The Mistake We're Making When We Think Our Surroundings Don't Matter

Your writing desk is telling you something about yourself. Is it the message you *want* to be sending? |

Writing seriously for about ten years now means that I've written in basically every possible situation.

In crappy motel rooms and gorgeous hotel suites and cozy b&bs. Crouching on staircases, or in weird back corners. On trains. In boats, planes, and cars. Sitting on a curb, a park bench, a porch, a rickety lawn chair. In concert halls and airport terminals and dingy hallways. 


That's one of those great things about writing, right? Our material is everywhere, inspiration can be any place we choose, and our necessary tools (a pen! a notebook!) are super portable.

We can write in any situation. Any environment.

And while that's super, while that's great, while that's an extremely useful skill to have, I've been making this huge mistake about it.

I figured that: Because I can write in any situation and environment, then my main work environment doesn't really matter.

Meaning: I wasn't putting all that much thought into the way my writing desk/office area looked.

I keep my notes vaguely organized (kinda sorta), and most of my pens and markers make their way into some mugs I have for that purpose--

It isn't an ogre pit, is what I mean. But I also haven't made it a very big priority.

And then I came across the Beautiful Living website by Rebecca McLoughlin. I started devouring her blog posts, especially this great series on spring cleaning and what it means to edit your space. (Not decluttering, but editing. Read about that. It's genius!)

And I had this revelation.

See, she talks a lot about how your space reflects a certain image of yourself and your life back to yourself. 

So you have to look hard at your space and say: do I actually like or agree with this version of myself? Is this the direction I really want to go?

(Think about that a sec. It's a really big deal. All the stuff we have around ourselves: it's all SAYING SOMETHING. Crazy, right? But it totally is!)

I looked around my work area with new eyes after reading her posts. And I asked myself:

Is this the Lucy Flint that I want to keep being? Is my writing space pointing me in the direction I want my writing to go? Is it clean and fresh and inviting? Does it feel both cheerful and yet professional? Does it stimulate my imagination and beckon crazy-amazing stories out of me?

Um, NO. Basically just a lot of no.

It wasn't awful. But it wasn't remarkable.

So this week, I've done a total overhaul of my work area. 

  • I went through my bookcases and found 95 books that I was hanging onto but didn't actually like or want to reread! WHAT?? Ninety-five! That's a freaking lot of books! I pulled them out and now all my favorites (and I still have a lot, so don't worry) have room to breathe.
  • I cleared out all my desk drawers and cluttery spaces. I got rid of the dried up pens and crappy pencils and broken supplies. I recycled this huge cascade of papers that no longer mattered. 
  • I made a ton of decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of. (If I ask myself "Do I need this?" I can always think of five very compelling situations where I'll NEED that thing. And then I don't get rid of it. But when I switch the question and ask: "Can I throw this away?" I tend to think, "Yup, I can definitely live without that!" Isn't that funny? Reframing the question totally changes my response. SO FREEING.)
  • And I'm coming up with ways to add more beauty and imagination and quirky creativity to my space. Artwork that inspires stories. Beautifully lettered quotes that get my mind spinning. I've been exploring this awesome catalog of free desktop backgrounds from DesignLoveFest. Totally fun! I'm planning to add some flowers in a great vase. I'm gonna find a gorgeous candle for crying out loud.

I still have more to do before my space is as inviting and stimulating as I'd like it to be. But I'm SO glad I took the time to really look at it and make changes!

I can already feel more mental energy and creativity surging around in my mind. Every time I walk over to my desk, I feel this inner leap of happiness. 

And THAT'S a great way to approach another day of writing!

So what about you? How's your writing area looking?

Can you get rid of anything that's holding you back or reflecting an old version of your writing self? Does anything in your writing space remind you of feeling discouraged or un-confident? Bleh!! Get rid of it!

What would happen if your writing space reflected your most brave, inspired, and delighted writing self back to you? What would that even look like? What kinds of tools would you have? What trinkets and what artwork?

Grab some time today to make a few changes. Kick out the crap. Bring in some beauty. 

The rest of your writing week is already jumping up and down with excitement.

Want a few more ways to shake up your Monday? YEAH, you do. 
Read this post to get inspired to have a little dance party of one.
Tell perfectionism to take a hike.
And use your obscurity to get, you know, super-duper awesome in every way.

It's gonna be a great week, lionhearts.

Are You Ridiculously in Love with Your Writing? Or, Um, Not?

When you find yourself apologizing for the kind of thing you write... it's time for a change. |

How do you feel about what you write?

I'm not asking about the quality of it: we all wade through the crappy first (secondthirdfourthfifth) drafts. That's normal and understood.

I'm talking about the actual topic. The genre. The style. The guts of your writing. The center of your universe of words.

How do you feel about it? 

I'm hoping that your answer is along these lines: 

I love, love, LOVE it, Lucy. Maybe I don't have all the plot stuff figured out, and I'm still working on a lot of it. But the world I've created with these words, and the main things that I'm talking about, and the kinds of characters I've created, and the genre that this all operates in, and the style of my sentences... I can't get enough. I'm loving this.

Is that you, saying all that? I really hope so. But if not: I get it. I totally understand.

For a long time, I couldn't have said any of that.

When I started writing full time, I felt pulled in two directions.

First: I wanted to be a clever writer. I had just studied all kinds of beautiful literature in college. I honestly loved reading Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. Sylvia Plath's poetry gave me chills. We read so many brilliant short stories that did astonishing things with their sentences.

I felt like, to be a SERIOUS writer, to feel PROUD of what I'm writing, to be able to hold my head up when I'm saying what I do: Then I should write that kind of thing. Clever, prize-winning sentences.

Then, there was the other direction. When I got stressed out, I would always read kid lit. And complicated, beautiful YA fantasy. And smart, funny, middle grade adventure novels.

That's what I read when no one was looking, what I read for fun, what just plain made me happy.

So, I thought, I should write that. Probably I should write that.

So I started writing this young adult fantasy.

But not whole-heartedly. Because I was SO EMBARRASSED. 

Whenever someone asked about my writing and my work, I had a zillion apologetic ways of slanting what I wrote. Trying to sound smart and clever about it, while also trying to cover up the truth about my novel. 

I ended up sounding very sheepish. And like someone was forcing me to write this silly crap. And like I pretty much hated my writing.

Guess what. I ended up pretty much hating my writing. 

And hating my writing life.

It was a grim season.

It took me a long time to realize what I was doing to myself (and to my poor work-in-progress!). 

I was letting other people determine the value of what I wrote. 

And--even worse than that--I was guessing at what they would think about what I wrote. I decided beforehand that they would think it was ridiculous, and then I gave my long cringing apology.

Ack! Ick! No, nono. 

This is not the kind of writing life we want. Right, lionhearts? 

Here's an incredible, powerful quote from Ray Bradbury. Read this slowly, and think about your writing life, your current project, the things that you love to read. All that. Here you go:

Love. Fall in love and stay in love.
Write only what you love, and love what you write.
The key word is love. 

Are you getting that? 

We can't write to suit someone else's idea of what is acceptable. What is "worth" reading or writing. We can't try to please other people with our choice of genre or style. 

When I read a novel that I just flat-out LOVE, I am not trying to impress anyone with my choice of loving. I'm not trying to seem all clever. I'm just loving what I love. Because I love it. 

A sense of what I SHOULD or SHOULD NOT appreciate... well, that really doesn't come into it.

The same is true of what I'm writing. 

I am now happily writing a middle grade adventure trilogy. And I'm putting characters in that I just adore, who are quirky and funny and strange and full of secrets. I'm adding crazy details (I've mentioned the telepathic lizards?).

I'm building a storyworld based on love, on my love for this book, and not based on anything else.

And now, when someone asks what I write, I tell them honestly. I tell them that I love it. That showing up for work feels like an adventure. That it's exactly the kind of trilogy I would have eaten up when I was in sixth grade. 

I don't apologize. I don't try to sound super clever, like I'm a really impressive little genius.

I'm frank and clear and direct. 

And guess what happens. No one says, "Sorry, but you're not smart enough to keep talking to me."

Actually, people sound a little . . . jealous. A little envious.

Because my full-time work sounds thrilling and funny and interesting and exciting. (WHICH IT TOTALLY IS.)

No apologies necessary. Imagine that.

So what are you apologizing for? Are you trying to justify your choice of story, your genre, your style, your anything? Do you feel sheepish about any part of your writing life? 

Today I'm inviting you to just let that GO. Get rid of it. 

If you're writing something out of some weird internal obligation or some sense of what you ought to be writing--maybe shelve that project. Or radically change it, into something you madly love. 

If you're writing something you like, but feel ashamed of that: kick that sense of shame OUT. It's not serving you or your work. And it might not even be based on anything real. Okay?

Let's decide to just love what we love. To love what we write.

To operate from that excitement, that energy, that truth about who we are as writers and artists. 

I double-dare you to be passionate and unapologetic when you talk about your work this weekend.

If you want an even bigger pep-talk about how to deal with other people, check out this post on how to talk about your writing (without throwing up).

And, if you're struggling to figure out what kinds of stuff you love to write (because we can get so muddled, right??), read this post on getting permission to play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not this lame little dance tune.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was the unfoolable listener. 

Kinda like a really good reader. 

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

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

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

Yikes, right?? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she was so right.

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

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

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

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

The Most Important Person Here Isn't Me.

In the relationship between a writer and a reader, one of them is more important than the other. And here's a hint: it's not the writer. |

It's Monday morning, so how about I go ahead and embarrass myself by confessing something to you? Sound good? Okay then. Here it is:

I'm mortified to admit it, but when I started writing full-time, I felt like I deserved an audience.


But really, I did. I thought I was ready for people to come listen to me, to read my words.

After all, I'd done my part. I worked hard at school to learn about stringing words together. I had developed a few interesting ideas. I figured that showing up and reading my stuff was the least the world could do.

When I started my first blog (a lonnnnnng time ago), I figured that, basically, people would be beating down my virtual door, devouring my lovely little blog posts, and begging for more. 

Probably some editor would fling a contract at me. "Write us a novel," they would cry. "We want to read it."

... Okay. Can I stop there? Because seriously, my cheeks. SO RED.

Well, no, there's one more little part to that story, and it's this: yes, a few friendly faces showed up. Yes, I had some readers. A few. 

But that was it. 

I was disappointed. More than that--I couldn't understand it. My desire to write shriveled up. I eventually closed that blog down. And I had a very hard time believing I should write the novels I was working on. 

The writing life just felt very hard and cold and unrewarding.

What I didn't realize: By expecting massive applause, I had set myself up to feel disappointed. Neglected. Undervalued.

When we let our ego call the shots, we've lost.

It's easy to see why we let pride win out, though, right? After all: If you're writing ANYTHING, you're working hard. There's sweat mixing in with all that ink. This isn't easy stuff. 

Also, it takes a bit of chutzpah to believe that you have something worth saying. To get over the crippling desire to stay silent and unnoticed.

To get past the fact that there are a bajillion other people writing blogs and spinning sentences and throwing novels at the world. 

That's a big obstacle. And sometimes pride is the thing that steps up and says it has an answer.

After all, it's nice to believe the ego, right? It's so compelling. It lets us strut around and decide that we are big and everyone else is small. That we deserve prizes and accolades and thousands of readers and I don't know, a salary, perhaps. 

But it's an ugly thing, to feel like people owe us attention. To be convinced that the world owes us an audience. 

And oh, guess what: All that ego and all that pride... it makes us profoundly NOT FUN to listen to. 

(If you've ever been trapped by a blatherer at a party, you understand this.)

So how do we fight it? How do we counteract that sense of entitlement? How do we douse our pride with gasoline, and burn our little egos out?

I think one of the best things I've learned--the thing that shut my pride right up--was a profound respect for the reader. 

Ahem: That's you.

You have so many other things that you could be doing right now, and believe me, I'm aware of it.

There are more voices you could be reading, more writing blogs. Or heck--you could be checking YouTube for a laugh. There are errands to run and there's probably coffee to make (I hope you're having coffee--it's a Monday for heaven's sake). 

There are a thousand things that are competing for your time and your attention.

And--presuming that you're still with me--you've picked this blog post.

You're trusting me with this little corner of your time, this patch of your attention. And that's a trust that I have very strong feelings about.

Is this getting weird for you? Sorry to be so direct. But the truth is: I think about you a lot. 

You don't owe me a thing, but I owe you plenty. I owe you the best that I can do.

The best words, the best ideas, the best writing tips. I've promised to tell you every helpful thing I know about the writing life. And I'll even try to be a little funny if I can manage it.

Why? Because I respect you.

Because I think that your time matters. 

Because I now believe that writers are actually meant to serve the readers, and not the other way around. 

And because--not to get all SAPPY on you--I'm grateful. Darned grateful to put words out into the world and have someone read them. 

It's a privilege. It's an honor. It's about trust. 

And that's my best weapon against the ego-gorilla that shows up sometimes, banging on its chest and demanding to be heard.

I shut that gorilla up by reminding it of what I've learned: that in spite of all its shouting, the ego is a fairly brittle thing. It's restrictive. It dulls my mind and keeps me from growing. It sets me up for disappointment. And it turns all my ideas into bland, flavorless offerings. 

I'm much better off without it. And so is my writing.

So, a happy Monday to you, my well-respected reader.

Here's to serving others with all that we write.

(And if there's a blog topic that you're wanting to hear more about, or if you have some ideas about how I can run this space differently, or if there's some other way that I can be serving you all better, scroll down and leave a comment. Seriously. I'd love to hear from you!)

How to Make a Good Writing Day Even Better (or, How to Save a Bad One)

Wanna kick your writing day up a notch? A reading recommendation that just might make all the difference. |

After writing my last post, I've done a lot of thinking about observation. And how darned hard it is.

I mean, really: it's hard. 

There is so much CHATTER in our heads--are you getting that?

So much noise, and not a lot of room for those small moments of watching a scene, staring out a window, and letting a deeper sense of meaning and understanding bubble up.

Or, I don't know. Maybe y'all don't struggle with that. But I'm guessing I'm not alone.

Enter: My best-ever remedy for living in the moment.

Do yourself a HUGE favor and curl up with a copy of Billy Collins' poems. You won't be sorry. |

Have you read Billy Collins' poetry?

If so, you know where we're going with this. If not, you are in for such a treat. 

And if you've decided you hate poetry and are therefore exempt: well, I hear you. Really.

If poetry means fussy, pretentious verses full of obscure references, and you need a zillion footnotes and a master's degree to piece together some semblance of meaning--

Then I'm totally with you. I hate that kind of poetry. 

This isn't that.

Step inside a poem by Billy Collins and you see the world differently. 

After reading half a dozen, you'll start to develop this wonderful sensitivity. You'll pay better attention to what's around you.

Read half a volume, and you'll begin seeing poems everywhere you go. Really. Seriously. 

These poems help me live in the present. They unlock an ability to encounter the meaning in the moment.

They help me see what I didn't expect to see. Does that make sense?

If you're having a good writing streak, spend time in these poems to spur yourself on, to replenish your imagination, and to keep nourishing your mind.

And if you're having a crappy writing day (or week, or month), then take one of these books with a cup of tea and a long afternoon. Really. It's the best remedy I can recommend for you.

When I'm struggling with words and imagery and feeling tongue-tied, these poems are how I patch myself up. 

They win my heart back over to writing. They draw ideas out of me when I think I'm empty.

They just might do the same for you.

They're simple. Exquisite. And very powerful.

Give 'em a try. 

Thanks to the Internet, here are a few poems for you to taste:
the best-ever: a three-year-old boy recites "Litany" 
- "Nostalgia"
- "Another Reason Why I Don't Keep a Gun in the House"
- "Marginalia"

Enhancing the Amazing Ability to Take Notice

How are your observation skills doing? Because mine TOTALLY need brushing off. |

Can I tell you something? Sometimes when I sit down to write a descriptive passage, I feel like I'm going through my days blind and deaf. 

How else to explain the total blankness I feel, when I need to sketch out the elementary parts of a setting?

I start to worry about myself. About my vision. About my sense of hearing. Because all my descriptions come up flat.

Does this happen to you? 

Writing shows me, over and over again, how dull I get to the real world. How little I've actually paid attention to what's going on around me. How unspectacular my observations are.

This isn't a good state for a writer to be in. 

At least half of our job description must be: Pay attention. 


I want to get better at this, friends. For the sake of my writing (who needs another lame description?), but also for the sake of my living: I don't want to be in a fog all the time. 

I'm pretty sure that paying attention is one of those "Use it or lose it" skills. My writing is begging me to get better at this!

So here's how I want to change, how I want to grow my ability to observe:

- No distractions. We all know that we're living distracted most of the time, yes?

While I technically understand that, I can too easily forget how much it's costing me, as a writer and an observer.

Writing flat descriptions? Having zero material to draw from when it comes to setting scenes? Not okay! 

So here's to putting down the iPhone and unplugging the headphones. Here's to actually looking hard at what is going on around me.

- Go slow. Racing around is basically the antithesis of noticing.

When I move quickly, when I operate on glances and quick snatches, I only catch the most surface details (if I catch anything at all).

If I wait out my first observations, if I settle in a bit, then I can catch the second wave of details, and then maybe the third. I notice the deeper things, the interesting things.

- Fight the blur effect. It's too easy for my brain to laze on autopilot and to report back: tree, tree, tree, (yawn) tree.

But if I ask myself to see specifically, to pull meaning out of the blur, I can do it. I can finally see: maple, pine, pear, oak

And since each word has its own personality, each detail its own connotation, those specifics matter.

- Wait for the telling detail. Observing gets so much more interesting--for me at least--when I come across something unusual.

The little detail that juxtaposes the rest of the picture. The one thing out of place. The note that jars, that stands out, that goes a different direction, that puts a new spin on the rest of the picture.

That contrast always draws me in: it gives my imagination something to wrestle with, intriguing blanks to fill.

And that's where observation fuels storytelling.


So that's how I'll be reframing my downtime in waiting rooms, in grocery store checkout lines, in my kitchen as I'm watching dishes.

I'm going to turn it into storytelling gold, honing my skills as an observer of the world.

How about you?

Making It Easy to Write

While it will never be confused with a piece of cake, writing *can* be made easier. The trick is to keep your mind warmed up. Always. |

Yeah, I know. The words easy and writing don't usually belong in the same sentence.

And maybe writing will never be truly easy, but I think that we can all agree that--on the best days--it can be easier rather than harder.

When my writing is going okay, I lean deeper and deeper into this practice of staying connected to the work. 

Because isn't disconnection half of what's hard about it?

If my characters are strangers, if I can't remember the knack of their voices, if I've lost the atmosphere of their world, and the thread and threat of the conflict has evaporated...

That's when writing feels impossible. That's when I start giving up.

But when the world of the novel stays alive in my mind, when all my mental machines for writing stay on and humming, when the engine is warm:

Those are the enchanted times when I get three new ideas during dinner, when I step out of the shower with a paragraph written in my head, when I hear a chance phrase from someone else and solve a major plot concern instantly.

We want to keep that engine warm! It's a massive game changer in this whole enterprise.

We have to never stop writing. 

No, I don't mean we're tied to our desk, and I don't mean we never have a day off. I mean that we never let the engine get truly cold

In Chapter after Chapter, Heather Sellers describes the practice of "positioning," a term she got from her writing friend Eric. 

She says that he decides exactly what he'll be working on the next day. He makes a list, staying businesslike and professional about it. He sets out the files he'll need, getting everything ready for the next morning.

"Purposeful book authors ... lay out their things, mentally and physically preparing for the next writing day. ... Everything is set up for the next day, like dominoes, and in the morning [Eric] just has to get his butt to the chair, flick his finger, and the process immediately has its own momentum."

Heather describes her own positioning process while writing a collection of short stories: every evening she would review her notes, touch the printed pages of her draft, and glance over her outline.

Nothing intense. Just a nightly visit to her writing studio.. But this kept the book alive in her mind, day after day after day, in spite of massive changes in her personal life.

James Scott Bell, in Plot & Structure, describes his habit of writing 350 words in the morning, practically first thing.

He says it's a good jump forward on his quota of words. But I think it also keeps that story alive, by immediately connecting writer to words at the start of the day.

I've found half a dozen ways to stay connected to my story, and to keep that writing engine warm:

  • When I'm in the thick of drafting, I always start the day's work by rereading what I wrote yesterday. (I'm not allowed to cringe too much.)
  • If I'm drafting by hand (and I usually am), I also type the previous day's work. Usually, I tweak it a bit as I go, and this light editing gets my brain all kinds of warmed up.
  • When I get up from my desk during the day (you know I have those dance parties!): I jot a few notes. Whatever I already know about what comes next: any details, any fragments. It's like a quick Polaroid of what I was writing toward. 
  • If I have to leave for a longer time--doctor's appointment, coffee date--I'll take a much more complete snapshot. I layer in more details, roughing in a view of the rest of the scene. Even if a whirlwind of distractions follows, that next bit of writing is safe. And it doesn't take much for me to get back into the groove.
  • At the end of the work day, just like Heather Sellers and her friend Eric, I make a plan. I'll look at my notes, my outlines. Maybe tidy up the clutter. Set out all the working pieces in places of honor. 
  • ... And when I'm really, really working hot, when the days feel like I'm living more in the book than in the "real world," more in ink and paper than in oxygen and carbon, I do one more thing: I sleep next to the manuscript. It's right there next to me in bed. Yes. I do realize that this is TOTALLY weird. But there's something about the notebook sitting there, with all those words. It feels like the book is truly alive, like my brain is still connected. The last thing I want to do is break that spell. So instead, I try to put a huge sign on my subconscious, saying: I'm Still Here. (It's a little less weird if you think of a newborn baby sleeping in the same room as its parents. See? That's normal, right? And you never know when the manuscript might wake up in the middle of the night and need you to rock it back to sleep...)

If you've ever had a block. If you've ever had a rough day. If you've ever totally lost the thread of what you're working on because life showed up. If you've ever been in a groove and then so unexpectedly fell right out of it. 

If that's ever happened to you (and that's all of us, right?), then you owe it to yourself to lean in. To make the most of the good times. 

Learn how to stay connected to your work. Refuse to take the good days for granted. Don't start skipping out. Don't trust the sunshine to stay forever.

Keep the engine warm; keep moving forward.

Make it easy (or at least easier) to write.

Do you have strategies for staying connected to your book? I'd love to pick up some new tricks... Do share!

I'm Declaring Today a Reading Holiday

If it's been too long since you've gotten lost in reading: today is your day (and mine). Let's dive deep. |

Stephen King wrote, "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."

Let's all just stand and applaud that clarity, okay? 

I love that. I totally agree with that.

But can I tell you something? I'm so bad at making time to read. 

In spite of LOVING to read, my reading life has been pretty much crap for the last three months. I mean, I read here and there, a smidge at a time... but nothing like what I want. I'm pecking at it, not gulping.

And now and then, I really need to gulp. I need to drown a bit in words. 

I met a woman once who, now and then, would clear her schedule for a day. Run the errands early, get the dog taken care of, have everything settled, just as if she were going to be out of town for the day. And then she'd just read. 

Hero status granted.

I admire that. I love that. And I'll insist on anyone's right to read, to read all day.

AND YET. I have this weird resistance, a difficulty giving myself permission. 

ACK! Why is that?! Is it because reading was an escape for so much of my life--a way to relax and unwind. So, does it feel like I'm dodging work? Pffft.

Whatever the reason, that kind of resistance to reading doesn't belong in this writer heart! It's not at all what Lucy Flint stands for, as I hope you know by now.

So. Today, I'm declaring a reading holiday. June 12.

Me & a novel. I'll clear the schedule. I'll devote myself to reading.

You're welcome to join me. In fact, please do! Invite friends! Let's all do this serious wonderful work of reading together. Let's all give each other permission. 

(And tell me what you're reading in the comments!)

Superhero Your Writing

When you lean into your strengths, you become extraordinary. |

It can seem very heroic, can't it, to have an all-embracing sense of your flaws. To beat our critique partners to the punch by saying, I know it's terrible because of x, and y, and z. 

And because drafts have flaws, and because we aren't perfect (yay!), we have a point.

There will always be weaknesses in what we do.

But there will also be strengths.

I don't care how execrable your latest draft was: If you itch to write stuff down, then you have a strength.

Whether it's your point of view, your perspective, your sense of pacing, your grip on setting, your flair for unusual conflict, your lovable characters...

Face it, writer-friend: Somewhere, somewhere, your writing has some strengths.

Here's what I want you to do: Make 'em stronger. 

Work on your best points. Find where you glow, and become incandescent. Light it up.

"But no, no," comes the protest. "We have to focus on our weaknesses, right? Find all the bad places and make them better. Right?"

Well, okay. There's a time to focus on weaknesses and make them better. To build up those places.

But I want to introduce you to this crazy, revolutionary practice of appreciations, taken from Making Ideas Happen:

When Scott Belsky went to a storytelling workshop, led by Jay O'Callahan, he and the other participants took turns telling their stories. And after each story, the rest of the group would talk about what the teller had done well, what they appreciated.

They talked about the strengths. 

And then, the storyteller would take all that feedback, rework the story, and share it again. 

If you're like me, your first reaction to this is: But what about all the weaknesses? 

Here's how Belsky describes the effect:

"I noticed that a natural recalibration happens when you commend someone's strengths: their weaknesses are lessened as their strengths are emphasized. ... The points of weakness withered away naturally as the most beautiful parts became stronger."

So... the weaknesses get taken care of, when we bring out what was good? 

When we lean on our strongest and best points, the crappy bits fade?

BONUS: The storyteller is not writhing on the ground in tatters. I call that a win.

So here's what I propose: Next time someone reads your writing to give feedback, ask them to tell you the three things that they most appreciated.

And try revising based on that.

Belsky writes: "A creative craft is made extraordinary through developing your strengths rather than obsessing over your weaknesses."

Made extraordinary.

See, that's what got me thinking about superheroes.

Superheroes tend to have one specific extreme ability. And then there are a few strengths that support that, that help make that useable. (And they have a suit, maybe a cape. You can get those too if you like.)

Find your three top strengths (or more!). Nourish them. Exercise them. Make them stronger still.

And then you're basically a writing superhero. And that piece of writing you've been revising? Extraordinary.

Not because you've been focusing on a detailed list of all your failings, and trying to bring them up to par. Nope. You already have some gold there.

Get your readers' help finding it, polish it up, and make it the centerpiece.

Unleash your strengths. 

Give Yourself a Year of Writing Dangerously

Embark on a glorious year of writing. |

Once when I was traveling and had to be away from my desk for a month, I happened across A Year of Writing Dangerously in Barnes & Noble.

I fell in love with the title IMMEDIATELY. I pulled it off the shelf, thinking that even if the inside of the book is a bust, I want the phrase WRITING DANGEROUSLY tattooed across my arms.


Barbara Abercrombie's splendid party of a book wants to be your new best friend. |

Writing dangerously. I just love that, just completely love it. Yes! Push right to the edge, write from the brink, be brazen, dare.

Be bold in telling the truth, say how things really are, fend off apathy. 

Because when we're doing this, when we're really into the game, when we're playing for keeps: writing is a lot like scooping chunks of your heart out with a spoon, smearing it on paper, and hoping people like it, hoping it's useful, hoping it helps, hoping you told the whole truth.

It is dangerous to write. We're brink-dwellers, on the edge of so many things. Giving it all away. Saying every secret. Spending all we have.

So yeah. I fell in love with the title. 

And then the inside of the book was exactly what I hoped it would be.

Let Barbara Abercrombie's Year of Writing Dangerously cheer you on through the hard times and bright times alike. |

She talks about the writing life: the spectrum we live in, from insecurity to daringness. She describes how famous writers write. (Which I love, b/c I'm so nosy about writing routines!) She shares anecdotes about famous writers, less famous writers, students, herself. 

If you're like me, you'll read this and you'll recognize your own funny self: over and over again. And you and I will both be sighing and saying I'M NOT CRAZY, I'M JUST A WRITER, WHEW.

It's good to know. 

She has tips on creativity, on how to keep a light hand with your work, or, on the flip side, how to lean in closer and be more serious. 

I LOVE that she closes each section with a quote. I love writing quotes, of course, and have collected so very many of them--and yet so so so many of these were new to me. 

It's just HELPFUL, guys. There's a whole community of writers represented in these pages. So many fellow scribblers in her text, in her anecdotes, in the quotes, that even if you're working alone, even if you're the only writer you know, you feel surrounded by others.

All of us picking our way forward with ink, with words. 

You're swimming in this stream with all these other writers! We're all foraging for ideas, dreaming up stories, creating little worlds that then run away with us.

All of us. Together. All year long.

The reading for each day is small enough that it's the perfect little idea snack before you dive into your writing day. Or it's the perfect closer at the end.

Or you can do what I did when I first discovered it: I picked it up that day, obviously, in the bookstore, and I brought it on my trip with me.

And whenever I could, I'd sneak off and just gulp it down, reading a chunk at a time, soaking it up, immersing in words.

It's wise and bright and funny, clever, insightful, and darned intelligent. It's just right, it's the very thing, it's the perfect fit.

One of the reviews calls this book a writing party, and I love that description, because yes. Yes it is. 

Phyllis Theroux says, "When you open [this book], you are in a house full of writers, each of whom wants to march you over to a corner to tell you something important about the writing life....Prepare yourself for a wonderful party!" 

If you or someone you know could do with a bit of courage, a bit of brightness in book form (and who doesn't need that?): then get this book.

And if you pop some champagne and toss some confetti as you read, as you celebrate writing dangerously... Well, I'm not going to stop you.