Eight Pieces of Writing Life Wisdom I Received as a Beginner (And They're Still Schooling Me, Eleven Years Later!)

This is the kind of foundational wisdom you can build a writing life on. | lucyflint.com

I tumbled into the writing life with a lot of ideas and a lot of advice.

Luckily for me, I wrote all that early thinking down as one of my final class projects before graduating from college: a long essay spelling out what I hoped and expected the writing life to be.

And at the beginning of this month—eleven years after writing it—I dug out that paper and reread it. After all this time, I was curious. I wanted to sift through the mix of hopes and fears that filled my transition from the student life to the writing life, and see what I thought I was getting myself into! 

Some of my expectations were pretty ridiculous—even damaging. I'm so relieved to have chucked those old beliefs and to have learned a better way forward.

Today, I'm looking at the other half of the paper—at the best tips and advice that I compiled after interviewing writers and professors, and reading a ton of articles and writing books before taking the plunge. 

Because I was surprised: there was some advice in there that I'd forgotten, some tips that I'd discarded without thinking, and some points that could breathe new life into my writing practice.

Who would have thought??

So I've pulled the best of it together to share with you: the solid stuff that still rings true. This is what I want to keep applying to my writing days.

Read on for some of the best, most lasting advice about the writing life!

1. Love of the work = the very best fuel. Eleven years ago, I had just read Julia Cameron's incredible book The Artist's Way for the first time. And, I'm ashamed to say, I totally blew her off.

So I casually wrote in my paper:

Julia Cameron warns that discipline can be seductive and counter-productive. One danger for artists is over-focusing on the discipline rather than their love of the work.

I cheerfully scribbled that down, and then went off to do precisely that: I overfocused on discipline. For, um, eight years.

Instead of focusing on my love of the work. Love? What did love have to do with it? I was used to doing assignments and handling deadlines—who cares about love?

Better to hold myself accountable for every single five-minute period of my life, and rate my output with pass/fail grades all the way, right? 

Hahahaha. Nope. 

It's taken a long time, but I am finally, finally applying Cameron's excellent advice to my writing life. I'm aiming at love and enthusiasm in my work.

How about you? Being super disciplined is all the rage right now, and it definitely has its points ... but it can also backfire.

Let's bring discipline back into balance with enthusiasm and love of writing.

2. Long live the daily brain-dump! Another brilliant piece of advice from The Artist's Way is Julia Cameron's classic practice of writing morning pages: three pages of stream-of-consciousness, written longhand, first thing in the morning.

I tried them for the first month after graduation. With a lot of griping. And then I decided "they did not work."

But I'd forgotten their whole purpose: to just clear your mind first thing in the morning. They aren't supposed to be nice. They aren't supposed to even be readable. They can be as whiny and grumpy as you feel: that's their job. To just catch what's in your mind.

Now that I've relearned what they're for, and now that I've been practicing them for a year, I can't not do them. If I skip a day, I feel more mentally cluttered. I get off-balance.

They're every bit as essential to my mental hygiene as brushing teeth first thing is to my mouth.

Have you experimented with adding morning pages to your days? Even if you've given them up like I did, they're worth trying again. I promise!

If three pages feels daunting, try starting your day with at least one, or even half of one. Do them simply to do them, to clear your mind.

3. Our MAIN job might not even be actually writing. So, fair warning: rereading this forgotten piece of advice blew me away. And it's been seriously messing with my mind ever since.

In the paper, I quote from an interview with Gary Paulsen (anyone else grow up adoring Hatchet?), in which he said:

You can't learn to write in a workshop. You can't learn in school or through a class. Writing is not going to help you learn to write. ... You have to read, and I mean three books a day. ... Reading is the thing that will teach you. Make it an occupation.

Holy moly! Can we just, uh, take a moment? Because he just said "writing is not going to help you learn to write," and I'm reeling at that.

Because, well, it kinda makes sense.

I don't know about you or what your writing journey has looked like, but it's so easy, embarrassingly easy, for me to downgrade the importance of reading fiction.

Over the past decade, I've been writing and writing and writing, and yes, it is gradually getting better, but I'm wondering if some of my rather slow progress is because I've been reading-starved?

Possibly?

Rereading this quote re-convinced me. Or, actually, it kicked me in the pants: I need to turn the dial way, way up on my reading life.

"Make it an occupation," he said. Ooooh. 

How's your reading life been lately, my friend? Are you, like me, a bit under-fed in that area? Let's dive in, big time, this summer! To a HUGE stack of books.

4. Respond to everything you read. As far as reading goes, one of my professors recommended that I keep a kind of Reading Journal.

She said that I needed a place to respond to what I read—where I could talk back, critique, delight, and explore.

This is one of the pieces of advice I actually stuck with, I'm happy to say. As I read (not as fast or as much as Gary Paulsen recommended, but I did still read), I took plenty of notes on lines I enjoyed, on what didn't seem to work, and on the overall feel of the book.

I compiled all these notes in a series of Word documents, in a huge and ever-growing folder on my computer. All very tidy, searchable, cross-referenceable.

But rereading that line in the paper, I suddenly have this wistful wish that I'd kept it in a physical journal. Something that feels more warm, more personal, instead of the lab-note feeling of my digital files.

Hmmm. Maybe a change is in order.

Tell me friends, do you take notes on what you read? Do you ever come back to those notes? How do you organize them?

And are you for digital or analog reading journals?  

5. Make good self-management a top priority. One thing that I was rather accurately worried about was burnout.

In that paper, I wrote,

I routinely hit a point in each semester when it feels as though I can't go on: I become very sure that every assignment will fall lifeless to the ground, that my GPA will plummet, and that there will be no recovery, not this time. I'm afraid that if I'm my own boss, I won't be able to pick myself up and keep on keeping on.

I always knew that managing myself well would be a key part of the writing life ... but I didn't really know what that looked like for a long time. It's taken a while, but I'm slowly learning to be much more kind to myself, and to trust my instincts (instead of automatically assuming I'm lazy).

This is why I want to keep asking questions about how to manage well. What does it look like to be a good boss, a kind boss, a wise boss? I never want to stop learning about that.

How do you feel about your own self-management style? Where do you most want to grow as a boss?

Let's keep working toward sustainable creativity and kind productivity. Let's keep learning how to manage ourselves well!

6. We are not machines. When I get overfocused on my work, on all that good reading and writing and time management and productivity and focus ... I kinda forget that I live in a body.

Which is why this bit of advice still rings true: Several professors pointed out that I'd need to balance reading and writing with plenty of actual physical stimulus.

Oh, the body. We don't just live in words!

I read a lot of Annie Dillard while at school, especially Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and I was captivated by how Dillard's time in nature and her time spent reading all poured into her writing.

Which is probably why one of my writing professors recommended I follow Dillard's example: read, write, and roam.

To be honest, that's something I really haven't done much.

It's one thing for me to remember to take good care of myself. And another to remember to take good physical breaks, like stretching it out on my yoga mat, or shaking it off with a dance party. I'm doing pretty well at those things, though I always want to get better at health and movement.

But what I most want to come back to is that idea of a clear, even balance between read, write, and roam. To do that kind of wandering and watching.

As spring spills into summer, I want to really sink in to the habit of taking long walks, and spending as much time among trees and lakes as I do around words.

Sooooo many writers swear by the power of walks, of spending time in nature, of honing their ideas on long rambles. I don't want to just shrug that off anymore. 

How about you? How do you balance all the time around words?

7. The order of occupations is extremely important. This is one of my favorite, favorite pieces of advice. It can clear up 90% of my troubles when I get panicky or anxious.

One writer I interviewed made this lovely point: that if everything I did was in pursuit of Great Art, and The Writer Within—then I would collapse under the pressure of becoming that snooty kind of "Writah." (She said it like that, nose in the air. Writah.)

She said: never forget this.

She said, "You're a person first. You are a person who writes."

There in the coffeehouse on campus I earnestly scribbled down what she said, sensing the truth in it, the reasonableness of it, the way it would save me from my extreme moods and punishing systems...

... And then I spent far too many months trying to become a writer, and forgetting to be the person. Any non-writing thing that fell into my life, I tended to see as trouble, as distraction, as difficulty.

I'd forgotten this so-important truth: We are people first. We have to learn to be good humans before we're good writers.

Personhood has always interrupted me, as my family rode through years of change and illnesses and sadness and hey, even more change.

I did, eventually, remember this advice, and when I remembered the truth of it, I could let go the panic, the deadlines, the dented plans I'd made.

We are not machines, we're not robots, we're not heartless Writahs.

We are people. People who write.

And I think that's lovely.

8. How to defeat the obstacle of all obstacles. In spite of my eagerness to take the plunge into the writing life, and in spite of all the preparation I did beforehand, I was still terrified. 

I wrote: 

The humming of insecurities is building to a roar. Despite all voices of encouragement, I wonder if I'm being frivolous and ridiculous after all.

A roar of doubt. Before I'd even begun.

(Hands up if you've felt this!)

One of my professors warned me that the hardest thing for me would be to take myself and my ideas seriously. Confidence, she said, will make or break your writing life. 

Confidence! I had maybe a teaspoonful. 

Another interviewee put it this way: "Ignore your own insecurities. Act like you have direction."

This still makes me laugh, because in one way or another, I have done exactly that.

Sometimes it took a while for the ignoring insecurities part to kick in, but acting like I had a direction and moving forward, carrying my teaspoonful of confidence—yes, that I've done.

And in spite of the doubts and insecurities, and the ways they've shapeshifted and reappeared year after year—in spite of all that, I'm still here! Still writing!

Still picking words out and setting them in sentences!

Which is why I can say that perseverance is everything it's cracked up to be. We really can keep on keeping on, and if I can do it in the face of withering doubt, so, my dear lionhearted friend, can you.

But how to make it practical?

There are five little tips for dealing with doubt that I kinda slipped into my paper (and more or less acted on, actually, right at the beginning), which came from an article in The Writer magazine, written by Polly Campbell.

She recommends blasting away at doubts by: 

  • surrounding yourself with people who encourage you;
  • learning about the challenges of famous writers;
  • saving all positive feedback in a file; and
  • writing an essay that explains why you write.

She also says to "set a regular writing routine and keep to it. To succeed, you've got to believe. Act like you do, until that belief becomes reality."

And finally, she says, "Nothing destroys doubt like a good day at work."

That. 

That, my friends, is oh-so true. 


Mmm. There's nothing like a good Advice Festival to get me stirred up, ready to re-evaluate how I approach my work, how I think about it and structure it.

I'm definitely looking forward to reading a LOT more (thanks, Gary Paulsen!), to adding more roaming to my writing days, and to let myself be a person more than I'm a writer.

And too, I'm looking forward to using those tips for defeating doubt. You can never have too many tools in your anti-doubt toolkit!

How about you, my friend? What's some of the best advice that you've heard about writing? What kind of tips did you fill your pockets with, when you set out on your writing journey?

And, because surely I'm not the only one, what good advice did you actually ignore at first? 

What would you tell someone who is just starting out as a writer?

Explode Your Creativity (and Just Have a Lot More Fun!) by Strengthening This One Dynamic Skill

An essential skill that's usually in desperate need of strengthening, if we want to create better stories ... and a more satisfying writing life. | lucyflint.com

Have you ever read a book that felt like the author was standing waaaaay too far away from you?

There's this weird kind of distance—like they're standing outside of their own book. That incredibly tedious, frustrating sensation that the writer is writing about their story. 

Know what I mean?

Their scenes feel like static, lifeless things that the writer is pointing to and explaining to me.

... Instead of whisking me up and sticking me right in the middle of the story itself. 

Confession One: With this kind of book, I don't last long as a reader.

Confession Two: And I can totally become this kind of writer, when I'm not careful.

Yiiiiiiiiikes.

Spoiler alert: I'm not about to dive into the differences of "showing versus telling." And I'm not going to unpack the more descriptive styles of writing as opposed to the more stark.

Nope. What's on my mind is the big, overarching, world-shaping superpower that we all have access to as writers. 

Imagination.

Today we're gonna dive into how we can strengthen that oh-so-vital aspect of our craft.

But before we start, WHY does it feel so silly to talk about imagination? Like it is so very uncool and unadult.

After kicking off this series on strength-building, I feel like I've just waltzed into a weightlifting class and announced, "Today, we fingerpaint!"

And yet. Training our imaginations has a lot more to do with athletic prowess than anything goofy or simplistic. (Not to knock fingerpainting. Fingerpainting is awesome.)

After all, my friends, we're creating people and conflicts and settings and whole worlds in our minds

That's one heck of a barbell to hoist off the ground.

Okay? So let's not belittle ourselves by sneering at the term "imagination."

It's just the name of the muscle we happen to use for this incredibly powerful work we do.

How We Get Toned, Build Muscle, and Increase Imaginative Flexibility

As I come back to my novel after a turbulent summer, I'm realizing how much time I've spent away from the inner workings of my story. I've used my creativity to solve daily problems ... instead of using it to dive into my characters' world.

So my imagination has lost a whole lot of muscle mass. It's gotten scrawny. It skips the stairs and heads for the elevator. And its joints are all stiff and inflexible. 

So when I ask it to work hard on my novel, it kinda gasps and shakes and then looks around for a bag of chips.

No bueno.

I want my novel to thrive this autumn. Right? And you want yours to be amazing too, I'm sure. 

Which means it's time to build some serious strength in imagination!

So ...

So, how do we do that?

Well, a lot goes into this, for sure. We could talk about nurturing our curiosity, pouring ourselves into wonder, and taking ourselves exploring on artist dates, all of which are essential components to a full imagination-health routine. 

But I think that there's one skill that's more vital than all the rest.

Something that can totally dry up when we forget how important it is. When we start "coasting," and skimp on our attention to it.

But when we practice it over and over, ohhhh, look out.

Our writing gets richer, stronger, and generally more awesome.

I'm talking about the simple yet incredibly challenging practice of fully visualizing what we are about to write.

This is the practice of taking a scene that exists as an idea in your head, and then experiencing it. As if you were there, in the scene. 

Being present inside it, as completely and totally as possible.

THAT.

Yeah. Like I said: it's simple. Yet super challenging. 

James Scott Bell sums up this kind of imagination practice so well in his book Plot & Structure: "Be an actor." He says: 

I'll ... try to live the emotions. I'll act out the parts I've created. Almost always what I feel "in character" will make me add to or change the scene. ...
     Vividly imagine the scene, step by step, in your mind. Let it play like a movie. But instead of watching the movie from a seat in the theater, be in the scene.

Be. In. The. Scene.

So—we've probably all done this to some degree. There are scenes and moments in our stories that tend to just drop into our imaginations, right? And other pivotal scenes can be easy for us to tumble into and experience vividly.

But I know that, for myself, I tend to not make this immersive imagining a key part of my writing routine.

Instead, I get by on low-grade visualizing. Barely seeing it in my head, I instead think my way through: I guess the character could say this, and then he'd reply with this, and so she'd counter with this

But too much of that, and writing just feels like manipulating ideas of people, notions of conflict, rough sketches of setting.

Instead of the living, breathing story itself. 

Instead of the kind of story that makes its readers stay up waaaaay too late at night finishing it.

The kind of story that haunts readers and inspires their dreams.

My friends, visualizing our stories changes everything.

It keeps us from standing outside a scene and writing about the action. Instead, it plunges us inside it, so that we create the scene. First in our heads, and then on paper.

And our readers? Better be prepared to be carried away.

Five Essentials for Imagination Practice

This is a practice, so be super patient. Especially if you're as rusty at it as I am!

Be incredibly kind to yourself, refuse to expect perfection, and just keep coming back to it.

As you do, here are five things to remember that might make all the difference for you.

1. Be willing to move slowly.

It's when I'm trying to hurry through my work that all pretense of richly imagining the scene just goes straight out the window. 

I'll have the merest glimmer of the scene in my head as I pound it out on a keyboard.

Now, I'm not at all against writing fast: I think it's the coolest thing ever, and I want to get better at it. (Because THIS!)

But as we get ready to write quickly, our preparation time is a key moment for visualizing. 

That's when we can slow down, and take the time to fully sink into whatever it is we're about to write. 

If you're tempted to rush, like I can be, it's good to take a deep breath and remember what it feels like to be totally blown away as a reader.

Is it worth it, for an incredible scene? 

OH yeah. Totally worth it. 

2. Build the whole scene.

It's terribly easy for me to fall into a rut with what I imagine for my scenes. If I could get away with it, I'd have faceless, undetailed characters and nearly blank settings. I'm stronger on voice quality and emotional beats and overall action. 

But setting details? Physical characteristics? 

Ack! I have to remind myself to not leave them out.

So, as you plunge your imagination into the scene, feel into all these lifelike details: 

  • The sensations of the air, the temperature, dampness or dryness...
  • The quality of the space—claustrophobic, exposed, oppressive, frivolous, light...
  • All the sounds: of gadgets, people, movement, weather, animals, distant traffic, or hollow stillness...
  • Scent. It's so easy to forget! The smells of the people, the rooms, the outdoor spaces, fabrics, foods, mustiness...
  • And then of course, the feel of the emotions: tension, excitement, nerves, hope, shame, uncertainty, expectation...

We could probably come up with a list five times as long as this. (Which would be awesome, but really overwhelming too, haha!) 

The point is: try to be as present in your visualization of the scene as you would be in real life.

Notice what you notice. Feel what you feel. And figure out alllll the little details that affect you.

3. And definitely expect it to feel super weird.

It can help to remember: this might be really uncomfortable.

Sometimes, when I'm visualizing a scene, something in my head says, "Hold up. This is a really strange thing to be doing. NOT very normal. Not very adult. So let's not." 

Right? 

It's important to remember that, especially when we're new to this kind of imagination training, it might seem really weird, or childish, or wild, or uncertain. 

But it's still worth it.

Basically? Keep on going, even when it feels strange.

Even if something in you wants to say, "Ack, that's enough, right? We have a general idea of this scene. Let's just hurry up and write it already." 

Hang on. Even in that tough place.

Why? Because this is where strength starts to build.

Strength happens every time we don't quit when we want to quit.

Just like when we're jogging a longer route than usual, or wobbling in a yoga balancing pose, or lifting a weight that's right at our limit—we will want to quit.

We cry, "Okay, enough, I'm done!"

But if you push through the discomfort, if you hold on, then you get better, stronger, more flexible, more stable. 

You're inventing worlds in your mind, my friend. It takes strength and skill. Keep going. It's worth it.

4. Don't grab the distraction bait.

When it gets tough or challenging, it's so easy to think, "I need back-up!"

So we drop out of our intense imagining, and go find: a good Google image spread, or a Wikipedia page, or maybe check out that one Instagram account, or go make coffee.

Or basically do anything but the imagining.

But the longer we can focus allllllll our attention on this, the more rich and deep and well-constructed it will be.

So if you need more details in your scene, just make them up. Even if they might not be accurate or will need updating later.

If you're getting bored and this visualizing feels tedious, add something that puts you back on your edge. Raymond Chandler would send in a man with a gun. Personally, I like to throw in something weird, off kilter, askew.

What would most re-engage your attention? Send it in there.

5. Whatever else you do, don't hold back the most essential part of the scene. 

Deeply imagining a scene is a choice. And a skill. I've felt it get easier with practice... and then much harder when I'm out of practice.

So when we engage with this, we're increasing our skill, for sure. 

But we're also re-choosing and re-committing to our own story. 

We're deciding to live in it. Inhabit it. Participate inside it.

When I do this, I'm pushing myself to experience my story not just as a reader, but essentially as a character. 

I become someone who can peer into the absolute central workings of it. I get to witness all the exquisite moments that won't make it onto the "main stage" of the finished page. I spend my working hours wandering other realities.

And that is when I feel like the writing life is the most incredible, satisfying, and adventurous life that there can be.

It's pretty freaking amazing, in other words.

What we have to remember is that this isn't just an exercise.

It isn't just a strength-building, creativity-enhancing strategy.

It's a way of life. A way of working.

And it's the most literally mind-bending part of our craft.

It gifts us with the ability to write our stories from inside of them. Instead of from a distance, like we're merely pulling puppet strings.

If we’re not imagining, we’re settling for less. Less from our stories, less for our readers, but also less of an experience as writers.

When I think of fully imagining a scene, I'm reminded of this quote by—guess who!—Julia Cameron, in her book Walking in This World. (She's referring to the start of a larger project, but I think it applies equally well to this idea of visualizing our stories.) 

She writes: 

Horseback riders who jump the Grand Prix fences of terrifying heights talk of "throwing their heart" over the fence so their horse jumps after it. We must do the same.

That image just grabs me. Can't that be how we pursue this?

Let's not make visualizing just one more static exercise for mere technical improvement. 

Let's turn it into an opportunity to throw our hearts more fully into our scenes.

And let the action and the details and the writing itself jump after it—to great heights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were in my mom's hospital room.

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

And then: we were reading out loud. 

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

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

And something funny happened.

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

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

We all teleported. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well. That's a very powerful force.

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

Stories are important.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's vital.

Happy reading to you, my friends!

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. ;) 

Responding To That Insidious Lie People Still Tell About Fiction

I keep meeting people who believe this. You probably meet them too. What to say, what to remember, when someone tells you fiction doesn't matter. | lucyflint.com

So, HERE'S some good news. The more I throw myself into reading these novels, the more I want to keep reading. 

It's that lovely truth: You can re-develop a taste for good things. It happens to me when I start drinking more water, eating more veggies, exercising steadily, or, for the past couple of weeks, falling headlong into one marvelous story after another. 

So, if like me, you've been away from fiction for a while, I hope this is encouraging!

The more I practice giving myself permission, and the more that I start my day with reading, the easier it gets to keep going. 

Yum.

I'm a good two-thirds the way through Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire. Oh, I love a good fairytale retelling!

There's always that delight of seeing how your expectations are handled—which events feel familiar, which ones are stood on their heads, or fleshed out in completely unusual ways... Mmmm.

It also reminds me of my struggles with the first novel that I seriously tried to write. For five years, I beat my head against an ever-expanding saga that I invented around the story of—brace yourself—The Princess and the Pea. 

More specifically, it reminds me of how hard it was to talk about the fact that I was writing a fairytale retelling.

All those conversations with the skeptical people who asked, "So what are you writing about?"

And I would perform whatever linguistic contortions I could to avoid saying, "Uh, there's a princess and a curse and an impossible test and the threat of madness and a huge journey and interactive memories and definitely a love interest and a fair amount of violence? Can we talk about something else?" 

I'm having better luck now, talking about my current work-in-progress. In part because I've learned my lesson, and I'm making sure that I love what I'm writing about

But also, I believe even more in the power of fiction. 

Any kind of fiction.

So "even though" I'm writing about an eleven-year-old girl going on an incredible, fantastical adventure in another world, with a crazy cast of characters and daunting challenges and mysterious spiders and possibly telepathic lizards and brain washing and aristocratic assassins...

I'm much more certain of its importance.

This book matters. I'm sure of it.

But some people don't really get how valuable fiction is.

Have you noticed this? Have you run into these people before?

The ones who will state—loudly and with a kind of bravado—"Oh, I don't READ FICTION."

Not in the contrite, confessional, okay I'm burnt out and what do I do about that kind of way. Or even the, I just can't seem to get to it lately way. Or the ones who say, I haven't found an author that really grips me yet. 

I get all that. That's totally fine with me.

I'm talking about the people who are essentially saying, "I don't need such fantasies to survive, thank you very much." 

It's smug. There's this belittling tone. As if they could say, "You poor children and your silly stories." 

In other words: Fiction is worthless.

When confronted with this attitude, I used to scramble for a response, feeling vaguely ashamed of myself, trying to find the scraps of my dignity.

As if I'd just invited someone to watch my homemade puppet show, only to receive a scathing response.

Or as if I'd just made a public announcement that I was, in fact, an idiot. 

Now I see it very differently.

And I've settled on a new reply.

So the last time someone told me, with a very superior grin, "Oh, I don't READ fiction. I've NEVER read a novel," I just took a deep breath, looked at him with all the pity I could muster, and said,

"I am so, so sorry to hear that."

As if he just announced that he'd had an amputation.

Because that's how I feel about it.

People who cheerfully choose to avoid all novels are literally cutting themselves off from a certain kind of understanding. Of a way to see other people, a way to connect.

Novels get to a place that movies and most non-fiction can't quite reachBecause there's an intimacy in fiction, an immediateness.

You see the characters' minds plainly, you hear their motivations, you're right up close to their struggles.

I think that what this man wanted me to say was: "Oh, wow, so you're not as frivolous as the rest of us, we who fill our heads with dumb lies. Good job, you superior person, you!"

Instead, I saw someone who was brittle and maybe even a bit scared.

Someone who didn't want to risk all the emotions and connections that happen when we put ourselves into the flow of stories, into novels. 

Someone who has no idea what he's missing. Or who he might be, if he let a stellar novel get under his skin.

I've mentioned a few times that I've been reading Brené Brown's amazing work. If you're familiar with her at all, you know how much she talks about the power of empathy.

Empathy—the statement that you are not alone

She's totally opened my eyes to how we need connection to other people. How we need to treat ourselves with compassion. How we need courage to live a Wholehearted life.

Guess what.

When we read novels, we get a sense of how other people share our struggles.

Have you had that incredibly powerful feeling, when you're reading a novel, and the main character experiences something similar to what you've gone through?

Whether it's an event, or a subtle feeling, or even a line of dialogue that you've said before: There's that shock of recognition, right?

Like you've suddenly caught your face's reflection in an unexpected mirror.

You are not alone.

Whew! That is powerful.

Novels have a unique ability to get in close to us, to wait until our guard is down, and then to say those life-giving words:

You're not alone. Someone else has been there. This writer gets it.

And then—there's a chance for a conversation. Maybe with the writer. Maybe with other people who have read it.

Suddenly there's connection, there's courage, and there's hope.

Maybe something that was shameful is now brought into the light where it can heal. And maybe there's some good self-compassion, as you realize that you're not the only one struggling. As you accept who you are and where you've been.

Dang it, I get all excited just thinking about this!! 

And as a writer, this is incredibly motivating to me.

I want to be honest in the story I'm writing.

I don't want to shrink from telling the truth about what it feels like: to risk big, to worry about your family, to face danger. To hope for change, to face day after day when you don't know what will happen, to heal broken relationships.

Besides. I owe fiction a debt. 

As an incredibly lonely kid, I saw people like me in books, even when I couldn't find them at my church or my school.

That sustained me during some really hard years. It helped me trust that there were other kids who felt like me, who understood me, who had been where I was.

Who survived

Like I said, that's powerful.

It makes me wonder, what is fiction about, anyway, if not connection? 

And are any of us actually above the need to be connected to one another? Above the need to belong?

Spoiler alert: Nope. Brené Brown is a very smart woman, and she says that the data says that we all need these things.

No one is exempt from this stuff. From these needs.

Which is why I'm convinced that to intentionally snub fiction is a sad, sad thing. An emotional amputation.

Let's not make the mistake of undervaluing the incredible novels that we read and write.

Instead, let's celebrate how they connect us, challenge us, and empathize with us. 

And if you're spending your time writing such things, good for you. It is a vital gift to other people. 

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Don't let the smug fiction-abstainers get you down.

Keep going.

Who knows who you might be giving courage to with your words? 


What about you? Have you seen yourself in fiction before? Have you had that shock of recognition, that sense of being understood? 

And have you run into people that don't seem to understand the value of fiction? What do you say to them?

Three Critical Questions to Ask Right Now (to Transform the Rest of Your Year!)

Can you believe 2016 is half over? Time to check in! These three questions will help us map a good course for the rest of the year. | lucyflint.com

Happy July everyone! And happy Independence Day to all the Americans! (To my British friends—no hard feelings, I hope. Wish it could've gone down differently, because I really do love y'all!)

Can you believe that we're in the second half of 2016?

I mean—WHOA. The first half just flew past me! It's like I stepped on a banana peel somewhere in the middle of January and just sailed all the way to this point.

Halfway through the year. Whew! 

It's been such a blur! So this is a really good time to pause and take stock, right? To check in with how everything is progressing and to see what's needed next. 

How are things going for you? What's been awesome in the first half of the year? What's gotten a little off track

Wherever you're at, midyear is the ideal time to ask three things:

1) What wins from the first half of the year can you celebrate? 

2) Where do you need to release guilt around anything that hasn't gone well?

3) How can you tweak, reframe, and readjust, so that some things run more smoothly during the next six months?

Yes? Can I get an amen? 

Personally, I'm celebrating a renewed dedication to cultivating my creativity. I'm rereading The Artist's Way and looooooooving it!! You will definitely be hearing more about that in the months to come! 

I'm also reading Brené Brown's work and dealing with some scars I have from the past—weird messages that I picked up about using my gifts, creating, and being noticed.

It's a little heavy, but oh-so freeing!

And I can't tell you how excited I am for the next chapter of my writing life. It's gonna be amazing, thanks to all the (totally unexpected!) head and heart work I'm doing this summer.

Whew! So, a fistful of confetti goes into the air over all that! 

What about you? What can you celebrate?

It's so important to appreciate the good stuff that's happened. Otherwise, if you're like me, you can overfocus on all the tough things, and forget how far you've come!

And that's a self-defeating mindset to bring into the rest of the year. Mmm.

So: let's dance for a sec. 

Okay? Cool.

... And now, what needs some attention, some extra love, some change?

For me, there is one part of a healthy writing life that I have totally neglected for the last few months. As in—completely. 

I haven't been reading fiction lately.

Eeek!

I know all the things. I know how critical it is to read TONS as a novelist, and how reading stretches you in such good ways.

But I just haven't. I lost my appetite somewhere in all that happened this spring. And instead of my usual reading material, I drowned myself in non-fiction.

Maybe it was because I suddenly felt like I had a zillion problems to solve? 

I plunged into The Desire Map, and I re-re-re-re-reread A Writer's Paris, and fell into The Artist's Way (hallelujah!!), and tumbled into Brené Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection (WHOA, recovering perfectionists, you gotta grab that one!!), and Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

I've been reading plenty!! 

Just not that lifegiving and gorgeous stuff we call fiction.

I'm not going to feel guilty about it: I know exactly how and why I got here. So, guilt, begone! 

But I still want to make some changes about that. I need fiction. So guess what July is going to be about for me. ;)

At my college—hopefully this happens at every college!—we had two days off right around finals time, for studying. But they didn't call it "Order a Bunch of Pizzas and Study Your Brains Out" days, though that's what we did.

They gave it the somewhat old-fashioned (and in my opinion, totally adorable) name, Reading Recess.

I always loved the image that conjured up in my mind. A recess, a break, just for READING.

Welp, that's exactly what's needed right now. I'm declaring July the month of Reading Recess.

Specifically? I'm gonna launch myself into reading four novels in four weeks.

I know—for you mega-readers, that's not much. But part of why I haven't been reading fiction is because my life and living situation is craaazy right now. I'm in a kind of survival mode. 

Four novels in four weeks is gonna be a big deal for me. 

So, I have to clear some time for reading somehow! To make the space in my schedule, my Thursday posts for July are going to be a little different—much more brief, just quick check-ins.

(Unless I get super carried away talking about what I'm reading. Which, let's face it, can definitely happen around here.)

Sound okay with you? 

So that's my challenge. That's what ambitious looks like for me this July.

What about you? How has your reading habit been lately? Do you have a stack of books calling you? A genre or a reading project you need to check in with?

Do you have this nagging feeling that, like me, you haven't been reading nearly enough lately?

Because I'd love the company! What if we all took July to plunge in, to go deep, with whatever we most need in our reading lives?

Or, maybe your fiction habit is tip top. Maybe there's something else tugging at you.

What little challenge feels exciting and daring right now? What sounds inviting? What would be completely yummy for your writing life?

Look, it's July. And where I live, it's the summeriest part of summer.

This is the perfect time to look around, take stock, and clear the space for moving toward whatever you most need. 

For me, that's a few weeks of gulping fiction. 

What does it look like for you?

Ooooh. I'm excited.

Second half of 2016, here we come!!


What are you celebrating after the first half of 2016? And what do you most need to do next?

Anyone else want to do a bunch of reading in July? I'd love to know! Tell me all about your plans in the comments.

On Thursday I'll let you know how I'm doing. And next Monday, I'll report that I've (hopefully!) crossed the first title off my list.

Not planning on being legalisticyou know how we operate on grace around here! Just looking for a little good-natured accountability. 

Til then, I've got some books to fall into!

How to Bring Playfulness Back Into Our Writing Lives

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

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

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

Yes. Yes I did.

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

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

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

Okay? Sound good? 

Let's go!


February 18: Write a letter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


February 19: Go off on an adventure together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


February 20: Word revelry.

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

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

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

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

Some sort of dictionary or compendium or thesaurus. 

And just play around! Read entries at random.

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

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

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

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

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

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


February 21: Tumble into paragraphs.

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

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

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

This isn't reading to cram for information.

This is reading for the love of it.

So let yourself slow down. Linger over the sentences.

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

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

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

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

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

That kind of reading is a beautiful thing.

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

Go Flirt with Books! (And Other Fun Ways to Love the Writing Life)

Okay, lionhearts. How's it going for you?

I hope you're having fun with this Love Your Writing Life series, and that you're experiencing a bit more fun and a lot more love in your writing life.

... I'm aiming for butterflies in the stomach, but anything cheery is good with me!

Over the next few days, we'll be celebrating more and more... Ready? Let's go!

The next installment of the Love Your Writing Life series: we're going to be flirting with books, celebrating our happiest writing moments, giving gifts, and savoring words. SO much writerly fun--join us! | lucyflint.com

February 11: Write a letter.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Just like last Thursday, we're taking a little time today to write a letter to the Writing Life. But this time, let's begin by saying: 

Dear Writing Life, I remember when you and I...

Let the letter be full of your happiest moments together. Feel free to just list 'em out: all the best times in your life of words, whatever that was, however it look. 

All your happy moments around reading, writing, words, bookstores, friends who love talking about books and writing, the mythology around Shakespeare, the movie Midnight in Paris, author crushes, your favorite fiction, the characters you invented, the moments when you were writing and it felt like flying...

All of it. Get it all down.

If you can, try to capture what you first loved about it. What drew your attention. What was bubbling in your heart when you decided to commit, to get serious about it.

When you're done, you'll have one of the best resources you can possibly create: a letter that you can reread every time you feel discouraged, when you get nasty criticism, when you have too many days where the writing is hard.

You'll have your best reminder, and in your own words, of what you most love in the writing life: It's your personalized guide for getting back on track.


February 12: Go flirt at a bookstore.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Get yourself to a bookstore, or a library, or any other place that has shelves and shelves of books.

And then, get flirtatious. 

Not with other people! Pfft. I mean with books.

Scan the titles, open dozens of them, read all the first lines on one shelf, or (if you're feeling very brazen) read all the final pages.

Flip through them at random, run your fingers over the spines, smell the pages. Admire the fancy endpapers, the beautifully rough-cut edges.

Be one of those eccentric daydreamy book lovers.

In the words of that famous relationship specialist Ray Bradbury,

You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders
to sniff books like perfumes
and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.

To which I would add: By all means, get yourself a raspberry & white chocolate mocha at the coffee shop.

I mean, let's go all out. This is love after all.


February 13: Buy flowers; buy chocolates.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Give your writing life a gift. Something fun, something special.

It can be really silly and playful (bright and cheery office supplies!), or it can be super serious (amazingly fancy fountain pen). 

It doesn't have to be expensive or super involved, but it DOES have to make your heart beat faster. A little giddiness is a very, very good thing.

You can go as far with this as you'd like: overhaul your office area and make it feel like a place where you would love to spend your time.

Design a writing life care package and then give it to yourself.

... Or just grab a cheap but lovely candle and put rose petals all over your desk.

If you can't afford to buy anything, no worries. I'm with you. The writing life doesn't necessarily bring in money—so let's do something else to express affection.

Rearrange your office area, bring in a lamp or cozy pillows from other parts of your house. Brighten it up. Make it beautiful.

Or hand letter a wonderful writerly quote that means a lot to both of you. (If you need inspiration, I put a bunch of my favorite quotes into this post.) Make some art. Handmade gifts are often the best!

Whatever it looks like for you—make your writing space more lovely, more special, more fun. Make it feel noticed.


February 14: Savor a meeting of minds.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: No matter what your other Valentine's Day plans are, take a little time today to read something beautiful. Something delightful.

It can be romantic poetry, or a sharp and funny personal essay. A stack of Elephant & Piggie books, or your favorite Agatha Christie mystery.

But whatever you choose, take a little time to snuggle up with words. Decorate your day with language. 

Savor the words. Try to hold them on your tongue for a moment. Let yourself read slow, read at a snail's pace.

Like every word is made of expensive chocolate.

Catch the feel of the phrase, the way language is like music. 

It's a beautiful thing, the reading life.

(And oh, if today feels more like Singleness Awareness Day, I'm totally with you. Invite a really amazing book to keep you company. Do a little readerly time travel, a bit of teleportation.

After all, Stephen King says that reading is telepathy, "a meeting of the minds." Who are we to argue? Take some time for mind-meeting. It's really not a bad way to spend February 14.)


And there you have it, lionhearts. We're about halfway through February at this point, and halfway through the series! I hope it's been fun for you so far!

I would looooove to know: What has been the most fun prompt for you? What have you enjoyed the most, or what's been the most productive? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Meanwhile, Happy Valentine's Day, you beautiful writers! And come back on Monday for your next batch of prompts.

I just have one quick thing to say before you eat your pie.

Can we take a sec to be outrageously grateful for our story-filled lives? Let's. | lucyflint.com

Happy Thanksgiving, Americans!! (And everyone else too, of course!!)

Go eat all the food, and maybe write some, just a little bit. Mostly, eat the food. 

If you're new to this space, you should know this about me: I feel incredibly fortunate to be a writer, and to live a story-filled life. 

It wasn't always this way. Actually, for the first seven-ish years of being a full-time apprentice-level writer, I kinda hated it. 

I mean, I loved words (mostly), and I loved reading (when I could get around to it). But I was in a sheer, flat-out panic about how little I knew about writing, and how desperately I needed this whole novelist venture to work out. 

And I got really bitter. And really sad. And super anxious.

About a year and a half ago, that all changed. Through some pretty major circumstances (waaaaaaay too much to go into in this blog post!), my way of thinking was taken all apart, and put back together again.

It was painful. But it was extremely clarifying. And ultimately, it's one of the best things that's ever happened to me.

And I realized: when I drop my expectations, my perfectionism, my decision of when and how my writing life should progress--when I drop all of that, and when I instead just focus on this incredible challenge of learning to tell stories:

I love it. I mean, I freaking LOVE it. 

This world of characters and setting, of conflict and plot twists, story structure and pacing... Everything that I have learned, and everything (everything!!) I have yet to learn: I'm overwhelmed at how rewarding it is. 

I think it's perfect that American Thanksgiving happens in the midst of Nanowrimo. Yeah, it ups the chaos factor a bit, but I think every draft should have a moment where we pause all the frantic activity and just get grateful.

Stories are precious things, my friends. A perfectly turned sentence? A thing of beauty. 

Novels--even the most lighthearted ones--can practically save lives

Even a ramshackle sentence, a messy paragraph, a totally botched dialogue exchange: all things that can be learned from, that can be rewritten, that can be turned into gold.

(Which is, itself, a totally incredible process, and has delights all its own. There are good reasons why I was almost an editor!)

... Yes, I do hear myself. I promise I'm not just trying to be a sappy, ridiculous, idealistic little writer-girl.

Dude. I know it's hard. Writing can be really, really stinking hard. 

But it can also--when we loosen our grip, when we lighten up, when we allow ourselves to be learners, when we focus on curiosity, when we treat ourselves well--it can also be a wonderfully rewarding life.

And one that I'm definitely grateful to participate in.

And HEY. While I'm being all emotional, let me just say this:

I am so dang grateful for all of you, my lovely lionhearted readers!! It's been so awesome to get to know you, to hear what you're thinking, what you're writing, to see so many of you on Twitter.

We're not doing this writing thing alone! 

And, aw, heck: I just love ya!

There. I said it. And it's true. *hug*

Now go eat some pumpkin pie.

One Hundred Allies for Your Book-In-Progress

It's easy to imagine that we know our genre and niche better than we actually do. Here's some stellar advice on how to *not* fall into that trap. | lucyflint.com

There's an extraordinary bit of advice in Heather Sellers' fantastic book Chapter After Chapter, where she recommends reading 100 books like the book you want to write.

No, my fingers didn't slip. 100 books. She calls it "The Book 100." 

... As in one hundred books. 

Sellers says:

The point is to read many, many examples of what you're trying to do. ...
Surround yourself with books. A hundred well-chosen books act as your base camp,
your buffer, your personalized M.F.A. writing program. ...
Notice what you like and what you love.
Writers learn more from reading than from all the how-to-plot books in the world. 

-- Heather Sellers

For someone like me who loves to read, this is a wonderful assignment. Super exciting.

For a recovering-perfectionist like me, this also seems fraught with problems. One hundred books?! I need to have them all read by, like, tomorrow!! I'm never going to be finished...!! 

If that's you, I promise you can relax. Sellers says you can take as long as you need to. Novelists are allowed to skim their 100 books. Or to split their list in half and share it with a friend--fifty for you, fifty for me, and we chat about them.

That said, it's still a pretty big project, so what's the point? Why do it? Isn't it a little ... overkill?

Here's what really convinced me about The Book 100: Coffeeshops.

Specifically, new coffeeshops that are also terrible coffeeshops. Created by people who, I suspect, have never been inside a good coffeeshop before.

Have you had this experience? A place that's trying to be a coffeeshop (or a café, or a bookstore) but it's just kind of--off.

Where they miss the mark on the most basic elements of a coffeeshop. And the customer is presented with mediocre coffee, crappy baked goods, apathetic baristas, and blaring music so that no one can talk, think, or work.

I stumble out of those places wondering--how did they get it so wrong? And when they go out of business, I'm not surprised. They make me wonder if the owners even liked coffee all that much, or if they liked coffeeshops, or if they'd ever actually been inside a great one?

I'm pretty sure of one thing, though. They probably didn't create that place thinking, "Let's make the suckiest coffeeshop that we can." I'm guessing that quality was part of their goal, somehow. 

And yet--they missed the mark. By a lot. 

I wonder what would have happened if they made a point to visit 100 coffeeshops before opening their store.

And to note in each place they visited: what does that particular shop do well, and where does it fail? What do they, as customers, respond to? What's off-putting? What does it look like when the basics are done really well? What innovations are delightful?

ALL those things. All elements of a good coffeeshop experience.

... Or a good novel.

You see what I'm getting at? 

As I worked on the Book 100 for my first novel, I discovered all kinds of things that I might not have realized any other way.

Like, shocking things. And really, really embarrassing things.

I saw that some of my plot moves had been done to death already in other books. I realized that my villain could be spotted miles off--and he was so covered in clichés! I realized that my protagonist's voice sounded like too many other protagonist's voices. 

Again and again, I saw what had been done too much, and where I had room to write something new. 

My Book 100 was a true education, in the very field where I wanted to be an expert. 

It is just too easy to have a mild familiarity with a genre. To know a few books, to trick yourself into coasting along with that little bit of knowledge. To think that you're writing something new.

It pays--it really pays--to know your genre much better than that. To be familiar with the very books that your fans will also have read. 

There's enough insecurity in this field already, right? Why not really learn our stuff, and to learn it by reading? 

As far as the number 100 goes: I think there's a lot to be said for going that big (and Sellers makes a really good case). ... But even if you just read and analyzed thirty of the best examples of your niche--think how much you'd learn!

It's one of the best educations, one of the best tools, we can have.

( ... As is Sellers' book Chapter After Chapter. If you're trying to write a full-length book, this is required reading for you! It has taught me the survival skills for living a book-maker's life like none other. ... I love it even more than Page After Page! Yes, really!)