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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of writing... 

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


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

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

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

What's the point? 

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

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

.

.

.

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

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

Because the goal of NaNoWriMo isn't perfect writing. 

Heck, the goal isn't even GOOD writing. 

The goal is: Mass ink. 

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

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

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

It's risky

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

To see if maybe I start flying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We literally achieve liftoff.

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

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

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

Let your NaNoWriMo goal be: that rush. 

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

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

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

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

Ask some follow-ups: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

You just might start flying.


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

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

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

Best of luck—and happy flying!!

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!

Today's A Really Good Day For A Writing Life Revolution

This is the underrated character trait that totally revolutionized my approach to writing. Made me happier, healthier, and way better at my work. It's a must for any lionhearted writer. | lucyflint.com

OH, I'm excited.

This is one of my favorite lionhearted characteristics.

I know, I know. They're all my favorite.

But this is a trait that will shake everything up, turn your life upside down, and generally turn you into a totally different writer. AND PERSON.

Or at least, that's what it did for me. 

Here it is:

A lionhearted writer is kind to herself. She gives herself grace. 

Does it sound revolutionary? Maybe not.

But it is. Ohhhhh, it is.

I have seen this play out in my own writing life again and again. When I'm kind to myself as a writer, versus when I'm not. 

Let me tell you: there is a mega-difference between kind Lucy and not-so-kind Lucy.

Kind Lucy is the more resilient, enduring, brave, spirited, wild, and patient writer. 

Not-so-kind Lucy isn't.

She flails around and burns out and is stingy with herself and everyone else. If she does get work done, it doesn't ring true to her real voice. (Also, she's all bruised and ragged and self-hating by the time the piece is done.)

Kindness wins.

Every single time. 

If you feel resistant to this idea, I understand.

Kindness can feel like the long way around. Because sometimes kindness means taking a vacation, or releasing a piece that doesn't work, or nurturing your creativity with a long walk alone.

Or taking two months off to just read novels, nonstop. (Yup. I've done it.)

Kindness can seem counterproductive, but don't let it fool you.

When you take good care of the writer, make no mistake: you're also taking excellent care of the writing.

We need to let go of the idea that being harsh with ourselves is somehow productive. That being intolerant with our "mistakes" (aka LEARNING) is going to help us learn faster.

That being inflexible means everything's gonna work out better. Because no, it won't. And that inflexibility only means you won't be able to deal with the fallout. I promise. (Like I said, I've been there.)

Friends, we need to let go of the idea that self-abuse makes for a strong, enduring writer. 

It just doesn't. Not in my experience. 

When I adopt harsh writing practices, I also go blind to my true voice, my best material. And all my characters start acting harsh too (which is deeply unfun to read later, by the way). 

And when we edit, we edit the work. We don't tear apart the person who created the work.

One of the zillion things I loved in the genius structure manual The Story Grid was this quote from Shawn Coyne: "You as the writer are not the problem; the problem is the problem." 

That quote has been so valuable for me, time and time again. (And I may or may not have cried a little the first time I read it.)

It is the essence of kindness. There is the writer, and there is the problem, and the two are not the same.

We have to make that shift, all of us. We have to be able to disconnect who we are—our worth and our value—from the quality of our work-in-progress.

We have to be kind as we're editing and revising and critiquing. Not that we let bad writing stand when we know how to fix it—of course not!

But we also recognize the crappy draft as the crappy draft. It's just doing its job. And the writer who made the crappy draft was also doing her job.

In other words: kindness means having a proper focus. The problem is the problem. No more, no less than that. 

So with that cleared up, we can then bring our laser-like attention to the actual problem. And get on with, you know, actually fixing it.

Bonus: We'll have the energy and stamina to do that, precisely because we haven't been brutalizing and savaging ourselves in the meantime. 

YAY for all that, right?

This is how kindness makes us resilient.

Which is why it's a key ingredient to a sustainable writing practice. To building a healthy and happy writer.

It doesn't mean sacrificing ambition or excellence. It doesn't mean we have a slack idea of what quality writing is.

It just means we don't confuse the problem with the writer. 

Kindness, in this sense, boosts our creativity, our ability to innovate, and our energy to keep moving.

When we are persistently and rightly kind to ourselves, we're free.

We can abandon the wrong ideas and the shabby writing, because we don't need to cling to them to prove ourselves. We can shed writing ideas that no longer fit us and writing strategies that we've outgrown.

We can be flexible, and, weirdly enough, we can afford to take risks.

Because in the eyes of kindness, failure doesn't mean we are a failure. It means "Keep going! We're learning!"

So is it basically a superpower? Yes. Yes it is.

One more reason why kindness is essential comes from this fantastic and spot-on quote from Betsy Lerner in The Forest for the Trees:

There is no stage of the writing process that doesn't challenge every aspect of a writer's personality.

That is something I have found to be completely, absolutely, and always true.

What keeps us going through those challenges, if not kindness along with strategy? And kindness along with persistence? And kindness along with purpose and vision and hope? 

So my friends. This is what we do, after all. This writing. 

And to do it well, to do it so that we last, to do it so that it doesn't chew us up and generally kill us, we absolutely must learn to be kind to ourselves.

Starting right now.

What stage of the writing process is especially tough on you right now?

Where do you need to add a dose of kindness to your writing life? And what might that look like? 

This Is How You Develop Guts In Your Writing and Your Writing Life

There's a kind of training program that all writers are going through. As things knock us off our writing course, and as we re-engage with the process of writing, this amazing, incredible thing happens. (Hint: We get more awesome.) | lucyflint.com

Hands up: Whose 2016 hasn't started quite the way she expected it to?

Who has maybe not done nearly as much writing as she hoped she would? 

Wow... So many hands!

Haha. But seriously: does the year ever start as hopefully as we imagine? Maybe not.

If your writing has faltered a little, check out Monday's post (on sticking with it!) and then come back here, for the follow up. Because this is kinda like a Part Two.

This is the quote that we're ending our series on. It's one of the best ways to shape a writing life.

It's good.

You ready?

Today's quote comes from the marvelously creative SARK

"We are repeatedly tested and challenged with our commitments, to give us a chance to recommit, over and over again."

YESSSSSS.

Think about how your writing has looked for the first three months of this year. And just let that quote sink in a bit. 

See all your tests and trials as chances to recommit. Stoke the fire. Lean in closer. And keep going. | lucyflint.com

We all face a bunch of difficulties, a series of circumstances, a sequence of being thrown off course: and over, and over, and over again, we keep coming back to the work.

This is huge, by the way, this sticking with it. This is how we win the game.

Perseverance is how we get the amazing, agile muscles we need—this is what makes us writers, in the face of everything that would make us something else.

But that's not all. At the very same time, we recommit. We rededicate.

And this recommitment is what gives us the huge, amazing, all-enduring hearts that writers need.

"Sticking with it" gets us back and working.

The rededication means, we do it with our hearts back on track. With our courage up and fighting. With a clearer vision. With steadied feet.

We get up, we brush ourselves off, we learn our lessons, we stick with it, we recommit.

Again, and again, and again.

As this process runs its course, we don't look like a bunch of defeated writers. 

We look like the truly lionhearted wordsmiths that we are. Working with gumption and heart. Coming back to the writing.

Each time, our commitment drives deeper and deeper.

So if you've been knocked off balance by anything lately—whether it was something major crashing into your life, or whether it was the painful minor event of a project slipping somehow out of your grasp—

See this as your opportunity.

Opportunities are precious, incredible little events that open up a whole new path for you. (It's like Choose Your Own Adventure!! #nerdalert)

When you get back to your desk, when the dust has settled somewhat (or even as it's still falling!): take a little time to get back in touch with your purpose.

Remember why you're writing. Remember who you want to be as a writer. 

Take a little time to intentionally recommit—not to the mere achievement of writing (though of course that's awesome).

Recommit to the two big things that you are daily creating:

The project that you're working on (showing up for it, and putting your heart into it), and the incredible path of your own writing life.

Both of these are truly worth your time. They're worth your full commitment.

And both will continue to shape you into the remarkable, lionhearted person that you are.

The Cure for the Common Workday: Let's Get a Little Feisty Right Now

When writing feels like a tame little office job, this is what we need to remember. Come get fired up, you rebel you. | lucyflint.com

I don't have any tattoos. I don't own a single sassy t-shirt. My ears are only pierced in the most conservative, standard way—and I haven't even worn earrings for years!  

I'm usually fairly quiet in person (unless well caffeinated). I'm a born rule-follower. The type of girl who will round up abandoned shopping carts and roll them back to their corrals. 

Not exactly anyone's idea of a rebel.

Except for this one little thing.

This vocation I have. This habit of writing down everything, everything. Of taking notes on my own life, the lives of others. Of asking myself hard questions on paper. Of drilling down, of drilling deeper, and then turning that material into scenes and dialogue. 

I look like a quiet mild-mannered girl, like a very nice citizen ... and then I go to my desk and pull out my novel and blow stuff up. 

Novelists can make people nervous. Have you noticed? People don't always trust novels or the writers who devise them. They don't always know what to do with us.

I'll have people tell me this point blank: Oh, I would never let *my* daughter do what you're doing. You're a quiet person, and quiet people scare me. I won't read fiction. I've never read a single novel. I will never read anything you write, sorry

A really good novel puts you inside someone else's head: the writer's. The characters'. It's mind travel. Pretty sketchy, right?

It's a dangerous thing to do, to submerge yourself in a gripping novel: just hope you don't drown in it. Right? It might change your life. It might turn you inside out. You gotta be careful. 

Mmm. A life full of words. It can be quiet. But also very, very risky.

But sometimes, I slip out of this warrior mindset. Know what I mean?

I start treating my work like it's a standard office job. Like I'm a paper pusher, filing things, double checking things, making graphs, keeping everything nice and tidy. I can forget, just a little, why I'm really here.

And that's when I need this quote. I need it to ruffle my feathers, to fire me up, shake the paradigm, and get me asking questions again: 

The writer who is a real writer is a rebel who never stops. -- William Saroyan | lucyflint.com

I love this quote. I love it because I'm no one's idea of a rebellious person, and yet I'm doing this incredibly daring thing of writing novels. 

I need this quote to remind me of what I'm up against. To remind me not to slack off on the tension in the story. To remind me to put my whole heart into this thing. To remind me to show up, day after day

It's a dangerous thing that we're doing—this telling of secrets on paper. (Normal people don't DO this. Have you noticed?) 

And no matter what kind of writing you do, if you're telling the truth, you're being edgy. Rebelling against anything that would tell you to be silent.

It's part of the calling. 

And—if you want to take this idea as far as possible, and I totally will—rebellion is all over what we do. 

We don't have normal jobs. We don't have to keep normal hours. We do something for the love of it first, until we figure out the money end of it. We're engaging in a career with no guarantees. (SUPER weird.)

We devote ourselves to a craft that it takes a lifetime to learn. (Which takes some serious pluck.)

We tell secrets—our own, our friends', our families'. We go everywhere, watch everything, and take notes. We write down what we hear at restaurants, at grocery stores. And if you cross us, we'll write you in, just for revenge.

We get to figure out everything that makes us odd, that makes us unique, and then stick it into stories. Fill whole volumes with it. 

We get to pick our fights. To choose the flags we carry.

We don't even have to rebel against all the same things everyone else is mad about on Facebook or on Twitter. We can rebel against rebellions!! We get to listen close to what's going on, and find the injustice we care about. The thing that we need to shine a light on.

We're in a vocation where we can always innovate, always tell, always fight.

Sometimes the fight is in the story; sometimes the fight is the fact of the story itself. (Even lighthearted stories can stand against darkness, after all.

We spend our days crafting things that other people are scared of. I mean ... whoa.

It's a big responsibility, lionheart! Are you feeling that too? It's a weighty thing, this life of words. A wonderful one, but a challenging one too.

And I go back to this quote to remind myself: Don't slack. Don't settle. Keep that fire going.

The writer who is a real writer is a rebel who never stops.
William Saroyan

Find out what it is that you're meant to expose with words, with story, and keep on fighting.

Never stop.

The Best Opportunity of the Month (We're Making the Most of February Today!)

WE MADE IT.

Seriously, we just claimed February as a month of writing love, and I'm all kinds of thrilled about that!

After a month of fun writing life prompts, it's time to take stock, figure out what was best, and carry that into the rest of the year! A game changing day? Heck yes! | lucyflint.com

And now we get this amazing gift of an extra day in February (which I'm in nerd heaven about... I know, I know, I should be over the whole concept of Leap Day by now). 

Before this month wraps up, can we grab a moment and take stock? 

Whether you were only able to do a prompt or two, or whether you were here every day this month: TODAY is actually the day when we make the most of February. 

Yes! This is the most important day of the whole challenge


February 29: Keep the best. Change your writing life.

So I've had this really, really terrible habit that I'm trying to change. 

It used to be that I could find something that I loved, something that seemed to nurture me, something that made me feel more alive, or stronger, or more healthy. AWESOME, right?

And then ... I'd label it as optional.

This isn't something I have to get to. There are other things more mandatory, I'd figure.

Decide something is healthy; decide to skip it. That's what I would do.

Turns out that's a really great road to take if you're looking for burnout, discontentment, inauthenticity, and perpetual illness.

It's not so fun. Whoops.

So, for the last two years or so, I've been doing some major work, in all areas of my life. I keep asking myself, over and over: what is the best set of practices here? How can I get to them on a regular basis? What's getting in the way? How can I get rid of the obstacles?

It's the self-reflection version of heavy lifting.

And it is so essential to crafting an intentional, healthy writing practice!

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Grab a little chunk of time and think back through the prompts from this month.

(I know, there were a bunch! If you need a refresher, here they are: Feb 1-3; Feb 4-7; Feb 8-10; Feb 11-14; Feb 15-17; Feb 18-21; Feb 22-24; Feb 25-28.)

  • Which prompts were an immediate win for you? The easy ones, the ones you were excited for, the ones that felt fun?
     
  • Which prompts presented the best challenge for you? The ones that might have been a stretch, but which brought you into a better place? Which did you get the most out of? (If you haven't had a chance to try them, which ones look the most helpful for you?)
     
  • And, hey, were there any that didn't work for you at all? What seemed like a terrible fit? (There's plenty in this writing life that isn't "one size fits all," so no worries if a prompt was a total fail for you. Now you know what not to do, right?)
     
  • What did you discover about yourselfas a writer? as a reader? as a manager? What did you learn about your approach to the writing life? Did anything surprise you?
     
  • Out of the prompts that you skippedwhich do you think could still bring something good into your writing life? (And can you schedule a time this week to try it?)
     
  • What do you want your writing life to look like, going forward? Which exercises or prompts do you want to do on a regular basis?

If you learned anything useful about your writing life, or about how you operate as a writer, or about what helps you thrive: you owe it to yourself to make that part of your regular practice. 

Find out what strengthens your writing, your voice, and your contentment, and pursue that. 

Seek what nourishes you.

Make it a constant in your writing life. Make it unmissable, unskippable. Treat it as sacred. 

And you'll be on your way to the healthiest and happiest writing life you can possibly have!


Oh, and as for me and the prompts this month: here's some of what I learned...

I needed those reading dates so badly! Somehow my reading life had jumped the tracks, and so the Sunday readings were exactly what I needed to relish some words again. (I've been reading this completely gorgeous book and maybe drooling just a little.) I'm going to keep leisurely Sunday afternoon reading as a priority.

I loved having the writing exercise refresher on February 10, as well as the haikus on February 15... definitely will be adding more freewriting into my mornings!

I'm thrilled with my refreshed writing areaclean and clutter free, thanks to February 13! 

And it's always so, so good for me to think about the kind of writing heart I want to have one day (February 25).

What about you? Which prompts were your favorites?

And what kinds of habits do you want to take with you from this February challenge?

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

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

Can you believe it??

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

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

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

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

How freaking amazing is that? 

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

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

Let's go.


February 25: Write a letter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What kind of writer do you hope to be? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a miserable chat.

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

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

See what I mean?

So what does that look like for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


February 26: A movie date!

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

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

Why? Because it's fun!

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

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

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

Tonight isn't about writing anything down.

Just watch. Have some fun.


February 27: Celebrate.

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

You and the writing life—you're committed. 

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

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

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

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

That is a pretty amazing deal.

We're never going to be bored! Ever!

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

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

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

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

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

You'll be all over the place!

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

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

You have each other. And that's beautiful.

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

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


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

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

And fall into reading. 

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

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

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

And it's ours! To keep! Forever!


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

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

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

Til then: happy dreaming!

What Happens to You If You Actually *Enjoy* Writing?

Welcome to Week Three of the Fall In Love with Your Writing Life series! I can't believe that we're this far along already!

Can I just say, y'all are troopers. You are amazing.

I'm so proud of all the lionhearts who dove into this challenge, and I hope that you're feeling a little weak in the knees about your writing life!

And there's more fun up ahead! It's just going to get better! (Have I mentioned that I'm still super excited?? I have so many exclamation points I haven't used yet...)

This week is all about enjoyment. About a writing life that is marked by joy, pleasure, and fun. 

Why be grim and tense about writing if we really don't have to be? Right?

Yeah. That's why we're here.

So let's dive in!

That old mentality that says writing must be grim and excruciating? Pffft. The old school isn't always best. Let's shift that paradigm. What would happen to you if you actually *enjoyed* writing?? Come find out. | lucyflint.com

February 15: Take dancing lessons.

Today, we're talking about dancing.

And not in my usual, dance-your-writing-anxieties-out way. (Although that's still a good idea. By all means, let loose.)

I'm talking about dancing with your writing life.

And before that gets any weirder than it already sounds, what I mean is:

Write some poetry.

... I just figured we'd all freak out if I led with the "poetry" thing. So try to think of it like dancing lessons. I promise it will help.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Yes. Really. You. Poetry.

In particular, I'd love, love, love it if you wrote a haiku. (Or two. Or seven.)

What's the point of taking dancing lessons in a relationship?

It's about spending time with each other, learning a skill that brings you (literally) closer, and doing something beautiful together—or, actually, doing something silly. 

Yes, you'll totally step on each other's feet. Yes, you might look ridiculous. But that's great!

It's a wonderful reminder that the point of dancing with someone you love isn't about doing it perfectly, or even about doing it right.

The point is: enjoying each other's company. 

So, if this exercise makes you laugh, bonus points for you.

If you throw all kinds of words at the haiku but they just sound lame, bonus points for you!

And if you try this and find that you love it, then bonus points for you.

Get my point? It isn't about being a haiku master. It isn't about creating award-winning poetry.

It's about doing a dance with language. About putting your feet here and then there and then there, a little awkwardly, a little out of rhythm, but practicing at it—simply because those are the steps of the tango, the foxtrot.

Or the haiku.

A haiku is a three-line poem, and the length of the line is governed by syllables. Five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, five in the third. And that's it!

Here's a more detailed explanation... but seriously, just dive in for ten minutes and have fun. Let the syllables fly.

Forget about perfection: this is about enjoying your time together.


February 16: Contemplate.

Sometimes the mark of a really great relationship is that you can sit there in silence together.

Is that really the prompt for today? 

Yes! Yes it is! 

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Free yourself from the need to be demonstrably productive. Just for fifteen minutes. 

Can you sit in your writing area, and just practice feeling happy and peaceful there?

Think about enjoying the space, the feel of it. The ghosts of the words you've written here. The nebulous stories that you will write someday.

... If the idea of fifteen minutes of doing nothing makes you break into a rash, I get it. No worries: you can doodle on some scrap paper.

Or maybe scrawl a sentence... but try to write slowly.

Make a list of nouns you like, but in really, really slow motion. Like you're drawing the letters for the first time.

Or invent a word even longer and funnier than Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Maybe you do that. 

Or maybe you don't: And you just sit there, feeling open and available to the writing life, but without demanding anything back from it.

Is this a little weird? That's okay. It's just fifteen minutes. After this, we can all get back to optimizing and producing and tallying and researching and media-ing. 

But I love to take the pressure of being productive out of the equation, just for a bit. 

And let the life of words and writing mean more than just "getting this project finished."

Maybe, for these fifteen minutes at least, the writing life is a way of being. A direction. A type of feeling, and considering, and dreaming. 

What if the writing life wasn't a career at all, but instead it was a life that loved stories and language? 

What if all the books and blogs and essays were simply the by-products of a very happy marriage between a person and words? 

Hmm.

If nothing else appeals, try spending your fifteen minutes contemplating that.


February 17: Get a little fancied up.

I love the freedom of working from home. Of being comfortable. Of wearing whatever.

But sometimes—I gotta be honest—my whole style statement can be summed up as "Didn't actually think about it."

(Fair enough. I'm working on figuring out the intersection between being extremely comfortable and having a legitimate style choice. At which point, I'll discover my dream writing uniform. One day, folks!! One day!)

There's this funny correlation between what I'm wearing and how I feel about my work.

It isn't necessarily dramatic. But it creeps in now and then.

And, if I'm in sloppy clothes, I can start feeling like my whole posture toward my work is, "I honestly don't care."

It can feel demeaning. I start saying, "Why bother."

Suddenly I feel a lot less like writing and a lot more like, say, polishing off a package of Oreos. (Let's be real.)

On the other hand: when I dress up—and I mean just a smidge, just a bit, just a little—it sets an intention.

It sends me a message about my work: I care about this. This matters to me. And I'm bringing my best.

That's how we want to show up to our work. And that's what we want the writing life to see from us.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Dress up a little for your writing today.

This isn't about being uncomfortable, or hiding yourself, or being less like you. Not at all!

It just means leaning into the work a little bit. Bringing a little sparkle. Doing something a little extra.

And that can look however you want it to.

Maybe this means just wearing some lip gloss, or maybe you're writing in a party dress today.

When I want to take things up a notch, I pull out this perfume. It's called Paper. (I promised you I was a nerd, right?)

It smells like the sweetness of—no kidding—paper.

*swoon*

When I feel like I'm having a drab writing day, sometimes I change my clothes, do something halfway decent to my hair, spritz this on, and then get back to work.

It doesn't make me an instant genius, but it does make me feel much more confident about what I'm writing and why.


I hope you have an incredibly yummy and fun week with your writing! Check back on Thursday for four more ways to dive deeper into joy and love in your writing life. 

Want to revisit the older prompts? Here are the first four posts in the series: one, two, three, four.

Happy writing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rah rah rah! Yes! Do what scares you!

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

2) And also, actually, no thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, let's look in the opposite direction: 

What grabs your heart?

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

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

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

At the core, what do you love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yeah, that does feel scary.

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

I do feel a little exposed by that. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that weird? Yes! It feels super weird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what happened to us when a story showed up.

It doesn't happen as much as it used to, but I still get that voice in my head at 1 a.m.

You know the voice?

It shows up with a list of things that I can't do anything about. And it rattles them off, accompanied by a dangerous amount of emotional pull and flawed reasoning. 

This voice is always convinced that it is right, it never lets me argue back, and it's sporting a t-shirt with the slogan "IT IS ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE."

I haven't heard from this voice in a few months, but as of last Wednesday night, it's camping next to my pillow, knitting long unhappy scarves and crowing over my frustrations. 

It's really fun. Definitely has put me in the Christmas spirit.

It's been a long time since I've felt like my job is useless, but that's one of those happy little thoughts that show up at 1 a.m.

My family and I have been immersed in the medical world lately. I've learned to be so grateful for skilled nurses and doctors and surgeons: If you can wield an I.V. without traumatizing your patient, if you don't flinch at the word "catheter," and if you are compassionate on top of all that...

Well. You're a superhero. 

I have a long gratitude list right now. So many people, in so many different roles, have held my family together, given us the information and courage and support we needed. 

But it gets easy to think that everyone else is doing important work, while I somehow lost myself in a silly dream of putting words on pages.

The books that I'm writing--well, I love them. No matter what the 1 a.m. voice says, I still do love these stories. But they aren't important. You can't confuse my work with, say, a doctoral thesis. I'm writing about themes I love, absolutely, and this trilogy is for an age group (eleven-year-olds!) that I care deeply about, but the books are also very ...

Wacky.

(I'm secretly terrified that my friends will read them and then take five quick steps away from me. You can know me pretty well and never guess the kinds of things I'm writing about. Because... how do I put this... there are telepathic lizards in these books. I'm still surprised that they're in there, but, yup, that's what they are.

And there's a family of aristocratic assassins with funny names, and a whole town devoted to jam-making, and these spiders that became really important to the plot somehow, and a whole troop of monocle-wearing superpowered who-knows-whats. 

It's goofy, is what I'm saying.)

Right. So I've had a few interactions with an insanely gifted surgeon, and then I go back to my desk and write about lizards. And then I stare at the ceiling past 1 a.m. wondering what on earth I'm doing with my life.

Do you have these kinds of nights?

But then I remembered one very important moment, and it shut the voice right up.

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

And then: we were reading out loud. 

My family has always read out loud to one another: something my parents were doing for us when we were kids, and none of us got around to outgrowing it. So my mom packed a lighthearted novel for her hospital stay, and Dad and I read it out loud.

And something funny happened. Instead of being overwhelmingly conscious of I.V. cords and hospital gowns, the smells of antiseptic, the sounds of the equipment in the room (I never knew hospital beds were so loud)... instead of all our worries about the surgery itself, and the outcome, and what the rest of recovery would be like, and if any other treatment was needed--

We all teleported. 

To 1930s England. To chauffeurs in uniform, to having tea and lemonade on the lawn, to entertaining the vicar. To frivolous women and pompous young men and imperious great-aunts. To thwarted love and silly mix-ups and endangered inheritances. It was one of those comedy-of-manners kinds of books, trivial and subtle and funny. 

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

And at one point I looked up to see my mom's roommate standing there, listening to me read. She was holding onto her I.V. pole, with a feeding tube snaking into her nose, but she was with us in the 1930s, standing there in England, just for a little while. 

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

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

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

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

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

Well. That's a very powerful force. Whether the story reminds you of green lawns and sparkling lemonade, or whether it's populated with aristocratic assassins and monocled crime fighters: Stories are important.

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