34 Ways to Deliberately Grow Your Writing Practice (and Meet Your Edge!)

If you want to improve your writerly skills, without trading in a happy writing practice, I've got your back. Here's how to meet your edge, with grace and goodness. | lucyflint.com

Hello, my lovely lionhearts! Welcome back. We kicked off this month by getting excited about how we, as writers, get excellent at our work.

In other words, we talked about deliberate practice

If you missed it, here's the idea in a nutshell: Deliberate practice is about leaning forward in our work. Not just going through the motions, or merely putting in the time. It's about making each minute count.

My gut response to that idea is: Sounds awesome! But then I have to ask: Will this turn me into a very stressed out, jittery, grim sort of writer? Because if so, no.

Fortunately for all of us, there's a simple way to make deliberate practice sustainable. A way to bring as much curiosity and playfulness into it as we do perseverance and intentionality.

The key to it all is this little phrase: Meet your edge. 

As a process, it looks like this: Seek out the rim of what you are used to doing. Find the place where you would naturally want to give up, where you hit the limit of what's comfortable. 

Then take one step out of your comfort zone—not fifty steps out, not even ten steps out, just one step outside your comfort zone—

and work there.

THAT is how growth becomes doable, sustainable, practical, and, oh yeah, super dang effective.

Excited yet? Me too.

Now, because this kind of thing doesn't work at all if it isn't practical, I've brainstormed a bunch of ways to put this to work, right this minute, wherever you're at.

Most of them are pretty small moves, designed to make one aspect of your writing game a little bit sharper. And how you use them is up to you: You might take just one and focus on it for a week (or a month!) and watch yourself steadily improve.

Or grab a handful that seem to fit you, and work with them. Or try a new one each day, for more than a month of deliberate, edge-expanding practice. 

(Of course, everyone's "edge" is different, depending on where you are in the writing life. But take a look at each suggestion anyway, because getting even better at the basics is one way we can all meet our edge!) 

... Oooh, do you hear that? The next level of writing excellence is calling.


Here are 34 ways to practice writing deliberately!

1. Internalizing Story Structure: After finishing a novel or a movie, take five minutes to jot down the key structural points of the narrative. (I like using the three-sentence Story Spine model that Shawn Coyne describes at the beginning of this article.)

2. Dissecting Scene Structure: While reading a novel or watching a movie, pause after an especially loaded scene and take a moment to break it apart. How exactly did it begin and end? How did the writer build it to a climax, and what did it change for the overall narrative? Sketch out the skeleton of the scene to see how it was achieved.

3. Honing Dialogue: Copy out the guts of a dialogue exchange (just the stuff in quotes, without any of the extra descriptions or tags). Read those spoken words out loud, and get a sense for how dialogue sounds—especially the rhythms and beats behind a really good exchange. (This is great to do for published works you admire, or for tightening your own work.)

4. Analyzing Wordcraft: There's something about copying out someone else's work by hand. It helps you go from merely reading it, to seeing its nuts and bolts. Grab a work you admire and copy out an especially well-constructed paragraph. Study it phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence. (But obviously, um, don't take credit for someone else's work.)

5. Sprucing Vocabulary: Shake up the words that you tend to rely on by doing a deep dive into a book of poetry, a children's reference book, or your favorite dictionary. Savor the new mix of specific nouns and verbs, and push yourself to use a few in your next writing session.

6. Surveying Novel Skills: Grab a few favorite novels and check out how each author handles something you're having difficulty with. Try comparing story openings; chapter openings; chapter endings; dialogue; descriptive passages; or action scenes. Get really clear on how each author is choosing to address that area, and how effective their choices are—why they work, why they don't. (And there's nothing like forcing yourself to write down one clear sentence describing what you've learned, to be sure that you're actually figuring it out. So scribble down specific notes as you go!)

7. Clarifying What Didn't Work: When you encounter a novel or a movie that you hate (or even just felt meh about), push yourself to pinpoint exactly what didn't work for you. Where, precisely, did they fall off track? What could they have done differently to improve the whole story? The more specific and comprehensive and relentless you are with this, the more you build your own story-rescue muscles.

8. Taking Action: I don't know if you're this way, but it's easy for me to read helpful writing books without taking any real action. Next time you find some helpful writing advice, instead of nodding and then maybe forgetting about it (though with great intentions, of course!), challenge yourself to take whatever extra step is required to put part of it immediately into practice... right away.

9. Listening for Cadence: Read your own work out loud. This is common advice for a really good reason—the ear can catch what the eyes sometimes miss when it comes to pacing, rhythm, and overall coherence.

10. Improving Description: Take an extra five minutes to sharpen a descriptive passage in your work. Challenge yourself to choose extra-clear nouns and vivid verbs. Make each sentence as specific as possible.

11. Interviewing Characters: Take the character who feels the weakest in your project, and give them five minutes of your undivided attention. Imagine them sitting with you in the room. I mean, really. Try to bend reality. Freak yourself out a little. And then jot down anything that they decide to say to you. (The more I come back to conjuring up my characters, to making them real and alive and right next to me, the more amazing my story becomes.)

12. Expanding the Brainstorm: The next time you need to brainstorm something, push yourself to come up with twice as many ideas as you think you'll need—in half the time. Try fifty ideas in five minutes. You just might astonish yourself at how creative you get in that last minute.

13. Sharpening Observation: Take a familiar object and come up with five new ways of describing it. Try using senses you don't usually apply in this case. Brew new metaphors; create an unusual significance.

14. Noticing the Details: After you've been away from your writing desk, challenge yourself to create a clear, accurate, two-sentence description of something you've just experienced: maybe the quality of light in your kitchen, a summary of the conversation you just had with friends, or the feel of the weather outside.

15. Enlivening Setting: Challenge yourself to make a list of what makes a place (real or imagined) feel unique. And try to work the senses that you tend to forget about—maybe the quality of the air, the less noticeable sounds, the textures, the smells. 

16. Visualizing Specifics: Sketch a five-minute map of one of the settings that you're working on. A piece of storyscape that you haven't mapped yet: maybe a road, a section of a city, or even a room—in as much detail as if you were going to literally build a set for it.

17. Defining the Problems: When you're facing a story snag or other problem in your work, take a few minutes to very clearly articulate what's wrong. Force yourself to get specific and succinct about exactly what isn't working and why. (It's too easy to have a vague sense of unease and then rush off to fix it, without being certain about what has gone wrong. But finding clarity can be half the battle!)

18. Stimulating the Imagination: Take five minutes to think about how well-fed your imagination feels right now. What are you missing? What are you craving? Brainstorm a mini list of creative inputs that sound amazing—do you need a great nature documentary, a trip to an art museum, a visit to the best bakery in town, a travel book with tons of pictures, or a TED talk festival? Get clear on what you need, and block out time soon to do it. 

19. Nurturing Curiosity: Grab a reference book at random and browse it for 5 minutes. Let your imagination get excited. (Seriously, do it. You never know where your next incredible idea is going to come from. It could be waiting for you in that reference book!)

20. Journaling Your Life: One way to keep growing as a writer is to take notes on your own life. If you don't yet have a journaling practice, try writing just one page a day—maybe first thing in the morning, or last thing before you go to bed. (If that's too much, try half a page. You can seriously handle half a page.)

21. Redirecting the Overplan: If you tend to fall down the overplanning spiral of hundreds of to-do items on dozens of lists, this is your deliberate practice! The next time you catch yourself overplanning, go ahead and finish your list. Then walk away—into another room or just outside. Take a few deep breaths and clear your mind for a sec. And then decide, from your gut, what the top three-to-five items should be. The things that honestly, truthfully, you-know-it-in-your-core matter the most. Write those down on a tiny slip of paper. And begin by working only on those things. (This works for me every. single. time.)

22. Accepting Rest: It is impossible to work well for long when you're overtired. If meeting your edge means showing up for your work well rested, then take a nap. If it means napping every day, then nap every day! 

23. Revolutionizing Your Mindset: Take five minutes at the start of every writing session and practice believing in yourself. (I know. It sounds hokey, but it could literally change everything for you, especially if you've been struggling. Read the second half of this post if you need more convincing.)

24. Protecting Boundaries: Step back from one thing this week that you know will drain your energy/creativity without giving much back to you. Practice saying no. (You have my permission to get addicted to this: protect your writing time and energy, my friend!)

25. Deepening Self-Kindness: If it's easy for you to be harsh with yourself, then meeting your edge is gonna look a lot like practicing grace. Take two minutes to write yourself an encouraging note, and post it by your writing spot. Work on consciously agreeing with it when you see it. High five yourself.

26. Focusing Consistently: Do a little distraction clean-up. What tends to slice into your focus while you're working? Texts? Music? Internet? Notifications? Whatever it is, eliminate your pet distraction for a week. (And then another week. And then another...)

27. Bettering Your Work Space: What's the one thing that bugs you the most about your writing space? Is there something that's just a little out of place, that keeps slowing you down, that needs a little extra organization or cleaning or attention? Take five minutes to make it better.

28. Braving the Blank Page: Teach yourself to conquer the blank page by practicing with five-minute segments. (No kidding!) Pull out a blank sheet of paper. Commit to having no standards whatsoever for the quality of the writing you're about to do. If it comes out all wonky, that's great. Seriously. Set a timer for five minutes, and the moment you start the timer, just write. It can be about how your day went; it can be the secret history of every little knick-knack on your writing desk;  or it can be about your favorite character in your current writing project. Anything. Write till the timer stops. Repeat, until blankness no longer scares you. This has actually worked for me, I promise. (When we stop being afraid of the blank page, we become literally unstoppable as writers. Think about that for a sec.)

29. Holding Space: Practice accepting the truth that the writing process is messy. It just is! Allow a bad sentence (section, chapter, subplot) to exist in a draft for now. Let yourself be okay with the roughness of a rough draft, instead of tumbling into a hyper-perfection-seeking cycle. 

30. Refusing to Be Bullied: The next time you feel like comparing your work with someone else's work, or comparing where you are in your writing life with where someone else is: Stop. The next time self-doubt comes prowling and wants to sharpen its claws on you: Stop. Comparison and self-doubt do not have your back, and you don't need to listen to them. Be on your own team. Take a deep breath, and accept yourself and where you are. You are exactly where you need to be, my friend! 

31. Increasing Your Writing Stamina: Start adding a little more time to your writing sessions, or working a smidge past your usual stopping point. Maybe add 50-100 more words than you normally aim for, or working 5-10 minutes longer at a stretch.

32. Knowing When to Pause: If you tend to work yourself too hard and burn your brain to a crisp (you know who you are!): one way to meet your edge is to give yourself an honest-to-goodness break in the midst of your work. Take three-to-five minutes and step away. Close your eyes, or give yourself a chance to stretch, or go outside and stare at something non-digital for a while. 

33. Extending Attention: Instead of giving in to the impulse to rush (we all fight it!), try sticking with a writing project a little bit longer. Maybe spend five more minutes on a paragraph you're tempted to hurry through, or one extra week on a development stage that you're itching to skip over.

34. Releasing Finished Work: And sometimes, the thing we most need to practice doing, is letting something be done, instead of endlessly nitpicking at it. Everything on earth has a flaw in it, my friend. What is it truly time for you to release?


Deliberately Practicing Deliberate Practice

This all comes down to being on the lookout for your own edge. Where do you feel yourself shrinking and saying, Nah, no, not today, not feeling it, not now

Where is it easier to slump right now—in your craft, in your emotional health, in how you set up your work? How can you encounter that edge of yours, and work there?

Again, this is not about leaping way past our edge, about doing things that are unwise, or working where we are honestly not ready to work.

Instead, it's about noticing where we want to dodge something that feels a little too hard, a little too real, a little too taxing. Something that's a bit uncomfortable.

And instead of skipping over it, we focus in.

Take a deep breath. Choose to smile through it. And work right there.

Where can you bring extra curiosity, attention, playfulness, and grit, into your writing work this week? If you have more ideas for ways to "meet your edge," I'd LOVE to hear them, so please post a comment!

Let's Raise Our Glasses: Here's to All the Goals We're NOT Pursuing This Year!

This year's batch of resolution-making is as much about the goals we AREN'T pursuing as it is about the ones we are. Choice is where the magic happens for 2017. | lucyflint.com

It's impossible for me not to think about goals during the first month of the year. It's as fun as jumping on the whole back-to-school train in September!

And I'm not the only one who geeks out over these festivals of productivity, right? ;)

Only trouble is, it's incredibly easy for me to go overboard when it comes to New Year's Resolutions. As in: waaaaaaaay overboard.

Y'all know this about me already: Plans and goals go right to my head.

So when January 1 rolls around, I itch to get my hands on some graph paper and just plan the snot out of the next twelve months. I mean... come on. That's what graph paper was invented for!

And this is why I'm so proud of myself right now.

Because I spent some serious time sifting through my priorities and I narrowed my list of would-be goals to three.

JUST THREE. That's like superhuman restraint for me! 

Because usually I'll decide that there are, oh, about eight sections of my life that need overhauling, like yesterday, and then I'll brainstorm a dozen goals for each section (just to be safe!). And I'll narrow them down to maybe three or five or eight per section.

And then I'll come up with targets I need to hit to make those goals work, so now I have an army of sub-goals, and before long, they'll have multiplied into more fierce little ambitions than I can count, let alone track, let alone work toward. 

But I'll make a massive tracking chart thing anyway, and right at that point all my giddiness will burn out and I'll just sit there choking on overwhelm, staring at my perfect chart.

At which point I'll decide to go binge-watch moody British mysteries until springtime.

Yeah. A hundred percent. That's the usual goal-making process for me, if I'm not very, very careful.

And that's why choosing only three (amazing, exciting, challenging) goals for this year is practically an act of heroism.

I didn't do it alone, though. I had high-quality help in the form of two books: Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, and The Accidental Creative, by Todd Henry (which I fell in love with this fall).

Two super-excellent books for defining what matters in your life as a creative, and then doing it. 

The practice of Essentialism is all about focusing on doing less but better. Stripping things down to their essentials and then putting all your energy behind them. (Guess where the name comes from!) After falling head-over-heels for Deep Work and the power of mega-focus, I was ready to dive into Essentialist thinking.

Confession: Left to my own devices, I'm a die-hard Non-essentialist. In McKeown's terms, this means that I'm focusing on "the undisciplined pursuit of more."

In practice, this is a lifestyle of piling on commitments, scattering focus and energy everywhere, and saying yes to everything. And, oh yeah, feeling overwhelmed and like I can't make any progress.

It looks like sitting in front of a big chart of 73 goals with zero energy left to pursue them.

A lifestyle of Essentialism, on the other hand, relies on powerful decisions.

I love how McKeown takes his time with definitions in the book: He points out that the word decision comes out of the Latin for "to cut," or "to kill."

Meaning? When we decide on something, when we choose it, we're killing a different decision. We're cutting ourselves off from a different route. We are actively choosing to NOT do something else.

It's not a "pick both!" situation, even if that's how I try to make it play out. I want to ask, How can I do everything? How can I pick all the things I like? Everything I want, and right now?

But the real, amazing power of a decision comes from the fact that, when you pick one thing, and also pick to NOT do the other thing, you've freed up the resources and time and energy and attention and creativity that would have gone to that second thing.

Which means that your chosen path has gotten a lot stronger. You can do it far better than if you insisted on trying to do more things.

See where we're going with this? 

It's worth really wrapping your mind around this. Because if you're like me, it's so easy to believe that we have endless energy, plenty of time, no worries, we don't have to rule anything out! 

No matter how many times we prove that that's simply not true.

Anyone with me on this? 

It is so much better, more truthful, and less stressful, to take a deep breath and gather the focus to make an actual decision. The kind of decision that cuts something off, that kills the other option.

THIS thing. NOT that thing.

McKeown makes a compelling case, and he totally sold me on Essentialism. And I'm working to mend my scattershot ways!

(There's a lot more to his work than just that, and it's really good! But that's the section I used as I planned my goals. Definitely check out the book for yourself!

The idea of focusing on only three goals came to me while I was reviewing the notes I took from The Accidental Creative, which is a book about developing a sustainable rhythm to support your creativity. (SO. GOOD.)

One of Todd Henry's concepts is The Big 3, which is just "the three things I need to gain creative traction on right now. They aren't necessarily my biggest projects, though they often are. ... The Big 3 is a constant reminder of where I need to dedicate my creative bandwidth."

For Henry's purposes, the Big 3 can be updated whenever necessary. They can shift from week to week, depending on the progress you make. They're always what you're mulling over, and working to move forward on.

For me, three felt like a magic number. Just enough breadth to dodge boredom, but not so much variety that I lose my grip on what's essential.

I figured: why not have a Big 3 for the year? Aka, my Resolutions?? 

So I did it. I made a master list of projects and ideas and things that I care about, and then I weeded them out, one by one, until I focused in on my Big Three. 

Three super powerful goals. Two are work-related, and the third one is personal. Each of them is a game changer, no wait, a life changer for me.  

I made sure they were each fairly clear: measurable, and not just subjective. And then I did all my happy-nerd planning: I looked at where I'd need to be by the end of each month, in order to check off all three by the end of the year.

Each one is a VERY big stretch for me, but at the same time, each one is also truly doable. ... So long as I don't listen to fear, focus on my faults, and spend the year curled up in a corner!

Three mega-exciting goals.

And by not choosing those other seventy ideas, I'm aware of just how huge my attention span is, and how much energy I have, since I'm not spreading it around as much. 

What's also surprising is how respected I feel.

These are challenging things that I'm aiming for, but by not adding a dozen more goals on top of them, I feel like Boss-Me is being pretty reasonable toward Working-Me. I'm not thwarting myself from the outset, burying the important goals in a landslide of other attempts and commitments and initiatives.

So: they're actually possible. They will truly happen.

Which is why I seriously can't stop grinning. My heart's beating faster. But I'm not overwhelmed either. Challenged, yes. Overwhelmed? Well, no.

Because I can wrap my mind around each of these three things—there's only three, after all! And I have enough space and resources to seriously make them happen.

One, like I said, is personal. But what are my other two? Well, I definitely and absolutely and no-matter-what-ably am publishing my first book this year.

For SURE.

The date might change, but it is happening, and my current best estimate for publication is July 1. That is what I'm committing my schedule and my focus to. 

The other work-related goal is just as big and exciting: I'm committing to sell 1000 copies of that first book in the first six months of publication. WHOA. That's a big, exciting, time-to-put-my-big-girl-pants-on kind of goal! 

No chance that I'm going to be bored this year, haha! 

... So. Where are you at, my lionhearted friend, with the January goal-making and resolution seeking? 

Let me encourage you to pick very few. Just a few goals that are exciting for you, that are extra-important, that are worthy of the bulk of your time and focus and heart.

That would change your world a little—or, oh, even a lot.

(And no, sorry, a dozen goals isn't a few. I get it, and I feel you, but no.)

Challenge yourself to try for just a few big things. Try three. Three is such a great number.

And then feel the rush of empowerment as you line up what you would need to meet that goal.

What kinds of things you would do, in order to make it inescapable that you will hit your goals. Like, no question. Of course they are going to happen. They are definitely going to work out.

And, scary empowering question, what kinds of things will you not do, in order to make each of your goals a reality? 

Because it isn't just about setting up a killer action plan. It's about making sure that the time, energy, resources, excitement, and courage are all lined up and available for you from the start.

And then: make the daring, brave commitment to yourself that these things are your Most Important. They are your Essentials, your Big 3.

And if something else comes up, if there are obstacles, if you wake up and stop feeling like it: These goals still win

That's the power: You're deciding in advance they will happen.

You're calculating the trade-offs in advance. You're invested. You're not chasing after all the other pretty ideas on purpose, so that you have the resources and energy you need.

Focusing on these things is worth it.

So what are your Big 3? What's on your plate this year?

What is going to consistently win your focus and excitement, week after week this year, until it's done?

Ooooh. That's the kind of amazing attitude and bold commitment that's gonna get things done.


Want more resources? If you eat this kind of stuff up, definitely check out the book The One Thing, because it's also really helpful with questions of focus and purpose and what's essential. 

Also, there's my new favorite podcast (!!!!!), which is The Life Coach School Podcast, by Brooke Castillo. Seriously, y'all, the more I listen to it, the more I am CONVINCED that it is essential listening for every writer who is trying to publish and sell her work. For everyone who has to manage their own thoughts and goals and emotions and attitude: it is a MUST LISTEN. It just gives you such incredible tools for motivating yourself!

Definitely check out her episode on goal making, her episode on self doubt, and her episode on what you want to create in your life. They will rock your world, and get you thinking of how to tackle huge wonderful things in your life!!

Buckle up, 2017!

My Best Advice for Sticking with Nanowrimo (or Any Fierce Drafting Project!)

What does it take to survive Nanowrimo (or any fierce drafting project)? Hint: it's not just about words-per-day. | lucyflint.com

Happy November, and Happy NaNoWriMo to all my crazy scribblers!!

I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I am doing my own version of a writing marathon. I'm taking aim at my long-suffering work-in-progress, and I'm going to marathon through to see how far I can get with it in November.

... Because if you're going to try and work at an astonishing pace, November is the time to do it! ;)

Before we get into today's post, I have a little housekeeping announcement for you lionhearts.

First off: thank you SO much for being kind and patient with me as I took October off to replenish. Oh my gosh. It was the BEST possible thing I could have done. I'm feeling so much better!

Secondly: I've been looking at my writing goals and my writing pace over the last year. 2016 has been a tough year for my work-in-progress. October's break from blog production helped out my novel so much that I've decided to make a change to the blogging schedule.

Starting this month, 
I'm going to post just two articles a month.

And we'll just see how that goes for a while. 

Why two articles? Well, for one, I can never manage to write short posts. You probably noticed, haha!

I've tried—really I have!—but I'm always wanting to cram them full of all the info and supporting detail that I can muster. ... I always figure that if a topic is resonating for someone, I wanna make sure they get everything valuable that I can give them on that topic.

But, I get it: that can be overwhelming to keep up with, both as a reader and a writer!

In the past year and a half (has it been that long?!) I've written about so many of the writing topics that are close to my heart. I have been able to say a lot of what I most wanted to say about writing. (Have you been able to check out the Archives yet? They're bursting!)

So a more gentle pace with blogging seems the way to go, at least for now. Expect to see me here on the first and third Thursday of every month! 

Sound okay? Any questions? Just let me know in the comments. (Also, if there's something about the writing life that I haven't really tackled yet, or if there's something you'd love to hear more about, please do let me know!)

And thanks so much, as always, for being the awesome bunch of lionhearts that you are. You encourage me so much, and I'm so privileged to be writing alongside you!

Speaking of writing... 

Let's talk about mega-fast drafting, marathon writing, and NaNoWriMo.


Whenever I charge into some speedy drafting goals—like NaNoWriMo, or my self-designed drafting marathons—I always start by getting really clear on my purpose.

NaNoWriMo is such a huge event: it's become one of those rites of passage for writers today. Something to aim for, something to try at least once. 

Which is great! But before you get swept too far along, you need to grab a little bit of time to check in with why you are doing it. 

What's the point? 

If you are doing this crazy cliff-dive of a writing exercise, what's the goal? What are you aiming for?

Here. I'll let you think for a sec. ...

.

.

.

The reason why I love NaNoWriMo, why I love drafting marathons, is because of the core goal.

The goal is what shapes the whole experience; the goal is what makes it.

Because the goal of NaNoWriMo isn't perfect writing. 

Heck, the goal isn't even GOOD writing. 

The goal is: Mass ink. 

Word-shaped blotches and sentence-like creations and LOTS of 'em. 

For a recovering perfectionist, overachiever, and overthinker, this kind of drafting marathon feels like the craziest kind of indulgence. Abandon expectations. Abandon most-to-all standards. In a race like this, they'll just hold you back.

NaNoWriMo is about momentum and velocity, and it feels more than a little dangerous at times. 

It's risky

It's risky in the same way that running down a steep hill is risky, and I do it for the same reasons—

To see if maybe I start flying.

Or if at least I'll feel like I'm flying. 

Only instead of wings, we're sprouting a glider made out of words and pages, and seeing if maybe, just maybe, our feet lift off the ground for a while.

When you're moving this fast through storyland, after all, it has a way of seizing you.

You start living half-in and half-out of two realities: There's your day-to-day "real" life concerns (food and errands and whoa, actual humans)—

And there's the world of your story, your characters pressing in around you, holding onto your sleeve, putting their hands in your pockets, telling you secrets.

We do NaNoWriMo because, when we drop the bar of our expectations, and when we run in the biggest writerly wolfpack eversomething happens.

We literally achieve liftoff.

Even if you don't "finish" NaNoWriMo, even if you don't "win," you still get the experience of making a run for it.

Barreling across the plains of story, galloping faster than maybe you ever have before.

Do it for the rush, for the thrill, for the crazy swooping sensation in your stomach as your story grabs your hands and waltzes you across whole continents.

Let your NaNoWriMo goal be: that rush. 

Chuck perfection and standards; burn your outline if it gets in your way; and do whatever you can to get close to the heart of your story.

Don't worry, quite so much, about words per day. Filling out that word count graph can feel like the main goal, but I promise it's not the main thing to worry about. 

So instead of asking, "How can I crank out even more words," try asking: What can I add to this scene that would thrill me? 

Because the best way to write a ton of words is to answer that question. That's when your word counts will start shocking you.

Ask some follow-ups: 

  • How can I love writing about this character more? What quirks, traits, inner darkness, or outer hope can I layer into them that would keep me engaged while I write? 
  • What curve to the conflict would pull me to the edge of my seat? How can I weird up the story a bit? How can I add all my favorite story traits to it? What would keep me entertained?
  • What settings would I just love to pepper my story with? What do I want to explore with words?

Start answering those questions in your draft, and you'll find that the words and the masses of ink take care of themselves.

For the record, this is my best advice for NaNoWriMo, or for finishing any draft well. This is what has always worked the best for me.  

When you're worrying about quality, remind yourself that your real goal is just: tons of words on pages.

And if you find yourself worrying about how to write tons of words, throw that goal out the window, and just ask: What gets me excited, really excited, in a story? 

And start sprinkling—no, dumping—that into your draft. You'll feel the difference immediately. 

You just might start flying.


I'll check back in with you in two weeks with a big inspiration post, which I'm super excited about!

But til then, if you're looking for more NaNoWriMo cheerleading, check out this post on diving in, this post on the main NaNoWriMo fear (and why it's not true), and this undervalued—but super useful!—writing strategy.

Finally, here are 50 plot twist ideas... one of them is sure to bail you out of your next plot conundrum!

Best of luck—and happy flying!!

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. 

Calling All Sore, Troubled, Tired, and Discouraged Writers: I Know Exactly What Book You Need To Read Next

This is the book that's been radically reshaping my approach to the writing life. It's an absolute must-read, especially if you've been feeling weary, discouraged, and frustrated. You won't regret diving deep into this one, my friends. | lucyflint.com

Let me just start by saying: I'm totally blushing.

Why? Because when I first read this book ten years ago, I blew it off.

I thought it was "nice." Had some okay advice. But I didn't really take it to heart.

I completely disregarded this book. For ten years!! 

WELL.

I am here today to set things straight.

To declare my deep, deep love of this book. To celebrate its profound impact on my view of writing this summer.

And to report that it's basically changing my life and rearranging my heart and all kinds of good, important, radical stuff.

It's a big deal.

Whew. Deep breath. 

So have you read The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron?! I've maybe mentioned it a half a dozen times this summer, so you've seen it go by a few times if you're a regular around here. 

But oh my goodness. I don't even know how to start talking about this book and how much it's helped me.

Let's rewind. Here's what happened ten years ago.

I was a mostly terrified and somewhat cocky college senior, a few months away from graduating, when I first read this book.

At the time, I felt fairly well supported. I was a student/writer who lived among students, who was praised by professors, who wrote a lot, who aced her assignments, and who could absolutely prioritize between School and All That Was Not School.

No sweat. 

The writing life? Pfft. My main concern was how do I produce fast enough? And, you know, make a wad of cash and meet Oprah?

(Pardon me while I laugh a whole bunch and wipe away a few tears. Ahem.)

What I didn't know at the time was that, at my core, I have a maniacal perfectionist bias.

Which means that, when it comes down to it, I'm convinced that I should work five times harder, five times longer, and make flawless things on the regular. (While being irreproachable in every area of my life as well.) 

I might have suspected that I had a slight perfectionism problem.

But if you'd asked me, I'd say that really, perfectionism is helpful, right? I mean, who wants to read crappy stuff? I'm all for excellence.

I had no idea how much of a block perfectionism is. How many awful messages are wrapped up in it, and how they've been trickling poison into my writing life. 

Yeah. Turns out, perfectionism is 100% toxic to a healthy writing life. (Whoops.)

I also didn't understand how my childhood (yep, I just went there) radically affected how comfortable I am at trying difficult things. Taking risks. Being seen. And maybe failing at them. 

I didn't realize that I have some really deep, persistent, gnarled roots of shame and frustration and anxiety that are all around the act of making something and presenting it to people.

As in, writing a novel, and, you know, publishing the thing.

Turns out, those kinds of scars, when not dealt with, will absolutely sabotage this kind of work. (Whoops again.)

But ten years ago, when I shrugged off this book, I didn't know that. I read all these same words, but I didn't really hear them. I definitely didn't see myself in what she was saying.

I just wanted some zippy advice for writing fast novels, perfect novels.

Heal and grow and take time to nurture myself? Nah. I want perfect novels, please, written at a blistering rate. Phone Oprah for me, okay? 

Well. Fast forward about ten years later, to January 2016. 

I was feeling some creative restlessness. 

No, it was more than that. I was getting really uncomfortable and anxious about this pattern that I kept seeing in my writing.

I could barrel along though a first draft and a second and maybe even a third, but then something would happen that would make me feel like my entire novel was broken. Beyond repair.

No editor, no amount of redrafting could save this manuscript.

So I'd chuck it and learn a bunch (characterization! structure!) and go on to the next thing.

Basically, in a nutshell: My progress toward publication kept getting derailed. It was uncanny. And I was getting really tired of it.

Something kept tripping me up, and though it had always seemed external, lately I'd started to wonder if it was partly ME, sabotaging myself.

And I felt this kind of nudge to go check out The Artist's Way again.

I was half rolling my eyes at myself. This book? How was this loopy, silly book going to help me?

So I dragged my feet about reading it. I ignored it, not really looking at where it sat on my nightstand. 

Until finally, in the spring, I began reading. 

And reading. And reading.

And—I'm not kidding—I felt like every single paragraph was written about me.

How did she know these things? She was describing everything I'd been wondering and feeling lately.

She talked about how artists can self-sabotage without even realizing it. 

She described the idea of a shadow career: one of the ways that artists try to skip being artists, or dodge what they're really meant to do.

How we can hide behind things that are like our main art while not actually doing our art.

(Which of course bears NO resemblance to my own path of working in two bookstores, working for two publishing companies, nearly becoming an editor, and now sometimes hiding behind a bunch of blog posts while neglecting a novel project. Doesn't sound like me at ALL, does it.) 

... Did I mention I'm blushing?

And then, yes, she looks back at the messages we received in childhood. Which I wanted to shrug off ... but which turned out to be one of the most vital parts of the book for me.

I was reading and rereading as I went. I kept circling back and finding even more insights. Which is part of why it's taken me so long to get to the end of it. 

It's set up as a twelve-week course. (Which is marvelous for those of you who, like me, still love thinking in school terms.)

Each "week" has a theme, and each theme is based around Cameron's idea of artistic recovery. So, for example, Week 1 is "Recovering a Sense of Safety," and Week 4 is "Recovering a Sense of Integrity," and Week 8 is "Recovering a Sense of Strength." 

(Doesn't that just sound gorgeous? Sigh. I'm definitely about to launch into a re-read.)

In each week, there are a few essays about that theme, and then some really amazing and helpful tasks at the end, followed by a weekly check-in. I loved the structure, and both the essays and tasks were massively helpful.

But the biggest and most healing thing for me is her constant, persistent, unflinching sense of support and love for the artist.

For you, my writing friend. And for me.

She keeps having the reader acknowledge the fear and pain and artistic mistakes from the past, through a variety of helpful prompts and exercises. And then we work on healing it, by nurturing our artistic selves. 

How do we do that? 

Oh. This gets really fun. (And terrifying, if you're like me and have a hard time with this kind of thing.)

We nurture ourselves with play. With joy. With little luxuries.

By doing silly things. By indulging. By spoiling ourselves.

(And yes, that death rattle noise is my inner perfectionist, who is hiding under a blanket. Because this goes against everything she stands for. How can being silly help make me a better artist? Indulging yourself?!? Where will it all end? Gasp, cough, wheeze, choke.) 

But basically, Cameron trains you to pamper and love and spoil and listen and treat yourself (and your work and your creativity), with utmost care and respect and kindness.

In other words, this book will help retrain all of us to stop beating ourselves up.

To stop starving parts of our creativity.

To stop submitting to the scars of the past and letting them destroy the future.

Nope. 

In fact, one of the mantras she recommends (which I both adore and really struggle with) is this:

Treating myself like a precious object
will make me strong.

Whoa, right? 

I mean... sit with that for a bit. Let it mess with you.

Where have you been believing that it's by beating yourself up, by being really harsh (and calling it accountability), by being inflexible and refusing to reward yourself, by nitpicking and sniping at yourself, by staring at your mistakes until you want to hide...

Where has that spirit of self-abuse been ruling your writing life? 

And do you, like me, feel like if you treated yourself super kindly—like you are in fact a precious Ming vase or an exquisite artwork—that if you do that, you'll just screw everything up, you won't be disciplined, you'll just get lazy, nothing will ever be done...

See, that's the argument that starts up in my head too. But Cameron calmly reasons it out of me.  

In a nutshell, she proves very conclusively that when our artistic lives are full of delight, excitement, and kindness, we are drawn to our work, we are truer to our own voices, and we write from a place of well-nourished strength. 

The results?

Are freakin' spectacular.

So, lean in to that.

Whoever you are, wherever you are at in your writing. Try to pamper your writing self.

Skip being harsh, skip self-punishment, skip all the nasty things we do to "keep ourselves in line." 

And try a softer, kinder, more intuitive way.

... You'll be hearing more about this book in the next couple of weeks, as I share some of the biggest lessons I've learned from it. Because this was just the tip of the iceberg, my friends.

But seriously, don't wait for me. You owe it to yourself to borrow The Artist's Way from a library, or grab your own copy and start underlining.

Dive in with an open mind and an open heart.

Commit to trying all her exercises. And get ready to discover yourself (and appreciate your instincts and your amazing writer's heart) in a deeper way than ever before.

This book will challenge and prompt and prod and hug you. 

I'm seriously going to reread mine, immediately, from front to back. Like, today. Right now.

Because it's changing everything.

And I'm convinced that it's absolutely essential to being the kind of writer I most want to be.

Don't Skip This Essential Step Before Finding A Swoon-Worthy Idea

Next time you need an idea to sweep in and save you, start with this vital (and incredibly helpful!) process. | lucyflint.com

So we're about midway through Idea Camp. Can you believe it?!

(Hey, June! Slow down!! Haha! ... Okay, but I'm serious. Slow down.)

We've covered a lot of awesome idea-generating tools so far: three topic lists that work incredibly well together (one and two and three), as well as a few idea scouting techniques (this one and this other one) that will absolutely get you some good results.

Whew!

Are your imaginations fizzing yet? 

Today we're going to take a look at idea-finding from the opposite end.

This is one of the most important things you can do when you're in desperate need of the right idea, the perfect solution.

Define the problem.

Does it sound mundane? Boring? Obvious?

Ah, but don't be fooled. Don't underestimate this incredibly important step—like I used to.

Because sometimes, just doing this process of analyzing the problem will give you the exact perfect idea to solve it.

Whoa, right? 

I can't tell you how many times I've hit a snag in my story, and then beat my brains up trying to figure out what to do next.

Maybe I've run into a problem with a character, a setting, or the conflict. I'll have backed my protagonist into a corner—and have zero ideas about what to do next.

It's great for story suspense, but pretty bad for my writing day.

So I used to make a lot of noise, growl at my computer screen, and rack my brains trying to come up with the idea I needed.

I spent a lot of time mentally spinning my tires, until I figured this out: That I needed a crystal clear definition of what problem I was trying to solve. 

Sometimes we can come up with a good idea on impulse. But for the more complex, more elusive solutions, it pays to back off and take the time to study the problem itself.

It's tough to remember to do! Usually I just want to plug away until I have the solution I need.

But in order to design the right fix, you have to know exactly what you're looking for.

And you need to diligently uncover all the hidden requirements of the particular idea that you're after.

We can't solve anything until we're clear on exactly what we're solving!

My favorite way to "define the problem" is with a lot of informal freewriting.

Basically, I interview myself about exactly what's gone wrong. I'm looking for the most precise description of my problem, of the story snag, or the hole I'm trying to fill.

And then I take plenty of notes on my answers.

Writing it all down is key, because all your discussion with yourself about the problem is full of good clues: pointers to your needed idea!

Just remember: You're getting the exact dimensions of your missing puzzle piece. That's the only way to recognize the best solution.

Obviously, the questions that you ask yourself will look different depending on the idea that you're after. But the first place to start is by asking: 

What exactly isn't working here? What is the problem really

And then, go into detail.

Like, a lot of detail.

You really can't have too much detail! If you're an overthinker like me, just do your thing. Let it all out.

So, for me, I need to define the problem most often because I've hit a major snarl in my plot.

Like recently: I needed to figure out what my protagonist was going to do during a critical part of the climactic sequence. I knew what happened just before this moment, and I knew what happened just after. 

But there was a big gap between the two, and I had nothing.

And after being frustrated for a while (stomping, staring, roaring), I remembered to start asking these questions. 

I opened a new document on my computer, and I wrote it down: "I don't know how to get my protagonist into this important building at the end of the story."

And then I imagined my computer saying (in a calm, thoughtful voice): "Tell me more about that."

This is when you start discussing every single component of the problem. 

So, for my problem, I wrote about who my protagonist was at this exact moment in the story.

What she had been learning, and what she was up against. How tired she was, and all the conflicts between herself and her allies. And also how she felt about the villains at the moment.

I also wrote down anything pertinent about her skills, her strengths, her flaws. What was her biggest fear? What was her chief objective, and what was the motive behind it? 

I reviewed all of this good stuff. (Brilliant ideas are lurking in these kinds of questions!)

Then I thought through my other characters, and what they were doing during this exact moment in the plot.

And then, too, the antagonist and all his friends: What were they up to? What were they worried about? How were they gathering for the climactic scenes? What did they still have up their sleeves?

I took a zillion notes, and then sat back and kept thinking.

What else was part of the problem?

Well, the building she needed to get into: it was extremely important to the story, and it had some special plot-related requirements of its own. 

So I wrote down everything that I could think of about that

And then I thought through everything else going on in the story's setting: the surrounding area, and the weather, and anything else that could be a part of it.

Another great question if you're looking at a plot problem: What story resources are still untapped?

What about these characters have I not used in a while? What haven't I exploited about the setting?

See how it goes?

The main thing is to drill wide, and drill deep. 

And don't stop until you feel like you have the most accurate representation of the hole you need to fill. 

Also, you can take some time to explain why other solutions don't work. 

This can be really clarifying. It's also a little cathartic, since you've probably had to abandon a handful of ideas for certain reasons. Get all that down, so that you know where you are:

I can't do this, because of that and that and that. I can't do this other thing, because of x and y and z.

Then ask:

What else will the solution have to take into consideration?

What other constraints are you operating with?

And (since sometimes you're filling a gap, and you know what's on the other side of it) what will this solution have to lead into?

Whew! 

After I've written everything down—and then some!—I'll usually take a break from this "Defining the Problem Q&A." 

I'll come back a few hours later, or the next day, and reread all the scribbling I've done and see if I've left anything out.

Once you've gotten every single possible element of your problem onto paper, you're set. Good job!

You have just become the expert on the idea that you're looking for. 

So where does that leave you? 

Actually in a really good place. 

When I did this process for that climactic story snag I had? The exact perfect solution dropped into my head, while I was writing down all the things that wouldn't work.

It feels like magic when that happens! Like "Congrats, you're a genius!!"

The right solution fell into place, and I love it. It feels unexpected in the story (I think!), and it ties up all the concerns I had about the moment itself.

But there's no way I would have been clear on that, if I hadn't gone through this process.

If the perfect idea doesn't show up, at least you know exactly what you are looking for. And that's a powerful place to be, when you need the perfect idea!

So how do you go about finding it?

That's what we'll talk about in the next post.

Ooooh. Story problems: brace yourselves!!

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!!

Let's Leap Out of This Oh-So-Common Writing Trap!

There's a fiendishly easy trap to fall into with our writing, especially if it's been chaotic, busy, or complicated in your life lately. Let's do a quick check-up, and leap back into a solid writing practice. You with me, lionheart? Let's go. | lucyflint.com

It's turning very spring-like here: our magnolia tree just exploded with blossoms, the lawns are greening up, and tiny leaves decorate the branches of our lilacs.

You can almost feel the energy fizzing in the air: seeds falling from trees, buds bobbing on stems... 

And writers ripe with ideas, spilling them everywhere but at their writing desks.

OH, wait. Maybe that's just me. :)

As y'all know, it's been a complicated February & March for me so far. But now that the chaos has calmed down (I think!), it's time to refocus on my work-in-progress.

But my unintentional strategy for doing that has mainly been through chattering.

Seriously, I'm talking up a storm.

About writing plans, about the chapters I need to write, about a murderously tricky deadline I have coming up, about how rusty I feel after such a strange couple of months...

And I keep hearing myself say (very convincingly): "If I could just get going again, this draft would fall into place, no problem."

Ahem. Yeah: there's a massive disconnect in there. (Oof.)

To get back on track, this is the quote I need. It comes from Chapter after Chapter, by the amazing (and frequently mentioned* around here!) Heather Sellers:

     "Reverse your field. If you spend 90 percent of your creative energy dreaming of a book and dreaming of the writing life, and only 10 percent of your time actually writing, you need to flip it around. 
     Give 90 percent of your energy to the words on the page." 

It's easy to get our ratios mixed up. To talk and plan and daydream 90 percent of the time, and only write for 10 percent. Let's flip it around. "Give 90 percent of your energy to the words on the page." -- Heather Sellers | lucyflint.com

Whew! There it is!! The butt-kicking I needed.

Can we be real and say: It is such an easy trap to fall into.

We're daydreamers; we're communicators.

It's so easy to get mired in just dreaming about the writing life—especially how smoothly everything will go, once we get into it.

It's so simple to just talk it up—hang out with fellow writers on social media, or chat to friends and family about the project.

And then to just ... stay there.

Dreaming, talking; talking, dreaming.

It's so safe! It feels deliciously writerly, with very low risk.

It is one of the nicest ways to not get work done.

Believe me, I've tried it often enough, but I have never successfully talked my way into doing a draft. 

The work only happens when I make a conscious decision to shush. Zip it. Stop talking

To put the pencil down and back away from the plans. To give myself a shake and quit dreaming about how nicely the draft will come together "once I get going." 

All that talking and dreaming distances me from the actual work.

It builds up a kind of resistance to the untidiness of the new draft. (After all, dreaming about drafting is so neat! The actual drafting is much muckier.)

It puts off the linguistic juggling act of getting everything set up in the first story. (Characters! Personalities! Conflict! Stakes!)

You know? Talking about writing, daydreaming about writing: it scratches the itch. And it's risk-free!

But I need to plant myself squarely in the midst of the writing itself.

How about you, lionheart?

Are you camping out on social media and lovely writerly conversations and reading fun writing books, and doing all other writerly things ... without the actual writing? 

It's such a tough thing to catch yourself doing, isn't it? Such a tempting, sticky trap.

But Heather Sellers gives us an incredibly effective equation for getting unstuck.

It calls for a bit of honesty. (Okay, okay. A lot of honesty. A radical amount of honesty. Deep breath.)

How much of our time and energy is spent in writing-like enterprises?

Talking, social media-ing, reading productivity newsletters, planning, chatting, listening to podcasts, networking, reading writing blogs and books, and daydreaming? 

And then ... how much time and how much energy is spent doing the actual work of, you know, putting words in a line? (Or revising, editing, whatever major writing work you're up to right now.)

What happens when we flip the amounts? 

When we dial back on the talking and Internet-ing and daydreaming and planning—when we bring that down to just a tenth of our energy...

And then we take the actual story, and crank our energy way way up. Ninety percent of our time, our energy, our focus.

What about just plunging in and going deep?

WHOA, right? 

Granted, I know we probably can't be super precise with this. (Unless you have an Writing-Energy-ometer lying around.) 

So while we could figure out some kind of scientific strategy (timers! charts! graphs! lengthy reports!), I think I'd rather just rely on my gut.

I don't need a timer to tell me that I've gone way overboard in talking up the work. And I've severely undernourished my draft.

So I'm going to flip things around by going immersion camp style. I'm going to dive in deep.

And I'll stay alert to every time I'm tempted to talk about my work, or to fall into a daydreaming/planning frenzy...

I'll try to catch myself. And march that energy right over to my computer, and pour it straight into the draft itself.

It comes down to this: 

If you know that there's some serious fluff in your writing life right now, start getting rid of it.

You might have to be a little bit ruthless with yourself. Cut yourself off social media for a while. Or put a limit on the time you spend there. (I'm going to have to do this, for sure!)

Or, you can do this gently. After every writing-that-isn't-actual-writing session, pay yourself back with twice as much time drafting. (And then start bumping up that amount!)

However you choose to go, discipline tastes better with chocolate and celebratory dancing. So loop those in as well.

Whatever it looks like, you know the formula: 90 percent of our energy goes to the words on the page.

So let's turn down the volume on the noise, the static, the general background music of daydreaming and talking and clutter.

And start cranking up the volume on the sweet symphony of the story itself. 

Sound good? Sound like a plan? 

Awesome. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go get some chocolate, and then dive head first into my draft.


* I've said it before, and I'll just keep saying it: The reason I mention Heather Sellers so dang often is because I would have stopped writing by now if I hadn't read her books Page after Page and Chapter after Chapter

She's been one of the biggest influences on how I think about my writing life, and I'm just so grateful for her books! 

Page after Page is required reading for anyone who wants to have a writing life, and Chapter after Chapter is required for all novelists! They are the most underlined books in my whole library, and every time I reread them, I'm the better for it. 

Remember This When All Of Your Writing Plans Blow Up

When everything goes crazy in your life, and your plans for your writing blow up: what can you do? What can you count on? I've got your answers here. | lucyflint.com

I am a recovering control freak. (HUGE surprise, right? I know, I know.)

I still have a major fondness for one-hundred-item lists. For plans that map out the next three years with precision. 

I love the idea of my personal universe clicking along, on well-oiled gears, everything spinning just as it should.

I love that. It's so tidy.

And when I'm on a planning tear, it feels so, so possible. Give me a calendar and a notepad and a pen, and you will see me work up some serious control-freak euphoria.

There's only one thing more dependable than my desire to plan: The way those plans almost always explode. Or dissolve. Or vanish. 

They tank, they go south, they self-destruct. Swept overboard by crises, illness, injuries.

(What's that? Oh yes. I'm still fending off a four-week sinus-infection-meets-bronchitis supervirus from hell. It has slowed down my writing progress a tiny bit. ... It is also gross.)

Plans blow up, and then I'm reminded—oh, yet again—that I am actually operating in a world that I don't control. 

Whoops.

So I take a little time to recover, to soften my grip on the calendar and the pen and the hundred-item list. I give myself some chocolate, find a cozy blanket, and then remind myself of this quote. 

This fantastic, writing-life-altering quote: 

Teach yourself to work in uncertainty. — Bernard Malamud

That's the kind of quote that used to reduce this control freak to a quivering wreck. Because that is not what I wanted Mr. Malamud to say. 

I wanted him to say: "Never fear, writer! You actually are a little god! You can make everything go your way if you just PLAN HARD. Don't give up!! Fight! Grip it all too tight! Insist on your own version of reality in the face of everything else! Mwahahahaha!!"

He did not say that.

Teach yourself to work in uncertainty.

"Teach yourself to work in uncertainty." - Bernard Malamud // There are three constants in a writer's life: the writer, the work, and uncertainty. Now that we know that, let's write anyway.

Kind of makes it sound like the certain thing in the writing life is actually—its uncertainty

I'm finally waking up to the fact that the thing I can absolutely predict is that there will be chaos, there will be some event that checks my plans, there will be evil-minded germs.

And the writing itself can jump the tracks: Outlines suddenly sound like gibberish. Favorite characters start acting like morons. Dialogue devolves into silly clichéd exchanges. 

An appetite for reading goes dry. A disciplined working routine fizzles. Plans fail.

There is always uncertainty. We can count on it. 

It took me a while to see how hopeful and wonderful Malamud's quote is. Because yes, there is always uncertainty.

But there are also two other constants in that quote. Two other things to be counted on:

There is always the work. That work we're called to, like someone tied a string to our hearts, and tied the other end to stories. 

That work. 

And then, there is always the writer. 

She might be beaten up, she might have suffered loss, she might look like she's just clambered out of a shipwreck.

She might have just drunk all the tea in the house and be sitting amidst a pile of used tissues. (Who, me?) 

She might not be able to save her writing with plans and schedules. She might not be able to see clear to the end of the endeavor like she wants to. 

But that's okay. That's the thing. That's the really, really good news:

There is always uncertainty. There is always the work. And there is always you, my dear lionheart.

And when we train ourselves to work, despite the uncertainty, then we actually become invincible. 

We don't have to understand exactly how we're going to get this draft done on time. We don't have to be able to diagnose all the ills of our upcoming months in advance. 

Spoiler alert: 2016 is NOT going to go according to plan.

Seriously. There is some major stuff heading toward our lives.

Some of these plans for our writing—so neat! so clever! so possible!—will absolutely be swallowed by the perfect storm of crazy that is coming. 

I'm guaranteeing it. 

That used to make me tense and white-knuckled. That used to make me run around, screaming. 

Guess how I thought I'd fix everything? By planning harder.

Granted: A bit of good strategizing will help. Of course it will. 

But it is so easy to get trapped in a cycle of overthinking and overplanning: Let's get all the variables accounted for! Let's find three ways to defeat each obstacle! Let's make a list of forty things I have to do every single day to stay on schedule!!

But the best, best, best thing to do in the face of uncertainty is the work

The ACTUAL work. 

Not planning the work. Not analyzing notes. Not listing new ways to research.

But the real, true, sweet storytelling work itself. 

Craft the next sentence. Write the very next paragraph. Sketch out the next chapter. 

Actual words for the actual story.

Even though you're not sure! Even though everything's shivering and unstable! Write. Even then.

Over the last three years, life has dealt me a serious amount of bizarre and frustrating and crazy circumstances.

Planning has its allure, but it has never, ever saved the day like writing has. 

It gets easier with practice. It comes more naturally. It's a skill we can grow.

So let's practice that together, okay, lionheart? 

Whatever form of uncertainty is facing you right now—whether big life circumstances, or just the normal plain uncertainty of how the heck are you going to finish that novel?!—whatever that is, consider it for a moment.

And then take a really deep breath.

Right now. Yes, really. 

A super deep breath. And then let it all out. Then do it two more times. (Something about three deep breaths. It's a thing. I love it.)

And then do a little writing. It doesn't have to be much. 

Grab an index card and write the very next sentence of your story. A line of dialogue that's spot-on for your protagonist. A smidge of description for your favorite bit of setting.

Write down something, anything, that reconnects you to the heart of the tale you're telling.

Not to the planning. To the work.

Writing is the best medicine, the best antidote, and the best safeguard in the face of uncertainty.

Use it well. And use it often.

(Don't you feel just a little bit better now?)