How to Mind the Gap: Shedding Old Expectations and Embracing the Real Writing Life

What did you think you were getting into, when you started this writing journey? | lucyflint.com

Welcome to May, the month of graduations! I'm not graduating from anything this year, but I always love this season of grand finishes and completions.

And too, each year I wave to May 20 as it goes past: the anniversary of my graduation from college a few years ago. (Okay, okay, eleven. Eleven years! How did that happen?!)

It always makes me a bit nostalgic. And by nostalgic, I sometimes mean the happy-warm feelings that bubble up as I remember late night pineapple pizzas, the view from my apartment balcony, and the fantastic discussions in my literature classes.

Annnnd sometimes when I say nostalgic, what I REALLY mean is: I thought I'd be further in life than I am.

Eleven years after graduation, I was supposed to be somewhere, you know what I mean? More things figured out, more shiny accomplishments lined up, more bits and pieces I could point to and say, Look! I've done so much.

This year, as I eyed the approach of May 20, I made a deal with myself: No self-abuse allowed. No kicking myself for not being the impossible version of myself that I'd dreamed up.

It's true that I'm not as far along as I thought I would be in some ways... but in others, I've come a long, long way. I've learned a ton about self-understanding, being kind to myself, and working with wisdom.

In other words: I'm kinda glad I haven't reached all the impossible heights I'd dreamed up for myself, because if I had, I wouldn't get to be this version of me. This Lucy, who has let go of a lot of poisonous beliefs (yoo hoo, perfectionism!!), a lot of choking shame, a lot of the wrong reasons that would have driven those nice accomplishments.

I still hope to do a lot, write a lot, reach a lot of people. I'm still working on excellence. But it's so nice to be in this place.

To celebrate that, I found myself wanting to get a clearer picture of what I thought the writing journey would look like, versus what it actually looked like. 

Lucky me: Just before I graduated I wrote a paper about exactly that topic. I wrote a complete picture of what I thought my writing life would/should look like.

I was a bit terrified at the time, so I interviewed professors and professionals, read tons of articles, gathered and assimilated as much advice as I could. And then I put it all in paragraph form, and kept it.

So the other day, I was wondering: What did I think the writing life would look like? Where was I right, and where was I way off base? 

I did a little digging around, I managed to not drop a filebox on my head, I got a little dusty, but I found the paper. I read it through, and sure enough: there were some expectations that were nowhere close to reality.

But also? There was some really, really quality advice buried in there. Stuff that made me lean forward and actually jot down a few notes. Ooh.

... It's the month of graduations, of that ceremony we call "Commencement." A month of endings that create beginnings. Commencement, after all, means beginning, means Start!

So I thought: Why not?! Why not celebrate all our graduations, our endings, our beginnings, our big transitions, by looking back at this huge educated guess I made about the writing life, and where I actually ended up?

Are you up for joining me on a little time-traveling exploration?

Let's do it. Because, no matter how long you've been on this writing journey, I'm guessing that there were ideas you had about how it would look, and then ... well, then there was reality.

I think it's healthy, now and then, to take a closer look at what we thought we were getting into, you know what I mean?

So I'll get this conversation started. This is how I thought I would be as a writer.


1. The overactive writer: It's a little thing, but I found this pretty surprising. Turns out, I had grand ideas of being very active in my community—joining societies and clubs, volunteering in several places, tutoring kids.

I thought that this was how I'd find inspiration and material. And too, I was scared of adjusting to a life of more solitude—what would happen if I was alone at my desk a lot?

Annnd let's face it, it also sounded nicely grown-up, responsible, and unselfish. Pointing to my secret terror that, by charging into a writing life, I was pledging to be childish, irresponsible, and selfish.

I'm an introvert's introvert, which means that signing myself up for a lot of things is exactly the way to drain every ounce of energy away from writing. So all those ideas of being a busy bee in the community... not so much.

But what's even more interesting to me is what it said I was afraid of. I still fight off a fear that I've chosen to be childish, selfish. Most days, I know that's not true: the act of creating is a generous one.

And as anyone knows who's charged through the steep work of revision again and again, well: there's nothing childish about doing the hard, meticulous work to hone your words.

What about you? What were you afraid a writing life said about you?

2. The Jane of all trades: Okay, this one just makes me laugh. After writing in a variety of forms all through college, I expected to just keep right on going, with basically every format I'd tried.

Poems, short fiction, medium-length fiction, short reflective essays, longer pithy and intellectual pieces, blogs, as well as learning to write a novel. I expected to keep doing all of these at once, with deadlines and goals and charts and such.

I would overflow with words!! And find homes for all of them!

I'm so glad to report that this fantasy died after about six months. It took me half a year to realize that, while I could write in all those forms, I didn't necessarily want to. And certainly not all at once.

Instead, I've learned the joy of focusing, of choosing the few forms that I thrill to, that I thrive in. Long-form fiction and blogging. That's my sweet spot.

And I've realized that focus isn't a negative restriction; it's a way to make my writing life more my own.

How about youdid you think you'd be working in a different form? Have you made a shift, from one type of work to another?

3. The serious literary lady: Even when I started focusing on fiction, I still wasn't clear on what kind of fiction I'd be writing. At school, I immersed in a more literary style, so I assumed I'd be writing literary fiction.

As I tried to get going, though, I kept being swamped by Resistance. Good little writer me, I knew to expect Resistance, so for a while, I didn't realize what was truly going on:

I don't enjoy literary fiction as much as I thought I did.

Whoops.

There are exceptions, for sure, but it's just not my main love. I had to force myself to read it, force myself to try to appreciate it. (No offense, my literary-fiction friends!! You keep doing your thing!)

We each have genres that we're more drawn to, and I didn't realize that mine lay in pretty much the exact opposite direction.

Finally, finally, I found my way to middle grade adventure stories: the best fit with my voice, with my sense of what's fun to read and fun to write, and the best fit with all the characters and worlds roaming around in my head.

I might still try my hand at other genres (why not?) but I'm requiring that I genuinely like those genres first. Otherwise, it's not fair to the readers who love that genre, and it's not fair to me, writing in it.

Oooh. How about you? Ever charge out in a writing direction that just wasn't a good fit? Have you found the right genre for yourself?

4. The staunch traditionalist: I also assumed I'd be following the traditional publishing model.

No, not assumed: I was adamant. Absolutely 100% certain.

See, I'd actually worked for a while as a proofreader for a self-publishing company, and I had a pretty dim view of the manuscripts that came through. I thought that self-publishing was only for work that was too rough and too damaged to go to an official, real publisher. 

(Ahem. Excuse me, I'm blushing.)

Imagine the craziness, then, of this complete change of heart, when a few summers ago I had my mind turned inside out as I learned from amazing professionals like Joanna Penn and Chandler Bolt and Tim Grahl.

And I realized: this whole do-it-yourself thing can actually work, without sacrificing quality, without giving up anything you don't want to give up!

You can even actually sell books. And, you know, make a living.

Woo! I went from adoring the romanticism of the traditional publishing world, to being thrilled with the prospect of making my own way as an independent author-entrepreneur. 

Who could have guessed?

5. The ascetic: This is a small one, but it surprised me so much that I had to tell you.

For some reason, I had heard that a writing workspace wasn't supposed to be pleasant and comfortable.

How crazy is that?! I've obviously turned that completely around too. Anything I can do to beautify and add comfort to my workspace, I will absolutely do

I'd like to enjoy my work and where I work. Is that weird? I don't think that's weird.

6. The quick turnaround: Okay. This is one of the biggest differences between how I thought my writing life would start, and how it actually did.

I thought that 15 months would be long enough to decide whether or not I was going to stick with writing novels. By which I meant: 15 months was long enough to learn how to write my first publishable novel. And, you know, sell it.

I mean, seriously: How hard could it be?

Ha! Hahahahahaha!!! Woohoohoo!

Ahem.

Here's what I've learned since then: I am not a straight-line learner.  And learning to write a novel is pretty dang different from learning to write a five-page short story for class. 

(This is one of the many reasons why I love the Story Grid Podcast. Because you get to literally eavesdrop on the learning-to-write-a-novel process. And even with a super-smart professional editor helping, it's still not instant. SO much comfort in that!)

So did it take me 15 months? No. No, it did not.

7. The ultra-successful superstar: And finally, there's the thing that I didn't write in the paper ... but which I still wanted. I wanted it so badly I could see it, so much that I wrote about it again and again in the journal I began after I graduated.

I wanted to write three bestselling novels in my first four years of writing. 

They needed to be amazing. Traditionally published, hardcover, beautiful works of art. They needed to win attention, interviews, money.

I put this incredible, outrageous pressure on myself, hounding myself, never forgiving myself if I felt like I'd slacked off.

Why? Because I had to prove myself.

That's what I thought, anyway. I had to show myself as successful, in a way that no one could contradict.

Otherwise—what was I even doing? Otherwise—why even take the plunge?

Otherwise, I figured my life didn't make sense.

If it wasn't going to pay off, dramatically, superbly, with a ton of fanfare and confetti—then maybe I was being lazy, idiotic, and foolish by choosing a writing life.

It makes my heart beat a little quicker to confess this, but if graduating-me had a picture of current me, of the actual Lucy who is typing this right now... 

Well, I don't know if she could go through with it. 

Because her definition of success was so narrow. She had a completely unrealistic idea of what it took to write an incredible novel. She thought she understood more than she did.

And she didn't think she could tolerate even a whiff of failure.

Three bestsellers in four years: I hung my heart on that, and left it there for far too long. That was what "real talent" looked like, I decided.

That was my outrageous threshold for success, and if I reached it (I had to reach it!) then it would solve the Fear Problem, the Money Problem, the Did I Make the Right Decision Problem.

It's taken me such a long time to learn to value success differently. To decide that real talent is not necessarily flashy. 

To learn to love the writing life because I actually love writing: that is what feels like success to me now.

To be swept away by the thrill of a story, as it unravels out of my heart and mind and life—that is the thing that proves to me, again and again, that this is the work I am meant to do.

Joy and a sense of calling: this is the currency that I'm paid in.


Okay, my friends, over to you: What did you expect the writing life to look like when you began—whether that was twenty years ago or twenty days ago? 

Some misconceptions are funny, laughable—like why did I ever think a workplace needed to be cold and boring?

Some are just interesting—like my complete about-face from traditional publishing to independent.

But other misconceptions can stifle you. They can strangle your creativity and your joy if they go unquestioned, unchallenged, and unchanged.

So in this month of celebrating endings and beginnings, of tossing caps in the air and swishing around in robes, it's worth having a graduation ceremony of our own.

Let's move on, move forward. Let's be done with believing the wrong things about writing, about success, about what progress looks like.

It's worth doing a little digging, my friends, and pulling up those toxic old ideas by their roots. Yank them out, let them go.

Move your tassel to the other side, and start the next phase of your wonderful writing life.


Why I'm Embracing Total Inefficiency (In Other Words, How Do You Do Your Best Work?)

When we try to learn the way *other* people learn, it doesn't always work out so well. Here's a bit of encouragement for embracing your own natural process. | lucyflint.com

Welcome to April, my friend! I don't know what the weather's been like for you, but where I live, it's been cloudy and stormy and cloudy again—both outside, and inside my own writerly heart.

I've found myself slogging through waves of discouragement, some internal dark, rainy days. So I thought: Why not? Let's spend April tackling two sources of deep discouragement in the writing life. 

I'm calling it our Anti-Glum First Aid Kit. *high five*

First up: I've been struggling with the way my learning-to-write path has looked. For starters, it's LONG. And it's darned hard to explain, when someone asks me why I'm not published just yet.

How about you? Has the learning process been smooth sailing all the way?

No? Great, we can keep each other company. ;) Let's tackle this together, my friend, and shed that discouragement.


I've always admired people who seemed to learn in a straight line. Who could understand something fairly quickly and reproduce it. People who manage to absorb foreign languages, or who can do math in their heads.

I love that. I think it's awesome. And I keep trying to learn like that: in a quick and orderly way. 

... But that's just never been me. 

My mind tends to waltz up to something sideways. Or it comes wandering around, behind the solution, and then stumbles into it. And that's usually after passing it by three or four times. 

Take math: I've never been able to do math in my head and I never felt natural or easy with numbers. But it wasn't obvious to my classmates in school, because I took serious math classes and did really well in them.

The key to my math success? TONS of scrap paper. 

If you gave me enough scrap paper, I could figure almost anything out. Of course, I'd fill every sheet, and I needed time to meander all over the map before I got to the solution, but I usually did get there.

And it wasn't just math. That's how I learned anything, in any class: with a lot of paper, and a lot of time.

When I studied for finals, I would get a huge stack of scrap paper and rewrite the highlights from the whole semester's notes. And then I read them through, highlighted those, and rewrote the most important parts again.

And on, and on. I distilled and re-distilled. Lots of paper. Lots of time. ... Then I'd go ace the finals.

It was a crazy process, but it actually worked.

The more I look at my learning history, the more I see evidence of this—the roundabout path I take toward the right answers. 

It's how I make friends, how I make changes, how I learn any new concept.

I always, always take the long way around. I cycle past the truth a few times before coming to rest on it. I need to learn and relearn before it takes, working it through and summarizing, again and again.

... I've been thinking of this because I feel like I'm learning to write novels exactly backwards.

For one thing, I started at the wrong end of the whole enterprise, obsessing about what comes last: money! fame! ... Okay, okay, I mean: Publication. ;)

I wanted that result. I spent so much time flailing around to try and figure out how to get there, and—until recently—I didn't spend time learning how to do what comes first: building habits, working on great ideas, figuring out how creativity works, structuring a solid story.

And now that I'm finally focused on those good things, I find myself processing and reprocessing the best way to do each one.

I look over my learning-to-write path, and I'm chagrined because it's not a clean, clear path.

It is so not how anyone would recommend learning how to write.

It's all patchworky. It's a mass of scribbles and backtracks, broken ends and do overs.

And I was kicking myself over this—over all the time I've wasted and all the wrong directions and how long it's taking me—when suddenly I realized: 

Huh. Sounds familiar.

Sounds like how I've learned a lot of things.

Sounds like how I did math. Flail around, fill tons of scrap pages, take way too long, but then—I do finally get to the good stuff. 

Well, shoot, I thought. That's not exactly what the productivity blogs say to do. Flailing isn't efficient. Bad Lucy.

But then, but then, I thought: OH, WAIT. This is actually good news. REALLY good news.

Because, inefficient or not, it actually works for me. This is how I got stellar grades. Top of my class in high school—not that I'm bragging, because it was flailing and scratch paper all the way.

Which means, no matter how weird it looks—backwards and forwards and backwards again—in spite of all that, this is what it looks like when I'm learning

My roundabout learning-to-write process doesn't mean I'm doing a terrible job, it means I am doing my job. It means I'm working my process. It means I'm finding my way, because this is how I find my way!

No wonder I keep taking a zillion notes on how my process is going, and why I distill them, again and again, into this blog. This is just how I learn.

I've never been able to take the shortest distance between two points. I have wanted to—oh, so much—but somehow, that's just not how my mind works.

And each time I try to beat my own brain and take a shortcut, the path zags yet again. And it's still the long way around, baby.

I am, alas, never going to be the poster child for anyone's productivity system. I convolute. It's my natural process. 

But even though the path I'm taking looks bizarre, I'm actually on my way to the center of the maze. And given time enough and paper enough, I have a history of making it to the center of a lot of mazes. It's never elegant, but I do get there. 

... Realizing all that has calmed me down these last few weeks. Filled my pockets with courage.

My job isn't to try and learn like other people learn. My job is simply to learn. The way I learn.

So here's my question to you, oh lionhearted writing friend: What's your usual learning process? And are you beating yourself up for learning how to write the way you best learn?

Are you comparing your own process—however it looks—to anyone else's process, and feeling like a failure as a result?

How do you learn? It can be hard to spy on ourselves, so think through your own history: how have you learned hard things in the past? Especially anything that had a lot of steps in it, a complicated array of systems all working together. What did that look like for you?

What happened in your head, with your hands, how you thought? When did you get your best results?

How can you work with your natural process instead of against it? How can you be your own best support? 

Release the idea that your process has to look the same as anyone else's. No matter how much you may admire them, they're not you. 

Here, check out this lovely encouragement from Bernard Malamud (taken from the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, ed. Mason Currey). When discussing work habits, Malamud told an interviewer:

There's no one waythere's too much drivel about this subject. You're who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. ... You suit yourself, your nature. ... Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you. 

That quote just fills me with optimism. We will learn our own best way! (And I, for one, will be rocking out the eventually part of that line. Just keep that scrap paper coming, and I'll be set.)

However it looks, embrace your own process, my friend.

Lean in to how you best learn.

Let's Flood Our Writing Lives with This Powerful (Yet Underestimated) Perspective

Grace doesn't always get a lot of air time. It's not super flashy. But I guarantee, it's the best kind of glue to hold your writing ship together. | lucyflint.com

Well, hello there, February, month of all things love-related! 

Last year, we spent this month working through daily prompts on how to love your writing life. So much fun! It was a big, month-long love party for writing. If you missed it (or just want a refresher!), check out those prompts.

This year, we're going to take a close look at one of the facets of love. And it's something that we need a bunch of in our writing lives.

I wanna talk about grace.

Specifically, I want to throw the doors wide, and welcome much more grace into our writing lives.

Grace is one of those simple-yet-big concepts, and it has a ton of different, valid uses. So, for this blog, and for our lionhearted writing lives, here's what I'm going to say it means: 

Grace in the writing life means, we're not going to punish ourselves for being human. We won't beat ourselves up for learning. 

Of course we'll work on the things that need more work. And we'll keep pushing ourselves. But grace means that we won't treat ourselves badly when we're learning or even when we're failing (which is just learning with a bang).

Grace means that you're allowed to be human. Normal. And learning is allowed to take the time it takes.

Grace brings kindness into our writing lives. It permits ease. It means not being so strict with ourselves, cutting ourselves off from joys (what Julia Cameron calls artistic anorexia), or glaring at ourselves when we don't hit certain marks of quality or status. 

It means not saying nasty things about ourselves, our work ethic, our prospects, or our writing. Nope. No more.

Grace means we give ourselves permission to be who we are, to write the kinds of stuff we write. To be at this exact stage of our writing lives, and saying this is okay. 

This isn't to say that grace brings a lack of ambition. It doesn't mean giving up. And it definitely doesn't mean we stop growing. 

It just means we don't use whips and kicks and anger and hatred for our motivation. 

Grace says: You are okay, and the fact that you are working is good.

The results of that work might need a lot of revision. (In fact, that's a guarantee for me!)

But the fact that we are working (learning, falling, getting back up again, resting, playing, reading, learning some more)—that is good.

Oh, my friends. We need this kind of grace in our writing lives! In order to be writing at all, in order to keep growing, in order to survive writing blocks (or avoid some of them in the first place!). 

Because without grace, we tend to lean on perfectionism, guilt, frustration, and beating ourselves up. Which can leave us not wanting to face our work at all. 

Spoiler alert: Guilt and frustration are not inspiring. 

And perfectionism? It sucks the life out of creativity. Also not inspiring.

And when we're so bruised by the voices in our heads that we don't want to face our work at all... well, not only is that not helping us, it's for sure creating a block between us and our writing.

More than a block. Probably a whole brick wall.

But when I apply grace—like, a ton of grace—when I pour it on my writing life like syrup on pancakes, that's what brings me back to the work.

Back to the deeply flawed draft. Back to what I'm learning.

It lets me have absolute permission to be myself. The exact level of writer that I am.

With my hands covered in grace, I can actually welcome mistakes as signs of life and movement, instead of as proof that there's something wrong with me.

Grace makes us resilient. Grace lets us keep going. 

And because of that, it's one of the most powerful forces you can bring into your writing life.

So where are you at with grace? Does it already have an established place in your writing practice? Where are you already giving yourself grace?

Do you remember to ease up on yourself, to choose self-kindness over self-punishing? Can you let yourself be at the stage that you are? 

Where do you most need grace these days?

And how else can you welcome it in, invite it deeper, and bake it into your schedule, your approach, your self talk?

What would your writing life look like, if you flooded it with grace?

The Key To Everything Is a Crazy Amount of Focus.

The megaskill that makes way for all other skills: the ability to focus, intensely. (Like ... more intense than ever before. A whole new level.) | lucyflint.com

If you saw my last post on Cal Newport's stirring & motivating book Deep Work, you know that a radical new approach to focus is totally necessary if we want to write with super-high quality. It's also vital if we want to grow exponentially in our writerly skills.

Which: we do. Right? All of us. That's what we signed up for.

Focus. It's a big deal.

So ... how do we learn to focus with that kind of intensity? How do we adopt that training program mindset, so that we become writers who dive in deep and write our most incredible stuff? 

From the last post, we already know that deep work requires literally rewiring our brain. Which ... is hard. We know that this is going to be a challenge.

So, do we have patience with ourselves as we practice, and a readiness to encounter difficulty? Check and check.

High five. Let's go strengthen our ability to focus. 

Where do we begin?

1) Develop a deep work ritual.

Is it just me, or is everyone talking about rituals lately? Morning rituals, bedtime rituals, getting-ready-for-exercise rituals, planning rituals... 

Personally, I love 'em. (Shocking, right?!)

Yes, I love the idea of using a clever sequence of little behaviors to naturally lead my mind into the next important thing I'm doing.

It's like an on-ramp for the brain.

Welp, Cal Newport says we need to ritualize our deep work sessions as well. Why?

After describing the rituals of a few successful deep thinkers, he points out:

Success in their work depended on their ability to go deep, again and again—there's no way to win a Pulitzer Prize or conceive a grand theory without pushing your brain to its limit. Their rituals minimized the friction in this transition to depth, allowing them to go deep more easily and stay in the state longer.

Minimizing friction: that is key!! I don't know about you, but some days I feel like my writing time is friction. I can be forever transitioning between activities and making decisions, instead of getting into a good groove and staying there.

I'm sold, Mr. Newport. So, what does a deep work ritual need to do?

He lists three things in particular that a ritual has to incorporate: where you will work, how you will work, and how you'll support your work.

If we're making and remaking these decisions every time we need to settle in, we'll be flooding our deep work time with that transitioning friction. 

So, for starters, you need to ensure that your deep work area is a good environment. With a low chance of distractions and interruptions, and enough space to think.

And then, when working: how do you want to structure it? Do you need to keep a certain kind of pace, or consider a certain number of questions or read a certain number of pages? 

Finally, do you need some good food (he suggests some good coffee, and you know I'm all "amen to that!"), and some space to move around a little? (He repeatedly recommends walking as a way to enhance thinking ability.)

Personally, I don't have a clear, solid ritual in place yet. But I do have bits of one: 

  • In my planner, I write deep work mode! next to the hours when I'm planning on being uberfocused. That extra bit of intentionality reminds me to be sure and keep distractions out of my work zone.
  • Before I dive in, I sweep my desk space, and clear out anything that would derail me.
  • Like my phone. I march it over to my closet, tuck it into a little drawer, and leave it there.
  • I pull up a soundtrack of nature sounds on my computer. The rhythm of ocean waves works like an audible cue: time to go deep.
  • Finally, I keep a notepad nearby, so that if a distracted thought drops in (I need to text so-and-so! I have to track down that one recipe! Did I ever deal with that one email?) I can note it and not lose it ... but without pursuing the distraction itself.

Yeah, I know. This is pretty basic, and certainly isn't up to the more quirky and eccentric rituals that we hear about. But I'm willing to get there. ;)

And so far, this has been a good framework for supporting my early deep work efforts.

The real key here is to experiment with whatever works best for you. To take care of all those moving parts that would derail you, and make sure that you have everything you need ... and nothing that you don't.

2) Have a plan for your precious deep work time.

The time to figure out how your session is going to go is before the session starts. We don't want to waste precious deep work minutes planning our deep work time, right? Right!

So before you start, be sure that you know how long you're going to work deeply. When you're starting and when you're stopping.

Because when we're working this intensely, it's vital to know that there's only a finite amount of time we're doing this!

Newport says,

Be sure to also give yourself a specific time frame to keep the session a discrete challenge and not an open-ended slog.

And yes, I've thought, "Oh, I'll be fine. I'll just work til I'm ready to stop." Hahahaha—no. For some reason, when my mind doesn't know when it's going to get a break, it starts tempting me to give up, get up, slow down, get bored, and get distracted.

Let's not do that.

Know when you'll start, and when you'll stop. And when you're done, get up and move around and take that break!

One more point about how long we're working: It's tempting to learn about the value of deep work, and then to swear you'll have an eight-hour deep work day, and charge out to save your world with focus.

But that doesn't work so well. That's kinda like me dashing out to run a marathon. (You'd have to scrape me off the pavement after about four miles.)

When we're new to this, it's essential that we start small

Newport recommends that we aim for an hour of this kind of pure focus to begin with. And actually, it's really all we can muster before our brains are retrained.

If even a full hour sounds especially difficult, I hear you! There is zero shame in starting with even smaller amounts. Twenty minutes of total focus can be really challenging and super rewarding!! 

And it's shocking how much good thinking you can get done, in twenty focused minutes.

(When we get super good, we'll be looking at four hours of deep work a day. Even the masters can't do this indefinitely!) 

Also, what kind of work will you be doing? We'll answer that next:

3) Know the difference between deep work and shallow work.

Shallow work is another central concept in this book. Shallow work is the stuff that we still need to do ... but it doesn't require the same amount of focus, and it isn't generating huge value like deep work.

Newport defines shallow work like this:

Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

For me, shallow work is the busywork of dealing with computer updates and gathering resources. It's filling out forms, running errands, editing photos, fixing the printer. It's dealing with email and shuffling files and organizing papers.

Anytime I think, if I had an intern or a clone, I'd have her do this!—that's shallow work.

Shallow work isn't bad. In fact, it's completely necessary! It doesn't take as much focus, so it has a lighter feel to it. 

The reason we need to recognize it is because we're tempted to drip our shallow work all through our day. It can sprawl across our schedules and just take over.

But it simply isn't coming from the same place as our deep work. If we blend the two all day, we keep ourselves from going deeply and doing the kind of lasting work that would, well, make a name for ourselves.

(Doesn't that give you shivers?)

If you have days that look like this kind of once-typical day of mine, then you get where I'm coming from: 

  • work a bit on the draft
  • um, I'm bored/stumped, so I'll check email... 
  • oh, sweet, blog comment! I'll dash over and answer that!
  • okay, right, focus: work a bit on the draft
  • I need a new computer update!
  • Oh, I should back up my computer while I'm thinking of it, can't risk losing data!
  • while it's rebooting, let me just clear my email inboxes on my phone . . . 
  • that outfit on Pinterest is so cute. So are a dozen of the recommended pins alongside it...
  • Oh, right! Drafting. Drafting drafting drafting.
  • Geez, I'm hungry...

THAT is an oh-so typical blend of shallow work and deep work attempts. Sure, I can get some important shallow work done, but when I keep switching back and forth, my drafting (aka deep work!!) suffers.

Because when I'm drafting from a shallow-work mindset, my scenes feel more sketched than deeply dreamed. My characters act more clichéd, their dialogue a little too rehearsed.

We can't completely cut out our shallow work—some important things would fall apart. But, we can't let shallow work take over our valuable deep work time, either.

Newport recommends, instead, batching our work. That's why the deep work ritual is so important: Get into deep work mode, and do the deep work, no distractions!

And then, get into shallow work mode. Scrape all those lighter tasks together and knock them out at once, staying in that mindset throughout. 

4) In fact, give yourself a shallow work budget.

This is such a cool suggestion, and it's one I have yet to implement. But I think that, when I do, it's going to be huge.

Here's the idea. Newport recommends talking to your boss (for those of us writing for ourselves, that's us) about the difference between deep work and shallow work.

Our deep work time will bring the most valuable work to our "company." Our shallow work time won't be so much about generating value, but it will keep everything running smoothly.

Both are important, no question.

Here's the question for our bosses, aka us, to wrestle with:

How much time per week should we spend doing each?

Wherever you're at, this is a great question to think through.

His suggestion for self-employed knowledge workers (like me, like you, if you're working on your novel and/or building your brand): the ratio should probably be around fifty-fifty.

So, roughly half our time we spend digging in deep with our novels, writing our best stuff. Working with pure focus, operating as our absolute best and smartest selves. Thinking amazing thoughts. Growing our skills.

The other half of the time we're answering emails, editing photos, planning social media campaigns, tweaking newsletters, etc.

Make sense? 

And then, as you settle into this rhythm, track your time each day. He says it's an eye-opening and helpful way to keep yourself honest: to keep shallow work in check, and to keep your deep work in your sights.

So, if anyone has swamped her day/week/month by deciding that she needs to clean out allllllll her file folders instead of facing the next few scenes (who, me?? never!) ... yeah, this is gonna help with that.

5)  We already said it, but, it's time to make it official: Distraction, we're breaking up with you.

Oh, Distraction. You talk so sweet, but you clearly don't love us as much as you say you do.

You mess with our game, you change our brains, and you keep us from doing our best work.

And you pretend it's all in fun.

Nope. Not okay anymore, Distraction.

We're all signing off. We're done with constant notifications, chiming, buzzing, dinging, ringing. We're going deep. We're practicing mega-focus.

We're not afraid of being bored. We'll find new ways to stay entertained. We'll notice what's around us and be fully present, instead of disappearing into your mile-a-minute maelstrom. 

And when we truly need a Pinterest hit or a Facebook fix, we'll schedule that time like the deep workers we are, and go check our sites happily for that pre-scheduled half hour, or however long we've decided.

We aren't at your mercy anymore, Distraction. We're taking our power back. No more falling into your lost minutes, lost hours, lost days.

Distraction, we're done. It's not us: it's you.

Ya gotta go.


On the face of it, a lot of these tips are common sense, right? This "deep work" stuff can sound like just cleaning up some habits around working well. I get that.

I think what makes these ideas feel so weighty to me, though, is because Cal Newport treats deep work like a whole new level of working.

Near the book's conclusion, he says,

Deep work is way more powerful than most people understand. ... To leave the distracted masses to join the focused few, I'm arguing, is a transformative experience.

He makes the case that as we learn to do this, we won't be saying, "oh, yeah, I guess I polished that novel rather nicely."

It's more on the level of, "holy crap, I just took that whole GENRE to new heights," or, "I created a different kind of story form," or, "I destroyed the pre-existing limits on this kind of publication launch."

It's about solving problems in a huge way. It's about shattering our previous ways of working, our small successes and tiny increases. Trading all that in for absurd levels of growth, productivity, and understanding.

This is rocket fuel, in other words. 

So, if you're in, if this sounds awesome, here are a few deep-workian questions to consider:

What's your deep work ritual look like? Or, if that sounds daunting, what's at least one way you can signal to your imagination and your brain: we're goin' deep!

How long of a deep work session do you want to start training with? Remember, a killer twenty-minute block is much better than a terrifying one hour, when you're getting started! Don't be ashamed to start small.

What kinds of activities in your typical work week qualify as "shallow work"? Nothing wrong with them, but they just don't come from that mega-focused place. What would it look like if they had to take up only half your time (or less!), and the rest of your time went to pure, total focus? 

And yeah, we just broke up with Distraction. What do you need to do to make it official?

Remember: It's easy to feel like we're focusing well enough. That we already know what focus feels like, thanks, and why must we go to extremes? Isn't that a little harsh, a little crazy, a little weird?

The truth is,we underestimate the power of this level of focus, because most of us (myself included!) have never really, actually, consistently tasted it.

We don't know what it can do, and we assume that we're working as well as we can.

I think it's worth it, my lionhearted friends, to dig in and really try for this. 

Personally, I love the idea of my time—that very finite resource!—doing radically more than it currently is. Of having richer insights, more imaginative work, and better everything.

Woo! I'm getting chills.

So I'm on board with this.

Oh, okay, and one last thing: If all this focus talk makes you feel like your brain is going to fall out, and also like, what the heck, Lucy, that last month was all self-care all the time, and now I feel like you want me to be a machine... 

I got you. On Thursday we'll be talking about strengthening our ability to play. Which is the other half of this deep work equation. 

OH yeah. We'll balance it out. High five, my friend.

How to Make Those Huge Self-Care Changes (Without Panicking or Giving Up!)

When you've just learned a zillion ways to improve your life, it can feel more than a little daunting. And maybe like--why even start? I get it, and I've been there. Here's how to move forward, without panicking or giving up. | lucyflint.com

Holy moly, my friends: We covered some major territory this August.

It was the month of self-care for writers, and we came at it from every angle! From looking at our ability to rest, to how we protect our creativity; from nurturing our artistic selves, to embracing enthusiasm over discipline.

I talked a LOT about my favorite new life-changing resources for overhauling my creative lifestyle and for becoming the kind of human I most want to be. We talked about pulling shame out by its roots, and we talked about the space-creating power of saying "no." 

WHEW! Sometimes it felt like self-care, and sometimes maybe it felt a little more like sandpaper, but either way: I hope it did some deep, good things for you and your writing work. 

Before we wrap up the series, though, I've realized that there are four things left to say. Each one is fairly small, but when you bring them together, all this self-care stuff kinda clicks into place.

Ready? This'll be fun. Here's where we start:

1. We can't underestimate the power of play.

One thing that came up over and over and over this month—from Brené Brown and Julia Cameron—was how vital it is to play. 

It nourishes our imaginations, our work, our creativity, and our whole dang lives. So important! And yet, so dismissible. 

I'm working on being intentional about playfulness, because I'm convinced of its benefits ... but it does not come easily for me.

And if that's you, too, then I wanna share something that's helped me so much. Here's what I've realized: 

Play isn't a reward for a job well done.
It is its prerequisite.

As I've added more playfulness into my days, I've found more ease in my work.

And even though Julia Cameron told me that would happen, I still felt kinda shocked. I mean—I was just goofing off! Being silly! Pulling out an old hobby or three from when I was a kid, and suddenly, my heart feels lighter when I work? 

Strange but true.

And when you realize that playing well is a prerequisite for doing great work, it becomes a priority.

Pro tip: If you are working on protecting your time and schedule so that you have the space to play and pursue hobbies, it can feel tricky.

Especially if you're new to this whole idea of play being important.

So here's what I've been doing: instead of calling it play, I call it prep

So, if anyone asks you why you aren't free, and it's because you've blocked out that time to play and delight in creativity, do not say, "I can't do it because I'm going to be messing around with a kid's watercolor set all afternoon." *apologetic grin*

Don't say that unless you feel extremely confident. (In which case: good for you, go to it!)

Instead, say with all earnestness, "I need the afternoon to do some essential preparations for my work week."

People are much more likely to nod seriously back to you. (At least, that's been true for me, so far!) And then you go and pull out your paint set and have a blast!

And actually, that statement is the fullest version of the truth. A truth that we need to keep saying out loud, to ourselves, to others: Play is our best prep.

2. And also, we've gotta resist the temptation to skip the chiropractics. 

After guzzling as much information and wisdom as we've covered in this series, it's easy to feel a little bloated. A bit dazed.

The question I faced over and over this summer was: How can I possibly put all of this into action, all at once?

You know the feeling, right? When you're reading a book and every chapter presents about eighty things that you'd like to instantly adopt in your life? 

Whew! It's dizzying.

My temptation is usually to follow this little process: 

  • Take a zillion impassioned notes
  • Tell everyone how amazing it is and how my life has definitely changed
  • Reread the notes and become fatally overwhelmed
  • Collapse
  • Forget the book
  • Come across a new life-changing book, and begin the process again...

It's a very exhilarating process, but not quite as helpful as it could be, haha! ;)

Let's be honest: It can get uncomfortable when our minds or our hearts have outdistanced our actions.

You know? When you have all this amazing information, or when you feel so strongly that something is right... but then you come up against your patterns, behaviors, habits, environment.

And it can feel so dang hard to change course, that it's easier to just let go of all the new stuff and slip into old ways. 

The trouble with that? Is no matter how hard we try to numb our new awareness, no matter how we try to quiet the new information, we've still been changed. 

And if we live in the old way, we can get this weird feeling of disconnection. Feeling a little out-of-place in our lives.

We're forcing ourselves to ignore the new truth we've discovered, and that just doesn't sit so well.

So how do we bring integrity into our lives? That lovely alignment of what we believe, what we know, what we feel, and how we behave

I'm fairly new to the world of chiropractors and the amazing transformations they can achieve. But the two chiropractors I've met with have worked little step by little step.

Moving my spine back into alignment, one subtle adjustment at a time. Or healing my body from a tangle of troubles, one little behavior at a time.

Meaning? 

You don't have to go after all of this, all at once. Integrity can happen a little at a time. The key is just that you start.

Maybe you start with the single biggest behavior. You find the largest game changer, the most enormous truth, and you just work on digesting that into your life.

The rest can wait.

Or, maybe you start from the other end. You find the one thing that seems easiest, that feels the most within reach. Pick the tiniest, most doable change. And commit to just doing that.

The rest can wait.

So maybe you start with the big, and begin by tackling shame resilience or perfectionism.

Or maybe you start with the small sustainable thing, and write three pages every morning or give yourself permission to have a ten-minute nap every afternoon.

Whatever you pick, be super proud of yourself. You're bringing your habits into integrity, and that's a beautiful process.

As I've worked on this bit by little bit this summer, I've felt my self-respect totally shift. Because when we're working toward integrity, respect is a natural byproduct. 

It's amazing how big an internal difference even those small choices can make. Everything starts to feel better when we take steps to line up what we know with what we do!

And that brings us to...

3. Let's make practice our new favorite word.

Seriously. I have fallen in love with the concept of practice.

I used to only see it as (I admit it) a form of drudgery. What can I say, more than a decade of music practice on two instruments... I didn't always love it! :)

But Brené Brown caught my attention early on in The Gift of Imperfection as she talked about practicing courage. 

Practicing compassion.

Huh, I thought. What an unusual way to describe it. She referred to a gratitude practice, a vulnerability practice.

That's a new way to frame that kind of behavior, right?

But the power of the word practice didn't fully hit me until, actually, I was doing a yoga video. (Yoga with Adrieneif you want a recommendationis very accessible, hilarious, and oh-so lovely.

And in the midst of working on a pose, she said, We don't get on our yoga mats to DO yoga. We PRACTICE yoga. Let yourself practice.

... At which point I fell out of the pose and just stared, because that's it. It all hit home. 

It's too easy to view everything through a pass/fail lens. Did I do well, did I do my best, did I pass? Every time we show up with writing, creativity, self-awareness, playfulness, courage, or any other behavior we're trying to improve.

That pressure of "I have to do my best, every time!" can be really draining, really restricting. And frankly, it's death to all these beautiful creative behaviors we've been working on this month. 

Let's skip the pass/fail idea. Life is not a series of final drafts: it's a long and glorious field for practicing.

So we practice our courage, and we practice our compassion.

We practice saying "no" when we need to, and we practice getting more rest.

Through the practicing process, we can explore. "Does this work better, or could I try it this other way?" We can stay curious. We can experiment. We're more free.

So I'm going to embrace the beauty and flexibility of practice. And when I remember that I'm just practicing, my willingness to try quadruples. Even when the thing I'm trying out (courage! shame resilience! the next draft of the novel!) is daunting and difficult. 

Heck, I'm just practicing! We'll see how it goes.

So, as you think about whatever struck you most in this month of exploring self-care, I'd commend to you that concept of practice. Keep reminding yourself, you don't have to get it right the first, or third, or eleventh time. 

What a relief, right? Let's show up for practice.

4. What next? Here's my tool of choice for moving forward...

You know me: I took the idea of creative preparation, and my deep desire for integrity, as well as my willingness to practice deeply and persistently.

And guess what that all added up to, for me?

A list. Yes. Because I love lists with a love that will not die.

This is a very, very unusual list, though. 

It's a list full of baby steps, in all the directions that I want to go. 

And I promise, it's a total antithesis to my old, arthritic, perfectionist-driven lists. Unlike so many lists I've made, this one doesn't feel like shackles.

Nope. This feels more like training wheels, like kindhearted coaching. Like the best sort of game. Like a series of exciting invitations.

I made it because I didn't want to forget anything. And then I expanded it because I wanted to keep coming back to these new, beautiful reminders.

... And because I realized that if I stopped and worked on metabolizing each new realization as it first hit me, then it would take me a decade to finish these books. They were that rich and full of insight.

I wanted to keep practicing the new behaviors, and to check back in with each one, and check back again. And all the while, the list grew and grew.

So now, it's a series of sweet baby steps, one after another leading me further along this new way of being. 

This is how I'm practicing. This is how I'm working toward alignment, toward integrity. I'm encouraged and guided by the loveliest, most inviting list I've ever made in my life.

It's full of incredibly kind reminders to think about authenticity, courage, self-compassion, creativity, and playfulness.

It holds invitations for bigger artist dates, splashier treats for my imagination, and ways to coax and cajole me out of my many ruts. 

And as I've been working through the items on it, I've felt myself changing. I'm feeling a bit more free, more brave, more authentic. It's incredibly exciting, and I can't wait to see where it leads!

So how about you, my brave lionhearted friends? You've stuck around through a pretty wild month: this definitely hasn't sounded like a typical "writing" blog lately! 

Where are you at, after everything we've talked about? What feels exciting for you? What are you working on?

Given everything we've covered this monthwhat's the kindest practice you could start? Or where do you feel the most out of line with your integrity? 

Do you feel like you want to start something big? Or, equally brave, begin something small? 

September is such a lovely time for beginning new behaviors. Who do you want to be, for the rest of the year? 

Unleashing Bravery Into Your Writing Life

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

Bravery never came easily for me.

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

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

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

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

Trying to be brave. Every step of the way. 

It is hard work, trying to cultivate gumption!

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

And writing takes guts.

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

A lionhearted writer works with courage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buckets of it.

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

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

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

Sound good? 

Here you go, a mini quote fest on courage!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mmmm.

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

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

I completely, completely love this. 

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

All right. Kindness looks like kindness, right? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make sense? 

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

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

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

And THAT is how to grow our courage.

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

By growing at each of these lionhearted writing characteristics. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's courage. All of it. 

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

We become amazingly brave, incredibly courageous writers.

THAT is the essential lionheart. 

That is what we are heading toward together.

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

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

Stretch yourself now and then.

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

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

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

So what qualities are you practicing today?

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

There. Right there.

Look at how brave you are.

Two Ways to Disaster-Proof Your Writing Life (and Your Writing Heart)

What to do, when the people around you are succeeding, but you... um, aren't? What to do when you feel like you're failing? This powerful trait is what protects our writing lives from all the storms and things that threaten it. | lucyflint.com

My last two years have been a rocky but determined progression toward contentment in my writing life.

Contentment? 

Why is contentment such a powerful trait to have in our lionhearted arsenal?

It sounds so simple-minded. So basic.

But it's absolutely vital. 

Contentment is the characteristic that takes care of us when our writing life feels threatened.

It means being okay, happy, satisfied. (Even while we're striving to get better.)

For me, it includes a fierce belief that I am learning exactly what I need to be learning right now.

And that I'm fine, right where I am. 

If this sounds a bit familiar, it's because contentment operates a lot like peacefulness and patience. They work to protect us from anger and frustration in our writing process—freeing us up to focus on the problem, instead of flipping out.

SUPER helpful, right?

Contentment protects us too. It keeps us from being derailed by other people's successes, or by our own failures.

To put it another way: If your writing life is a huge cruise ship (um, YES), then peace and patience are all the systems and designs that keep the crew and passengers all okay. They manage the day-to-day actions onboard and keep everything working smoothly.

Contentment is what keeps the whole ship from capsizing. It protects you from waves, storms, icebergs, and zombie shark attacks.

(You know. All the usual threats.)

The last thing our writing lives need is to fall prey to a zombie shark attack. (I mean... ew.)

So let's take a few minutes to boost our contentment levels, shall we?

There are two things that can really keep your contentment strong:

1) Don't compare yourself to alllllllll the other writers and creatives out there.

2) Don't let writing be your everything.

Sound good? Let's do this.

You are where you should be (and so is everyone else).

There are dozens of great quotes about this. We read them and think, heck yes, that is how to think about all this*.

But let's say it again anyway:

Comparing ourselves to other people doesn't work

It doesn't do any good to look at the wunderkinds we hear about (oh, you know I love you, Internet!) and then to do the seriously unhelpful math.

You know the math, right?

"Oh, when that person published her amazing, award-winning novel, I was still freaking out about not knowing enough, instead of actually writing." 

Or, "when this famous person was my age, he already had four books out, and they were so intelligent and smart! Meanwhile I've forgotten all the stuff I knew and my grammar has gone seriously downhill."

This math of comparison—my age vs. her age; my speed vs. his speed; my use of years vs. her use of years; I did this much, he did that much—

This math does not help. 

This can't be what we do in our spare time anymore, my friends!

Putting ourselves back to back with other writers, other creatives, and deciding that we come up short. Let's not.

Comparing ourselves to other people eats away at our hope and our courage, like acid eating away at stone.

I can practically feel myself disintegrating.

Listen up: The shape of someone else's path (to writing, to publication, through life), actually has nothing to do with my own path.

It isn't actually a guide for where I should be. 

When we compare ourselves with other people, we're saying that we all had the same stuff to deal with.

But that person's story material, skill status, obstacles faced, and other life circumstances are so complex and so different from our own complex and specific situations, that it's just impossible to compare them.

Oh—and it's mean. It is severely mean to do this to ourselves.

So let's not do it.

No more comparing.

I am the strongest and best writer I can be when I let everyone else's writing lives and successes belong to them.

Their victories in the writing life can inspire me, but other than that, they have no bearing and can pass no judgment on my own writing life.

Taking this stance in your writing requires a lot of pluck. 

It is darned courageous to say: I see what you're doing, and good for you, but I'm going to just be different over here.

It takes guts, but it's also incredibly freeing.

You're allowed to work at a different pace, a different schedule.

Write your own projects, forms, genres. Do it your own way. To your own timing. 

Yes, it can be hard to keep our grip on this mindset, but it's 100% crucial to our writing lives.

See, we want to believe that we all have unique voices, that we all bring something original to the writing world, right?

So how can we demand that how we get there looks like everyone else's path?

I'd like to give you permission, here and now, to have your writing life be what it is. Whatever shape it takes.

We are each so unique. We have different hearts, voices, stories, ideas. That's brilliant and dazzling and every inch what it should be.

So how could our writing journeys look alike, when we're each so different?

I'd like to see this crazy totally-my-own path as a good sign, rather than something else. 

Can we do that? A mass reinterpretation? 

So you're not doing something on the same schedule or at the same rate or to the same degree as someone else.

WHEW! Good news, right? You'll have something different to give your readers, then. Something original.

See what I mean? Yes, this might take some practice. Okay, a lot of practice. But it's worth retraining our minds.

Focus on the truth: Your writing path is teaching you all the stuff you need to put into those stories you're telling. It's a good path (even when it's really hard).

Let's stick with it.

(And if using affirmations works well for you, this could be a great place to use it too!)

You are so much more than a writer.

We all know this with our brains. But it's so tempting to forget it with our hearts: 

We can't let writing be our everything.

Don't get me wrong: I love this work we do. Stories amaze me and always will. 

But this can never be the thing that you and I live for above all others. Because if it is, then we'll be totally flattened by any difficulty, any "failure," any long blocked period.

If writing is the thing that matters most to us, then we'll have some really dark days ahead. 

So let's be intentional about leaning into something else. Diversify. Pursue other arts now and then that delight you.

Be a human being first and foremost, and love what you see and what you do and all the good people around you. Enjoy every bit of living that you can.

And write, of course! Write with a full heart.

But don't let writing hold your whole heart.

If you're looking for a stellar writing quote about this, I've totally got one. Oh wait, it's actually about the Olympics, from a movie that I adored as a kid: Cool Runnings. (Hands up, everyone who loves this with me!)

Hahaha! Okay. But seriously.

Instead of gold medal, let's think publication, or bestseller status, or whatever form of writerly success you're thirsting for: 

"A gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it."

(Here's the quote in action, if you want the full effect.)

Truth, right??

Whenever I need to work on this, it helps me oh so much to crank up the level of gratitude I feel—for every tiny piece of my life.

Enjoy everything. Deeply. On purpose. 

Relish every single thing.

It takes the pressure off of writing: it keeps my work from being the single thing that will deliver all the magic and excitement and meaning and joy to my life.

It reminds me that my life is enough, even when my writing doesn't work so well.

So writing is free to be wonderful, and it's free to have difficulties, and my life is still intact.

This is hugely important, my friends!

This is the difference between having a healthy writing life and having one that will destroy you.

(Believe me—I had some rough days before I got this straight.)

You're so much more than just a writer.

And the writing life path that you're on is exquisitely tailored to shape your unique stories and your one-and-only voice.

And the more we let that sink in, the more content we'll be, come what may. 

... Zombie sharks, we are so ready for you.


*If you'd like a mega-dose of a You are totally fine right where you are message, check out this amazing article by Jamie Varon.

This is the kind of message I need to scrawl on my walls and tattoo on my arms. It is true and good, and you might need to read it forty times a day with chocolate when you're working on being cool with where you are in life.

(Just a heads up, there's some strong language in there, so if you're around sensitive eyes, look out for that.)

Your Secret Weapon (And Why You Need One) For When You'd Really Like to Throw a Fit

There are a zillion moments when a writer is tempted to totally lose patience and throw a fit. Here's why that's the most toxic thing you can do for your writing, and what to do instead. | lucyflint.com

If you haven't noticed already, there are approximately a billion skills that go into writing well. And a few more skills to shape that good writing into a specific form (like our old friend, the novel).

Here's what I keep figuring out about that whole process. It doesn't advance your learning if you're shrieking at yourself for not being faster.

Know what I mean?

This is why patience is central to being a lionhearted writer. It's why aiming for peace is a huge part of enhancing your courage. 

And that's why patience and peace belong in our Anatomy of a Lionheart series.

Okay, but here's the first problem with that. Peace—as in, holding your peace, keeping the peace—sounds meek. And super old-fashioned.

How can staying peaceful, of all things, have any role in our impressive writing feats?

For starters, I'm going to define peaceful as being okay with what we can't control, because we're totally rocking the things that we can. Make sense?

Obviously there are exceptions to this, and of course we shouldn't be "okay" with truly ugly and unbearable circumstances. I'm just saying, for general, run-of-the-mill frustrations, lionhearted writing means choosing peace. Patience.

In other words, this is about not thrashing

If this still sounds lame and unappealing, I totally get it. I used to think that aiming for a peaceful or a patient approach was kind of wimpy.

Like you're putting all your ambitions on a shelf, and you're just floating along, not caring. And I cared!

So I didn't think a peaceful mindset was worth aiming for... 

Until I met this guy at the post office.

Without intending to, he taught me a ton about how truly powerful peace and patience can be. 

So—the post office. There was a line. Each transaction was taking a while. One person working the desk. 

I was next in line, but it was taking for-ev-er to be called up. None of us in the line were thrilled to be waiting for so long, but we were all dealing with it... 

Except the guy right behind me. He was livid.

He was the whole furious rage package. Angry snarling expression, overly loud voice, throbbing veins. Venting his anger to all of us. Ready to fight the entire freaking postal system because he had to wait for twenty minutes.

There was something about watching that up close that taught me, vividly, that anger—or, impatience to the breaking point—makes you rigid. In every single way.

It shuts down your ability to think creatively. To give other people the benefit of the doubt. To be generous.

You lose your mental agility (which is precisely what you need if you're facing something you don't like).

And the entirety of your life shrinks down to this one fight: You vs. the Thing.

(In this case, a twenty-minute wait at a PO.)

Also? It makes everything very unfun for you and unpleasant for everyone else.

It's bad enough to encounter this in a post office. 

(And yes, I did let him go in front of me, because otherwise I thought he and maybe several more of us would have a heart attack.)

But what happens when we do this in our writing lives??

Because I have totally done this in my writing life.

I have had so many huge exaggerated flip-outs, which felt justified to me at the time.

The process is taking forever! This isn't going how I wanted it to go! 

The novel isn't working, the research isn't working, the dialogue isn't working, the ideas aren't working... and frankly, the whole lifestyle is crap. 

Stomp, stomp, stomp. Fume, fume, fume.

Huge angry scribbles in a journal. Venting to anyone near me.

The works.

Believe me, I know that kind of anger. Wanting to burn down everything that I'd built, every single word, and start over.

Time and time again.

And it's exhausting.

It narrows you. Makes you stingy. Shuts down your idea-making

It darkens your overall creativity (which is a huge part of what we're relying on, so that's not a good thing to lose either).

And it will definitely make it harder or impossible to get back to your desk and do the thing that you wanted to do:

Write an amazing story.

Patience and peace, old-fashioned though they sound, belong in our work.

Because they outdistance the angry-guy-at-the-post-office response, every single time. 

Bonus: Less wear and tear on you.

Also a bonus: Happier writing life.

Cultivating an ability for patience and peace actually keeps your head clear.

If you're calm, you can see opportunities glimmering there in the distance. And you have the energy and the creative chutzpah to invent your way out of your predicament.

All right: let's be practical. Where is it hardest for you right now to wait it out? 

Where are you feeling like the angry post office guy, ready to make some noise and flip tables and bellow? 

It's weird, but when I tell myself (sometimes out loud), "I'm going to choose patience here," I can feel myself start to shift.

Sometimes, of course, I don't feel anything. But I try to model patience for myself anyway.

I take a few deep breaths. (That helps with the peace part.) I try to think past the roaring frustration that wants to loom up in me.

And if I can't muster it, I'll fake patience if I have to. 

So: whatever the tough thing is that you're facing, can we try this?

For me, it's the renovation draft of my work-in-progress. At the end of last year, I tore my novel apart and applied awesome structure advice, and then rebuilt the outline.

I have a story that I love now. And I was going to finish writing the new draft by the end of February

It's, um, May now. And I've gotten the first quarter of the draft almost done.

There were legitimately difficult circumstances in February, so it isn't a lapse of focus or purpose. It's just that life happened, and so—this is where I'm at.

And I can twitch and get angry about it, and believe me, I'm tempted to.

But I can just feel what that does in my head (makes it tiny and uncreative) and my heart (it shrinks and snarls) and my body (tense and stubborn).

Not great things.

Not "oooh, let's make the yummiest story ever!" kinds of things.

So even though it's a wildly different plan than my first one, I'm gonna draft this story in May.

I'm picking intentions over goals. Letting go of rigid plans. 

And most of all, I'm leaning into this with a conscious decision to be patient—with myself, with changing circumstances, with new routines.

I'm choosing to bring peace to my desk.

It's not easy—that's why this is a lionhearted skill, after all!

It takes courage to keep your calm. To practice a peaceful attitude, even about the stuff that you're actively working to change.

To balance your ambition (because heck yes, we're keeping our ambition!) with a steady, grounded patience.

That's tough and it's brave and it's one of those put-your-grown-up-pants-on kind of skills.

And it's totally the best thing for the story and for the otherwise-frazzled writer.

So that's my challenge.

What's yours?

Where are you picking patience and peace over the total flip-out?

(Guy at the post office, I really did sympathize with you. But I'm not going to imitate you. And neither is the rest of the lionhearted crew.)

Here's to leaning toward peace. And here's to practicing patience. 

We're Playing for Keeps: A Lifelong Love of Writing

This is your last batch of prompts for the Fall In Love with Your Writing Life series...

Can you believe it??

Our last batch of prompts for falling in love with the writing life: We're looking long term and feeling all the warm fuzzy feelings. It's a beautiful thing. | lucyflint.com

One of the best joys of the writing life is that you can't ever be disqualified from it.

You can do this for the rest of your life. There is no aging out.

It's something you get to do forever: look at the world around you, look at the world inside you, and make stories out of it.

How freaking amazing is that? 

For these last few days, we're just going to camp out there, and get plenty happy about it.

If you feel like bringing some champagne along, do so.

Let's go.


February 25: Write a letter.

When we're working hard, we obviously focus on what writing goals are immediately in front of us. I've got some plans when it comes to 2016 and 2017, and I bet you do too. 

Most of my plans, though, are about production. Publication. Projects launched. New projects proposed.

All very exciting. My fingertips get all tingly when I think about it.

But for today, we're gonna think about goals in a different way.

Namely: What kind of a writer's heart do you want to aim for?

What kind of perspective? How might your approach to writing shift? 

What kind of writer do you hope to be? 

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: One more letter to write. You up for it? 

Let's do a bit of thinking first. Get an idea of the kind of writer you want to be—what kind of writer's heart, what kind of writer's spirit?

What issues will you take a stand against, in your work? What causes will you give to?

Who will you dignify? Who will you write for? What kinds of worlds will you give voice to?

I know it's hard to dream in this direction, but I think it's worth our time to explore a bit.

... My best example of this is more of a cautionary tale: When I was wrapping up my English degree and getting all prepared (read: anxious) for a writing life, I met with a full-time writer who was about 8-10 years older than I was. 

I was full of questions. I was a little desperate and nervous and excited.

Here's what I remember about her: She was the most bitter and discouraging writer I've ever met. 

It was a miserable chat.

I walked away from that with no useable advice but this (and it's a biggie): I don't want to end up like her.

I don't want to wind up bitter. I don't want to trade in my peace of mind and happiness and joy. No matter what the publication game looks like, I want to stick with this for the love.

See what I mean?

So what does that look like for you?

When you have a sense of the kinds of virtues and values you want to embody, draft a letter. 

It doesn't have to be long. But try and capture that idea of You, the Writer, ten or twenty or fifty years further down the road.

Oh, and this time, you're writing the letter to yourself. In the future. 

(I know it's weird, but hey: a lot of our readers live in the future. When you think of it like that, no big deal.)

Start by saying something like: Dear Future Writer-Me, This is who I think you are...

And basically, sketch it out. Who is this future writer that's you?

(Personally, I'm dreaming of a future Lucy who is totally perfectionism-free, who has great writing stamina but also knows how to rest and enjoy the rest of her life, who gives courage to kids in story form, who...


February 26: A movie date!

I don't care if it's cheesy: I get so happy when watching a movie that features writing. 

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Tonight, watch a movie that has something to do with writing, books, readers, or the writing life. 

Why? Because it's fun!

And that's all the reason we need around here, right?

My perennial favorites are Stranger than FictionMidnight in Paris, The Help, and Finding Neverland. Oh! And then Dan in Real Life when they meet in a bookstore... 

(If you have a killer recommendation, by all means let us know in the comments. I need to find some new ones!)

Tonight isn't about writing anything down.

Just watch. Have some fun.


February 27: Celebrate.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Today, sit in your writing space, or take a journal somewhere else that's peaceful, and just think about this:

You and the writing life—you're committed. 

You are going to spend the rest of your lives learning about each other. This is the long haul! 

There is so much more to the writing life than any of us can explore in a handful of decades.

More to learn about novels, about structure and form. More ways to break the rules.

There are more subjects to explore than any of us could cover... and an infinite number of subjects to invent!

That is a pretty amazing deal.

We're never going to be bored! Ever!

We get to keep the writing life. That's freaking fantastic.

Oh, and then there's you. You're pretty dang incredible yourself.

I'm just saying: The writing life got someone really special in you.

It will spend the rest of your life finding ways to spin everything you think and see and wonder about into words, into sentences, into strings of dialogue.

Bits of you will show up in characters and subplots. Parts of your thinking and your experiences will wind up in readers' brains, their ways of speaking. 

You'll be all over the place!

... If you feel like it, you can write about this. Or not.

You can also just sit there in the quiet and know that this is a life-long love.  

You have each other. And that's beautiful.

So pour yourself a toast, or throw a little party, or just sit there in the stillness.

However it looks to you, take a moment and really celebrate.


February 28: Stay close to your reading life, too.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: It's Sunday! You know what to do. Find yourself a patch of sunlight and a truly lovely book.

And fall into reading. 

The fact that we're lifelong writers means that we're lifelong readers. We're always learning, always absorbing.

Always wandering through other writer's brains, and taking snapshots of the scenery in there.

A reading life. It's one of the happiest, most connected ways to be.

And it's ours! To keep! Forever!


Thanks to Leap Day, we have one more prompt in the series, my friends!

(It thrills me to no end that we have a February 29 this year!! Trying to be dignified about that ... but failing. Leap years are cool.)

Anyway, check back on Monday for one last Love-Your-Writing-Life prompt.

Til then: happy dreaming!

Writing Is Not Instant.

Wanna be done with your novel, like, *yesterday*?? I'm with you. | lucyflint.com

This is basically a footnote to the previous post, and yeah, it seems kind of obvious, right?

Writing isn't instant. We're all well aware of that.

But I think that, in an age of next-day shipping, and instant downloads, and having so much change immediately at our fingertips... 

It can start to feel like we should have novels that happen overnight. 

You know? Just snap your fingers, and, voilà!

I start feeling a creeping sense of impatience.

I can be working merrily along, following all the smart, good systems that work well for me, I can keep pacing myself and moving forward, with everything going reasonably well, very steadily, with definite progress—

And then I just want to throw it all out the window and have a BOOK already!

Anyone with me?!

Can my novel please be done in the next five minutes. 

Look, this is an interesting character, a fun setting, and an intriguing problem... Just add water and INSTA-NOVEL!

Oh, why doesn't it work like that.

And then I have to go sit quietly in a corner and remember the books that I most love to read. The stories that stay with me. The movies that make me cry.

I remember that the process takes time, and that the time is worth it. For that kind of high-quality project? Yeah. It's worth it. 

Sometimes I have to remind myself of this every day. (Okay, okay. Every hour.)

Writing isn't instant, Lucy. Take the time that it takes. Don't settle. 

... Granted, I'm not opposed to learning to write faster. I'm about to reread Rachel Aaron's excellent book, and I just started reading Monica Leonelle's book Write Better, Faster. (I think some writing quota experiments are in my future!) 

I want to learn how to optimize what I'm doing, by all means. And I'm gulping down productivity podcasts and applying what I already know for the best way to write a lot of excellent words.

But even with the best systems and strategies in place, I still firmly believe that any book worth reading is still going to take a bit of time to create.

And too: it takes time to learn the skills to create that good thing in the first place. 

Doesn't mean we can't get there, doesn't mean that the creation time can't become shorter... It just means we aren't there immediately.

Writing is not instant. 

And I, for one, need to skip comparing myself to other writers, or other careers. (Yeesh!!!) 

One day I want to be massively prolific, but right now, I'm learning how to create a quality product. That's not an immediate process.

How about you? Are you feeling that itch of wanting to be done, done with learning, done with this book, done with whatever you're working on? 

Ooof. I hear you. Let's go eat Christmas cookies until the feeling passes. 

And then, after the sugar coma wears off, maybe we can accept that we will always be improving. Always learning. Always finding aspects of our writing (or our thinking, our reading, our self-management styles) that need to grow. 

I think that, instead of viewing that as something awful, something that says "we aren't there yet," or something that feels like a setback, we need to see it as something else.

Growth equals life, my friends. 

If we keep finding places where we need to, want to, have to improve, then we're finding evidences of life. 

Which is a GOOD thing, by the way.

What I keep telling myself is: It is okay if this learning process takes a really really long time.

Like: the rest of our lives.

It doesn't make us stupid. It doesn't mean we won't write amazing things in the meantime.

Okay, lionheart? Okay. How about that. Let's create stories and novels galore, even as we keep on learning, keep on growing. 

(But seriously, let's have a few more cookies in the meantime.)