How to Mind the Gap: Shedding Old Expectations and Embracing the Real Writing Life

What did you think you were getting into, when you started this writing journey? | lucyflint.com

Welcome to May, the month of graduations! I'm not graduating from anything this year, but I always love this season of grand finishes and completions.

And too, each year I wave to May 20 as it goes past: the anniversary of my graduation from college a few years ago. (Okay, okay, eleven. Eleven years! How did that happen?!)

It always makes me a bit nostalgic. And by nostalgic, I sometimes mean the happy-warm feelings that bubble up as I remember late night pineapple pizzas, the view from my apartment balcony, and the fantastic discussions in my literature classes.

Annnnd sometimes when I say nostalgic, what I REALLY mean is: I thought I'd be further in life than I am.

Eleven years after graduation, I was supposed to be somewhere, you know what I mean? More things figured out, more shiny accomplishments lined up, more bits and pieces I could point to and say, Look! I've done so much.

This year, as I eyed the approach of May 20, I made a deal with myself: No self-abuse allowed. No kicking myself for not being the impossible version of myself that I'd dreamed up.

It's true that I'm not as far along as I thought I would be in some ways... but in others, I've come a long, long way. I've learned a ton about self-understanding, being kind to myself, and working with wisdom.

In other words: I'm kinda glad I haven't reached all the impossible heights I'd dreamed up for myself, because if I had, I wouldn't get to be this version of me. This Lucy, who has let go of a lot of poisonous beliefs (yoo hoo, perfectionism!!), a lot of choking shame, a lot of the wrong reasons that would have driven those nice accomplishments.

I still hope to do a lot, write a lot, reach a lot of people. I'm still working on excellence. But it's so nice to be in this place.

To celebrate that, I found myself wanting to get a clearer picture of what I thought the writing journey would look like, versus what it actually looked like. 

Lucky me: Just before I graduated I wrote a paper about exactly that topic. I wrote a complete picture of what I thought my writing life would/should look like.

I was a bit terrified at the time, so I interviewed professors and professionals, read tons of articles, gathered and assimilated as much advice as I could. And then I put it all in paragraph form, and kept it.

So the other day, I was wondering: What did I think the writing life would look like? Where was I right, and where was I way off base? 

I did a little digging around, I managed to not drop a filebox on my head, I got a little dusty, but I found the paper. I read it through, and sure enough: there were some expectations that were nowhere close to reality.

But also? There was some really, really quality advice buried in there. Stuff that made me lean forward and actually jot down a few notes. Ooh.

... It's the month of graduations, of that ceremony we call "Commencement." A month of endings that create beginnings. Commencement, after all, means beginning, means Start!

So I thought: Why not?! Why not celebrate all our graduations, our endings, our beginnings, our big transitions, by looking back at this huge educated guess I made about the writing life, and where I actually ended up?

Are you up for joining me on a little time-traveling exploration?

Let's do it. Because, no matter how long you've been on this writing journey, I'm guessing that there were ideas you had about how it would look, and then ... well, then there was reality.

I think it's healthy, now and then, to take a closer look at what we thought we were getting into, you know what I mean?

So I'll get this conversation started. This is how I thought I would be as a writer.


1. The overactive writer: It's a little thing, but I found this pretty surprising. Turns out, I had grand ideas of being very active in my community—joining societies and clubs, volunteering in several places, tutoring kids.

I thought that this was how I'd find inspiration and material. And too, I was scared of adjusting to a life of more solitude—what would happen if I was alone at my desk a lot?

Annnd let's face it, it also sounded nicely grown-up, responsible, and unselfish. Pointing to my secret terror that, by charging into a writing life, I was pledging to be childish, irresponsible, and selfish.

I'm an introvert's introvert, which means that signing myself up for a lot of things is exactly the way to drain every ounce of energy away from writing. So all those ideas of being a busy bee in the community... not so much.

But what's even more interesting to me is what it said I was afraid of. I still fight off a fear that I've chosen to be childish, selfish. Most days, I know that's not true: the act of creating is a generous one.

And as anyone knows who's charged through the steep work of revision again and again, well: there's nothing childish about doing the hard, meticulous work to hone your words.

What about you? What were you afraid a writing life said about you?

2. The Jane of all trades: Okay, this one just makes me laugh. After writing in a variety of forms all through college, I expected to just keep right on going, with basically every format I'd tried.

Poems, short fiction, medium-length fiction, short reflective essays, longer pithy and intellectual pieces, blogs, as well as learning to write a novel. I expected to keep doing all of these at once, with deadlines and goals and charts and such.

I would overflow with words!! And find homes for all of them!

I'm so glad to report that this fantasy died after about six months. It took me half a year to realize that, while I could write in all those forms, I didn't necessarily want to. And certainly not all at once.

Instead, I've learned the joy of focusing, of choosing the few forms that I thrill to, that I thrive in. Long-form fiction and blogging. That's my sweet spot.

And I've realized that focus isn't a negative restriction; it's a way to make my writing life more my own.

How about youdid you think you'd be working in a different form? Have you made a shift, from one type of work to another?

3. The serious literary lady: Even when I started focusing on fiction, I still wasn't clear on what kind of fiction I'd be writing. At school, I immersed in a more literary style, so I assumed I'd be writing literary fiction.

As I tried to get going, though, I kept being swamped by Resistance. Good little writer me, I knew to expect Resistance, so for a while, I didn't realize what was truly going on:

I don't enjoy literary fiction as much as I thought I did.

Whoops.

There are exceptions, for sure, but it's just not my main love. I had to force myself to read it, force myself to try to appreciate it. (No offense, my literary-fiction friends!! You keep doing your thing!)

We each have genres that we're more drawn to, and I didn't realize that mine lay in pretty much the exact opposite direction.

Finally, finally, I found my way to middle grade adventure stories: the best fit with my voice, with my sense of what's fun to read and fun to write, and the best fit with all the characters and worlds roaming around in my head.

I might still try my hand at other genres (why not?) but I'm requiring that I genuinely like those genres first. Otherwise, it's not fair to the readers who love that genre, and it's not fair to me, writing in it.

Oooh. How about you? Ever charge out in a writing direction that just wasn't a good fit? Have you found the right genre for yourself?

4. The staunch traditionalist: I also assumed I'd be following the traditional publishing model.

No, not assumed: I was adamant. Absolutely 100% certain.

See, I'd actually worked for a while as a proofreader for a self-publishing company, and I had a pretty dim view of the manuscripts that came through. I thought that self-publishing was only for work that was too rough and too damaged to go to an official, real publisher. 

(Ahem. Excuse me, I'm blushing.)

Imagine the craziness, then, of this complete change of heart, when a few summers ago I had my mind turned inside out as I learned from amazing professionals like Joanna Penn and Chandler Bolt and Tim Grahl.

And I realized: this whole do-it-yourself thing can actually work, without sacrificing quality, without giving up anything you don't want to give up!

You can even actually sell books. And, you know, make a living.

Woo! I went from adoring the romanticism of the traditional publishing world, to being thrilled with the prospect of making my own way as an independent author-entrepreneur. 

Who could have guessed?

5. The ascetic: This is a small one, but it surprised me so much that I had to tell you.

For some reason, I had heard that a writing workspace wasn't supposed to be pleasant and comfortable.

How crazy is that?! I've obviously turned that completely around too. Anything I can do to beautify and add comfort to my workspace, I will absolutely do

I'd like to enjoy my work and where I work. Is that weird? I don't think that's weird.

6. The quick turnaround: Okay. This is one of the biggest differences between how I thought my writing life would start, and how it actually did.

I thought that 15 months would be long enough to decide whether or not I was going to stick with writing novels. By which I meant: 15 months was long enough to learn how to write my first publishable novel. And, you know, sell it.

I mean, seriously: How hard could it be?

Ha! Hahahahahaha!!! Woohoohoo!

Ahem.

Here's what I've learned since then: I am not a straight-line learner.  And learning to write a novel is pretty dang different from learning to write a five-page short story for class. 

(This is one of the many reasons why I love the Story Grid Podcast. Because you get to literally eavesdrop on the learning-to-write-a-novel process. And even with a super-smart professional editor helping, it's still not instant. SO much comfort in that!)

So did it take me 15 months? No. No, it did not.

7. The ultra-successful superstar: And finally, there's the thing that I didn't write in the paper ... but which I still wanted. I wanted it so badly I could see it, so much that I wrote about it again and again in the journal I began after I graduated.

I wanted to write three bestselling novels in my first four years of writing. 

They needed to be amazing. Traditionally published, hardcover, beautiful works of art. They needed to win attention, interviews, money.

I put this incredible, outrageous pressure on myself, hounding myself, never forgiving myself if I felt like I'd slacked off.

Why? Because I had to prove myself.

That's what I thought, anyway. I had to show myself as successful, in a way that no one could contradict.

Otherwise—what was I even doing? Otherwise—why even take the plunge?

Otherwise, I figured my life didn't make sense.

If it wasn't going to pay off, dramatically, superbly, with a ton of fanfare and confetti—then maybe I was being lazy, idiotic, and foolish by choosing a writing life.

It makes my heart beat a little quicker to confess this, but if graduating-me had a picture of current me, of the actual Lucy who is typing this right now... 

Well, I don't know if she could go through with it. 

Because her definition of success was so narrow. She had a completely unrealistic idea of what it took to write an incredible novel. She thought she understood more than she did.

And she didn't think she could tolerate even a whiff of failure.

Three bestsellers in four years: I hung my heart on that, and left it there for far too long. That was what "real talent" looked like, I decided.

That was my outrageous threshold for success, and if I reached it (I had to reach it!) then it would solve the Fear Problem, the Money Problem, the Did I Make the Right Decision Problem.

It's taken me such a long time to learn to value success differently. To decide that real talent is not necessarily flashy. 

To learn to love the writing life because I actually love writing: that is what feels like success to me now.

To be swept away by the thrill of a story, as it unravels out of my heart and mind and life—that is the thing that proves to me, again and again, that this is the work I am meant to do.

Joy and a sense of calling: this is the currency that I'm paid in.


Okay, my friends, over to you: What did you expect the writing life to look like when you began—whether that was twenty years ago or twenty days ago? 

Some misconceptions are funny, laughable—like why did I ever think a workplace needed to be cold and boring?

Some are just interesting—like my complete about-face from traditional publishing to independent.

But other misconceptions can stifle you. They can strangle your creativity and your joy if they go unquestioned, unchallenged, and unchanged.

So in this month of celebrating endings and beginnings, of tossing caps in the air and swishing around in robes, it's worth having a graduation ceremony of our own.

Let's move on, move forward. Let's be done with believing the wrong things about writing, about success, about what progress looks like.

It's worth doing a little digging, my friends, and pulling up those toxic old ideas by their roots. Yank them out, let them go.

Move your tassel to the other side, and start the next phase of your wonderful writing life.


The Strength That Supports the Others: Tending Our Commitment to Writing

If we're not committed to our writing--mentally, emotionally, and creatively--we're just not gonna go very far. How to forge a stronger commitment? Check out this list. | lucyflint.com

As we wrap up this month's series on building strength, I want to finish by digging into what might be the biggest, most vital strength of them all.

Without it, all the other strengths will eventually derail or atrophy.

I want to think a bit about what it looks like to strengthen our commitment.

YES! Our commitment to our work, our commitment to the overall shape of our writing lives, and our commitment to our own health as writers.

Right?!

Without commitment, we're anchorless.

When our enthusiasm runs dry (because it sometimes will), and our imagination is out of gas (yup, it happens), and our routines go belly-up, and our focus is shot to pieces—what is going to be the rallying force that brings everything together again? 

What's the thing that sends us looking for better answers, for new ways back into the work, for growth and freshening our skills?

What makes us discontented with our apathy, and motivated for change?

Our commitment. To ourselves, and this crazy-wonderful writing life, and our precious works-in-progress.

So basically, at the end of this Building Strength series, I just want to do a little check-in. For you, and for me. 

How's your sense of commitment lately? 

On a scale from Ugh to Obsessed!, how's your attachment to your writing life looking? Are you hovering around a Meh, or is your heart beating a little faster these days?

... Before we go much farther, I hafta say: I'm not approaching this whole commitment thing like it's something you or I have to muster up out of thin air. We can't just generate it.

We have to grow it, fertilize it, tend it carefully.

It's essentially our root system, the thing that holds us in place in our writing lives, no matter what crazy storms blow up. And when those roots grow, we grow. 

So if, in your heart of hearts, you're feeling a serious amount of Blerg toward your writing life right now, I totally hear you.

And I think that the most important thing you can do for yourself is 1) Listen to that, and 2) Start looking for ways to honestly encourage a bit more excitement.

Not fake excitement. But things that would actually nourish and guide you back to more readiness and enjoyment of your writing work.

So! To that end, here's a kind of Commitment Scan. This is what I want to check in with, and what I want to know about my own writing life right now:

Are there practices that I've forgotten about, or worthy habits that I've let slide? Are there toxic mindsets that I've somehow absorbed, or burdens I've picked up without noticing? 

Where have I been having a hard time lately with writing, and how can I swoop in there and fill those places with more creative nourishment, more genuine excitement? 

THAT is what I want to figure out today. And I'm guessing that the results ... could be rather transformational.

Let's dive in.


For starters, what does it look like to commit to your writing life, your writing project, mentally? To have your whole mind on board, committed, excited?

Here's a quick checklist on what it means for me:

  • Clearing all distractions. Yep, I know, you're already convinced: Distractions are Creative Enemy #1. And it's a sure sign for me, that when I'm letting distractions invade, I'm not really committed to whatever's going on.
     
  • Bringing the focus. High quality focus is the best way to make use of the time we have for our writing. But if I'm approaching my desk lackadaisically, the thoughts zipping through my head aren't so focused about work. They're more of a collage of everything that's been going on the past week. It takes intentional effort to narrow my thoughts, but when I do, I can start to really engage with the material I'm working on.
     
  • Rallying mental resources. When I'm fully committed, I'm ready and willing to do what the work requires. The thinking, the decision-making, the learning. This means clearing the time and space when I realize that I need to do a brainstorming session, or when I need to scout out better research material
     
  • Working on the skills that it most needs. When my work-in-progress or my writing life as a whole is telling me that I need to learn more about story structure, or character development, or I need to enrich my vocabulary: this means I put a plan in place to grow and learn those things.

Mmmmmm, that sounds good! Those are the four areas where I want to develop my mental commitment to my writing work this autumn.

How about you? Which ones stand out? Or are there other signposts of mental commitment for you? 


Next on our check-in: What does it look like to commit to our writing work and writing lives emotionally? 

  • Not sniping about it. Ever notice how our commitment, or lack thereof, leaks out of our mouths? When I'm excited about something, everyone around me knows because I will not stop talking about it. (Oh, you noticed that?) And the reverse is also true: when whining and complaining are all that's coming out of my mouth, you can tell: my heart is not on board with this. It sounds old-fashioned, but when we steer our speech a certain way, our actions follow. I wanna commit to my work by what I'm saying.
     
  • Ousting Resistance. OH yeah. Seriously, I had no idea what a huge burden Resistance had been for me, until I started consciously choosing to drop it, and to relax into the task at hand instead of maximizing its difficulty. This is one of the biggest game-changers in my emotional health lately, and it has been huge!
     
  • Practicing gratitude. For a couple of months now, I've been jotting down at least three things I'm grateful for every night before I go to sleep. It's been a really wonderful practice—a way of reframing the day, no matter how difficult it was. I'd love to get even more intentional about bringing this gratitude mindset into my writing life specifically. The Amazing Brené Brown points out in Daring Greatly that without gratitude, we can't know joy. And I don't know about you, but I want to keep bringing joy into my writing life!

Wow. YES. These are three practices that I've just started working on in general, and basically, I'd like to crank up the volume on all three this autumn. By, um, a LOT.

How about you? What's going on in your mind and heart when you're deeply committed emotionally? And how can you bring some of those practices into your writing life right now?


And then, what does it look like to commit to something creatively?

  • Showing up with your imagination. Even when your imagination is rusty, sticking with it, and trying not to just write on automatic pilot. ... Let's be real: I totally get that some days, we all just put words down instead of having a rich imaginative experience as we do. Sometimes, that's where we're at, and we're just getting through. But the more we can nourish our imagination and bring it fully into the game, the richer our commitment is going to be. And then everything gets better. ... More on that next week!
     
  • Nurturing your creativity in every way. We owe it to ourselves and our work to be growing creatively. Even when, and perhaps especially when, off the clock. Being creatively committed means that we're always putting ourselves in the path of inspiration. Going on those artist dates, reading widely, and learning about more things than just writing. (Again, more on this next week!)
     
  • Staying alert to obstacles. When our creativity is gasping, that's an important warning sign. And keeping our creative commitment tuned up means that we take those warning signs super seriously. They give us the essential chance to ask: what's not serving the work, what is getting in the way, what's not working? And then, commitment means we reach for our courage, and go find the answers to those hard questions. (Um: yep, more on this next week.)
     
  • Staying in touch with wonder and curiosity. One of the best ways to keep our creative commitment healthy and thriving is to always be seeking wonder, always be awake to our curiosities. Whether they overlap with the work at hand or not, we have to keep in touch with those things that get us excited, that make us lean in. Our creativity depends on it. (Pssst. Next week. Yep.)

This section, even more than the others, is what's got my attention right now. This is where I need the most work, the most time, and the most relentless self-compassion. Mmmm! But good things are coming, my friends. 

How about you? How's your creative commitment these days?

Does your imagination feel nourished, or slightly starved? Is it full of good nutrients, or has it been binging on junk food a leetle too long, and that's starting to show a tiny bit?

How can you nurture it like crazy this weekend? Can you grab an hour or two for a fabulous little artist date? And what are the topics that give you that zing of excited curiosity? Can you go chase after one for a while this week?


If you've been hanging out on this blog for a while, you probably know by now: I have ZERO interest in being an incredibly prolific writer at the cost of my health (whether that's physical, emotional, or any other kind of health we can think of!).

Nope. Not doing it.

So, as you and I think through all those questions above, let's also ask this: What does it look like to be committed to your own health?

  • Physically, this means sleeping, getting those veggies (my two favorite cooking blogs, if you need veg inspiration, are this one and that one), drinking plenty of water (let's do it like this!), and seeking fun ways to move throughout the day.
     
  • Creatively, this means pursuing non-writing hobbies. SO important. And it also means making your environment—where you live, where you sleep, and especially where you work!—pleasing and inspiring and yummy in every possible way.
     
  • And then emotionally. This means pouring truth into yourself, healing old scars, surrounding yourself with positive people. This especially means that you remind yourself over and over, that you are not your work. You are WAY more valuable than whatever it is that you do each day. This is essential to know no matter what, whether the writing is going well or poorly. 

I keep coming back to this over and over, because if there's one thing that my writing life has taught me, it's this: if the writer isn't doing well, her writing's going to suffer. A lot. 

And it becomes this horrible little spiral of suffering that does no good and also doesn't write a lot of books.

SO. What's one way that you want to commit more deeply to your own health and well-being? How can you make sure that you're getting the support and fuel you need, so that you're strong enough to commit to your writing work?


Welp, I'M all excited. I hope that those questions helped stir some ideas for you.

Where do you most want to start? What little practice could you add in this weekend, and work on next week, that would strengthen your commitment to your work, your healthy writing life, and your amazing lionhearted self?

(And if you're looking for a few more ideas about this kind of thing, check out The Enormous Virtue of Showing Up, and Finding the Energy to See Our Writing Through. They'll be right up your alley!)

Here's to more health, excitement, vitality, and commitment this autumn.

Dealing With Our Kryptonite: Recognizing and Overturning Writing Life Weaknesses

Four major writing life weaknesses that can sap our strength and torpedo our energy. Know 'em, and know what to do to overcome them! | lucyflint.com

So far in this Building Strength series, we've covered a lot of ground!

We talked about being clear on what we consider strength is (because different strengths matter to each of us!), and we've talked about ways to strengthen our creativity, our enthusiasm, and our overall writing sustainability.

And then, just to kick things up a few notches, we checked in with the book Deep Work, because it has great points that will make us stronger writers: like how to supercharge our ability to focus. And, at the same time, how to deepen and strengthen our ability to recharge.

WOW. So, you feeling those muscles yet?

Today I wanna switch gears a little and work on strength from a different angle.

Namely: What makes us weak? What weakens our writing lives? 

What saps our strength, drains our energy, muddies our abilities? What's our kryptonite?

I've rounded up the usual suspects in my own writing life. See if any of these behaviors have snuck into your writing life too:

Skipping breaks.

Let's start with this one, because I have our last post about recharging on the brain

I know that this won't apply to everyone, but for anyone pursuing full-time creativity, this can be a struggle. And I personally fall into this trap a lot.

Here's the deal: I cannot be purely creative and focused and hardworking for eight hours straight. Cannot be done.

... And I can type that, and nod very sincerely at my computer screen, and even mean it, and then go off and think that I am invincible and needeth not such breaks.

This is a problem.

My best true version of my work schedule looks like this: Two hours of intense, focused, deep work, followed by one hour of pure recharging. (Which usually means, getting some good food, moving around, doing a workout, or even taking a nap.)

Then two more hours of intense work, and, yep, another hour to recharge. (A snack, maybe time spent outside if the weather is nice, doing some art...)

Finally two hours of taking care of all the shallower work, the smaller things, and then my shutdown ritual. With that, I'm done for the day.

Sounds straightforward. Super health-focused (because I've learned the hard way that I've gotta be). 

This is what can happen, though: I'll start late. Maybe because I slept in after a late night. Or maybe I got caught in a morning discussion or media dive that got all my creativity fizzing but also made me late for work. 

So I plow into the day, and work straight through my breaks, because I think don't have the time to stop.

And at the end of the work day, I'm a zombie.

I mean it. You can't get any sense out of me. I'm stumbling around, bleary-eyed and brain dead. And, at that point, my next work day is automatically harder. I have less mental flexibility, and less focus, and less motivation.

It's a really bad cycle! Easy to fall into; hard to break out of.

Those recharging periods within my work day are absolutely essential to my creativity: I need to refresh my mind by getting back into my senses. I need to stare at clouds, eat some good food, take a walk. Besides, we're not supposed to sit for hours and hours! 

The biggest single help in fighting this has been to remind myself of two things: 

1) That rest is one of my new core values. I have to be rested to work well, to do what I love, and to enjoy life. It's just that true, that simple.

2) That play and rest are prerequisites to doing good work. Period. 

My reminder of choice is an index card near my computer. "Rest is a core value," it announces. "Don't neglect your breaks!" 

It reminds me that this is the kind of writer I want to be: One who is rested, one who isn't a zombie, and one who has a wealth of imaginative details in her pockets.

Breaks ensure a better writing day, and a better writing week. Even if they need to be much less than that luxurious hour, they have to happen, or I'm toast. 

How about you? Do you interject moments of rest within your creative work? Even if you're working in shorter spurts, do you still get a moment to pull back and recharge, before diving back in?


Overthinking.

Overthinking has been my lifelong nemesis.

And "lifelong" isn't an exaggeration: I have memories of being super young and paralyzed by decision-making overload, going back and forth between two possibilities. (There is an epic family story about my inability to choose between a hamburger and a cheeseburger. Yep, it's real.)

It is so easy for me to get stuck, to get pulled into this trap of cerebralizing and analyzing. Breaking down the problem from every single side, every possible angle.

Instead of diving into what I need to do, I sit there at the edge and worry, make lists, plan things, consider endlessly. 

Obviously, there are times for deep deliberation.

Equally obvious: Not EVERY time.

Usually, this overthinking is a fear tactic. A stalling technique that feels intellectually noble.

How do you tell the difference? For me, when overthinking smells like panic, it's fear-based. It's coming from that frightened part of me, and so it's a way to stall.

This is when perfectionism is singing over my head that if I screw this up, I'll never recover from it. 

When I truly need to think something through, it feels different.

It's much more calm—a reasonable analysis. It's when I ask myself, "should I do this project now, or can it reasonably wait?"

And I answer, "Well, if I go down the wrong path, I'll just make it right, I'll just turn around." 

Fear-based overthinking just keeps inflating the issue. It gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger. It says, But I might never have a chance for a cheeseburger again!!

There's a rigidity in it. It's insisting, just below its surface, that I must make the perfect choice, the irreproachable way forward.

Everything gets dramatic. The shadows get longer and darker, and suddenly you and your pros & cons list are in a battle of good versus evil.

Yeah. It gets ugly.

I am only just beginning to find my way out of overthinking. 

One thing that has helped enormously is the way that Julia Cameron describes overthinking in Walking in This World (her lovely sequel to The Artist's Way).

She compares working on an artistic project to the moment of firing an arrow at a target. 

She says that if we overthinking the project, we're essentially standing there, pulling back the arrow, and then just waiting. Analyzing, heart pounding, while our arm loses strength and the arrow begins to sag.

So when we finally fire it, it doesn't hit the center.

She sums it up by saying,

In short, you have mistaken beginning something with ending something. You have wanted a finality that is earned over time and not won ahead of time as a guarantee. You have denied the process of making art because you are so focused on the product: Will this be a bull's-eye?

Ouch, right? She's got me. Most of the time, I'm overthinking because I want a shiny guarantee: "Yes, go for it, because it will work out swimmingly and everyone will pat you on the head and say that you've done something amazing."

But we don't work with guarantees. We work with our hearts, we learn on the way, and yes, it gets messy. But that's what we've really signed up for, and if we're all in, it can be a wonderful way to work.

Cameron adds,

We have attached so much rigamarole to the notion of being an artist that we fail to ask the simplest and most obvious question: Do I want to make this? If the answer is yes, then begin. Fire the arrow.

I love that straightforwardness. Yes!

How about you? Where in your creative life do you get swamped in overthinking?

And where is something inside you saying, let's fire the arrow!


Treating myself harshly.

One of the most effective ways to undermine our own strength? Talking bad about ourselves. Diminishing what we do, calling our work crap, saying that we'll never finish or improve.

This can be hard, hard, hard to shake.

For me, this comes directly out of shame, fear, and doubt. 

I can still be nervous about the fact that I'm a writer, that I've yet to publish. It makes me feel childish when it seems like my peers have glorious, flashy, paid grown-up careers. (Nothing's ever quite as glorious as it can look from the outside, of course, but I never remember that when I'm struggling.) 

I can feel the sting under someone else's words when they say doubtfully, so, not published yet? And I'm ready to disparage myself so that they don't have to.

As I talked so much about it last month, y'all already know that I've been learning about shame resilience from my new best friend Brené Brown. (Okay, we're only friends in my head, but whatever. She's lovely.) 

So, I'm working on this. I am trying to remember to breathe through it, to remind myself that I am not my job and I am not what I produce and I am not my salary, thank God! 

So that's half of the battle.

The other half, is to sincerely tend to what I know I need.

I am starting to develop a habit that helps me break out of this inner harshness and, bonus! that overthinking cycle too.

Here's how it works. Let's say I'm trying to decide which direction to go with a project, and there seem to be three strong options.

And the Overthinking Monkey is saying don't screw this up, you've gotta look at all these different parts of the different options. And THEN what if this happens, and look, here are more reasons for each thing over here, and oh my gosh this is hard isn't it...

And the Shame Monkey is saying, this is why it's taking you so long, you can't figure anything out, and you don't know even a quarter of what you need to know, and meanwhile everyone thinks you can actually write, so you better not mess up...

SO HELPFUL those monkeys, aren't they?!

So I've started to catch when this cycle is happening. And here's what I've started to do. It's so simple but it helps so much:

I get up and move away from my desk. I go to the other side of the room and I lie down. I take a few huge deep breaths, and I close my eyes and I just hold still.

(This is great, because the monkeys freak out. "She's walking away?!? It's like she doesn't even care about us!")

I breathe for a little while, and then I tell myself in my kindest, and most calm voice: You know the thing that you need to do next. You have one option that seems like the right one for now. What's that option? 

And I give myself permission to 1) pick something, and 2) that it doesn't have to be the perfect choice. It's the choice that seems right, for now, and that's good enough for me, I tell myself.

In about ten minutes, I'll get up with a very clear calm-ish path in my head, and dive in. And I end up not regretting my choice, even if I have to revise it later.

Seriously, this has been huge.

So if you're nodding along with this, and you get what I mean about overthinking + harshness, here are my four steps again. I apply: 

1) Oxygen. For real. Because I start breathing too fast, or holding my breath when I'm anxious. Good decisions require oxygen! Try to relax, unclench, and breathe deep.

2) Space. I can't find my way out of a spiral if I'm staring at a bunch of lists or all my different options. I need to separate myself.

3) Clarity. I try to boil it down: I just have to take one step, and I just have to pick that step. It isn't rocket science or brain surgery. If they all seem equally good and even equally risky, then I really can't go wrong. I can simply choose.

4) Permission. I take the idea of a "right answer" off the table. I'm not looking for a perfect choice. (And yes, sometimes I have to say this out loud.) I'm just looking for a choice. A starting point. I'm allowed to change my mind later when I see things even more clearly. But at the same time, I'm not going to second guess myself just because

This little sequence has been a game changer! 

How about you? Where in your writing process are you most tempted to be hard on yourself? And what would it look like if you gave yourself a tiny dose of kindness instead?

And what would it look like if you gave yourself a really, really BIG dose of kindness?


Resistance.

For anyone who's read the excellently butt-kicking motivational books of Steven Pressfield (I'm thinking especially of The War of Art, Do the Work, and Turning Pro), Resistance is something you're already familiar with.

For the rest of you ... well, you're familiar with Resistance too. You just might not have called it that.

Here's how Pressfield introduces the concept in The War of Art:

There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write.
     What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

He goes on, 

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
     Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? ... Are you a writer who doesn't write, a painter who doesn't paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.

It's an internal, persistent, relentless force that keeps us from doing our work. That's it.

That slippery, negative feeling that we get before we do something that we honestly, in our heart-of-hearts want to do ... but in this moment, we seem to want to do ANYTHING else.

You get this, right? I mean . . . anyone who's tried to write for about two seconds understands this feeling.

There is so much good in Pressfield's books. He is super helpful when it comes to understanding Resistance and the whole creative process. Definitely ones to pick up, if you haven't yet!

I'm half tempted to type out the whole second half of his book right here in this post ... okay, actually the whole book.

But I won't because of plagiarism and rules and all that. You'll just have to read it for yourself. It's a quick, very helpful read—which is great because you can flip it over and reread it and get it deeper into your brain. 

But anyway, here is the Resistance-fighting technique I've been using lately, and, amazingly, it's been working.

It's deceptively simple. Ready? Here it is:

I'm working toward a bunch of goals right now. Seriously, so many. And though they're worthy, I can feel a ton of Resistance anytime I'm working on the next step toward a goal.

What's suddenly changed for me is that I've realized where that huge burden feeling is coming from. The real burden, the real problem, isn't the task itself.

So, the problem isn't actually the intense, complicated scene I need to write today.

The real problem is that Resistance tells me that I'm not up to working on something so complicated. It tries to convince me of this by flooding my mind with dread.

Resistance tries to convince me that the task is the problem. That the task is why I have dread.

When really, Resistance is why I have dread. The real problem is Resistance. 

So I wrote myself another note, and I stuck it to my computer monitor: 

It's not the task that is burdensome, but the Resistance to the task that is.
 

It's Resistance that's killing me.
Drop Resistance.

Yes, I know. That sounds simplistic.

But what's happened in my head since realizing this is amazing. 

By rereading that note, I can catch Resistance when it sneaks in. And I can remember that its chief trick is to make me think that something else is the problem—instead of the Resistance itself.

So, when it's time to write, and I sense that slow build of "Meh, I'd rather not" working its way through me, I'm alert to it. I snap out of it.

I say, AHA, look, it's Resistance! You, Resistance, are the thing that's even harder than the hard work. You're the thing that's worse than bad writing. You're worse than brain cramps and elusive sentences and revisions. 

So I'll get rid of you.

And I'll stop resisting the task.

... And that simple moment of reframing the situation WORKS. And it's lovely.

So, try it. Identify your real enemy.

It isn't the writing. It isn't the scene that will come out somewhat backwards (though with a few glowing phrases, a few spot-on descriptions!). It isn't the journey we take into the unknown every day.

It's the thing that would block us, with no truly good reasons, with no clear helpfulness. It's the thing that creates a mood, a doubt, a dread. It's fat angry Resistance squatting in the middle of our road.

Refuse to buy into it. Refuse to welcome it, listen to it, pick up the burdens it hands you. 

When you feel it rising, remember that it is the difficulty, not the thing that it's pointing to or hiding behind. Don't listen to it, and dive into your work.

And then see if that makes a difference.

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

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

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

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

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

I completely disregarded this book. For ten years!! 

WELL.

I am here today to set things straight.

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

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

It's a big deal.

Whew. Deep breath. 

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

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

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

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

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

No sweat. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was feeling some creative restlessness. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until finally, in the spring, I began reading. 

And reading. And reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

... Did I mention I'm blushing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For you, my writing friend. And for me.

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

How do we do that? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

To stop starving parts of our creativity.

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

Nope. 

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

Treating myself like a precious object
will make me strong.

Whoa, right? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The results?

Are freakin' spectacular.

So, lean in to that.

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

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

And try a softer, kinder, more intuitive way.

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

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

Dive in with an open mind and an open heart.

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

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

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

Because it's changing everything.

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

How To Love the Worst Parts of the Writing Process: Your Six-Step Plan!

So, are there parts of your creative work that you find challenging? Stuff you dread? Tasks that you, um, hate? Yeah. Here's how to discover an affection for the most unlovable parts of your writing process. | lucyflint.com

We're halfway through our Anatomy of a Lionheart series! I'm loving this review of all the traits that go into making us amazingly courageous and happy writers.

The kind of writers that can stay the course. 

But also the kind of writers who actually love what they do.

Which is why today it's time to come out and say it: 

The lionhearted writer brings love into the process.

Parts of the writing life are totally easy to love, right?

Some bits are just intoxicating.

Books, words, stories. 

Sentences so good they make your scalp tingle.

Mmmm. Yeah.

And then you adore your own stories, which feels incredible.

You fall in love with your characters. You love moments in the story that make you want to cheer because, somehow, you nailed them.

Am I right? (Yup, I just heard a "Heck yes!")

So it's pretty easy for me to say that a lionhearted writer has love somewhere in her. Love for this whole writing world.

You know what is one of the most powerful places for us to apply that love?

To the actual creative process itself.

You heard right. The nitty gritty. The day in/day out. 

... If you're like me, you might have this slight reaction to that statement. "Oh. Love the creative process. Right. That."

Because, um, the creative process can be a bit ... difficult.

There's a flash of inspiration, or there isn't.

Sometimes you have an idea that lights you on fire and all you do is burn it onto the page.

And sometimes you feel like you're just nosing at something cold and dead and maybe there's something better to be doing with your time?

Exhilarating days, days that are just fine, and days that feel like you're at the dentist with anxiety through the roof and a slow numbing sensation.

There are the highs in the midst of the work, and then there are the long tedious slogs

Right? 

So what happens to us when we learn to love every bit of the process

For starters, we stop avoiding the hard parts. (Which means everything moves more quickly, smoothly, and coherently. YAY.)

Also, we can see the strengths and the good parts of our work more clearly (whew!), which gives us the courage to deal with whatever needs repairing.

So, guess what. I want a writing life I can love completely.

I want to love every day of it. 

Even when it's "Okay, Let's Figure Out Technology" day.

Or, "Chopping Up My Manuscript with Actual Scissors So I Can Try and See What's Happening in These Dang Scenes" day.

Or, "Taking Apart the Villain's Motivation to Figure Out What's Wrong With Itday.

In other words, there are some moments in the writing process or the creative life that it's challenging to love.

Maybe impossible.

... Or, I would have said "impossible," except that something strange happened to me recently.

I've just learned to enjoy something that I originally despised.

WHAaaaaat??! Trust me, it's big.

And, me being me, I figured out exactly what kind of process happened as I went from hatred to enjoyment. 

Because, if I learned to like this one despicable thing, then ... what else could I learn to appreciate?

Maybe every single part of the creative process that currently stumps my affections?

Yeah. That's exactly what I had in mind.

If you want the full context to my hate-to-love story: I was recently assigned a series of difficult physical exercises to do every single morning right when I get up. Doctor's orders.

We were figuring out just why my health had gotten so screwed up this spring. And one of the things he prescribed is a ridiculous amount of movement.

I'm much more of a "let's wake up gently and think thoughts quietly" kind of person, so the idea of working up a sweat and a pounding heart immediately after getting up is not my thing.

The first morning of the exercises, about six weeks ago:

Instant hate.

And, bonus, I almost threw up.

This morning? I felt a wry affection for it, an "aw, you're not so terrible, are you?" kind of tolerant appreciation.

That's a pretty big change.

So what happened? And, the more exciting question: how could we try this in our writing lives?

Before we jump in, take a sec to think: What is it in your writing process, your creative work, that you're having a lot of trouble loving right now?

Get it firmly in your mind, and then let's just see what happens.

Here's where to start:

1) Recognize what is good about it. 

If something has zero worth at all, then, um, don't try to spend time loving it. Right? Just rule those things out.

So, whatever it is you're doing, there must be some good reason for it. 

And if we can mentally appreciate why something is important to do, then we at least have our feet on the right track.

With my exercises, I knew I was dodging medication by doing this. I still despised it, but at least I was motivated to keep going.

So, what's the creative task that you don't like? That moment in your work that makes you feel a bit sick or miserable?

And what's valuable about it?

What does it help you do, what next step does it position you for, what does it make easier, what does it help you avoid? 

Name the good thing (and as specifically as possible!), and you'll be one step closer to affection.

2) Practice technical gratitude.

If you know what this stage in the process is doing, what good it is, then you can be technically grateful for it. 

As you dive into that task, as you see it approaching on your to-do list: practice mentally acknowledging that gratitude. 

I don't mean that you're ready to hug it yet. Or even that you feel grateful for it. 

Just that you can nod at gratitude and say, yes, okay, I suppose I'm thankful for this, if I really think hard about it.

Okay?

For my new wake-up exercises, these were the mornings when I was glaring at the wall, puffing and sweating, and saying to myself, At least this is going to help get my body back to normal. 

Or, doing this lets me have enough energy in the day to function. 

Or even, It's almost over. At least they're fairly quick.

What does this look like for your dreaded step in the process?

Even if you don't feel grateful for it, how can you be at least mentally grateful for it?

3) Notice what you actually do like about it.

Once you've let yourself practice that kind of cognitive gratitude for a while, it's time to push a little deeper. 

At this point, is there anything that you might—even grudgingly at first—like about doing this thing? 

Even a teeny tiny super-hard-to-see little bit of it?

This realization hit me after I'd been doing those morning exercises for a while. One day I noticed that my endurance was increasing—and that felt kinda cool.

Another day, the first sequence was a lot easier than it used to be. Which was nice. And empowering.

A few of the moves even felt—dare I say it out loud?—a little fun.

SUPER weird. I tried not to notice.

Is there anything in this part of the process for you that's just a little bit enjoyable?

Try to scrape together a list, even if it's a list of one item.

But whatever part of the task is likable, focus hard on that. 

4) Support the dreaded task with a lot more enjoyment.

You know this already. It's a lionheart standard! But whatever challenging thing you're working on, do this: 

Pour a ton of other things you love right on top of it.

Use the best paper, break out the pens that make you swoon, and fancy up your work space

Listen to music that you adore or find deeply inspiring. 

It was a major day for me when I finally made a playlist exclusively for those morning exercises! I could move faster and better: it stopped feeling so brutal. And it doubled my motivation each time I pressed play.

It's never easy to work on something we dislike. So, recruit your surroundings. 

Let your environment be your cheerleading squad: make everything as enjoyable as possible, each time you approach that task.

5) Practice relish.

After practicing those steps for a while, things might begin to shift in your mind and heart. 

Hopefully you're noticing a few blips of felt gratitude for this tough thing you're doing. Hopefully you're able to see a bit more of its good effect. 

Which means it's time to just go for it: Lean into everything you enjoy about this task. 

Take those slightly-positive feelings and intentionally crank them up.

Mega-celebrate every small thing that you're liking about this task you're doing.

Try smiling when you do it, even when you don't feel like it. (Because you're unleashing great stuff in your brain when you smile, and this is exactly the kind of work when you'd like some extra greatness in your brain, right?)

Just keep pouring on the positivity ... until you start to find yourself not dreading it when it's time to dive in.

6) Repeat.

In spite of the huge strides I've made, I'm not at the point where I can just coast with these morning exercises. I still need to focus on what's good about them, and feel gratitude, and crank up the tunes. 

Some things might always be a bit easier to hate than to love. 

So, for the sake of your writerly well-being, keep this cycle up. 

Keep affirming your gratitude, surrounding the task with more positivity, and amping up your enjoyment.

Hold that dread at bay. Stagger it with goodness.

That's honestly what's happening with my crazy morning exercises. In a month and a half, I've gone from pure hatred to actually feeling a zing of excitement about them.

So weird, right?

And that good effect just keeps on giving: It's actually turned into a wonderful ritual to start my day.

Imagine that: Transforming your dreaded task into a powerhouse of energy and empowerment for your work. 

... Or at least, into something you can manage to do without ruining your day.

Worth trying, right?

Personally, I'm excited to start applying these steps to the writing stuff I've been avoiding...

Such as, um, research! And fixing the tinier plot holes that I've somehow let stay. And doing a much better job with setting. And... oh, there's probably a whole list.

But how amazing would it be, to keep working on the less lovable parts of the process. To turn them into our allies—tasks that inspire our gratitude and fire up our energy? 

DANG. Talk about a game changer.

So what will you be learning to love?

Let's Leap Out of This Oh-So-Common Writing Trap!

There's a fiendishly easy trap to fall into with our writing, especially if it's been chaotic, busy, or complicated in your life lately. Let's do a quick check-up, and leap back into a solid writing practice. You with me, lionheart? Let's go. | lucyflint.com

It's turning very spring-like here: our magnolia tree just exploded with blossoms, the lawns are greening up, and tiny leaves decorate the branches of our lilacs.

You can almost feel the energy fizzing in the air: seeds falling from trees, buds bobbing on stems... 

And writers ripe with ideas, spilling them everywhere but at their writing desks.

OH, wait. Maybe that's just me. :)

As y'all know, it's been a complicated February & March for me so far. But now that the chaos has calmed down (I think!), it's time to refocus on my work-in-progress.

But my unintentional strategy for doing that has mainly been through chattering.

Seriously, I'm talking up a storm.

About writing plans, about the chapters I need to write, about a murderously tricky deadline I have coming up, about how rusty I feel after such a strange couple of months...

And I keep hearing myself say (very convincingly): "If I could just get going again, this draft would fall into place, no problem."

Ahem. Yeah: there's a massive disconnect in there. (Oof.)

To get back on track, this is the quote I need. It comes from Chapter after Chapter, by the amazing (and frequently mentioned* around here!) Heather Sellers:

     "Reverse your field. If you spend 90 percent of your creative energy dreaming of a book and dreaming of the writing life, and only 10 percent of your time actually writing, you need to flip it around. 
     Give 90 percent of your energy to the words on the page." 

It's easy to get our ratios mixed up. To talk and plan and daydream 90 percent of the time, and only write for 10 percent. Let's flip it around. "Give 90 percent of your energy to the words on the page." -- Heather Sellers | lucyflint.com

Whew! There it is!! The butt-kicking I needed.

Can we be real and say: It is such an easy trap to fall into.

We're daydreamers; we're communicators.

It's so easy to get mired in just dreaming about the writing life—especially how smoothly everything will go, once we get into it.

It's so simple to just talk it up—hang out with fellow writers on social media, or chat to friends and family about the project.

And then to just ... stay there.

Dreaming, talking; talking, dreaming.

It's so safe! It feels deliciously writerly, with very low risk.

It is one of the nicest ways to not get work done.

Believe me, I've tried it often enough, but I have never successfully talked my way into doing a draft. 

The work only happens when I make a conscious decision to shush. Zip it. Stop talking

To put the pencil down and back away from the plans. To give myself a shake and quit dreaming about how nicely the draft will come together "once I get going." 

All that talking and dreaming distances me from the actual work.

It builds up a kind of resistance to the untidiness of the new draft. (After all, dreaming about drafting is so neat! The actual drafting is much muckier.)

It puts off the linguistic juggling act of getting everything set up in the first story. (Characters! Personalities! Conflict! Stakes!)

You know? Talking about writing, daydreaming about writing: it scratches the itch. And it's risk-free!

But I need to plant myself squarely in the midst of the writing itself.

How about you, lionheart?

Are you camping out on social media and lovely writerly conversations and reading fun writing books, and doing all other writerly things ... without the actual writing? 

It's such a tough thing to catch yourself doing, isn't it? Such a tempting, sticky trap.

But Heather Sellers gives us an incredibly effective equation for getting unstuck.

It calls for a bit of honesty. (Okay, okay. A lot of honesty. A radical amount of honesty. Deep breath.)

How much of our time and energy is spent in writing-like enterprises?

Talking, social media-ing, reading productivity newsletters, planning, chatting, listening to podcasts, networking, reading writing blogs and books, and daydreaming? 

And then ... how much time and how much energy is spent doing the actual work of, you know, putting words in a line? (Or revising, editing, whatever major writing work you're up to right now.)

What happens when we flip the amounts? 

When we dial back on the talking and Internet-ing and daydreaming and planning—when we bring that down to just a tenth of our energy...

And then we take the actual story, and crank our energy way way up. Ninety percent of our time, our energy, our focus.

What about just plunging in and going deep?

WHOA, right? 

Granted, I know we probably can't be super precise with this. (Unless you have an Writing-Energy-ometer lying around.) 

So while we could figure out some kind of scientific strategy (timers! charts! graphs! lengthy reports!), I think I'd rather just rely on my gut.

I don't need a timer to tell me that I've gone way overboard in talking up the work. And I've severely undernourished my draft.

So I'm going to flip things around by going immersion camp style. I'm going to dive in deep.

And I'll stay alert to every time I'm tempted to talk about my work, or to fall into a daydreaming/planning frenzy...

I'll try to catch myself. And march that energy right over to my computer, and pour it straight into the draft itself.

It comes down to this: 

If you know that there's some serious fluff in your writing life right now, start getting rid of it.

You might have to be a little bit ruthless with yourself. Cut yourself off social media for a while. Or put a limit on the time you spend there. (I'm going to have to do this, for sure!)

Or, you can do this gently. After every writing-that-isn't-actual-writing session, pay yourself back with twice as much time drafting. (And then start bumping up that amount!)

However you choose to go, discipline tastes better with chocolate and celebratory dancing. So loop those in as well.

Whatever it looks like, you know the formula: 90 percent of our energy goes to the words on the page.

So let's turn down the volume on the noise, the static, the general background music of daydreaming and talking and clutter.

And start cranking up the volume on the sweet symphony of the story itself. 

Sound good? Sound like a plan? 

Awesome. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go get some chocolate, and then dive head first into my draft.


* I've said it before, and I'll just keep saying it: The reason I mention Heather Sellers so dang often is because I would have stopped writing by now if I hadn't read her books Page after Page and Chapter after Chapter

She's been one of the biggest influences on how I think about my writing life, and I'm just so grateful for her books! 

Page after Page is required reading for anyone who wants to have a writing life, and Chapter after Chapter is required for all novelists! They are the most underlined books in my whole library, and every time I reread them, I'm the better for it. 

If Writing Is a Battle, Here's the Book You Need to Win the Fight

If you ever feel like you're battling it out alone at your writing desk, then this is the book recommendation you needed to hear. Get a coach, cheerleader, and master strategist in your corner. | lucyflint.com

When you're doing something over the long haul—and I mean the LONG long haul, like sticking with amazing writing resolutions during 2016, or something impressive like that—it helps to have someone really solid in your corner.

Preferably someone who has had a ton of experience doing the same thing, who doesn't waste your time with a lot of blather, but instead gets right to the point with exactly what you need:

Smart encouragement, a discussion of strategy, or a for-your-own-good butt-kicking.

Right? 

Well. The book The Art of War for Writers, by the mega-experienced James Scott Bell, has filled that exact role for me over the last few years. 

I love this book. And it's always exactly the thing I need! 

I'm a sucker for a good, extended metaphor. James Scott Bell draws on over 20 years of writing experience, and blends that with the classic by Sun Tzu: The Art of War.

(Sun Tzu's guide is not a writing book, by the way. It's about fighting. Just so we're clear.)

Why reference an ancient Chinese military expert, when we're trying to figure out a writing life?

Because every writer is in for a fight: against her own resistance, against the odds in this industry, against doubts and naysayers and dozens of other obstacles

So even though military strategy isn't a natural comparison for me, it makes for a solid and helpful framework.

The Art of War for Writers is divided into three sections: Reconnaissance (which is about "the mental game of writing"); Tactics (which is about improving your fiction craft); and Strategy (which is all about your publishing career over the long term).

(...If you have a nerdy streak like me, it might give you an extra thrill to think of your writing in terms like reconnaissance, tactics, and strategy. We're doing dangerous work at our desks!)

The entries are short. Most are two to four pages. Just long enough for Bell to explain his point, and for its pithiness to strike a chord in your writerly heart. 

It also happens to be the perfect length to read before diving into your day's writing, or maybe it's exactly the thoughtful note to end on, after your session. 

Orrrrr, maybe you'll just binge-read the whole thing on a weekend and feel like you've been to an incredible mini writer's conference. I'm not gonna stop you.

In the words of James Scott Bell:

You have it inside you to fight this fight.
Write, think about what you write,
then write some more.
Day by day. Year by year.
Do that, and you will jump ahead of 90 percent

of the folks out there who want to get published.

Right? I mean—right??

That's the kind of call to action you want, if you're going to see your writing resolutions through, if you're going to charge into the rest of 2016, and do it writing.

Grab this book for the best kind of coach, strategist, and cheerleader, all in one. 


And if you want a bit of that writing advice right this second: I really enjoyed these two interviews from Joanna Penn, talking with James Scott Bell on Writing, Self-Publishing, and the Business of Being a Pro Writer, and also on Writing Discipline and Mindset for Authors. Really great tips and wisdom in these!

(And I always love Joanna Penn. Add her podcast to your list, if you haven't already. She keeps me cheerful about the future of my writing career!) 

The Secret Weapon: Why You Really Don't Need to Talk about Your Writing Yet

There's the courage to do the work, and then there's the courage to *talk* about the work. Let's not get those confused. | lucyflint.com

I'm about to make a lot of high achievers really, really mad at me. Because I'm going to go right against one of the most common tips on reaching your goals. (Something about Mondays. I always get rebellious.

On just about every "How to Set a Goal" article flying around the Internet, you'll see this tip: Make your goal public. 

Find a group of likeminded people. Get someone to hold you accountable. Post about your progress. Get others on board.

I don't have a problem with that in general, okay? I promise. So if you love the whole "be accountable" thing, then go for it.

But here's my counterargument. 

Sometimes, we might have just barely enough courage to do the New Difficult Thing, whatever that is. 

And maybe there's not quite enough courage left over to tell other people about it. To hear their comments mid-process. To check in with them. To let them challenge you. 

Oooh, I have SUCH a good solution for this problem. You ready? 

DON'T TELL ANYONE.

I mean it. Don't tell anyone!!

Start your crazy new project and keep absolutely quiet about it. Do your writing on the sly. Scribble away furtively in your closet. 

No one has to know about it right now.

That wonderful secretive silence gives the new idea some safe room to rattle around in your head. It gives you time to freewrite about it, explore the possibilities, refine your thoughts, and even play a bit.

At some point, you can definitely get other eyes and ears on the idea. Eventually, you can run a later draft past a few people.

But not yet. Not while it's soft; not while it's growing.

I'm convinced that there's more than one kind of courage at work in our writing lives. And it trips us up if we think that they're all the same, all the time. 

Don't confuse the bravery of doing the New Difficult Thing with the bravery of Telling People About It. 

You really don't have to be ready to tell people what you're up to at the same time that you are up to it

So, if you're feeling overwhelmed and not brave enough to do a goal that you'd really like to go after: I give you permission to zip it. Don't say anything. Keep it a secret.

What you might find is that secret keeping generates its own energy, and—what's really cool—its own bravery.

When I'm working on a story that no one else knows about, I feel like I've gotten back to the absolute heart of my writing: telling myself a story. Just for the heck of it. Just for the thrill of the tale.

That is a wonderfully exciting, pure, and yes, courageous place to work from. 

So don't feel like you need to muddy it by talking about it too soon. 

Keep it a secret for as long as you can manage. You'll be building your bravery as you develop your relationship with the project. You might be able to hear it more clearly, and work on it with more boldness.

And then, when the timing is right, you might find that you're actually ready to tell someone.

You were building the courage to speak up all along.


Here's What Your Insecurities Won't Tell You

They show up for nearly every writing session, and they talk a *lot.* But this is what your insecurities aren't telling you... and it's the most important stuff! | lucyflint.com

If you've ever sat down to write anything before, you've probably met allllllllllll your insecurities. 

Here's what I think I can guess about them: 

  • They are loud
  • They seem to have good points (they remember your past with staggering clarity)
  • There are about two thousand more of them than you remembered, and they keep inviting friends

They might have plenty of reasons why you should delay your writing, why you shouldn't write about that topic that's so close to your heart, or why you should maybe just not write at all.

But since they're ragged little liars (and you can tell them I said that), I'd like to offer the counter-view.

Here's what your insecurities aren't telling you.

1) You're a learner.

Did you know that's one of the most powerful things you can be? If you're open to learning, then you're pretty well unstoppable. 

Insecurities pretend that you can't learn, that your flaws (which they magnify enormously) are the definition of you and shall be so forever. 

Totally not true. You can learn, you can practice, and you can practice even more. 

You can learn to minimize your weaknesses. And you can learn to maximize your strengths.

2) You already know SO DANG MUCH about life. 

I say that with total confidence. No matter who you are, wherever you're from, and whatever has happened (or hasn't) to you: You already know so much stuff about the world. Especially about the corner of it where you are. 

Insecurities hold up blinders to everything that you already have access to. They make you think that you're too unobservant, or too dull to have anything interesting or valuable to say. 

Pfft!! That is so much crap

One of my favorite quotes about the writing life comes from Eudora Welty, who wrote:

As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life.
A sheltered life can be a daring life as well.
For all serious daring starts from within.

Let that soak in a bit, especially if this has been a concern for you. She said that, and she was Eudora Freaking Welty!! 

Don't let the jabbering insecurities fool you into thinking that you have nothing to say. You already have plenty of material, no matter how sheltered your life: all you need is the daring to say it.

3) You can help someone. No matter where you're at in life. 

You have something to offer. Yes, you.

You're full of insight, awareness, an alternate point of view. If you feel the pull to write, then it means that there's something in you that would be valuable to someone else.

You might not know how that shows up in a project yet. And you might not know what form it will take.

That's okay. You don't need to know all the answers yet.

But what you do need to know and trust is this: Whatever your project is, it has the power to make a difference for someone else. (Even if it's "just" a silly book.)


When I started to write in earnest, a very wise writer told me, "Your biggest struggle is going to be believing that your words are worthwhile."

Dang. She was so right.

Because all the other stuff—the figuring out how to structure a novel, or learning how to be productive, or improving vocabulary, or figuring out the whole publishing game—all that depends on actually writing in the first place.

On actually writing at all.

I've met so many people who would like to write, but whose insecurities stop them. And I'd just love to say: Insecurities, you're off the boat. Off the island. Off the whole dang world.

Because what you have to say—you, lionheart—is worth saying.

Keep learning, keep using what you've been given, and trust that it will be valuable for someone. 

Drown those insecurities in a flood of written words.

Go! Write! Win! (Consider this our pep rally.)

Calling all weary writers! Sometimes we need to psych ourselves up. Sometimes we need a pep rally. | lucyflint.com

One of the tricks of working all on your own, is that it's too easy to listen to the screech of fear. Or to its shifty quiet comrade: the overwhelming, convicting malaise that says "I can't do it." 

Here's where I'm at today: I caught a mega sinus infection that's left me foggy of brain and snoggy of nose. (Blerg.) I've managed to do a little work while being sick, but 2+ weeks is a long time to be limping along. 

It's been a while since I've been able to really immerse in work, and I feel like I'm losing the trail of my story. 

You know what I need? A pep rally. Something big, with all the cheerleaders and teammates and the band playing their hearts out.

I need to get jumping up and down again. I need to get back on track.

Because after a big momentum-check like being sick, it's too easy to get stuck.

It's too easy to just stay up there on the diving board of your day or your writing session and not jump. 

Too easy to say, "Meh. I think that's too much for me."

The truth is: Resistance has a lot of megaphones on its side. 

So how about we switch things up.

Go!

Write!!

Win!!!

Ever notice that the more you pay attention to how much you don't want to do something, the harder it is to do it? It's like you're building a wall between you and the thing you need to do.

And you keep reinforcing it, with every minute you spend not doing it.

The longer you let yourself stay in that limbo, and the more you analyze your emotions about doing this Hard Thing, the more impossible it becomes.  

We gotta stop doing that.

So let's go write

Let's write when we're tired. Write when our brains are blank. Write when we have nothing to say.

Let's write even when we can't remember why we do this.

What is winning? Winning means putting words on paper. Reaffirming our commitment to this thing, this writing life.

Re-teaching ourselves why we do it, as we do it.

So we turn a blank page into a page full of ink. Straw into gold. Again and again and again.

It's so easy to be trapped by how overwhelmed we feel. How daunting the task.

How we're maybe/probably/certainly/definitely not doing everything right. It's easy to worship the idea of "doing things right."

It's okay to be afraid. It's just that we also keep working. We don't act on the fearing; we act on the writing

We choose to dive in. To say: I don't know how this is going to work out, but I'm going to do it ANYWAY.

We remind ourselves: we didn't sign up for this writing life because it was going to be so easy. We signed up because we had to

We signed up because the guarantee has always been this: It will be hard, and it will be worth it.

When we want to step away, we'll instead step closer. 

When wrangling with our characters is the last thing we want to do: we'll loosen our grip, let go, and dream them up again. 

We'll imagine them whole and real and motivated, and then we'll follow what they do. And write it all down.

If the spark of loving your work has flickered out, don't despair. Mine's gone out a zillion times, and then re-sparked a zillion times plus one. 

If ink is in your blood, that spark always does come back.

If you've lost momentum on your project, the really great news is: you can build momentum again. By stepping toward your work today, right now, and choosing to re-enter that space of working. Of dreaming up words. Of writing them down. 

And then you just keep swinging.

Don't worry about how it feels. Don't worry about outcome. Don't worry (for now) about quality.

Just do the work. Keep doing the work. And then momentum will show up and sweep you along.

Do what a writer does, and you get to be a writer.

It will be hard. And it will be worth it.