A Mini Makeover for Your Creative Process: 3 Tweaks to Lighten Your Load

Sometimes, when you need a fresh idea, it helps to borrow from another creative discipline. In this post, three process tweaks I'm borrowing from visual artists. And they're oh-so helpful, if you want a kinder, more flexible approach to your writing. ... Which you totally do, right? So come on over. | lucyflint.com

One of the places where I am always working to improve my writing life is in the area of process.

I'm convinced that a healthy writing process is central to a healthy writing life—I mean, it's everything, right?

So it's worth it to me to keep checking in with my attitude toward my creative process. And, for good measure, I want to keep streamlining the actual work of my writing process as well.

What I'm doing and how I'm feeling about it: let's just keep making that better. You with me?

Today I'm super excited, because my whole perspective on the writing/drafting process is getting a makeover, thanks to a handful of brilliant teachers. 

Who, by the way, have been teaching me how to paint and draw and doodle—not write.

I'm a big fan of learning from other disciplines—it's a great way to find those blind spots that develop when we're only listening to other writers about writerly struggles. I love a good commiseration session, but I also want more tools in my process-mending toolkit.

So, getting an inside look at the creative process from the perspective of some confident, capable, stunning visual artists, whom I totally admire? Yes please!

Because their view on process is awesome. And OH SO helpful, for anyone who is recovering from perfectionism, and who is trying to be kinder on herself when it comes to the stuff in her draft that she doesn't like.

Is that you too? Because that's totally me!

Here's the story: at the end of August I got a subscription to CreativeBug for my birthday.

(Which, if you're interested at all, I totally recommend. You get access to sooooo many good classes—I'm in heaven! And even if you don't want to spring for classes, check out CBTV, where they have a bunch of interviews with artists and makers under the "Meet Our Instructors" heading—super inspiring!)

So, I've been spending more and more of my downtime lately making art—surrounded by paintbrushes and watercolors and acrylics and sketchbooks and a smidge of collage-work because hey, why not.

I've been learning from amazing artists like Pam Garrison, Lisa Congdon, Heather Ross, Flora Bowley, and Yao Cheng, and as they're teaching me art, I'm also scribbling notes to myself to think about writing in a new way.

Because I wanna be aware of composition and quirkiness the way that Lisa Congdon is. I want to encounter the inevitable imperfections in my work in the same way that Pam Garrison and Yao Cheng do. And I want to approach drafts the same way Flora Bowley approaches layers of a painting.

Here's how I'm applying three art ideas to my writing process right this second.

1. Think in terms of the overall composition. 

One of the things I've caught myself doing in this draft is focusing too closely on certain story elements. Writing too dang much about something. (Who, me?? Haha!)

I've especially been doing this with characters. When I bring in a new secondary character, I want to make sure they're thoroughly imagined, with a rich backstory and a fantastic inner conflict and a clear sense of what they're fighting for. And then I want that information to find its way onto the page in glimmers and side notes, to give the story so much more depth, more for readers to discover.

It can sound like a good goal, but ... every single character? 

As I've been rereading my draft, I'm realizing that, when every character gets that level of attention, as a reader, I don't know who to pay the most attention to.

I don't know whose story it is, and I don't know how to keep track of everything. The plot starts stringing out, the main conflict starts to blur, and the most important characters get drowned out by a flood of other—interesting—characters. 

I felt a bit helpless at first. Because I worked on those fascinating characters, and I love reading books that are bursting with interesting people. But my story was bogging down—what to do?

And then I remembered the whole concept of composition in a piece of artwork. And how all my wonderful CreativeBug teachers say again and again: step back and get a sense of the piece as a whole. 

How do the colors and shapes play off of each other? Are there enough bright spots? Dark spots? Where does your eye go?

It doesn't have to be ruler-perfect symmetrical, not by a long shot. Quirkiness is welcome. Interest is your BFF. 

But also: is there a kind of balance? Is there a place for your eye to rest, patches where there isn't so much going on? Is there negative space?

Thinking of my story the same way I would a sketchbook spread or a canvas has been so helpful. 

Instead of thinking, "I have to cut that character," which feels very bloody and savage and awful, I can just remind myself that this patch of the story is getting too weighted, too busy. It's taking us too far away from the focal point. 

It might be super interesting, but it needs to lighten up if it's going to be in the same painting as that main image, that character and conflict that I really really don't want anyone to miss.

So instead of an across-the-board deletion, how about softening it a lot, reducing it to just a hint, a smidge of interest, a whisper of color? 

Somehow, thinking of it in those terms helps me understand just what to do.

2. Perfect can be boring.

In a piece of artwork, exact lines and exact color shades and precise edges are often not the most interesting things to look at.

Instead, we tend to be drawn to art that has depths. That has ambiguities, imperfect shapes, imperfect lines. That leaves room for interpretation, that has some places where the colors muddied a little, some unexpected juxtapositions.

The artists I'm learning from aren't so interested in a ton of tiny perfect brushstrokes making up one big perfect painting.

They're a lot more okay with a surprise blending of colors (what other people would call "mistakes"), or with unique brush marks that were unexpected (again, aka, "mistakes").

Instead of freaking out, they get really curious and excited at how the elements of the painting play against each other in interesting ways.

They value "quirky," "unexpected," and "curious" far more than I ever do. 

And as I keep paying attention to them, I feel my attitude toward my draft-in-progress changing.

I'm releasing my hold on "but every paragraph has to be polished to sheer gleaming perfection!"

And instead, I'm practicing these questions:

Is it interesting? Are there quirky and unexpected moments? Do I like those unexpected juxtapositions?

Am I leaving room for the reader to draw her own conclusions, instead of hammering out every single idea, every single emotion?

What makes me curious about how this chapter played out? How does the composition as a whole feel? Maybe the balance isn't scrupulously, laboratory-perfect, but is it interesting?

These questions have helped reorient me, helped me focus. They're so much more valuable than a strict dichotomy of good writing/bad writing, or perfect/flawed. They give me more to work from, and a better, truer sense of how my writing is doing.

3. And if you really don't like it, you're just not done yet.

Instead of writhing about the things that they don't like, my favorite art teachers oh-so calmly go in to fix it. They cover it with a different color, add collage over the top, or change the mark to make it look intentional.

These artists have a whole arsenal for responding to what they don't like in a piece, and transforming those things into something better—into unexpected moments in the painting. 

One of the best at this is Pam Garrison. She even says that she gets excited when a "mistake" happens, because it becomes an opportunity to do something different than what she was planning. It's a chance for the painting to surprise her, to make her do something new. 

What?! I was amazed at that attitude ... and also wanted it in an IV bag so I can drip it into my bloodstream on the regular.

I tend to get my gears all locked up when I see something that's gone wrong. I can get sweaty and miserable and work to fix it, to make it look like it never happened. Try to make it invisible. 

But instead, to see it as a jumping off point, to see it as an opportunity, to see it as a chance to have a special moment instead of an erased one—

Wouldn't that transform our entire drafting and revising process? Wouldn't that help us grow as writers, both in flexibility and in craft? 

How can we see the opportunity in our mistakes?

Practicing a painterly mindset.

So that's what I've been learning! It's been so beautiful to lean on this painting mindset as I work through this stage of my draft. It has definitely been making a difference.

When I'm faced with the start of a new chapter (and that whiff of "blank page" fear behind it), I say in my best painter voice: "I'll just get some marks on the page, and I can react to them later. Doesn't matter what I put down—let's just start." 

When I see how unbalanced a section has become, or how I've wandered off on a sub-sub-subplot tangent while dropping the main conflict entirely, I say, "Hm, interesting! But this part of the composition has gotten a little too forceful, so I'll just lighten it up a bit."

And when I find a lame dialogue exchange, instead of beating up my weak dialogue skills, I think, "Ooh! An opportunity to sit with this exchange and make it more powerful, more punchy, more unexpected. What new doors are opened up to me, because I started with this version of their exchange? What can I jump off from?" 

It has been so. freeing.

It makes the process of writing feel much more lively, interesting, and fluid. And it makes me feel a lot less crazy, less fenced in. 

... And all this isn't to say that all these painting teachers just waltz around, not caring about their final products. They still want to end up with a painting they like—so it isn't that they are thoughtless about what they create.

Instead, they are flexible. They keep moving through the layers of a painting. They don't stall out, getting stuck in a state of "I can't fix this / I don't like this / I don't know what to do." 

So I'm practicing the mindset that I'm seeing in them. I want to treat my drafts like my sketchbook—no perfectionist pressure. Just curiosity and a willingness to see things in a new way. To play with the words and ideas, like artists play with color and brush strokes. 

I'm practicing my way into a process that keeps inviting me back to the story, that keeps opening the doors to better and happier work.

It's all too easy for the last month of the year to find me whipping myself into a panic, trying to finish up goals, catch things up before the last days on the calendar run out. Ack!!

Not this year. That's not how I want to finish. 

Instead, I'm going to focus on these new lessons, and approach my work with delight, and let December play out however it may.

Wanna join me? Wherever December finds you in your writing, try bringing in a sweeter attitude to your process, a more flexible response to "mistakes," and a willingness to play.

It's the best sendoff we can give 2016.


I'll be back in two weeks for the last post of the year. (What?! Already??)

If you're looking for more to read in the meantime, please check out my essential holiday survival guides for writers! There's a Part One and Part Two, and both are super important. So if you're getting nervous about all the upcoming festivities and what they'll do to your writing schedule, I totally understand, and those posts are for you!

If you're looking for a handful of genius resources, here are two posts on some of my favorite books on writing and prioritizing. They've been so helpful to me!

And if you're still feeling inspiration-hungry, here are a few more thoughts to encourage you when you're feeling stuck, when the pace of the writing life is making you feel crazy, and when your fears are throwing a party in your head

See you soon! And meanwhile, happy writing, lionhearts! 

Five Ways to Spark Energy and Excitement for Your Work-in-Progress!

Enthusiasm is our best best friend when it comes to staying the course with our writing. So how can we boost our enthusiasm? I've got five super fun ways right here. | lucyflint.com

Welcome back to the Strength Building Series! So far, we've talked about what strength even means (because the wrong definition is the first step to sabotaging it). And then we focused in on building strength of imagination (because imagination is central to everything we do!).

And today—I'm really excited. Which is appropriate. Because today we're talking about how to increase our enthusiasm for our work.

I know! I know! I'm gonna have to simmer down so much to even write this thing...

Ahem. Okay. Being sensible. 

So, first thing: why even bring up enthusiasm? Why is this a place where we need to build strength?

To find the answer, think back for a sec to our Self-Care Series, when we talked all things Julia Cameron.

And one of the more mind-blowing things that she pointed out was: when it comes to sustainable momentum in our work, enthusiasm trumps discipline.

Yeah. It's still incredible. 

And that shifted my focus from "How can I be more disciplined?" to "How can I be more enthusiastic?" Which is a pretty huge course correction.

Building enthusiasm. It's essential for the kind of work we want to do.

... And before anyone gets worried that I'm about to base all our hard work on a mere feeling, let's refresh on Julia Cameron's definition of enthusiasm. She says: 

Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us. ... 
     Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work. ... It is joy, not duty, that makes for a lasting bond.

Okay. If that was waaay more mushy-sounding than you really care for on a Thursday, let's look at it like this:

The way Cameron is using enthusiasm isn't about "how we feel right now." 

It's about 1) commitment, 2) openness, 3) creativity, 4) process, 5) play, 6) joy and 7) yes, okay, love.

Which is why, to build enthusiasm, we're going to dive into the work itself (commitment!). No matter where we're at in it (process!). 

We're going to mess around (creativity!) and try new things (openness!). And yes, it's going to be playful. It's going to be about enjoying what we're making. And even, dare I say it, loving it.

Sound good? Sound ... fun? 

Here are my five favorite ways to build playfulness and enthusiasm for my work-in-progress.

Check them out, stay open, and don't worry about "doing it right." Just dive in and give these a try.

1) Embrace the Souvenir Method.

... I was about to say "this is one of my favorite things to do with a piece I'm working on!" and then I realized I'd just be saying this about everything I'm talking about today.

So I figured I'd spare you the repetition...

AND YET IT'S TRUE!

The souvenir method is a gorgeous little way to keep your mind and heart centered in your story. Plus it's fun.

.... Annnnd it gives you a rush.

Okay. Here's what you do: 

First, get your mindset. 

This is super important to remember: You're going to be visiting your draft-in-process as if it's a place. As if you're an explorer. You're going to be looking for souvenirs: things to take out of context and bring to a new place.

In other words: You are not about to spiral into a critique-festival. You're not going to indulge in beating yourself up. You will not, even for a moment, whisper to yourself that your draft is "crap." Okay? 

This isn't about judging what's there. Not at all. This can be done with the messiest, crappiest drafts, I promise you. (Because I definitely have.)

Pick up your draft. You can start from any place. From the beginning if you like, or any chapter at all.

And read. Read slowly. Let yourself explore. 

Read like you're looking at something new. Switch off your editing brain, and just experience the story.

While you're doing that, keep your eyes open for any line, any sentence, any phrase, that seems to especially capture the feel of a particular moment of your story. 

Such as:

  • a passage that pinpoints a vital aspect of the setting
  • a line of dialogue that shows off your protagonist's snarkiness
  • an exchange or moment between two characters that hints at the truth of their relationship
  • a key moment in the rise of the conflict
  • any moment that sums up a character's personality 

Don't think perfection here. Think "candid snapshot."

You're looking for moments that get the feel of your story, even more than the accuracy. 

And—even more importantly—you're looking for bits and phrases and scraps that mean something to you. 

You're looking for the sentences that register in your writerly heart. The little "aha!" feeling when a phrase resonates especially. 

Another reader might look at what you've chosen and see a bunch of scraps of sentences, bits of paragraphs.

But when you read it through, you hopefully hear your protagonist's voice, or sense a moment between the two love interests, or feel the prickle of anxiety before a major plot point.

Go for resonance and atmosphere more than just "yes, this sums up the passage well."

Does that make sense?

Personally, I copy and paste what I've chosen into its own document. I play around with the formatting: I put little separators between each passage.

Sometimes I'll have three sentences from a section, and other times I'll just have lifted one little phrase. If one of the clips needs a brief note to remind me of context, I throw that in as well.

When I'm done, I have about a page or so of moments from my story that set my mind and heart ringing. Moments that, when I read them together, as a whole, re-immerse me into my story. 

Which is oh-so helpful for those times when I've been away from the work, and am trying to find my way back in. 

2) Create a Gallery of Nouns.

This is one that I've used recently. It's fun and seemingly simplistic... but it's been part of my post-summer re-entry to my novel, and has helped so much!

Here's what I did: While rereading my draft so far, I paused every few pages, and doodled one of the nouns that had been mentioned in the story. 

That's it.

So, as I read, I made little silly sketches of things like: the cat a character dreamed about, the spider my main character chased from her room, the row of herbs on her mom's windowsill. 

I gave each little drawing a label: "Olivia's splendid lemon cake," "a gorgeous straw hat for the beach," "the mailbox with one postcard inside." 

And then I went through and colored everything in.

I didn't care that the drawings didn't look perfect—they were meant to just be light-hearted, quick, and fun. And when I sat back, I had a kind of visual catalogue of my story so far.

Images that stood in for character moments, points of tension, or just part of the opening setting that my characters will miss later in the story, when they're far away.

What's valuable about this technique is how playful and simple it can be. But it slyly involves our ability to visualize our own story, and to translate it into another art form: a doodle, a sketch, a selection of colors.

And there's something pretty magical about being able to see bits of your story laid out on a page. 

3) Let Music Be the Food of Story.

If you've been a long-time reader, you've heard me mention this a time or three. But that's because it's my all-time favorite!!

And I'm especially smitten with it because this simple tool, more than anything else, saved my connection to my story over a long, difficult summer.

Because of some tough circumstances, I had to let weeks go by without drafting, yet I stayed open and connected to my novel idea. How?

With a playlist of music.

I've slowly built a playlist of songs that remind me of key moments in my trilogy. These aren't soundtracks, by the way. The playlist isn't focused on instrumental songs.

It's a compilation of pieces that somehow link me to a character as a whole, to a character's backstory, to a moment of the plot, to a key relationship, to a story transition... the possibilities are, of course, endless!

The lyrics don't have to be 100% applicable to my story moment. If a handful of key lines resonate, that's good enough for me.

It turns out that it's the atmosphere and the mood of the song that's absolutely pivotal.

It's hard to just talk about music, so here are three examples from my playlist: 

Example 1: Scarlett Johansson singing "Before My Time."

Yes, it's from a movie about ice. But on my playlist, it's linked to the moment we meet an old resistance leader. When she comes on stage for the first time, she's tired of hoping, and tired of trying for change. 

Some of the lyrics are spot-on for her character, but I especially love the weariness in ScarJo's voice and the lament of the violin. I can practically feel my character when I hear this. SO perfect.

Example 2: Lana Del Rey's wonderfully depressing "Once Upon a Dream."

It's a more chilling version of a familiar song from kidhood... which is why it's spot on for my playlist. In my mind, this song references a fairly evil character who creeps around within, yup, dreams. And he's just focused his attention on my protagonist.

He's tricked her once before into believing he could be helpful, so the lyrics in the song even hint a smidge at the character's backstory and their history together.

There's also a kind of fatal inevitability in the song that I love... It helps me remember how trapped my protagonist feels in this moment, and how high the stakes are for her. Oooh. So good. 

Example 3: Of Monsters and Men's live version of "King and Lionheart."

It's more simple and haunting than their original version, and it's one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands. *high five*

It's also totally perfect for late in the trilogy, when my protagonist has been through a lot. She and her ragged friends are working alongside a king, and they're all gearing up for a climax that's sure to be very, very messy.

But the feel of this song and a fair amount of the lyrics are just exactly right. And honestly? I still get chills listening to this song, thinking of my main character. 

Whew! So. Those are some that have worked for me. 

The main thing to remember is that you're looking more for atmosphere and mood than for lyrics. A few spot-on lyrics are excellent, of course, but it's the feel of the song that seals it. 

So, see what you think. Basically, you'll know it when you hear it.

When it hits just right, I feel this incredible expansive rush, where I can see my characters in my mind, and—more importantly—feel what they are feeling, and hear what they are thinking.

I sense their weariness, or their uncertainty and fear, or their dogged hope. 

I can't say this enough: building a playlist is RIDICULOUSLY FUN.

It feels like procrastinating, but let me say it again: nothing saved my work this summer more than this. You can totally justify the time, in other words. ;)

Once you have a playlist—even if it's just a handful of songs—you have gold.

Play it in the car, listen to it while you cook, dance to it, take walks with it. And when you hear the songs, send your heart and your mind right into the center of your story.

You don't have to do any hard-core plotting (although I've definitely discovered plot this way). You don't have to jot down notes, or expand characterization (although, again, that has happened along the way for me).

You don't have to be "productive" with this tool at all. The biggest and best gift that it gives is a connection to the emotional and mental climate of your work.

It keeps it real and breathing and lively in your mind. 

And when that's true, allllllll good things can follow. 

4) Give It the Big Screen Treatment.

If the above strategies have been at all up your alley, don't stop there! This next idea can feel a little more tricky, but once you get the hang of it, it is pure fun and super helpful.

It also might keep you from sleeping, if you choose to do this right before bed. (So. Many. Times. I get all story-giddy and lie awake for hours. You've been warned.)

So: I love to dream up trailers for my book. As if it were a huge summer blockbuster.

I do this all in my head: I slowly fade in to some kind of panoramic story-view. Introduce characters in a moment, a glance, a funny line. 

And then I try to zoom in on the most tantalizing moments. The funniest lines, the jaw-dropping cliff-hangers, the moments of loss. You know. The way a good trailer does.

I cut from one moment to the next to the next in my mind. I imagine stirring epic music, or heart-stopping silence. Even a little slo mo, when it feels right.

... Basically I just have a blast. That's it in a nutshell.

And each time I do this, the resulting "trailer" looks different. 

What's glorious about this is how it, again, forces you to get visual about your story.

But also, it helps you focus on what movie trailers do best: excitement, intrigue, resonance. It helps you connect with the emotional points of your story. 

When I'm mired in too much thinking about structure and plot, and when my work starts to feel tedious, I retreat to this strategy. I pull up IMDb and watch a bunch of movie trailers.

And then, comfortable with the whole movie-trailer genre again, I close my eyes and dream up my own.

Seriously, my friends, when you start to get the hang of it, this can inspire enthusiasm like nothing else.

5) Believe In Where It Could Go.

Okay. This final enthusiasm-builder might sound more than a little goofy. BUT I've read this advice from several other writers (James Scott Bell and Heather Sellers for a start), and so I had to give it a try.

... And when I did, I couldn't stop smiling. 

Here it is: Make up endorsements for your work-in-progress, from authors you admire.

Yes really!

(IMMEDIATE DISCLAIMER: Don't, for the love of pete, publish them or pretend that they are real or everyone gets into trouble. Okay. Just had to say that. Common sense. Right. Okay.) 

Anyway: Write that kind of endorsement that would just thrill you. What you'd dream of them saying.

Write endorsements that emphasize those key parts of the story that they most loved. Everything that you're aspiring to in your work.

Type the endorsements onto a mock title page, and print it off. Hang it in your work area, or put it somewhere else where you can see it. 

Read them often. Smile.

... This isn't about getting our hopes up, or setting our hearts on something perhaps won't happen. Dream endorsements are a long shot, sure. 

But the strength of this tool is a lot like the strength in affirmations. When we state the direction we're heading in, it helps us change course. Saying out loud what we want can keep us on track.

Plus, if these "endorsements" make you smile... then why not? 

The main point is: they are a fun way to help you remember your goal. Your vision for the story.

The fact that, all this work, all these words, all these hours, are going into a craft you're making to give other people an experience.

Maybe you're trying to make them laugh. Or make 'em cry. (In a good way.)

Maybe you want to whisk them off to strange lands for strange adventures. Or maybe you're trying to open their eyes to what's in their backyard.

You want them to think. You want them to feel

Write little blurbs for yourself that point you in that direction: that help you remember you're inventing an experience. It's about a heart, about emotions.

This little endorsement-writing trick can seem so small, so silly.

But it can lift us above the daily grind, just when we need it most, and set our focus back on the big picture.


And there you have it! Five ways to strengthen your enthusiasm and stay playful with your work-in-progress.

All five of these have been absolutely key at different points in my writing life. They have cheered me, excited me, steadied me, and brought my stories back from near-death.

Pretty dang exciting, frankly. 

Which ones have you tried before? What will you try next?

Do you have any favorite ways to stoke writerly enthusiasm? Pass 'em along!! We all need plenty of good tools for this!

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? 

Breaking a Deadly Habit: Are You Abusing Your Creativity? Let's Rescue It.

This is such an easy trap to fall into, an easy habit to pick up. But it's literally killing our creativity--and starving our work. We have to stop. Here's your invitation to a rescue mission. | lucyflint.com

As writers, one of our most vital resources, our most prized possessions, is our creativity. 

That's a fair thing to say, right? If there's no creativity, there are no words on the page, no stories brewing in the mind, no plots, no outlines, no characters.

Creativity is a tool, a source. It's the thing we use constantly in our lives and our work.

Given that, we should be as invested in protecting it and caring for it as we are our other important tools—our computers and software, the copyrights for our work, our access to books. 

Right?

But it's so easy to forget to see it that way. 

It's easy for me to make sure my fancy computer is well taken care of, but creativity, well, it's there when I need it, right?

We can get kind of blasé about our creativity. Careless. We can take it for granted. Leave it out in the rain, let it pick up a few dings, stop putting it in its protective case.

You tracking with me? 

Not that I want to get too precious about this, but I want to be a better protector and champion of my own creativity. 

I want to treat it like it's the thing that's bringing home the bacon. The central engine for everything I'm trying to run. 

I want to take better care of my creativity.

One thing that kinda shook me up with The Artists's Way was how Julia Cameron kept calling it a course in creative recovery.

I feebly tried to fend this off a little, when I picked the book up in the spring. "My creativity is basically fine, I'm just looking for a little pick-me-up, it's not like I'm in trouble here or anything..."

( ... Whoops, sorry, I snort a little when I laugh sometimes.)

Ahem.

The more I read, the more I realized I'd been so casual about creativity. So narrow-minded in how I think of it. And so dismissive about the possibilities and the power of creativity, that I'd been kind of strangling mine. 

Not that it was dead, but it was definitely a bit winded and it didn't want to sit too close to me.

And since I want to take everything I've learned and plunge oh so deep into writing my trilogy this fall, I don't want to alienate creativity. 

Instead, I want to put a huge welcome mat by my desk. I want to hand it a hot drink and give it the comfiest seat in the house. 

Creativity!! It is so good to see you. Please come in. Please make yourself at home. What can I do to make you comfortable and happy? 

... How about you? How are you and creativity doing these days? Are you on speaking terms? Best friends? Or avoiding each other's eyes?

The books that I've been studying have a bit to say about ways that we thwart our own creativity. So if you, like me, want to get super imaginative in the upcoming weeks, you'll want to keep reading.

We've been feeding cyanide to our creativity.

Just a little warning: None of us are going to like what's ahead here. 

Because if we know how important our creativity is, and how beautiful it can be, it's going to be a real bummer to realize that most of us have been slipping cyanide into its food. 

And maybe even kicking it a little, as it writhes on the floor.

How are we doing this? 

Through comparison. Competition. Measuring our work against someone else's, and focusing on the differences we see. 

This will literally shut down creativity. 

It changes everything. 

Think back to times when you've done this. Can you kind of feel, in slow-motion, how those comparison-driven thoughts flooded your ability to create with poison? 

I don't know how it looks for you, but this is how it goes down for me:

When a classmate of mine got an interview with a big-name author I admire, and when I found out that she'd published quite a few books as well, I didn't think, "Marvelous! Good for her! And I'm going to my desk right now!"

I didn't. 

Instead I felt like my lungs had filled up with poison gas, and my arms and legs felt hot and slow and my mind was yelling at me that I'm so stupid, and I've lost all my chances, and everyone's given up on me by now, and what the heck have I been doing with my time? 

I looked at my novel and thought, "Pfft! Books for kids! I'm just writing silly stuff and I can't even do that very well!"

I dismissed everything I've worked for and everything I've become with one contemptuous shrug of the shoulders.

(Plus I was LYING to myself in a huge way and pretended it was the whole truth. Not a helpful move.)

My work-in-progress didn't really thrive that day.

Neither did its writer.

... I know I'm not alone here.

This is such an easy thing to fall into, and I'd love to take a lot of time to talk about how our culture encourages this, how crappy teachers and vile schoolmates do it to us, how misguided "encouragers" can point out where we should be more like so-and-so...

But no matter how we got here, the point is: when we let comparison and competition into our writing lives, it cackles a bit and then strolls over to murder our creativity.

And frankly, my friends, that's not great. Nor is it a useful long-term writing strategy.

I love how Julia Cameron says this—it's just so helpful to me:

When we focus on competition, we poison our own well, impede our own progress. When we are ogling the accomplishments of others, we take our eye away from our own through line. We ask ourselves the wrong questions, and those wrong questions give us the wrong answers.

I LOVE that. She's so right: it switches our attention.

I so wish I could time travel back to when I found out about my classmate. I wish I could have just taken a huge breath, said "Good for her," out loud, and then put the information aside.

And then I wish I would have surrounded myself with my beautiful characters, my incredible storyworld, and the next hilarious scene.

Instead of asking, "Why can't that be me?!" I wish I would have gently and compassionately asked, "What is the best thing I can do for my story today? What is the next exciting thing to write?"

THAT is what I wish I had done.

Instead of wallowing in hateful comparison, I wish I had just thrown my arms around creativity.

Cameron goes on to say,

The desire to be better than can choke off the simple desire to be. As artists we cannot afford this thinking. It leads us away from our own voices and choices and into a defensive game that centers outside of ourselves and our sphere of influence. It asks us to define our own creativity in terms of someone else's.

Gaa! Doesn't that last line just get you?!

Comparison isn't our friend. It's not on our side. 

Creativity is. 

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown talks about how comparison is the thing we need to let go of, if we're going to cultivate creativity. She says,

Comparison is all about conformity and competition. ... The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of "fit in and stand out!" ...
     Letting go of comparison is not a to-do list item. For most of us, it's something that requires constant awareness. It's so easy to take our eyes of our path to check out what others are doing and if they're ahead or behind us. 

She goes on to say, 

If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. ... Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared. 

If you're struggling with this whole comparison thing like I am, please do this for yourself: Write down that last bit and stick it to your computer, your mirror, your forehead. 

Remind yourself of it often!

What you bring to the world—your story, your writing style, your characters, your take on the genre, your setting—it's COMPLETELY ORIGINAL.

It cannot be compared. 

If we're going to move forward as writers, if we're going to keep growing in our work, then we have to put to death this habit of comparing. 

Comparing ourselves to peers, to the people who are writing in a similar genre or sphere.

Comparing ourselves to established masters of the craft.

Comparing ourselves to people who seem to be doing "worse" than we are.

Comparing ourselves to unattainable perfection.

We've gotta stop doing it, my friends. 

How to embrace a radically new perspective on creativity.

One way to help loosen our grip on comparison is to have an even clearer sense of our own creativity.

Julia Cameron uses one metaphor for creativity over and over, and honestly, at first, I thought it was a bit hokey.

And then, the longer I sat with it, the more I realized she was totally right.

(This is true for about 99% of my experience with the book, by the way. I'd react with, "Gaa! That's so silly." Pause. "Well, she might have a point." Pause. "Oh gosh, actually, that's dead right." And the book would just grin up at me.)

Cameron talks about creativity, about our inner artist, as a child.

(I know, I know. Just go with it for a bit.)

If you've been around kids for ten minutes, you've seen how explosively, endlessly creative they can be. 

So, what's the best way to grow your creativity? Cameron says, throughout her book, that the way to grow it is by nurturing it—just as you would nurture a child.

Give it a sense of safety. Protect it from unkind influences (like the nasty lies that rear up in our minds). Provide it with fun things that it wants to play with.

Do not abuse it with harsh words, the silent treatment, lies, or starvation.

She says, 

We must actively, consciously, consistently, and creatively nurture our artist selves. ... Only when we are being joyfully creative can we release the obsession with others and how they are doing. 

Can you practice treating your creativity like it's a child that you dearly love? Can you practice giving it room to play? Handing it every fun tool or toy that it wants? 

Can you let it make a mess? 

Can you talk to it with compassion, gentleness, as if it were someone you loved?

One of the best ways to do this is through a core principle in The Artist's Way: the artist date.

From the start of the book, Cameron asks that we make a commitment to a weekly artist date. 

What does that mean? 

She says, 

An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. ... The artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers.

YES.

I just love this concept. And the rare times (I mentioned the summer was crazy, right?) that I was able to do this, I felt so much better.

More connected to my imagination, to a wider sense of the world, to my ability as a creator.

The amazing thing is, an artist date can be so simple. An outing to a beloved art store, or a nearby quirky furniture/home store are two favorites. Or sometimes I block off the time to sit and paint with watercolors. 

I'll be the first to say: I'm not great at doing this yet. It's an area where I really have to practice defending my time (from others and from myself!).

And it's hard to let myself have fun. (Honestly, if there was a rehab center for learning to play and have fun, I'd probably have to check myself in. So, if this doesn't come easily to you—solidarity, my friend.)

I really believe that these artist dates—time set aside for pure nurturing—are truly worth it. 

So here's my crazy suggestion: Can you, can I, can all of us give ourselves permission to take an artist date this week? 

To block out time and go on an outing? Or to pull out some dusty hobby that we love but feel sheepish about, and pursue it for a while? 

Can we essentially hand our inner artist a huge ice cream cone and say, "Go to town, kiddo! Today we're just going to have fun together!" 

Maybe this means buying yourself balloons or maybe it means going on a long walk by a lake.

Maybe it means buying the huge pack of fifty markers from the back-to-school display and a coloring book or four.

Or maybe you grab a bunch of sidewalk chalk, and let loose on your patio.

Maybe it means getting messy, or maybe it means wandering in a new place.

If you're stuck for ideas, try these quick prompts: 

  • What are twenty things that you love doing? 
  • What hobbies did you love as a kid? 
  • What were your favorite toys as a kid? What did you just love playing with? Where did you most love to go?
  • What did you love to do in art class? Music class? 
  • Where do you like to explore?
  • What kinds of activities or places seem to release something good in you?

Remember, you are not allowed to label your artist date as something "silly." (That's comparison sneaking in again, and remember that it just wants to slit creativity's throat. Don't let it.)

Aim for delight. Play. Fun. Joy.

Even if you're not good at it, like me, practice anyway. 

Even if you get caught up in questions like, "am I doing this right?" ... practice anyway

Why? Because it's worth it.

As Cameron says,

Serious art is born from serious play.

Let's make our creativity feel welcomed, supported, nurtured, and loved.

And let's take our artist date this week.

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

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

Here is the truth of where I'm at.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's a three-step process. 

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

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

3) Proceed to work through the list.

I have a very deep love of this method.

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

THIS LIST WILL SAVE ME.

It's proofed against all whims, all moods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Force that Trumps Discipline

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

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

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

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

Here's how she says it: 

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

WHAT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it's a really really short list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And actually...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could crank them out, no problem. 

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

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

Haha. Nope.

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

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

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

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

Which is why her suggestions now make total sense.

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

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

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

And they're so worth it. 

So let's dive in.

1. Write your three morning pages.

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

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

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

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

Instead, I was disgusted. And deeply disappointed.

Because nothing "happened," nothing changed. 

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

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

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

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

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

They are MEANT to be a whine. A rant.

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

And you know what?

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

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

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

Don't do that.

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

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

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

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

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

2. Establish a practice of filling the well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Cameron puts it:

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

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

Cameron describes two ways of restocking our imaginations. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Shower yourself in authentic luxuries. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

And okay. Yeah. Yes. The phrase applies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aim for what delights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not great news for our work, right?

So let's listen to our delights.

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

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

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

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

As Cameron writes, 

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

So, my friends: Let's play.

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

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

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

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

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

I completely disregarded this book. For ten years!! 

WELL.

I am here today to set things straight.

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

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

It's a big deal.

Whew. Deep breath. 

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

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

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

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

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

No sweat. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was feeling some creative restlessness. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until finally, in the spring, I began reading. 

And reading. And reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

... Did I mention I'm blushing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For you, my writing friend. And for me.

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

How do we do that? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

To stop starving parts of our creativity.

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

Nope. 

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

Treating myself like a precious object
will make me strong.

Whoa, right? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The results?

Are freakin' spectacular.

So, lean in to that.

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

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

And try a softer, kinder, more intuitive way.

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

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

Dive in with an open mind and an open heart.

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

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

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

Because it's changing everything.

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

Let's Stop Overlooking This Pivotal Aspect of Our (Soon-to-Be Amazing!) Reading Routines

It *seems* like a small, silly, forgettable piece of our reading habits. ... But is it? I'm pretty sure it's gonna be a game-changer for me, and you, and everyone else! | lucyflint.com

Sometimes, the most important parts of a routine are precisely the parts we consistently overlook.

So even though today's topic may seem like a silly, frivolous question to ask about our reading routines, I'm convinced that it's worth digging into.

And for those of us who struggle with getting to our reading, it could be a complete game-changer. 

(Also? It just might be the yummiest part of this reading recess series. Ooooh. Gettin' excited.)

All right, lionhearts. So, we know that where we work, and the quality of the place where we write, has a bearing on how we FEEL about doing that work, right?

Our working environment is sending us a message. It might not even be a message we consciously notice—it's probably just under the radar. 

But it is definitely telling us how we feel about ourselves as writers, how we feel about this work, and what our approach to writing is. 

I keep coming back to this truth: that when my writing life feels out of whack, one of the questions I need to ask myself is, has my writing environment gone offline somehow? 

It's an important question.

So... now I want to try something I've never done before. I want to apply that same question to reading.

For the first time basically ever, I want to ask the question: Where do I do most of my reading? 

And, more importantly: What is that space communicating to me? 

See, when I was working really hard to tell myself that reading really does count as work, I moved my reading to my writing desk. I sat upright, typed notes into my computer, elbows on the hard wooden surface.

Conscientious. Disciplined. Focused.

Um. Yes, it did feel like work...

TOO much like work. 

So then I moved my reading practice to my bed. I sprawled among the pillows, covered up with a soft afghan...

annnnd I definitely fell asleep. More than once.

So this month, as I've been powering through fiction, I've felt a bit displaced. Nowhere feels quite right.

Hmm.

I've also been reading The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. (Which, like I've said before, you are going to hear MUCH more about later, because it is the most insanely brilliant thing ever and it is totally changing my life. It's AMAZING. I'm so thrilled.) 

Ahem.

Anyway, Cameron keeps talking about how our artistic nature, our artistic self, is very much like a child.

Bright. Curious. Full of questions. 

And also? Largely motivated by play. By joy. By enthusiasm. 

What I keep finding out as I read, is that: Our artistic self loves to play and make messes. It does not so much love a life ruled by rigid, strict discipline.

HUH.

So—because Cameron's book has been right about SO MANY THINGS—I have to believe that this is true too.

And that's got me thinking. 

I'm wondering about how to apply the child-like joy I used to feel about reading ... to my actual reading space.

Heh heh heh.

I'm getting super super excited about this. Like, I almost can't believe I'm thinking about it. But: 

I'm considering making myself an all-out reading nook.

With yummy pillows and mosquito netting and heck, maybe even twinkle lights. 

Maybe that sounds silly. Foolish. 

But I know that reading is darned important. (Not to mention, it's basically half of my job description.)

And I know that I'm much more motivated by the idea of reading as play, as joy, as curiosity. That's how I read when I was a kid, when reading was fun and simple and easy.

So, I think it's time to appeal to that child version of me. And ask her what she wants.

And she says: "All of the pillows, and how about adding big cozy pouf? Also, yes to the netting, and are you kidding me, of COURSE the twinkle lights!!"

So that's my answer then.

Oooooh.

Well, that's going to be my project in the next couple of weeks. (I have a massively tight schedule for a week and a half, but then: I'm gonna rearrange some furniture and set this thing up!!)

Okay. I'm grinning ear to ear while I type this. I can't help it. Yeah, I'm over thirty years old, but what does that even have to do with it?

Why not have a totally scrumptious reading nook for myself?

... And what about you? Do you have an place that you tend to use for reading more than other places? 

What does it say to you—about yourself as a reader, about the act of reading?

Does it invite you in? Or does it feel cold and strict? 

When you think about a place to read, what's appealing for you? What makes you think, "HECK YES, I'm going to go read for an hour!"

Can you take a little time this week, and make your reading place a bit more intentional? Inviting?

What tweaks would it take, to make your reading area much more appealing? 

If you want some crazy inspiration, I found three roundups of swoon-worthy reading nooks: here, here, and here!  

I'd love to hear what you're going to do!! And I'll keep you posted on how my reading nook comes together. 

I think it's gonna be very much worth it.


Reading report: Yes, I finished the second book of my challenge!! I was a little disappointed with the ending of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. I didn't feel like there was really enough satisfaction to the climax and conclusion. But there were still bits that I liked (especially how he developed the world of Haarlem). Most of all, the experience of reading itself was still worth it. 

I've already plunged into my next bookone I've been looking forward to for a long time: Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, by Lynne Jonell. I read the third Emmy book awhile ago (not realizing it was part of a set!) and I loved it. So funny and charming. I've been looking forward to reading the first book in the set for a while. 

Mmm! Nothing like a good middle grade adventure with a talking rat. Right up my alley. ;) 

The One Cure for Your Biggest Idea Droughts

This is the strategy that will bail you out, again, and again, and again. | lucyflint.com

If you do everything you can, and you're still stubbornly stuck without a good idea, the best thing to do is stop.

Really.

And go do something else.

Go play.

Or go pamper: Take ridiculously good care of yourself. 

Go move. Take a walk, a run, a hike. Dance.

However you do it, it's time to give your project (and yourself) some space.

Take a micro break. Both James Scott Bell and Julia Cameron talk about writing down a question you have at night, and then getting up and writing about it first thing in the morning. 

Wonderful things can happen in your brain overnight. And in the morning, you write 'em all down!

Mmmm. I love that kind of near-effortless idea making!

Or, take a macro break. Like this:

Once, at the end of summer, I quit writing. I was done.

Out of ideas for workable novels, out of ideas for the drafts that were waiting for me, out of ideas for how to fix anything, including myself. 

So for three months, I just read novels. (And felt a bit depressed, but we can skip that part.)

I read and read and read, and I didn't even try to think about new ideas.

And then one October night, I got an idea literally out of a clear black sky.

I was staring at the stars when the crux of a novel dropped right into my head. It fueled a beautiful, dreamy project (which I plan to come back to one day!).

Better than the new project was that feeling: of being unstuck.

Of being hopeful again. With another trail of ideas showing that the writing life was still mine.

So sometimes? Sometimes you really do just need a break.

Give yourself some grace. Do something good for yourself.

And that idea you've been desperate for? Might show up when you least expect it.

How to Bring Playfulness Back Into Our Writing Lives

Here you go, four more prompts for loving your writing life like crazy.

Because writers who love their writing and who give it all they've got will create better books and a better marketplace and better readers with better lives for a better world. 

Whoa. Hold up. Did I just say we're changing the world?

Yes. Yes I did.

And here you were thinking it was just another Thursday. ;)

We're aiming for less angst and more play this weekend. Loving our writing lives.

We can camp out too long in the work and routines and productivity side of things... Every now and then, you gotta let loose and play. Your writing life with thank you. (Four more prompts for loving your writing life.) | lucyflint.com

Okay? Sound good? 

Let's go!


February 18: Write a letter.

It is so easy for me to get into a kind of productivity-and-optimization loop.

I'm trying to be a good boss, right? And it usually takes all my skills to manage some kind of balance between really hard work and excellent self-care. Whew!

I focus so hard on trying to do it all that I forget about... play.

About throwing every plan out the window now and then for the sake of a creative romp.

I forget to explore, to go on creative dates, to seek writing adventures.

Obviously, we can't play all the time. We've got books to write! And routines are the BFFs of productivity.

And yet...

Every now and then, the writing life—the creative life—needs a big injection of off-the-wall fun. It keeps us engaged, it churns up new ideas, it helps us be more advanced problem solvers. It keeps us from burning out, getting blocked, hitting walls.

It is super important. We have to take time to play and delight and discover.

What does that look like for you and your writing life? That's what we're going to explore.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: It's our third Thursday, and so our third letter-writing prompt!

This time, start by saying, Dear Writing Life, I wish we did more of...

And then go from there. Take ten to fifteen minutes, and have some fun with it. Dig around to find what it is that you're missing in your creativity, what you're craving in your writing.

What sounds outrageously fun to you? What kinds of "research" would be incredible? What kind of intrepid explorer-writer do you really want to be?

Go crazy. And fill your letter with all the things you genuinely wish you were doing more of in your writing life.

And then? Pick one. (If they all seem impossible, pick part of one.)

Choose something, and then, you know, do it. 

Try to do some version of it today, or this weekend, or sometime soon. But add a little taste of that off-the-wall play to your writing life.


February 19: Go off on an adventure together.

There's something extra special about going to literary places. Large dramatic libraries, the homes and significant place of famous authors, book-lover festivals... 

Mmmm. It's so nurturing to remember, now and then, that we're part of a much, much bigger tribe of readers, writers, scribblers, creators, storytellers, and dreamers. 

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Take some time to go on a literary pilgrimage. This can be as elaborate or un-elaborate as you like.

Maybe you go to a local literary site. (If you're fortunate enough to live near one, that is. But do a little searching before assuming you're disqualified, because you might be surprised at famous authors who lived near by!)

Or maybe you head off to a really glamorous library that's not too far away. (All those books... swoon!)

Maybe you hit your local university's library, but you finally nose around their rare books area. Or you finally go to that used bookstore you've been meaning to check out, and you just get lost for a while.

If you're in the middle of the middle of nowhere, it is totally okay to go online for this, and browse beautiful libraries, or investigate your favorite authorial places online.

(Oooh, look, here are 15 famous author's beautiful estates, and 12 literary pilgrimages, and the Library of Congress recorded podcasts from past book festivals...  ) 


February 20: Word revelry.

A love of writing and a love of reading: it boils down to a love of words. 

Which is why, today, we're going to browse a book about words, just for the heck of it. 

Have you gloried in the entries of a dictionary in a while? And I mean an actual, paper-and-ink-and-binding kind of dictionary, not just entries on a screen. (Shudder.) 

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Find a book that's full of words and what they mean. 

Some sort of dictionary or compendium or thesaurus. 

And just play around! Read entries at random.

Pronounce (out loud! dramatically!) all the words you haven't heard of before.  

Find the quirkiest ones. Read up on their etymologies, on the histories of where the words came from, their little family trees.

Summon the kind of mood that makes you want to buy souvenirs on your travels, or pick up river stones while hiking: Read these words with an eye toward taking them home with you. 

Look for words that are beautiful or strange, and pick 'em up. Put them in your pockets.

Write down your favorites and stick them in your writing area. 

Hold on to your delight in words. It's one of the most constant sources of magic we have.


February 21: Tumble into paragraphs.

Yep, the third Sunday of the challenge looks just like the rest. 

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Get a book and get cozy, and then fall headlong into a lazy pool of reading.

This isn't reading fast, to clock an impressive number pages-per-hour.

This isn't reading to cram for information.

This is reading for the love of it.

So let yourself slow down. Linger over the sentences.

This kind of slow, dreamy reading can be game-changing, by the way. It helped me through one of the hardest times in my life.

During an emotionally brutal year of college, I would sneak off to an empty little common room with a fireplace, and I'd sit there and read, very slowly. I imagined that I could hear the writer speaking directly to me, as if he had written every word just so I could hear it, just at that moment.

... And it wasn't any kind of dizzy gushy poetry, either. It was a few personal essays (from this book) by Max Beerbohm and G.K. Chesterton and E.B. White.

For those hours of reading, I pretended that they were all sitting around me, smoking pipes, and speaking these amazing sentences, making me laugh, and transporting me.

It was like a true teleportation experience, a vacation among literary uncles, and yes, it helped enormously.

That kind of reading is a beautiful thing.

So find some time, and go deep with your reading today.