough days. 

1) Remember the value of bridging ideas.

One of the reasons why I like to do a lot of my idea work with pen and paper is so that I have a written record of my process.

Why is that important? 

Because along the brainstorming path, there are sometimes these weird idea cast-offs.

Bizarre, off-the-wall, "couldn't possibly work" kind of ideas.

The awesome thing about these crazy ideas is their ability to spark other ideas.

They bridge you forward to a new idea that you might not've had, if you thought "pffft, I'm not writing down that dumb idea."

Know what I mean? 

Roger Von Oech calls these "stepping stones." In A Whack on the Side of the Head, he writes: 

Stepping stones are simply provocative ideas that stimulate us to think about other ideas. Stepping stones may be impractical or improbable, but their value consists not in how practical they are, but in where they lead your thinking. 

Exciting, right? 

So after an idea session, save your notes for a little while. Go back over them in a calm moment. You might find cast-offs that belong in your idea scout files: tidbits that didn't work to solve this problem, but which might be pure gold another time!

2) Shake your imagination up with a crazy challenge.

I saw this approach in Twyla Tharp's outrageously helpful book, The Creative Habit. She says we should have "an aggressive quota for ideas." 

Such as?

Such as, come up with sixty ideas in two minutes.

No, seriously. That's what she said. 

This is the kind of challenge that blasts you over obstacles, over hurdles.

You lose your hang-ups. All ideas count: everything is written down in the rush to fill up the list!

Which means? You end up with some really cool ideas. (And even the unusable ones could be stepping stones to other ideas...)

So before you totally dismiss this (like I did the first time!), give it a try.

Set a timer. Number a piece of paper. And then let rip.

You might just shock yourself with what you come up with... especially just before the timer dings.

3) Turn random into spectacular.

This is based on an exercise that Donald Maass presents in his incredibly helpful guide, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. (This book is on my all-time absolute must-read list for novelists, so, if you haven't read it yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out!)

In the exercise, he's showing how to weave elements of a novel together (and it's fantastic for that!), but I think that you could do it with any kind of idea generation.

Here's how it works:

Whatever your main problem or question is, try to split it into three categories or three topics. Write them out (with a little space in between) across the top of a sheet of paper.

So, in his example, you're listing characters, settings, and plot layers.

To look for an idea that might happen within a scene, you might list characters allied with the protagonist, characters allied with the antagonist, and various motivations/goals. 

If you're creating a title, you might list key characters, important images from the book, and the main settings.

Make sense? 

Once you've figured out your three categories, try to list six things in each category, and write them under each of your headings. 

And the more in each list, the better. So if you can come up with ten or even twelve for each of the three categories, that's great.

And then? And then it gets really exciting: 

You take a pencil and start drawing random lines, connecting entries from the first list to the second to the third.

What are you after? You're looking for connections.

You're looking for three entries to combine in such a way that your mind grabs the idea and starts running. 

So give it a little time, and keep messing around with it. Draw lines every which way. Link names and concepts together, and watch for what happens in your mind. 

I love this strategy because it shows me how to pair story or scene elements in new ways. And then? The idea sparks fly!

4) Get a new environment.

If you keep looking for good ideas and keep not finding them, try changing up where and when you're doing your looking.

If you normally brainstorm at your desk, in the afternoon, try: outside, in the morning. Or in your car, at midnight. In a grocery store, at 4:30. 

Sometimes we just need to change up the mental chemistry, move to fresh air, switch it up a bit.

It is perilously easy to fall into a rut when I'm doing all the same things in the same ways.

Find a way to change your surroundings, and you just might find your way to a fresh crop of new ideas.


There you go! A few more ways to find the brilliance that's lurking all around and inside you.

At this point, you're essentially unstoppable. I mean, look at you!

But just in case you hit a really rough patch, I've got you covered. Stay tuned for the next post...

Your All-Purpose, Idea-Discovering, Secret Weapon! (My hands-down, favorite, most-used technique.)

The easiest, clearest, best, favoritest, all-purpose idea making strategy EVER. (I love it. Can you tell? I really love it.) | lucyflint.com

Last November, I had a ton of fun inventing a list of fifty off-the-wall plot twists to help out all my writing buddies doing Nanowrimo.

Fifty plot twists! I was surprised at how quickly I thought of them all (more to come on that!). And I loved the quirky list when it was done. (It's a little bizarre. Just what I love, haha!)

Well, it turned into my most popular post of all time. I'm thrilled that it's been such a helpful resource for thousands (and thousands!) of people. 

But the coolest thing about all that and what I love most about it: It was so easy to come up with all those ideas! Seriously!

To generate so many crazy plot twists in just one afternoon, I turned to a method that I've enjoyed using for a long time.

I learned it from Roger Von Oech's A Whack on the Side of the Head—which is a MUST READ if you want to supersize your creativity! 

He calls it creating an oracle. (Check out more of his explanation on his blog.)

I've seen this method other places too, but Von Oech's book was the first place I saw it. And he was the only one who referred to it as an oracle. Which is, let's face it, a pretty cool name.

I've mentioned it before on this blog, but it's such a life-saver that I had to talk about it again, here in the midst of Idea Camp

The premise of the oracle method is really straightforward and simple. But it's incredibly powerful. Why? Because your brain brings all the magic. And our brains are pretty incredible.

So, buckle up!

At the heart of it, the oracle method is all about connecting two dots. You provide Dot #1 (your question or problem). The oracle provides Dot #2 (a random word or concept, which usually feels completely unrelated to your question).

And then: your brain steps in and connects the dots.

That connection—sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, sometimes wild, sometimes fantastic—that is your new idea.

Sound fun? Because it's totally fun!!

Give yourself some time to practice it, and then marvel as your brain provides one solution after another.

So here's the real step-by-step. 

1) Find your oracle.

Yes, that sounds a bit weird. But all Von Oech meant was some book or resource that provide you with nouns.

I use a dictionary, or an encyclopedia. Or even, in a pinch, any novel or book lying around.

(He says you can even use a magazine and refer to the pictures... but I'd get too distracted!)

2) Define your problem.

Yep, you're all over this step by now!

You don't have to go mega in-depth, but you do need a crystal clear sense of what your problem is. The clearer you are, the better. This is your Dot #1!

3) Open your oracle and get a noun at random.

Open the book at random. And then grab a word off that open page. 

Oh, and don't try to select a juicy word.

At least until you get the hang of this, force yourself to get a random one: the top left corner, or the bottom right are good places.

Pick the very first noun there, and then close the oracle.

4) Consider your "answer."

So this word you've just grabbed? That's your marvelous Dot #2. And you owe it to yourself to give it a little thought.

You don't have to do a ton of research about it (unless you really want to!). Just mull it over in your mind for a second.

What does it mean? What images does it bring to mind? What special meanings might this word have for you? 

And then what are its other uses? Is it also used as a verb, or a proper noun? How many things could it mean? Does it represent other, bigger concepts as well? Are there metaphorical uses you're familiar with?

What else does it make you think of?

Feel free to jot some of these down. Again, it doesn't have to be laborious... just see what comes to mind, and take down a few notes.

If you have several angles to work with, you're in pretty great shape.

5) Give your brain the chance to connect the dots.

This is where it gets crazy and fun: the creative process up close! 

Decide that this Dot #2 somehow gives you the answer to your problem or question

Yes, that can feel a little weird. You might stare at it in frustration for a while, thinking, how in the heck are these two things related?

Because that's what you're looking for: A connection. 

Any connection. 

Give your brain a little space. Doodle on the edges of your paper. Stare out the window for a while.

Just keep turning the two things over in your mind: the problem, and this weird, doesn't-make-sense "answer." 

And keep looking for how they might be related.

It could be really off the wall. It could make you laugh. It might be too strange to credit at first.

But the more you play with it, the more you see how it actually, really, truly could work.

6) Call in extra help.

Usually one word is all I need for this. But now and then, I honestly can't think of anything workable with my first chosen word. I'll do all the thinking, and give myself time, and nothing breaks loose.

What to do? Flip open the oracle and grab a second word! Sometimes even a third. 

Play around with a few more concepts. See how your new words interact with the first one, how they're similar, how they contrast. And see how they react with your proposed problem.

Give them some time, and see what shows up!

So far, I've never needed more than three words to hit on a brilliant idea. So, even if you're frustrated with the process, hang in there! Let your brain play longer. Take a break and come back. Doodle more.

7) Take notes on your fledgling idea.

As soon as you feel like you're on to something, take those notes that you need! 

Flesh out the idea, add anything else that you're thinking of, the supporting details, the other information you'll need, anything you see in your head.

If your solution has stirred up more problems, you know what to do: Grab that oracle and launch into the next idea-finding session.

And then apply it to your draft or project, and you're off and running!

8) Repeat as necessary (and feel like a genius).

This gets easier—a lot easier!—with practice.

The more you trust the process, the longer you can hang in there when it feels uncomfortable. You get into a rhythm. You instinctively feel your way to the wild possibilities a lot faster.

Best of all? You get kind of addicted to that miraculous feeling of a new idea sparking in your mind.

(Because it is SERIOUSLY cool. And really fun.)

And then... go crazy! Invent to your mind's content. You can solve a dozen story problems in an afternoon. Or dream up fifty plot twists! ;)

This is truly the problem-solving technique that I use the most. It's easy, it's quick, and it's deliciously fun. 

Please give it a try, and let me know how it goes for you. 

Here's to overflowing with ideas!