Grow Better: Let's Own, Nourish, and Celebrate the Writing Phase You're In

Writing projects have life cycles, just like any growing, fruitful thing. Which season are you in? Here's how to embrace all it has to offer. | lucyflint.com

I've spent nearly my whole life in the midwestern United States. And though we aren't a farming family, I'm used to marking the seasons by what the fields are doing.

Right now, at the start of summer, the bright green corn plants are coming up through the dirt, showing off their first few leaves. 

Over the next month, they'll rocket out of the ground, becoming bold walls of dense leaves, perfuming the air—a sweet, dusty, corny smell.

At the end of the season comes the goldening of everything. And suddenly the walls disappear as the machines march through.

In winter the colors all fade, and fields are quiet under November mud or January snow. I'm used to this, my whole life: it's how things work.

Seasons. Seedlings sprout, grow, ripen, disappear. Quiet takes their place. And then it starts again. 

The other day I was reading The Sound of Paper, by Julia Cameron—a meditative book of short essays about the creative life and creative droughts. (I'm really liking it, but that's no surprise! It's a lovely and helpful book.)

When I hit the chapter called Seasonality, I sat up straight. Her words illuminated something that's been troubling me: 

     There is a seasonality, a cyclicity, to creative work. There are ripening times of midsummer, when our ideas bob in our heads like a good crop of apples. There is fall, the time of harvest, when we take those ideas down and collect them. There is a wintertime, when our ideas feel ice-locked and dormant and we must wait them out ... and then there is spring, the stirrings of new ideas and new directions.

You get that? 

Our creative projects have a time of blooming, growth, harvesting, and dormancy. 

Oh, I loved this so much! Because instantly I saw myself, exactly where I was: deep in a creative wintertime, and no way of knowing how to claw out of it.

Restless, irritated. Like a bear who forgot to hibernate.

Here's what I think: We novelists need to understand this. We need to recognize these seasons in our creative lives, just like we midwesterners do. (If you only have one or two seasons where you are, you'll just have to kinda imagine with me.) 

Because once you wrap your mind around the idea of having a creative season, there's a lot that becomes clear, a lot that carries over in that metaphor.

Go with me on this, okay?

In real life seasons, each seasonal shift requires some prep.

There are things that this season is really, really good at—seasonal strengths. (Even the ugly seasons have strengths!)

And then there are some major weaknesses that come along, with each one. (Even the pretty ones.)

That's a reminder that I need to get squarely in my head, because here is my confession: 

I have idolized the creative seasons of Summer and Harvest.

Seriously, I love, love, love these creative seasons. I want to live in them forever.

I want to be producing stories at the blistering rate of corn plants (which grow so fast you can literally hear them grow).

And I want to be harvesting like the massive combines that go charging across the land, converting everything to piles of grain—quick, efficient, relentless.

Mega-growth. Mega-production. That's what I've fallen in love with.

That's when it's easier to say out loud, Of course, yes! I am a writer! When faced with inquiries from friends and family: it's so easy to sum up my progress in these seasons. I have something to report.

Everything is growing, growing, growing! I'm writing so fast, and the characters are talking quickly, and it's all going so well!

Or, for harvest: I'm starting the blog! Or, I'm wrapping up the draft! I'm sending it out to readers; I'm planning my publication! Confetti, cheers, marching bands!

And we all get to leave the conversation cheerfully. 

But.

You don't have to be an agricultural whiz kid to know: fields can't just go from summer to harvest and back again. It doesn't work like that. 

And our creative seasons can't do that either. Our projects don't jump from mega-growth to mega-production and then back to growth again.

We have to go through spring, and we have to go through winter.

Can I be honest? It's hard for me to enjoy a creative springtime. It's such a prickly sort of creative season: how do I explain it, to others and myself?

The idea-seeds are in the earth. I'm watering them (brainstorming!) and watching them (freewriting!) and checking the soil (tending the imagination!).

I'm afraid to breathe too hard on the little ideas. I get nervous when it storms. Is there too much sun, too much shade? Did I plant a bunch of duds?

Everything feels fragile and nebulous, and I'm trusting that the little roots are shooting into the ground, that the stems are straightening, somehow feeling the tug of light, the call to come up, up, up.

Creative spring is hard for me. But what keeps me going is hope: there are seeds, so there is the hope of growth. And maybe something will come out of this, even if I don't know what it looks like yet.

Hope helps us hang on.

... And then there's creative winter.

The seaons that comes along with big, obvious challenges. The other seasons have challenges too, of course. But winter, with its ice and its blizzards and the way it starves your eyes of color—that's the one with the real problems. The light is short, and the dark is long. 

It's winter that leaves me speechless when people ask how the work is going. It's winter that I find impossible to explain out loud, or even to myself.

What is there to talk about? What is it that's happening, anyway, when things lie dormant, when everything looks abandoned? 

But this is why seeing it as a season is actually really, REALLY helpful. Seriously. It helps, when you call it winter. When you own it.

That little shift helps reframe the whole scenario. It reminds me of what I'm actually dealing with. Because all seasons, however long, do shift. They pass. They change. 

And every season has strengths, as well as challenges. Even winter.

No matter which season you're in, it's important to see it as clearly as you can. To name it. And to own that season. 

Because here's what happens, to me anyway, when I choose not to own the season: If I'm not intentional about this, I'll try to push myself to be in another season (preferably summer or harvest!).

And when I'm actually, truthfully, in the midst of a creative spring or winter, then this pushing can be downright deadly.

You can't force midsummer growth on a tiny little seedling—it can't sustain it.

You can't harvest before the grain or fruit or story is ready—it will be ruined.

And you can't scout for seedlings when everything is meant to lie fallow—you'll only find frustration.

Let your season be your season. Anything else will bring burnout, immature work, destroyed confidence, and heartbreak.

Look closely at your work right now. At the project you're facing. What season is it in?

Are you doing the seedling work, nurturing little ideas and hoping that they sprout? Are you shoveling fertilizer and sunshine and water over rapidly-growing stories?

Are you making the plans and gathering the resources for a harvest, a launch, a publication? Or are you in the season in between, the one that can seem like nothing is happening. (But oh, my friend, something is happening!)

Oh, and just to keep us all on our toes: you can be in several creative seasons at the same time. One project might be wintering while another is twisting out of the soil, or one might be in the thick of harvest, while secret seedlings send out their first roots with another. 

What creative seasons are you in? 

Once you know that, here's the exciting part: How can you take specific, concrete steps to support yourself, and care for yourself, in the midst of that season? 

Read on for some ideas:


If you're in a creative summer...

Congratulations! Summer is a super-exciting time. Send off some fireworks! Let yourself celebrate!

But keeping up with that pace of growth is no joke. It's important to keep yourself creatively nourished, and to stay connected to the people and rituals that will ground you.

Summer is when I'm tempted to make a habit of overwork. I have to insist on taking breaks, on making sure I get up and go for a walk, play with the dog, or stretch it out with yoga. 

In a creative summer, it's easy to burn out wrists, back, eyes. To fall back on crappy snacks that don't really help our brains come up with good stuff. To neglect sleep, and then poison ourselves with waaaaay too much caffeine.

So check in: 

More than anything, seek to enjoy this time. Growth is exciting; and watching a story come together is one of the most delicious experiences in a writing life!


If you're in a creative harvest...

First off, have yourself a little party. Even just right here, as you're reading this post: wave your hands in the air, and imagine a whole bunch of confetti falling down on you, because this is awesome. 

Harvest means taking your stories, your words, your article—whatever it is that you've bloomed and grown in your head—and setting it out for other people to experience. 

That is fantastic. So dance!

... And if you're stubbornly staring at this screen saying, Are you kidding, Lucy? I don't feel like dancing. I feel like throwing up!, then I get you too, because harvest can also kind of, oh, shred your soul a bit.

There is no creative season where Fear leaves us alone, but it has an especially good case to make when we're harvesting. Fear shows us what other people might say, how our work might be received, who's going to stop speaking to us, and so on, and so on.

A million nightmare scenarios, storming through our minds. And it can be enough to make us call off the harvest. Forget about it. Let's just not.

Harvest isn't easy. 

But crops don't wait forever. There is a time when it's just right to publish, to post, to hit "send." 

So check in: 

Harvest is nerve-wracking, but it's also incredible. It takes guts. Whether your harvest is tiny (sending an email, posting a comment, sending a newsletter), or big (publishing a book, landing a writing job), you owe it to yourself to celebrate

For serious. Go get that cake.


If you're in a creative springtime...

Oooh, spring! The butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling of tending a lot of tiny ideas, caring for them with an equal feeling of hope and nervousness.

It's a time of unbridled possibility, and that can be exhilarating! Enjoy it!  

But spring has its challenges too. We can get discouraged. Spring calls for patience, patience, and patience, as we deliberately brew our projects, as we watch the teeny roots take hold. 

We have to learn how to keep a steady hand as we fertilize the soil, as we keep weeds and harsh conditions at bay.

So let's check in: 

  • Perfectionism loves to visit in the spring. It pretends that we can sit and imagine our perfect blossoms, instead of diving in and risking failure. It'll whisper anything to keep us from writing those messy drafts! But creative spring is a time to embrace the mess: don't hold back.
  • Our fledgling ideas can sprout better with the help of a solid routine, or a good structure around them. If you're just coming out of a creative winter, it can be hard to get back into a groove. Time to rally your best practices, and build a solid working structure for yourself. (Need inspiration? I've got you: here, here, and here.)
  • As you get into the rhythm of springtime, you have to promise yourself that you will not compare your new growing ideas to anyone else's writerly garden. Okay? Comparison is one of the silent killers of creativity. It's not worth it.
  • Keep breathing. Growth can be slow. It takes patience.

Real spring is one of the most beautiful times of the year, and a creative spring is no less beautiful. Celebrate the joy of seeds becoming stems becoming buds becoming blooms. (And maybe buy yourself some flowers for your desk?) Keep encouraging yourself, and keep on keeping on.


If you're in a creative winter...

This can be the hardest place to find yourself. Winter is tough, and it can last a lot longer than we'd like. It's easy to focus on the ice patches, the blizzards, and long darkness.

But we can stay warm in the midst of creative winter when we choose to be gentle with ourselves. When we do things that are good for our souls and happy-making for our imaginations.

Find ways to endure the cold by lighting candles for creativity, and cutting cheery snowflakes out of bright paper.

Here are a few ways we can find our trusty boots, our beloved mittens, our best soup recipes. Here's how we can actually winter well: 

  • Right now, make a decision that you will not beat yourself up for being here. Winter is just a thing. It happens. It doesn't make you a bad writer, a bad creative, or any other shamefilled label that we might want to assign ourselves. Take yourself off the hook. Give yourself grace.
  • One thing that winter is really good for is naptaking. I'm serious. This season is when you can catch up on rest, both physically and creatively. Take super good care of your body. Take all producing pressure off. (Sometimes we actually need it to be winter, for exactly this reason!)
  • Nourish. Use winter as a time to put into your imagination, indiscriminately. Since you don't have to research for a specific project, you can just follow your own curiosity. This is actually a gift, and you're allowed to treat it like one. :)
  • Read. Read a lot. When I decide to really embrace winter, I usually end up reading a TON. Go to your library and check out more books than you can carry. Binge-read fiction for a few weeks. Grab stacks of non-fiction titles that intrigue you. Plunge into new subjects, rediscover old favorites.
  • Play. I know. It can be hard. But sometimes you need to just cut loose. Find ways to love your creative self by playing games, by picking up a different artistic skill for a while. Try your hand at collage, or calligraphy, or watercolors. Or get messy with sculpture, or repaint every room in your house. Stir it up.
  • Fertilize your soil, and ready your tools. You can keep learning your craft, even if you aren't working on something actively, by reading good books on writing. (Steer clear of angry, cynical books. Only grab the yummiest sort.) 
  • Let me just say this one again: Be relentlessly kind to yourself.

It can be hard to love winter. But when you really and truly let yourself off the hook, it can be a beautiful time. It can point you back to places you might have been neglecting: deep rest, deep refilling.

You're allowed to investigate creativity for its own sake, instead of so that you can meet a deadline, or crank something out. You're allowed to run down the path of your curiosity, without it needing to pay off immediately. 

So choose to give yourself a gift in your creative wintertime. Embrace rest, embrace care. Spread a little love over your writing life. 


Wherever you are, my friend, consider this: What does it look like to truly honor the season that you're in? To embrace its strengths, and gently account for its weaknesses? To accept it for what it is, and to celebrate it—difficulties and all?

For me, after an on-again/off-again winter that lasted a year and a half (I'm not making that up), I am in the midst of a springtime: there are so many little seeds in the ground right now, fresh growth on some older projects, and I'm excited! Committing myself to patience, and dancing with hope!

How about you? 

How to Be Your Own Writing-Life Fairy Godmother (Or, Finding Your Groove, Part Two!)

Getting into a good groove is essential for long-term sustainable writing life. (Plus, it's way more fun. I mean seriously. So much nicer than a slog.) In this post, four more ways to find your way into one. You'll think your fairy godmother just showed up. (Pumpkins optional.) | lucyflint.com

So last time, we talked about four ways to build a groove in our writing lives. Ways to make our writing flow more readily, more easily. Without, you know, spraining our ankles or exhausting ourselves.

We talked about creating the best environment for our work, about flooding our creativity with quality nutrition, about learning craft from a master, and about committing to the hard work required to really find our pace.

When these traits add up, they really can make writing-life magic. More words, richer ideas, more ease. I mean ... who doesn't want that, right? (So if you missed the last post, check it out.)

Okay. If you're ready for a few more ways you can support yourself into a writing life upgrade, read on! 

The next four traits build on the previous four. These can seem like the lighter set of tools, all fluffy and unimportant. And none of them are going to be completely and crazily new to you, if you've hung out here for a while.

But don't be fooled. Because when we take all four together ... well.

It's like your fairy godmother just showed up.

She might seem like any other lady at first, but then she starts turning pumpkins into high-class transportation. Suddenly you're going somewhere.

Never underestimate the power of your fairy godmother, my friend. She makes all the difference. 

Ready for your transformation? Here we go:

1: Set yourself up.

Here's the truth about the writing life: It can be very hard. The craft is far bigger than we can ever learn. And we're working for a significant amount of time without a reward.

Which means that: There are going to be minutes, hours, days, and whole months, where our instinct for self-preservation is going to be dead set against our doing any of this.

Why put yourself through it?! It's easy to give up, it's easy to stop early, and it's easy to just not start at all.

This is why I'm a big fan of the power of routines, the steadying effect of habits, and the beauty of rituals.

They are how I've made sense of this work, how I define what I'm doing. They're the invisible net that holds this whole writing life of mine together.

I have a general routine, and I have a few dozen habits, just like anyone else. 

But what I've been especially focused on lately are rituals. 

Neat little collections of habits, all grouped together in a pack, each habit addressing something very specific and particular, the answer to a set of questions I used to ask myself. 

How do I get my mind ready for my creative work? How do I make sure my physical energy stays up? How do I keep track of general ideas that don't fit this particular project? How do I not lose old insights? How do I steady my courage for the day? How do I not give up before I've even started?

I answered those questions in the form of rituals.

There's the first ritual of the day, writing my three morning pages (à la Julia Cameron), longhand, by the light of a lamp, sitting up in bed. The whole house is quiet, but my mind is awake, and I scribble down all the mundane thoughts and emotions and worries that I woke up with.

A bit later, when I sit down at my writing desk, there's a set of habits that form the ritual that starts my writing session:

  • I bring a cup of coffee to my desk. Because coffee. No one needs a reason for coffee, right?
     
  • And then I take out an old journal and I read a few pages in it. Reading these old pages is so valuable: they remind me of how I've solved past problems, or I come across old insights I'd forgotten. And sometimes, these pages make me laugh because of how obsessed I was about something that turned out to not matter at all. (Who, me??) Rereading old journals gives me perspective, and it's also a great transition into my writing work.
     
  • I'll write down any new thoughts or ideas that strike me, using the format for the idea journal that Todd Henry talks about in The Accidental Creative. (Basically a plain journal that I index as I go: I fill pages with ideas that spring up during the day—after listening to a podcast, watching a movie, walking the dog, washing the dishes. Whatever, whenever: it goes in here. At the front, I summarize each idea with a single line and a page number for reference. SUPER handy.)
     
  • Then I review the index of ideas that I've been compiling in the front of that idea journal, and if anything snags my interest, I'll go back and reread the entry for that particular idea. This is a great way to stir up my mind, and to keep quality ideas from slipping away.
     
  • After that, I read two pages in A Year of Writing Dangerously, because I just love what that book does for me—it is so encouraging. And it connects me in spirit to a huge collection of people who spend time among words. I feel my bravery rising.
     
  • And finally, I'll sit with a list of true beliefs I've developed, and I practice actually believing them. (If this sounds totally weird and waaaay too touchy-feely for you, I really understand. But you gotta check out this post. Skip down to point number two. And see what you think after reading.)

At this point, my mind is all stirred and awake. I feel grounded and cared for and ready, and as brave as I can be.

And so I dive in.

That's it! That's my pre-work set of rituals. 

Spelled out, they might sound completely mundane and boring. But as I enter into them, I feel a little whiff of excitement—as if I've just flicked the first domino in a long snaking line-up, and now I get the joy of watching them zip along on their own.

If I skip this set of habits, this pre-work ritual, I can still do my writing work, but I feel a bit off, a bit blindsided. 

I get more easily distracted, sideswept by doubts. It's easier to slide off track and indulge the "but I don't feel like it" whine. I'm less focused. Susceptible to interruption.

That's why I love calling these habits a ritual, why I love dignifying them like that. Because they're so important, vital to the success of each work session.  

So what about you? What are your rituals? Your routines? 

What do you need to set yourself up well? What are the provisions—mental, physical, spiritual, emotional—that you need for the next little stage of your writing journey?

What would be an incredible gift to yourself, at the start of your work session?

Do you have any nagging questions or concerns about how you work, anything that's been thrumming in your mind lately, that could be addressed by some small, simple behavior? 

String those behaviors in a row, teach each to feed into each, and you'll have your own pre-work ritual. 

You'll have created your own gravity, a set of behaviors and rhythms that pull you to your work, keep you from floating away.

Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit points to rituals as tools of commitment and preparation. I love that.

So what tools of commitment and preparation do you need in your arsenal? 

(If you're loving this topic and would like a little more, check out this post for an all-purpose, all-weather writing routine, and this one for a bit more on the rituals that protect our work.)

2: Go for steady.

So much of what I do in my writing work is shaped by the goals I have. Oh, goals. We've had such a roller coaster relationship. 

This is why I love everything to do with goals:

  • They give me a rush. 
  • They make a gorgeous future seem more possible.
  • They make what's important to me very clear.
  • They let me feel like I've organized my life very, very well. Gold star for me. (And I love gold stars.)
  • They give me something spectacular to aim for. Which makes them the most essential tool in an overachiever's toolkit, right? And I like that toolkit. It's neat.

And here is why I really don't love goals at all: 

  • My life is incredibly unpredictable. And when my health goes belly-up, or when family needs me, I have less energy to give my ultra-ambitious writing goals. 
  • I sometimes accidentally look at things from a pass/fail perspective. And I tend to find myself "failing" when I do that.
  • Oh, and this happens about 90% of the time: On my way to hitting the goal, I discover something much more important that needs my attention. When I switch tracks, I feel foolish, uncertain, and inconsistent.
  • I brag about goals, tell everyone about them, and then abandon them

Goals can sweep me up in a dizzying skyward surge of energy, but then one thing and another and another conspire to tug at our wings, and the goal and I plummet back to earth.

Those landings are a real blast.

This is why, last spring, I began revising my view of goals. The more I saw them as just a tool, the better I felt. Tools are meant to serve, not destroy.

I'm always going to be a sucker for that neat clean feeling of a few well-chosen goals, but I also want the freedom to replace them, revise them, and refresh them as I go.

What's a romantic goal-setter to do? Especially when I fall for every goal-making chance I find: I make new goals after reading a fantastically helpful book, I make them at the start of summer, at my birthday, during back-to-school season, and always always at the new year... 

So is there hope? Yes, of course. That hope comes from the wonderful relationship between a good goal and a strong system

A goal is the thing that helps you know where you're aiming. It's invaluable. I am probably never going to stop picking up goals and bringing them home and feeding them and smiling at them. 

But their highest and best use (for me, at least!) is this: I need to use those goals to engineer a strong system.

The goal is where you aim; the system is what you put into practice in order to get there. The goal is the beautiful height you want to reach; the system is the practical smart staircase that you wheel underneath the height.

Goals might sound pass/fail, but systems aren't. Systems are quiet, non-flashy things. They are the program that runs everything, as it turns out. 

When you pair really lovely habits and rituals and routines, with a deep, sensible program for how you'd like your work to move forward—what kinds of people you want to learn from, the books you want to study, how you want to practice, how much you want to create—that is what makes up your system. 

So if you have a bit of a goal-hangover, if your resolutions are all forgotten, overruled, or dead: embrace the power of systems. Systems are your friend.

(If you want more: This quick read is a superb article from James Clear, which explains the difference between goals & systems beautifully. Systems win. So inspiring!)

3: Head toward the heat.

When I had to do a research paper in school (for high school or college or whatever), I usually fell into this terrible habit.

I was so focused on the deadline, and the amount of work looming between me and that due date, that I wouldn't spend much time looking for a topic. I'd grab the first possible thing that came to me, and off I'd go.

Do the research, do more research, write the paper, barrel through a few drafts, hit all the milestones, and turn it in.

I usually didn't much love what I was writing about. I didn't feel any conviction or excitement about it. But hey, school is school. No excitement doesn't exactly raise red flags.

Here's the problem: I brought that old writing process right into my post-school writing life. 

Bad Thing #2: I didn't even realize it. I didn't even notice.

I'm embarrassed to say it, but there was a whole lot about my first novel idea that I didn't even like much.

I kept wedging certain topics and ideas and plotlines into it because I thought I should. And not because they thrilled me, delighted me, kept me from sleeping.

Here's a tip: Writing about stuff that doesn't move you will probably never launch you into a writing groove. 

Yeah. I think I can say that confidently: NEVER.

So give yourself and your writing life a little check-up: Are you ridiculously in love with what you're writing about?

Have you given yourself permission to even find out what you love?

It was a long time before I finally did that. Before I finally took the time to admit to myself that I adore middle grade adventures and always will. Before I admitted that my favorite characters are more than a little weird, that I love worlds that aren't true high fantasy but are instead a funny mashup of reality and the bizarre. 

That's what I'm writing now, and I'm seriously delighted by it.

But here's a hint: I couldn't figure out what I love by moving quickly. Speed and rushing around basically hijack self-awareness for me. 

If you suspect that you don't truly love what you're writing about, that it isn't coming from the deepest and best place in you, then maybe take a moment to explore that.

Give yourself permission, space, time, and silence: Listen to yourself. And discover what nudges your curiosity. What moves you toward wonder. 

What you love.

What lights up your writerly heart? What gets your enthusiasm flowing?

Work from that place, where it's warm and everything is glowing. Work from your curiosity; work from your natural excitement. This can sound so simple, but it's oh-so important (and shockingly easy to side-step!).

And it's really the best writing fuel there is. Trust me.

(If you'd like a bit more on this topic, check out this post on embracing your quirks, on seeking more wonder, and on how not to learn to write a novel.)

4: Respect your source.

Sometimes, when we really, really, REEEALLY want to see results in our work, we abuse our creativity and our energy. 

We sideline vital things like sleep requirements and monitoring our energy. The way we talk to ourselves changes, gets a bit more sharp, more urgent.

It's all in pursuit of a greater purpose. So that can feel noble. Self-sacrificing. 

Only problem is, when you're an artist, a writer, and you decide to be self-sacrificing, it means you're burning up the very thing you're working from.

When we burn up our energy, when we get exhausted, when we mentally beat ourselves up, it's the same as setting our work space on fire, torching our computers and our online accounts. As erasing the alphabet from memory.

Working too late, too long, too hard, without breaks, without replenishing yourself... it's not a good recipe, my friend.

That's destructive. And what we're trying to be is creative

If we're working to build something with our brains, we can't, at the same time, tear apart our ability to use our brains.

So do a bit of a general check-up: How has your energy been lately? Have you been taking superb care of yourself, or maybe, um, not? 

Have you been overworking yourself, feeling like you can't ever take a break, can't ease up? If so, check out Twyla Tharp's fantastic recommendation:

If you've been following a don't-stop-till-you-drop routine--that is, you only quit when you're totally wiped out--rethink that. This is how ruts form. As an exercise, for the next week or so, end your working day when you still have something in reserve. 

Now ask yourself, exactly what is it that you're putting into reserve. Is it raw energy? Is it desire? Is it a few more ideas left unexplored? Is it something you meant to say to someone but didn't? Whatever it is, describe it in writing on a notepad or index card. Put the note away and don't think about it for the rest of the day. Start the next day by looking at your note.

She's a master choreographer, creating scores of dances over dozens of years. This woman knows what she's talking about. It's probably a real good idea to listen to her. ;)

It's tempting to wear ourselves out. But that's only a short-term solution: it kills us over the long-term.

How sustainable is your writing habit? Do you binge then burn out? Do you beat yourself up mentally?

Oh, my friend. Let's come back to a kinder, gentler, more long-term way to work.

(If you want more on this, I've got more!! Check out these posts: for a comprehensive energy check-up, for a thorough sustainability check, a plea to get rid of brain fog, the best support for creativity that I've found ever, the best escape for a weary writer, and how to change that killing voice in our heads.)

How to Use Your Writing-Life Magic Wand (Or, Finding Your Groove, Part One.)

How to find and use that most powerful of things in the writer's life: the creative groove. | lucyflint.com

Sometimes I am all about balance. I want to work in that exact rhythm of nurturing all parts of my life: getting good work done, but also seeing plenty of friends, discovering new places in the city, and being an all-around good citizen.

Sometimes, I do whatever I need to in order to stay right in balance. 

And other times, I'm ready to help balance straight off a cliff.

There's this mad, maniac side of me that would really like to disappear completely from the world and drown myself in work.

Probably this is not very healthy.

But I've been thinking of it because I read Susan Branch's delightful memoir, Martha's Vineyard - Isle of Dreams. At one point, she describes how she began working on her very first cookbook—an intense project, because it featured not only her own recipes, but also watercolor illustrations on every page, and, bonus, she hand-lettered the entire book. ALL the text.

Mind = blown.

Her creative process was all-consuming. She started getting up at four or five in the morning, working all day in her pajamas, eating whatever came to hand while standing up in the kitchen. (Tater tots seemed to be a fave, which just makes me like her even more.)

And then back to work, and then early to bed, with her cats for company. 

She was warning all us readers that this isn't especially wise, and isn't anywhere close to balanced, and that there are much better ways to live...

But, crazy me, I was reading that and thinking, That sounds WONDERFUL!

I mean, I can see what she means about quality of life over the long haul. Yeah, probably not a good place to stay for long ... but in short spurts, perhaps? 

Because this is where I am, my friends.

I'm at that exact point in my creative process, where my deepest desire is to become a total hermit.

I've written too much about sustainability to believe this urge for long. And I've known burnout too well not to recognize the road that goes straight toward it. All this stuff about staying healthy and stable—it's legit, and I know it.

But still ... that little hermit-dream persists.

Which is what got me thinking: okay, okay, not a total maniac.

But what's the next best thing? 

I got my answer by going back to one of my favorite books on creativity, Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit.

Lemme read you her gorgeous description of a creative groove: 

When you're in a groove, you're not spinning your wheels; you're moving forward in a straight and narrow path without pauses or hitches. You're unwavering, undeviating, and unparalleled in your purpose. 

A groove is the best place in the world. It's where I strive to be, because when you're in it you have the freedom to explore, where everything you question leads you to new avenues and new routes, everything you touch miraculously touches something else and transforms it for the better. 

Let's all just gaze at that with heart-eyes for a minute. 

All right. If I can't be a total hermit right now, the next best thing I can do is generate a groove. Put myself in the sweetest of sweet spots with my work. 

I want to be unwavering, undeviating, and unparallelled in my purpose. Yes, please!!

But according to Twyla Tharp, there are no guarantees with what will exactly work to launch someone into a groove. There's no exact formula. And dang it, I like exact formulas.

So I did some looking around at my favorite writing books. And I thought through what's happened around the grooves I've found in the past.

And I cobbled together all those things and figured out some characteristics, common traits that, if I pursue them hard enough, just might help shove me not off a cliff, but into a good, strong, writing groove. 

And I'm EXCITED. 

Because best practices like these are kinda like a magic wand. Wave 'em around long enough and hard enough, and I think some magic just might happen.

Maybe transformation.

And not into a raggedy bearded hermit, but maybe into the next best thing: A bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked, ink-stained novelist working her groove.

Want to come along? Cool. Because unlike the hermit, I don't mind a bit of company.

(Oh, and this will be a two-parter, so check back in two weeks for the second half of our groove-making work. Perfect.)


1: Save your environment.

Where do we begin? With the stuff that's right in front of us: Our place, our time, our space. Our work environment.

Because the first thing we need to do if we want a groove is make room for it. 

What kind of space, what kind of schedule, what kind of environment, would help you to write the most deeply and consistently? What would let your imagination have the freedom, space, and support, to just run wild? 

Oooh. 

This might mean adding in more beauty, comfort, or quirkiness to your writing space. (Never underestimate the power of quirk.)

It might mean adding encouraging messages and reminders around your desk. Putting pep talks on Post-Its, and sticking 'em to your computer screen.

Or, maybe it means you need a blank slate, go minimal, pare everything down til it's clean and spare and fresh.

What would help you go deeper into your work? 

The other half of this question is: How does your time look? 

What is the best time of day for you to work? How long of a writing session feels optimal to you? 

I've had months where the yummiest writing work got done between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., and I just went with it.

Now I'm on the other side of the spectrum—for some reason, waking up at 5:30 a.m. gives me such a sense of expanse and freedom and clarity that I dive into my days feeling full of promise. (And okay, maybe planning a nap later, but nevertheless.)

When is it best for you to write? Not for other writers, not for other people—when is it best for you? When do all your creative juices get going, and when do you feel that release from other obligations? 

Speaking of obligations: You're already heard me say this, but I'm gonna say it again. One of my favorite practices is clearing out commitments. No, this isn't easy. Yes, you might feel like you're stepping on other people's toes. 

But it is so helpful to do this from time to time. Check out everything you've been participating in, and if something is draining you more than it's feeding you, give it a very stern look.

And see if you can get out of it. If not, try to soften it, or lessen the impact of it in some way.

This could be something as tiny as unsubscribing from an email newsletter that's stopped being helpful. Or it might be stepping back from some small weekly thing you've been doing for a while. Or you might turn down a bigger commitment that you've been having second thoughts about for a while. This is the time for it to go. 

You need to free up that creative energy, my friend! 

So cancel some things, take a good look at what writing times work the best for you, and give your space a good sweep.

... I think that writing groove just moved a whole lot closer.

(If you want some more cheerleading or ideas for how to do this, check out these three posts to build a "moat," lighten your load, and shake up your space.) 

2: Build a food pyramid.

It is really hard to work in a groove if all your wells have run dry.

There's no way to sustain continual, deep, yummy work if you have nothing to draw from, nothing to paint with. If your imagination has shut off, gone cold. That's the way to get into a rut or a block, not a groove.

Which is why it's worth figuring out a good, reliable answer to this question: 

How can I continually feed my imagination what it needs?

What kinds of things do I need to take in on a regular basis, for my creativity to be strong and ready for anything? 

This is one of those habits that is ESSENTIAL to working well and working sustainably. It's also one of the first things I cut.

(This is why you hear me say the same things over and over, y'all. I have to keep re-learning these lessons myself!) 

Feeding the imagination is one of those vital but seemingly unimportant skills. And in order to get into a good, rich groove and stay there, we have to find ways to keep the nutrition flowing in.

So: what do you need?

For my imagination to thrive, I need it stocked with a lot of odd fascinating facts that don't necessarily have a place in my immediate writing.

That's why I'm smitten with the randomness of dictionaries and encyclopedias, why I swoon over amazing, comprehensive wonder-sites like Atlas Obscura. It's why I need to keep reading widely, why I have to keep learning. 

Because all those little images and facts and tidbits and impressions and shards of atmosphere and tiny details—they're all the building blocks of what we make, right? They're what we invent from.

They're like the amino acids of the creative process. They're essential.

Last fall, I ran out of steam, out of juice, out of everything. So I blocked off a whole month for a sabbatical. The goal? To stop all output, and focus only on input. Getting those amino acid levels up again.

So I thought about what my imagination and my writerly heart were most craving, and I drew myself a little food pyramid of what I most needed.

At the bottom? Books, books, and more books. I wanted to read a ton of fiction, but also some really yummy non-fiction, and on top of that, some of my favorite reference books. 

Then I also wanted to see movies that would capture my excitement, as well as gorgeous documentaries (I am so not over Chef's Table, btw). 

And then I wanted to watch a bunch of TED talks, I wanted to do a lot of painting and art-making, and I wanted to watch and read interviews with other makers—not just writers, but calligraphers and musicians and anyone who does any kind of art. 

That was my pyramid: what's yours? 

What do you need an enormous amount of right now? Give yourself permission to take it in. Maybe you need a bunch of creative, stimulating, exciting outings. Maybe you need to take a lot of pictures, or visit an art store and then get paint in your hair.

Or maybe you need to make a ton of tea and grab a stack of library books and just get lost in pages for a while.

Or maybe the thing you most need is actually silence.  

Listen in. See what you're saying, down deep. And then go after it. 

(Want a few more ideas for nourishment? Maybe give yourself a distraction detox, go looking for wonder, or take a revolutionary writing pilgrimage.

3: Apprentice yourself to a master magician.

One of the qualities of a good writing groove is that you can solve the problems that arise without too much bleeding.

You know what I mean? Sure, you'll hit an obstacle, but you're all warmed up and ready to tackle it, and you find inventive solutions. 

The more flexible our skills are, and the more skills we have at our disposal, the more likely we are to find ourselves working from an excellent groove.

Without craft and skill, the wheels will keep coming off, and we'll get stuck.

In The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp tells how she found herself in a mega-groove of choreographing one excellent dance piece after another.

What triggered it? A leap forward in her skill as a choreographer.

Through inventing one piece with a specific kind of style, she learned an entirely new dance vocabulary. And that breakthrough unlocked so many possibilities that the next several dances came together with a special wonderfulness. 

This makes total sense, right? When we get better at the raw skills of what we do, everything gets a little easier. We're more flexible, quicker at solving problems, and we can reach for more creative solutions. 

Everything clicks along more happily.

So where do you want to give yourself a skill upgrade? Where would you appreciate a mini-class, a workbook session or two, or just some solid time practicing?

Who do you want to learn from? What's the next step in your apprenticeship?

For me, it's learning story structure in a deeper and deeper way. I've been hard at work on all things Story Grid, listening to the podcast and applying it to my draft. (Whew! So much good stuff to learn!!) I'm especially working on shaping scenes.  ... I want to become a scene NINJA. Seriously.

What does that look like for you?

(If you want more craft and skill pointers, check out these posts on escaping miniature writing ruts, tiny craft improvements, and creating your own master class.

And then, if you want to get REAL serious about learning from the best, raise your noveling skills to epic status by checking out the resources here, here, and here.)

4: Put on your workout clothes.

Here we go: The most glamorous groove-inducing method of all.

Hard work.

Sweat.

A run-a-marathon level of effort. 

(Paired with rewards, kindness, naps, and dance parties, of course! I promise I haven't forgotten sustainability already!)

True story: sometimes a groove has to be earned.

Like one of those "buy 9 cups of coffee, get the 10th free" cards that I treasured in college: sometimes you have to put in a lot of effort before you get the free stuff.

Sometimes it takes me two weeks of super hard work, slogging straight up hill, yowling the whole way. And then, suddenly, momentum kicks in, and I'm sailing along.

If you've ever done Nanowrimo and found a real sweet undertow pulling you along late in the process: you've experienced this too. 

This is the power of the marathon mindset. Having that keep moving mindset can vault you over so many obstacles—through sheer momentum. 

Let me tell you: momentum can be your best friend.

The best thing about this one is that you can create a marathon on your own. Hard work is totally free. All it costs you is time and sweat.

You don't need Nanowrimo to come knocking, and you don't need a special event or a class.

All you need is a target of words (or exercises completed, or pages written) and some kind of deadline (just to spur you on—and to let you know when you get a big break!).

Maybe it's a full draft in 6 weeks, or 50,000 words in 30 days, or it could be 366 10-minute exercises in 8 weeks (what can I say, it was fun!). 

The things that make a marathon rewarding and valuable for me (as opposed to miserable and burnout-inducing) are:

  • maintaining a tone of utter kindness;
  • focusing on the quantity of work instead of nitpicking about the quality;
  • and just keeping myself entertained in the words.

If I hold to those three things, a writing marathon becomes my best friend.

So give it a try. What kind of parameters could you put in place to let loose a hard work marathon in your writing life? And ooh, what might it catapult you into?

Make yourself a fun chart (or am I the only one who thinks the graph is one of the best parts of Nanowrimo?), set up some lovely rewards for yourself, and dive in.

(Want a little bit more of a push before committing to a marathon? You've got it. Check out my best stuff on the Nanowrimo mindset—here and here—plus dealing with marathon-level fear, and keeping your body happy while you write so much.

... Plus one more post on the delirious, let's-all-sing-sea-chanties word drunkenness that happens mid-marathon. Yup.

This is why I'm telling you that hard work doesn't have to be miserable: it can be incredibly blissful as well. And it can be easier to keep writing than it is to stop... and that's exactly where I want to get to again!)


And there you have it: four of my best tools for launching myself into a better writing rhythm and a deep writing groove.

Whew!! I'm excited to dive in and apply the heck out of all four of these things. Thanks for staving off total hermit syndrome with me. Seriously, it was about to get real weird here. ;)

Check back in two weeks for the second half of the post... and till then, good luck finding your groove. Go make some magic.

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.

What's Going On When The Writing's Going Smoothly: A Mini Checklist for Writing Life Sustainability

It can be oh-so easy to fall off the tracks, right? Here are three simple things to check in with, to make sure that your writing life is good to keep on going! | lucyflint.com

In the first years of my full-time writing practice, I spent a lot of time burned out. 

Um, a lot of time. 

I'd whip myself into a frenzy of urgency with my work, I'd go flat out for a while (terrified of slowing down, of losing momentum). And then I'd hit a wall and burn out.

Shake it off eventually. And then repeat.

It wasn't really a fun system for getting work done. Exciting, maybe. Dramatic, definitely.

But not so much fun.

Plus there were a lot of casualties: I wasn't the easiest person to be around. (Moody!!!) 

And I burned through and discarded some truly great story ideas. (They're still hobbling around in my subconscious, poor things. Some day, my dear ideas! Hang in there!)

But the biggest casualty, really, was all that time that I could have had a lovely writing life!

Years when it could have been this fulfilling, intriguing adventure, instead of something I thought I was failing.

Honestly, there were just too many days when I hated my dream job. Which is why the whole concept of sustainability is my absolute best friend.

Seriously. Sustainability = yum.

It means that the way we work today is hugely important. Because it makes sure that we can also work again tomorrow.

Know what I mean? 

So I've been taking aim at strengthening my sustainability. At working with a flexible endurance. And an ongoing kindness to myself.

And—maybe this is the most important thing—I'm learning to put the right value on those sustainability practices. 

They are so crucial to our ability to work! We need to value that kindness to ourselves, that flexibility, that endurance, every bit as much as we value the other tools in our writing lives.

Because this is the stuff that keeps us going. Without it, we are wide open for a bad case of writer's block.

Yikes, right? 

These are three of the most basic sustainability practices that I've adopted, and they've made such a difference! 

Every now and then, it's vital that we come back to these basics, check in with them, and make sure that everything's running smoothly.

1: We are continually & constantly refilled.

It is SO essential to know what it is that fills up our creativity. Right? 

Because as we work, we're tapping that source. Mining our internal sense of story, our images, our ideas.

It's easy to forget: we aren't endless. That well of ideas isn't bottomless.

So we've got to get into a habit of refilling ourselves. Bringing in new images, new experiences, new ideas. (Julia Cameron calls this "refilling the well," which I just love!)

We need to keep seeking out mystery. Delving into our curiosities.

The other way to refill is just settling into any regular, repetitive, sensory experience: like driving, doing dishes, stitching seams.

Letting our artistic attention wander a bit. Strange but true: this also refills our story-making abilities.

It sounds so simple, right? And yet it can be so easily dismissed or forgotten.

We can get into a habit of not filling ourselves back up. We can model workaholism, and just drain ourselves dry.

Or, we can try to tend this, but not do enough. Not put back as much as we've taken out.

So here's what I've been doing: 

Every day, every single day, when I wrap up my writing, I write down on a piece of paper exactly how I'm going to refill the well that evening.

It can be anything, if it's done intentionally—cooking, or messing around with origami paper. Doing a few sketches, or pulling out my coloring book and markers. Playing a few rounds of solitaire, or going for a walk.

I usually give myself a few options, in case one doesn't work out. And then I make sure to do at least one of those, if not all of them!

And that one little step, that bit of intentionality, has made a huge difference on my ability to follow through and actually do that refilling. 

I can feel the difference, too: I feel more ready to face my work than I used to, more equal to it. Because I still have plenty to draw from.

So what fuels you? What nourishes your creativity? Little things, big things, delightful wonders, or regular actions.

Try this: grab five minutes, right now, and just jot them down. Make yourself a "refilling the well" list.

And then, every day, when you wrap up your writing, or your other work: make sure you spend at least twenty minutes with one of those things. 

And then see what happens. See if you feel yourself working more smoothly.

2: We use that sweet, two-letter word to protect our writing energy.

This sounds ridiculously obvious, but hang with me: what we're doing when we're away from our writing desk has a huge impact on how much energy we have for writing.

And since writing takes energy—sometimes a lot—we have to be aware of where our energy is going.

You already knew this, right? 

When the rest of my life gets busy and the demands on my time increase, my writing starts to shrivel. It happens pretty dang fast, too.

I used to wonder what the heck was going on. Why was it so hard for me to manage extra commitments? 

But lately, I've been thinking of energy the same way I think about money. You kinda have to have a budget, an idea of where things are going, and how much you have available to spend.

Truth: We can't spend what we don't have.

Yes, I know. There are loans and there are credit cards, but that's debt. And it's when I go into big-time debt with my writing energy that bankruptcy, or burnout, happens.

Not worth it.

Let's not go into energy debt.

Every now and then, we have to check in. We have to get real with ourselves about where, exactly, our energy is going. 

Track your pennies for a while.

And here's the tricky yet worth-its-weight-in-gold question: What is taking more energy than it's giving back?

What are the activities that seem to mostly drain you? 

When I'm in the midst of an active drafting project (which is most of the time), I have to step back from other commitments, even good ones. Because they simply left me too tired for writing the next day.

It felt weird, but oh so wonderful, to step back from those things. To use a well-placed "no" to protect the energy I needed to work.

I finally admitted to myself: I just need most of my evenings quiet in order to do what I need to at my work.

You might have a different ratio, but it's best to know: what's the limit for your schedule? How much free time do you really, truly, honestly need, to make your energy budget work?

And what kinds of things are more exhausting than others? 

What would you need to do, to have an incredibly healthy energy budget?

3: We know exactly how small our feet are. ;)

So here's the truth: I love getting a big vision for what's ahead in my writing. Mmm. Just the thought of it gives me butterflies in my stomach.

I love to stare at the end result I'm aiming for. Imagining that feeling of crossing the finish line. Holding the finished novel.

Vision is good. It's so important. 

Being clear on our goal: that's the thing that lights up everything we do, right? It's important to stay connected to that.

Absolutely.

AND YET.

When I am too focused on where I'm hoping to go, it kinda backfires. In a really dramatic, ugly way.

Because I suddenly get mega-impatient with the thing that's right in front of me, whatever that is. The step that I'm on looks dull and small and unimportant. 

I start to hate where I'm at. Where I'm standing on this writing path.

I panic. How long is this gonna take? 

I can see the finish, I can taste the ending, and yet ... how far do I still have to go? Too dang far!!

And THIS is that crazy-making feeling that can send me into a panic spiral. Or I drown in overwhelm.

Or I get into this super-dangerous rushed mode, where I try to everything all at once, tomorrow, no, today!!

Instead of just focusing on the very next thing

It's easy to forget the beauty of doing the very next thing. Of taking the exact right step.

(Hint: it's the one directly in front of us.)

Here's how Julia Cameron puts it in The Artist's Way. She says that, instead of freaking out, we have to "fill the form":

What do I mean by filling the form? I mean taking the next small step instead of skipping ahead to a large one for which you may not yet be prepared. ...
     This kind of look-at-the-big-picture thinking ignores the fact that a creative life is grounded on many, many small steps and very, very few large leaps. ... 
     Take one small daily action instead of indulging in the big questions. When we allow ourselves to wallow in the big questions, we fail to find the small answers. 

It's those small answers that lead to small steps. Good steps. Down the path that we're meant to go.

This. Is. Hard.

Isn't it? I mean, I love the Internet and all, but it's also a massive window into how everyone else is doing, how they're working, how fast they're going. How successful it seems everyone else is—except us.

Know the feeling? 

It's so easy for me to start thinking, "I've gotta catch up!" And then try to get in touch with my vision to, you know, motivate myself, to remember where I want to be, and then—

Yep, panic.

Let's not do that, my friends.

Yes, focusing small can sound too simple. Too unsexy. 

But it's important to direct our gaze right down to our own amazing feet, to this place where we are standing, and to the next step.

That next step is our very best friend.

Because it's the one thing we can do right now that will take us in the right direction.

That's glamorous enough for me.


These three things—refilling our creative wells, monitoring our energy output, and focusing on the very next thing—can sound so basic, right? 

But sustainability is a pretty humble thing, when you think about it. How's my intake? Where's my energy going? And how's my pace?

Drama comes when things crash and burn, when they skyrocket and then slam. I'm pretty okay with not having anymore of that kind of drama in my writing life.

Steadiness and sustainability sound a lot more lovely.

And I think that the more we build strength around these three things, the more dependable our writing energy will be, and the more solid our writing becomes.

And that's the path that's going to take us to some mighty fine places, my friends! 

So, where are you at, today? 

Can you take a few minutes and do three things: 

1. Jot down a quick list of small actions that "refill the well" for you. Simple, pleasant things.

2. Think about your current load of commitments. What's one thing that you could say no to? Get your energy back!

3. With your current work-in-progress, what's the very next small step you can do? I'm talking like a five-minute step. Very simple, very small. 

4. Deep breath. And then: what happens if you then do that small simple step? And then do whatever you need to in order to step back from that commitment? And then take a little time to refill the well?

Let's invite sustainability in. Point it to the best seat in the house and hand it a drink. Because this is something that we want to keep around for a long, long time.

When Do We Do Our Most Important Work? (Let's Refresh That Reading Habit!)

Making a fresh commitment to a definite reading schedule on the blog today! Because "whenever it happens" isn't a good enough answer for me anymore. | lucyflint.com

It used to be that I didn't have to think about it.

I didn't schedule it, plan for it: that would have been silly. It was simply something I did, because I loved it. 

As a kid, I had this incredible drive to read.

To read all the time.

I mastered the ability to pin a book under my chin so I could, say, make up the bed and keep reading. Or clean up my room and keep reading. 

Okay. I know. It was pretty counterproductive. (Sorry, Mom!)

But I read all the time. 

In high school and college, I read what I wanted to in and around the school requirements. Even when I was overwhelmed with homework, I still snagged Sunday nights for rereading stuff like  The Chronicles of Narnia or A Year in Provence. 

In the full-time writing life, I've had to experiment a bit more.

Next to the mega-challenge of learning to write a novel, remembering to read them seems like a less urgent task.

A reading habit fits for a while, and then falls apart, needing a redesign.

And that's where I'm at again: realizing that lately (okay, okay—for basically all of 2016 so far!), I've had no real plan for reading fiction.

Which means, I haven't been reading fiction.

I know that part of this relates back to that issue of having permission.

It's hard, sometimes, to know that I still have a bazillion emails in my inbox, or that I'm behind on my work-in-progress, and yet I'm going to do something that's always been classified as "fun." 

That's why I love the idea of a schedule, a routine for reading. 

Because, frankly, adding something to my routine is the best way I have for protecting it, and for proving its importance to myself. 

Mmmm. But what would that look like now?

I've been mentally browsing the possibilities, remembering how I used to get my reading in.

Sometimes, it was the last forty-five minutes or so of my writing day, a late-afternoon habit. But it got too easily pushed out of the way by other projects.

Then I experimented with a once-a-month reading holiday, which was glorious, but also felt a bit exhausting too.

And then, for the longest time, reading was my last act for the day. Cramming words into my head before turning out the light, hoping to brew dreams from my reading material. 

I still love the peace of that, but my days have been too hectic, and I'm too exhausted to read before bed. Which feels weird, but ... it's true.

So I'm looking for a new time slot for reading.

I love how Heather Sellers talks about reading in Page after Page. She writes,

You can't get too far off track as a writer if you are reading. ... Writers read. Reading completes the gesture. Reading is what we do. An enormous part of learning how to write better is learning how to read, sensitively, attuned to all the colors and emotions. ... The best way to tune your ear for this work is to read with passion and abandon. 

WHOA. Right?! 

That's such a helpful, corrective message for me. Something I need to keep hearing.

Because I always know, in my head, that reading is important, that it isn't just "for fun," that it's something that must be part of my daily life. 

But I sometimes forget it with my heart. It feels like I'm stalling, procrastinating, dodging the more difficult tasks.

It's a false belief that I have to just keep shedding, over and over again. 

A couple of pages later, Sellers adds,

I like to read, like Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty ... in the morning, before I talk, before I write.

WELL. That just sounds like the most delicious possible start to the day. 

And it got me thinking of one of my favorite reading memories. One morning, after an early drop-off at the airport, I came home around 5:45 and felt too awake to try and sleep again.

So I made tea and found some lemon biscotti. I sat by the window reading A Very Long Engagement, savoring the beautiful prose and the tea and the sunrise. 

... Which is also why I always love the opening of the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, watching Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet starting her day with 1) a walk across English countryside, and 2) a good book.

Mmmm.

... Okay, so, seriously, I just fell into a little daydream about that. 

Here's the thing: it is so easy for me to realize and affirm that if I put writing first in my day, it'll get done. 

SUPER important. Super worthwhile.

And what about reading—the other half of a writer's job? When does that get the best schedule treatment?

I want that level of intentionality with my reading.  

So I'm wondering about shifting my reading to the morning

(Just typing that feels rebellious somehow!!)

Maybe not every day. Maybe twice a week. 

Oooh. 

I love that. I love that! It feels like a good change.

So, how about you? If reading is of critical importance to a writer—and it totally is!—then where does reading fit into your life?

Do you have a specific time when you make sure you get to it? Or is it kind of "whenever it happens"?

What tricks do you have for preserving your reading time? Or is it time to shake things up, start a new reading routine?

Wanna join me for morning reading? I'd love to know in the comments!


P.S., And yes, I did finish reading my first novel of the month! It was a good story, but A Thread of Grace felt like too heavy of a read, with all the heartbreaking news and the tragedies that have been happening lately.

Whew! I need a lighter book for my second read, just to give my heart a break. So, I'm going back to an easier-for-me category of fairytale retellings, with Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. Here goes!

The Fun Way to Build an Army of Brilliant Little Ideas (Ready to Conquer Your Future Story Snags!)

This is a fun daily (or almost-daily) habit, guaranteed to result in an army of awesome, useable little ideas, ready to march in and conquer your future story snags. Did I mention that it's fun? Did I mention that it's easy? And it really, really works? You've got nothing to lose: let's dive in. | lucyflint.com

Hey there, Idea Campers. How are your imaginations feeling? Excited to hit the trails? YES! But also a bit hungry? Yep, mine too.

We already have three awesome, idea-generating lists at our fingertips, right? (If not, create these invaluable resources here and here.) 

Today we're supplementing that foundation with an easy, fun habit. Which also packs a huge punch. 

This is the habit that helped me build my favorite writing project EVER. (So if I'm a bit excited ... that's why.) 

And it is so simple—you'll love it. Ready?

I call it Idea Scouting. And it's one of the best ways to build an army of ideas that will absolutely march in and rescue you, whenever you need 'em.

So get your word nerd on, and let's dive in to what Idea Scouting looks like.

1. Run to your most beloved reference book.

The point of Idea Scouting is to develop a rich catalogue of ideas, right at your fingertips.

Where do you find these ideas? From fantastic reference books.

Any compendium of words, phrases, or facts will work splendidly: I'm having a fling with a set of old encyclopedias, and I'm also still in love with my Collegiate Dictionary. So that's what I head toward.

But any other collection of facts, random entries, explanations, or odd tidbits will be perfect.

Browse the reference section and see what strikes your fancy.

(My most recent favorite place for this kind of thing is Atlas Obscura: I signed up for their emails and now get an incredible selection of fascinating info emailed to me every day. Trust me, it's completely addictive!)

2. Read like a scout (and not like a student).

Here's the great thing about this kind of work: You don't have to dutifully copy out facts and dates. You're not writing a report. You don't have to care about any entry that doesn't grab you.

You're a scout

You're on the lookout for anything that glimmers.

You're walking through the woods of all this information with your eyes wide open for any motion, anything out of the ordinary, anything that strikes you.

In other words, it's meant to be fun. You're searching for what you naturally like—and there are no wrong answers for that.

Notice what you notice. And leave the rest.

What's awesome about this: you are a totally unique, super original person. And by grabbing the ideas that appeal to you, you're building originality right into your idea files. 

Which is GREAT news for all your future writing.

So feel free to play to your quirks and lean on all the subjects you most love.

3. Take notesand write wide.

This is the most important part of the whole Idea Scouting ritual: where your simple habit turns into mega-genius. 

But it's super easy. Almost effortless!

When you're reading, and you notice something that catches you—a word, a concept, a phrase that's fun, an image, or anything at all—you write it down, of course. 

I've created separate files for different categories: character ideas, setting ideas, miscellaneous concepts, etc.

And I've arranged mine alphabetically because I adore the alphabet. But whatever suits you will work just fine. 

Pull up your appropriate file, and jot down the tidbit that caught your eye.

But then you press just a bit further: Write down anything that your imagination is already telling you. 

In other words, you don't just copy down the words that sparked you. Add everything else that showed up in your brain. 

Maybe a definition brings to life in you a particular character, with a certain tone of voice. You write down at that entry everything you sense about the character, and maybe some exact dialogue as well. 

If another entry sounds like the perfect place name, you write that down, and anything about the place itself that you can see or sense. 

Or maybe there's just a word that you love: if you can see it clearly, add in the specifics about what you can see.

Remember that great Heather Sellers quote about writing down images instead of ideas? Yeah. Do that.

Because this is definitely a place for images.

The more you can see and hear and sense, and the more you write alllll of that down, the much richer these files will be when you need them.

THAT is what makes your Scout Files so valuable. Every idea comes partially prepped! 

At the moment of writing it down, it feels like almost no work at all. It's easy to write when you can see something clearly in your head, right? 

But when you're searching for something later, you'll have all that juicy imagination work all ready to go. 

COMPLETELY amazing. It's a game changer.

4. Keep coming back.

Turn the process into a habit, and you'll never be low on ideas.

So when do you do this? It's up to you.

Maybe it's the first ten minutes of your writing day. Or maybe once a week you have a thirty minute idea-finding festival. Or some other pattern.

The most important thing is: To do it regularly, and to do it in such a way that it's a fun exploration.

Not drudgery. Not something you have to do.

Keep it light. Ten minutes really works just fine! Long enough to find some ideas, and not so long that your brain turns to mush.

The other thing is: You'll want to come back to your Scout Files from time to time and scan them. Just check 'em out, read some of the entries, and see what stands out. 

Maybe you'll want this review to be a regular habit too. It can be really inspiring to breeze through a list of ideas and feel your imagination revving up!

Or, you can just wander back through whenever the urge strikes.

However you choose to do it, you'll definitely want to do a major review of all your Scout Files before starting a new project. (Or, of course, whenever you feel stuck!)

See what works for you. The goal is to feel refreshed—not like you have one more homework assignment hanging over your head.

Scout Files in Action:

How is all this helpful? Well, the process itself gets you thinking and searching and imagining like a writer, which is incredibly valuable training.

But there's another huge reason why I love Idea Scouting  and my Scout Files so much: those files are what fleshed out my current work-in-progress.

I had a slim, quiet little idea, something that wouldn't leave me alone. But there wasn't much meat on it.

So when I decided to take that idea out for a spin during Nanowrimo (way back in 2009!), I combed through my Scout Files. Especially my huge lists of possible characters and quirky concepts. 

I pulled out everything that snagged my heart or made me happy or seemed to fit with the atmosphere of my new idea, and I put them in a separate file of their own.

And then, as I hurtled through Nanowrimo's daily writing quotas, I snatched those prepped ideas every time I needed a new character, a bit of setting, a detail, a plot twist, a new layer to the conflict, or a chance reference. 

The result? A wacky, marvelously fun book that's packed full of ideas I love. (And which wasn't too hard to draft!)

It's become a book that totally grabs my heart. And it's turned into a trilogy, as those ideas launched more ideas.

... Not a bad payoff, for spending ten or twenty minutes every day, cheerily reading the dictionary (and feeling quite writerly).

YAY for that, right?

As you settle into this habit, you'll see that it radically ups your confidence. Eventually, you'll have your own army of ideas.

Wonderful notions for characters, settings, and amazing little details begging to be sprinkled through your next piece.

With that kind of back-up, you can march into any writing project ready for action.

... And also, can the nerd in me just say: it is super fun to work with ideas in a no-pressure situation. To be looking for delicious ideas before you need them.

There's another name for that. ... Hang on, what is it? Oh yeah: PLAY.

This is a great way to play as a writer! Because you're just messing around, reading a bit and letting your brain look around and scavenge what it will.

Wahoo!! This is what we love, am I right?

So which reference book will you be taking out for a spin? The incredibly useful dictionary, an agreeable encyclopedia, or some other reference that you're partial to? 

Dig in. Let your imagination ramble.

And relish the ideas that come running out to meet you.

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

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

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

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

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

So today, let's talk about the wildness.

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

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

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

Whoa.

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

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

Wild.

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

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

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

Because that is what I am craving, my friends. 

Not steps, or plans, or lists.

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

... How has your May been so far?

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

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

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

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

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

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

You're darn right, it's desirable!

I am thoroughly homesick for my story.

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

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

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

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

Instead, I want to wake up to the wildness. 

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

Know what I mean?

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

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

But we lionhearted writers can't settle for that.

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

What does that look like for you? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know the one.

The straightest straight line between myself and my work.

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

Find that path.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

and then put everything back together the right way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah. Me too. 

Enter The Desire Map.

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

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

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

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

Ugh.

Let's not do that anymore.

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

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

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

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

Four intentions that solidly reflect your core desired feelings.

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

Fantastic, right??

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

EV-ERY-THING.

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

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

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

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

Take publication. 

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

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

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

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

Which means?

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

WIN-WIN.

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

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

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

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

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

All of it. All of it!

As Danielle LaPorte writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I mention that this is helpful? SUPER helpful.

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

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

For serious. 

Another quick quote from Danielle LaPorte for good measure: 

The journey matters as much as the result.

SO TRUE, right??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds amazing, right? 

Right.

Rewind and Refresh: Are Your Writing Goals Still Good? (It's New Year's Eve in April!)

Helloooooo, April, and hello, Monday! 

New Year's Eve is all well and good, but how are your resolutions and goals looking now? Yeah? Mine too. Time for a refresh. | lucyflint.com

I don't know about you, but I'm itching for a fresh start. My writing work, my mindset, my desk—everything just feels cluttered after the last few months.

I want to spruce everything up! And I want a cleared-off runway to approach the work ahead.

In other words, I'm craving a Spring Cleaning Festival. In my writing life. 

So that's what we'll be up to on the blog this April! A thorough, wonderful deep-cleaning of all things writerly.

Does that sound good? You with me? 

More than anything, I want a spring cleaning of my goals

I did a lot of dreaming in December, and a lot of planning in January. But—as you know by now—the first three months of the year did not go according to plan.

And I'm haunted by all those goals.

The ghosts of goals! None of us need to have them floating around our writing desks!

So it's time to re-evaluate.

How about you? What are your goals? What's been at the top of your list for a while? What have you been aiming at, working toward?

How's it going? 

Pay close attention to how you feel as you think through your goals. 

If you still get that positive fizz of energy when you review your goals, that kind of electricity, the thrill of a good challenge—then you're probably on the right track. 

Hooray! Keep on keeping on.

Now I want to talk to everyone else. To everyone who feels a bit sick, or guilty, or panicked, or massively overwhelmed when looking through their goals.

Yeah: You.

If some of your goals require major sacrifices of your health, your closest relationships, your emotional wellbeing, or any square inch of your sanity, then they need a closer look.

When we start off the year, with those twelve beautiful months blinking lovingly up at us, it's so easy to believe that anything can happen!

Reach! Stretch! This is the year! Go for it!

And while it's still the year to go for it, it also turns out that ... anything really can happen.

Which sometimes means that we fall behind where we wanted to be.

Sometimes, the work we planned takes a heck of a lot longer than we expected. Sometimes, there are huge new skills to learn that we didn't take into account. 

Getting off track happens. And the path to fixing it does not lie through a desert of criticism, or perfectionism run amok, or any other sort of self-bludgeoning.

It also doesn't mean trying to make the impossible happen—while totally burning yourself out.

(Burnout is not worth it. Ever. I promise.)

So if your goals—for 2016, for the spring, for the start of the year—are way, way out of reach right now, it's time for a clean-up.

Give yourself a moment to forgive the past. Maybe you made some sketchy decisions about how to spend your time. Maybe you're not sure that you made the right call.

Or maybe you did everything you could, and your goals still danced out of reach.

However it went down, give yourself a hug, and let go of what you thought should have happened.

Then make yourself some tea, and let's think this through. Because you have two really great options.

1. Renegotiate your goals.

I've found that if I just shrug and say, "I guess I'll do less," it still feels like failure in my head. You know? 

If you made your goal with intention, then honor this revision with a similar amount of purpose. Give yourself a Goal Renegotiating Ceremony.

It's like New Year's Eve, part two! Grab whatever planning supplies you like, and then consider all those goals.

But this time, think like a really clever, kind-hearted boss: Any goal you set asks for commitment from your whole team, so have them in mind as you do this.

What's different? Your timetable might have shifted. You might have new commitments to deal with.

Your resources (physical energy/stamina, or access to information, or even your excitement about a project) might be totally different. Your heart might be pulling you in a new direction. 

So, given all of that, what needs to change? Are some goals no longer relevant? Have your priorities shifted?

Is there new information, a new process, or something else that you need to take into consideration? Something to make room for?

You might be able to take your original goals and cut them in half, in quarters. Or you might want to go a different direction entirely. 

Change your deadline. Change your process. Let go of any extra weight.

You see how this is going, right?

Re-set your goals.

As far as the old goals go: You're off the hook.

That was just your first plan, and look how far it got you! Now that you're further in, now that you have more information, now that you have a better feel for the landscape, it's time for a better plan. 

... If this feels hard for you, if you feel like you're admitting failure, then I want to encourage you to remember something. (Something I have to remind myself of, all. the. time.)

Goals are meant to be tools. They are tools for your work, for your life. That's all they are. 

As tools, they shape your writing life in good ways. They give you the push that you need to do your best, to stretch that extra bit to reach what you need to reach.

Goals are meant to be on your team.

My tendency is to make them much more mandatory. Do you do this? I can tell I've crossed the line, because I start feeling this unbearable pressure. I get all bleak about myself, my abilities, my future. 

Trust me on this: When you start not wanting to face your work at all, those goals have crossed the line.

They've stopped behaving like tools, and they turned into evil little gods, requiring sacrifices that aren't theirs to demand.

If that has happened with your goals, fire them. They've gotten waaaaaay above themselves. Kick them out, because they're not helping. And refuse to listen to them.

Keep the goals that serve your work. The ones that bring out the best in you. 

2. Embrace a life of systems, not goals.

Your other spring-cleaning option for goals is to do a total reset. To abandon the goal-setting paradigm entirely. 

(And honestly, this is my camp right now!)

A couple of weeks ago, I was re-listening to Joanna Penn's interview of Tim Grahl, and they said something that stopped me in my tracks. I was making dinner, and I just stood there in the middle of the kitchen holding a sweet potato, saying "Yes! Yes!! That's IT!"

And if your life lately feels—kinda like mine—like it's turned into a graveyard of abandoned goals, then this is THE thing for you to do. Ready? 

In the interview, Joanna Penn mentioned that Tim Grahl had recently posted something on Twitter: "Think system instead of goal." They tease that out a little further in the interview, but to me, it made immediate sense.

See, after all the family-crisis-meets-illness in February and March, I keep waiting to bounce back... only I haven't. I haven't recovered my energy at all, and my stamina is zero.

I'm looking into all this with my doctor, but the upshot is: I can't just pretend I'm an Energizer Bunny hopping along with my writing notebook and plans. That looked great in January, but I'm a different person than I was in January.

And if I try to hold myself to that—multiple projects! lightning-quick drafts! sending things to beta readers on this date, publishing a side project on that date—I will burn myself out.

I've done it before. It's not pretty. The recovery time is long and deeply unexciting.

I don't think goals are gonna help at the moment.

But a quality system? Systems can work.

All I mean by a system is: any kind of behavior or scheduled activity that you put into place that keeps you moving forward.

It can be really tiny. A small daily habit. Or it can be more major: several hours of work on a certain project, every day. Or every week.

In the interview, Tim Grahl talked about his highly-structured day, with a protected amount of time for his creative work.

He shows up for it when he says he will. But it isn't a goal of what must get done by when.

See the difference? 

Personally, I'm letting go of goals for a while. Till my health stabilizes, I can't just plan on having a certain amount of energy. I can't catch up.

But I can make time for a system that keeps me near my work. (As well as systems to take care of myself!) 

I can build a few quality habits, keep moving, and keep my novel's heart beating, day after day.

If you're tossing out all your goals today like me, then just take some time to think about what really matters to you. What you need to move toward on a consistent basis. What you want your life to look like. What makes you the best kind of writer.

And then set aside time to do those things. Or develop a ritual, or determine a consistent action you can take. (And yes, the Write Chain Challenge is a PERFECT example of this!) 

Make it yummy for yourself. Something good

Oh, and yes, I've learned this the hard way: Setting up two dozen systems isn't actually simplifying anything. (Whoops.) So start small.

Give yourself the gift of a system-based writing life, and take pleasure in forward movement. 


There! Spring Cleaning Phase One is complete! Oooh, our goals and systems look so shiny and sparkly now.

I hope you're feeling freshened up and ready to step into spring! I'm curious—which path did you take? Were your goals all in fine order (yay!), or did you renegotiate? Or replace 'em all with a few well-chosen systems? Let me know in the comments!