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

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

OH, I'm excited.

This is one of my favorite lionhearted characteristics.

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

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

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

Here it is:

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

Does it sound revolutionary? Maybe not.

But it is. Ohhhhh, it is.

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

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

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

Not-so-kind Lucy isn't.

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

Kindness wins.

Every single time. 

If you feel resistant to this idea, I understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It just doesn't. Not in my experience. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YAY for all that, right?

This is how kindness makes us resilient.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting right now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rah rah rah! Yes! Do what scares you!

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

2) And also, actually, no thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, let's look in the opposite direction: 

What grabs your heart?

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

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

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

At the core, what do you love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yeah, that does feel scary.

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

I do feel a little exposed by that. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that weird? Yes! It feels super weird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to Tell Yourself When You're Ready to Quit

When it feels like it's been a long haul, or when you're tired of uncertainties, here's a post to refresh and reorient your writerly soul. |

Just in case your Monday decides to get all ugly and act like a Monday, I'd like to share a quote with you. Good?

This is the one that jumps to mind when I think about both travel and writing (and, also, discouragement):

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. -- André Gide

I've always found that quote to be very, ahem, moving. (Whoops. A pun. Sorry.)

But seriously. There's a super-important reality check embedded in there, a kind of question: Lucy, did you really expect that you could have both a thrilling New Land and the certainty of your Old Shore? 

Why yes! is my answer. Yes I did! Certainty AND newness! How much would I love both?

But the equation doesn't work that way. Not with traveling. Not with writing. 

Instead, it goes something like this:

For starters, we want to discover new lands.

Let's figure out what we are aiming for. The point of this, the hope, the main idea: New Lands!!

This is where we get excited. Dream big. 

I have a few New Lands that I'm aiming for. The first is this:

A novel draft that is stuffed full of all my best ideas, all my unexpected insights, and whatever else I can manage. FULL OF GOODIES.

Something that, when I reread it, startles and surprises me. THAT draft. That book.

Not tired ideas. Not over-thought concepts. Not dull description and crummy dialogue and faint little characters. Nope.

I want this book to feel like a new land. Like something discovered.

What New Lands are you aiming for?

Maybe the exhilarating glory of coming across a truly new idea. Or the undreamed-of horizon of the last page of your work-in-progress. Or even: earning money from your work. (Oooh. I'm on board for ALL that.)

And then we consent to lose sight of the shore.

Rubber, meet Road. (Or, to be true to the metaphor, I guess we should say: Ocean, meet Ship.)

This is the kicker. The "you can't eat your cake and have it too" part. Ya can't do both.

You have to agree to let go of your certainties. Let go of what's stable. Lose sight of that old shore.

What is that for you? Ideas about what the writing life should look like? Should--but doesn't? 

It's easy to build up a lot of beautiful, romantic ideas about the writing life. And then you find out that it's actually a lot of feeling stumped, losing your notes, becoming absent-minded, and being misunderstood at parties. 

Not quite the Hemingway-and-Fitzgerald-sharing-drinks-in-Paris we imagined. (Or was that just me?)

Or maybe the old shore is: the certainties and stabilities of a different vocation.

Before I dove into the writing life, I was all set to become an editorial assistant. I'd completed two editing internships, I had plenty of determination, and I had just started an extra class just to perfect my proofreading skills.

I'd been working toward the goal of becoming an editor for six years. Since the middle of high school. 

It was a Real Job. I would have a Boss. I was pretty great at editing, frankly, and excited to learn more about it. Oh, and there would be a SALARY. All the legit, good, stable grown-up stuff. 

But when I suddenly, definitely, irrevocably fell out of love with the idea of working on someone else's novels, someone else's work, instead of my own--

When that happened, I was ready to lose sight of the shore. I was ready to let go of all the certainties.

So I let go of the ready answer when anyone asks "so what do you do?" The clearly defined role in a company. A boss who would tell me what was expected of me. Co-workers who would slog alongside me. A salary. (*weep, weep*) The apartment I imagined renting. 

I still have times where that old shore pulls at me. (Like, last week.) Days when I shout "Enough! I am SO SEASICK! Let's turn this ship around!" 

The thing that keeps me going during those hard days? Realizing, deep down, that I am more in love with the new land I'm seeking than I am with that old shore. 


The thought of this trilogy being written with the absolute best I have in me: that steadies my heart and steels my mind. That gives me the courage to keep wobbling around on this ship a while longer. However long it takes.

Which brings us to the next point.

And then we find out that: it takes a very long time.

Um. Right. That.

The truth is: We don't know how long this is going to take.

Timetables? That's Old Shore stuff. We don't know when and how things are gonna happen out here in the ocean. You can't predict when a new land is going to pop up in your spyglass.

This is the part that tests, and tests, and tests our resolve.

It's one thing to lose sight of certainty for a short period of time. Anyone can muster that up, right? 

But to stay uncertain for years. That takes some chutzpah. You've gotta be BOLD.

Because reaching that new land might take longer than you or I ever thought it would. 

I'm only just now starting to feel proud of what I'm writing. Only in the last year have I been working on a project that feels like I could put my name on it, that feels right. And it still has a lot of work left!

Mathwise, I've been at this full-time for nine years.

It's starting to feel like a long time.

But here's what I'm learning about the time it takes:

Every time I come to the end of my patience, every time I'm threatening to turn the ship around and go back, I force myself to rethink why I'm doing any of this.

Like I said before: I refocus on the new land, on what I'm hoping for.

And what has happened, as I've done that over, and over, and over again, is this:

I've built a new certainty.

Out here, in the middle of the ocean, the Old Shore feels more like a myth, a thing I once knew but now--not so much. So there really is no going back.

The New Land that I'm looking for, the land of the trilogy being well-written, or the land of publishing this book and going on to the next--well, it feels a bit mythical as well. I'm hoping to make it, but it's a hazy image.

The thing that is sure, though, is me. Me on this boat in the ocean.

I am certain, certain, certain that no matter what, this is what I want to be doing.

In spite of storms and waves, in spite of my legs wobbling sometimes. In spite of frustration. In spite of the miles of writing I still need to do to get this trilogy right.

In spite of all that, I'm certain of this: I love the writing life. I just plain do.

And I'm sure that I want it to last the rest of my life. I'm willing to put in a very long time at this.

So the thing about this quote: It redirects my heart. (Are we allowed to talk about our hearts without feeling silly? Yes? Okay.) 

It reorients me. It's easy to say, Oh, I miss the thing that I have lost. Oh, I would have felt so certain and sure. It's easy, in the moment, to think that all this work, and waiting, and uncertainty, isn't worth it.

But every time I read this quote, my fingers tingle at the words discover new lands. And I can't help myself. I think, YES. I think, I'M IN. Whatever it takes.

So I consent. I'll lose sight of those old shores. I'll last a very long time.

I really think it will be worth it. 

So where are you, in your writing life?

What are the old shores that are still pulling at you? What new lands are you aiming for? And how do you reorient yourself, when it starts to feel like it's been too dang long?

Here's one more thing. A super-short video, presenting another quote that's been such an encouragement to me. Hope it adds a serious dose of awesome to your Monday.

Now let's go get that week.

Give Yourself a Year of Writing Dangerously

Embark on a glorious year of writing. |

Once when I was traveling and had to be away from my desk for a month, I happened across A Year of Writing Dangerously in Barnes & Noble.

I fell in love with the title IMMEDIATELY. I pulled it off the shelf, thinking that even if the inside of the book is a bust, I want the phrase WRITING DANGEROUSLY tattooed across my arms.


Barbara Abercrombie's splendid party of a book wants to be your new best friend. |

Writing dangerously. I just love that, just completely love it. Yes! Push right to the edge, write from the brink, be brazen, dare.

Be bold in telling the truth, say how things really are, fend off apathy. 

Because when we're doing this, when we're really into the game, when we're playing for keeps: writing is a lot like scooping chunks of your heart out with a spoon, smearing it on paper, and hoping people like it, hoping it's useful, hoping it helps, hoping you told the whole truth.

It is dangerous to write. We're brink-dwellers, on the edge of so many things. Giving it all away. Saying every secret. Spending all we have.

So yeah. I fell in love with the title. 

And then the inside of the book was exactly what I hoped it would be.

Let Barbara Abercrombie's Year of Writing Dangerously cheer you on through the hard times and bright times alike. |

She talks about the writing life: the spectrum we live in, from insecurity to daringness. She describes how famous writers write. (Which I love, b/c I'm so nosy about writing routines!) She shares anecdotes about famous writers, less famous writers, students, herself. 

If you're like me, you'll read this and you'll recognize your own funny self: over and over again. And you and I will both be sighing and saying I'M NOT CRAZY, I'M JUST A WRITER, WHEW.

It's good to know. 

She has tips on creativity, on how to keep a light hand with your work, or, on the flip side, how to lean in closer and be more serious. 

I LOVE that she closes each section with a quote. I love writing quotes, of course, and have collected so very many of them--and yet so so so many of these were new to me. 

It's just HELPFUL, guys. There's a whole community of writers represented in these pages. So many fellow scribblers in her text, in her anecdotes, in the quotes, that even if you're working alone, even if you're the only writer you know, you feel surrounded by others.

All of us picking our way forward with ink, with words. 

You're swimming in this stream with all these other writers! We're all foraging for ideas, dreaming up stories, creating little worlds that then run away with us.

All of us. Together. All year long.

The reading for each day is small enough that it's the perfect little idea snack before you dive into your writing day. Or it's the perfect closer at the end.

Or you can do what I did when I first discovered it: I picked it up that day, obviously, in the bookstore, and I brought it on my trip with me.

And whenever I could, I'd sneak off and just gulp it down, reading a chunk at a time, soaking it up, immersing in words.

It's wise and bright and funny, clever, insightful, and darned intelligent. It's just right, it's the very thing, it's the perfect fit.

One of the reviews calls this book a writing party, and I love that description, because yes. Yes it is. 

Phyllis Theroux says, "When you open [this book], you are in a house full of writers, each of whom wants to march you over to a corner to tell you something important about the writing life....Prepare yourself for a wonderful party!" 

If you or someone you know could do with a bit of courage, a bit of brightness in book form (and who doesn't need that?): then get this book.

And if you pop some champagne and toss some confetti as you read, as you celebrate writing dangerously... Well, I'm not going to stop you.