[Special Guest Post!] Find Your Theme, Fix Your Life: Another Great Reason to Write

Find your theme, fix your life: Another great reason to write! (Special guest post with Jessica Lourey!) on Lucyflint.com

Hello, my lionhearted friends! And welcome to June!!

I don't know about you, but I am READY for a chilled-out summer and a slower pace.

Here on the blog, that translates to a broader focus. We're going to take this month to kinda zoom out from the day-to-day of a writer's life. And instead, we'll take a look at the big picture.

Because lately, I've caught myself pawing through my writing years, trying to get a grip on my own trajectory. And I've been asking myself: what happens to a writer across many projects? What kinds of seasons happen in a writer's creative life? 

And how do all my crazy projects and ideas mesh together, anyway? 

Lucky me: To look more at that last question, we have a special guest post today with Jessica Lourey.

Jessica Lourey

I am SO excited to introduce her to you: she's published fifteen books and she has something pretty awesome to say about the themes that show up in our work. I'm so glad we get to hear from her!

So check out her post below, and be sure to hit the comments to say hi to Jessica in person!

Then you'll definitely want check out her TEDx Talk (it blew me away), as well as her latest book.

(And whaaaaat, she also has a coloring book for writers? I know I won't be the only one scrambling to get my hands on that!)

Are you excited? Let's dive in. Here's Jessica:


My 15th book released a few weeks ago. It's called Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction, and it walks readers through the lucrative and life-changing process of transforming life experiences into powerful fiction. 

I stumbled across this fact-to-fiction process by accident. The year was 2001. I had a three-year-old daughter and another on the way. I was teaching full-time and loving life.

Unexpectedly, inexplicably, I lost my husband.

I go into more detail in my TEDx Talk, but in general, here's what happened after his death:

I had to write to survive. I needed to transform my fear and pain into something coherent.

I wrote one book, then another. I'd written three whole novels and received 423 rejections before I landed my first agent. Fifteen books later, I'd give up wine, bread, cheese, and my left foot before I'd quit writing.

But even after all that passion and practice, if I'm honest with myself (and you), it's not exactly ancient history that the idea of drafting a novel felt like being dropped into central Africa's Congo Basin with a compass and a paperclip.

Naked. 

Rolled in honey.

With everyone whom I've ever wanted to impress watching via a live feed, gathered together in a room, eating popcorn and laughing so hard that they spewed schadenfreude all over the television. 

In fact, after I began my first novel I spent much of my writing time feeling overwhelmed at the scope of what I'd taken on and like a ridiculous fraud for even pretending I could write a book. I grew up in rural Minnesota, for crying in the night. Not only did I not know any writers, I hardly knew anyone who liked to read.

But there was personal treasure to be mined in the writing of a novel, I sensed it even then, rubies of resilience and emeralds of hope, and so I read what I could on the art of writing, sought out mentors, and read fiction like a chef trying to puzzle out the recipe by tasting the meal.

After five years of trial and error, I finally arrived at a method to reduce the time and stress of writing an experience-based novel while increasing the joy in the writing and the quality of the story.

More importantly, I discovered that writing fiction allows me to process much of my personal garbage so I can live healthier and happier.

Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction, by Jessica Lourey

You'll find that most if not all your best novel ideas are already growing, ready to be plucked, in the compost pile of your mind. (Your compost pile is that fertile, loamy, crap-filled place where you tossed your baggage in the hopes that it would decompose on its own. It doesn't. You have to stir it up and spread it out. It's just the way it works.)

All writers end up with a unifying theme across the books that they write, and that theme is the most indigestible nugget in their mental compost pile, the personal challenge they were put on this earth to overcome.

For example, I write about the poison and power of secrets. In every. Single. Book. (It took me eight novels to realize my recurring theme.)

I come by this meta theme honestly. I grew up in a house built on fear and secrets, liberally sprinkled with alcoholism, psychedelic drugs, swingers, and naked volleyball parties. I packed my first bong before I was ten and mixed a mean whiskey water by age twelve. To this day, I think my parents' worst fear was that I'd rebel and grow up to be a right-winger.

(My parents would be mortified if they knew I was writing about them or my childhood. This, along with an instilled allegiance to secrets, has kept me from writing nonfiction up until this moment. How am I finally breaking free of this, you ask? The advice to write as if your parents are dead seems too harsh. I'm instead writing as if they're illiterate.)

My experience of working through and spreading my mental compost pile via novel writing is not unique.

At a recent writing conference, a successful noir author confessed to me that all her books are about that pivotal, cathartic moment when a person tests his/her limits. John Irving's recurring theme seems to be younger men who are seduced or abused by older women. Parental abandonment appears in every one of Charles Dickens' books. Amy Tan tackles mother/daughter relationships in her writing.

You will find some version of your own experience-based theme in all the novels you write.

Don't worry if you don't know your life theme right now; discovering it is one of the many gifts of novel writing. 

Just know that wherever you are at in the writing process, you are doing the right thing. The good work. 

Write on, with love,

Jessica Lourey
www.jessicalourey.com


The above is partially excerpted from Jessica Lourey's Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction, available May 1, 2017, wherever books are sold.

Jessica is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing "a splendid mix of humor and suspense." She also writes sword and sorcery fantasy, edge-of-your-seat YA adventure, a coloring book for writers, and magical realism, literary fiction, and feminist thrillers. She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft's Excellence in Teaching fellowship, a regular Psychology Today blogger, and a sought-after workshop leader and keynote speaker who delivered the 2016 "Rewrite Your Life" TEDx Talk.

You Know That Voice That Says You Can't Write? Today We Take It Down.

There's that voice in our heads that says we're not good enough to be writers, or who do we think we are to try big things. The good news? That voice has a definite source, and we can learn how to take it down. A better internal message starts right here. | lucyflint.com

You know that feeling of being hit between the eyes when you read something: hearing your own life in someone else's words? 

For me, it was equal parts electrifying and clarifying, when I read this in The Artist's Way:

If a child has ever been made to feel foolish for believing himself or herself talented, the act of actually finishing a piece of art will be fraught with internal shaming.

WHOA, I thought. That sounds ... eerily familiar.

I kept reading: 

Many artists begin a piece of work, get well along in it, and then find, as they near completion, that the work seems mysteriously drained of merit. It's no longer worth the trouble.

How did Julia Cameron know what I'd been doing with my writing projects for so long? How was she so dang accurate??

I felt stunned, glued to the page. And she didn't let up:

Often we are wrongly shamed as creatives. From this shaming we learn that we are wrong to create. Once we learn this lesson, we forget it instantly. Buried under it doesn't matter, the shame lives on, waiting to attach itself to our new efforts. The very act of attempting to make art creates shame.

This is the part when I put the book down and staggered around my house, saying, "Everything makes sense now!!"

And this is when my sister told me about Brené Brown's work on shame and I began devouring everything I could find about it. 

Because those paragraphs were talking about me. My childhood.

And the mega-frustrating cycle that had trapped me, one work-in-progress after another. 

Each project seemed to blow up in my face, just as I got to the halfway point. And I went back to the drawing board, convinced down to my toes that I needed forty more skills (and at least five more how-to books) to write the work in question.

I thought I was the problem—too skittish, too perfectionistic, too lazy, or just too stupid. I couldn't tell: one of them, or maybe all four. 

Whatever the root cause, I was getting really, really tired of people asking me, "when will your book be done," and my falsely cheerful reply, "Not sure, but thanks for asking!"

But now, thanks to Julia Cameron, I had a way in. There was some shame lurking in my past, something that I'd buried deep. And somehow that was part of this problem.

And thanks to Brené Brown, I could figure out what to do next.

... And since I know I'm not the only one dealing with this stuff, let's talk it through.

Let's have a little heart-to-heart about shame in our writing lives.

Brené Brown says that shame (she calls it "the gremlins") has two main messages. It's the ugly voice in our heads that says, "You're not enough."

And it's other main message is, "Who do you think you are?"

MEAN, isn't it?! Ack! And if I'm having a slightly off day at the writing desk, that's what I get in my head.

How about you? Any of that sound familiar? 

If I'm not careful, I can hear that whining, nagging voice start up:

Your book isn't good enough, interesting enough, important enough. Your characters are flat and foolish and your dialogue is all dumb. The settings are cardboard. You're not good enough at social media. Your website is super dull and basic and you keep saying you're going to fix that and then you don't. There are a thousand things you could be better at right now. You'll never...

And on and on and on.

It boils down to this: Lucy? A writer? Pah. She's not good enough to pull that off.

On the other hand, if I'm doing okay, and if I'm working on the plans for revision and educating myself about the publishing process, then the other voice starts up.

Oh? Oh really? Publishing, hmm? You were a boring kid, a boring teenager, and a boring college student. If you ever had talent, it's definitely gone by now. Why would anyone want to hear what you have to say? Who do you think you are?

... Is that familiar to you at all? 

Let's all take a moment to blow a loud blast on the airhorn of clarity. Because this, my friends, is not the voice of truth (though we TREAT it that way!).

It's the voice of shame.

Which is why I am steeping myself in the book Daring Greatly. Because Brené Brown is talking all about a process she calls shame resilience. 

This is the process by which we can encounter shame, deal with it, and, as she puts it, "come out on the other side ... with more courage, compassion, and connection than we had going into it." 

Whew!! That sounds amazing to me.

Okay. Field trip: Take two minutes and check out this lightning-quick video on how to combat shame. (If you'd like a more thorough description of how to move through shame, with an example, check out this great article on Brené Brown's blog as well.)

Shame resilience. I love those steps. I am super new to this process, but I'm learning and practicing it, one baby step at a time.

Let's go through them:

Understand what triggers shame for you. And reality check those messages of shame.

What are the gremlins saying in that moment? What are they telling you you should be?

And then, is that message even true? Are those values your values? Does this even apply to you?

Stare very hard at the voice, the message, and say: Is this legit?

I love this next one. She puts it beautifully in the book. She says in the midst of a shame attack, she needs to:

"Talk to myself in the way I would talk to someone I really love and whom I'm trying to comfort in the midst of a meltdown."

I love that. I love that. 

We would NOT say: You're right! You're a really boring person! And you're terrible at writing! These paragraphs are a mess! Have you ever heard of topic sentences?! 

What would we say instead? 

Think of who that is. Who brings out your tenderness, your compassion? Who would you never be harsh with?

What would you say to that person in this situation? 

I'm imagining my oldest niece, coming to me and saying that she feels like she's a bad writer, that she'll never be any good, that she has no talent.

And I can feel all my righteous aunt-ness rising up in me: Drafts are supposed to be messy, darling! They're supposed to be imperfect. You are doing wonderfully. Let's take it step by step. 

Use those same words you'd give to someone you love. Use that kind, compassionate tone. Use them on yourself, in the face of the gremlins.

Tell your story. Connect. Reach out. Own your story.

She makes the very good point that you share your story with someone who has earned the right to hear it. Not someone who will shame you further, mock you, or use it against you. So, wisdom is definitely called for here.

But I love how she describes owning our stories in Daring Greatly:

Don't bury it and let it fester. ... I often say this aloud: "If you own this story you get to write the ending." ... When we bury the story we forever stay the subject of the story. If we own the story we get to narrate the ending. As Carl Jung said, "I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become." 

BAM.

Okay, friends. How are you feeling? Is this hitting a chord?

As I dove into learning about shame, I also started excavating my past. Digging up the dirt, looking around, scouring the area for any hidden messages, any gremlin outposts.

And it's been incredible. SO freeing. So clarifying. And I'm learning to have so much grace for myself.

I processed old stories out loud with my Brené-Brown-loving sister. Then I journaled about them and dug even deeper.

I'm learning that basically anything in my work can operate as a shame trigger: quality of writing, genre I'm working in. Productivity, networking skills, habits. 

It's pretty clear: the gremlins loooove to get their hands on anything to do with my work, and to hold me to a perfectionistic, unreachable standard.

It seems like their favorite thing to do is keep me quiet. I've mostly snuck past them with this whole blog thing (yay!), but when it comes to the novels, they dig their claws in deep.

They are sending me a very clear message, and lately I've realized that it's linked to one particular episode from kidhood.

And because I would love to blow the gremlins up (and also because this is a perfect example of how buried shame messes with us), I'm going to dive into this a little bit.

Do you mind coming along with me? I want to own this brief, but long-festering story from my past:

It was fifth grade. My school's administration was really trying its best, I'm sure, and it didn't know it was consigning me to a special little hell...

But when the standardized tests came back and said I was "gifted" (sounds like something out of dystopian YA, yes?), I got to leave class once a week and hop on a bus with a handful of other "gifted" kids, and go to another elementary school, where we could, apparently, all be gifted together.

There were about nine of us on the bus, and I was the only girl. One week, we were supposed to bring our rulers with us.

And I don't remember provoking anything (because I'd already learned to be mouse-quiet). 

But for some reason, the boys spent our trip slapping me hard with their metal-edged rulers. All of them. Against mouse-me, in the back of the bus. 

Eight versus one—I didn't even try to fight back. Instead, I did what I knew to do: I tried to hide.

I wedged myself between the hump of the wheel well and the overhang of the seat, so that they'd have less of me to hit. And then I literally just rode it out, protecting myself as best I could.

When we got to the school, they filed out and I tried to get up. But fear had done its work, and I was snugged in there pretty tight. 

In my memory, it takes a shame-filled eternity, but it probably only took a few moments to wiggle my way free.

(What the heck was the bus driver doing all this time?? I'd like to time travel back and tell him to get with the program. Ahem.)

I went into the school feeling very shaken, foolish, and ashamed somehow.

I didn't tell my teachers. I didn't say anything to the boys. I didn't tell friends. 

I tried to pretend it hadn't happened.

I wasn't bruised or cut. So I just sat and learned about whales and nautical charts and used my ruler to work on my map. And then we rode back home.

No big deal.

But it was a really big deal.

There were no marks on me, but I had changed that day. And I received the message, loud and clear: Your gifts are not wanted.

And: This is what happens to gifted girls.

... And that is why, when I read Cameron's words about learning that we are wrong to create, and forgetting it instantly, and saying "it doesn't matter," I heard my own voice. Saw my own story.

That's the same message I hear in myself, halfway through every novel project. When I suddenly feel stricken, exposed: I'm an idiot, what was I thinking, why am I doing this, no one wants to hear this kind of story! 

All the encouragement I've received over the years boils away to nothing, and I'm still that fifth grade girl, alarmed at something she doesn't know how to fix, ashamed of gifts and creativity that somehow make her unworthy.

Well, GEEZ. No wonder it's hard to get things done around here!!

So, this is what I love about shame resilience: I get to own this story. 

This is me. I am that girl in the ruler story. And I'm also this woman typing.

There is more to my story than that one day, that long-internalized message. And I'm going to write the ending to that ruler story by continuing my work. 

By publishing a trilogy that puts evil in its place and gives an eleven-year-old girl a voice and the courage to fight back.

Antidotes and Cures.

I'm not sharing that story as a ploy to receive hugs. I'm sharing it because Brené Brown has convinced me of a few things.

So I wanted to talk about the bus and the rulers because I want to speak my shame story—to pull it out of the dark and let it wither in the beautiful sunlight.

But also because of the power of empathy.

Empathy is the thing that says, You are not alone

And I know I'm not the only person that this has happened to. Maybe it wasn't rulers on a bus. Maybe it wasn't eight against one. 

But I know that there are stories out there like this one, that sent the same message. A message that shows up right when you most need to believe in yourself, and find that you suddenly can't. 

I want to reach out to the others who were told to shut up.

I want to send up a flare for the people who got really, really good at being silent, at hiding, at escaping notice.

I want to connect with the people who found out that gifts get you hurt, and it's safer to hide them. 

I want to look you all in the face and say, I have been there, I have cried those tears, and you, my friends, are not alone

I love Daring Greatly and Dr. Brown's other work because she shows that there are tools we can use. There is a proven process. There are resources.

We can learn how to do this!! We can learn to speak to ourselves with love and self-compassion. To practice authenticity.

So, raise your hand, wherever you are, if you've encountered shame in the midst of your writing life. If there's something in your head saying that you're not good enough, or fill-in-the-blank enough.

Raise your hand if you've ever heard in your head, Who do you think you are, to write a tweet, a blog, a novel? Who do you think you are, to share your voice, to write from your perspective?

Who do you think you are, to say anything to anyone at all?

This is when we remember our steps. When we practice them, like the new and special dance they are:

Talk to yourself like you are someone that you dearly love.

Reach out to someone you trust. 

Speak your shame. Tell—and own!—your story, so that you can write the ending.

In Daring Greatly, she gives this great example of how we can talk back to shame. She writes:

Shame whispers in the ear of the woman who's out of town on business, "You're not a good mother because you're going to miss your son's class play."
     She replies, "I hear you, but I'm not playing that tape today. My mothering is way bigger than one class performance. You can leave now."

I freaking LOVE that.

And so I'm practicing.

I'm trying to catch that smothering sensation when it comes, that feeling that silence and hiding are the only things that can keep me safe. Because who am I, to dare to have a voice?

And I'm saying, "Shame, I hear you. But I'm not playing that tape today. I'm choosing courage as a value. Courage is even more important to me than the suffocating safety you're offering. And that means I'm showing up and speaking up. You can go now."

... I may or may not seal that with a little heck-yes dance move.

What's your version? What can you say back, when that nasty gremlin voice shows up? 

What can remind you of self-love and self-compassion? What can bring you back to authenticity?

Who do you trust to tell your shame stories to? And what old stories is it time for you to own?

This is a tough battle, my friends. But it's one that we can (and must!) learn to win.

Because the gremlins are lying. Because we really are enough, just as we are. Because we all have voices and stories that need to be heard, to be written, to be read.

Don't let shame silence you.


WHEW. Yep, I just spilled my guts all over a webpage again.

But seriously: thank you for being a place where I can be real, authentic, and honest, even when I'm typing with shaking fingers.

You lionhearts are amazing folk, with sturdy courageous hearts, and a willingness to grow, and I LOVE that in you. You inspire me.

Thank you for listening, for hanging with me.

Because, geez, what was I thinking with this blog series?! Why didn't I pick something a little less rough on all of us?

Maybe our next series should be about, I don't know, cloud gazing. Doesn't that sound lovely? Mmm. :)

Give Yourself This Simple, Powerful, Life-Sustaining Gift This Weekend

Let's not underestimate how sweet, blissful, and powerful a reading vacation can be! (Not to mention cheap. And totally doable!!) | lucyflint.com

And then sometimes, reading is just a blissful escape.

A cheap—but incredibly effective!—mental vacation. 

Obviously this can be abused, and of course it's not the most healthy idea to keep checking out in the midst of circumstances that need your attention. (So let's not do that.)

But a well-timed book escape can also be balm

Find a good, absorbing novel, and it's a ticket away, a mind-spa. Nourishment.

When they're set in an exotic locale, a book escape makes me feel like I really have "seen" other places and other times. (Love Mary Stewart's books for that!)

But more importantly, reading in this way protects space and time for me to rest, to be nurtured. To remember what I value.

To hear about courage, to read about other people's struggles, and through that, to feel steady enough to re-enter the fray of my own life. 

Books have filled this place for me again, and again.

Let's never underestimate the delicious ability we have, to escape into a book. To give ourselves a getaway, just by tumbling into a novel for a while.

(Or that we are writing such getaways for other people. It's a huge service, and a wonderful one, too!)

The most vivid memory I have of taking a "book vacation" was a little over ten years ago. I was in an emotionally brutal living situation. My roommate convincingly hated me, and there was no getting out of it.

To put it mildly, I wasn't thriving.

One week, I worked extra hard to clear all my homework by Friday night. And then I walked to our college library. Hiked up the five floors to the children's department. And I grabbed two thick novels by Robin McKinley. (Swoon!)

That Saturday, I woke up early. I carted some snacks out to our balcony and dragged out a chair.

And then I just read.

I snuck back inside for more food or for a bathroom break, but otherwise I spent the whole day on that balcony, in that chair...

but in an entirely different world.

No terrible roommate, no passive-aggressive behavior, no manipulation. I was Elsewhere, and it was marvelous.

By the time the book was over, it was night. I fell into my bed and dreamed story-inspired dreams.

The next morning, I started the second book. This time in my bed. It was a top bunk, so I made myself a little reading nest: I brought my meals and snacks up with me, snuggled under a blanket—and roared through the second book.

By late Sunday night, I'd finished them both. My eyes felt a little warm, a little sore.

But I clearly remember having this exquisite, deeply-rested feeling. 

Like I'd truly been gone. 

Like I'd been able to catch my breath.

I had enough space and time and words pouring through me, and somehow that helped me remember who I was and how I thought and what I liked. (All things which had been under attack in my living situation.)

It can sound like a small thing: two books, one reading-binge weekend

But there was also rest, delightful words, stories of courage. They were big, beautiful books of adventure and facing obstacles, which was exactly what I needed to hear.

And which, I guarantee, helped me survive the weeks to come.

So, let's never underestimate the value of a reading holiday. The power of a well-placed story. The way good books shine light into dark, difficult places.

Mmmm. This is no small thing we do, my novel-writing friends!

Every story we write is a powerful gift to someone else. 

Have you ever had a "reading vacation"? (Or, do you maybe need to take one right now??)

How or where has reading done that service for you? How has it lifted your burdens for awhile, so that you could re-enter the struggle with new energy?

In all honesty, I've had a pretty chaotic summer, and I'm not always landing on my feet these days. So my decision to spend July falling into novel after novel? Has actually been a pretty great one. 

It is so, so lovely to hit pause on all the worries and concerns and challenges. To slide into a book for a while.

And then to step back into the day with a fresher perspective, a little more energy. A clearer head. More words.

It's just one more way that books are beautiful things, right?

Give yourself that gift today, or this weekend. How can you make some space, clear some room for reading, and splash around in someone else's world for a while?

It's worth it. Especially if you feel like you don't have the time.

Take a delicious, story-fueled break. 


Okay, so, reading report: I'm about two-thirds the way through Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, and snickering all the way through. I love books like this!! It will be no trouble to finish it by the end of the week. 

How about you? What have you been readingand lovinglately?

I'm Not Super Interested in My Writing Process Feeling Like a Slog, Are You?

I was running out of steam this week, and thought I had to just keep plowing. Oh wait: that's not how I roll any more. Here's the new way to become a writing machine. (It's so much more fun, btw.) | lucyflint.com

How's your writing going, lionhearts? 

I've been back to my novel-in-progress in a big way over the last week. Words! Paragraphs! Chapters! It's been grand.

Plus, thanks to Monday's pep talk, I'm embracing the fact that it's gonna sound like a crappy first draft. No worries about quality.

So I thought that I'd keep chugging along, giving 90 percent of my energy to the words, bearing with the sloppiness of the drafting process

And then my word-making engine started making funny sounds. And acting weird.

Spluttering, coughing, jerking around. It kept stalling and puttering and cutting out.

I couldn't figure out what was wrong at first.

These chapters have been outlined—enough and not too much—so I knew what I was writing.

It's an exciting part of the story, too: the aunt and the niece are bickering, the baby has gone missing, and they've fallen into another world. 

Lots of tension! Intriguing settings! Plenty to do!

But I kept wearing out. I had the ideas, but my brain felt like taffy. Stretched too thin—shredding to wisps. The ideas weren't turning into real images, real moments, real words.  

What's a writer with a mega-steep deadline to do? 

Thrash about? Fight it out? Get all the words down with blood and sweat and tears?

Ha! If you've been around here for five minutes, you know by now: that's not how I roll. Not anymore.

So what, then? The deadline is tight and certain. How do I get these words moving again?

It took an evening of soul-searching, but I realized the answer was staring me in the face. 

I've come back to this draft after a ton of chaos. My brain has been full of problems to solve, of logistics and nurturing other people and getting plenty of vitamin C.

And I haven't done the oh-so-necessary spelunking in the wonderful dark caves of the imagination.

I haven't been feeding my story-making side at all.

Whoops.

So today's quote comes from Elizabeth Berg. It's marvelously straightforward, and precisely what I need:

"Find out what works as a literary stimulant for you, and use it shamelessly."

Obviously, this isn't shocking news. One of the words most often on our writerly lips is inspiration after all.

So the reason I love this quote is that it gives permission.

Use it shamelessly.

No guilt when you're off inspiration-seeking! No mixed feelings about nurturing the imagination!

"Find out what works as a literary stimulant for you, and use it shamelessly." -- Elizabeth Berg ... If you were looking for permission to drop everything and go out in search of what most inspires you: This is it. | lucyflint.com

I need to hear this.

Because sometimes, I misdiagnose.

I feel like I must be procrastinating when I'm off seeking inspiration. Like I'm putting off the real work of the words on the page—which of course is important! Super important! 

But we have to remember that our stories come from a dance between the two: we refuel the place that comes up with the words. And then we write what bubbles up. 

Refuel, write, repeat.

And yes, if you're chewing on that idea of putting 90 percent of your energy to the words on the page, this active refueling can make up part of that. Especially if you keep running dry, like I was.

When we're operating from a place of rich, deep fuel, it's easier to fall into our story and stay there.

It is, dare I say it, easy to write.

And that's what I want to get back to. 

So I'm making a list of all my tricks. All of 'em! It's shocking, actually, how I had totally forgotten them.

(Terrifying to be out of that habit!)

I grabbed a book of poems and stuck it by my bed to read just before drifting off to sleep. 

I'm spending time listening to songs that inspire me, watching movie trailers that whip my imagination into a frenzy, and browsing concept design on Pinterest

And then, that most potent strategy of all, I'm actively dropping my mind straight into my book. Swapping realities. 

Whew! I'm so out of practice! 

But this is what saves my writerly bacon. 

This is what gets the book written, without all that anguish.

This is what even makes the writing fun. It turns the work into an adventure—instead of another day pushing numbers into a graph. This many words and that many chapters by these dates.

We're not accountants.

(And I love accountants. No offense, number lovers!)

But we are writers. We've got to get a little gooey sometimes. We're supposed to.

We need to know what works for us, what stimulates stories in us, and then we have to give ourselves permission to go after that. 

It's the job. (And it's actually a lot of fun!)

Happy spelunking.


Where do your story ideas lurk? What feeds your gooey, story-making side? Please do share in the comments!! We could all use a few more strategies! (And nothing is too weird. I promise.)

I just have one quick thing to say before you eat your pie.

Can we take a sec to be outrageously grateful for our story-filled lives? Let's. | lucyflint.com

Happy Thanksgiving, Americans!! (And everyone else too, of course!!)

Go eat all the food, and maybe write some, just a little bit. Mostly, eat the food. 

If you're new to this space, you should know this about me: I feel incredibly fortunate to be a writer, and to live a story-filled life. 

It wasn't always this way. Actually, for the first seven-ish years of being a full-time apprentice-level writer, I kinda hated it. 

I mean, I loved words (mostly), and I loved reading (when I could get around to it). But I was in a sheer, flat-out panic about how little I knew about writing, and how desperately I needed this whole novelist venture to work out. 

And I got really bitter. And really sad. And super anxious.

About a year and a half ago, that all changed. Through some pretty major circumstances (waaaaaaay too much to go into in this blog post!), my way of thinking was taken all apart, and put back together again.

It was painful. But it was extremely clarifying. And ultimately, it's one of the best things that's ever happened to me.

And I realized: when I drop my expectations, my perfectionism, my decision of when and how my writing life should progress--when I drop all of that, and when I instead just focus on this incredible challenge of learning to tell stories:

I love it. I mean, I freaking LOVE it. 

This world of characters and setting, of conflict and plot twists, story structure and pacing... Everything that I have learned, and everything (everything!!) I have yet to learn: I'm overwhelmed at how rewarding it is. 

I think it's perfect that American Thanksgiving happens in the midst of Nanowrimo. Yeah, it ups the chaos factor a bit, but I think every draft should have a moment where we pause all the frantic activity and just get grateful.

Stories are precious things, my friends. A perfectly turned sentence? A thing of beauty. 

Novels--even the most lighthearted ones--can practically save lives

Even a ramshackle sentence, a messy paragraph, a totally botched dialogue exchange: all things that can be learned from, that can be rewritten, that can be turned into gold.

(Which is, itself, a totally incredible process, and has delights all its own. There are good reasons why I was almost an editor!)

... Yes, I do hear myself. I promise I'm not just trying to be a sappy, ridiculous, idealistic little writer-girl.

Dude. I know it's hard. Writing can be really, really stinking hard. 

But it can also--when we loosen our grip, when we lighten up, when we allow ourselves to be learners, when we focus on curiosity, when we treat ourselves well--it can also be a wonderfully rewarding life.

And one that I'm definitely grateful to participate in.

And HEY. While I'm being all emotional, let me just say this:

I am so dang grateful for all of you, my lovely lionhearted readers!! It's been so awesome to get to know you, to hear what you're thinking, what you're writing, to see so many of you on Twitter.

We're not doing this writing thing alone! 

And, aw, heck: I just love ya!

There. I said it. And it's true. *hug*

Now go eat some pumpkin pie.

The Best Job in the World

There's a purpose behind what we writers do. Let's not lose sight of it. | lucyflint.com

When I'm good and happy with my writing project, when I've had a solid two weeks of decent output, regular insights, normalish emotions, then I'm ready to put a cherry on top of everything and declare writing the best job in the world.

I mean, it is, right? (Especially if we've been practicing delight.)

We're so lucky. Our job means that we can fill to the brim with the beauty of words and the transcendence of narrative. We learn from all the great writers: we get to read and taste and mimic.

And at the end of the day, all our days, we are making more books. More shared ideas. More fascinating characters. We're supplying textbooks for living. For ourselves and our fellow humans.

In his wonderful book On Writing, Stephen King says that writing is "telepathy, of course." 

Because when something is described by the writer on the page, and then received by the reader:  Welp, telepathy is exactly that that is. King writes:

"This is what we're looking at, and we all see it. I didn't tell you. You didn't ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We're not even in the same year together, let alone the same room . . . except we are together. We're close. We're having a meeting of the minds."

Um... I LOVE THAT. A meeting of the minds.

Writing is telepathy. And more than that: Stephen King wrote those words in Maine, in 1997. I'm typing them here, at a suburb of St. Louis in 2015, at my huge black desk (strewn with five separate beverages; four open books with more on the floor; a positive cascade of notes on scraps of paper; dozens of writing instruments; a lamp; a partially buried paperweight).

And then you're reading it, wherever you are...

So it's telepathy. And kinda teleportation. And time travel too.

Words can go anywhere: they have no borders, not really, not anymore. We writers have long arms, hands that can reach anywhere, that can reach forward in time--who knows how far? 

And what's in those hands?

Books. Words. Stories. Ideas. Dialogue. Characters. Images. 

People will read what we've written, and they'll look up in surprise and say, That's me. This person is writing about me. I'm seeing myself in this story.

They'll read our pages and say: Someone understands. Someone else has been there. Someone gets it.

We're giving courage to other people. Courage to face their own days, courage to go forward. Through our words, we get to hold hands with people who are suffering. People in need. 

We're giving them what we have--the best we have. 

We have the best job in the world. And it isn't writing, not really, not exactly. 

The best thing is to love other people. 

To reach out, to hold hands, to stay connected, to be humans, to talk about living.

To give courage, insight, guidance. To say, Yes! Do that! Go! Or to say, No, don't go that way, please, you'll regret it.

As writers, we are both the Listeners and the Speakers. And through all our words, we're communicating love, essentially.

Is that weird to say?

Here, if the word love creeps you out, read this quote, from William Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

"It is [the writer's] privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."

Right? Right??? THAT.

The best job in the world. Giving other people what they need. Spending our time and energy to meet those needs.

Our medium happens to be words--stories, characters, images, conflict. We happen to be dealing with tales and novels and fiction.

"Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light." -- Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

The real job, the best job, is reaching other people. Lifting their hearts. Bringing light.

This is what happened to us when a story showed up.

It doesn't happen as much as it used to, but I still get that voice in my head at 1 a.m.

You know the voice?

It shows up with a list of things that I can't do anything about. And it rattles them off, accompanied by a dangerous amount of emotional pull and flawed reasoning. 

This voice is always convinced that it is right, it never lets me argue back, and it's sporting a t-shirt with the slogan "IT IS ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE."

I haven't heard from this voice in a few months, but as of last Wednesday night, it's camping next to my pillow, knitting long unhappy scarves and crowing over my frustrations. 

It's really fun. Definitely has put me in the Christmas spirit.

It's been a long time since I've felt like my job is useless, but that's one of those happy little thoughts that show up at 1 a.m.

My family and I have been immersed in the medical world lately. I've learned to be so grateful for skilled nurses and doctors and surgeons: If you can wield an I.V. without traumatizing your patient, if you don't flinch at the word "catheter," and if you are compassionate on top of all that...

Well. You're a superhero. 

I have a long gratitude list right now. So many people, in so many different roles, have held my family together, given us the information and courage and support we needed. 

But it gets easy to think that everyone else is doing important work, while I somehow lost myself in a silly dream of putting words on pages.

The books that I'm writing--well, I love them. No matter what the 1 a.m. voice says, I still do love these stories. But they aren't important. You can't confuse my work with, say, a doctoral thesis. I'm writing about themes I love, absolutely, and this trilogy is for an age group (eleven-year-olds!) that I care deeply about, but the books are also very ...

Wacky.

(I'm secretly terrified that my friends will read them and then take five quick steps away from me. You can know me pretty well and never guess the kinds of things I'm writing about. Because... how do I put this... there are telepathic lizards in these books. I'm still surprised that they're in there, but, yup, that's what they are.

And there's a family of aristocratic assassins with funny names, and a whole town devoted to jam-making, and these spiders that became really important to the plot somehow, and a whole troop of monocle-wearing superpowered who-knows-whats. 

It's goofy, is what I'm saying.)

Right. So I've had a few interactions with an insanely gifted surgeon, and then I go back to my desk and write about lizards. And then I stare at the ceiling past 1 a.m. wondering what on earth I'm doing with my life.

Do you have these kinds of nights?

But then I remembered one very important moment, and it shut the voice right up.

See, we were in my mom's hospital room. Waiting with her as they tweaked her pain medication, waiting for her to recover just enough from the surgery to go home. We were looking out at the amazing view from the seventeenth floor. Letting her rest, grabbing coffee from the lobby, keeping each other company.

And then: we were reading out loud. 

My family has always read out loud to one another: something my parents were doing for us when we were kids, and none of us got around to outgrowing it. So my mom packed a lighthearted novel for her hospital stay, and Dad and I read it out loud.

And something funny happened. Instead of being overwhelmingly conscious of I.V. cords and hospital gowns, the smells of antiseptic, the sounds of the equipment in the room (I never knew hospital beds were so loud)... instead of all our worries about the surgery itself, and the outcome, and what the rest of recovery would be like, and if any other treatment was needed--

We all teleported. 

To 1930s England. To chauffeurs in uniform, to having tea and lemonade on the lawn, to entertaining the vicar. To frivolous women and pompous young men and imperious great-aunts. To thwarted love and silly mix-ups and endangered inheritances. It was one of those comedy-of-manners kinds of books, trivial and subtle and funny. 

The only thing I had to focus on was reading the very next sentence. Everything else faded away. Mom listened and rested. Dad and I wrapped ourselves up in the story. 

And at one point I looked up to see my mom's roommate standing there, listening to me read. She was holding onto her I.V. pole, with a feeding tube snaking into her nose, but she was with us in the 1930s, standing there in England, just for a little while. 

(She told us--in a beautiful accent that none of us could quite place--that she and her husband had been listening to us for a while, that it was lovely to overhear someone reading, instead of the noise of the TV. "There's a TV in here?" I said later, surprised. We had never even noticed.)

In other words--I tell this emphatically to the doubting voice in my head--in other words, books are still important.

Even when your family gets all shaken around and can't figure out what normal is for a while.

Even in a land of diagnoses and tests and results and lab reports and waiting, waiting, waiting.

After all, anything that can make two women forget--even for an instant--that they are in a lot of pain; anything that can move a group of people over a continent and back about eight decades; heck, anything that can keep me from realizing I'm in a hospital--

Well. That's a very powerful force. Whether the story reminds you of green lawns and sparkling lemonade, or whether it's populated with aristocratic assassins and monocled crime fighters: Stories are important.

And maybe there is no such thing as too silly, when even the silly stories can remind us who we are.