Here's Why You Need a Writing Graveyard: A Super Simple Tip that Will Save You So Much Angst

Yup: Revision happens to us all, and cutting words is never easy. But do this one simple thing to take the sting out of all that deleting. (Bonus: It's virtually effortless!!) |

Here's a writing scenario for you:

Brilliant lionhearted writer (either you or me) sits down at her computer. She pulls up the document of her (amazing! incredible!) drafted work. She settles in for a session of revision.

She finds a problematic passage that needs to go. It's too tangential to the plot, or it involves characters that she has totally rewritten. Or maybe it's this lovely lyrical description that matters a lot to her but maybe not so much to her readers.

It's a passage that--even if she wishes she could deny it--her gut is telling her to cut.

Maybe it's even one of those "darlings" that we writers are always told to kill.

At this point, the Emotions might show up. Maybe as a vague sense of dread, or that smothering impression of how HARD writing is. How thankless the revision process can sometimes feel. 

Or just a bit of defiance: "But I don't WANT to cut it."

Hands up--does this sound familiar? Anyone else ever feel like a bad writing-mother, chopping away at the paragraphs she labored over for so long? Anyone else have an attack of Emotions that then derail the writing day, or at least make it feel bruised and wearying?

I figured out a little trick to deal with this, and believe me, it helps. It doesn't take all the sting out of deleting words, but it goes a long way to soften the blow.

It's really easy. Super straightforward. And I'm betting a bunch of you already do this. But if not: give it a try. 

Here it is: I make a graveyard file. 

Whenever I create a document for a new project, I immediately make a twin file, a document that will hold every deleted chunk of that project. 

And then, whenever I'm revising and I come across a passage that needs to go, when I decide (for the fourth dang time!) that I need to rework the opening sequence, or when I have to cut that little phrase I used to describe the dog ... 

... whether it's a big chunk or just a little phrase, I cut it and paste it right into the graveyard file. 

Yes, I still feel that little twinge of "I wrote that, but it has to come out." Yes, I still feel that little flare of "darn it, I have to rewrite that opening sequence ... mutter mutter mutter."

But I don't feel the wild-eyed panic of tossing my beautiful little words out to the wolves. I don't have to think so hard about it, debating with myself, before cutting a chunk. 

If I suspect that I need to cut it, I do. Right away. If I change my mind later, I can search for it and pop it back into place. No harm done.

I have been so much less panicky about deleting things since I started doing this. And, bonus, I'm much quicker to chop things that really, really needed to go. 

And thanks to my little graveyard file keeping all my words for me, I'm a lot less emotional about hacking away those passages that don't work. After all, they're not really gone! I can go reread those words anytime I want.  

Anything that keeps me out of the path of a raging mood is a really good thing.

It makes for a better draft and a happier writer. Less wear and tear all around! What's not to love about that??

So if you're going to revise (and you are!), and if you're going to have to cut some of your lovely words (and you are!), do yourself a favor and give them a sweet burial. 

Whew. So much easier.

This Is the Better Way to Dress Up: Imagining the Writer You Want to Be

Daydreaming a rosy-hued future writing life? Cool. Me too. Here's why that's *not* embarrassing (and how it will help you focus!). |

So HERE'S an embarrassing question. It's Monday, and hopefully you have some coffee or some such thing, and hopefully you won't reach through your screen and wallop me for being so nosy. 

Besides, I'll even answer it first. 

Embarrassing question: When you daydream about your future as a writer, what does that look like? 

Not the humble, Twitter-acceptable version of "oh, I'm going to just keep growing and learning and eventually publish." (Even though that's all great.) 

I mean, what does it really look like?

In my daydreamed future, I'm usually living in an airy little bungalow--a ridiculously charming and cozy place, crowded with books (in the places where it isn't being airy, I guess). 

The bungalow was purchased with money made from selling books. (Probably a very small bungalow in that case. But nevertheless.)

I'm busy as a bee in my office, churning out one book after the next, creating books for a series that has mega fans.

MEGA. As in, readers dressing up as my characters, or naming children after them, or having themed weddings based on the books. 

(Ahem. Daydreams are allowed to be silly and totally unreasonable. It's their job.)

Daydreamed-Lucy is always full of ideas, always scribbling, and then maybe jaunting about getting coffee and meeting friends at a bookstore, and...


Happy, cheery, energetic writer, who writes, writes, writes, in the midst of a happy, cheery life.

Especially: Making an actual living with my writing. (Also consuming enormous amounts of baked goods and caffeine.)

That's what I dream up. 

And I usually dream it up when I'm not doing a lot of writing. 

I take refuge in this little daydream whenever life gets crowded and my writing habit slips. Or when I'm sick for a while and have a hard time working (I'm looking at you, epic sinus infection of September!!).

So, your turn: What do you daydream about, when you imagine your writerly future? 

(Nothing is too silly, too far-fetched, or too grandiose. I promise.)

What do you imagine? 

Got an idea? The general gist of your dreamed-up future?

Okay. Good. Here's what I want us to do:

In honor of the week of Everyone Dressing Up, aka, Halloween, let's think of what it would be like if that writing life became yours this week.

If you and I could put on our dreamed writing lives, if we could become that kind of writer by Saturday night, as easily as my neighborhood kids become ghosts, princesses, and the Avengers ... If we could do that, what would it look like?

I promise that this really is a practical question. I promise I'm not just being silly.

Because behind my dreams of the snug cheery bungalow and the brioche and the ever-intensifying caffeine addiction, there's something extremely concrete and real. Something that illuminates a goal that I can, shockingly enough, forget I have sometimes.

I want to make a living from writing and selling incredibly good books. Books that readers just LOVE.

Sometimes, I forget that.

Sometimes, I must think I'm aiming to be a binge watcher for Netflix, or a cookbook tester and reviewer, or professional Pinner of knitted goods. 

Because honestly, sometimes that's what my behavior looks like. That's what I get more enthusiastic about some days. 

And THAT, my friends, is why these slightly-embarassing, future-writer daydreams are so dang helpful! They aren't as foolish and time-wasting as I sometimes think. They don't have to be dismissed outright. 

They actually show us what it is that we'd really like to aim for. They point us where we need to go.

Time for an empowering quote? Sure. Here's one from Henry David Thoreau:

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost;
that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

HIGH FIVE, Thoreau. I am so with you. 

What does it look like, to put the foundations under your daydream?

For a little more illumination, here's some extremely practical insight from Heather Sellers. (Yes, yes, I quote her all the time, but she has saved my writerly skin so often, I can't help it!)

In Chapter After Chaptershe tells about her writing friend Rachel, who was writing her first novel in spite of an intense day job.

Sellers writes: "She wanted to become a full-time, well-paid writer, so she hired herself (without pay) and did what full-time, well-paid writers do: Write. A lot."

Makes sense, right? Pretty straightforward. Even simple.

But something clicked in me when I first read that. It was exactly what I needed to hear, to start putting the foundations under my castles in the air. 

What kinds of habits could you adopt now, to become that writer of your daydreams? 

Another way to say all this (and something that Austin Kleon writes about): Fake it 'til you make it.

Not the bad kind of faking. This is the good stuff. As Kleon puts it: "You have to dress for the job you want, not the job you have, and you have to start doing the work you want to be doing."

YES. Right? Let's do that.

Let's practice being the kind of writer we most desperately want to be. The writer of our dreams. Let's practice being that.

And you know what happens? We get to become that.

So what are you dreaming about? And what will you be practicing this week?

Let's treat our daydreams--even the silliest ones!--with the seriousness that they really do deserve. Let's honor them by practicing those behaviors.

By dressing for the job we want to have.

For me, this means:

  • Digging deep into revisions, building a solid story, fixing the structure, going crazy-awesome on the characters. If I want a trilogy that will inspire mass devotion, it needs to be the best dang thing I can muster! Editing without flinching. Game on.
  • Learning from the pros. I've been reading excellent books from Steven Pressfield (this and this), Rachel Aaron (this might change EVERYTHING for you!), and the amazing Joanna Penn
  • READING MORE FICTION! Ack! It keeps falling through the cracks, so I am scheduling it. An hour a day. (The schedule is legit. This is going to happen.)
  • Staying nice. It's all too easy for me to get wild-eyed and rabid when it comes to productivity and not screwing up. But that daydreamed version of me is happy as she is writing. Not glowering at everyone and hating everything. So I gotta remember to be a kind boss.
  • Drinking coffee. (DONE.)

How about you, lionheart? What's your list? How can you be a little more like that Future Writer You this week? 

Put on those habits. Just dress right on up in them. Act like that writer you want to be this week. 

(It's a waaaaay cooler costume than Iron Man. And it looks excellent on you. Just sayin'.)

This Book Is about How to Love Writing over the Long Haul

Some experienced writers can only snark about the writing process. Stephen King's classic book on writing is totally opposite. (Let's get happy.) |

I am always hungry to read memoirs about the writing life. I'm downright greedy for more information: How do the best writers think? 

How do they arrange their days? How do they view themselves and their work? What do they do with schedules, when and what do they read, do their families think they're crazy?

All that juicy stuff.

But sometimes, it gets depressing. 

Some writers hate writing. Or at least they find it so difficult and excruciating that, yeah, it practically amounts to hatred. 

This is not the kind of stuff I want to read about. (I know it can be helpful to all yowl about writing together, but ... sheesh. It does get discouraging.)

I'd rather hear from someone who's been around the block and still loves to write. Someone who still has that freshness, who can't help enjoying it, who thrives on stories.

That's how I want to be. That's who I want to learn from.

Which is why I loved Stephen King's book On Writing. 

I loved this book for his tone--he's funny, salty, honest, and generous. It has a practical, companionable feel, but there's a crazy amount of wisdom in it as well. (Get ready to underline a bunch!)

Best of all, he still loves writing so much that it reinvigorates me when my own enthusiasm starts flagging.

The first section he calls C.V., "a kind of curriculum vitae--my attempt to show how one writer was formed."

It's essentially a memoir, but a memoir through the lens of writing. Experiences from childhood that turned into themes in his fiction.

Totally cool, right? The story nerd in me just eats that up. It sent me musing through my own childhood, thinking again about stuff from childhood that stayed with me, the themes I am always writing toward.

And King shows how the kinds of stories he loved as a kid became the kinds of stories he aimed to tell as a writer. (Which, I'm finding, is also true of me.)

That whole first section is laced with writerly thinking, but it's in the second half of On Writing that he talks about writing itself--what makes good writing good, and why you should read everything you can get your hands on.

He also talks through his own process (soooooo helpful), and how he thinks through each stage of a project. There's so much practical stuff in here! A lot of ideas that I took and applied to my own work.

This is a good one, friends. It's personal, and interesting, and will help you see how your life has shaped your writing, and how your writing shapes your life. At the same time, he talks about the craft in a way that sharpens your writing, and hones your attention.

This is an especially good book to grab if you're tempted to feel grumpy about your writing life, or how hard writing has been. 

As King says near the very end of the book,

Writing isn't about making money, getting famous.
... It's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work,
and enriching your own life, as well.
It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over.
Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. 

Getting happy.

He's been through just about everything, he's written a zillion words (I'm sure that's an accurate number), and he still gets happy about writing. 

That's exactly how I want to be.

When Life Steals Your Writing Time, Here's How You Fight Back

In spite of your best intentions, there will be weeks when life overwhelms your writing. What's a lionhearted writer to do? Here's a quick, fun way to fight back and reclaim your story. |

Sometimes, in spite of all your best intentions, your schedule gives a bit of a shiver and then chucks your writing time to one side. 

Maybe you're traveling, maybe you're sick, or maybe you're in the midst of a big lovely celebration. Happy reasons or frustrating reasons, but one way or another, it gets hard to reach your work.

And if you're writing a novel, all those characters stop standing on their tiptoes. Their shoulders sag. They stop talking to you.

What's a lionhearted writer to do?

Here's a little secret of mine, a "technique" I've used from time to time, although it's really too silly to be called a technique.

But because it is silly, and also oh-so-doable, and also because it usually WORKS--usually keeps my brain tied to my book in spite of whatever is going on--you should try it!

Here's what I do. I write letters. To the thing that is standing in the way of my book.

Not to the traveling, and not to the being sick, and not to the family reunion. 

I write my letters to Creep. 

Heather Sellers is the one who introduced me to Creep formally, though I knew it by its ways long before that. Here's her explanation (from the fantastic, yes-you-must-get-your-hands-on-it book, Chapter After Chapter): 

Most people, especially on their first book, struggle with a terrible insidious mental weed called Creep. If you don't surround yourself with your book, you risk it creeping away from you--or you unintentionally creeping away from it. Creep is bad, and it's as common as the common cold. ... The dreaded Creep is always out there, slowly trying to steal your book from you.

Yes? Right?

You've met Creep before too, haven't you?

I started writing letters to Creep when on a long trip to Florida, visiting family. I was having a lovely time, but my characters were shrinking, and I was terrified of losing them. 

Terrified, but also exhausted, and my writerly brain was only playing static. 

I couldn't work. I couldn't do the plotting and the characterizations that I so needed to do.

But I also hated feeling my novel dry up.

So I grabbed some paper. I clicked a pen. And I wrote--in big, angry letters:

Dear Creep, 

I see you, you mangy destroyer. I see you trying to plant your clawfoot in my days. I see your twisted fingers clutching for my story. I can smell your turnip breath. And I see the oily gleam in your eye.

I can tell you think you've won.

And then I told Creep that I was coming for it. That trips don't last forever, and when I got enough brain cells together, I would write my story with everything I could muster.

I told it all the reasons why I still loved my book. I told it why my characters were worth it.

I told it I was going to fight. 

And at that point, my pen was warmed up, and I was furious and also thinking about my story.

Guess what happened naturally? I started telling myself about scenes that I loved the most. The ones that still grabbed my heart, in spite of the days and activities that filled the space between me and my book.

I started scribbling about other things I would write, about the scenes still to come. I wrote about why I loved my protagonist. I wrote why the antagonist scared me. I wrote about the core images from the book: the moments that I could close my eyes and see.

... And oh, look what happened: The novel's heart started beating again.

Even on a tough day. A mental static day. An I-haven't-written-in-too-freaking-long day. 

I loved how Sellers named this force Creep. I loved that it gave me something to fight. 

Instead of living with that withering feeling of, "It's easier and easier to not write, and also I am probably the worst kind of writing fraud." 

Writing letters to Creep brought my focus back to my book. And it helped me be angry at the right things: not at the circumstances, not at the people who legitimately needed me, not at the days for going by, and not at myself.

I got mad at the thing that was sucking the life out of my work. At Creep.

And I got mad by writing. 

I thwarted it by writing.

I brought my story back to mind. By writing. 

So if your October is filling up with non-writing things, and if your characters are shrinking by the second, and if you're starting to feel desperate...

Well, for starters, please give yourself a huge hug from me, because that is such a hard and terrible feeling, and one I know only too well. One I still fight. 

Give yourself a hug. Get yourself some chocolate. 

And then find a scrap of paper. Flip over an envelope, turn over a receipt, get a little sticky note. And a pen.

And I want you to tell Creep exactly what you think of it. (Be ruthless.) And then write why your story matters. (Because it DOES.)

Put that monster in its place. And remind yourself of how much love you have for your story. 

Tell that piece of paper exactly what kind of lionhearted writer you are.

The kind of writer who will save her story.

The kind who keeps writing.

How (and Why) to Put Your Heart on a Platter (or, Writing What Scares You)

Everyone's always saying to do what scares you... But what does that *actually* mean? How do we write like that? |

We're told over and over to do what scares us.

You've heard that too? As writers, as artists, as creatives, but also just as human beings: do what scares you. 

Write what scares you, do something that scares you every day, take risks.

Honestly, I do find this very exciting. I get all up in arms about it.

Rah rah rah! Yes! Do what scares you!

And then I calm down and think: 1) What the heck does that even mean?

2) And also, actually, no thank you.

Since "doing what scares me," applied literally, would involve a lot of stepping into traffic, leaping off cliffs, and working in a chemistry lab, I'm guessing that all these risky artists are talking about something else.

Besides. I'd like to have a decent life span. And fill it with daring books.

So what does it mean, to write what scares us? What does that look like?

For starters, here's what I don't think it means: 

I don't think anyone needs to share the brutally tragic stuff of their past before they feel ready to. 

I don't think it means writing anything self-abusive. 

Pretty sure some people would disagree with me on that, but I don't care. I just don't believe writing should be about impaling ourselves on our pens.

Okay. So what does it mean, then, to be risky, to do the scary thing? I think it boils down to three things.

First, there's a sense of risk anytime you start something new (What if I fail?).

And second, there's the risk of doing something in a new way, the risk of being original (But no one's done it like this before!), which is kind of an echo of the first risk--what if I fail?

But this idea of what scares you sounds like it lies closer to home.

And actually, I think that the answer isn't so much about asking "what scares you?"

Instead, let's look in the opposite direction: 

What grabs your heart?

What do you care about? Specifically, what do you care about so much that you would fight for it, tooth and nail? 

If all the stuff of your life were stripped away for some reason, if you lost everything, but you could keep three things, what three things would they be? 

Home, family, faith, pursuits, friends, land, health, abilities, memories, possessions?

At the core, what do you love?

... Do you have a general idea? A specific idea? Awesome. Me too.

Next question. (And this is where it gets really good.)

Who in your story loves what you love, to the same degree that you love it? 

Which characters are passionate about what you value? And not in a vague, of-course-they-do kind of way. But in a specific, definite, extremely-clear-to-the-reader way.

Do we get to see them fight for it? Scratching and kicking?

Do you ever strip everything else in their lives away, boiling it down, till their life is about fighting for this one thing?

Here's my confession: I've written characters who cared about stuff I just don't care about. Or, they shared my values, but in a general yeah-whatever way.

I tried to make those books work, but, um, nope. I couldn't really believe in the characters. I clearly wasn't invested in it.  

This trilogy I'm writing, though... At its core, it's about truth and family. 

Stuff I care about. In a tooth-and-nail way.

There's a scene, midway through the third book, where the aunt says a line of dialogue to her oldest niece--and writing that line just about destroyed me. I had to put my notebook down and bawl for a moment.

What?! Why?? My writing process doesn't normally involve snot, so what's up with that?

I'd somehow put everything I feel about being an aunt--all the crazy, insane love I feel for my nieces and nephew--into that one line. 

Especially how it was delivered, in the context of that moment. After everything desperate that had already happened. With everything climactic still to come.

The wording isn't fancy. The setting is simple. 

But when I wrote it, I put a piece of my core out there on paper.

And yeah, that does feel scary.

I mean, there they are, my guts, in between quotation marks!! 

I do feel a little exposed by that. 

And that's what I think is at the center of all this do-what-scares-you talk. 

If we aren't invested in these stories, why write them? If we aren't bringing our values, our emotions to the book, why bother? 

I'm guessing that you and I, we both want to write books that will grab our readers by the shoulders and not let go. We want to draw characters that will live in their minds and their hearts. 

Who might even inspire them. Maybe even give them courage. 

To do that, we need to dig deep into the things we care about. We've gotta get really personal.

We need to feel the pain of what it would be to lose those things, to have them threatened or taken away. And then put that fight and those feelings into words.

That, to me, is a recipe for a story that will grip. A story someone won't be able to put down.

What does that require of us, though? Being generous. Generous to the point of discomfort. (Maybe even generous to the point of snot.)

It means stretching ourselves: when I'm writing scenes like this, my heart beats faster. Literally. I'm breathing faster as I write. I get a bit anxious. And at the end of the day, I feel like I've been through something. Like I've been crying, or shouting. 

Is that weird? Yes! It feels super weird

But it has also helped me turn out manuscripts that I'm proud of. Stories that are saying what I want to say to the world

So that's what it means to me. It means: you have to dare.

Dare to be utterly honest about the exact kind of human you are.

Show what it means to care so dang much about the things you care about.

It means writing the scenes the way they should be written. Even if you look over the page and see your own guts, laid bare for everyone to see.

It means not racing over those parts in your story that would challenge your characters in the same way you dread being challenged. 

It means not letting clichés fill your pages, but instead, asking yourself how it really feels, what it's really like, and daring to be honest about that. 

It means flinging yourself into your story, no matter what.

This Book Will Teach You How to Steal, Why Be Boring, What to Subtract, and 7 Other Supremely Helpful Things About Creativity

In the market for a spot-on book about creativity, with loads of useable, practical advice? Look no further. |

Happy Monday, lionhearts! I have another book recommendation for you. It's quite likely that you've already picked it up, but if not, if not, well... you must!

It's Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, by Austin Kleon

Every time I reread this book, I get more out of it. (The sequel, Show Your Work, is also awesome, and it was one of the main reasons why I started this blog at all.)

You guys!! It's excellent! There is so much that you're going to love about this book. And since it's based on a top ten list, well, I thought I'd give you ten reasons why you'll love it:

1. For starters, and because I'm related to a designer and therefore I now Notice Such Things, I love the design of this book: small, square, with tons of hand lettering (swoon!) and memorable Sharpie illustrations: Kleon considers himself a "writer who draws," and the drawings and edited photos in here are just as valuable as the text.

2. Also, Kleon does this thing called blackout poetry. It seems simple, and then you try to do it yourself, and, um, it's tricky. Blackout poems pepper the book, and like the illustrations, they give you an extra layer of content.

(Plus, a new hobby. All you need is a Sharpie and a sheet of text... Try it!!)

3. All right, but let's talk about his "Ten Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative."

The first five-ish are about how to look at the world like an artist, how to combine ideas and techniques to make new ones, what to do with your inspiration, when to get started, what material to work from, why analogue skills are still important (love that!!), and how to use all of yourself in what you do. 

WHOA, right? So good. And it keeps going.

4. The last five-ish are more about being an artist in the world: how to think about your obscurity in the beginning, how to reach your audience, how to interact with other creatives (the lovely ones and the meanies), how to respond to the people you admire, as well as some awesome practical advice on how to not burn out.  

5. He presents a good mix of the practical with the creative. The result is a book that is super accessible, broken into bite-sized bits, yet still with plenty of butt-kicking potential, if you know what I mean.

It's not all theoretical. You can get your teeth into it and start using it right away. 

6. This book will push you. It will help you see what was right in front of you, begging to be used in your work.

If you're like me, it will also call you out on the places where you might be getting a little bit lazy, or a teeny bit precarious. ... I always re-tweak my attitude to work after going through this book!

7. It's also going to comfort you. You'll see yourself in some of these pages and say Hey! Awesome! Yeah! I do that too!

It will give you permission to be yourself, and then to be more of yourself. To dive in to the places that you thought your art wasn't going to reach. To support your writing brain with other creative pursuits. 

8. It's going to help you with the question of how to live like an artist, like a creative soul. He'll remind you of things you might have known or suspected but forgotten.

It's going to feel doable, all over again: how to give your wonderful-crazy writing self a place to live in the real world. You can do it.

9. It's a fairly quick read, making it ideal for a weekend creativity-retreat for yourself, or a week-long master class.

It's an excellent companion on your journey to being a better artist, a better writer, a better creative. 

10. After spending some time reading this book, you will want to get Making Things. Your brain will itch. Ideas will flow. And you'll be ready to dive in again.

What could be better than that??

As Kleon says at the beginning of the book: This book is for you. Whoever you are, whatever you make. 

You will love it. 

Happy stealing.

Immersion Camp for Writers (The Joyful Way to Never Stop Working)

How do you operate outside of your normal writing hours? Does your mind move toward your story, or far away from it? (Here's the fun way to always move toward the story.) |

So Tuesday was my older sister's birthday. (If you spontaneously ate chocolate cupcakes with lots of sprinkles and didn't know why--well, that's why.) 

Among her many other qualities (incredible sense of humor, fantastic taste in music, and my main movie-watching buddy), she's an awesome graphic designer.

Y'all know I love learning from other creatives, and hanging out with K is no exception.

One thing I've noticed about her? She's a designer all the time. Down to her marrow. 

It's pretty cool.

When she was getting her degree, one of her fellow design students was always showing up to class in pajamas. And not in an occasional, "it's casual Friday" way, but in a this is all I wear kind of way.

Totally normal college behavior, right? I agree. 

But here's the thing: they were all training to be designers. As in: highly sensitized to the effects of color, pattern, shape, and the way those aspects complement each other for a certain effect.

And not-so-much the pajama effect. 

Is it possible to care about design some of the time, and to totally disregard it the rest of the time? Of course it is. The pajama-wearing designer turned in decent work; she's probably doing fine. 

And then there's my sister. Who always has a genius sense of style. She picks her clothes with care because she's a comprehensive designer. It's literally how she thinks. All the time.

She doesn't quarantine her interest to a certain kind of design. She doesn't limit herself to only caring about it between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., only when she "has" to.

She's always paying attention: to digital design, to printed ad campaigns, to the effects of typography and handlettering, to packaging in grocery stores, to the composition of a plated dish at that new restaurant, to photography, cinematography, book covers--

She's always aware of it, always learning about it, always moving toward it. 

I admire the heck out of her.

And right now, as I'm looking to go deeper into my novel, I'm realizing, yet again, how brilliant her example is. I can't help comparing her approach with that of the pj-wearing design student.

How deep can your design sense go, if you don't give a fig about what you're wearing? If you never make it personal?

Why would you practice not attending to your craft?

If you're a designer to the core, wouldn't that come out in all kinds of ways? (Glancing over at my sister: Yup. Yes. Yes, it does.)

So what about us? What about the word-slingers? 

Are we wearing pajamas to class?

Do we think about our novels only when we have to? Do we only care about words and stories when we're "at work"? 

If we only act like writers when we have to, we might not be working at our full potential.

Who are you when you're not writing? When you're not at your desk?

Where does your mind go when you have downtime?

When the writing isn't going well, I sometimes blame everything else--life is hectic, complicated, something unexpected happened, crappy immune system letting me get sick, I've overcommitted myself, blah blah blah.

I look at all the noise everywhere else in my life and feel overwhelmed. Writing is hard

But when I remember to treat my work the same way my sister treats hers--existing all around me, all those opportunities, always fascinating--well! Everything changes. 

Regardless of how busy my schedule is.

Watching her example reminds me: I have a choice. And I start consciously pursuing a writer's frame of mind. I focus on thinking like a writer, wherever I am.

It takes some serious intentionality. It's not accidental.

But when I keep at it, the tide turns. And I find that I'm writing from that deep, shadowy place again. That place where, mysteriously, I feel like I'm surrounded by my story, and every day takes me further in. 

This is when the story becomes real, this is when writing feels almost effortless, this is when I think about the story, build the story, all day long.

If you want, your life can turn into a 24/7 immersion camp in your story.

Pretty awesome, right? 

There are lots of ways to do this (here are three pretty fun ones) but the best way for me to immerse myself in my story is really straightforward: 

I close my eyes and switch out my reality.

... Eeek, did I just type that? For other people to read? This isn't super normal behavior, right? Acting like you can swap realities? Very uncivilized. Not the kind of thing to talk about. 

But--oh wait, we're vagabond outlaws, so it's okay if this is super weird. Okay then.

So yeah. I close my eyes. (If I'm out in public, I keep my eyes open but I let 'em kinda glaze over.)

And I decide that one of my characters is next to me. 

I focus all my attention on making her real. I work at getting a sense of her posture, how she's holding her head, how she's communicating her mood in her stance, or how she's fighting to keep her emotions invisible. I sense the tension in her. 

Sometimes, I start to hear her voice, sometimes she has things to say, sometimes another character emerges from the mist and they start talking.

But mainly, I focus on that first thing: Making the character real.

Because when I believe that these characters are real, the whole book becomes possible to write. 

The most dangerous thing for me is when my characters begin to feel like ideas, like concepts. Mock-people attached to names. Pseudo lives. Narrative chess pieces I move around on a page. 

It is so much better--more dynamic, more thrilling--when I get convinced down to my toes that I'm talking about real people. 

I do this with settings too--conjuring up all the details of that Otherplace all around me, until I think I can almost smell it, I can almost hear the sounds there, I can almost feel the sunlight on the back of my neck.

This is deep imaginative immersion work.

Nothing saves my story like this.

When I'm really in this groove, I can drop into my story at almost any time. It gets easier to sense the characters around me, to catch the pace of the scenes, to anticipate what needs to happen next.

To feel the story world wrapping itself around me.

And then, sitting down at my desk feels like I'm just continuing something I was already doing. I'm already in the story. Breathing it. Living there.

And amazing things begin to happen. 

I ditch the dull scenes, and I write brave new ones. Characters deepen, their motivations become clear and sympathetic, their dialogue sharpens.

Kinda makes my heart start racing.

Try it. Yeah. Right where you are, right there. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and get a sense of one of your characters. Hear them breathing. Believe that they exist, that they're real, that they're right next to you.

And then buckle up, because your story just might take off. You'll have to sprint down that road after it, scribbling as you run. 

It's a marvelous way to work.

... Maybe you do this deep imagining work all the time--in which case, good for you! Have some more chocolate cupcakes. Hand them out to your characters. 

But if you've never done it before, or if you've fallen out of the habit (like I do), grab some time this weekend to practice. Look for opportunities to fall into your storyworld.

Go deep. Immerse. And find out what happens when you're a storyteller, all the time.

This Is How You and I Are Gonna Remake the World

We're gonna dive in and do this well; we're gonna fling ourselves into a fictitious universe and write our way out. Here's some courage for that crazy road. |

It takes an incredible amount of focus, energy, and determination to fling your brain into a fictitious universe. 

I mean... think about it. We are creating a different reality and then trying to jump into it

That takes some work. Right?  A ton of focus, courage, boldness, willingness, and all the imagination power you can muster.

Also? It's Monday. 

So let's get a pep talk from a bunch of other creatives, other world-jumpers. 

Below are thirty of my favorite quotes for the writing journey. Quotes for this mysterious, shadowy, reality-jumping side of the writing life.

Think of it as a big shot of caffeine for all of us who are chasing our stories.

Woo hoo!

One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. -- Annie Dillard

Don't be so afraid of giving yourself away, either, for if you write, you must. And if you can't face that, better not write. -- Katherine Anne Porter

To write truly good stories, stories that will satisfy you as well as your readers, you must do something no writing teacher, no book, no guidelines, can help you with. You must take risks. Knowing your craft can help you tell a story. But only by taking risks can you make art. -- Marion Dane Bauer

Good writing comes from writers on the edge. -- Ralph Keyes

You have to write your own book. The one only you can write. No one else. This takes fearlessness, but the exciting good news is doing the book teaches you the fearlessness you need. -- Heather Sellers

We have to be braver. ... Quotes for the writing journey on

You have it inside you to fight this fight. Write, think about what you write, then write some more. -- James Scott Bell

Always attempt the impossible to improve your work. -- Bette Davis, note to self

Sometimes the mind needs to come at things sideways. -- Jeff VanderMeer

Write. Write badly, write beautifully, write at night. Stay up way too late, ruin your skin, forget to shave, grow your hair long at your age, and write and write and write and write. Make a mess. Don't clean it up. Do it your way. ... This is your book. -- Heather Sellers

I believe that solitude, perhaps more than anything, breeds creativity, breeds originality. -- Elizabeth Berg

I am learning to see loneliness as a seed that, when planted deep enough, can grow into writing that goes back out into the world. -- Kathleen Norris

You find yourself writing your way out of loneliness, writing your own company. -- Barbara Abercrombie

The uncharted path is the only road to something new. -- Scott Belsky

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind. -- Rudyard Kipling

I get ready every night. I pack for the trip. I load my dream mind, hoping I will wake in the morning inspired, clear, and refreshed. I read good books. I have my journal by my bed. Every night, I'm getting ready for my writing morning. I point myself that way.  -- Heather Sellers

The primary purpose of imagery is not to entertain but to awaken in the reader his or her own sense of wonder. -- Tom Robbins

How all good writing is built. ... Quotes for the mysterious, shadowy side of writing on

I don't know anything when I start. The only thing I know is that I'm starting. -- Richard Bausch

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. -- E.L. Doctorow

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase. -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Writers steer by wonder and desire. -- Heather Sellers

All writing is dreaming. -- Jorge Luis Borges

The impulse for much writing is homesickness. You are trying to get back home. -- Joan Didion

Embrace passion as a daily practice. -- Donald Maass

You must have a belief in your vision and voice that is nothing short of fierce. -- Betsy Lerner

Be Careless, Reckless! Be a Lion! Be a Pirate! When You Write. -- Brenda Ueland

There is so much about the process of writing that is mysterious to me, but this one thing I've found to be true: writing begets writing. -- Dorianne Laux

Be the fearless, shadowy, wild writer that you are. ... Thirty quotes for the mysterious, shadowy side of writing on

Yes! Yes! THAT!

... And here's the last one, which is a long, granddaddy of a quote, but here we go anyway because it's lovely:

    If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.
     You must write every single day of your life.
     ... I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime.
     I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.
     May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories. ...
     Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world. 
-- Ray Bradbury

There it is, my lovelies. The best kind of sustenance for this journey we're on. 

Your turn: Any favorite quotes that help you be a reality-jumper? a dweller in a fictitious time and place? 

Which of the above quotes will you be using to dive into your alternate reality this week? 

Happy dreaming, my friends! Happy writing, lionhearts.

If Your Writing Life Is Going Smoothly, But You Feel Like Something Is Missing, Try Adding This.

My writing life has two wonderful sides to it. The super-productive, bright, civilized side is essential. But so is the other side... |

Sometimes I love being the kind of writer who is efficient, bright, and clear-headed. With a clean desk, very few grumpy days, and a fairly smooth novel-writing process.

This is my "good writing-life citizen" version.

And this is when I feel like I could draw a diagram of my novel--I could graph the whole thing out. This is when I'm surrounded by cheerful lists, when I become a smart little word-accountant, tallying up page numbers and chapter sequences.

This is when I feel like I generally know what I'm doing, and where I'm headed. It's a nice clean feeling in the head. 

And I do love those days and weeks.

And then there are the other good days.

When I feel like an entirely different kind of writer

... When I feel like I'm journeying through a shadowy and mysterious land, a hundred miles away from civilization. And to write the novel, I get up each day and set out on a fog-swept road.

And all I know is that I keep moving forward, but I never know what will emerge from the mist.

Writing becomes an adventure; a day at the desk feels like I'm far away.

I start to lose my grip on normal things (grocery shopping? taking showers? going to sleep? errands? meetings?), which is a little yiiiiiiiiikes, but I replace it with a much stronger grip on the story.

And I get swept along. Rosy-cheeked, breathless. Chasing the story.

Heather Sellers says, "Artists are vagabond outlaws," and that is exactly how I feel on these wild, uncivilized writing days.

It's incredible--it sounds crazy--but I start to feel like the story has become my home, like I've fallen into it. Like it's showing me what comes next, day after day, so long as I wake up and write it all down.  

This is when the writing itself feels less like a process and more like watching yeast bloom in a bowl of warm milk: fascinating, mysterious, and more than a little funky.

And I love it, I love it, when I have the days and weeks when that is my writing life.

The vagabond outlaw, scribbling away in the shadows.

Two wonderful sides of a healthy writing life: the bright beautiful process, and the murky mysterious journey in the dark.

I love both versions. 

And I'm convinced that we need both.

It is good--really good--for my writing to fit within certain boundaries. To have a point in the workday when I'm "done" for the day. To be able to do other important things, like cook! exercise! meet friends for brunch!

Good civilized things.

It's good to seek an excellent writing routine, to mastermind a brilliant reading list, or improve my self-management skills. Efficiency! Productivity! Hooray!

But now and then I feel an undeniable urge to chuck my lists (or, okay, just set them down neatly) and make room for the more mysterious side of the writing life.

The vagabond outlaw side.

I start canceling appointments, clearing my schedule of stuff even in the not-writing hours of my day. Because I need a lot of mental room. 

I clear the space to let myself daydream fiercely. I don't worry about getting to bed on time; I carry paper everywhere I go--like, literally, an index card and pen glued to my hand.

I work to fill my mind with all the characters' voices; I close my eyes and build the setting all around me. I walk around in a daze.

This is when I stop worrying about things like schedules, civilized behavior, and, you know, putting stuff back where it goes. I let my life get disorderly. I lose things.

And all that attention and energy and mind and heart pour into the story.

This is what I'm craving right now, honestly. I've had a long run of highly scheduled days, days of routine--and that's wonderful.

But I need to be swept off my feet. I need to go a little wild.

My novel is calling to me. It's time to bury myself in it, get it under my skin, so that I'm dreaming it up all the time, and not just setting text on paper, not just typing, not just plotting.

You know what I mean? 

I want to write a novel with depths. I want a book that readers will tumble into. A story that works like quicksand: One step in, and, welp, now you'll be reading till 3 a.m.

Because I love books like that. The books you read all night long until you finally read The End with scratchy, puffy eyes, and you feel like you've been lost and then found. 

The best way to read!

And sometimes the best way to write.

So that's where I want to go. 

Well, it's October 1. And here in the Midwest, it's autumn. (Favorite season alert!!)

Time for longer nights, and candles in pumpkins, and the spookier sorts of things, so I thought: LET'S. Let's talk about the more shadowy, mysterious parts of writing this month. 

Let's chase after the parts of writing that are less concrete, less certain, less list-able.

Let's be swept off our feet by the vagabond-outlaw side of the writing life. Let's remind ourselves that we're wanderers, web-makers, dreamers. 

Let's go deeper this month. Let's write from the shadowy side.