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.)

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.

The Key To Everything Is a Crazy Amount of Focus.

The megaskill that makes way for all other skills: the ability to focus, intensely. (Like ... more intense than ever before. A whole new level.) | lucyflint.com

If you saw my last post on Cal Newport's stirring & motivating book Deep Work, you know that a radical new approach to focus is totally necessary if we want to write with super-high quality. It's also vital if we want to grow exponentially in our writerly skills.

Which: we do. Right? All of us. That's what we signed up for.

Focus. It's a big deal.

So ... how do we learn to focus with that kind of intensity? How do we adopt that training program mindset, so that we become writers who dive in deep and write our most incredible stuff? 

From the last post, we already know that deep work requires literally rewiring our brain. Which ... is hard. We know that this is going to be a challenge.

So, do we have patience with ourselves as we practice, and a readiness to encounter difficulty? Check and check.

High five. Let's go strengthen our ability to focus. 

Where do we begin?

1) Develop a deep work ritual.

Is it just me, or is everyone talking about rituals lately? Morning rituals, bedtime rituals, getting-ready-for-exercise rituals, planning rituals... 

Personally, I love 'em. (Shocking, right?!)

Yes, I love the idea of using a clever sequence of little behaviors to naturally lead my mind into the next important thing I'm doing.

It's like an on-ramp for the brain.

Welp, Cal Newport says we need to ritualize our deep work sessions as well. Why?

After describing the rituals of a few successful deep thinkers, he points out:

Success in their work depended on their ability to go deep, again and again—there's no way to win a Pulitzer Prize or conceive a grand theory without pushing your brain to its limit. Their rituals minimized the friction in this transition to depth, allowing them to go deep more easily and stay in the state longer.

Minimizing friction: that is key!! I don't know about you, but some days I feel like my writing time is friction. I can be forever transitioning between activities and making decisions, instead of getting into a good groove and staying there.

I'm sold, Mr. Newport. So, what does a deep work ritual need to do?

He lists three things in particular that a ritual has to incorporate: where you will work, how you will work, and how you'll support your work.

If we're making and remaking these decisions every time we need to settle in, we'll be flooding our deep work time with that transitioning friction. 

So, for starters, you need to ensure that your deep work area is a good environment. With a low chance of distractions and interruptions, and enough space to think.

And then, when working: how do you want to structure it? Do you need to keep a certain kind of pace, or consider a certain number of questions or read a certain number of pages? 

Finally, do you need some good food (he suggests some good coffee, and you know I'm all "amen to that!"), and some space to move around a little? (He repeatedly recommends walking as a way to enhance thinking ability.)

Personally, I don't have a clear, solid ritual in place yet. But I do have bits of one: 

  • In my planner, I write deep work mode! next to the hours when I'm planning on being uberfocused. That extra bit of intentionality reminds me to be sure and keep distractions out of my work zone.
  • Before I dive in, I sweep my desk space, and clear out anything that would derail me.
  • Like my phone. I march it over to my closet, tuck it into a little drawer, and leave it there.
  • I pull up a soundtrack of nature sounds on my computer. The rhythm of ocean waves works like an audible cue: time to go deep.
  • Finally, I keep a notepad nearby, so that if a distracted thought drops in (I need to text so-and-so! I have to track down that one recipe! Did I ever deal with that one email?) I can note it and not lose it ... but without pursuing the distraction itself.

Yeah, I know. This is pretty basic, and certainly isn't up to the more quirky and eccentric rituals that we hear about. But I'm willing to get there. ;)

And so far, this has been a good framework for supporting my early deep work efforts.

The real key here is to experiment with whatever works best for you. To take care of all those moving parts that would derail you, and make sure that you have everything you need ... and nothing that you don't.

2) Have a plan for your precious deep work time.

The time to figure out how your session is going to go is before the session starts. We don't want to waste precious deep work minutes planning our deep work time, right? Right!

So before you start, be sure that you know how long you're going to work deeply. When you're starting and when you're stopping.

Because when we're working this intensely, it's vital to know that there's only a finite amount of time we're doing this!

Newport says,

Be sure to also give yourself a specific time frame to keep the session a discrete challenge and not an open-ended slog.

And yes, I've thought, "Oh, I'll be fine. I'll just work til I'm ready to stop." Hahahaha—no. For some reason, when my mind doesn't know when it's going to get a break, it starts tempting me to give up, get up, slow down, get bored, and get distracted.

Let's not do that.

Know when you'll start, and when you'll stop. And when you're done, get up and move around and take that break!

One more point about how long we're working: It's tempting to learn about the value of deep work, and then to swear you'll have an eight-hour deep work day, and charge out to save your world with focus.

But that doesn't work so well. That's kinda like me dashing out to run a marathon. (You'd have to scrape me off the pavement after about four miles.)

When we're new to this, it's essential that we start small

Newport recommends that we aim for an hour of this kind of pure focus to begin with. And actually, it's really all we can muster before our brains are retrained.

If even a full hour sounds especially difficult, I hear you! There is zero shame in starting with even smaller amounts. Twenty minutes of total focus can be really challenging and super rewarding!! 

And it's shocking how much good thinking you can get done, in twenty focused minutes.

(When we get super good, we'll be looking at four hours of deep work a day. Even the masters can't do this indefinitely!) 

Also, what kind of work will you be doing? We'll answer that next:

3) Know the difference between deep work and shallow work.

Shallow work is another central concept in this book. Shallow work is the stuff that we still need to do ... but it doesn't require the same amount of focus, and it isn't generating huge value like deep work.

Newport defines shallow work like this:

Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

For me, shallow work is the busywork of dealing with computer updates and gathering resources. It's filling out forms, running errands, editing photos, fixing the printer. It's dealing with email and shuffling files and organizing papers.

Anytime I think, if I had an intern or a clone, I'd have her do this!—that's shallow work.

Shallow work isn't bad. In fact, it's completely necessary! It doesn't take as much focus, so it has a lighter feel to it. 

The reason we need to recognize it is because we're tempted to drip our shallow work all through our day. It can sprawl across our schedules and just take over.

But it simply isn't coming from the same place as our deep work. If we blend the two all day, we keep ourselves from going deeply and doing the kind of lasting work that would, well, make a name for ourselves.

(Doesn't that give you shivers?)

If you have days that look like this kind of once-typical day of mine, then you get where I'm coming from: 

  • work a bit on the draft
  • um, I'm bored/stumped, so I'll check email... 
  • oh, sweet, blog comment! I'll dash over and answer that!
  • okay, right, focus: work a bit on the draft
  • I need a new computer update!
  • Oh, I should back up my computer while I'm thinking of it, can't risk losing data!
  • while it's rebooting, let me just clear my email inboxes on my phone . . . 
  • that outfit on Pinterest is so cute. So are a dozen of the recommended pins alongside it...
  • Oh, right! Drafting. Drafting drafting drafting.
  • Geez, I'm hungry...

THAT is an oh-so typical blend of shallow work and deep work attempts. Sure, I can get some important shallow work done, but when I keep switching back and forth, my drafting (aka deep work!!) suffers.

Because when I'm drafting from a shallow-work mindset, my scenes feel more sketched than deeply dreamed. My characters act more clichéd, their dialogue a little too rehearsed.

We can't completely cut out our shallow work—some important things would fall apart. But, we can't let shallow work take over our valuable deep work time, either.

Newport recommends, instead, batching our work. That's why the deep work ritual is so important: Get into deep work mode, and do the deep work, no distractions!

And then, get into shallow work mode. Scrape all those lighter tasks together and knock them out at once, staying in that mindset throughout. 

4) In fact, give yourself a shallow work budget.

This is such a cool suggestion, and it's one I have yet to implement. But I think that, when I do, it's going to be huge.

Here's the idea. Newport recommends talking to your boss (for those of us writing for ourselves, that's us) about the difference between deep work and shallow work.

Our deep work time will bring the most valuable work to our "company." Our shallow work time won't be so much about generating value, but it will keep everything running smoothly.

Both are important, no question.

Here's the question for our bosses, aka us, to wrestle with:

How much time per week should we spend doing each?

Wherever you're at, this is a great question to think through.

His suggestion for self-employed knowledge workers (like me, like you, if you're working on your novel and/or building your brand): the ratio should probably be around fifty-fifty.

So, roughly half our time we spend digging in deep with our novels, writing our best stuff. Working with pure focus, operating as our absolute best and smartest selves. Thinking amazing thoughts. Growing our skills.

The other half of the time we're answering emails, editing photos, planning social media campaigns, tweaking newsletters, etc.

Make sense? 

And then, as you settle into this rhythm, track your time each day. He says it's an eye-opening and helpful way to keep yourself honest: to keep shallow work in check, and to keep your deep work in your sights.

So, if anyone has swamped her day/week/month by deciding that she needs to clean out allllllll her file folders instead of facing the next few scenes (who, me?? never!) ... yeah, this is gonna help with that.

5)  We already said it, but, it's time to make it official: Distraction, we're breaking up with you.

Oh, Distraction. You talk so sweet, but you clearly don't love us as much as you say you do.

You mess with our game, you change our brains, and you keep us from doing our best work.

And you pretend it's all in fun.

Nope. Not okay anymore, Distraction.

We're all signing off. We're done with constant notifications, chiming, buzzing, dinging, ringing. We're going deep. We're practicing mega-focus.

We're not afraid of being bored. We'll find new ways to stay entertained. We'll notice what's around us and be fully present, instead of disappearing into your mile-a-minute maelstrom. 

And when we truly need a Pinterest hit or a Facebook fix, we'll schedule that time like the deep workers we are, and go check our sites happily for that pre-scheduled half hour, or however long we've decided.

We aren't at your mercy anymore, Distraction. We're taking our power back. No more falling into your lost minutes, lost hours, lost days.

Distraction, we're done. It's not us: it's you.

Ya gotta go.


On the face of it, a lot of these tips are common sense, right? This "deep work" stuff can sound like just cleaning up some habits around working well. I get that.

I think what makes these ideas feel so weighty to me, though, is because Cal Newport treats deep work like a whole new level of working.

Near the book's conclusion, he says,

Deep work is way more powerful than most people understand. ... To leave the distracted masses to join the focused few, I'm arguing, is a transformative experience.

He makes the case that as we learn to do this, we won't be saying, "oh, yeah, I guess I polished that novel rather nicely."

It's more on the level of, "holy crap, I just took that whole GENRE to new heights," or, "I created a different kind of story form," or, "I destroyed the pre-existing limits on this kind of publication launch."

It's about solving problems in a huge way. It's about shattering our previous ways of working, our small successes and tiny increases. Trading all that in for absurd levels of growth, productivity, and understanding.

This is rocket fuel, in other words. 

So, if you're in, if this sounds awesome, here are a few deep-workian questions to consider:

What's your deep work ritual look like? Or, if that sounds daunting, what's at least one way you can signal to your imagination and your brain: we're goin' deep!

How long of a deep work session do you want to start training with? Remember, a killer twenty-minute block is much better than a terrifying one hour, when you're getting started! Don't be ashamed to start small.

What kinds of activities in your typical work week qualify as "shallow work"? Nothing wrong with them, but they just don't come from that mega-focused place. What would it look like if they had to take up only half your time (or less!), and the rest of your time went to pure, total focus? 

And yeah, we just broke up with Distraction. What do you need to do to make it official?

Remember: It's easy to feel like we're focusing well enough. That we already know what focus feels like, thanks, and why must we go to extremes? Isn't that a little harsh, a little crazy, a little weird?

The truth is,we underestimate the power of this level of focus, because most of us (myself included!) have never really, actually, consistently tasted it.

We don't know what it can do, and we assume that we're working as well as we can.

I think it's worth it, my lionhearted friends, to dig in and really try for this. 

Personally, I love the idea of my time—that very finite resource!—doing radically more than it currently is. Of having richer insights, more imaginative work, and better everything.

Woo! I'm getting chills.

So I'm on board with this.

Oh, okay, and one last thing: If all this focus talk makes you feel like your brain is going to fall out, and also like, what the heck, Lucy, that last month was all self-care all the time, and now I feel like you want me to be a machine... 

I got you. On Thursday we'll be talking about strengthening our ability to play. Which is the other half of this deep work equation. 

OH yeah. We'll balance it out. High five, my friend.

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!

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! 

Why We Won't Give Up: Finding the Energy to See Our Writing Through

It takes a colossal amount of energy to write a novel. It's a physical, mental, emotional, and creative game. So, where's all that energy coming from? Do you have enough? | lucyflint.com

When our writing jumps the tracks, it's easy to blame our work ethic, discipline, or inspiration. 

But one of the huge players in this whole writing game is energy

Writing a novel takes a huge amount of oomph, every which way. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and creatively. It's big.

You gotta have enough fuel for this game, and you have to have enough each day. We can't show up half-hearted.

I hate to point out the obvious but: Allllllllll that energy has to come from somewhere.

We can't be too drained and depleted from other, non-writing things.

This has been a huge focus for me lately. I have finally realized that I simply don't have the stamina to have much else going on during the week, if I'm also writing hard every day.

My work thrives on eight-hour writing days: my characters love the attention, and they give me amazing stories to tell.

But if my evenings are taken a few times a week, it cuts my writing energy in half. No kidding.

I fought that for a long time, but finally faced it a few months ago. As an introvert, I've had to back away from commitments where I was regularly spending time with large groups of people—because I just couldn't, and still get my work done effectively.

So part of this whole energy equation is: figuring out what drains your energy away, and limiting that.

Or, if you're in the midst of a big challenge, if you're doing something major, then don't stop at just limiting this. Do the scary freeing thing and step away from that commitment completely.

Then there's the other side of the equation. And it's the part that I need to challenge myself to do more of. We need to ask ourselves: 

What gives you energy? What fills you up?

And—because it's 2016 and we've got some stuff to do—I'm not talking just a teeny little smidge of an energy buzz. This isn't just a bit of caffeine.

I'm talking more on the level of: A scandalous amount of energy. 

Like, a two year old on a sugar rush. That kind of energy.

That's the kind of drive we'll need to meet these amazing goals.

So I've been asking myself some questions, looking at what's worked well for me in the past, and how that might look for me now. 

If you're looking for a mega-boost of energy, join me for a bit of brainstorming. Sound good?

PHYSICAL: Can't get around the fact that all this writing affects our bodies. 

  • When was the time in your life when you had the most physical energy? What did that feel like, and what were you able to do?
  • What were the components it took to get that level of energy? Such as: 
    • How much were you sleeping? Were you taking power naps?
    • What were your eating habits like? Plenty of green veggies? 
    • What kinds of exercise were you doing? How regularly?
  • What do you think would make the biggest difference for your physical energy right now? Any kind of adjustment in your habits of resting, eating, and moving?

EMOTIONAL: Writing a novel means we're playing all the roles of an entire cast of characters. We feel all the feelings... and that takes a lot of effort.

  • When was a time when you felt really emotionally healthy? Low stress, low anxiety? Feeling peaceful, cheerful? Relationships going well?
  • What else was going on in your life at the same time?
    • Were you journaling? Practicing a degree of self-awareness? Pursuing a spiritual practice? Meeting regularly with a friend, a mentor, a counselor? 
  • What do you know is good for your heart? 
  • When do you have a chance to be around beautiful things? How often do you let yourself go and do something truly fun? When do you feel most peaceful?
  • What are you craving emotionally? What do you think you need the most?

MENTAL: Obviously our brains are hard at work, and they need the energy to gulp down facts, to research, and to analyze our stories. We gotta be on our toes!

  • When have you felt the most mentally sharp? When were you at your best thinking critically, analytically? When were you best at learning, at processing information?
  • What else were you doing at the time? 
    • What kinds of information were you around? What were your reading habits like?
    • Were you part of a discussion group, either formally or informally?
    • Were there trusted people you bounced ideas off of (colleagues, friends, professors)?
  • What never fails to bring out your best thinking? What kinds of books and media stretch your mind in the best ways?
  • What concepts are intriguing to you right now? What mental habits are you interested in? What would you really like to learn about?

CREATIVE: We are problem solvers and image makers. We're constantly inventing! We have to be overflowing with creative energy to see these stories through.

  • When have you felt the most dazzlingly creative?
  • What's going on around you when you're most on your game as a creative? Are you doing any creativity exercises (freewriting, problem solving games, visualizing challenges)?
  • How else (besides story telling) have you explored creativity? How else have you been a maker? What did you create? (Music, paintings, crafts, food, woodwork, kids, gardens, photographs... )
  • Are you still participating in those creative outlets? Do they get a little chunk of your time still? Which do you miss doing?
  • What topics do you feel curious about? What do you wish you were doing more of, creatively?

So, what did you come up with?

If any of these prompts made your heart leap, or excited you a bit, I'd say: do whatever you can to try and make that a reality for yourself. 

What would happen if you picked one energy-maker in each category, and gave it a regular place in your week?

What would that look like? 

You know I'm a big believer in starting small. If this is at all overwhelming, maybe pick a single tiny habit. Just one little thing to start doing, to bring a stream of extra energy trickling into your life?

But then, I'm also a big believer in going big: What is the most radical thing you could do, to make sure you have a scandalous amount of energy for your work? 

Just think what would that look like! How that could feel, to have huge reserves ready to go straight into your writing?? 

What could you do this weekend, or during the rest of January, to move yourself closer to being that amazingly energized writer?

Oooh, this is the kind of thing that makes my fingers tingle. 

So, what are my big energy initiatives? Because yes, I definitely thought my way through these questions too! 

  • Physically: I'm adding a lot more physical movement throughout my day (standing desk! dance parties! yoga! brisk walks!), and I'm drinking a green smoothie every morning. (Love that!)
  • Emotionally: I'm getting back to journaling my prayers in the morning, and getting rid of extra noise in my life so I can feel more peaceful.
  • Mentally: I've added some more challenging reading to my must-read list for each month, I'm listening to some great podcasts every day for new ideas, and I'm also dipping into some beautiful essays and poems every night. 
  • Creatively: I'm devoting regular time to exploring my curiosities, and I'm finding ways to make some art every day. 

So far, I've been bouncing off the walls! (And I promise it's not just the vat of coffee I drink every morning.)

Your turn! What will you be doing to get yourself some extra energy? Share tips in the comments below!

My Best Formula for a Good Writing Routine

My best formula for a good writing routine starts here! | lucyflint.com

My early writing schedules were torturous, terrible things. Hideous.

I was desperate to prove myself. So I devised a massive, arthritically structured plan. I wanted to do four kinds of writing (poetry, essays, short stories, novels), and I wanted to do them all RIGHT NOW. As well as researching markets and sending out submissions.

My days were frantic and bursting at the seams. I took zero time for real input, or the slow exploratory writing--the kind that so often yields the best insights, the best work.

All that's changed--thank goodness!

Now I'm a lot more interested in doing quality work, and a lot less interested in being the girl who writes everything.

After a lot of learning and experimenting, I came up with a basic, non-crazy writing template that has held up for years. It's a formula more than a concrete schedule: It's very forgiving, and the elements can stretch, collapse, or change places, based on your needs or your time constraints. You can shrink it into a thirty-minute micro-version of a writing day, or expand it to fill a full seven or eight hours.

If you're looking for a way to structure your writing days, give this a try!

Step 1: Start with a bit of courage, inspiration, and love.

I start by reading books about the writing life, books that address the attitudes and mindset and heart of the writer herself. This is my mental warm-up, my precursor to deeper thinking.

I am happily surrounded by many good books in this category. Right now, my top five are:

Step 2: Warm up your pen with light, unattached writing.

This could be time to do a few writing exercises, or my current technique of choice: a bit of journaling. The point is to get words down, warm-up words. Pen moving over paper; a cursor tracking across that white field. Get some words down without judgement or stopping. Write for a few minutes.

Step 3: Stock your brain: read the dictionary or the encyclopedia.

This is an insanely useful practice. I love the serendipity of what you'll find in a single page. When I'm looking hard for story ideas, I'll gulp down three pages in the dictionary every day.

It's not really about learning new words. It's more about encountering new thoughts, or familiar ones in new contexts. This practice has sparked character ideas, new settings, and whole story concepts. You never know what you'll find, what will save your bacon in a moment of inspirational poverty.

Step 4: The meat of the day: Focus Area #1.

For me lately, this means typing in the previous day's drafting work. Some rough revising work on those pages, a bit of editing, and exploring new ideas that spring up.

If you're new and don't have a project yet, try diving deep into the world of writing exercises.

I once spent eight weeks working through all 365 prompts in A Writer's Book of Days. At the end of it, I had the bones of at least four novels, as well as the ideas simmering for dozens more. If you're new to writing, this might be the best thing for you!

Step 5: Focus Area #2.

This is usually when I do the day's drafting: fleshing out scenes, sentence by sentence.

Other times, I've used this time to work on specific craft and skill-building exercises, like the ones in James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure or Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook or The Fire in Fiction.

There are MILLIONS of books on craft out there. When I'm feeling weak on a certain writing skill (in other words, always), I'll grab two or three books that cover the same subject, and I'll map out a mini writing course for myself.

Step 6: Review the day, and plan tomorrow.

Because I'm a notetaking nerd, I usually add something to my work journal about how the day went. I'll mull over what I'm stuck on with my draft, vent frustration about what was unexpected, or celebrate the victories.

This is the perfect time to plan the next day. Before I leave my desk, I write out a detailed list of what I'll do tomorrow, category by category. When one day feeds into the next, they start to build momentum. Trust me, it makes it a lot easier to get started.

Step 7: Fall into someone else's good book.

After a day's work of word lifting, I love to flop down with someone else's finished prose. It's both a great way to unwind, and a way to keep musing on words, admiring the rhythms of sentences, getting lost in the imagery.

Plus, hey, we're readers, right? Why write if you don't love to read?

There it is! My tried and true all-purpose writing routine.

Obviously, this is just one girl's escapade in Scheduleland. Maybe this is the kind of thing that bores you to tears, but I'm a schedule junky. Really. I'm the nosiest person when it comes to how other people work, endlessly curious.

If that's you too, then check out the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (the blog that started it!) by Mason Currey. While you're at it, look through the archives of My Morning Routine, which posts once a week, detailing the morning ritual of current artists, entrepreneurs, writers, and other creative sorts. 

All right. So: How do you work? Do you have a tried-and-true routine, or a habit that helps you start, or a proven closer? Share tips and habits in the comments!


Wanna keep reading? Check out: We the Observers and Be Patient: We're waiting for wonderful.

If you enjoyed this post, please pass it along to the other writers in your life!