When You Doubt the Value of a Lighthearted Book in a Tough World, Remember This

It's easy to think that, in a tough world, we don't need the lighthearted books, the "silly" ones. But when I saw what they could do--precisely IN those tough times--I changed my mind about that. I think you will too. | lucyflint.com

Well, we're coming to the end of this gorgeous month of Reading Recess

I don't know about you, but it has been SO GOOD for me to slow down, to focus on reading, and to remember why we read.

To set up good, nurturing structure around the reading habit (in the mornings! in a nook!), but also to remember why we have permission to do this amazing thing: falling into novels and reading, reading, reading.

We have that permission, because we're the makers of this art as well. We have to keep experiencing novels as readers, to remember, again and again, everything that they can do.

Because books can be the loveliest of vacations, the sweetest escapes.

Because books connect people: they link hearts with hearts, and remind us that we're not alone.

And sometimes, they do both of these things at once.

In my reading history, there is one moment that stands out above all others.

One moment when a light-hearted, even "silly," book gave an amazing gift to me, my parents, and someone else we didn't know.

In the midst of fear, heartache, tension, physical pain, and hope, there was a story. 

I've talked about it before on the blog, when the memory was especially fresh. (I can't beat that version of the story, so I'm just gonna reprint it below.)

But seriously: for amazing moments with a novel, nothing in my life beats this:

We were in my mom's hospital room.

Waiting with her as they tweaked her pain medication, waiting for her to recover just enough from the surgery to go home. We were looking out at the amazing view from the seventeenth floor. Letting her rest, grabbing coffee from the lobby, keeping each other company.

And then: we were reading out loud. 

My family has always read out loud to one another: it's something my parents did for us when we were kids, and none of us got around to outgrowing it.

So my mom packed a lighthearted novel for her hospital stay, and Dad and I read it out loud.

And something funny happened.

Instead of being overwhelmingly conscious of I.V. cords and hospital gowns, the smells of antiseptic, the sounds of the equipment in the room (I never knew hospital beds were so loud)

Instead of all our worries about the surgery itself, and the outcome, and what the rest of recovery would be like, and if any other treatment was needed

We all teleported. 

To 1930s England. To chauffeurs in uniform, to having tea and lemonade on the lawn, to entertaining the vicar.

To frivolous women and pompous young men and imperious great-aunts. To thwarted love and silly mix-ups and endangered inheritances.

It was one of those comedy-of-manners kinds of books, trivial and subtle and funny. 

The only thing I had to focus on was reading the very next sentence. Everything else faded away. Mom listened and rested. Dad and I wrapped ourselves up in the story. 

And at one point I looked up to see my mom's roommate standing there, listening to me read.

She was holding onto her I.V. pole, with a feeding tube snaking into her nose, but she was with us in the 1930s, standing there in England, just for a little while. 

(She told us—in a beautiful accent that none of us could quite place—that she and her husband had been listening to us for a while, that it was lovely to overhear someone reading, instead of the noise of the TV. "There's a TV in here?" I said later, surprised. We had never even noticed.)

In other words—I tell this emphatically to the doubting voice in my head—in other words, books are still important.

Even when your family gets all shaken around and can't figure out what normal is for a while.

Even in a land of diagnoses and tests and results and lab reports and waiting, waiting, waiting.

After all, anything that can make two women forget—even for an instant—that they are in a lot of pain; anything that can move a group of people over a continent and back about eight decades; heck, anything that can keep me from realizing I'm in a hospital

Well. That's a very powerful force.

Whether the story reminds you of green lawns and sparkling lemonade, or whether it's populated with aristocratic assassins and monocled crime fighters [like the one I'm writing!]:

Stories are important.

And maybe there is no such thing as too silly, when even the silly stories can remind us who we are.


In reading news: I finished Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat! SO much fun. And so I've started my final novel for this four-in-four challenge.

It is in the favorite-of-mine genre of British mystery. Thought I'd save the easiest for last! Somehow, I can never, ever read enough British mysteries.

This one's a recommendation from my mom (who is totally healed and healthy now, by the way!). It's called Bellfield Hall, Or, The Deductions of Miss Dido Kent, written by Anna Dean. 

Wahoo!! I'm super excited to dive in!! 

How's your reading going? Can you spend the last week of July splashing around in some fun-for-you (or dare I suggest it, even silly) novel??

Maybe in a lovely nest or nook? Maybe while eating something nourishing and delicious?

(Or a crisp gin and tonic: also fine with me. Heck, have two. It's been a tough summer.)

Wherever you are, whatever's going on: Save some time for yourself and a splendid book. 

Re-anchor yourself in the worlds of what you're reading. Switch your perspective for a while. Nourish yourself with words.

It's vital.

Happy reading to you, my friends!

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.