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

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

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

In other words, we talked about deliberate practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

and work there.

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

Excited yet? Me too.

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

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

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

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

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


Here are 34 ways to practice writing deliberately!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Deliberately Practicing Deliberate Practice

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

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

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

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

And instead of skipping over it, we focus in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanna talk about grace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spoiler alert: Guilt and frustration are not inspiring. 

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

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

More than a block. Probably a whole brick wall.

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

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

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

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

Grace makes us resilient. Grace lets us keep going. 

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

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

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

Where do you most need grace these days?

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

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

Let's Get Adventurous. (An Announcement From Me + A Challenge For You!)

If you listen really hard, what is your writing life telling you? Bonus: Can you muster up the courage to *do* whatever it's asking for? That's what we're looking at, over on the blog today. | lucyflint.com

One of the skills that I've tried to improve this year is listening. Not just to the people around me (though that's hugely important!), but also to my own instincts.

Especially my instincts about my writing life. 

Not my fears, but my honest observations, my true best-self sense of how I'm doing and where I'm at. 

Every time I really focus on this and check in, I'm rewarded, big time. It's why I've written about it here, here, and kinda here too. ... I am smitten with the power of pausing the noise and listening to the truth of what's really going on, underneath everything else.

I have never regretted doing this.

And near the end of September, I started listening in again. (Something about whenever the seasons shift: I always want to do a big "How'm I doing?" check.)

I set aside my productivity schedules and wildly important goals and self-care strategies and I listened. And, yep, sure enough, my writing life was saying something. Over and over and over. 

It said, "Help me, I'm starving."

Wait, what?!

I've been doing all this stuff in earnest, after all. I've been working to help my imagination and writing life recover from a really tough year. Which is why we've been talking self-care and strength building here in the blog. 

In the last two months, I've rebuilt my writing practice and honestly, I've found a really sweet routine. My writing space is the prettiest, coziest, and happiest it's ever been, and I'm reading novels on the regular

I'm treating myself well in so many ways. And everything feels lovely except that when I've been drafting, I feel like I'm stripping myself dry.

Like I'm mining something that isn't there anymore. 

So I kept telling myself it was just a matter of time before my imagination really caught up and my writing got all juicy and self-propelling again.

Only . . . 

Only it hasn't. 

I've done all my usual tricks, I've applied the best that I knew to do, and I still feel like my imagination is gasping.

So why isn't everything fixed? 

I had a few days (actually, it was more like a week) of total consternation. 

And then I picked up the book The Accidental Creative, by Todd Henry. (Like so many other good things that come into my life, this one was a recommendation from my mother. Thanks, Mom!!)

I read it in a whirlwind of excitement and hope.

Amidst the many helpful concepts and ideas, there were two that especially leapt out to me: 

1) Todd Henry's idea that creativity follows a kind of rhythm, and 2) his concept of creative stimuli, creative nutrition.

It hit me that my crazy year had deeply disrupted my own creative rhythm. No surprise there. But in rebuilding my routine, I was only working on half the problem. The externals are all back in place, but that internal rhythm of creating? That hasn't fully come back.

And, to fix that, I need to go deep into the world of creative nutrition: taking in the best kinds of things, so that my creativity can thrive.

Okay. So, good creative stimuli = brain food, which is the sort of metaphor I can get pretty happy about. 

To camp out on this for a moment: As I read Todd Henry's ideas about how to take in better creative nutrition, it really hit me. I'm a big fan of eating well, and taking in nutrient-rich foods, especially as a way of getting healthier. I've seen it happen in my physical body, so using the same principles for my mind and creativity gets me pretty happy and excited.

Here's the thing: sometimes, when you need an infusion of health, it makes sense to take a superb daily multivitamin. Sometimes, it means you commit to having a daily salad or green smoothie.

Yay. Good effort, good work, good food.

But sometimes it means that you go on a radical course of overhauling everything you eat. And flooding your body with superfoods, with all the best nutrition, all. the. time. 

And that, my friends, is exactly what I need now.

My earlier attempts were the creative equivalent of upping my vitamins and adding in more salads to my days. It's good, and a great way to maintain health. But when a total overhaul is required—and when there's nothing there to maintain—it's just not going far enough.

And this is what was brewing in my mind when I wrote about commitment last week. 

I want to go all-in with committing to my creativity. 

I've listened hard, and I've decided that I have to do whatever it takes to flood myself with creative nutrition. I'm pretty dang sure that this is the missing piece, the thing that bumps me back into a good groove.

Thanks to Todd Henry's book, I have a much better grip on where to go next. He has a great section called, "Stimuli: What Goes In Must Come Out."

I'm taking that tagline to heart, and I'm preparing for a mega fueling session. Here's the scary-exciting adventure that I'm planning for myself: 

For the whole month of October, I'm doing a creative nutrition immersion sabbatical festival extravaganza.

All right, so I haven't figured out the name yet. ;) 

I'm turning my full writerly attention onto soaking up the best kind of inputs.

I'll be listening to quality podcasts and TED talks and documentaries. I'll check out the good fiction that gets my inner eleven-year-old all excited and swept up. And I'll take plenty of artist dates. 

I'm planning on more art, more nature walks, more luscious music. More excursions, and more solitude.

More of anything that's gonna fill my parched creative reservoirs.

But in order to do this at maximum, I'm going to take a break from productivity. I need to stop producing for a little bit, so that I can regenerate what I produce from.

Because what I said in the last post is oh-so true: I want to commit to creativity in a bigger way. I want to nurture it, so that I can show up fully. I want to live in wonder and curiosity. 

And this is the big creative obstacle that I'm focusing on: I can't dream up a book if there's nothing for me to dream with.

What this means for the blog is, 
I'm going to take the month of October off. 

Yep.

In the blog world, that can be a kind of yikes decision to make.

But I've thought it through, and my deal with you is that I owe you my best.

If I keep chug-chug-chugging along without taking this month to consume a huge amount of creative nutrition, I'll just start repeating myself, or blogging on autopilot. And I wanna write my best stuff for you—it's what you deserve, and it's what I signed on for.

So: this will be my only post this October. (At this point, I'm pretty sure I'll be back in November to cheer you on for Nanowrimo: so check back in with me then.)

In the meantime, three things for you: 

1) Check out The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment's Notice, by Todd Henry. Because it's lovely and helpful. It blends so much good wisdom together, and helps you apply it in a rhythmic way.

If you needed one more reason besides my jumping up and down: He calls himself an arms dealer for the creative revolution. How amazing is THAT?! I'm so on board.

2) Check in with yourself. Take a little time and listen in to your heart of hearts. What do you, my dear lionheart, need most from this October?

Where are you craving a bit of a sabbatical yourself—but it sounded too wild, or you feel like you're supposed to just be productive all the time?

Where do you need permission to unplug?

What's aching for some better care, some deeper rest, some quality nutrition?

And, especially those of you who are gearing up for Nanowrimo, can you do the crazy thing and give yourself some space to fill up your reservoirs?

3) Finally, if you're in need of a pep talk, inspiration, or some extra encouragement while I'm off refueling, check out my brand-new Archives! The link is up at the menu bar at the top of the page—the Archives is all spruced up and ready for you!

Every single blog post is here, from September allllllll the way back to my first wee efforts.

So please do check it out! Find a series that you missed, browse through the older posts, or just be slightly astonished at my obsession with really really long blog titles. *facepalm*


Okay. So, true story: I feel excited for this sabbatical in a totally new way. Like an impossible weight on my writerly shoulders has just tumbled off. 

I'll miss y'all, but I can't wait to come back with fresh ideas, richer insights, and so much more creative oomph. 

(I have been seriously missing my oomph.)

Til November, then. I love ya, and happy writing!!

Pssst. Go do something so gorgeous for your creativity that it scares you a little and excites you a lot.

Maybe that means taking a course in flower arranging, or reading through your favorite childhood novels for three days straight, or sketching a handful of paintings while roaming an art museum, or writing in the dark under the stars.

Or something else even wilder. Okay? Okay.

Wanna Write the Absolute Best Work You Possibly Can? Me Too. And I Just Found Our Training Program.

I've got a great book recommendation for you. If you want to make the most of every writing session, improve your skill, and produce your best-ever work, this is a must read. | lucyflint.com

Well, my friends, get ready to toss some confetti. Because I've just discovered another awesome book that you are going to love. 

It's exciting, compelling, and challenging. It's definitely going to force us to build strength in a few areas. 

But best of all? It works at developing a key skill in creating high quality work.

Which is what you're working on. Which is what I'm working on.

We all want high quality writing, yes? 

So this is our next thing to learn.

The book is Deep Work, by Cal Newport. It's a bit of a wake-up call about how we are currently working, and what the results of that kind of work are.

Eye-opening, and oh-so helpful.

The subtitle is, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. No surprise, then, that Cal Newport is discussing how we can habitually work with a serious, life-changing amount of focus.

He has this equation that I just loved: 

High-Quality Work Produced = 
(Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

... And if the math-ness of that makes your head explode (I hear you!), then here's the game-changing truth: 

To make the best kind of work, we need to focus acutely within the time we have. 

In fact, our ability to focus intensely makes a huge, across-the-board difference, within every single minute we spend at our work.

If you only have half an hour to write each day, you need deep work practices, to make that the most dynamic half hour possible. 

And if writing makes up the main part of your day, like mine does: we need deep work practices as well to make the most of each day ... and to keep us from tricking ourselves about how productive we are.

(He makes it clear early on that mere busyness isn't the same thing as creating valuable, quality work. Yipes!) 

Oh, and my friends who are gearing up for NaNoWriMo in a couple of months? Yeah. Cal Newport's got your back too. The principles of deep work are gonna make that your easiest 50K ever.

In other words, if you've ever gotten to the end of a writing session, or a writing week, or heck, a writing year (yup, been there!), and said, What did I do with all my time

This book is for you.

It's for all of us.

Yes, some parts are challenging. But hey, you're a writer. You've signed up for challenging. You eat challenging for breakfast. So this is right up your alley.

Ready to start? Here are four of the best things I learned in Deep Work.

1) What the heck is deep work anyway? And why is it so dang valuable?

Definitions first. Newport defines deep work as: 

Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

What does that mean for all of us writers?

Deep work is about using our total abilities to do our work. It means doing our writing with full imaginative capability, full mental capacity. The works. 

ALL our brain cells doing their part, to help us dream up, draft, revise, sculpt, polish, and complete our amazing bit of writing.

So that's why it's seriously important.

Deep work means that you're writing valuable things.

It also means that you're getting better at what you do. 

Just by working in this way, you're improving your characterization, dialogue, the flow of information in your story, the pacing, the structure, killer conflict, sentence style, all of it.

Bonus: Deep work practices help make sure that your work is especially unique.

Because you're dialed in, you're working with your whole self. You're tapped into your best ideas. You're digging past those surface clichés and narrative reflexes that we all are familiar with (and accidentally add to our stuff when we're not thinking deeply, whoops!).

In a nutshell, pursuing deep work means that you're going to write the best darned work that you can possibly muster.

Oh, and since your skill is growing all through the process, that next book? Will be even better. You'll keep breaking through your old limits.

... You can see why I'm sold on this, right?? Heck yes, give me a huge helping of deep work! I will sprinkle it on my cereal and stir it into my coffee and have it all the time

Deep work is worth pursuing.

... But then we hit a few snags.

2) So, why has distraction stopped looking so cute and friendly?

Did you see the words "distraction free" up in that definition?

So ... yeah. Distraction free. That's kinda the first real bump in the road.

To pursue deep work, we need to take a hard look at what we're comfortable with. Where we're already operating from.

And we're gonna have to change some things.

If we're working in distraction-supportive environments (notifications dinging, email chiming, text messages chirping, Facebook facebooking, Twitter twittering), then, um, we aren't doing deep work.

Meaning: we are severely limiting our ability to write valuable things, to come up with our most original stuff, and to grow in our skills.

Yikes.

I mean, YIKES. That's a pretty sizable hit to take.

And ... it gets worse:

In Deep Work, Newport explains the concept of attention residue.

We experience attention residue when we're working on one thing, and then we switch reeeally quick to just check something else—a little look at email, a tiny Facebook snack, a peek at Twitter—and then go back to our first task.

When we come back to our original task, we have this kind of attention hangover. Even if we don't consciously notice it, part of our brain is still paying attention to the email, or Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever else we checked out "real quick." 

And attention residue can last for ten to twenty minutes.

In other words, our five-minute break isn't five minutes in its effect. Even if we come right back to our work. 

We all basically knew that distraction wasn't harmless, but, if you're like me, it seemed like such a fun thing to keep around.

I'd go through periods of cracking down on distractions, but then I'd fall in love with Instagram again. Or want to keep tabs on something on Facebook. Or listen to an Internet radio service with those jarring ads. Or, or, or...

Newport's description of attention residue really convinced me. That hidden cost of switching tasks just seems way too expensive.

Up to twenty minutes of really bad brainpower, for every quick break?! Wasting twenty minutes of work time? Ack!

So, as I type this, my smartphone is shut in a closet. My computer isn't registering any notifications and I don't have any other tabs or windows up. No music playing.

My focus isn't perfect by a long shot. But I can feel it getting better. 

(Stay tuned: We'll talk a lot more about how to strengthen our ability to focus in the next blog post!)

3) What do we have to know before we start practicing this stuff?

One of the points that Cal Newport really dwells on is the idea that 1) deep work is hard, and 2) it is a skill that we have to train.

It's not something we can just pick up and be great at. It's going to take work.

It is going to take training.

In other words, we are going to want to stop, give up, shrug our shoulders, and go back to our old ways. 

For serious.

In the book, he quotes some really compelling research findings about how our brains don't just snap back to being able to focus intently. 

In other words, this isn't just a question of motivation. It's not just about trying hard and seeing if it works.

It's about taking a muscle that has atrophied and bringing it back to full health and then some.

Why is it so important to know this?

Because the breakthroughs are on the other side of perseverance.

Part of our brain has to learn to walk again: It's going to be painful! Progress might be really slow.

We might forget why we're even doing this, or if it even matters, when it seems like all the cool kids are interacting on Twitter every five minutes.

And if we know, in advance, that it's GOING TO BE HARD, we'll be more willing to stick it out through the challenging parts.

Right now, most of us work in a near-constant exposure to distraction mania. And those distractions actively deteriorate our ability to focus deeply.

Chasing distraction isn't a neutral habit, in other words. Running scared of being bored, scrolling through countless media sites as a reflex, keeping multiple windows going as we work—it's not just slightly bad for us.

It is actively, persistently, and ruthlessly breaking down our chances at doing our best work. 

And it's creating a mental dependence on distraction, which is going to make it even harder to learn to truly focus.

Did I say yikes already? Because: yikes. Again.

So, he says, we have to wean ourselves off of distraction.

We have to stop letting our work sessions and our work breaks and our evenings  and off times be defined by distraction-oriented activities.

It doesn't mean we all have to swear off Pinterest and the like. But it does mean that we have to be intentional about our use of Pinterest and its friends.

Newport recommends that we schedule our distraction time. That we, quite literally, write down on a piece of paper when we will be indulging in the distractions. 

He points out,

The key here isn't to avoid or even to reduce the total amount of time you spend engaging in distracting behavior, but is instead to give yourself plenty of opportunities throughout your evening to resist switching to these distractions at the slightest hint of boredom.

That resistance? Super important. 

He mentions elsewhere that, by doing this work, you are literally working to rewire your brain. To retrain it. To pull it back from being distraction-craving and distraction-driven.

And to turn it into something that can focus well and work hard.

(And, you know, write deep and amazing books.)

4) And why does it matter how we end our work session?

One of my favorite favorite parts of the book is Cal Newport's powerful idea of a shutdown ritual. 

And believe me, a shutdown ritual is your new best friend.

It's a set series of things you do at the end of your work session to close things down. Pretty basic territory. You might even do a version of this already.

For me, it means:

Sounds simple, right? 

Here's the key thing, though: our brains need us to officially stop thinking about our work at a certain point.

Yes, really.

And here's why that's so cool:

Apparently our conscious mind and our unconscious mind operate super differently. We all pretty much knew that, right?

The thing that I, at least, didn't realize, was that, both parts of our mind are incredible problem solvers.

The conscious mind—the thing that's clattering along right now as you read and as I type—is super good at solving a certain kind of problem. 

Newport says it like this: 

Your conscious mind ... is like a home computer on which you can run carefully written programs that return correct answers to limited problems. 

Cool, right? Good job, brains. Very nice. 

Here's the interesting part of that description, though: limited problems. The conscious mind handles the smaller things.

What does the unconscious do? Newport continues:

Whereas your unconscious mind is like Google's vast data centers, in which statistical algorithms sift through terabytes of unstructured information, teasing out surprising useful solutions to difficult questions.

Huge amounts of unstructured info: uh, that sounds exactly like all the info I generate while plotting.

Surprisingly useful solutions to difficult questions: sounds like exactly what I'm looking for!!

You too, right?

Let that sink in for a second.

Your unconscious mind holds spot-on solutions for your very complex, difficult questions.

Like how to save your character from the mega-mess she's made in chapter 47. Like how to figure out your business and marketing plans. Like how to do any of the other myriad, gnarly problems that we face all. the. time.

Your unconscious mind is your hero.

And I don't know about you, but when I'm trying to solve a big problem I can kind of panic, trying to just chug chug chug uphill with my dinky little conscious brain, thinking: If I just work later, if I just keep going, if I just don't let it go til I figure it out...

But this section of Deep Work convinced me: We have to send hard-to-solve problems over to the unconscious mind. To do that, we have to deliberately take them off the conscious mind.

What that means is, we need to kind of train our brains to make the switch. We need a clear, concrete end to our work days. Which is why that shutdown ritual is so dang important.

Newport recommends doing the same sequence of steps, each time you finish your work.

And he even makes the case that, it helps to say something out loud to help make this transition. You're essentially telling your brain, "Okay, the conscious mind is done with this. Over to you, unconscious!! Make me proud!" 

This part of the ritual can be simple. Newport says out loud, "Shutdown complete."

I'm usually talking to a bunch of characters, so I say, "Good job, everyone! That's it for today! Sleep well!" 

It doesn't matter so much what you say, but keep it consistent.

And the final super-critical key to a shutdown ritual is this: You stop trying to think about your work. For the rest of the day. Yes, really.

He says, 

No after-dinner e-mail check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about how you'll handle an upcoming challenge; shut down work thinking completely.

And instead of panicking about the problems that are unsolved, we're free to go about our evenings, or whatever our time off is—knowing that the massive resources of the unconscious are working hard on our problem.

COMPLETELY amazing, isn't it? And so very freeing. The shutdown ritual has been one of my favorite parts of applying this book so far.


There's a lot of really compelling information, insights, and suggestions in this book, my friends.

Honestly, it's a must-read for all of us who want to write things that will be valuable for our readers. Who want to write works that will last.

I'm applying the book slowly and steadily, so I'm not on top of everything he says yet. But the small progress I've made has felt really invigorating. 

My mind feels a bit less like a sieve, and more like a machine that actually works. I feel less ready to jump up or click away at the slightest craving for a distraction. I feel more on task, more content, and more satisfied in my work.

Which, honestly, is super empowering.

So if you worry sometimes about how well you're working, or how deep you're digging: this book is for you. Get your hands on Deep Work, and let me know what you think.

In the meantime, let's challenge ourselves to get rid of distractions.

Let's be willing to engage our minds in this training work.

Let's give our conscious minds a rest at the end of the work day ... so the big scary-exciting work of the unconscious can begin.

Most of all, let's take courage. One of the best resources for a successful and fulfilling writing career is this deep work ability. And it's right here! Right within our grasp!

It requires no fancy equipment, no flashy tools. Just you, your mind, your willingness, and a whole lotta grit.

Let's practice it, get better at it, and write those amazing stories that the world needs.

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. ;) 

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? 

Focus On This When Your Writing Life Feels Cramped, Musty, and Stale

Give yourself permission to go really deep into your story. Get wild. | lucyflint.com

Like I said in the introduction to this series, I nearly named this blog "Pursuing the Merry & Wild Writing Life." 

Merriment and wildness: Two things that I want TONS of in my writing life. For sure.

Last Thursday we talked about loving all of the writing process—especially the difficult, the challenging, the dreaded, and the ugly. That's gonna up the merriment factor for all of us!

So today, let's talk about the wildness.

One of my grandmothers had a much older half-sister, who was (apparently) very dramatic and theatrical.

Later in life, she also wrote a novel. Historical fiction.

According to one of her letters, she claimed that she researched it by going into the past and talking with people from that time period.

Whoa.

So maybe I'm distantly related to a pioneer of time travel.

Or, maybe she just tumbled so far and hard and fast through her imagination that she felt like she'd gone through time.

Wild.

And that kind of wild is what's on my mind lately, haunting me.

(Time travel would be cool too. But I think the boundless imagination thing is more within reach.)

Today all I want to do is sit here on my chair, and look out to you, and both drink our coffee, and talk about plunging deep, deep, deep into our stories.

Because that is what I am craving, my friends. 

Not steps, or plans, or lists.

Just getting absolutely lost inside my book. A free-fall into my story.

... How has your May been so far?

Over here it's been good, but crazy, especially in the "life and family circumstances" arena.

I'm not working with large patches of solitude anymore. No carefully structured work routines at the moment. 

Instead I'm retraining myself in the scrappier methods of writing.

Catching minutes with my butterfly net of words. Slipping off and sneaking in time. Turning my heart and brain toward my characters whenever possible.

I can't help thinking of this passage from Heather Sellers' Chapter After Chapter:

The book writers I know all live, eat, breathe, and sleep the book. Or . . . they're trying to get back to the place where they live, eat, breathe, and sleep the book. This complete absorption in the project is desirable, to be courted.

You're darn right, it's desirable!

I am thoroughly homesick for my story.

I've been outside of it for too long. Arranging life details, doing grown-up things. All of that is good and necessary and fine.

But I need to get back to that place. Where I'm absent-minded for the rest of the day, because one part of my brain is juggling the elements of the story, whispering to itself in the voices of my cast of characters.

I need to plunge back into my draft. Deep. So far in that I can't see the shore.

And when I'm out there in the riotous midst of the story, I need to remember how not to panic. Not to worry about what I don't know. Not trying to be efficient, of all things.

Instead, I want to wake up to the wildness. 

To let this story be real, and huge, and wonderful. My own story singing all around me in surround sound.

Know what I mean?

It's too easy, when life has been busy, to approach writing like it's just another task. Like any other desk job.

A way of pushing papers around, balancing columns of words, tallying paragraphs.

But we lionhearted writers can't settle for that.

We need to drive ourselves into the beating heart of the story, and write from there.

What does that look like for you? 

I'm ready to do something, anything, everything crazy.

Let's build ourselves a moat. Or fling ourselves into immersion camp

Let's go off on a little writing adventure, or maybe on a couple dozen! Or dive headlong into a pile of exciting writing prompts, and scribble at an exhilarating pace.

Heck, let's time travel and swap out realities, like my grandmother's sister. 

What can we do, to get back to the place where we live, breathe, eat, and sleep the book?

I don't see a clear path for doing this, except that one. 

You know the one.

The straightest straight line between myself and my work.

The road that connects you—with your amazing heart, your head full of words (even when it feels like it isn't!)—to your story.

Find that path.

And run down it, as fast and hard as your story-legs can pelt.

Let's throw ourselves into the wildness of the writing life.

Let's create worlds, twist plots, and set our character's hearts alight.

We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams. Arthur Lionheart, I mean, O'Shaughnessy

Sculpt a Beautiful Writing Journey (While Still Hitting Your Goals!) With This Awesome Resource

Goals by themselves? Don't always work out so great. Check out this fantastic resource for a guide to creating holistic goals AND a better way to reach them. You'll love it. | lucyflint.com

One of the ways my ambition shows up is in always looking for better ways to manage myself: my ideas, my workspace, my time.

You've heard this from me before: I'm convinced that the better bosses we are (kind, loyal, compassionate, and aiming for excellence), the better our work will be, and the happier our writing lives.

Which is why I'd say that a lionhearted writer is always looking for wisdom.

Right?

We're in this for the long haul. We want our writing to be good for us and for our readers. And navigating all that takes a bunch of wisdom. 

Part of this means: appreciating the wisdom we already have. (Especially if we haven't been paying attention to it!) 

But sometimes we need to look to the people who know and live this kind of stuff. 

... Which is why I'm always gobbling down books and resources on how to be a better boss for myself! 

The latest book I've read to improve my work life is The Desire Map, by Danielle LaPorte. (Shout out to the lionhearted Maria Rathje, for recommending this to me, back when we were talking about goals!)

This book took apart my whole approach to goal-making, showed me all the parts of thinking that go into a goal— 

and then put everything back together the right way.

It's really cool. You'll love it.

So—just in case you're not automatically sold on this, why is it necessary? Aren't goals by themselves good enough?

Well, it's easy enough to come up with a bunch of good, solid goals based around what matters to us, right? To fill in the blanks with what we know we should be reaching for next. 

... But have you ever felt like you're on a kind of goal treadmill? Coming up with automatic goals, that feel almost prepackaged? 

Or have you ever worked really hard for something you knew you wanted, but the whole process of getting there was totally miserable? 

Or maybe you got the thing you wanted and—and nothing. It wasn't as great as you'd hoped, or it wasn't what you thought, or you just felt off about it?

Yeah. Me too. 

Enter The Desire Map.

Here's the premise. When we make goals, what we REALLY want to aim at is a state of being, or a way that we want to feel.

But in our usual goal-making process, those feelings aren't considered. So they're only partially represented in our goals.

Or, worse, they're not represented at all.

Which is how we end up with goals that don't make us so happy when we reach them. Or goals that somehow destroy us on the way to getting them. 

Ugh.

Let's not do that anymore.

So, in The Desire Map, Danielle LaPorte takes you through the process of creating, as she calls them, "goals with soul." 

She helps you figure out what those states of being—she calls them core desired feelings—are for you.

And then—knowing what you really want to aim for, how you really want to feel during the process of reaching for your goals, how you really want to live—that's when you come up with a handful of intentions for the next year.

Like, four. (Not so many that you get overburdened.)

Four intentions that solidly reflect your core desired feelings.

And then you develop a process of going after those intentions, which honors your core desired feelings as well.

Fantastic, right??

So, what does this have to do with our writing lives?

EV-ERY-THING.

When you apply this to your writing goals and your writing life, your core desired feelings have a total, across-the-board impact.

Once you know what they are, you can bring them into the discussion of how you approach writing, the projects you spend your time on, and how you consider publication.

They can shape what your author brand is like, what you do with social media or blogging, and on, and on, and on.

Like I said before, it's too easy to fall into a goal that seems to be right, without considering deeper motivations.

Take publication. 

It's so easy to think, I must PUBLISH this year or else burst into a thousand pieces. (That's me, by the way, during my last batch of New Year's Resolutions.)

There's nothing wrong with having publication as a goal! 

But this book showed me that it's incredibly helpful to figure out what it is I want to feel about being published.

And when those feelings are what you're actually aiming at, the entire process of getting published reflects those feelings as well.

Which means?

Which means that you feel awesome while stretching for a goal that will really make you feel amazing.

WIN-WIN.

After going through the Desire Map process, you might find out that you want to publish because: you want to feel accomplished, or self-respect, or creativity. 

Or maybe you want to publish to share truth, or love, or beauty, or laughter.

And when you realize what feelings are driving that desire to publish, you bring them into all the rest of your writing life:

How you start your day. How you manage your time. What books and voices influence you.

What you do with your breaks and your weekends. How you talk about your work. How you research.

All of it. All of it!

As Danielle LaPorte writes,

When you get clear on how you want to feel, the pursuit itself will become more satisfying.

And isn't that exactly what we all want with our writing processes?

Side note: Just knowing this about yourself is massively helpful in all other areas of your life as well.

It's becoming my habit whenever I'm having a tough day to use these core desired feelings as a kind of emotional reset.

All it takes is a quick second to ask yourself: Hey, wait: how is it that I REALLY want to feel? 

Then you can take a few quick actions to generate some of your core desired feelings, and: instant mood upgrade.

Did I mention that this is helpful? SUPER helpful.

So if you've felt a disconnection between what you're writing and how you're writing it, or between what you're aiming for and how you're feeling about all that—

Then The Desire Map is the must-read that goes at the top of your reading pile.

For serious. 

Another quick quote from Danielle LaPorte for good measure: 

The journey matters as much as the result.

SO TRUE, right??

An amazing writing journey is the game changer of game changers: Every writing day is as important as the writing goals you're aiming for.

So pick up The Desire Map and give it a whirl.

Be the wisest boss of your writing life that you can possibly be.

Learn to steer by what it is that you deep down really want—instead of importing goals that seem to be right, but which might let you down.

If you want to dive in with this way of thinking right now, check out this Danielle LaPorte interview for a quick-start version (and then get your hands on the book itself asap!).

Whatever you do, give a little thought to how you actually want to feel when you accomplish your goals. How you actually want to be in your writing life.

Not what you should want, but what you actually do want.

Illuminate what it is that you're really after, and then go get it: both in your intentions and how you get your intentions.

Sounds amazing, right? 

Right.

Four Ways to Spark Your Writing Ambition If You've Been Feeling a Bit Meh

Ambition is one of those writing life essentials. If you feel like yours has gone wandering off, check these four ways to relight that ambitious fire. | lucyflint.com

Even though we're practicing radical happiness and cultivating patience, we still want to aim super high with our writing, right?

I mean—I want to write the most amazing book ever. I'm guessing you do too.

There's a readiness to conquer, an excitement for improving. That's the lion part of lionheart, right?

Which is why our next lionhearted trait is ambition. We are ambitious for excellence in our work.

OH yeah.

Let's define it: Ambition is about pressing toward success and achievement, especially with the elements that we can control. 

Healthy ambition looks a lot like that line used in so many good fitness challenges: "The only one you're trying to beat is yourself."

So, just to be clear, when I'm talking about ambition, I'm not saying to be ambitious about the things that are up to the people around us. Awards, huge pats on the back, and all other subjective things.

They're nice, and it's fine to strive for them. But the trick is that they don't always correlate with our best efforts. (And wanting them too hard can kinda burn up your heart.)

So, for this post, let's focus on what we actually do control.

Which is, frankly, a lot.

Our quality of work. The quality of our ideas. Choosing projects that stretch us in one way or another.

Writing faster. Writing better.

A richer conflict. A scene accomplishing more purposes. Stronger subplots. Stellar structure.

Working hard and aiming high: that's what we do. 

Mmmm. Gets my writerly juices fizzing.

But—if you're reading this and thinking, that used to be me, maybe, but right now, not so much— 

I get it. 

Maybe you're feeling burned out. Or maybe it's not even that dramatic: you just feel like your ambition has gone missing.

If that sounds like you (or if you'd just like to give your ambitions a good stir), try this:

1) Double check your circumstances.

I know. I've been talking about this a ton lately.

But that's because I used to demand that I jump over buildings in a single bound, during times of intense family or personal stress.

Whoops.

Those usually aren't good times for leaping.

Sometimes, when the rest of life is especially hard, the ambitious response actually looks like: showing up for my writing every day, even in really small ways.

That's super ambitious!! Showing up during hard times? That's huge. You don't need to add some big achievement on top of that.

Focus on smaller achievements. Thumbnail-sized ones.

Maybe just bringing your attention back to the work. Or journaling a certain number of pages a day. (Say, three). Or reading fiction, a chapter a day.

Okay?

Ambition can be redefined.

Heather Sellers writes in Chapter after Chapter about how we writers need to "cycle through standards."

She says, "When you're stuck or stranded or bored with your book, lower your standards. Slouch your way through it. When you're writing high and hard and strong and solid, raise your standards."

I fought this idea for a long time (and kept burning myself out, ha ha). Now I realize how incredibly wise it is.

If your circumstances are going nuts, or if you're in the middle of a big transition, it's time for smaller ambitions.

Don't worry: when the sky clears, you can let it all out and shoot for the moon. 

For now, small successes are plenty.

(And yes, I'm totally preaching to myself on this one.)

2) Double check your fuel.

Okay, a cheesy metaphor so we're all good with this point: 

You can have the flashiest, reddest, raciest car there is, but if it's out of gas, then even I can run faster.

All engines require fuel, and our creative machine is no different.

Sometimes your life circumstances are okay, but there's some part of your mental/creative fuel that you just haven't been getting for a while.

Take a second to self-diagnose:

Do you need to just go get lost in words? Or strike out in a new reading direction?

Or fall into a pile of really excellent movies, the kind that stir your desire to tell stories? (For a while, I would watch Finding Neverland, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland, every time I felt my story engine faltering.)

Or maybe you need to stir your creativity by playing in other ways.

Do you just need a bit of a spark? A new way to approach your work for a day or a week?

What does it look like, to really recharge your creativity and give your brain the space it needs to dream up stories?

3) Double check the kind of project you're working on. 

If you're good with your circumstances, and if you're creatively fueled, then there's still something else to try. 

Get really still and quiet and then think about your story.

Not from a frantic point of view, or a burned out & done with it point of view.

But think about the story or the work itself, and especially what drew you to it.

Have you veered off the path that you loved? Are you working in a format, a form, or a genre that you don't enjoy? Maybe the characters aren't the ones that you want to write about. 

Is there a crushing deadline that has dampened the thrill of ambition? (Deadlines can be the perfect spurs or the perfect smothers. Double check yours and revise it if it isn't working!)

Here's another test: this is a fun, quick exercise from Chris Baty, in his Nanowrimo guide, No Plot, No Problem.

I tried it once on a whim, and I was shocked at the results. So give it a try, especially if you've felt less than inspired lately.

It's pretty simple: He has you write down everything you love in a book, in a story. Go crazy. Write it all down.

Nothing is too small or too big. You just want to list everything that gets your heart beating faster when you're reading.

And when you've filled out everything, make a second list.

This time, it's everything that you can't stand in a story. Anything that dries up your enthusiasm as a reader or viewer.

What makes you want to chuck a novel across the room? And warn all your friends away from it? 

Write all that stuff down. Alllllllll of it. Every single story-esque thing that gets on your nerves.

And then, you get to sit back and review your lists. (Baty calls them the two Magna Cartas.)

The whole point is: write a book that's got a lot of stuff from the first list! And nothing from the second.

Pretty simple, right? Straightforward?

Can I tell you a mortifying secret?

When I did this with my first novel, I was blown away to see that I was writing a lot of stuff from my second list, and very little from my first. 

What?! How did that even happen?

(I still don't know! And actually, Baty says the same thing happened to him, so... it's definitely possible.)

I instantly made the changes, throwing out every hateful thing that had crept into my story.

Baty writes, "Write your joy, and good things will follow."

YEP. I was much happier after I decided to intentionally write toward everything that I most enjoyed. 

So try that. Make sure that your material isn't somehow thwarting you.

4) Give yourself a fun challenge.

If everything else is fine, but you still feel a little lackluster, then maybe it's time for a lighthearted challenge?

Not something crushing. Just a friendly prompt to stir the juices and kickstart a little magic.

Maybe go on a few little writing adventures.

Or maybe give yourself a writing exercise program, and explode your sense of storymaking that way.

Consider which areas of your writing life you haven't really touched on in a while, and give yourself something extra to aim for. Or a small daily task to build your strength.

Just for fun.

And watch your ambition rise.

Dare to Transform Your Writing Life with This One Strategy

If I had started doing this sooner, my whole writing career would look different!! But better late than never. All you need? A little time and a little courage. But the rewards? Huge. Do you have the guts to try? | lucyflint.com

When I officially launched this blog last March, one of the toughest decisions to make was the title for the blog.

If you've started a blog, or website, or similar project, you get this, right? Sum up all your hopes and dreams for the project in one teeny phrase

I knew some of what I was looking for: I wanted it to be happy. I wanted to talk about the kind of writing life I had just started to explore—what I most wanted to grow into.

I tried everything. For a long while, this blog was almost subtitled, "Pursuing the Merry & Wild Writing Life."

I loved the idea of an unusually joyful approach to writing. Merry, for sure!

And I also liked not fitting so neatly into a box, not being so darned meek and quiet about our writer selves. Being fierce in our creativity. More than a little wild.

Merry & Wild. Close. But not quite there.

When I hit on the term lionheart, I knew my blog had met its destiny.

Because when I say lionheart, I don't just mean "courageous person" (although of course that's part of it). The word has absorbed a host of other senses, elements, and ideas.

And so when I say I aim to be a Lionhearted Writer, it's shorthand for all the traits I'm aiming at.

The entire bag of tricks that make up my exact ideal way to be a writer.

... And since I'm obsessed with definitions, I thought maybe it's time to lay that definition out completely.

For the month of May, we're going to explore everything that goes into being that kind of writer. 

It's the anatomy of a lionheart! 

And just so we're clear: When I say lionheart, I of course mean you, me, and the hundreds of other writers who are reading this post. There are a lot of us.

Get ready for some roaring.


So! Lionhearted writers! Let's do this! Let's break it down!

Where to start? With something really quiet, small, and incredibly powerful.

The lionhearted writer trusts herself.

What?! Trust?

Yes. 

It seems like a little thing, but the more I think about it—oh, is it valuable!

Let's back up: Recently my younger sister and I were talking about Brené Brown, and how she's the coolest ever, and how we're both diving into the material she's created, and how much we loooooooove it.

My sister recommended her talk on trust, which I hadn't seen yet. And when I did, I was blown away.*

I loved the talk. (And as soon as you have twenty-four minutes available for awesomeness, you should go listen to it!) She defines trust, the elements that go into it, how it's built, how it's destroyed. 

But the thing that made my eyes open twice as wide, and start talking back excitedly to my computer screen, and then tell everyone else about it—was right at the end.

When she talked about applying all those trust-building skills to yourself

Are we trustworthy to ourselves? Do we honor our boundaries and do what we say we will? Do we take good care of our more vulnerable secrets, do we treat ourselves with generosity? 

I started applying that to myself, of course, with general life stuff. But then I asked another big question:

Do I trust myself as a writer?

For the first eight years or so of writing full time, I was the poster child for NOT trusting myself.

I essentially treated my creativity, my writing impulses, and my time, with utmost distrust and suspicion.

I worked in a panic. (Just to be clear, this is a very unpleasant way to work. Please don't do this.)

Of course I didn't trust myself! I didn't even want to. I was too new at this, too ignorant, so (I thought) how could I have anything in myself worth trusting? 

I had too much to learn, and not enough time for it. And I never wanted to give myself time to learn. Ever.

I had no faith in my instincts about how I needed to work. Instead, I was terrified that I wasn't challenging myself enough, so I pushed super hard—then burned out.

Scraped myself back together and pushed to burnout again. 

Um. It wasn't a healthy cycle.

All I had to show for it—after years—was a bunch of bruises, a total lack of faith in myself, and a lot of that time (which I was so scared about wasting) gone.

Now I think that if I had taken the time to actually listen to what I deep-down knew I neededtrusted it, and acted on it, I'd have a whole different story! 

Here is what I know: It is scary hard to trust yourself.

Especially when you're new at this... but I'm guessing it's going to be hard for a while longer than that. (Heck, right now, I probably trust myself 65% of the time. HUGE for me, but definitely not to 100 yet!)

It is hard to get really quiet and still and ask yourself: Okay. What do I need next? It's even harder to believe that the answer is a good one!

And it's hard to not just freak out all the time.

But no matter how uncertain it feels, I promise that it is worth building trust with yourself.

And I don't mean the screaming, freaking out, panicking part of you. (That part needs a hug and then a whole bunch of chocolate chip cookies and then a fuzzy blanket. But its screamed suggestions probably don't need to be followed.)

The truth that I've been stepping into lately, is that I understand a heck of a lot about how I need to work, what I need to be saying, and how I need to say it. 

The same thing is true of you. (Even if you're brand new to this!)

There's a part of you that does understand how you work. And even might hold some clues about how you work best

If you really pay attention to it, you can start to understand from that clever part of you: where your best material lies, and what you most need to learn

That part of you.

Find it. And then clear space, time, noise, and listen. 

I'm serious. Get a notebook, take some deep breaths, and just ask that deeper, wiser, word-loving part of you: What do I most need in my writing life right now? 

New resources, or time to play? A creative date where you go and wander and don't have to talk to anyone?

A different project? A crazy-fun class? A group? Or alone time?

Just listen in. Listen deep and listen long.

Find those gut instincts, and then trust them.

Show up for that part of yourself. It's something we all need—including me, for sure—to do more often.

... Oooh, what if once a week, we took fifteen minutes for this. Listening, writing down notes, just checking in.

And then, we acted on the good stuff that bubbled up about the direction of our writing.

Wouldn't that transform your approach to your work? What you work on? How you approach social media, marketing, all of that?

Again, I'm not talking about the million lists that all of our busy brains could frantically generate.

We're seeking that deeper, intuitive understanding.

If you're more extrovert style, I love and respect you: do this in your marvelous extrovert way. Maybe you'll want to grab a close friend who gets this kind of writing/creative lifestyle, and talk it through.

But however this looks for you, find a way to give your instincts a lot more trust. Let them make the call. Steer by them for a while.

That could be the key to a transformational amount of amazingness.


* Yep, I only just realized that Brené Brown's talk is called The Anatomy of Trust, though somewhere in my head that must've stuck. ... Which is probably why "The Anatomy of a Lionheart" struck me as a great series title!

Haha! Thanks, Brené Brown!!