When I Want to Be the Sharpest Writer I Can Be, I Grab This Book (Spring Cleaning Our Creativity)

Want to spring clean your creativity? This is the book I go to when I need a mental and creative sprucing, when I want new language for creativity, and when I need a general butt kicking and pep rally all in one. And yeah, you'd probably like this book too. | lucyflint.com

When my approach to creativity, idea-finding, and the whole imaginative life starts to get a bit cluttered, dull, and dry, I go to a specific volume on my writing bookshelf.

If I realize that I've let some self-pitying and some boo-hoo-hooing into my creativity, I reach for a certain guide.

And if I know that I've been taking it too easy and now need a real ZING:

Yup. You know it.

I grab that same book.

And so if you're in the mood to do a spring cleaning of your creativity—whaaaat?! heck yes, we're going there!—then this is the book you want too.

It's Twyla Tharp's practical guide to the creative life: The Creative Habit.

So how is this gonna spruce up our creativity?

Well, for starters, it just looks clean, with its white cover, lots of white space on the pages, grey and black type, with the occasional splash of red.

The book-nerd in me (wait, that's all of me) flat out loves it right from the start for looking so bracing.

And once you're into it and reading, the actual text and tips are sooooo refreshing.

Because Tharp is a choreographer. Her natural creative language is the language of dance.

... Which doesn't make this book inaccessible, by the way: she's talking to all creatives, and uses examples from business, painting, music, and yes, writing. 

I'm grateful for her new-to-me perspective, because it's easy for us writers to keep sharing similar tips over and over, right? Advice begins to sound the same. 

But not with this book.

Tharp's whole approach always resets me. It's where I go when I'm craving creative clarity, precision, no nonsense, and a general butt-kicking.

And in this book, she takes us through her whole process, start to finish. She talks about where a project begins, how you find ideas, and what your natural creative stance is. (She calls it your creative DNA. Cool, right?)

Then she gets into the nitty-gritty of how to approach a single piece of work. The role our skill plays. How to deal with failure, how to get out of a rut.

And—my favorite, favorite, heartbeat-picks-up kind of stuff—how to be in this game for the long term, how to find your groove, and how to get into a creative bubble and make your best work.

Every time I finish this book, I think: DANG. 

And then also: YES, PLEASE.

Can I please be every bit as passionate as she is about creativity after thirty-plus more years of doing this? 

Can I be at master-level? Can I be so savvy and calm about how creativity works? Can I be continually doing my best work? 

Fortunately, we can. Because she just told us how.

So there you go: pick up this book when you want something mega-inspiring and incredibly helpful, full of a fresh and practical approach to creativity.

Sound good?? Happy cleaning.

Crank Up the Awesome in Your Writing Days by Tackling This One Skill

By tightening our grip on just one skill in our writing life management, we can sharpen our focus, improve our ability to rest, gather momentum, and avoid burnout. What?! Yes really! Come check out this four-step tune up. | lucyflint.com

Good Monday, my lovely lionhearts! How is all this spring cleaning treating you so far? 

At this point, we've clarified and updated our goals, we've replaced negativity with radically positive affirmations, we've dusted and decluttered, we've straightened up our online lives, and we've taken a much-deserved break from all the good noises around us.

Whew!! That's some incredible work you've been doing!

Today we're looking at another major area that can get cluttered up: how we deal with our writing time.

It's so easy for boundaries around writing time to smudge a little. To blur.

And then ... they can break down completely. 

Right? You know the feeling?

Protecting our writing time is one of those habits that requires continual tweaking and adjusting. 

OH, and by the way: feeling guilty about how you're doing with writing time management? Absolutely forbidden.

I mean it. 

So if even the thought of this is making you feel a little gloomy, just escort that sense of defeat right. out. the. door. 

Think of this as doing general maintenance around your house. We're looking at the fences, or the roof, or how the siding is holding up. The stuff that protects what's inside.

There's no point in getting upset at yourself because of hail damage on your roof, or because the fence is getting a little weak and wobbly and needs a few slats replaced.

Right? Stuff wears out, breaks down, needs strengthening and replacing. No big deal.

So we're just straightening up. And not bludgeoning ourselves for the fact that this habit, like all others, requires maintenance.

Okay? No beating yourself up.

So let's do an across-the-Internet high five, and then get started!

Here's our checklist for a writing time tune-up:

1. Starting on time is the nicest kickoff.

Whether that means 8 o'clock at night, or 8 in the morning: Whenever you've decided it's writing time, there's something mega-powerful about starting right on time.

Honestly, this is the one I struggle with the most! It's darned hard for me to get to my desk right on time. 

So this is the policy I'm adopting: I'm gonna aim to be at my desk at eight. But my honest-to-goodness writing time starts at 8:30.

I know that this strategy wouldn't work for everyone, but if I verbally tell everyone—including myself—that I've gotta be at my desk at 8, then when all the little last minute things happen (because they will), I can still make my actual start time of 8:30.

I get such a rush from starting when I say I will, as opposed to feeling like I'm scrambling to catch up. So I'm reminding myself that it's worth that extra effort! 

2. Ending on time respects both you and your work.

It's easy to feel like a productivity hero when you blast right through the end of your scheduled work day.

And when you're working from home, it's all too easy to get carried away and work later and later.

Maybe because you just love your story so much. (Yay!)

Maybe because you're aiming for a killer deadline. (Understandable.)

Or maybe because you got off to a really late start, and are desperate to make up the time. (I hear you.)

For whatever reason, it can be really tempting.

For the first few years of writing full time, I was regularly working at all hours. I especially loved working after midnight, when the house was quiet, and no one could bother me. 

But it turned into an ugly cycle.

Working late zapped my ability to get started early. It felt like the day was always half gone before I got to my work.

So I felt guilty and sluggish during the day, even though I was technically "catching up" by working late at night. (No matter what, I couldn't turn off the idea that I needed to get right to it.)

Also, I felt like work was always on my mind. (Hellooooo, burn out!)

I've realized since then, that if I want to be totally focused when I'm at my desk, then I need to also have times when I'm totally not at my desk.

I need a big chunk of time where my creativity can replenish itself, when I can actually do other things, and, you know, live.

My writing time needs a definite end point.

So I've gotten pretty consistent with this. Even when I'm in love with my story, I stop working when I say I will. (Lately, that means 5:30 p.m.)

I'll happily keep daydreaming about the story while I make dinner and chat with family. It will be there spinning in my head as I'm brushing my teeth. And I definitely jot down the ideas for plot twists, dialogue, and setting switch-ups as they occur to me.

But I'm not at the desk. My brain is allowed to breathe.

Even when I'm working on a deadline: I might let myself work an hour later, every other night, but then I definitely, absolutely stop. (And I'll even do the insane thing and give myself a mid-week day off to make up for the extra work!)

And if I'm tempted to work late because I got off to a late start, I try to let myself off the hook. I put in a half day and say, "hey, it happened." And I work to get there on time the next day.

Why? Because overall, it's just stopped being worth it to me, to plug away until my brain turns to lint. 

3. Taking breaks during the work day makes you stronger.

Taking breaks within the writing day is something that can feel totally lazy if you're not used to it.

Especially if you come from the school of thought that says, "When you're working, you're always actively working, all the time. If that cursor isn't flying across the page, you're doing it wrong." 

But that's exactly how I burned myself out. (Boo!)

So I've learned to embrace the power of a quality break, during the writing day. 

(This quick video on renewal, from The Energy Project, says it better than I could. Super inspiring! I'm all fired up now!)

Let's just remind ourselves: Taking breaks makes us better problem solvers. It gives us fresh perspective when we come back to the work. And our bodies need it

I'm convinced: Working without breaks isn't a badge of honor. It's a recipe for serious trouble, both creatively and physically.

So, if breaks aren't already a part of your writing day: add 'em in, my friend! Guilt free!

You can pick your work-to-break ratio: There's the Pomodoro method, which gives you 5-minute breaks after 25 minutes of focused work, followed by a bigger break after four rounds of pomodoro periods. (I love this one when I'm especially dragging my heels about a task for the day. You can get an amazing amount done in a focused 25-minute stretch!)

There's also a lot of buzz about 52 minutes of work, and then 17 minutes of break. (Somehow I can't wrap my brain around that one... But if you've tried it with success, let us know!)

Or, what I've settled on for most working days, is this: a solid 90-120 minutes of work (with a couple of stretch breaks in there, but all pretty close to the desk), followed by 30 to 40 minutes away. ... Which is long enough for a walk or some yoga! Hooray!

The point is, of course, to find out what ratio most rejuvenates you.

And you'll probably find that your ideal work-to-break ratio changes, based on what kind of project you're working on, how your health is doing, and what else is going on in your life.

So the most important thing is to definitely commit to a break strategy. And then, protect that time. Especially from yourself! From the impulse to run right over it.

When your timer or reminder alert dings, come to a stop in your work as quick as you can, and get up!

Believe that time away will actually make you better (clearer! more creative! quicker! more insightful!) when you come back.

Oh—and, for me at least, breaks are not the time to go through email, social media, answer phone calls, or other busy work.

NOPE.

That just clutters my brain and further drains me.

A really restorative break lets my creative mind keep brooding on the work, while the rest of me is chopping veggies, sketching, cloud gazing, or inching into a downward dog pose.

4. Protecting your writing time from those other people you know (including you!) is a vital skill. 

Oh, interruptions. What would we do without you?

When do we let other people in, and when do we strictly protect our writing time from spur-of-the-moment happenings?

I'll be the first to say: I'm not perfect at knowing the difference. 

Look: I live in a house full of the people I love most in the world. So, if someone wants to grab a coffee and talk, or dash out to do something interesting: it is super hard for me to say "no thanks."

Sometimes I stick with the writing.

Sometimes, frankly, I don't.

I've also taken extended breaks from writing (or at least downgraded it to Writing Lite!), because of family needs. 

And honestly, I'm okay with that. Family is one of my major values. I have incredible relationships with my family members, and that's just how I want it to stay.

So: I've made those choices (the occasional breakfast out together, or a few weeks away to help a sister), and I don't regret them.

(Okay, okay. I still kinda wish I had cloned myself, and had Lucy #2 scribbling away at the same time. Ah well. Maybe next millennium.)

Sometimes, the right thing to do, is to accept the interruption. Step away. Catch up with the person who is asking of your time.

At the very same time, it's important to know when you really do need to do your writing.

It's important not to skip it every single time. It's important that writing wins about half of those head-to-heads. 

And look, if this is hard for you, I get it. It can be really hard! Some of those lines are blurry. It's hard to make a decision that feels right.

What I can say to it is this: As best as you can, go with your gut.

If you know in your heart that you would really regret blowing off a writing session, then you need to stick with it.

But if you instinctively feel that this is an important opportunity to build a relationship that matters to you, or to take care of something that you need to do: Then go for it. 

If I'm feeling torn and really wanting to do both, it helps to give myself ten-to-fifteen minutes of writing first, before dashing away. Jotting down a list of writing stuff that's on my mind. Capturing a writing thought.

But then I go, and go freely.

After all, if you've decided that, at this moment, there's something more important than getting every inch of your writing done, then you definitely don't want to bog down that important thing with guilt! 

So yes: Now and then, it's good and right to let life break in to your writing practice.

BUT. 

If, on the other hand, the people around you are putting weird guilt moves on you, and you're feeling pressured to do crap you honestly don't want to do and don't NEED to do instead of write, then that's a whole different scenario.

And for those situations, I offer this genius quote from Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way.

It's a little long, but sit with it. It's totally important.

Cameron writes:

Often, creativity is blocked by our falling in with other people's plans for us. We want to set aside time for our creative work, but we feel we should do something else instead.

As blocked creatives, we focus not on our responsibilities to ourselves, but on our responsibilities to others.

We tend to think such behavior makes us good people. It doesn't. It makes us frustrated people.

DANG, right? Yes, that one zings me too. 

So when something shows up that would pull you from your writing, give yourself some time to really evaluate. Go with your gut. Make the choice that seems right, and then don't kick yourself for it later. 

And if it's something you really don't need to be doing, then honor your responsibility to your work and to your own self. 

Okay? 

Whew! Boundaries around time can get slippery in a hurry, right?

What's the trickiest thing to stick with for you? Starting on time, stopping on time? Taking good breaks? Dealing with interruptions?

And how are you thinking about repairing that boundary? What would you like to aim for, to bring it back into line?

(And just a reminder: I'm in the zone of relying on new systems, not strict goals. So play around with this, but without stressing. We're just cleaning up our good intentions.)

Maybe there's an affirmation you can use. Or maybe you can reconnect to your purpose.

Maybe there's something you can set up that reminds you of your amazing story (a sketch, a quote from your characters, a photograph that reminds you of your setting).

I'm so much more interested in enticing ourselves to our desks, you know? The way the scent of a warm apple pie entices everyone to the kitchen.

Okay? So let's not say "You must do such and such, or you don't really care."

Nope. Nah. Let's not.

Instead, what about using a wonderful, aromatic, delicious little invitation to get back to work? Some reminder that your story is where something good and juicy and incredible is happening??

Mmmm.

THAT'S the kind of Call To Work that I'm most interested in!

The Power of a Good, Long, Concentrated Dose of Shhhhhhh.

We're enjoying the beautiful benefits of a Distraction Detox today. (Take some time away from everything that's splintering your focus into a thousand little pieces. Yeah. ALL that. Then see how you feel.) | lucyflint.com

Hello you wonderful lionhearts. How is your Distraction Detox going? (If you missed Monday's explanation, check it out! It's not too late!)

I hope that you're feeling a little more space in your thinking and your attention, and that your creativity is showing up in bigger and brighter ways.

Oooh. That's always worth the effort, isn't it? 

It TOTALLY is. High five.

So I'm just going to leave you with two things today. A lovely quote, and a lovely image. 

The quote is from Elizabeth Berg, and I keep going back to it, because it sounds so magical to mega-introverted me. She says:

I believe that solitude, perhaps more than anything,
breeds creativity, breeds originality.

That's what we're after this week, right?

Finding our way back to our originality. Re-encountering the mass of untapped creativity we each have.

And the source for that: Solitude.

This little Distraction Detox is about protecting our precious mental space, so we can get back to a kind of solitude of the mind.

A short, healthy break from so many of the other voices that surround us. 

... Which includes mine.

So I'll stop chatting, and instead, let's look at these waves: 

Shhhhhhh. We're on a Distraction Detox. | lucyflint.com

Mmmmmm.

I hope you have a super restful weekendbrimming with creativity.

See you on Monday.

What to Do with Way Too Much Good Information

It happens to all of us: Suddenly you're in a deluge of excellent content (and social media, and classes, and webinars, and books)... and it's all really excellent, but you find you can't think straight. Ring any bells? Yeah, me too. Here's the cure. | lucyflint.com

I have to admit: The main reason I wanted to do a Spring Cleaning for Writers Series is because of this week. 

Mmmmm. Let's savor the moment.

Take a second to just breathe in, really deeply. And breathe out.

I'm about to propose something new. It's kind of a challenge within the spring cleaning challenge. It might be the very best part of it! 

I'm calling it: The Distraction Detox.

And here's why I've needed it so desperately (and maybe why you need it too... if any of this rings a bell!).

I've had a lot of good things going on lately—really good things.

I've just finished a quick bit of traveling, I'm working on some good new systems for better health, and I'm reading some excellent nonfiction books so quickly that I'm practically swallowing them whole.

I'm reading great email newsletters, falling in love with marvelous Instagram accounts, tuning in to all you lovely people on Twitter, scrolling through visual feasts on Pinterest, filling my ears with Spotify and podcasts, texting pals on my writing breaks, and tumbling down the Netflix rabbit hole.

It's all so good. It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet of words! information! sound! ideas! 

And (not super surprisingly) the inside of my mind is feeling a little ... jittery.

I'm not talking negativity—we cleaned that out already!

I mean there's just too much going on in there. Too many new ideas, too many sound bites, too many concepts I want to rearrange my life to include. 

My lovely work-in-progress is quiet. And it's not really interested in jostling to make itself heard above the rest of the (exciting, wonderful) crowd.

I'm craving the sweetness of singleminded focus. The beautiful quiet of an undistracted mind.

The quick pace of all that media is exciting and inspiring. But my creativity truly flourishes the still moments.

The gift I really want to give myself (and you too, if you're up for it!) is a week off from distractions.

What?! Yes.

Seriously. 

Okay: Let's define it. What is a Distraction Detox?

A break from anything that's destroying your ability to focus. Any times you have competing projects. Anything that splinters your attention.

For me, it's a chance to: 

  • Break the habit of grabbing my iPhone and carrying it around with me everywhere.
  • Stop checking emails first thing in the morning. And also the moment they come in, all through the day. *slaps forehead*
  • Replace my nightly Netflix with something a little more creatively yummy. (I'm addicted to Columbo lately... I just love Peter Falk!)
  • Keep my desk totally clear of other notes, reminders, charts, etc.
  • Take a break from Spotify. (And listening to music with lyrics while I'm writing... oops!)
  • Put social media (all of it!) on the backburner. Just for a little while. Just for a week. (And if I simply MUST show up, I'll stick to a brief timed session.) 

And I don't mean just during my writing day: I'm talking all day long!!

I especially want to look askance at multitasking. I know it torpedoes my focus, but I've picked up the habit again, and it's time to set it back down. 

I want to be clear: All these things I've listed—the newsletters, the social media accounts, my beloved Peter Falk—are good things

But, because I haven't really put limits on the time I spend with them, they've been stealing my precious writing headspace.

... Until I'm getting more anxious about missing Instagram updates than I am about feeding my characters.

Which is why a little break sounds amazing.

How about you? 

Your Distraction Detox doesn't have to look like mine: your triggers are probably different. 

But grab a few minutes to think about all the different sources of information you're encountering: all the miniature narratives that intersect your day, all the virtual people you come into contact with. 

All of it. 

And ask yourself: What's going on when you feel an information overload in your head? Or when you feel like your attention is being fractured into three or four directions?

And then think about what a good, helpful, restful break would look like for you. 

Maybe just take a break from a few of the smaller things, things that it's easier to abstain from.

Or maybe you just take out your two biggest culprits.

Maybe you do it for a day or two, or maybe—like me!—you want to give yourself a WHOLE WEEK OFF.

You know in your gut how drastic or not drastic you need this to be. A small adjustment, or a big media/information vacation.

Your pick.

For me, this week will also be a chance to break my little addiction to new information. I can start believing that I just need a little more advice, in every single area.

... Because there's so much great free content out there right now! Have you noticed? Amazing webinars, classes, email courses, tutorials... I love it. 

But I can also get mired in way too many new ideas to apply at once. Too many lists of "3000 ways to optimize your entire life."

Okay, okay. It just feels like 3000.

You get my point. 

I don't want this week to be brutal: just the opposite.

I want permission to let emails accumulate through the day (and then zip through them in a half hour at night). I want to stop feeling twitchy when my phone isn't nearby. 

I want to come back to those lovely old-fashioned concepts like, an actual attention span.

And I want to listen to what's going on in my own head—my relationship with my work-in-progress, and my sense of how much internal space I need. 

Instead of trying to juggle hundreds of competing ideas and tips in my head all at once. (Anyone else feeling this way?!)

Ahhhhh. Distraction Detox. I'm so excited.

Whatever this looks like for you: Give yourself the gift of a bit of extra space this week.

Pause the information rush (especially good information! that's the hardest to resist!). Ease back on social media (just a smidge).

Don't do anything that cuts you off or causes you anguish. Just give yourself a lovely little vacation. 

And when the vacation is over, you can re-evaluate. You can add things back in as needed... or not!

The point of the detox is to just give us room enough to think. To get squarely back into our own minds for a while, and to decide from there what information and media we need.

Instead of being, you know, constantly bulldozed by it.

Can you feel a little peace sneaking in? Or even a rush of restful, soul-restoring silence??

Mmm. That. 

Happy Distraction Detox.

Free Your Ability to Focus By Cleaning Up Your Digital Landscape

We're not physically confronted by all our ties to the digital world... maybe that's why it can get out of control? Today's the day we tame the chaos! Let's get started! (In other words, a lot more spring cleaning for writers!!) | lucyflint.com

Welcome to the next little challenge of this spring cleaning series!

How's that writing life of yours feeling? A bit cleaner? A bit brighter? Happier? High five!

Let's start today's challenge off with an honest confession: I'm much more of an analog girl than a digital one. 

Don't get me wrong: I love what technology is able to do (letting me hang out with you, for instance!), but I'm much more comfortable with tangible, tactile things.

Paper, pens, physical books. I know where I'm at with all that stuff.

... Which is probably why it's easy for me to let my digital world get out of hand pretty dang quickly. 

Our virtual and online landscapes require maintenance, just like everything else. But it's so easy to let things go undone!

It's basically invisible, after all, which means that we're not physically confronted with the untidiness. But, if you're like me, you might be feeling a kind of ... digital chaos. 

There are so many things I've put off or left undone or haven't checked on. (It's a long list. Like: embarrassingly long.)

So whenever I'm on my computer, or doing anything online, I feel the pressure of allllllllll the little things I've been putting off.

Kinda makes it hard to get the important stuff done, you know?

So let's take today to clean up our digital landscape! 

The simplest way to round up everything that needs to be done is, of course, make a list!

(Fellow list nerds: Yes, you can absolutely break out the good coffee and the excellent notepads and pens for this. Everyone else: just carry on as planned, and ignore our maniacal laughter. It's all good.)

All set? Let's jot down everything that comes to mind. Some places to start:

  • computer maintenance: anything your system needs? new hardware? or any old cords and expired batteries to get rid of? 
     
  • computer files: is your desktop cluttered with documents, just like mine?? Let's clean 'em up! Or is your machine chugging slowly because it's clogged with photos you've been meaning to go through? Today's the day!
     
  • software: security updates? new versions to install? (Am I the only one who puts this off forever?) any software you need to buy?
     
  • email accounts: time to deal with any old accounts you want to delete and close down, address books you want to purge, email newsletters you want to unsubscribe from, passwords to update, other security protocols you've been meaning to deal with...
     
  • websites you manage: any design issues that are bugging you? pages that are begging for an update? how's your about page, or your profile section? any sidebars that need cleaning up? 
     
  • social media: profile pictures to update, freshening up your personal information, cleaning up any photos you've stored, answering any outstanding messages...
     
  • online friendships: any online buddies you've been meaning to contact? replies you want to send? questions you've wanted to ask, or connections you want to make? groups you want to update? 

There's so much more going on in the digital arena than I can possibly grasp (and expanding all the time!), so my bulleted list is just a starting point.

You know best what you need: it's the thing that you keep forgetting to do, the stuff that you remember only when you're driving, or you're taking a shower, or you're in the middle of something else and you can't get to it right away. 

That stuff.

Get it all written down, all in one place.

Whew!! Seeing everything on your mind can be pretty daunting, but it's also a relief. Now we can deal with it!

And just like when we cleaned up our work spaces: you can choose how big you make this catch-up. 

If it's a super long list, try just tackling half, or a third.

If you're short on time, pick the three biggest wins. What takes the least time, but will make the most impact? Start with those!

Whatever you can fix, catch up, install, delete, consolidate, or update quickly: do it! 

But no matter what you decide to do, today is a great day to keep all your amazing words and ideas safe by ... backing up your computer. 

Tell me I'm not the only person who perennially forgets to do that! Yikes! 

... But no excuses. Every little lionheart has to do this today. Okay? Your stories are too precious to risk a computer glitch.

There!! Now let's sit back and enjoy our cleaner, safer, happier, digital world!

Making Room for All that Writerly Brilliance (In Other Words, Let's Clean Already!)

Heads up: It's about to get really practical in here.

It's hard to think in a cluttered space. You know that. I know that. We all know that. ... So let's take some time and kick the clutter today! | lucyflint.com

Why are we going to talk about actual cleaning on a writing blog?

Because, my lionhearted friend, a cluttered physical writing space takes up too much room in our minds

If, in the midst of our writing, we're dealing with broken tools, pens that don't work, lost papers, and junk-filled drawers... it's going to be really hard to hear all the plot breakthroughs we're listening for.

You know? 

Tough to be wildly creative if part of our brains are stuck fighting our environment, trying to find the plot bunnies amidst the dust bunnies.

It's so easy to neglect where we're working. After all, our main focus is on just getting our writing in, day after day.

It's totally understandable.

If you're like me, you generally know how to clean. It's just ... it doesn't happen.

Which is why today isn't so much of a "how to" guide. Just a bit of a nudge in a tidier direction.

So let's grab a little bit of time for this today, and dive in!

You can do this in one of three ways: 

1) Go BIG.

Pull everything off your desk, out of drawers, off bookshelves. Empty file folders. Make a day of it! 

Haul bags of recycled papers out of your office. Purge your shelves of books that you don't need, or don't absolutely love

Deal with all the old drafts you've printed out and kept hanging around. (If you're feeling up to it, toss them all out. Dance in the space you've just cleared.)

Dust everything! Vacuum! Polish! 

And then feel that wonderful sense of wellbeing that comes after a day of cleaning hard.

2) Or, go MEDIUM.

If life is crowded and spring cleaning—while a nice idea—just isn't going to work this week (or this month!) then try this option. 

Focus on just one zone in your writing space. Try to pick the area that's been bugging you the most. (You know the one!) 

Budget just an hour or two. 

Whatever area you decide on, try to get it as decluttered and spruced up as possible. 

A little can go a long way, you know? Even if you just have time for that, you'll feel such a huge relief and clarity afterward.

3) And we totally won't judge you if you decide to go MICRO.

I get it. Personally, I'm super low on stamina lately, so if this is the best option, then that's great. No worries at all. 

Pick one small thing and clean it up. Tidy it. Declutter it. Or just get rid of it.

And whatever that looks like is fine.

Maybe you just empty out a pencil cup: make sure every pencil in it is sharpened, and every pen actually works. And that you even like all of them. And that you like the pencil cup, too.

That's it! 

And then—ahhhh. Feel that little rush of peace, every time you look at it, every time you reach for a pen. 

See what I mean? Even dealing with just a small space can have a big reward.

But no matter what amount of cleaning and clearing you did, bring something lovely into your writing space.

Yes! You know I'm a sucker for this. But take some time and bring some beauty into your writing area. 

Maybe it's a small vase of flowers. Or a candle that smells ah-mazing. Or even something that makes you laugh.

Heck, you can go crazy and just re-beautify everything in your writing life. Get allllll the lovely stuff. 

On the other hand, it doesn't have to be major: I have an owl mug that holds my Sharpies. It's a sly reference to my work in progress, but it's also just dang cute.

I've also spent an afternoon stamping silly polka dots on all my file folders. (I just used a little paint and the eraser on the end of a regular pencil. Easiest. Craft. Ever.) They still make me smile!

So it can be small. But treat yourself to something lovely in your office.

... There. Isn't that better? Can you feel the extra space in your head? It's almost a physical sensation, isn't it? Crazy how that works. 

So here's to a freshened writing zone, and a fresh writing week!


Random-ish side note: Yes. I DID just read Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and yes, it is my new favorite thing, and yes, I now want to overhaul EVERYTHING. Trying to pace myself. We'll see how that goes...

Four Steps to a Radically Happier Writing Life (Spring Cleaning for the Writer's Mind)

We've turned April into the month of Spring Cleaning the Writing Life! Because it's too easy to get swamped by clutter... and I'm not just talking papers and old pens. Check Monday's post for a guide to spring cleaning your goals, and when you're ready, read on!

It's easy to accept that we'll always have negative, doubting voices in our heads, frustrating us as we try to write. We *could* accept that. ... Kinda like we *could* accept being poisoned all the time. Let's not. Today, a four-step process for cleaning out the voices in our heads. Leaving us with a radically happier writing life. | lucyflint.com

Today's challenge might not be what anyone thinks when they consider Spring Cleaning... But it's way more important than the dusting and vacuuming we'll be doing later. 

You don't need a lot of supplies for this one. But it just might have the biggest effect on your whole writing practice.

Whew! Deep breath.

Today, let's take a look at what we're telling ourselves. 

Yep. We're gonna clean out all the negative, doubting voices in our heads.

What's happening in your mind lately?

What are the voices that show up when you sit down to write, when you take aim at a new challenge, or when you're lying awake at two a.m.

Take a few minutes and jot down what they say to you. As exactly as you can remember.

I know. It doesn't feel awesome to do this. But trust me, you need to haul those invisible little spooks into the cold light of a computer screen. Or onto the beautiful plain of a piece of paper.

Write them down. Because a lot of their BS becomes clear when we're actually looking at the words.

Look at how they're talking to you. (And feel free to get mad about it.) See how they go for our effectiveness, our quality. They pull out small, isolated moments of our pasts, and project a whole bleak future out of them.

This has come up for me a lot lately.

I've realized: it's so easy to just let those voices stick around. 

To think: Sure, I don't like them, but they're there, and that's life, whaddya gonna do about it? 

I've changed my mind.

I've decided that, being okay with negativity in our heads is exactly like being okay with asbestos in our apartment building, or with radon gas in our basement.

You can't just live with it: that stuff's gonna kill you.

And there's nothing especially heroic about breathing that in, day after day after day.

So I'm not going to let them stick. (And neither are you!) And there is something concrete that we can do about it.

(Oh, here I go, getting fired up now...)

How do we do that? Well, it involves an idea that I used to be extremely skeptical about.

So before we get to the good stuff, let's do a quick little mental experiment. 

Imagine that there's a person sitting there on your desk. A real, breathing human being. And what this person does is talk to you during your writing day. Out loud. Face to face. 

And let's say it's a terrible person.

All they do is talk to you about the times you've failed in your writing life. The ideas and projects that haven't worked out. Times when luck went against you. Pieces of your writing that were horribly misunderstood. Missteps. Topics that didn't work out well. 

Based on all that, they forecast your future. They predict how this piece of writing is going to go. They tell you all about the prospects of your dear little work-in-progress.

Okay. 

Seriously, now. 

How the heck could you get any good writing done?

Even if this person takes breaks, and only sounds off, say, once an hour: you would be so alert to every negative indicator. Every bad possibility.

So that everything else in your writing and your life will just confirm the person's bleak outlook.

Even though it's obvious, let's just spell it out: You're not going to get any thing great done. Even if you manage to persevere under that onslaught, it's going to be very, very hard going.

It will be next to impossible to believe in yourself. To attempt any new challenge. And even the normal trials of a good writing life will feel too impossible.

Ick. 

So let's rewind.

Now let's say the person on your desk is me. 

I'm sitting on the edge of your writing desk. And all through your writing day, whenever you take a break, or at chance moments during your work, I just pepper you with examples of when you were amazing.

(And I have SO MANY examples.)

So you sit there, writing, surrounded by all the moments when you got it just right. Memories of when you sat down with confidence and wrote.

I chatter on about the pieces that delighted other readers. The natural way you have with words. The wonderful things your teachers or friends or family have said about you. All your victories.

I remind you of your persistence, your courage, your unique insights, your incredible ideas, and how we need that in the world.

Well... geez.

You would do your writing in a significantly different way. Right?

When you're surrounded by the positives, you would rise to meet challenges. You'd step into hard tasks knowing that you have what it takes to figure it out because, hello, you DO.

Even when a piece "fails," you'd have the gumption to figure out what went wrong, and how, and why. You'd learn from it, and come out of that as a better writer.

See what I'm getting at? In both examples, it's the same writer. Same you.

But the voice is different. 

It matters where our brain is hanging out. What we're hearing in our heads profoundly affects what we do.

And we are better, more resilient writers, when the voices in our heads are on our team.

Which brings us to the new-to-me concept of affirmations.

Affirmations are a way of undoing the damage that the negativity does. Affirmations are that good voice sitting there on your desk, talking to you all day long.

If the horrible, negative doubts are poison, affirmations are the antidote. 

... If you're feeling like this all just got WAY more touchy-feely than you really wanted for a Thursday, I understand. I was incredibly skeptical of affirmations for a long time, but I've been rereading The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. And it is, oh my goodness, SO HELPFUL. 

Cameron is pretty dang strict about applying affirmations to your writing life, and—obviously—she won me over.

Here's how it goes:

1. Take one of the ugly mean phrases that you wrote down. 

2. Create an affirmation that deals with the same idea, but goes in a positive direction, or declares a positive outcome.

So, "You'll never publish anything" turns into I have the skills to publish this project. Or even I am a published author.

"No one's going to read this" turns into I have devoted readers. Or I have an audience that is excited to read my books.

See how it goes? (You can find more examples of affirmations here and here, to get the gist. Like I said, I'm still a beginner at this!)

3. Say your affirmation out loud a few times. 

Or write it down five times. Or ten times! 

Or heck, you can write it and say it!

4. Notice how you feel.

This is what got me. This is what sold me on it.

I felt so silly while I was saying these affirmations out loud. It just seemed so goofy, and it wasn't even close to true yet.

(Here's what I noticed about that supposed silliness, by the way: I could let negative voices stick around, forecasting a terrible future that they couldn't guarantee. But when I even considered replacing those voices with a positive affirmation of the future, that seemed too silly to try. Funny, right?)

So I was saying things like, "I am a brilliant and prolific novelist" (straight from Cameron's book), or "I create wonderful art even in difficult circumstances." 

Even though I wasn't sure I believed what I was saying entirely, it still had an effect. I sat up a little taller. I surveyed my day's tasks with more confidence.

And then I was grinning in spite of myself. 

My work for the day felt a lot less heavy. I felt more aware of all my gifts, and all my resources. And generally, a lot less daunted.

THAT is what we need, right? 

So take a little time today, and DO THIS, even if you feel so skeptical. Even if it is the silliest thing ever.

TRY it. Take one strand of negativity and replace it with an affirmation. And then, keep going down your list! Julia Cameron encourages her readers to do this at the beginning of each writing day—it's the ideal kickoff!

So clean out those voices. Replace them with better ones. 

And just see what happens.


If you want a bit more of a discussion about affirmations, this is a great article.  

Wahoo! We did it. Clearer heads, happier voices, and more TRUTH making room in our minds.

I LOVE IT. 

Check back on Monday for a more traditional week of spring cleaning... and til then, have fun making happier spaces in your brain! 

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!