Real talk, now: What's actually holding you back? (A Resource Festival for Conquering Our Inner Obstacles)

There are some qualities far more essential to our work than writing ability or productivity. Qualities that matter more than novel structure or marketing. Until we have these straight, nothing much matters. | lucyflint.com

As I dove happily into The Artist's Way this spring and summer, I felt myself learning more and more about how I work, how I resist my work, and how I've invented and cultivated so many obstacles for myself over the years. 

It's been eye-opening. Definitely life-changing.

... Which is why I can't stop talking about it!! ;)

But I realized pretty quickly that the issues I uncovered in myself went further and deeper than I could fix with a few journal entries or a handful of imaginative tasks.

And much as I love positive affirmations, I wanted to find even better resources for putting Humpty Dumpty together again.

Well. Let me just say: I DID.

It happened when I was about three weeks into The Artist's WayI was discovering, vividly, how deep and extensive and twisted the roots of my perfectionism and shame are.

I was on the phone to my younger sister, telling her about all this crazy stuff I was digging up in my life. And she started raving about this speaker and social researcher, Dr. Brené Brown.

"I've seen a couple of talks of hers. She does a lot of work with shame and vulnerability," my sister said. 

"HOLD UP," I said, clutching the phone tighter. "I have shame! I didn't even realize that's what it was called, but I have so much shame! And I'm terrible at being vulnerable!"

"You need to read her books," my sister said. "Seriously."

A few days later, she texted me that she had, as she put it, gone down the Brené Brown rabbit hole on the Internet, and that everything she was learning and finding was incredible. 

And freeing.

My sister told me, She deals with perfectionism!  

And also with trust. With shame. With courage.

With how to put yourself and your work out there in the world, and not die because of it.

She had my attention.

I put a Post-It note on my computer screen: Go down the Brené Brown rabbit hole! 

I did a little dabbling here and there, reading her blogs and listening to her TED talks. And then when I was sick with a cold for one extended weekend, I dove in the rest of the way.

I listened to talks and podcasts and interviews, one after the other. I took notes. I ordered her books.

You guys. This stuff is legit.

See, thanks to Julia Cameron and The Artist's Way, I had been realizing—for the first time—how grade school had totally transformed how I think of myself and my work. 

The short version is: I was a naturally good student. I did well on tests, I understood the material quickly, and I made stellar grades.

I also learned very quickly and very early, that that's the exact way to paint a HUGE target on your own back in grade school.

It's bully fodder, plain and simple. Everyone loves to kick the smart kids. (Even some teachers.)

I learned that if I wanted to survive, I had to shut up, blend in, and become as inconspicuous as I possibly could.

I hid my talents; I hid my grades. I swallowed my academic excitement. And I internalized this message: "It is not okay to do well. If you must do well, don't let anyone know or find out."

I figured that out before I was eight. And I never tried to shake it off. 

So even in college, as an English major and writing minor, as I was working on an honors thesis with a professor I deeply admired (and was therefore totally terrified of), I never once asked for a face-to-face meeting with him.

I'd sneak to his office and stick my latest thesis draft in his mailbox and creep away. I didn't talk much to my friends about my honors project either, because my whole past told me loud and clear, That's how you lose friends.

If you're doing well, don't let it be noticeable. Keep your voice down. Or everyone will hate you.

Fast forward to working on a trilogy of novels that I want to be amazing, to dreams about publishing ... and is it any wonder that I haven't kept going, that I haven't taken that leap, that I always stop short and pull my books apart and decide they aren't worth it? 

... Yep, I know. This is a little heavier than my usual. But I just want to offer up my experience as a kind of case study, because I'm so shocked to see what I've been living with, even in my normal, non-traumatic, supported-by-family life. 

This is the stuff that's been buried under my work for all these years, and I didn't even realize it. 

It's been radiating poison up through the layers of my drafts and my learning: this constant message to shut up, blend in, don't be anything other than ordinary or you will lose everyone you care about.

Whew!

... I love Julia Cameron and all, but dealing with this kind of thing takes bigger, more specific guns.

And Brené Brown brings the firepower. 

Oh my friends. I don't even know what to say to you, I just want to get some coffee and climb through the screen and sit with you, and let's just watch all her videos and read her books out loud and encourage each other to live brave, bold, Wholehearted lives and then write our brains out with total courage.

Can we do that, please?? 

sigh.

I don't have that particular super power, so I'm just going to sit here and tell you a smidge about why she's so amazing, and you'll just have to promise me that you'll drink some nurturing beverage and deeply consider all this good stuff, okay?

Okay. *hug*

Like I said, I dove head-first into Brené Brown's work, because everything I found through The Artist's Way showed me how much of a mess I was.

I felt excited and a bit desperate: How would I work to heal my perfectionism, how would I learn to stop blending in and sacrificing originality, and how would I learn to have the courage to share my imperfect work? 

I listened to her talks and learned about the power of vulnerability and the damaging effects of shame: core concepts in her research.

Yes, research: she's a professor and a qualitative researcher, so her talks and her books are based on data. A lot of data. 

And I love that, because she's not just a nice lady saying, "this is a pretty way to live." She's a total data analysis geek, and she's saying, this is what the numbers say.

Even more powerfully than that, she's saying that what her research turned up convinced her to change her life. And because of that, she's sharing that information with us. 

So it's real. It's true. It works.

And it's essential.

Where are you at these days, my friend?

Are you, like me, struggling against perfectionism, an ugly past, a lack of courage? 

Are there some old scars tugging at you, pulling you back? Some toxic messages telling you to keep your voice down, your stories under wraps? 

That stuff is brutal. And if we don't learn how to face it, and practice the ninja moves we need to twist out of its grip, then a lot of us are going to stay silent. 

And honestly? I just don't think that's okay. I don't want any more writers and creatives and artists staying stuck in the evil quicksand of shame and perfectionism and lies. 

So here are some of the amazing Brené Brown resources that I've started using. They are helping reshape the way I think about myself, the people around me, and the work I do.

Please please please, check them out: 

1. The talks! (TED and others)

This is Brené Brown 101. In her massively popular talks, The Power of Vulnerability, and Listening to Shame, you'll learn some of her key concepts and start your journey into a shame-resilient practice.

(I know. I know. It's pretty amazing!) 

And then, for our creative souls, here is an incredible talk that she gave at 99u. I love this one, because she's speaking specifically to people who 1) make stuff, and then 2) put it into the world. So this is essential wisdom for us lionhearted writers!

Finally, she and Elizabeth Gilbert have a lovely, empowering conversation about creativity and empathy on this podcast (season 1, episode 12), which, if you're like me, will absolutely shake up the way you think about your creativity.

(And it also might make you want to adopt Brené Brown as an aunt so that you can pop over at least once a week for coffee and a long conversation. Or maybe that's just me. But I think we could be friends.)

2. The books!

The Gifts of Imperfection: I raced through this book over one long weekend (it's a short one, a quick read).

She presents ten qualities that she found over and over to be essential for living a full, healthy, amazing life. She calls that kind of life Wholehearted

She talks about courage and love and compassion and belonging and the idea of "being enough" in a way that was totally new and revelatory to me. (As well as VITAL in defeating those ugly voices that haunt me from childhood.)

And then she walks out those ten qualities she kept seeing (as well as their opposites). 

She discusses: authenticity instead of approval; self-compassion instead of perfectionism; resilience instead of numbness; gratitude and joy instead of scarcity and dread; intuition instead of certainty; creativity instead of comparison; play and rest instead of productivity as self-worth; calm instead of anxiety; meaningful work instead of self-doubt; and laughter, song, and dance instead of being "always in control".

HOLY MOLY, my friends. 

Everything she described resonates with me. The kind of person I want to be, and the kind of courageous writer I aspire to, would be defined by those positives.

Authenticity? Heck yes! Resilience and gratitude? Gorgeous. 

Someone who practices self-compassion, creativity, and play? Who allows for intuition and cultivates calm? Geez. I'd love to just splash around in all those things!

But if I'm honest, I'm much more defined by seeking approval, overvaluing productivity, feeling dread and scarcity, numbing out, being anxious, and dying for certainty. 

... Qualities that basically suffocate the life out of my writing and my heart.

This beautiful, kind, compassionate book is helping me change course, oh-so slowly.

It's the starting point for turning the ship, changing the messages I didn't realize I believed. It's helping me question the values that I assumed were vital and important and sure.

If you're struggling with perfectionism, or if you feel like your life is just smaller than you want it to be—I can't recommend The Gifts of Imperfection enough!

Daring Greatly: I'm midway through this book, and if you want to dive into the concepts of shame and courage more deeply, OH MY GOSH, this is your book.

It's amazing. That's all. Just straight up amazing and it's reshaping who I am with every little bit I read.

(Check out this brief glimpse into what inspired the book. And yep, that quote still brings tears to my eyes.)

I'm taking a bazillion notes as I read Daring Greatly, and I'm seeing myself much more clearly—this freaky little dance I do to keep myself from being vulnerable, real, open, courageous.

I'm so excited to get free of this, my friends. 

Rising Strong: I haven't read this one yet, but I adore the premise. As Brené Brown says over and over: if courage is a value that we now have, we'll eventually fail.

We'll eventually put something out there that doesn't go over well, and we have to know how to get back up and go on. How to rise strong.

And that's the premise of this book. As someone who wants to write dozens and dozens of novels, I'm so freaking excited about it. (Check out the short Rising Strong manifesto here. It gives me chills!)


... I know this isn't exactly my usual post style, friends.

I don't have anything fancy or tidy to say about all of this, because I don't have answers in place. I'm in process, in the mucky messy early stages of pulling old beliefs apart and practicing the new ones.

I'm working hard to learn these things, because I'm deeply convinced of their worth. I'm catching little glimpses of freedom, moments where I'm choosing to be authentically myself, where I'm growing in my self-compassion. 

I love those moments.

It feels like a totally new way to be myself. Like I'm finding a richer, truer version of me, stashed deep under all these layers and old lies—but I'm finding her, I'm pulling her up to the light, and I'm dedicated to practicing this new way of being.

Here's the thing: Who are you? Underneath old lies and toxic messages and historic scars? The poisons you swallowed a long time ago? 

Who are you as a person, as an artist, as a voice, as a writer?

Do you know what's holding you back? Do you know how to move forward, how to heal, how to be your full and dazzling and Wholehearted self? 

Because that's the journey I'm going on. And I would love some company.

These tools that Brené Brown shares in her books and her conversations and her talks—they're ESSENTIAL for doing all that we want to do.

For having the heart to write, the perspective to accept imperfection, the courage to publish, the resilience for dealing with critics, as well as the ability to get up again, when we write something that fails. 

In other words, I am convinced, right down to my marrow, that the tools and thinking that Brené Brown provides are as vital to our writing lives as a concept of plot, character, setting, novel structure, and language.

Personally, if I don't learn this, nothing of mine will get out the door. 

That's how huge this is.

There's no lionhearted, and there's no writing, and there's not even much of a life, without this stuff. 

So. If you, like me, had been hearing Brené Brown's name around on the Internet, and didn't know what all the fuss was about, welp, now you know.

And if you, like me, have felt yourself trapped by things in your writing life that you didn't fully understand—your courage sapped and your perfectionism roaring, your voice hindered and your steps shaky...

This is how we get out of all that.

As we learn to be free, courageous, and authentic, won't our writing just shine that much more?

As we practice compassion and resilience, we'll learn to publish without that suffocating question of "what will everyone else say?!" 

Oh my friends.

What will happen then?

When we learn to take our Wholehearted selves and our Wholehearted books into the arena, publish with courage, and stand up even in the face of critics and failure? 

What happens next?

I don't know. I can only barely imagine it. But when I do, I get goosebumps and chills and I cry a little and also start grinning, all at once.

Because that's where I'm heading. I've decided. 

And I hope you're coming along too.

Unleashing Bravery Into Your Writing Life

Writing takes guts. Here's where to get a bravery boost. | lucyflint.com

Bravery never came easily for me.

Being a kid and being a teenager just felt like a long series of different kinds of fear. Know what I mean?

Scared of what my teachers thought of me, scared of classroom bullies, scared of failing.

Which is why "trying to be brave" has always been part of my vocabulary. 

Growing up, heading off to college, choosing writing as an emphasis, reading my poems and short essays in front of an audience—

Trying to be brave. Every step of the way. 

It is hard work, trying to cultivate gumption!

But oh, you already know this. Because you're a writer.

And writing takes guts.

No surprise, then, that the last lionhearted trait to discuss in this series is this one: Bravery. 

A lionhearted writer works with courage

I want a writing practice that's infused with courage. At every stage, every level.

Because letting all the fears run the writing show? Means that there isn't a writing show. 

When fear has the final say, we lose everything. Ev-ery-thing!!

Our material, our willingness to protect our writing time, our belief that our words have any importance. 

Fear zaps our conviction that we can learn how to do this thing. Our belief we will get better at it. Our determination to come back to it again (and again! and again!!).

To create a writing life, to grow at writing, it takes courage.

Buckets of it.

So there are two things I want to do right now, to stir up our bravery.

First, let's revel in a few quality quotes about what courage looks like. 

And second, let's talk through one huge way to steadily gain courage, every day. (It's a good one!)

Sound good? 

Here you go, a mini quote fest on courage!

If you're going through hell, keep going. -- Winston Churchill. (We're talking about a bravery blast over at lucyflint.com)

PROBABLY Winston thought of that while revising one of his amazing books. Probably. Just a guess. ;)

Daring greatly is being brave and afraid every minute of the day at the exact same time. -- Brené Brown | We're having a bravery blast over at lucyflint.com

I love this. (Can't beat Brené Brown for good courage talk!) 

We all need to be reminded: the presence of fear doesn't negate our bravery, our courage. 

Even with a quivering heart, we can still dare greatly—in our writing, our thinking, our creativity, our stories.

Sometimes heroism is nothing more than patience, curiosity, and a refusal to panic. -- Leif Enger | (We're having a bravery blast over at lucyflint.com)

The awesomest little cocktail of bravery ever. One of my favorite approaches for staying the course.

Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow." -- Mary Anne Radmacher | It's a total bravery blast over at lucyflint.com

Yes! This too. One of the best forms of courage for a writing life.

Let's always say that, okay? I will try again tomorrow.

Mmmm.

Finally, this one. C.S. Lewis (one of my absolute favorite writers!) had this to say about courage in The Screwtape Letters:

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. 

I completely, completely love this. 

You take a virtue, a characteristic, a trait. How about the lionhearted trait of kindness, from last Thursday?

All right. Kindness looks like kindness, right? 

In its smallest, simplest form, it's pretty straightforward. Easy. No big deal. 

But what happens when things heat up? When you run into problems that make it hard to be kind? 

It takes a lot more determination to act on that level of kindness, right? 

And then, when the obstacles increase, when the stakes are higher—what does kindness look like when it's hard, really really hard, to be kind?

Well, according to Lewis (who was pretty smart): at that fiercest point of testing, at the point of highest reality, the ability to be kind is the same exact thing as courage itself.

Because if we're not brave enough to be kind when it really matters, when it's really hard, then we're not really kind, right?

Make sense? 

The point, the point that I love, is this: if we want to get better at courage, it means we dive in deeper to these other characteristics

If we want to be brave with our kindness, we practice being kind, even when it stings, even when it hurts.

We find that edge where it gets hard, where it's easier to give up—and that's where we focus our effort and our strength.

And THAT is how to grow our courage.

So how do we bring a lot more bravery into our writing lives?

By growing at each of these lionhearted writing characteristics. 

And the more we do that, the more we'll see courage, all along the growing edge.

When our trust in ourselves is put to the test, the ability to keep on trusting is gonna look identical to courage

And when our patience has been tested and tested, and it's looking more than a little frayed, the decision to not flip out, to carry on, to keep pressing forward—that's going be exactly the same thing as courage.

Firing up ambition when it's so much easier to just stop challenging ourselves? That's courage.

Choosing contentment in the midst of a comparisonitis culture = some pretty radical courage. 

Picking the wisest path, loving the ugliest parts of the writing life, leaning in to the wildness of what we do, and gripping kindness in both hands even when it's darned hard

It's courage. All of it. 

Lionhearted courage is a composite. It's made up of all of these traits. And as we grow in each of these qualities, as we get stronger in each one, as we practice them all, come what may—

We become amazingly brave, incredibly courageous writers.

THAT is the essential lionheart. 

That is what we are heading toward together.

Does it sound a little daunting? (I mean... it kinda does, right? Exhilarating, sure. But also a little daunting.)

The good news is that this can be done bit by bit. 

Stretch yourself now and then.

Pick a quality or two and lean toward them harder today. You're flexing your courage muscle!

For me, today, I am practicing trusting myself, and I'm choosing patience instead of flipping out. Even though it's hard (SO HARD today!). Even though I can feel the strain.

... But I keep working at it, and right there in that moment, there is courage.

So what qualities are you practicing today?

Keep ramping them up, keep growing at them, and—oh! There it is.

There. Right there.

Look at how brave you are.

Can We Have a BIG GROUP HUG, Please?

This blog is over a year old! And I'm ... slightly older than that today! So let's toast each other and set our aim on another year of good writing and being brave about that. (Also, let's have cake.) | lucyflint.com

Okay, it's my birthday. Which means I get to do a bunch of toasting, right? Birthday girls get to make speeches. And I'm allowed to get a little sentimental, right? Okay. Good. All right.

I started this blog a little over a year ago. Crazy how quickly that time has gone! I just wanted to explore what I'd learned so far about the writing life.

And--for everyone who had been asking me what I did and how I did it--I wanted to pass along anything useful, anything helpful.

And then six months ago, I kicked it up a few notches with a big re-design. (Big!) I figured out that I wanted more courage, that I wanted to develop this idea of a lionhearted writing life. That I wanted to find other brave souls who were putting words on paper.

And then YOU showed up! 

Hundreds and then thousands of you! 

You've been reading and commenting. You have tweeted and pinned and posted. You shared your stories of how you think about the writing life--what's been hard, what's been good. We've commiserated and we've celebrated. 

I'm so proud of us all! 

All these words we're writing! These blank pages being filled! 

There are stories churning among us; there are tales being told!

We're not alone, all of us lionhearted creators. We're not alone. 

If I could give out a party favor in this little sentimental speech-of-a-post, it would be superhero capes.

Because 1) WHY NOT, seriously! And because 2) we are each of us bold and brave.

And because 3) I firmly, sincerely, down-to-my-toes believe that stories are one of the best weapons against darkness. 

We're telling stories. We're fighting back the dark. And that is no small thing, my courageous-even-when-we're-also-shaking-in-our-boots friends.

That's no small thing.

So here's to another year of it! 

Another year of sharing our stories about our stories. Another year of getting better at writing. Of reading fantastic books and talking about them.

Another year of becoming more brave in what we write and how we write it. 

This is our job, friends! The best job in the world

I don't know exactly what this next year holds. And if I've learned one thing about the course my writing takes, it's this: All my predictions are wrong! Hahahaha!

Ahem. But that said, I'm hoping that Book One of my middle-grade adventure trilogy will be ready to sell at this time next year. (Or at least, verrrrrrrry nearly.)

Because, oh, I can't wait to introduce you all to my brave little main character, her irrepressible sister, and their reluctant aunt. This story that's existed in my head for so long might finally be ready to make its way in the world. Maybe when I turn 32, eh? 

However it turns out: I'm hoping and trusting for good things in the year ahead.

I'll keep aiming at a good writing life. A healthy, perfectionism-free one.

A writing practice with a lot of heart, a lot of grace, and a lot of courage. Just like the stories I most love and most need.

But for now, I'm so grateful for this community of fellow writers, fellow readers, fellow dreamers.

My fellow lionhearts! Thanks for honoring me with your time, with reading these posts, with your happy dances on Pinterest and Twitter and Facebook.

Here's to growing our courage next year! Here's to better stories and deeper characters!

Here's to tales that change lives: our own lives first, and then many many others!

I love ya. Can I say that? Sure, it's my birthday. I love you, my dear readers, my fellow lionhearts. Thanks for being brave right alongside me. 

Lean in. Let's have a big group hug. And a big group picture.

Say cheese, hold that funny face, wave at the camera, brandish your new superhero capes-- Click.

There. Thanks. I'll treasure that.

Okay. Now let's all find some CAKE.