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

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

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

Especially my instincts about my writing life. 

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

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

I have never regretted doing this.

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

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

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

Wait, what?!

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

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

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

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

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

Only . . . 

Only it hasn't. 

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

So why isn't everything fixed? 

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

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

I read it in a whirlwind of excitement and hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yay. Good effort, good work, good food.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep.

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

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

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

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

In the meantime, three things for you: 

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

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

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

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

Where do you need permission to unplug?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

(I have been seriously missing my oomph.)

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

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

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

Or something else even wilder. Okay? Okay.

Dealing With Our Kryptonite: Recognizing and Overturning Writing Life Weaknesses

Four major writing life weaknesses that can sap our strength and torpedo our energy. Know 'em, and know what to do to overcome them! | lucyflint.com

So far in this Building Strength series, we've covered a lot of ground!

We talked about being clear on what we consider strength is (because different strengths matter to each of us!), and we've talked about ways to strengthen our creativity, our enthusiasm, and our overall writing sustainability.

And then, just to kick things up a few notches, we checked in with the book Deep Work, because it has great points that will make us stronger writers: like how to supercharge our ability to focus. And, at the same time, how to deepen and strengthen our ability to recharge.

WOW. So, you feeling those muscles yet?

Today I wanna switch gears a little and work on strength from a different angle.

Namely: What makes us weak? What weakens our writing lives? 

What saps our strength, drains our energy, muddies our abilities? What's our kryptonite?

I've rounded up the usual suspects in my own writing life. See if any of these behaviors have snuck into your writing life too:

Skipping breaks.

Let's start with this one, because I have our last post about recharging on the brain

I know that this won't apply to everyone, but for anyone pursuing full-time creativity, this can be a struggle. And I personally fall into this trap a lot.

Here's the deal: I cannot be purely creative and focused and hardworking for eight hours straight. Cannot be done.

... And I can type that, and nod very sincerely at my computer screen, and even mean it, and then go off and think that I am invincible and needeth not such breaks.

This is a problem.

My best true version of my work schedule looks like this: Two hours of intense, focused, deep work, followed by one hour of pure recharging. (Which usually means, getting some good food, moving around, doing a workout, or even taking a nap.)

Then two more hours of intense work, and, yep, another hour to recharge. (A snack, maybe time spent outside if the weather is nice, doing some art...)

Finally two hours of taking care of all the shallower work, the smaller things, and then my shutdown ritual. With that, I'm done for the day.

Sounds straightforward. Super health-focused (because I've learned the hard way that I've gotta be). 

This is what can happen, though: I'll start late. Maybe because I slept in after a late night. Or maybe I got caught in a morning discussion or media dive that got all my creativity fizzing but also made me late for work. 

So I plow into the day, and work straight through my breaks, because I think don't have the time to stop.

And at the end of the work day, I'm a zombie.

I mean it. You can't get any sense out of me. I'm stumbling around, bleary-eyed and brain dead. And, at that point, my next work day is automatically harder. I have less mental flexibility, and less focus, and less motivation.

It's a really bad cycle! Easy to fall into; hard to break out of.

Those recharging periods within my work day are absolutely essential to my creativity: I need to refresh my mind by getting back into my senses. I need to stare at clouds, eat some good food, take a walk. Besides, we're not supposed to sit for hours and hours! 

The biggest single help in fighting this has been to remind myself of two things: 

1) That rest is one of my new core values. I have to be rested to work well, to do what I love, and to enjoy life. It's just that true, that simple.

2) That play and rest are prerequisites to doing good work. Period. 

My reminder of choice is an index card near my computer. "Rest is a core value," it announces. "Don't neglect your breaks!" 

It reminds me that this is the kind of writer I want to be: One who is rested, one who isn't a zombie, and one who has a wealth of imaginative details in her pockets.

Breaks ensure a better writing day, and a better writing week. Even if they need to be much less than that luxurious hour, they have to happen, or I'm toast. 

How about you? Do you interject moments of rest within your creative work? Even if you're working in shorter spurts, do you still get a moment to pull back and recharge, before diving back in?


Overthinking.

Overthinking has been my lifelong nemesis.

And "lifelong" isn't an exaggeration: I have memories of being super young and paralyzed by decision-making overload, going back and forth between two possibilities. (There is an epic family story about my inability to choose between a hamburger and a cheeseburger. Yep, it's real.)

It is so easy for me to get stuck, to get pulled into this trap of cerebralizing and analyzing. Breaking down the problem from every single side, every possible angle.

Instead of diving into what I need to do, I sit there at the edge and worry, make lists, plan things, consider endlessly. 

Obviously, there are times for deep deliberation.

Equally obvious: Not EVERY time.

Usually, this overthinking is a fear tactic. A stalling technique that feels intellectually noble.

How do you tell the difference? For me, when overthinking smells like panic, it's fear-based. It's coming from that frightened part of me, and so it's a way to stall.

This is when perfectionism is singing over my head that if I screw this up, I'll never recover from it. 

When I truly need to think something through, it feels different.

It's much more calm—a reasonable analysis. It's when I ask myself, "should I do this project now, or can it reasonably wait?"

And I answer, "Well, if I go down the wrong path, I'll just make it right, I'll just turn around." 

Fear-based overthinking just keeps inflating the issue. It gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger. It says, But I might never have a chance for a cheeseburger again!!

There's a rigidity in it. It's insisting, just below its surface, that I must make the perfect choice, the irreproachable way forward.

Everything gets dramatic. The shadows get longer and darker, and suddenly you and your pros & cons list are in a battle of good versus evil.

Yeah. It gets ugly.

I am only just beginning to find my way out of overthinking. 

One thing that has helped enormously is the way that Julia Cameron describes overthinking in Walking in This World (her lovely sequel to The Artist's Way).

She compares working on an artistic project to the moment of firing an arrow at a target. 

She says that if we overthinking the project, we're essentially standing there, pulling back the arrow, and then just waiting. Analyzing, heart pounding, while our arm loses strength and the arrow begins to sag.

So when we finally fire it, it doesn't hit the center.

She sums it up by saying,

In short, you have mistaken beginning something with ending something. You have wanted a finality that is earned over time and not won ahead of time as a guarantee. You have denied the process of making art because you are so focused on the product: Will this be a bull's-eye?

Ouch, right? She's got me. Most of the time, I'm overthinking because I want a shiny guarantee: "Yes, go for it, because it will work out swimmingly and everyone will pat you on the head and say that you've done something amazing."

But we don't work with guarantees. We work with our hearts, we learn on the way, and yes, it gets messy. But that's what we've really signed up for, and if we're all in, it can be a wonderful way to work.

Cameron adds,

We have attached so much rigamarole to the notion of being an artist that we fail to ask the simplest and most obvious question: Do I want to make this? If the answer is yes, then begin. Fire the arrow.

I love that straightforwardness. Yes!

How about you? Where in your creative life do you get swamped in overthinking?

And where is something inside you saying, let's fire the arrow!


Treating myself harshly.

One of the most effective ways to undermine our own strength? Talking bad about ourselves. Diminishing what we do, calling our work crap, saying that we'll never finish or improve.

This can be hard, hard, hard to shake.

For me, this comes directly out of shame, fear, and doubt. 

I can still be nervous about the fact that I'm a writer, that I've yet to publish. It makes me feel childish when it seems like my peers have glorious, flashy, paid grown-up careers. (Nothing's ever quite as glorious as it can look from the outside, of course, but I never remember that when I'm struggling.) 

I can feel the sting under someone else's words when they say doubtfully, so, not published yet? And I'm ready to disparage myself so that they don't have to.

As I talked so much about it last month, y'all already know that I've been learning about shame resilience from my new best friend Brené Brown. (Okay, we're only friends in my head, but whatever. She's lovely.) 

So, I'm working on this. I am trying to remember to breathe through it, to remind myself that I am not my job and I am not what I produce and I am not my salary, thank God! 

So that's half of the battle.

The other half, is to sincerely tend to what I know I need.

I am starting to develop a habit that helps me break out of this inner harshness and, bonus! that overthinking cycle too.

Here's how it works. Let's say I'm trying to decide which direction to go with a project, and there seem to be three strong options.

And the Overthinking Monkey is saying don't screw this up, you've gotta look at all these different parts of the different options. And THEN what if this happens, and look, here are more reasons for each thing over here, and oh my gosh this is hard isn't it...

And the Shame Monkey is saying, this is why it's taking you so long, you can't figure anything out, and you don't know even a quarter of what you need to know, and meanwhile everyone thinks you can actually write, so you better not mess up...

SO HELPFUL those monkeys, aren't they?!

So I've started to catch when this cycle is happening. And here's what I've started to do. It's so simple but it helps so much:

I get up and move away from my desk. I go to the other side of the room and I lie down. I take a few huge deep breaths, and I close my eyes and I just hold still.

(This is great, because the monkeys freak out. "She's walking away?!? It's like she doesn't even care about us!")

I breathe for a little while, and then I tell myself in my kindest, and most calm voice: You know the thing that you need to do next. You have one option that seems like the right one for now. What's that option? 

And I give myself permission to 1) pick something, and 2) that it doesn't have to be the perfect choice. It's the choice that seems right, for now, and that's good enough for me, I tell myself.

In about ten minutes, I'll get up with a very clear calm-ish path in my head, and dive in. And I end up not regretting my choice, even if I have to revise it later.

Seriously, this has been huge.

So if you're nodding along with this, and you get what I mean about overthinking + harshness, here are my four steps again. I apply: 

1) Oxygen. For real. Because I start breathing too fast, or holding my breath when I'm anxious. Good decisions require oxygen! Try to relax, unclench, and breathe deep.

2) Space. I can't find my way out of a spiral if I'm staring at a bunch of lists or all my different options. I need to separate myself.

3) Clarity. I try to boil it down: I just have to take one step, and I just have to pick that step. It isn't rocket science or brain surgery. If they all seem equally good and even equally risky, then I really can't go wrong. I can simply choose.

4) Permission. I take the idea of a "right answer" off the table. I'm not looking for a perfect choice. (And yes, sometimes I have to say this out loud.) I'm just looking for a choice. A starting point. I'm allowed to change my mind later when I see things even more clearly. But at the same time, I'm not going to second guess myself just because

This little sequence has been a game changer! 

How about you? Where in your writing process are you most tempted to be hard on yourself? And what would it look like if you gave yourself a tiny dose of kindness instead?

And what would it look like if you gave yourself a really, really BIG dose of kindness?


Resistance.

For anyone who's read the excellently butt-kicking motivational books of Steven Pressfield (I'm thinking especially of The War of Art, Do the Work, and Turning Pro), Resistance is something you're already familiar with.

For the rest of you ... well, you're familiar with Resistance too. You just might not have called it that.

Here's how Pressfield introduces the concept in The War of Art:

There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write.
     What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

He goes on, 

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
     Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? ... Are you a writer who doesn't write, a painter who doesn't paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.

It's an internal, persistent, relentless force that keeps us from doing our work. That's it.

That slippery, negative feeling that we get before we do something that we honestly, in our heart-of-hearts want to do ... but in this moment, we seem to want to do ANYTHING else.

You get this, right? I mean . . . anyone who's tried to write for about two seconds understands this feeling.

There is so much good in Pressfield's books. He is super helpful when it comes to understanding Resistance and the whole creative process. Definitely ones to pick up, if you haven't yet!

I'm half tempted to type out the whole second half of his book right here in this post ... okay, actually the whole book.

But I won't because of plagiarism and rules and all that. You'll just have to read it for yourself. It's a quick, very helpful read—which is great because you can flip it over and reread it and get it deeper into your brain. 

But anyway, here is the Resistance-fighting technique I've been using lately, and, amazingly, it's been working.

It's deceptively simple. Ready? Here it is:

I'm working toward a bunch of goals right now. Seriously, so many. And though they're worthy, I can feel a ton of Resistance anytime I'm working on the next step toward a goal.

What's suddenly changed for me is that I've realized where that huge burden feeling is coming from. The real burden, the real problem, isn't the task itself.

So, the problem isn't actually the intense, complicated scene I need to write today.

The real problem is that Resistance tells me that I'm not up to working on something so complicated. It tries to convince me of this by flooding my mind with dread.

Resistance tries to convince me that the task is the problem. That the task is why I have dread.

When really, Resistance is why I have dread. The real problem is Resistance. 

So I wrote myself another note, and I stuck it to my computer monitor: 

It's not the task that is burdensome, but the Resistance to the task that is.
 

It's Resistance that's killing me.
Drop Resistance.

Yes, I know. That sounds simplistic.

But what's happened in my head since realizing this is amazing. 

By rereading that note, I can catch Resistance when it sneaks in. And I can remember that its chief trick is to make me think that something else is the problem—instead of the Resistance itself.

So, when it's time to write, and I sense that slow build of "Meh, I'd rather not" working its way through me, I'm alert to it. I snap out of it.

I say, AHA, look, it's Resistance! You, Resistance, are the thing that's even harder than the hard work. You're the thing that's worse than bad writing. You're worse than brain cramps and elusive sentences and revisions. 

So I'll get rid of you.

And I'll stop resisting the task.

... And that simple moment of reframing the situation WORKS. And it's lovely.

So, try it. Identify your real enemy.

It isn't the writing. It isn't the scene that will come out somewhat backwards (though with a few glowing phrases, a few spot-on descriptions!). It isn't the journey we take into the unknown every day.

It's the thing that would block us, with no truly good reasons, with no clear helpfulness. It's the thing that creates a mood, a doubt, a dread. It's fat angry Resistance squatting in the middle of our road.

Refuse to buy into it. Refuse to welcome it, listen to it, pick up the burdens it hands you. 

When you feel it rising, remember that it is the difficulty, not the thing that it's pointing to or hiding behind. Don't listen to it, and dive into your work.

And then see if that makes a difference.

This Is Gonna Ruffle Some Feathers, But: Discipline Doesn't Belong At The Center Of My Writing Life Anymore

There's something stronger, wiser, more powerful, and more reliable than discipline. I know, I know--it's a switch for me, too. But it definitely works. | lucyflint.com

Here is the truth of where I'm at.

It's a painfully familiar scene. I'm looking down at the white sheet that's draped over my work-that-used-to-be-in-progress. It's lying on a metal table with a tag around its toe, and I'm trying to nerve myself to make the decision. 

Do I resurrect this thing? Or stick it in a drawer and walk away? Or just get on with the autopsy? 

After a draining summer, I don't have much creative energy. My mind hasn't been in my work—which is the whole reason why I'm even at this table. So my general exhaustion wants to vote hard for the walk away.

But my heart and my gut are agreed: I love this story to death and back, and so resurrection it is. 

And here's where things get tricky. Here's where my fledgling Artist's Way instincts face a big challenge.

Because, like I said, this is painfully familiar: I've done this before. I've zapped projects to life again. I've brought them back from the grave. And I have a method for this kind of tricky operation. 

It's a three-step process. 

1) Send my brain into overdrive. Think incredibly hard. 

2) Make an enormous list that covers every single aspect of bringing the project back to life and from there, to completion. Reread it and add even more list items. Leave no cracks.

3) Proceed to work through the list.

I have a very deep love of this method.

It's so sleek and shiny and disciplined. It's like a perfect ladder back into the heart of my work: I look at each item like it's a rung on that ladder. If I put my feet on each one, I'll get to the top!

THIS LIST WILL SAVE ME.

It's proofed against all whims, all moods.

Come rain, come shine, come high water, hell, or handbaskets: this list marches on.

... That's what I think. That is the grand seduction of the perfect list.

And then, when I'm at the third item on the 200-item list (or maybe, if I'm really cruising, when I'm at the seventh one), something comes along and unsettles me.

Intuition floats over to my desk and says in its low lovely voice, "Actually, there's a better way."

"Ack!" I cry. I bat it away.

I have to stick to this course, right? If I take my eyes off the list, then all my moods and whims will come along and sweep me into a Neverland of Netflix and ice cream and sweat pants. The book will suffocate! I'll disappear into mindless oblivion!

I stick to my task list. I grind through the next item or two.

But intuition is persistent. She tugs at me and whispers at me, and when I finally listen, I do so by overhauling my list and creating a new one, now going in a slightly different direction.

All while railing at myself for being so wishy-washy, so unfocused, so undisciplined.

We repeat this extremely awkward and uncomfortable and grumpy dance step a few times, jerking and stumbling toward the next draft of the now resurrected (if slightly confused) work-in-progress.

And that, my friends, has been my usual process.

That's what I know to do. That's what has somehow gotten my fingers moving over the keyboard again.

But—shockingly—that's not the course that Julia Cameron recommends.

And if The Artist's Way has been right about so many other things... I've gotta believe that she's right about this, too. 

Which means that this resurrection sequence is going to have to go a little differently. (Eeep!)

The Force that Trumps Discipline

It's funny, looking back on it, to realize that I trusted in my lists so hard.

Even though I've never made it through one, even though I've never even made it to the halfway mark—there's still this drive in me to make them. 

The course that Cameron advocates is, surprise surprise, something much more kind, squishy, and weirdly enough, more reliable.

I believe in it. I'm just super new at practicing it. So it still feels a little shaky under my feet.

Here's how she says it: 

As artists, grounding our self-image in military discipline is dangerous. In the short run, discipline may work, but it will work only for a while. ... The part of us that creates best is not a driven, disciplined automaton, functioning from willpower. ... Our artist is actually our child within, our inner playmate. As with all playmates, it is joy, not duty, that makes for a lasting bond. 

WHAT.

She goes on in this essay to recommend the following as replacements for discipline: enthusiasm, "a loving surrender to our creative process," play, joy, "love of secret adventure," a play date, goofing around, play, fun, play, fun, play, and joy. 

Yes. I repeated the words a bunch. But I need to get that mindset into my head. (Plus, she says play and fun a lot in her essay. I'm learning from the best.)

When you're as much of a strict (if hapless) devotee of discipline as I am, this is downright alarming.

Never mind that my experience lines up with what she's saying.

Never mind that I've loved my work most and come to it most happily when it felt like playing.

Pfft. Play? Enthusiasm?! It's not dependable, right?

Nothing is dependable except a bunch of numbers with a bunch of concrete tasks next to them. With action verbs in front. (I'm so good at those action verbs.)

... For the record, she is not saying, "only come to your work when you feel like it." Not at all. She's very clear throughout the book that we make time to work regularly. 

I think that what she's saying here, more than anything, is that it's not our schedule or our sense of what should happen that brings us to our desk.

It's our well-stoked love and sense of play and excitement about the work. That is what magnetizes us to the creative process.

So, if anything, the thing that we should be "disciplined" about is putting ourselves into the flow of that play. That joy. That sense of fun.

We make that our focus. And then we pay attention to see what would be fun and joyful to do next.

So what am I doing about that project of mine on the metal table?

Yeah. I did it anyway. I made a list. 

But it's a really really short list.

Of half a dozen things that would entice my heart back into the work. Of things that feel like playing and might even be, dare I say it, FUN to do. 

Each entry on this teeny little list sends my discipline-devoted brain into shudders. 

Because—real talk, y'all—I DREW HEARTS ON MY LIST.

I wrote the word love on it in big loopy letters. I used other words like doodle, bloom, dream.

And I'm even audaciously balancing these list items with time that I've blocked off for "refilling the well."

I'm buying new markers for my coloring book. (I love this one, if you want a recommendation.) I'm choosing some parks in my area for nature walks. I'm looking for recipes that call for a lot of "mindless" chopping.

Not gonna lie: This is challenging, my friends. It feels so weird to prioritize joy in my process. 

But I can also see the logic of it, the truth of it.

When I'm in love with my book, I dream it up almost without effort. I can drop right into flow when I'm drafting.

I see it on the backs of my eyelids when I'm supposed to sleep. I come up with new paragraphs of dialogue in the shower. 

When I love my work, I see it everywhere. And it absolutely lights me up.

So why should I suppose that a cold, heartless list of businesslike action verbs will bring me back into that state? 

My short little resurrection list is built for joy. For resuscitating not the project but my heart's connection to the project. 

And in spite of my nerves, I'm incredibly excited. Kind of giddy, really. Because it sounds really fun!

And actually...

Actually I'm going to just go dive into that. Because I can hear my book calling me. Gotta go.

How about you, my lionhearted friend? What does it look like, to stoke your own sense of joy and enthusiasm and play?

What if that lovely trio is what beckons you back to a regular writing practice? What if we send discipline to the sidelines, and instead trust that joy will be a better, more reliable motivator?

I know. It's scary. But it also might be the game changer you were looking for. 

Three Simple Steps Toward a Yummier, Happier, and Much More Sustainable Writing Life

Let's stop burning out. Let's stop running dry. Let's stop straining to hear our imaginations. You on board with all that? Perfect. It's all within reach. | lucyflint.com

One of the reasons why I blew off The Artist's Way ten years ago was because I was a college senior. And I was used to doing writing assignments. 

I could crank them out, no problem. 

The reason for doing all that writing came from outside of me. Sure, I'd decide the direction that I would take each assignment.

But let's face it: the words I wrote for my English major and writing minor weren't coming from a place of listening deeply to the quiet murmurings of my inner artist self.

Haha. Nope.

It was a lot more like me roaring through one paper after another. Taking my best option for a topic and running with it.

Which is probably why some of Julia Cameron's suggestions seemed pointless to me at the time.

But I've changed a lot since then. I've had enough time to run into problems. To realize that I can't always hear or see my imagination clearly. (Yikes.) 

And to burn out, wipe out, and fall flat on my face often enough that I had to ask: isn't there a better way to do this? With a bit less bruising, perhaps?

Which is why her suggestions now make total sense.

And actually, why they seem like the only sane option for those of us who want a healthy, sustainable, and even happy writing life.

Here are three of her strategies, each of which is fundamental in her book. They're simple, straightforward, and extremely rewarding.

Bonus: each of these are things that you can do right now. Today. They don't take a lot of prep, just a little thought and a little time. 

And they're so worth it. 

So let's dive in.

1. Write your three morning pages.

If you've been a writer for a while, you've probably heard this bit of advice again and again.

Julia Cameron stresses that all creatives (and not just writers!) should begin their day by writing three pages, longhand. She says that this is key to unlocking creativity.

So when I first read her book ten years ago, I took her up on it. More creativity? Sounds great. I found a gorgeous leather journal and a fountain pen. Darn it, I was going to do it right

I wrote three pages every morning for two weeks. I waited and waited for a sense of uplifted creativity, for brilliance, for my three pages to blossom into beautiful poems and metaphors.

Instead, I was disgusted. And deeply disappointed.

Because nothing "happened," nothing changed. 

And when I went back to reread my pages? YIKES. My words were all teeny tiny with the worst possible penmanship. And all I did was whine:

It's too early, what was I thinking, why did I stay up so late, I'm really dreading that thing that's happening tomorrow, why haven't I done this or that or the next thing, oh my gosh my eyes are so tired that they're actually crossing, why do three pages take so long to write ...

So I gave it up. And every time after that when I heard people saying we should all write three pages in the morning, I rolled my eyes. Or I'd say, "that just doesn't work for me."

So when I picked up her book again this spring, I laughed when I saw the three-morning-pages advice. Pfft. Sheesh. 

Then I read her explanations very carefully. ... And I kept laughing. But now I was laughing at myself. At how totally, completely, and hideously I had misunderstood the entire point of these pages before.

They are MEANT to be a whine. A rant.

They're meant to sound complainy, if complaints are what you wake up with.

They're meant to exorcise every ridiculous, self-centered, nit-picky thought from your head when you wake up.

Why?

So that you don't have to keep carrying that garbage around.

You get your whining done on paper. You do the pages, she says, to get them done. 

This isn't meant to be unfiltered brilliance. It's meant to be sheer brain dump.

So I tried them again. All through this crazy summer, whenever I could, I'd start my day with three pages. And if I couldn't do it first thing, I'd do it whenever I got to my desk. 

I ranted, I threw tantrums on paper, I complained. I tried to figure out my motivations behind things, and other people's motivations too. I got as nitpicky as I felt like I wanted to be. I let loose. 

And you know what?

I felt lighter. I left some of that stuff on the page and didn't keep thinking about it. The other stuff, well, I was at least a bit closer to processing it.

I didn't use a fancy-pants journal this time, either. I got a bunch of cheap little Greenroom journals from Target. Bright and fun and lightweight, they reminded me that this isn't meant to be a serious writing endeavor.  

I took to heart Cameron's caution that we writers will have the hardest time doing these pages. Because, she says, we'll try to write them. We'll try to make them pretty. We'll think too hard about what we say and how we say it.

Don't do that.

My pages went best when I reminded myself, this is a dump. That's all it is. A total thought dump. Stream of consciousness.

Keep your hand moving, keep the words coming. Don't think about it. Just let loose.

It's now become a key part of my writing day. And if I've missed it for a few days, I can feel all those thoughts running around and chittering in my head. I need to grab that notebook and just get all the clutter out.

Think of it like that: It's decluttering. Don't try to write them.

Just haul your thoughts and complaints and worries out of your head, and by doing that, make room for your writing.

2. Establish a practice of filling the well.

When my writing is going smoothly, this is a practice that I'm doing without even thinking about it, without really noticing. 

But when my writing is off the tracks, this practice has usually gone by the wayside, and, again, without my noticing. Or, if I do notice, I don't understand how important it is. How vital.

That's why, even though this can sound reeeeeally basic, really obvious, I'm still gonna explain it.

When Cameron talks about our need to fill the well (and restock the pond—the other metaphor she uses), she's talking about a way of nourishing our imaginations. 

As we do our work, we're drawing from this internal source, right? The imagery, character ideas, ways of interpreting our own memories, all that good stuff we talked about in Idea Camp

What she's pointing out is, if we don't take the precaution of pouring back into ourselves, we'll run out. We'll run dry. We'll get blocked.

As Cameron puts it:

Any extended period or piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well. Overtapping the well, like overfishing the pond, leaves us with diminished resources. We fish in vain for the images we require. Our work dries up and we wonder why, "just when it was going so well." The truth is that work can dry up because it was going so well.

I don't know about you, but that perfectly describes something I've run into over, and over, and over again. 

Cameron describes two ways of restocking our imaginations. 

First, there's mystery. Play. Curiosity. Little changes in routine. Little sensory adventures of music and exploration and image. 

It doesn't have to be big and dramatic, she says. But we absolutely need to make time for it.

The other way to restock is by doing simple tasks. Even somewhat mindless things that don't require much from us.

And in those spaces, those tasks, our imaginations start to stretch a bit. Cameron says, "Filling the well needn't be all novelty. ... Any regular, repetitive action primes the well."

She includes tasks like driving. Going for a walk. Taking a shower. Cooking. Doing needlepoint. Gardening.

If you've ever scribbled away in a coloring book: That's perfect for this.

I think the real key is, these are the small little things that can feel like we're wasting time.

And it's crucial to realize: we're not wasting anything. We're making space and refilling essential parts of ourselves, in ways we might not totally understand.

Turns out, these little simple activities might be the very stuff that we can't afford to neglect.

3. Shower yourself in authentic luxuries. 

One of the essays that most amazed me in The Artist's Way comes right at the center of the program. It's simply titled "Luxury."

Ha, I thought. I don't do well with the idea of luxury. I'm basically broke, all the time, and while I'll pin all the pretty things on Pinterest, that doesn't mean I can afford any of them. 

So I basically thought this wouldn't apply to me, until I read the first sentence of the essay:

For those of us who have become artistically anorecticyearning to be creative and refusing to feed that hunger in ourselves so that we become more and more focused on our deprivationa little authentic luxury can go a long way. 

Artistically anorectic. That phrase and her definition of it just stopped me in my tracks. 

Does that describe me? I wrestled with it for a while, but then thought of all the times when I say no to play, to pleasure, to curiosity, to fun, to frivolity, all of which are apparently connected to a healthy artist life...

And okay. Yeah. Yes. The phrase applies.

So I gripped the book a bit tighter, and read everything she had to say about luxury.

By which, she doesn't mean Champagne and fur coats and private jets.

By which she means: little things that delight you. That delight the artist in you. That feel like pampering. 

Not the stuff that you necessarily feel like you should get, not the pricey stuff or things that are luxurious to other people but not maybe to you.

She's talking more like: fresh flowers. Or a toy you always wanted as a kid. Watercolor paints. 

Maybe it's a paperweight that makes you happy. A candle that smells like the beach. Sidewalk chalk or a paint-by-number kit. A kite.

When you think luxury, don't think "tons of money!"

Think instead of the thing that is so easy to deny giving yourself. What you might shrug off and say, "I don't need it."

Aim for what delights.

I'm still learning how to best do this. One night, my answer to "luxury" was to splash some (very cheap) white wine into a jam jar and slip outside. I sat on the back deck and watched the sky turn from twilight to night, catching sight of the neighborhood bat, noticing which stars showed up first.

It was such a simple moment. So ignorable. Skippable.

But it felt like total delight to me, like a luxurious thing to do.

So now I'm brainstorming: where else can I invite that kind of luxury in? 

To do some digging in this area, just start asking yourself: What delighted you as a kid? What kinds of things still sound fun or interesting or just cool?

What kind of natural view fills you up? Where would you love to spend more time? What hobbies did you used to love? What scents and sounds make you happy? 

If it seems small or silly or like something that of course you could just do without... then you're probably on the right track. 

After reading this book, I'm pretty convinced: if we want to be original in our work, but we deny the little things that make up who we are and what we love, then we're going to struggle.

And not just struggle to keep working, but to be as unique and brilliant as we're meant to be.

Not great news for our work, right?

So let's listen to our delights.

Let's fill notebooks with our morning brain dumps, and clear our systems for work.

Let's fill up our inner wells, our reservoirs of image and idea and metaphor.

And then let's celebrate the things that make us happy, the things that pamper us, even if they're small.

These three small practices just might be some of the most important pieces of our writing lives.

As Cameron writes, 

Creativity lives in paradox:
serious art is born from serious play.

So, my friends: Let's play.

Responding To That Insidious Lie People Still Tell About Fiction

I keep meeting people who believe this. You probably meet them too. What to say, what to remember, when someone tells you fiction doesn't matter. | lucyflint.com

So, HERE'S some good news. The more I throw myself into reading these novels, the more I want to keep reading. 

It's that lovely truth: You can re-develop a taste for good things. It happens to me when I start drinking more water, eating more veggies, exercising steadily, or, for the past couple of weeks, falling headlong into one marvelous story after another. 

So, if like me, you've been away from fiction for a while, I hope this is encouraging!

The more I practice giving myself permission, and the more that I start my day with reading, the easier it gets to keep going. 

Yum.

I'm a good two-thirds the way through Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire. Oh, I love a good fairytale retelling!

There's always that delight of seeing how your expectations are handled—which events feel familiar, which ones are stood on their heads, or fleshed out in completely unusual ways... Mmmm.

It also reminds me of my struggles with the first novel that I seriously tried to write. For five years, I beat my head against an ever-expanding saga that I invented around the story of—brace yourself—The Princess and the Pea. 

More specifically, it reminds me of how hard it was to talk about the fact that I was writing a fairytale retelling.

All those conversations with the skeptical people who asked, "So what are you writing about?"

And I would perform whatever linguistic contortions I could to avoid saying, "Uh, there's a princess and a curse and an impossible test and the threat of madness and a huge journey and interactive memories and definitely a love interest and a fair amount of violence? Can we talk about something else?" 

I'm having better luck now, talking about my current work-in-progress. In part because I've learned my lesson, and I'm making sure that I love what I'm writing about

But also, I believe even more in the power of fiction. 

Any kind of fiction.

So "even though" I'm writing about an eleven-year-old girl going on an incredible, fantastical adventure in another world, with a crazy cast of characters and daunting challenges and mysterious spiders and possibly telepathic lizards and brain washing and aristocratic assassins...

I'm much more certain of its importance.

This book matters. I'm sure of it.

But some people don't really get how valuable fiction is.

Have you noticed this? Have you run into these people before?

The ones who will state—loudly and with a kind of bravado—"Oh, I don't READ FICTION."

Not in the contrite, confessional, okay I'm burnt out and what do I do about that kind of way. Or even the, I just can't seem to get to it lately way. Or the ones who say, I haven't found an author that really grips me yet. 

I get all that. That's totally fine with me.

I'm talking about the people who are essentially saying, "I don't need such fantasies to survive, thank you very much." 

It's smug. There's this belittling tone. As if they could say, "You poor children and your silly stories." 

In other words: Fiction is worthless.

When confronted with this attitude, I used to scramble for a response, feeling vaguely ashamed of myself, trying to find the scraps of my dignity.

As if I'd just invited someone to watch my homemade puppet show, only to receive a scathing response.

Or as if I'd just made a public announcement that I was, in fact, an idiot. 

Now I see it very differently.

And I've settled on a new reply.

So the last time someone told me, with a very superior grin, "Oh, I don't READ fiction. I've NEVER read a novel," I just took a deep breath, looked at him with all the pity I could muster, and said,

"I am so, so sorry to hear that."

As if he just announced that he'd had an amputation.

Because that's how I feel about it.

People who cheerfully choose to avoid all novels are literally cutting themselves off from a certain kind of understanding. Of a way to see other people, a way to connect.

Novels get to a place that movies and most non-fiction can't quite reachBecause there's an intimacy in fiction, an immediateness.

You see the characters' minds plainly, you hear their motivations, you're right up close to their struggles.

I think that what this man wanted me to say was: "Oh, wow, so you're not as frivolous as the rest of us, we who fill our heads with dumb lies. Good job, you superior person, you!"

Instead, I saw someone who was brittle and maybe even a bit scared.

Someone who didn't want to risk all the emotions and connections that happen when we put ourselves into the flow of stories, into novels. 

Someone who has no idea what he's missing. Or who he might be, if he let a stellar novel get under his skin.

I've mentioned a few times that I've been reading Brené Brown's amazing work. If you're familiar with her at all, you know how much she talks about the power of empathy.

Empathy—the statement that you are not alone

She's totally opened my eyes to how we need connection to other people. How we need to treat ourselves with compassion. How we need courage to live a Wholehearted life.

Guess what.

When we read novels, we get a sense of how other people share our struggles.

Have you had that incredibly powerful feeling, when you're reading a novel, and the main character experiences something similar to what you've gone through?

Whether it's an event, or a subtle feeling, or even a line of dialogue that you've said before: There's that shock of recognition, right?

Like you've suddenly caught your face's reflection in an unexpected mirror.

You are not alone.

Whew! That is powerful.

Novels have a unique ability to get in close to us, to wait until our guard is down, and then to say those life-giving words:

You're not alone. Someone else has been there. This writer gets it.

And then—there's a chance for a conversation. Maybe with the writer. Maybe with other people who have read it.

Suddenly there's connection, there's courage, and there's hope.

Maybe something that was shameful is now brought into the light where it can heal. And maybe there's some good self-compassion, as you realize that you're not the only one struggling. As you accept who you are and where you've been.

Dang it, I get all excited just thinking about this!! 

And as a writer, this is incredibly motivating to me.

I want to be honest in the story I'm writing.

I don't want to shrink from telling the truth about what it feels like: to risk big, to worry about your family, to face danger. To hope for change, to face day after day when you don't know what will happen, to heal broken relationships.

Besides. I owe fiction a debt. 

As an incredibly lonely kid, I saw people like me in books, even when I couldn't find them at my church or my school.

That sustained me during some really hard years. It helped me trust that there were other kids who felt like me, who understood me, who had been where I was.

Who survived

Like I said, that's powerful.

It makes me wonder, what is fiction about, anyway, if not connection? 

And are any of us actually above the need to be connected to one another? Above the need to belong?

Spoiler alert: Nope. Brené Brown is a very smart woman, and she says that the data says that we all need these things.

No one is exempt from this stuff. From these needs.

Which is why I'm convinced that to intentionally snub fiction is a sad, sad thing. An emotional amputation.

Let's not make the mistake of undervaluing the incredible novels that we read and write.

Instead, let's celebrate how they connect us, challenge us, and empathize with us. 

And if you're spending your time writing such things, good for you. It is a vital gift to other people. 

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Don't let the smug fiction-abstainers get you down.

Keep going.

Who knows who you might be giving courage to with your words? 


What about you? Have you seen yourself in fiction before? Have you had that shock of recognition, that sense of being understood? 

And have you run into people that don't seem to understand the value of fiction? What do you say to them?

Sculpt a Beautiful Writing Journey (While Still Hitting Your Goals!) With This Awesome Resource

Goals by themselves? Don't always work out so great. Check out this fantastic resource for a guide to creating holistic goals AND a better way to reach them. You'll love it. | lucyflint.com

One of the ways my ambition shows up is in always looking for better ways to manage myself: my ideas, my workspace, my time.

You've heard this from me before: I'm convinced that the better bosses we are (kind, loyal, compassionate, and aiming for excellence), the better our work will be, and the happier our writing lives.

Which is why I'd say that a lionhearted writer is always looking for wisdom.

Right?

We're in this for the long haul. We want our writing to be good for us and for our readers. And navigating all that takes a bunch of wisdom. 

Part of this means: appreciating the wisdom we already have. (Especially if we haven't been paying attention to it!) 

But sometimes we need to look to the people who know and live this kind of stuff. 

... Which is why I'm always gobbling down books and resources on how to be a better boss for myself! 

The latest book I've read to improve my work life is The Desire Map, by Danielle LaPorte. (Shout out to the lionhearted Maria Rathje, for recommending this to me, back when we were talking about goals!)

This book took apart my whole approach to goal-making, showed me all the parts of thinking that go into a goal— 

and then put everything back together the right way.

It's really cool. You'll love it.

So—just in case you're not automatically sold on this, why is it necessary? Aren't goals by themselves good enough?

Well, it's easy enough to come up with a bunch of good, solid goals based around what matters to us, right? To fill in the blanks with what we know we should be reaching for next. 

... But have you ever felt like you're on a kind of goal treadmill? Coming up with automatic goals, that feel almost prepackaged? 

Or have you ever worked really hard for something you knew you wanted, but the whole process of getting there was totally miserable? 

Or maybe you got the thing you wanted and—and nothing. It wasn't as great as you'd hoped, or it wasn't what you thought, or you just felt off about it?

Yeah. Me too. 

Enter The Desire Map.

Here's the premise. When we make goals, what we REALLY want to aim at is a state of being, or a way that we want to feel.

But in our usual goal-making process, those feelings aren't considered. So they're only partially represented in our goals.

Or, worse, they're not represented at all.

Which is how we end up with goals that don't make us so happy when we reach them. Or goals that somehow destroy us on the way to getting them. 

Ugh.

Let's not do that anymore.

So, in The Desire Map, Danielle LaPorte takes you through the process of creating, as she calls them, "goals with soul." 

She helps you figure out what those states of being—she calls them core desired feelings—are for you.

And then—knowing what you really want to aim for, how you really want to feel during the process of reaching for your goals, how you really want to live—that's when you come up with a handful of intentions for the next year.

Like, four. (Not so many that you get overburdened.)

Four intentions that solidly reflect your core desired feelings.

And then you develop a process of going after those intentions, which honors your core desired feelings as well.

Fantastic, right??

So, what does this have to do with our writing lives?

EV-ERY-THING.

When you apply this to your writing goals and your writing life, your core desired feelings have a total, across-the-board impact.

Once you know what they are, you can bring them into the discussion of how you approach writing, the projects you spend your time on, and how you consider publication.

They can shape what your author brand is like, what you do with social media or blogging, and on, and on, and on.

Like I said before, it's too easy to fall into a goal that seems to be right, without considering deeper motivations.

Take publication. 

It's so easy to think, I must PUBLISH this year or else burst into a thousand pieces. (That's me, by the way, during my last batch of New Year's Resolutions.)

There's nothing wrong with having publication as a goal! 

But this book showed me that it's incredibly helpful to figure out what it is I want to feel about being published.

And when those feelings are what you're actually aiming at, the entire process of getting published reflects those feelings as well.

Which means?

Which means that you feel awesome while stretching for a goal that will really make you feel amazing.

WIN-WIN.

After going through the Desire Map process, you might find out that you want to publish because: you want to feel accomplished, or self-respect, or creativity. 

Or maybe you want to publish to share truth, or love, or beauty, or laughter.

And when you realize what feelings are driving that desire to publish, you bring them into all the rest of your writing life:

How you start your day. How you manage your time. What books and voices influence you.

What you do with your breaks and your weekends. How you talk about your work. How you research.

All of it. All of it!

As Danielle LaPorte writes,

When you get clear on how you want to feel, the pursuit itself will become more satisfying.

And isn't that exactly what we all want with our writing processes?

Side note: Just knowing this about yourself is massively helpful in all other areas of your life as well.

It's becoming my habit whenever I'm having a tough day to use these core desired feelings as a kind of emotional reset.

All it takes is a quick second to ask yourself: Hey, wait: how is it that I REALLY want to feel? 

Then you can take a few quick actions to generate some of your core desired feelings, and: instant mood upgrade.

Did I mention that this is helpful? SUPER helpful.

So if you've felt a disconnection between what you're writing and how you're writing it, or between what you're aiming for and how you're feeling about all that—

Then The Desire Map is the must-read that goes at the top of your reading pile.

For serious. 

Another quick quote from Danielle LaPorte for good measure: 

The journey matters as much as the result.

SO TRUE, right??

An amazing writing journey is the game changer of game changers: Every writing day is as important as the writing goals you're aiming for.

So pick up The Desire Map and give it a whirl.

Be the wisest boss of your writing life that you can possibly be.

Learn to steer by what it is that you deep down really want—instead of importing goals that seem to be right, but which might let you down.

If you want to dive in with this way of thinking right now, check out this Danielle LaPorte interview for a quick-start version (and then get your hands on the book itself asap!).

Whatever you do, give a little thought to how you actually want to feel when you accomplish your goals. How you actually want to be in your writing life.

Not what you should want, but what you actually do want.

Illuminate what it is that you're really after, and then go get it: both in your intentions and how you get your intentions.

Sounds amazing, right? 

Right.

Four Ways to Spark Your Writing Ambition If You've Been Feeling a Bit Meh

Ambition is one of those writing life essentials. If you feel like yours has gone wandering off, check these four ways to relight that ambitious fire. | lucyflint.com

Even though we're practicing radical happiness and cultivating patience, we still want to aim super high with our writing, right?

I mean—I want to write the most amazing book ever. I'm guessing you do too.

There's a readiness to conquer, an excitement for improving. That's the lion part of lionheart, right?

Which is why our next lionhearted trait is ambition. We are ambitious for excellence in our work.

OH yeah.

Let's define it: Ambition is about pressing toward success and achievement, especially with the elements that we can control. 

Healthy ambition looks a lot like that line used in so many good fitness challenges: "The only one you're trying to beat is yourself."

So, just to be clear, when I'm talking about ambition, I'm not saying to be ambitious about the things that are up to the people around us. Awards, huge pats on the back, and all other subjective things.

They're nice, and it's fine to strive for them. But the trick is that they don't always correlate with our best efforts. (And wanting them too hard can kinda burn up your heart.)

So, for this post, let's focus on what we actually do control.

Which is, frankly, a lot.

Our quality of work. The quality of our ideas. Choosing projects that stretch us in one way or another.

Writing faster. Writing better.

A richer conflict. A scene accomplishing more purposes. Stronger subplots. Stellar structure.

Working hard and aiming high: that's what we do. 

Mmmm. Gets my writerly juices fizzing.

But—if you're reading this and thinking, that used to be me, maybe, but right now, not so much— 

I get it. 

Maybe you're feeling burned out. Or maybe it's not even that dramatic: you just feel like your ambition has gone missing.

If that sounds like you (or if you'd just like to give your ambitions a good stir), try this:

1) Double check your circumstances.

I know. I've been talking about this a ton lately.

But that's because I used to demand that I jump over buildings in a single bound, during times of intense family or personal stress.

Whoops.

Those usually aren't good times for leaping.

Sometimes, when the rest of life is especially hard, the ambitious response actually looks like: showing up for my writing every day, even in really small ways.

That's super ambitious!! Showing up during hard times? That's huge. You don't need to add some big achievement on top of that.

Focus on smaller achievements. Thumbnail-sized ones.

Maybe just bringing your attention back to the work. Or journaling a certain number of pages a day. (Say, three). Or reading fiction, a chapter a day.

Okay?

Ambition can be redefined.

Heather Sellers writes in Chapter after Chapter about how we writers need to "cycle through standards."

She says, "When you're stuck or stranded or bored with your book, lower your standards. Slouch your way through it. When you're writing high and hard and strong and solid, raise your standards."

I fought this idea for a long time (and kept burning myself out, ha ha). Now I realize how incredibly wise it is.

If your circumstances are going nuts, or if you're in the middle of a big transition, it's time for smaller ambitions.

Don't worry: when the sky clears, you can let it all out and shoot for the moon. 

For now, small successes are plenty.

(And yes, I'm totally preaching to myself on this one.)

2) Double check your fuel.

Okay, a cheesy metaphor so we're all good with this point: 

You can have the flashiest, reddest, raciest car there is, but if it's out of gas, then even I can run faster.

All engines require fuel, and our creative machine is no different.

Sometimes your life circumstances are okay, but there's some part of your mental/creative fuel that you just haven't been getting for a while.

Take a second to self-diagnose:

Do you need to just go get lost in words? Or strike out in a new reading direction?

Or fall into a pile of really excellent movies, the kind that stir your desire to tell stories? (For a while, I would watch Finding Neverland, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland, every time I felt my story engine faltering.)

Or maybe you need to stir your creativity by playing in other ways.

Do you just need a bit of a spark? A new way to approach your work for a day or a week?

What does it look like, to really recharge your creativity and give your brain the space it needs to dream up stories?

3) Double check the kind of project you're working on. 

If you're good with your circumstances, and if you're creatively fueled, then there's still something else to try. 

Get really still and quiet and then think about your story.

Not from a frantic point of view, or a burned out & done with it point of view.

But think about the story or the work itself, and especially what drew you to it.

Have you veered off the path that you loved? Are you working in a format, a form, or a genre that you don't enjoy? Maybe the characters aren't the ones that you want to write about. 

Is there a crushing deadline that has dampened the thrill of ambition? (Deadlines can be the perfect spurs or the perfect smothers. Double check yours and revise it if it isn't working!)

Here's another test: this is a fun, quick exercise from Chris Baty, in his Nanowrimo guide, No Plot, No Problem.

I tried it once on a whim, and I was shocked at the results. So give it a try, especially if you've felt less than inspired lately.

It's pretty simple: He has you write down everything you love in a book, in a story. Go crazy. Write it all down.

Nothing is too small or too big. You just want to list everything that gets your heart beating faster when you're reading.

And when you've filled out everything, make a second list.

This time, it's everything that you can't stand in a story. Anything that dries up your enthusiasm as a reader or viewer.

What makes you want to chuck a novel across the room? And warn all your friends away from it? 

Write all that stuff down. Alllllllll of it. Every single story-esque thing that gets on your nerves.

And then, you get to sit back and review your lists. (Baty calls them the two Magna Cartas.)

The whole point is: write a book that's got a lot of stuff from the first list! And nothing from the second.

Pretty simple, right? Straightforward?

Can I tell you a mortifying secret?

When I did this with my first novel, I was blown away to see that I was writing a lot of stuff from my second list, and very little from my first. 

What?! How did that even happen?

(I still don't know! And actually, Baty says the same thing happened to him, so... it's definitely possible.)

I instantly made the changes, throwing out every hateful thing that had crept into my story.

Baty writes, "Write your joy, and good things will follow."

YEP. I was much happier after I decided to intentionally write toward everything that I most enjoyed. 

So try that. Make sure that your material isn't somehow thwarting you.

4) Give yourself a fun challenge.

If everything else is fine, but you still feel a little lackluster, then maybe it's time for a lighthearted challenge?

Not something crushing. Just a friendly prompt to stir the juices and kickstart a little magic.

Maybe go on a few little writing adventures.

Or maybe give yourself a writing exercise program, and explode your sense of storymaking that way.

Consider which areas of your writing life you haven't really touched on in a while, and give yourself something extra to aim for. Or a small daily task to build your strength.

Just for fun.

And watch your ambition rise.

Dare to Transform Your Writing Life with This One Strategy

If I had started doing this sooner, my whole writing career would look different!! But better late than never. All you need? A little time and a little courage. But the rewards? Huge. Do you have the guts to try? | lucyflint.com

When I officially launched this blog last March, one of the toughest decisions to make was the title for the blog.

If you've started a blog, or website, or similar project, you get this, right? Sum up all your hopes and dreams for the project in one teeny phrase

I knew some of what I was looking for: I wanted it to be happy. I wanted to talk about the kind of writing life I had just started to explore—what I most wanted to grow into.

I tried everything. For a long while, this blog was almost subtitled, "Pursuing the Merry & Wild Writing Life."

I loved the idea of an unusually joyful approach to writing. Merry, for sure!

And I also liked not fitting so neatly into a box, not being so darned meek and quiet about our writer selves. Being fierce in our creativity. More than a little wild.

Merry & Wild. Close. But not quite there.

When I hit on the term lionheart, I knew my blog had met its destiny.

Because when I say lionheart, I don't just mean "courageous person" (although of course that's part of it). The word has absorbed a host of other senses, elements, and ideas.

And so when I say I aim to be a Lionhearted Writer, it's shorthand for all the traits I'm aiming at.

The entire bag of tricks that make up my exact ideal way to be a writer.

... And since I'm obsessed with definitions, I thought maybe it's time to lay that definition out completely.

For the month of May, we're going to explore everything that goes into being that kind of writer. 

It's the anatomy of a lionheart! 

And just so we're clear: When I say lionheart, I of course mean you, me, and the hundreds of other writers who are reading this post. There are a lot of us.

Get ready for some roaring.


So! Lionhearted writers! Let's do this! Let's break it down!

Where to start? With something really quiet, small, and incredibly powerful.

The lionhearted writer trusts herself.

What?! Trust?

Yes. 

It seems like a little thing, but the more I think about it—oh, is it valuable!

Let's back up: Recently my younger sister and I were talking about Brené Brown, and how she's the coolest ever, and how we're both diving into the material she's created, and how much we loooooooove it.

My sister recommended her talk on trust, which I hadn't seen yet. And when I did, I was blown away.*

I loved the talk. (And as soon as you have twenty-four minutes available for awesomeness, you should go listen to it!) She defines trust, the elements that go into it, how it's built, how it's destroyed. 

But the thing that made my eyes open twice as wide, and start talking back excitedly to my computer screen, and then tell everyone else about it—was right at the end.

When she talked about applying all those trust-building skills to yourself

Are we trustworthy to ourselves? Do we honor our boundaries and do what we say we will? Do we take good care of our more vulnerable secrets, do we treat ourselves with generosity? 

I started applying that to myself, of course, with general life stuff. But then I asked another big question:

Do I trust myself as a writer?

For the first eight years or so of writing full time, I was the poster child for NOT trusting myself.

I essentially treated my creativity, my writing impulses, and my time, with utmost distrust and suspicion.

I worked in a panic. (Just to be clear, this is a very unpleasant way to work. Please don't do this.)

Of course I didn't trust myself! I didn't even want to. I was too new at this, too ignorant, so (I thought) how could I have anything in myself worth trusting? 

I had too much to learn, and not enough time for it. And I never wanted to give myself time to learn. Ever.

I had no faith in my instincts about how I needed to work. Instead, I was terrified that I wasn't challenging myself enough, so I pushed super hard—then burned out.

Scraped myself back together and pushed to burnout again. 

Um. It wasn't a healthy cycle.

All I had to show for it—after years—was a bunch of bruises, a total lack of faith in myself, and a lot of that time (which I was so scared about wasting) gone.

Now I think that if I had taken the time to actually listen to what I deep-down knew I neededtrusted it, and acted on it, I'd have a whole different story! 

Here is what I know: It is scary hard to trust yourself.

Especially when you're new at this... but I'm guessing it's going to be hard for a while longer than that. (Heck, right now, I probably trust myself 65% of the time. HUGE for me, but definitely not to 100 yet!)

It is hard to get really quiet and still and ask yourself: Okay. What do I need next? It's even harder to believe that the answer is a good one!

And it's hard to not just freak out all the time.

But no matter how uncertain it feels, I promise that it is worth building trust with yourself.

And I don't mean the screaming, freaking out, panicking part of you. (That part needs a hug and then a whole bunch of chocolate chip cookies and then a fuzzy blanket. But its screamed suggestions probably don't need to be followed.)

The truth that I've been stepping into lately, is that I understand a heck of a lot about how I need to work, what I need to be saying, and how I need to say it. 

The same thing is true of you. (Even if you're brand new to this!)

There's a part of you that does understand how you work. And even might hold some clues about how you work best

If you really pay attention to it, you can start to understand from that clever part of you: where your best material lies, and what you most need to learn

That part of you.

Find it. And then clear space, time, noise, and listen. 

I'm serious. Get a notebook, take some deep breaths, and just ask that deeper, wiser, word-loving part of you: What do I most need in my writing life right now? 

New resources, or time to play? A creative date where you go and wander and don't have to talk to anyone?

A different project? A crazy-fun class? A group? Or alone time?

Just listen in. Listen deep and listen long.

Find those gut instincts, and then trust them.

Show up for that part of yourself. It's something we all need—including me, for sure—to do more often.

... Oooh, what if once a week, we took fifteen minutes for this. Listening, writing down notes, just checking in.

And then, we acted on the good stuff that bubbled up about the direction of our writing.

Wouldn't that transform your approach to your work? What you work on? How you approach social media, marketing, all of that?

Again, I'm not talking about the million lists that all of our busy brains could frantically generate.

We're seeking that deeper, intuitive understanding.

If you're more extrovert style, I love and respect you: do this in your marvelous extrovert way. Maybe you'll want to grab a close friend who gets this kind of writing/creative lifestyle, and talk it through.

But however this looks for you, find a way to give your instincts a lot more trust. Let them make the call. Steer by them for a while.

That could be the key to a transformational amount of amazingness.


* Yep, I only just realized that Brené Brown's talk is called The Anatomy of Trust, though somewhere in my head that must've stuck. ... Which is probably why "The Anatomy of a Lionheart" struck me as a great series title!

Haha! Thanks, Brené Brown!!

What to Do with Way Too Much Good Information

It happens to all of us: Suddenly you're in a deluge of excellent content (and social media, and classes, and webinars, and books)... and it's all really excellent, but you find you can't think straight. Ring any bells? Yeah, me too. Here's the cure. | lucyflint.com

I have to admit: The main reason I wanted to do a Spring Cleaning for Writers Series is because of this week. 

Mmmmm. Let's savor the moment.

Take a second to just breathe in, really deeply. And breathe out.

I'm about to propose something new. It's kind of a challenge within the spring cleaning challenge. It might be the very best part of it! 

I'm calling it: The Distraction Detox.

And here's why I've needed it so desperately (and maybe why you need it too... if any of this rings a bell!).

I've had a lot of good things going on lately—really good things.

I've just finished a quick bit of traveling, I'm working on some good new systems for better health, and I'm reading some excellent nonfiction books so quickly that I'm practically swallowing them whole.

I'm reading great email newsletters, falling in love with marvelous Instagram accounts, tuning in to all you lovely people on Twitter, scrolling through visual feasts on Pinterest, filling my ears with Spotify and podcasts, texting pals on my writing breaks, and tumbling down the Netflix rabbit hole.

It's all so good. It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet of words! information! sound! ideas! 

And (not super surprisingly) the inside of my mind is feeling a little ... jittery.

I'm not talking negativity—we cleaned that out already!

I mean there's just too much going on in there. Too many new ideas, too many sound bites, too many concepts I want to rearrange my life to include. 

My lovely work-in-progress is quiet. And it's not really interested in jostling to make itself heard above the rest of the (exciting, wonderful) crowd.

I'm craving the sweetness of singleminded focus. The beautiful quiet of an undistracted mind.

The quick pace of all that media is exciting and inspiring. But my creativity truly flourishes the still moments.

The gift I really want to give myself (and you too, if you're up for it!) is a week off from distractions.

What?! Yes.

Seriously. 

Okay: Let's define it. What is a Distraction Detox?

A break from anything that's destroying your ability to focus. Any times you have competing projects. Anything that splinters your attention.

For me, it's a chance to: 

  • Break the habit of grabbing my iPhone and carrying it around with me everywhere.
  • Stop checking emails first thing in the morning. And also the moment they come in, all through the day. *slaps forehead*
  • Replace my nightly Netflix with something a little more creatively yummy. (I'm addicted to Columbo lately... I just love Peter Falk!)
  • Keep my desk totally clear of other notes, reminders, charts, etc.
  • Take a break from Spotify. (And listening to music with lyrics while I'm writing... oops!)
  • Put social media (all of it!) on the backburner. Just for a little while. Just for a week. (And if I simply MUST show up, I'll stick to a brief timed session.) 

And I don't mean just during my writing day: I'm talking all day long!!

I especially want to look askance at multitasking. I know it torpedoes my focus, but I've picked up the habit again, and it's time to set it back down. 

I want to be clear: All these things I've listed—the newsletters, the social media accounts, my beloved Peter Falk—are good things

But, because I haven't really put limits on the time I spend with them, they've been stealing my precious writing headspace.

... Until I'm getting more anxious about missing Instagram updates than I am about feeding my characters.

Which is why a little break sounds amazing.

How about you? 

Your Distraction Detox doesn't have to look like mine: your triggers are probably different. 

But grab a few minutes to think about all the different sources of information you're encountering: all the miniature narratives that intersect your day, all the virtual people you come into contact with. 

All of it. 

And ask yourself: What's going on when you feel an information overload in your head? Or when you feel like your attention is being fractured into three or four directions?

And then think about what a good, helpful, restful break would look like for you. 

Maybe just take a break from a few of the smaller things, things that it's easier to abstain from.

Or maybe you just take out your two biggest culprits.

Maybe you do it for a day or two, or maybe—like me!—you want to give yourself a WHOLE WEEK OFF.

You know in your gut how drastic or not drastic you need this to be. A small adjustment, or a big media/information vacation.

Your pick.

For me, this week will also be a chance to break my little addiction to new information. I can start believing that I just need a little more advice, in every single area.

... Because there's so much great free content out there right now! Have you noticed? Amazing webinars, classes, email courses, tutorials... I love it. 

But I can also get mired in way too many new ideas to apply at once. Too many lists of "3000 ways to optimize your entire life."

Okay, okay. It just feels like 3000.

You get my point. 

I don't want this week to be brutal: just the opposite.

I want permission to let emails accumulate through the day (and then zip through them in a half hour at night). I want to stop feeling twitchy when my phone isn't nearby. 

I want to come back to those lovely old-fashioned concepts like, an actual attention span.

And I want to listen to what's going on in my own head—my relationship with my work-in-progress, and my sense of how much internal space I need. 

Instead of trying to juggle hundreds of competing ideas and tips in my head all at once. (Anyone else feeling this way?!)

Ahhhhh. Distraction Detox. I'm so excited.

Whatever this looks like for you: Give yourself the gift of a bit of extra space this week.

Pause the information rush (especially good information! that's the hardest to resist!). Ease back on social media (just a smidge).

Don't do anything that cuts you off or causes you anguish. Just give yourself a lovely little vacation. 

And when the vacation is over, you can re-evaluate. You can add things back in as needed... or not!

The point of the detox is to just give us room enough to think. To get squarely back into our own minds for a while, and to decide from there what information and media we need.

Instead of being, you know, constantly bulldozed by it.

Can you feel a little peace sneaking in? Or even a rush of restful, soul-restoring silence??

Mmm. That. 

Happy Distraction Detox.

The Counterintuitive Way to Protect Your Writing (from Everything that Gets In the Way!)

Ever feel like you're in a war, between your writing and the rest of your life's demands? Always defending one from the other? I totally get that. Here's how I found a resolution that frees me up to be a calmer, better writer. Let's dive in. | lucyflint.com

I can't believe that it was a year ago that I re-launched this blog as a place for lionhearted writers to gather and talk about courage, self-management, and an incredibly healthy writing life. 

A year of courageous writing! Let's all dig in to a big bowl of confetti!

So to celebrate this month, I'm coming back to one of my favorite things: quotes about writing.

If you've been around here for a while, you've probably noticed that I'm addicted to quotations.

I've done a series on helpful writing quotes, and I did another post on some of the best quotes for the "shadowy side" of the writing life. (Which I still loooooove. They are good quotes, y'all.) 

And this month, I'm coming back to them again.

Our writing lives are shaped by voices, after all. 

By the words of our teachers, our readers, our characters, our own selves, and all the books and writers that have gone before us. 

So many voices. So many words. 

And the awesome thing is, we get to choose which ones we'll hold on to. Which ones we'll believe in, and learn from. 

I love that. 

Here's the quote that's on my mind today: 

"One may achieve remarkable writerly success while flunking all the major criteria for success as a human being. Try not to do that." - Michael Bishop ... So, lionheart: What kind of a writer do you want to be? And what kind of human? | lucyflint.com

I love this quote. This reminder. 

Because this is where I've been lately, my friends.

Over the last month, I've watched my grandma's health decline to nothing. I visited her, read to her, and even sang to her (not very well) because singing was something that still got through.

I saw her the night before she died, and we all sang Happy Birthday and ate cake to celebrate her ninety-second year, even though she couldn't respond. 

I sat with my mom the next morning as we got the news that my grandma had died. I witnessed the flurry of preparation for a visitation, a funeral. I helped proofread her obituary. 

We welcomed my sister and her husband and their four incredible kids into our home; I talked with friends and family for five hours at a visitation.

There was a funeral, a burial, a luncheon. We brought home flowers from the church, and I woke the next morning to the scent of roses.

I stared at the obituary photo of my grandma (bright-eyed, smiling, content) to erase the memory of how she looked the night before she died—when she already seemed like a ghost.

Along the way, I totally neglected a head cold, which responded by turning into some massive sinus-infection-meets-bronchitis thing.

(I sound very elegant while typing all this, coughing like this and sniffling, sitting here in my pajamas and my robe amidst a pile of tissues. Real talk, y'all.) 

And oh yeah, I didn't do any writing. Not a scrap.  

My novel has curled into a tiny little ball. Its notes look like they were written by someone else. The current draft—my epic structural rewrite—is cool to the touch, sitting there at just 7500 words. 

Here on the blog, I had prepped the Love Your Writing Life series in advance, because we knew Grandma wasn't doing well. I checked in with the posts as they published and read them again, doing the prompts that I could manage to get to.

But for the most part, I felt very, very missing-in-action with writing. 

Which is why I love today's writing quote.

Because I can say: That is TOTALLY OKAY.

I had big plans for my writing in February. But it turned into something else.

It was a month for family. I was a granddaughter, a daughter, an aunt, a cousin, a niece, a sister, and a friend. I sang and prayed and held hands and matched faces to names that I'd heard of for decades. 

It was a month for relationships. It was time to be the human, more than the writer. 

And if this sounds very unremarkable to you, I have to explain: in the first several years of being a full-time writer, I divided my life into Writing and Everything that tries to interfere with writing. 

That's the dichotomy that I rode for years, and can I just say: Pitting the rest of your life against your writing gets exhausting.

It turned everything into a fight. It made me bitter. It made me a resentful crazy person. 

Please don't do that.

I threw out that paradigm a while ago, and now I try to live by something else.

I want to be a really good human. Someone who pays attention to the world around her. Who catches the nuances. Who loves people first, and then remembers what they say and writes it all down.

Yes, still a writer.  A writer to the core. Believe me, I was staring at pictures of my grandma, pictures taken ninety years ago in Puerto Rico, imagining stories for the faces and the places that they showed. 

I was absolutely noticing everything at the visitation, the funeral. What, after all, do people say to you, when you've lost someone? 

I soaked up the stories that were shared. The sweet moments. As well as the surreal sense of going through the motions.

I was a family member, first and foremost. 

Here's the thing, my friends. Splitting life into Writing and Not Writing makes it hard to live well.

So I've decided to choose a better focus. Now I protect both sides of the equation (the writer, the human) by trying to live an attentive life.

Because the heart of being a really excellent human and a really excellent writer is the same: To pay attention. To love big. To notice things. To show up.

When I live like that, I get to be the kind of person—daughter, aunt, granddaughter—I most want to be. 

And, when I get back to my writing desk, I find that I have stories to tell.

I'm more calm about getting my writing in, and my writing gets richer at the same time. How's that for a more pleasant way to live? 

So this week, my mission is to get well.

To sleep a whole bunch. Eat a lot of chicken noodle soup. Use those clever essential oils, and take plenty of vitamin C and zinc. I'm gonna banish the snot and the cough.

I've also cleared off my desk. I sat and stared lovingly at the outline I have for my novel on the wall. (Oh look! Characters! I have characters! Hello, you little beauties. Next week, we will dance and dance and dance some more.)

And then I showed up in this space to write some words, and to send love to all you lionhearts, and to say:

We are writers, but we are humans first.

That's how it's supposed to be. Let's not get the two confused.

Let's be present every single day, shall we? Let's pay attention to whatever life hands us.

Let's write by being alive, first. By being attentive, first. 

And then, let's trust that when it's time to sit at our desks again, our stories will be so much richer, because we've been such real and wonderful people...

Even when we weren't writing.