How to Dodge Burnout in Your Writing Life Before It Even Comes Close

The trick about being your own writing boss is that... so many things can go wrong! Here's one way to keep the peace, negotiate through difficulties, and stay on course, before you ever have a chance to burn out. Sound good? Bring some paper, and let's get started. |

One of the most freeing, and most daunting, pieces of my writing life is simply this: I am my own boss.

It means that my degree of contentment, fulfillment, and happiness in my job is basically up to me

Which is completely wonderful and a bit frightening, at the same time. 

It also means that when something goes wrong in my writing life or writing process, it's up to me to figure out what happened. 

"EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE," is how I used to respond.

Which is a very accurate feeling. But a really unhelpful diagnosis.

But if we're all being our own bosses (which we totally are), and if we're going to do amazing things in 2016 (which HECK YES we are!!), then we need to learn how to discover what goes wrong in our writing lives. 

And figure out how to fix it. And get it going again.

And just to clarify: I'm not talking about what's gone wrong in our novels, though of course that's also our job to unravel.

I'm talking about what happens when the whole darn writing life rolls over and sticks its feet in the air. Or, when its engine won't start and the radio won't either.

Or whatever other metaphor feels right to you.

If our goals are going to happen, then we need to know what to do to make sure our writing life is working well, all systems go, everything healthy. 

One of the ways that I run my own self diagnostic is by thinking of myself as a team.

Yes, I know that can be a little weird, but stick with me here. If you're working for yourself, if you're working alone, you're still managing a team's worth of jobs, right? 

It's just you, but you're performing all the different tasks, fulfilling half a dozen roles. You're the one doing all the things.


The way I think about it, the Writing Team of Me breaks into these roles:

  • Chief Executive Officer: She's the general manager of everything. She plans for the long-haul. She has her eyes on a career that will span decades and reach great heights. She's extremely ambitious, but also has a strong administrative focus. She manages all the other members of the team as well, and brings them in line with her vision for the career.
  • Chief Creative Officer: She's the "idea girl." She manages the entire imagination matrix and generates the big gooey ideas that turn into novels, as well as the smaller ideas that illuminate scenes and blog posts and other little projects. She manages the overall creative vision, as well as the flavor of everything the team produces. She animates and signs off on every bit of work we do around here.
  • The Staff Writers: They take everything from the CEO and the CCO and turn it into words, words, words. These are the draft monkeys, the paragraph producers. They're super hard workers, but they like to have a good time whenever possible. 
  • The Editor: She works closely with the staff writers. Sometimes she gets overexcited and tries to interfere too soon, so they stick her in the hallway with a thesaurus and a knitting project. But when managed well, she's an essential part of the team. She cleans up all sentences, adjusts flow of content, and does all proofreading tasks. (She hates how often the staff writers stick "words" like kinda and gotta into this blog. She can be somewhat mollified by gin. Don't tell her we know that.)
  • Public Relations Manager: She's our social media guru! She's overflowing with ideas for ways to get our words out there, meet the team's ideal audience, find out what that audience wants, and then give it to them! She's highly caffeinated and absolutely adores the Internet. If her doctor would allow it, she'd never sleep.
  • The Intern/Administrative Assistant: She's the catch-all girl, filling in all the gaps, doing what no one else seems to remember to do. She makes the coffee, cleans the junk out of the office area, purges file folders, makes sure all the tools and equipment run smoothly. She dashes out to grab office supplies, does preliminary research on projects, and performs assorted janitorial duties (bless her heart!). 

... Annnd that's my team. (We're interviewing a Publisher and an Accountant, because, you know, 2016 is when Everything Happens. But that's still down the road a teeny bit.)

Your team might look and feel a little different—you might have more roles, or less. More vivacious personalities or quieter ones.

The point is: We're embodying a variety of roles as writers, every day, every week. And I think it can be incredibly valuable to take some time and figure out: What does that particular role need? What is it missing? 

This is a great way to sift through the overwhelming feeling of "something's wrong," or "something could be running better." Or even, to avoid burnout and deep neglect before they even happen.

(Which is part of being a really stellar boss, by the way.)

What would happen if you had an interview with each member of your team? 

Yeah, I know. It's a little bit weird. But we're writers: we can get away with weird. Treat it like a freewriting exercise, and just see what happens. (It could be really cool.)

If you're up for it: Grab a blank notebook, or pull up a clean document on your computer.

Figure out who your team is, and what the general idea is behind each role. (If you don't know where to start, you can borrow my team's descriptions. I promise that they won't mind.)

When you have a clear-ish idea about which is which, ask each team member these questions, and then listen as they tell you. Take notes, jot down exact things that they say, and try to follow each thought further. 

Ready? Here goes: 

1) What is going really well in your job right now? What are you really happy with?

2) What is not going well? Where are you most frustrated?

3) Where do you feel like the rest of the team is asking too much of you? Do you feel undervalued?

4) What would you need so that you could do your job really, really well? (I.e., tools, more learning, celebration, extra support, assistance, time off, more time with a certain project, free time for brainstorming...)

5) What would make the environment you work in (the tools you use, the space you occupy, the sounds you hear) the best place for you to work?

6) Is there anything else you want to tell me? 

Okay. Maybe that felt a little hokey. Or maybe you realized something about how you work. 

For me, running through this exercise always amazes me, because it helps me realize how much I'm doing. It helps me respect each member of my team that much more. 

It makes me more patient, less demanding. I become more flexible with assigning deadlines, and more quick to add in support. 

What about you? What did you discover?

If we forget how many different roles we're doing, and how many different angles we're working from, we can feel at odds with ourselves.

And our whole team will wind up being understaffed and malnourished.

The goal of this experiment is to find a happy balance where each member of your team is satisfied. Where all their needs are met, and where each is operating out of their best possible environment.

That's an exciting thought, right? 

So don't be afraid to experiment a bit. And to recalibrate how you work until you get to that place.

Adjust a few things, see how everyone on your team feels, and then make new adjustments. 

Because if we can figure out how to do that, we're on our way to having a writing practice that runs incredibly well, that meets its goals, and does it all without killing us. 

Which sounds GREAT to me. 

And the rest of 2016? Pffft. No worries.

We'll climb those big mountains. Tackle those enormous goals.

We'll have our whole team striding forward together—and we'll be unstoppable.

If you want to dive deeper into creative self-management, you've gotta check out: Making Ideas Happen, by Scott Belsky, and Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon. They're keepers.

If Writing Is a Battle, Here's the Book You Need to Win the Fight

If you ever feel like you're battling it out alone at your writing desk, then this is the book recommendation you needed to hear. Get a coach, cheerleader, and master strategist in your corner. |

When you're doing something over the long haul—and I mean the LONG long haul, like sticking with amazing writing resolutions during 2016, or something impressive like that—it helps to have someone really solid in your corner.

Preferably someone who has had a ton of experience doing the same thing, who doesn't waste your time with a lot of blather, but instead gets right to the point with exactly what you need:

Smart encouragement, a discussion of strategy, or a for-your-own-good butt-kicking.


Well. The book The Art of War for Writers, by the mega-experienced James Scott Bell, has filled that exact role for me over the last few years. 

I love this book. And it's always exactly the thing I need! 

I'm a sucker for a good, extended metaphor. James Scott Bell draws on over 20 years of writing experience, and blends that with the classic by Sun Tzu: The Art of War.

(Sun Tzu's guide is not a writing book, by the way. It's about fighting. Just so we're clear.)

Why reference an ancient Chinese military expert, when we're trying to figure out a writing life?

Because every writer is in for a fight: against her own resistance, against the odds in this industry, against doubts and naysayers and dozens of other obstacles

So even though military strategy isn't a natural comparison for me, it makes for a solid and helpful framework.

The Art of War for Writers is divided into three sections: Reconnaissance (which is about "the mental game of writing"); Tactics (which is about improving your fiction craft); and Strategy (which is all about your publishing career over the long term).

(...If you have a nerdy streak like me, it might give you an extra thrill to think of your writing in terms like reconnaissance, tactics, and strategy. We're doing dangerous work at our desks!)

The entries are short. Most are two to four pages. Just long enough for Bell to explain his point, and for its pithiness to strike a chord in your writerly heart. 

It also happens to be the perfect length to read before diving into your day's writing, or maybe it's exactly the thoughtful note to end on, after your session. 

Orrrrr, maybe you'll just binge-read the whole thing on a weekend and feel like you've been to an incredible mini writer's conference. I'm not gonna stop you.

In the words of James Scott Bell:

You have it inside you to fight this fight.
Write, think about what you write,
then write some more.
Day by day. Year by year.
Do that, and you will jump ahead of 90 percent

of the folks out there who want to get published.

Right? I mean—right??

That's the kind of call to action you want, if you're going to see your writing resolutions through, if you're going to charge into the rest of 2016, and do it writing.

Grab this book for the best kind of coach, strategist, and cheerleader, all in one. 

And if you want a bit of that writing advice right this second: I really enjoyed these two interviews from Joanna Penn, talking with James Scott Bell on Writing, Self-Publishing, and the Business of Being a Pro Writer, and also on Writing Discipline and Mindset for Authors. Really great tips and wisdom in these!

(And I always love Joanna Penn. Add her podcast to your list, if you haven't already. She keeps me cheerful about the future of my writing career!) 

Flabbergast Yourself: Pursuing a Continual Sense of Wonder

Are you ignoring one of the core components of creativity? I kinda was. Let's fix that, so we can go write really amazing things. |

When was the last time something stopped you in your tracks and just amazed you?

When were you so intrigued by something that you lost track of time, lost track of everything, and just soaked up that thing? 

When was the last time you were overwhelmed by wonder?

One of the things I loved most about Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic (and there were a lot of things to love!) was how she described the request of her creative soul: "More wonder, please." 


I haven't thought much about that word, that idea. I tend to focus on inspiration, which is also a lovely word, but which is—for me at least—more cluttered with demands. 

Inspiration means: one thing causes another. Right? This moment, object, or sensation generates an idea.

Which is very cool. Which is something we writers subsist on. Absolutely.

Wonder, to my thinking, is more simple. It doesn't have to cause anything except a feeling. It doesn't have to give you ideas and the energy to make them.

All it does is amaze you. 

And maybe that leads to inspiration, and maybe that inspiration leads to work.

Or, maybe, it doesn't.

Maybe it just fills you up. Dazzles you. (Which is a nice feeling, by the way.)

Either way, I'm now convinced that it's one of the main food groups for artists. And that, the more wonder we soak up, the more creative energy we'll have for the art we create.

Wonder isn't a luxury.

Honestly, my first instinct with this? Is to just say: "That's nice."

That's nice. Good for you, wonder seekers. But I've got to be practical. I have deadlines and lists and stuff.

And besides, I don't always know what wonder is to me. 

Better to just skip it and get on with repairing my outline, right? Better to just optimize my drafting process, right?

I'd think all those thoughts very self-righteously... and then go through a period of burnout, and not understand why. (Hm.)

But what if wonder is like taking a daily multivitamin for your creativity? What if it boosts your anti-writer's-block immune system? What if it actually fuels your inspiration? 

What if it isn't a luxury at all? What if it's exactly what we need to be having?

The self-aware wonder seeker.

If wonder is the thing that fills up the well of creativity, and if it's part of that inspiration equation...

Then the question is: What astonishes you?

We owe it to our own creativity to figure out what that is. What are that paths you can take that you know will land you on wonder's doorstep? What is it that always yields a bit of amazement?

I have this feeling that it's gonna pay off for us big time if we can figure that out.

If this is a hard question, I totally get it. I'm with you. I actually feel like a complete novice with this. 

So, I'm gonna learn from someone I've learned from my whole life. 

My dad grew up in Nebraska—land of wild winters and scorching summers. And he has always modeled a wonder for the outdoors.

Great thing about the outdoors: It's big. Really, really, really big.

So it's a perfect starting point in our quest for wonder. 

... Because there are so many things to choose from!! If oceans don't inspire wonder for you, go to the mountains. If mountains leave you flat [sorry, couldn't resist], look to the desert, the arctic, the Amazon.

Or, look up.

My dad taught my sisters and me about the stars. Even when we were little kids, he patiently showed us the constellations, teaching us the distinctive patterns to look for, and how they all fit together. He would train his huge telescope at the moon and let us stare at the craters 'til our eyes watered.

Once he woke us in the middle of the night, and we scrambled into our clothes and drove out to the middle of the cornfields so we could watch a comet smudge the sky.

I have big wonder roots in the stars... But I forgot about most of that.

... Until I was messing around with watercolors and looking for a new subject. I googled photographs of the planets on a whim—and was startled at how much amazement bubbled up in me. 

Staring at their colors, at their immensity, and then dabbing a little version of them onto paper: I felt blown away. Definitely an experience of wonder.

So, if you've lost touch with this part of yourself, it might take a bit of exploring. Might help to figure out what moved you when you were a kid.

But however you get there, your creativity would love for you to know exactly what it is that dazzles you. 

Always nourish wonder. (So that wonder can always nourish you.)

Now that we know it's vital, and now that we have some ideas of what works for us, we have to make it part of our artistic practice.

This is something that I personally need to do a lot more of: Seeking wonder on a regular basis.

Right? Because it needs to be replenished. What about: a taste of wonder every day. Just something small, like painting the planets. Or cloud gazing. 

And then a really big hit of it on a regular basis. Maybe every weekend, or every other week: go for a wonder-seeking field trip. Finding a way to be astonished in a big way.

So what would that look like for you? How can you find five minutes to stare in amazement at something? Or to listen to some music that floors you?

And where could you go, or what could you do, to find wonder on a bigger scale?

Can we make the time for this? (Kinda like making time to breathe, making time to sleep...) 

And then, can we pay full attention, just focus everything we've got on the source of that wonder, and let it fill our creativity up?

Mmm. I think this is exactly what I need to be doing. I would love a wonder-filled 2016.

How about you?

Don't know where to start? Take a cue from my dad. His birthday's this weekend, so why not grab some time to step outside and find some stars. That light's been traveling a long time just so you could see it: sit with that fact a while, and let it blow your mind. 

What is wonder-full to you? What kinds of dazzling things are you exploring lately? Please share with all the lionhearts in the comments, so that we can rehab our sense of wonder together!

The Secret Weapon: Why You Really Don't Need to Talk about Your Writing Yet

There's the courage to do the work, and then there's the courage to *talk* about the work. Let's not get those confused. |

I'm about to make a lot of high achievers really, really mad at me. Because I'm going to go right against one of the most common tips on reaching your goals. (Something about Mondays. I always get rebellious.

On just about every "How to Set a Goal" article flying around the Internet, you'll see this tip: Make your goal public. 

Find a group of likeminded people. Get someone to hold you accountable. Post about your progress. Get others on board.

I don't have a problem with that in general, okay? I promise. So if you love the whole "be accountable" thing, then go for it.

But here's my counterargument. 

Sometimes, we might have just barely enough courage to do the New Difficult Thing, whatever that is. 

And maybe there's not quite enough courage left over to tell other people about it. To hear their comments mid-process. To check in with them. To let them challenge you. 

Oooh, I have SUCH a good solution for this problem. You ready? 


I mean it. Don't tell anyone!!

Start your crazy new project and keep absolutely quiet about it. Do your writing on the sly. Scribble away furtively in your closet. 

No one has to know about it right now.

That wonderful secretive silence gives the new idea some safe room to rattle around in your head. It gives you time to freewrite about it, explore the possibilities, refine your thoughts, and even play a bit.

At some point, you can definitely get other eyes and ears on the idea. Eventually, you can run a later draft past a few people.

But not yet. Not while it's soft; not while it's growing.

I'm convinced that there's more than one kind of courage at work in our writing lives. And it trips us up if we think that they're all the same, all the time. 

Don't confuse the bravery of doing the New Difficult Thing with the bravery of Telling People About It. 

You really don't have to be ready to tell people what you're up to at the same time that you are up to it

So, if you're feeling overwhelmed and not brave enough to do a goal that you'd really like to go after: I give you permission to zip it. Don't say anything. Keep it a secret.

What you might find is that secret keeping generates its own energy, and—what's really cool—its own bravery.

When I'm working on a story that no one else knows about, I feel like I've gotten back to the absolute heart of my writing: telling myself a story. Just for the heck of it. Just for the thrill of the tale.

That is a wonderfully exciting, pure, and yes, courageous place to work from. 

So don't feel like you need to muddy it by talking about it too soon. 

Keep it a secret for as long as you can manage. You'll be building your bravery as you develop your relationship with the project. You might be able to hear it more clearly, and work on it with more boldness.

And then, when the timing is right, you might find that you're actually ready to tell someone.

You were building the courage to speak up all along.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What gives you energy? What fills you up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what did you come up with?

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

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

What would that look like? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's Be Rebels: Take 15 Minutes to Upgrade Your Creativity

Sometimes radical things come in small packages: Here's a disarmingly simple idea for 15 countercultural minutes... which could shake up your day, your creativity, and (if you're like me), the rest of your life. This is big, exciting stuff: Don't say I didn't warn you! |

I'm in the mood to try something wildly countercultural. After all: It's Monday. Still the beginning of a new year. And we're creative people: switching things up is good for our souls.

So why not try a little rebellion, right? Sound good? 

Cool. Here's what we're going to do: 

We're going to not be afraid of being bored. 

Unafraid of blank moments in a day. Not at all worried about those minutes that have nothing scheduled, and nothing happening. 

No more hyperplanning around the possibility of "nothing to do."

I don't know about you, but I apparently have this protective reflex anytime I have a spare few minutes: I'll immediately cram them full of distractions, media, and busyness.

Instagram, Twitter, random Internet searches. Music, podcasts, or a crappy TV show that I don't care about and won't remember.

And if all that fails, my brain runs a list of dozens of things that maybe I could think about. 

Not important things, but just busy stuff. Low grade distractions. To do items. Ways to Fill Time.

I'm surrounded by a stream of noise that can be flicked on, with zero thought, to protect me from big bad boredom.

So I bring my smart phone everywhere, because I can always take a few seconds to check media. Keep Netflix up—I might want to watch something. Drag my planner around, in case I want to make some lists.

Whew. I can generate a lot of mental and media noise. 

And it drowns out this powerful truth, which I tend to forget: 

I am incredibly creative, when I give myself a chance to be.

I thrive in moments of intentionality. I flourish when I'm around quality.

In other words: not noise.

And the effect of all this self-distraction is to dull me to my creativity. To fill up my mind with more junk than it can digest. 

... Okay, before anyone gets worried, let me say: I am not anti social media. And I'm not trying to take some kind of stand against the Internet. (Big hug, Internet!!)

I'm not even against crappy TV. (I love some crappy TV.)

What I am very, very much opposed to is this:

Letting distractions bury what my creative mind might otherwise say. Filling my head with noise, at the cost of innovation, originality, or voice.

THAT is what terrifies me.

We're writers! We can't afford to suffocate our creativity. And certainly not on so flimsy an excuse as "but I might get bored," or "I had some time to waste."

Am I overreacting? I don't think so. Because something really cool happened to me recently.

In a group challenge (from coach Sarah Jenks), I was encouraged to give my brain some space and not fill every minute with some distraction. 

Instead, I would just listen. Not to all the mind chatter—like I said, I can make a zillion mindless lists, to fill up my time from here to eternity.

I was supposed to pay attention to whatever was going on under that. And if any big ideas showed up, I could jot them down.

I didn't think I really needed to do this, by the way. I write down big ideas from my brain all the time. (It's kinda my whole job description.)

But I gave it a shot. One evening, instead of browsing a dozen apps during a spare half hour, I just sat still with a notepad next to me. 

At first, it felt a little weird. I should be doing something. Right? 

And then, I started having a few quiet thoughts. Not for busywork, but actual intentional projects. They were little ideas, but they were sort of interesting.

I wrote them down, and then put the pad down and sat quietly again.

After about ten minutes, I started getting some amazing ideas.

Big dreams and directions for what I want 2016 to feel like. And I realized there are parts of my life that have been undernourished for a really long time, and maybe it's time to remedy that. 

With startling certainty, I realized that I want to create a lot more art, I want to make music on a regular basis, and I want to spend a ton of time outside. 


So, let's recap. I quit speeding through Instagrammed photos of art, I shut off Spotify, I stopped pinning pictures of other people's vacations.

And it only took half an hour of quiet to realize that I want to actually live those things, not just experience them third hand.

Well that's a pretty pithy revelation for just a little exercise. 

And when I act on that, and put it into practice during this year... well, it probably won't hurt my creativity as a writer. Might give me a little, no, a lot, more to work from.

Might even keep me sane while I do all that writing.

Oh, and P.S., I wasn't bored during that half hour of sitting.

Instead I felt very, very alive. 

It was so rewarding that I had to take a hard look at my habit of noise-making. Seriously, what's up with that? What am I so afraid of, that I can't sit quietly, that I have to have every minute filled with stuff?

... Why not stop?

How can we be fiercely creative if we're bombarded by noise?

It's a new year, and you and I have some really big goals. There are big plans afoot. 

And I'm guessing that those resolutions and goals are going to require a lot of our creativity. They'll need us to overcome new obstacles. We'll have to take fresh aim at our goals when we get knocked over, or find new information. 

Tackling a big project means we have to be problem solvers, we have to be hearty, we have to maintain our creative stamina. 

And if that's true... then I think we need to access our best ideas. Don't you? 

So let's give up our dependence on distraction.

Let's not be freaked out by the slightest chance that we may be bored with time on our hands.

Let's not underestimate the power of our creativity. ... It will probably have plenty to say when we quit drowning it in noise. 

Are you with me on this? Let's start small.

Try just fifteen minutes.

I'm not really interested in harsh decisions, or setting us all up for self-judgment. So I'm not saying "delete all your apps! this is a strict diet of silence!" or anything crazy.

So no worries. We don't need to outlaw all forms of distraction, all at once.

Instead, I'm looking for a small, sustainable shift. I'm going to find one place where I habitually rely on distraction and noise, and I'm going to replace it with a moment of stillness.

I'm going to give my mind a place to breathe.

I'm already excited about what might happen next.

Any of this resonating with you? What would happen if you swapped noise for silence? What if you risked "nothing to do," and ended up with some staggering ideas?

It doesn't have to be a huge time commitment: What if we found fifteen minutes of silence a day?

(Heck, if noise is as big a problem as I think it is, even five minutes could be huge.)

Let's be countercultural. Let's rebel against all this noise. Let's dare to give ourselves some space. 

... And then let's see what our minds come up with. 

We're Brave Enough To Embrace Change. (So bring it on, 2016.)

Our resolutions and challenges are going to change us: maybe every single part of us. Super exciting. A bit scary. Here's where we get the courage to tackle the big stuff. |

The courage that we need to dive into a challenge isn't just the bravery to face big obstacles, big effort, big problems.

We need the courage to face a new self.

Whatever challenge we are heading toward—whatever resolution we are most aiming to keep—it's going to turn us into new people. 

Which is amazing, wonderful, and worthwhile. But tough.

The courage it takes to dive into a challenge is transformative courage.

It's the kind of bravery we need while we change from the old person into the new one. 

Good stuff, right? I can nod along to all this: Yes, I want to be the kind of person who is professional, who reads a lot more fiction, who works out every day, who writes a bazillion books!

I want all those things! I'm up for the challenge! And I'm really excited to go for all my dreams.

 And yet, I don't want to give up my grip on the old person.

She's familiar. She's comfortable. Now and then she would eat a lot of cheese, curl up in baggy sweats, and watch black & white mystery shows on Netflix.

Might not be the stuff that moves mountains, but it was super.

Anyone with me on this?

Okay, so how do we do this thing: How do we find the courage to let go of our old selves, and reach for the new?

The courage to be transformed, the courage to become the new person who does the big thing?

A bit of understanding goes a long way.

It helps to see why we got to where we were before. 

Instead of shrieking "Baggy sweats again! You slob!" I've realized that I was doing something really necessary in those Netflix binge nights.

Those sweats were a haven for a while: it was a good place to be. And those mystery movies helped me deal with tough times. Three-times-a-week gin & tonics were a lovely reward at the end of some really hard, emotional days.

I made those choices for certain reasons, and I did the best with what I had. (Survival mode isn't always pretty.)

Don't leave a gap.

If that was the old way I relaxed, it's not going to work to just cut that habit out and replace it with "celery sticks and a nightly run." 

Yeah, that would take me toward my new goals, but the courage to stick that habit: it's just not there. I know that.

Instead, I'm looking at what I was accomplishing, with the g&t and Netflix. I felt cozy, relaxed, and nourished. (Kinda.)

Replacing this with a habit that thwarts that old instinct isn't going to last. But what if I replace it with: Fantastic fiction to read, a snuggly and beautiful afghan, and fruity green tea.

Whoa. Suddenly I have a new cozy, relaxing, nourishing habit. Which will be so much easier to fall into. 

When you want a new, splendid habit, try to line it up with something you were accomplishing in your old habit. I'm guessing we'll stick with it so much better.

Make a date with the Old You.

I don't know, maybe strict habit-setters would howl at this, but I think it's valuable: 

When I outlaw something entirely, forever and ever, I do a really bad job of sticking with it.

The habit itself feels really brittle. I start to think that if I backslide once, I'm done for.

... And then all I can think about is backsliding. 

Instead, I'm a fan of making a date with the old me. Of doing something I used to do all the time, but doing it intentionally, with boundaries.

So, I'm not trying to fall back into bad habits (and obviously, this won't work for certain toxic behaviors). 

Instead, I'm intentionally revisiting an old space, in a healthy way. 

I still love a good gin & tonic. I still love a mystery movie binge. 

But not every night. Maybe only on the weekends. Or even: every other weekend.

See what I mean?

What's really exciting is when you've lost your taste for the old thing: Discovering that the old behavior has lost its grip on you. That's what makes this step so powerful

If the old habit wasn't a terrible thing, it can be safely revisited and enjoyed, without wrecking all your plans.

Stay close to your deeper reasons.

As I'm implementing new behaviors and new routines, small step by small step, it helps me to keep remembering why these small things matter. 

I remind myself all the time how the small parts of these habits add up. How the bigger habits move me more toward the kind of writer, the kind of creative, and the kind of woman I most want to be.

I mentioned this in the last post, but it's worth saying again: Having a really deep purpose, and a clear vision of what you're aiming for, goes such a long way for anchoring new habits. 

If a resolution is surface-based, it can be shrugged off as a whim. 

But when I've attached it to more deep and true ideas of who I want to be, my motivation increases. 

Like my new reading plan: It isn't about checking titles off a list. It's about becoming the kind of thinker and wordsmith I want to be for the rest of my life. 

That's the kind of motivation I need to give up Netflix.

It's so much easier to let go of old habits when I have my heart firmly set on becoming more of who I was designed to be.

So try it. Surround yourself with encouraging quotes, with handwritten reminders. Journal about it. Do some freewriting.

But keep pointing yourself toward the kind of person you want to be, and keep that vision clear and strong. 

The clearer that vision is, the easier it is to love every step of the process.

Celebrate. Every step forward.

If you've hung out here a while, you know that this is how I like to do things: We celebrate. We celebrate every little thing.

Because I think that joy and courage can go hand in hand. Bravery strengthens enthusiasm; cheerfulness empowers courage. 

It's a brilliant cycle.

So, seriously: congratulate yourself for every tiny step (and half-step) that you take forward. 

Don't shrug it off, don't roll your eyes, and don't berate yourself for not having everything done at once

Love yourself through the whole process of this transformation, and you'll find more and more courage rising to help you. 

You want a quote? I totally want a quote. I saw this recently on Twitter, thanks to the brilliant K.M. Weiland

Remember that writing is translation, and the opus to be translated is yourself. — EB White.

WHOA, right? I mean—right?? Isn't that the truth of it? 

Every piece I've written, every single one, has translated some of me into the piece.

But it's also translated me into a whole new version of myself.

Pretty incredible, when you think about it.

Even little pieces, like these blogs: it doesn't seem noticeable, one blog at a time, but can I just say that I'm such a different person now, thanks to nearly a year of steady blogging? 

And honestly, I'd rather be this version of myself. (She's so much more fun!)

So, I'm up for it, 2016. I don't know what this will look like. Maybe the changes will be small, or maybe I won't even recognize myself. 

Either way, I'm in. I'm all in. 

Keeping Resolutions 101: How to Relish a Challenge

You and I, we have some BIG plans brewing in 2016! How do we tackle our resolutions with grace? How do we actually *enjoy* the challenge? Six strategies for weathering whatever is ahead. |

Day Four of the new year: How's 2016 treating you? And how does that list of resolutions look? 

Are they still exciting? Still inspiring? What are your plans for these next twelve months?

I have some big ones. And the biggest is: I want to publish Book One of my trilogy by the end of this year.

(Holy crap, did I just say that out loud.)

No matter what. Come what may. In spite of all the dissenting voices in my head.

It's time, and it's happening, and by the last day of 2016, that book will be for sale, y'all!!

I am super excited, and yes, a bit daunted. Right now the novel is in teeny tiny pieces taped to my wall. So I have a bit of a challenge on my hands.

But I've also realized this: I want to relish this process. I want to actually enjoy the road to publication.

I don't want to drag myself through these next twelve months as a nervous wreck. Whining. Complaining. Venting all my fears.

I've tried those strategies for weathering challenges before, and I have to say: I'm not a fan.

Chocolate, dance parties, not taking myself toooo seriously, and laughing: those are my preferred strategies for 2016. 

So this January, I want to psych myself up. I want to think about what it looks like to love a challenge: even a really big one like "publishing the beloved first novel." 

What's going on inside ourselves when we're totally up for something big? How do we weather a challenge with grace? And still have enough grit and fire to get the thing done?

I did a bit of digging and came up with six things that are all functioning when a challenge is handled well. 

1.) Get all that sleep.

It's an obvious one, but when I'm knee-deep in a challenge, sleep is the last thing on my mind. 

I need to stop messing around when it comes to getting a real eight-hour rest. It's good for the body, sure, but it's also incredibly good for our minds. And we writers want both to flourish, right?

Not to mention: emotional health. There's a lot less drama (shrieking, wailing, naysaying) in my head and heart when I've had enough sleep.

Getting enough energy for our bodies, minds, emotions: That's step one. And then we can bring all that power to bear on our challenge of choice.

2.) Take the ability to focus up a notch or two.

After reading The One Thing, I've become allergic to multitasking. Seriously. 

It seemed like I was always trying to do two or three things at once: Carry on a texting conversation while reading a book while checking in on Twitter. Watching a movie while researching a few things on my phone. Listening to a podcast while making dinner while having a conversation.

I felt like I was doing so many things, and nothing well. Ack.

The decision to do only one thing at a time has been huge. It sounds so small, but the change in my head is amazing. So much more ability to get something done. 

And if we're facing big challenges this year, why go about it with a totally diffused focus? With scattershot energy?

Try it. Give yourself a little dare. Do only one thing at a time. Step back from the noise, put away your phone, pause the music, and devote all your attention to just one thing.

And see what happens.

3.) And while we're focusing: don't over-challenge yourself.

It's so easy for me to want to overhaul my whole life, all at the same time.

Seriously. The last few weeks, I've been jotting down dozens of challenges and mini-challenges and goals and new habits. 

It's easy to go wild, to want to do everything, to make it all new. A fresh start. But that's one of the quickest and saddest ways to burn myself right out. 

So the other side of focus is: Try to limit the number of challenges you're giving yourself.

I am far more successful when I scale it back and try one major challenge at a time.

Or, if I have to try two or three big things at once, I keep them in separate arenas: One health challenge, one work challenge, one lifestyle change.

4.) Don't forget to play. 

When I'm starting something new, my terrified little brain will overthink. And overplan. And then overschedule the overplan. I will try to cover every single base, months (okay, okay, even years) in advance.

The funny thing is: I don't actually love to implement that overscripted plan. In spite of all the work that went into planning, that final arthritic schedule makes me a little nauseous. 

I need to leave room to play. Room for spontaneity, even in the midst of a serious challenge. 

Blanks to fill in "when I get there." Room to grow, to discover, to explore.

It can seem counterintuitive in the planning stage, but a bit of room in a challenge keeps me flexible (a valuable skill in itself!).

It helps me recover when my thinking has backed me into a corner. And it gives me the space to solve the new problems that come up (because they totally will).

How can you leave some room in your 2016 plans for a chance to discover? A chance to play with ideas a bit, a chance to incorporate information that you find along the way?

Can you leave some dots unconnected? A little wiggle room?

5.) Make space in your life for the challenge. And protect that space.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but I can't tell you how many times I charge into a big plan only to realize that it will take way more time than I guessed.

There are hidden parts to any challenge that take extra logistics, extra thinking, extra energy. 

(If you've ever had a mega computer malfunction in the midst of a writing deadline, then you're totally with me on this point.)

What has helped me so much in the last few months is clearing more space than I thought I needed. (Guess what. I totally needed it.)

We writers need a bit of solitude for our brains to sink into ideas. We need a bit of free space in our lives, space for ideas and thoughts to breathe a little. 

If you're aiming at something big in 2016, give yourself permission to clear the clutter from your life. The small nagging commitments, the extras that might have crept into your days.

Don't try to fill up every minute. 

Get yourself out of anything you don't need to be doing. Give yourself a lot of room. More room than you think you might need. 

6.) Find the deeper purpose.

I can't make an aimless challenge stick. Doing something "just because" has never worked out very well for me. 

The resolutions and habits that have actually stuck, have done well, have lasted: they've always had an extra purpose to them. 

They're always solving something at a deep level.

I used to think that "proving myself" was a good enough reason to write. That I could write "because I was good at it," or even "to earn money."

The last few years have shaken and kicked those ways of thinking right out of me. 

I'm writing harder than ever, but with a totally different motivation. 

I flat-out adore my characters, for one thing. They've taught me so much about the kind of human I want to be, about the family I want to have, about the changes I want to see in the world.

Telling their story has been such a privilege and a joy for me: and also a ridiculously good time. And so, yeah: I want to share that with people.

But also, this: being eleven years old totally sucked for me. It just did. It was a low point. ... Which is why I can't even tell you how happy it makes me to write a book for eleven-year-olds. 

A book about bravery, about fighting hard for what you love, about family, about adventures. About finding out that you are a bigger person than you ever dreamed. 

That kind of book.

It's a way of going back and doing something good about a tough time in my life. It's a way of solving something. Fixing something.

It used to be that I just wanted to prove all the naysayers wrong, and publish a whole bunch of books, and live happily ever after with my bestsellers.

Now it's about love. Loving the work, loving my eleven-year-old self, loving the kids who are that age now. 

Maybe that sounds soppy, but it's a much bigger, deeper, and more constant motivator for me than having some kind of credit by my name.

So what does that look like for you? What's the purpose behind the challenge you're facing? What's the real point of the story you're writing? What are you really trying to do?

Okay, lionhearts. So how are you feeling? Bold and brave? A bit nervous? Or all of that?

Are you on the brink of a big challenge in 2016? I'd love to hear about it. Let's cheer each other on this year!