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.

What Happens to You If You Actually *Enjoy* Writing?

Welcome to Week Three of the Fall In Love with Your Writing Life series! I can't believe that we're this far along already!

Can I just say, y'all are troopers. You are amazing.

I'm so proud of all the lionhearts who dove into this challenge, and I hope that you're feeling a little weak in the knees about your writing life!

And there's more fun up ahead! It's just going to get better! (Have I mentioned that I'm still super excited?? I have so many exclamation points I haven't used yet...)

This week is all about enjoyment. About a writing life that is marked by joy, pleasure, and fun. 

Why be grim and tense about writing if we really don't have to be? Right?

Yeah. That's why we're here.

So let's dive in!

That old mentality that says writing must be grim and excruciating? Pffft. The old school isn't always best. Let's shift that paradigm. What would happen to you if you actually *enjoyed* writing?? Come find out. | lucyflint.com

February 15: Take dancing lessons.

Today, we're talking about dancing.

And not in my usual, dance-your-writing-anxieties-out way. (Although that's still a good idea. By all means, let loose.)

I'm talking about dancing with your writing life.

And before that gets any weirder than it already sounds, what I mean is:

Write some poetry.

... I just figured we'd all freak out if I led with the "poetry" thing. So try to think of it like dancing lessons. I promise it will help.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Yes. Really. You. Poetry.

In particular, I'd love, love, love it if you wrote a haiku. (Or two. Or seven.)

What's the point of taking dancing lessons in a relationship?

It's about spending time with each other, learning a skill that brings you (literally) closer, and doing something beautiful together—or, actually, doing something silly. 

Yes, you'll totally step on each other's feet. Yes, you might look ridiculous. But that's great!

It's a wonderful reminder that the point of dancing with someone you love isn't about doing it perfectly, or even about doing it right.

The point is: enjoying each other's company. 

So, if this exercise makes you laugh, bonus points for you.

If you throw all kinds of words at the haiku but they just sound lame, bonus points for you!

And if you try this and find that you love it, then bonus points for you.

Get my point? It isn't about being a haiku master. It isn't about creating award-winning poetry.

It's about doing a dance with language. About putting your feet here and then there and then there, a little awkwardly, a little out of rhythm, but practicing at it—simply because those are the steps of the tango, the foxtrot.

Or the haiku.

A haiku is a three-line poem, and the length of the line is governed by syllables. Five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, five in the third. And that's it!

Here's a more detailed explanation... but seriously, just dive in for ten minutes and have fun. Let the syllables fly.

Forget about perfection: this is about enjoying your time together.


February 16: Contemplate.

Sometimes the mark of a really great relationship is that you can sit there in silence together.

Is that really the prompt for today? 

Yes! Yes it is! 

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Free yourself from the need to be demonstrably productive. Just for fifteen minutes. 

Can you sit in your writing area, and just practice feeling happy and peaceful there?

Think about enjoying the space, the feel of it. The ghosts of the words you've written here. The nebulous stories that you will write someday.

... If the idea of fifteen minutes of doing nothing makes you break into a rash, I get it. No worries: you can doodle on some scrap paper.

Or maybe scrawl a sentence... but try to write slowly.

Make a list of nouns you like, but in really, really slow motion. Like you're drawing the letters for the first time.

Or invent a word even longer and funnier than Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Maybe you do that. 

Or maybe you don't: And you just sit there, feeling open and available to the writing life, but without demanding anything back from it.

Is this a little weird? That's okay. It's just fifteen minutes. After this, we can all get back to optimizing and producing and tallying and researching and media-ing. 

But I love to take the pressure of being productive out of the equation, just for a bit. 

And let the life of words and writing mean more than just "getting this project finished."

Maybe, for these fifteen minutes at least, the writing life is a way of being. A direction. A type of feeling, and considering, and dreaming. 

What if the writing life wasn't a career at all, but instead it was a life that loved stories and language? 

What if all the books and blogs and essays were simply the by-products of a very happy marriage between a person and words? 

Hmm.

If nothing else appeals, try spending your fifteen minutes contemplating that.


February 17: Get a little fancied up.

I love the freedom of working from home. Of being comfortable. Of wearing whatever.

But sometimes—I gotta be honest—my whole style statement can be summed up as "Didn't actually think about it."

(Fair enough. I'm working on figuring out the intersection between being extremely comfortable and having a legitimate style choice. At which point, I'll discover my dream writing uniform. One day, folks!! One day!)

There's this funny correlation between what I'm wearing and how I feel about my work.

It isn't necessarily dramatic. But it creeps in now and then.

And, if I'm in sloppy clothes, I can start feeling like my whole posture toward my work is, "I honestly don't care."

It can feel demeaning. I start saying, "Why bother."

Suddenly I feel a lot less like writing and a lot more like, say, polishing off a package of Oreos. (Let's be real.)

On the other hand: when I dress up—and I mean just a smidge, just a bit, just a little—it sets an intention.

It sends me a message about my work: I care about this. This matters to me. And I'm bringing my best.

That's how we want to show up to our work. And that's what we want the writing life to see from us.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Dress up a little for your writing today.

This isn't about being uncomfortable, or hiding yourself, or being less like you. Not at all!

It just means leaning into the work a little bit. Bringing a little sparkle. Doing something a little extra.

And that can look however you want it to.

Maybe this means just wearing some lip gloss, or maybe you're writing in a party dress today.

When I want to take things up a notch, I pull out this perfume. It's called Paper. (I promised you I was a nerd, right?)

It smells like the sweetness of—no kidding—paper.

*swoon*

When I feel like I'm having a drab writing day, sometimes I change my clothes, do something halfway decent to my hair, spritz this on, and then get back to work.

It doesn't make me an instant genius, but it does make me feel much more confident about what I'm writing and why.


I hope you have an incredibly yummy and fun week with your writing! Check back on Thursday for four more ways to dive deeper into joy and love in your writing life. 

Want to revisit the older prompts? Here are the first four posts in the series: one, two, three, four.

Happy writing!

This Is the ONE Thing You Need to Plan Your New Year

Let's get real: the process of writing a novel is fiercely overwhelming. How do you pick what to do next? How do you use your time with laser-like efficiency? I just found a resource that changed EVERYTHING for me. Come find out about it. | lucyflint.com

Ohhhhh, lionhearts. I have to tell you about the book that has been revolutionizing my writing life lately. 

It's The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

How do I even sum this up?? ... Oh wait. They did it for me. Check out their one-minute video

Yes, it looks like a business book instead of, say, a writing book. But it's a quick, fun read, and a total game changer. Especially if you:

  • Struggle to decide what to focus on, while feeling overwhelmed by everything you need to do.
  • Feel like you're doing a ton of work and yet not moving very fast.
  • Want to make the most of the time that you have to spend... on anything

I'm the type of girl who can, without much trouble, come up with a list of fifty things that I feel like I should be doing right now. Things for health, for writing, for reading, things to improve my living space, my cooking skills, my relationships...

I once, rather memorably, came up with a list of over one hundred things I wanted to do over the course of a three-day-weekend. 

I also have a habit of working long hours, and then feeling like none of it made a difference.

It gets DISCOURAGING. Especially in a field like novel writing, where there are a bazillion skills we can be practicing, ways we can be improving our work, marketing techniques to learn for the future, classes and conferences and free downloads to try...

If you're like me, if you do this too, then you know that you can feel persistently overwhelmed, and yet undisciplined, and like you're never going anywhere. *cue the meltdown*

Hey. You and me, we don't need that kind of stuff in our lives!

Enter: This book. And its ability to mega-focus you on what matters.

The ONE Thing is all about figuring out what you need to do that will bring about the most change.

Or, as the authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan put it so elegantly: "What's the ONE Thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?"

They go on to explain that, for any work that you're doing, there are a variety of things (behaviors, skills, projects, outcomes) that will matter more than anything else. That will improve your results, more than anything else.

And of those that matter more, there's one thing that will matter the most.

Do that thing.

With exclusive focus. With the bulk of your time.

Focus on that ONE Thing. 

...

Whoa, sorry, had to do a few cheerleadery high kicks there. This just gets me so dang fired up! 

The whole book is about learning how to apply that question, what it means, what it doesn't mean, what it looks like, and how it can fit in every area of your life. 

They also talk about six lies about productivity and how those lies can mess you up. ... I'm blushing a bit while I tell you this, but I have believed and been motivated by each of those lies. Persistently.

They're super common. For instance, ever heard that: You need to lead a disciplined life. Or that everything is about finding balance. Or that you can always just summon your willpower. Or that you can and should get everything crossed off your to-do list. Or that multitasking is the only way to get everything done. Or that you should aim small.

They blow up each of these lies, and show a better, more humane, and more productive way to operate.

WHAT. 

No wonder I used to feel so exhausted and crazy! And no wonder my last few weeks have felt marvelous in comparison!

I'm using their goal-setting methods to focus on exactly what skill I should be learning for my writing (more on that in the next post!).

And I also narrowed down my health goals from about, oh, 400 ideas to just two, simple goals. And I can already tell a difference in how I feel.

... Time to do a few more high kicks!

I'm applying this thinking elsewhere too, and I already feel like my mind is clearer, my work is more productive, and I'm going in the direction I most want to go.

It's exciting.

Trust me: you want to read this book. Especially if you want to do big things next year. Especially if you want your time to make the biggest possible difference in your day and your work.

And especially if you want to move forward in a serious way—in any or every area of your life.

This is the next book on your reading list, okay? Get it for yourself for Christmas. 

It just might transform your 2016. 

The secret.

I caught my foot in another cycle of overthinking this afternoon. Overanalyzing, hyperscheduling, visualizing the worst, overplanning. 

I find myself in these cycles a lot.

So, into that bit of madness, this breath of simplicity:

Sometimes, the whole secret to writing is just this: sitting down. | lucyflint.com

Because sometimes, that really is all I need to know. 

Sometimes that's the only rule I need to keep.

And sometimes, I need to remember that it can be that simple.

You write by sitting down and writing. -- Bernard Malamud