34 Ways to Deliberately Grow Your Writing Practice (and Meet Your Edge!)

If you want to improve your writerly skills, without trading in a happy writing practice, I've got your back. Here's how to meet your edge, with grace and goodness. | lucyflint.com

Hello, my lovely lionhearts! Welcome back. We kicked off this month by getting excited about how we, as writers, get excellent at our work.

In other words, we talked about deliberate practice

If you missed it, here's the idea in a nutshell: Deliberate practice is about leaning forward in our work. Not just going through the motions, or merely putting in the time. It's about making each minute count.

My gut response to that idea is: Sounds awesome! But then I have to ask: Will this turn me into a very stressed out, jittery, grim sort of writer? Because if so, no.

Fortunately for all of us, there's a simple way to make deliberate practice sustainable. A way to bring as much curiosity and playfulness into it as we do perseverance and intentionality.

The key to it all is this little phrase: Meet your edge. 

As a process, it looks like this: Seek out the rim of what you are used to doing. Find the place where you would naturally want to give up, where you hit the limit of what's comfortable. 

Then take one step out of your comfort zone—not fifty steps out, not even ten steps out, just one step outside your comfort zone—

and work there.

THAT is how growth becomes doable, sustainable, practical, and, oh yeah, super dang effective.

Excited yet? Me too.

Now, because this kind of thing doesn't work at all if it isn't practical, I've brainstormed a bunch of ways to put this to work, right this minute, wherever you're at.

Most of them are pretty small moves, designed to make one aspect of your writing game a little bit sharper. And how you use them is up to you: You might take just one and focus on it for a week (or a month!) and watch yourself steadily improve.

Or grab a handful that seem to fit you, and work with them. Or try a new one each day, for more than a month of deliberate, edge-expanding practice. 

(Of course, everyone's "edge" is different, depending on where you are in the writing life. But take a look at each suggestion anyway, because getting even better at the basics is one way we can all meet our edge!) 

... Oooh, do you hear that? The next level of writing excellence is calling.


Here are 34 ways to practice writing deliberately!

1. Internalizing Story Structure: After finishing a novel or a movie, take five minutes to jot down the key structural points of the narrative. (I like using the three-sentence Story Spine model that Shawn Coyne describes at the beginning of this article.)

2. Dissecting Scene Structure: While reading a novel or watching a movie, pause after an especially loaded scene and take a moment to break it apart. How exactly did it begin and end? How did the writer build it to a climax, and what did it change for the overall narrative? Sketch out the skeleton of the scene to see how it was achieved.

3. Honing Dialogue: Copy out the guts of a dialogue exchange (just the stuff in quotes, without any of the extra descriptions or tags). Read those spoken words out loud, and get a sense for how dialogue sounds—especially the rhythms and beats behind a really good exchange. (This is great to do for published works you admire, or for tightening your own work.)

4. Analyzing Wordcraft: There's something about copying out someone else's work by hand. It helps you go from merely reading it, to seeing its nuts and bolts. Grab a work you admire and copy out an especially well-constructed paragraph. Study it phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence. (But obviously, um, don't take credit for someone else's work.)

5. Sprucing Vocabulary: Shake up the words that you tend to rely on by doing a deep dive into a book of poetry, a children's reference book, or your favorite dictionary. Savor the new mix of specific nouns and verbs, and push yourself to use a few in your next writing session.

6. Surveying Novel Skills: Grab a few favorite novels and check out how each author handles something you're having difficulty with. Try comparing story openings; chapter openings; chapter endings; dialogue; descriptive passages; or action scenes. Get really clear on how each author is choosing to address that area, and how effective their choices are—why they work, why they don't. (And there's nothing like forcing yourself to write down one clear sentence describing what you've learned, to be sure that you're actually figuring it out. So scribble down specific notes as you go!)

7. Clarifying What Didn't Work: When you encounter a novel or a movie that you hate (or even just felt meh about), push yourself to pinpoint exactly what didn't work for you. Where, precisely, did they fall off track? What could they have done differently to improve the whole story? The more specific and comprehensive and relentless you are with this, the more you build your own story-rescue muscles.

8. Taking Action: I don't know if you're this way, but it's easy for me to read helpful writing books without taking any real action. Next time you find some helpful writing advice, instead of nodding and then maybe forgetting about it (though with great intentions, of course!), challenge yourself to take whatever extra step is required to put part of it immediately into practice... right away.

9. Listening for Cadence: Read your own work out loud. This is common advice for a really good reason—the ear can catch what the eyes sometimes miss when it comes to pacing, rhythm, and overall coherence.

10. Improving Description: Take an extra five minutes to sharpen a descriptive passage in your work. Challenge yourself to choose extra-clear nouns and vivid verbs. Make each sentence as specific as possible.

11. Interviewing Characters: Take the character who feels the weakest in your project, and give them five minutes of your undivided attention. Imagine them sitting with you in the room. I mean, really. Try to bend reality. Freak yourself out a little. And then jot down anything that they decide to say to you. (The more I come back to conjuring up my characters, to making them real and alive and right next to me, the more amazing my story becomes.)

12. Expanding the Brainstorm: The next time you need to brainstorm something, push yourself to come up with twice as many ideas as you think you'll need—in half the time. Try fifty ideas in five minutes. You just might astonish yourself at how creative you get in that last minute.

13. Sharpening Observation: Take a familiar object and come up with five new ways of describing it. Try using senses you don't usually apply in this case. Brew new metaphors; create an unusual significance.

14. Noticing the Details: After you've been away from your writing desk, challenge yourself to create a clear, accurate, two-sentence description of something you've just experienced: maybe the quality of light in your kitchen, a summary of the conversation you just had with friends, or the feel of the weather outside.

15. Enlivening Setting: Challenge yourself to make a list of what makes a place (real or imagined) feel unique. And try to work the senses that you tend to forget about—maybe the quality of the air, the less noticeable sounds, the textures, the smells. 

16. Visualizing Specifics: Sketch a five-minute map of one of the settings that you're working on. A piece of storyscape that you haven't mapped yet: maybe a road, a section of a city, or even a room—in as much detail as if you were going to literally build a set for it.

17. Defining the Problems: When you're facing a story snag or other problem in your work, take a few minutes to very clearly articulate what's wrong. Force yourself to get specific and succinct about exactly what isn't working and why. (It's too easy to have a vague sense of unease and then rush off to fix it, without being certain about what has gone wrong. But finding clarity can be half the battle!)

18. Stimulating the Imagination: Take five minutes to think about how well-fed your imagination feels right now. What are you missing? What are you craving? Brainstorm a mini list of creative inputs that sound amazing—do you need a great nature documentary, a trip to an art museum, a visit to the best bakery in town, a travel book with tons of pictures, or a TED talk festival? Get clear on what you need, and block out time soon to do it. 

19. Nurturing Curiosity: Grab a reference book at random and browse it for 5 minutes. Let your imagination get excited. (Seriously, do it. You never know where your next incredible idea is going to come from. It could be waiting for you in that reference book!)

20. Journaling Your Life: One way to keep growing as a writer is to take notes on your own life. If you don't yet have a journaling practice, try writing just one page a day—maybe first thing in the morning, or last thing before you go to bed. (If that's too much, try half a page. You can seriously handle half a page.)

21. Redirecting the Overplan: If you tend to fall down the overplanning spiral of hundreds of to-do items on dozens of lists, this is your deliberate practice! The next time you catch yourself overplanning, go ahead and finish your list. Then walk away—into another room or just outside. Take a few deep breaths and clear your mind for a sec. And then decide, from your gut, what the top three-to-five items should be. The things that honestly, truthfully, you-know-it-in-your-core matter the most. Write those down on a tiny slip of paper. And begin by working only on those things. (This works for me every. single. time.)

22. Accepting Rest: It is impossible to work well for long when you're overtired. If meeting your edge means showing up for your work well rested, then take a nap. If it means napping every day, then nap every day! 

23. Revolutionizing Your Mindset: Take five minutes at the start of every writing session and practice believing in yourself. (I know. It sounds hokey, but it could literally change everything for you, especially if you've been struggling. Read the second half of this post if you need more convincing.)

24. Protecting Boundaries: Step back from one thing this week that you know will drain your energy/creativity without giving much back to you. Practice saying no. (You have my permission to get addicted to this: protect your writing time and energy, my friend!)

25. Deepening Self-Kindness: If it's easy for you to be harsh with yourself, then meeting your edge is gonna look a lot like practicing grace. Take two minutes to write yourself an encouraging note, and post it by your writing spot. Work on consciously agreeing with it when you see it. High five yourself.

26. Focusing Consistently: Do a little distraction clean-up. What tends to slice into your focus while you're working? Texts? Music? Internet? Notifications? Whatever it is, eliminate your pet distraction for a week. (And then another week. And then another...)

27. Bettering Your Work Space: What's the one thing that bugs you the most about your writing space? Is there something that's just a little out of place, that keeps slowing you down, that needs a little extra organization or cleaning or attention? Take five minutes to make it better.

28. Braving the Blank Page: Teach yourself to conquer the blank page by practicing with five-minute segments. (No kidding!) Pull out a blank sheet of paper. Commit to having no standards whatsoever for the quality of the writing you're about to do. If it comes out all wonky, that's great. Seriously. Set a timer for five minutes, and the moment you start the timer, just write. It can be about how your day went; it can be the secret history of every little knick-knack on your writing desk;  or it can be about your favorite character in your current writing project. Anything. Write till the timer stops. Repeat, until blankness no longer scares you. This has actually worked for me, I promise. (When we stop being afraid of the blank page, we become literally unstoppable as writers. Think about that for a sec.)

29. Holding Space: Practice accepting the truth that the writing process is messy. It just is! Allow a bad sentence (section, chapter, subplot) to exist in a draft for now. Let yourself be okay with the roughness of a rough draft, instead of tumbling into a hyper-perfection-seeking cycle. 

30. Refusing to Be Bullied: The next time you feel like comparing your work with someone else's work, or comparing where you are in your writing life with where someone else is: Stop. The next time self-doubt comes prowling and wants to sharpen its claws on you: Stop. Comparison and self-doubt do not have your back, and you don't need to listen to them. Be on your own team. Take a deep breath, and accept yourself and where you are. You are exactly where you need to be, my friend! 

31. Increasing Your Writing Stamina: Start adding a little more time to your writing sessions, or working a smidge past your usual stopping point. Maybe add 50-100 more words than you normally aim for, or working 5-10 minutes longer at a stretch.

32. Knowing When to Pause: If you tend to work yourself too hard and burn your brain to a crisp (you know who you are!): one way to meet your edge is to give yourself an honest-to-goodness break in the midst of your work. Take three-to-five minutes and step away. Close your eyes, or give yourself a chance to stretch, or go outside and stare at something non-digital for a while. 

33. Extending Attention: Instead of giving in to the impulse to rush (we all fight it!), try sticking with a writing project a little bit longer. Maybe spend five more minutes on a paragraph you're tempted to hurry through, or one extra week on a development stage that you're itching to skip over.

34. Releasing Finished Work: And sometimes, the thing we most need to practice doing, is letting something be done, instead of endlessly nitpicking at it. Everything on earth has a flaw in it, my friend. What is it truly time for you to release?


Deliberately Practicing Deliberate Practice

This all comes down to being on the lookout for your own edge. Where do you feel yourself shrinking and saying, Nah, no, not today, not feeling it, not now

Where is it easier to slump right now—in your craft, in your emotional health, in how you set up your work? How can you encounter that edge of yours, and work there?

Again, this is not about leaping way past our edge, about doing things that are unwise, or working where we are honestly not ready to work.

Instead, it's about noticing where we want to dodge something that feels a little too hard, a little too real, a little too taxing. Something that's a bit uncomfortable.

And instead of skipping over it, we focus in.

Take a deep breath. Choose to smile through it. And work right there.

Where can you bring extra curiosity, attention, playfulness, and grit, into your writing work this week? If you have more ideas for ways to "meet your edge," I'd LOVE to hear them, so please post a comment!

Why I'm Embracing Total Inefficiency (In Other Words, How Do You Do Your Best Work?)

When we try to learn the way *other* people learn, it doesn't always work out so well. Here's a bit of encouragement for embracing your own natural process. | lucyflint.com

Welcome to April, my friend! I don't know what the weather's been like for you, but where I live, it's been cloudy and stormy and cloudy again—both outside, and inside my own writerly heart.

I've found myself slogging through waves of discouragement, some internal dark, rainy days. So I thought: Why not? Let's spend April tackling two sources of deep discouragement in the writing life. 

I'm calling it our Anti-Glum First Aid Kit. *high five*

First up: I've been struggling with the way my learning-to-write path has looked. For starters, it's LONG. And it's darned hard to explain, when someone asks me why I'm not published just yet.

How about you? Has the learning process been smooth sailing all the way?

No? Great, we can keep each other company. ;) Let's tackle this together, my friend, and shed that discouragement.


I've always admired people who seemed to learn in a straight line. Who could understand something fairly quickly and reproduce it. People who manage to absorb foreign languages, or who can do math in their heads.

I love that. I think it's awesome. And I keep trying to learn like that: in a quick and orderly way. 

... But that's just never been me. 

My mind tends to waltz up to something sideways. Or it comes wandering around, behind the solution, and then stumbles into it. And that's usually after passing it by three or four times. 

Take math: I've never been able to do math in my head and I never felt natural or easy with numbers. But it wasn't obvious to my classmates in school, because I took serious math classes and did really well in them.

The key to my math success? TONS of scrap paper. 

If you gave me enough scrap paper, I could figure almost anything out. Of course, I'd fill every sheet, and I needed time to meander all over the map before I got to the solution, but I usually did get there.

And it wasn't just math. That's how I learned anything, in any class: with a lot of paper, and a lot of time.

When I studied for finals, I would get a huge stack of scrap paper and rewrite the highlights from the whole semester's notes. And then I read them through, highlighted those, and rewrote the most important parts again.

And on, and on. I distilled and re-distilled. Lots of paper. Lots of time. ... Then I'd go ace the finals.

It was a crazy process, but it actually worked.

The more I look at my learning history, the more I see evidence of this—the roundabout path I take toward the right answers. 

It's how I make friends, how I make changes, how I learn any new concept.

I always, always take the long way around. I cycle past the truth a few times before coming to rest on it. I need to learn and relearn before it takes, working it through and summarizing, again and again.

... I've been thinking of this because I feel like I'm learning to write novels exactly backwards.

For one thing, I started at the wrong end of the whole enterprise, obsessing about what comes last: money! fame! ... Okay, okay, I mean: Publication. ;)

I wanted that result. I spent so much time flailing around to try and figure out how to get there, and—until recently—I didn't spend time learning how to do what comes first: building habits, working on great ideas, figuring out how creativity works, structuring a solid story.

And now that I'm finally focused on those good things, I find myself processing and reprocessing the best way to do each one.

I look over my learning-to-write path, and I'm chagrined because it's not a clean, clear path.

It is so not how anyone would recommend learning how to write.

It's all patchworky. It's a mass of scribbles and backtracks, broken ends and do overs.

And I was kicking myself over this—over all the time I've wasted and all the wrong directions and how long it's taking me—when suddenly I realized: 

Huh. Sounds familiar.

Sounds like how I've learned a lot of things.

Sounds like how I did math. Flail around, fill tons of scrap pages, take way too long, but then—I do finally get to the good stuff. 

Well, shoot, I thought. That's not exactly what the productivity blogs say to do. Flailing isn't efficient. Bad Lucy.

But then, but then, I thought: OH, WAIT. This is actually good news. REALLY good news.

Because, inefficient or not, it actually works for me. This is how I got stellar grades. Top of my class in high school—not that I'm bragging, because it was flailing and scratch paper all the way.

Which means, no matter how weird it looks—backwards and forwards and backwards again—in spite of all that, this is what it looks like when I'm learning

My roundabout learning-to-write process doesn't mean I'm doing a terrible job, it means I am doing my job. It means I'm working my process. It means I'm finding my way, because this is how I find my way!

No wonder I keep taking a zillion notes on how my process is going, and why I distill them, again and again, into this blog. This is just how I learn.

I've never been able to take the shortest distance between two points. I have wanted to—oh, so much—but somehow, that's just not how my mind works.

And each time I try to beat my own brain and take a shortcut, the path zags yet again. And it's still the long way around, baby.

I am, alas, never going to be the poster child for anyone's productivity system. I convolute. It's my natural process. 

But even though the path I'm taking looks bizarre, I'm actually on my way to the center of the maze. And given time enough and paper enough, I have a history of making it to the center of a lot of mazes. It's never elegant, but I do get there. 

... Realizing all that has calmed me down these last few weeks. Filled my pockets with courage.

My job isn't to try and learn like other people learn. My job is simply to learn. The way I learn.

So here's my question to you, oh lionhearted writing friend: What's your usual learning process? And are you beating yourself up for learning how to write the way you best learn?

Are you comparing your own process—however it looks—to anyone else's process, and feeling like a failure as a result?

How do you learn? It can be hard to spy on ourselves, so think through your own history: how have you learned hard things in the past? Especially anything that had a lot of steps in it, a complicated array of systems all working together. What did that look like for you?

What happened in your head, with your hands, how you thought? When did you get your best results?

How can you work with your natural process instead of against it? How can you be your own best support? 

Release the idea that your process has to look the same as anyone else's. No matter how much you may admire them, they're not you. 

Here, check out this lovely encouragement from Bernard Malamud (taken from the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, ed. Mason Currey). When discussing work habits, Malamud told an interviewer:

There's no one waythere's too much drivel about this subject. You're who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. ... You suit yourself, your nature. ... Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you. 

That quote just fills me with optimism. We will learn our own best way! (And I, for one, will be rocking out the eventually part of that line. Just keep that scrap paper coming, and I'll be set.)

However it looks, embrace your own process, my friend.

Lean in to how you best learn.

Dealing With Our Kryptonite: Recognizing and Overturning Writing Life Weaknesses

Four major writing life weaknesses that can sap our strength and torpedo our energy. Know 'em, and know what to do to overcome them! | lucyflint.com

So far in this Building Strength series, we've covered a lot of ground!

We talked about being clear on what we consider strength is (because different strengths matter to each of us!), and we've talked about ways to strengthen our creativity, our enthusiasm, and our overall writing sustainability.

And then, just to kick things up a few notches, we checked in with the book Deep Work, because it has great points that will make us stronger writers: like how to supercharge our ability to focus. And, at the same time, how to deepen and strengthen our ability to recharge.

WOW. So, you feeling those muscles yet?

Today I wanna switch gears a little and work on strength from a different angle.

Namely: What makes us weak? What weakens our writing lives? 

What saps our strength, drains our energy, muddies our abilities? What's our kryptonite?

I've rounded up the usual suspects in my own writing life. See if any of these behaviors have snuck into your writing life too:

Skipping breaks.

Let's start with this one, because I have our last post about recharging on the brain

I know that this won't apply to everyone, but for anyone pursuing full-time creativity, this can be a struggle. And I personally fall into this trap a lot.

Here's the deal: I cannot be purely creative and focused and hardworking for eight hours straight. Cannot be done.

... And I can type that, and nod very sincerely at my computer screen, and even mean it, and then go off and think that I am invincible and needeth not such breaks.

This is a problem.

My best true version of my work schedule looks like this: Two hours of intense, focused, deep work, followed by one hour of pure recharging. (Which usually means, getting some good food, moving around, doing a workout, or even taking a nap.)

Then two more hours of intense work, and, yep, another hour to recharge. (A snack, maybe time spent outside if the weather is nice, doing some art...)

Finally two hours of taking care of all the shallower work, the smaller things, and then my shutdown ritual. With that, I'm done for the day.

Sounds straightforward. Super health-focused (because I've learned the hard way that I've gotta be). 

This is what can happen, though: I'll start late. Maybe because I slept in after a late night. Or maybe I got caught in a morning discussion or media dive that got all my creativity fizzing but also made me late for work. 

So I plow into the day, and work straight through my breaks, because I think don't have the time to stop.

And at the end of the work day, I'm a zombie.

I mean it. You can't get any sense out of me. I'm stumbling around, bleary-eyed and brain dead. And, at that point, my next work day is automatically harder. I have less mental flexibility, and less focus, and less motivation.

It's a really bad cycle! Easy to fall into; hard to break out of.

Those recharging periods within my work day are absolutely essential to my creativity: I need to refresh my mind by getting back into my senses. I need to stare at clouds, eat some good food, take a walk. Besides, we're not supposed to sit for hours and hours! 

The biggest single help in fighting this has been to remind myself of two things: 

1) That rest is one of my new core values. I have to be rested to work well, to do what I love, and to enjoy life. It's just that true, that simple.

2) That play and rest are prerequisites to doing good work. Period. 

My reminder of choice is an index card near my computer. "Rest is a core value," it announces. "Don't neglect your breaks!" 

It reminds me that this is the kind of writer I want to be: One who is rested, one who isn't a zombie, and one who has a wealth of imaginative details in her pockets.

Breaks ensure a better writing day, and a better writing week. Even if they need to be much less than that luxurious hour, they have to happen, or I'm toast. 

How about you? Do you interject moments of rest within your creative work? Even if you're working in shorter spurts, do you still get a moment to pull back and recharge, before diving back in?


Overthinking.

Overthinking has been my lifelong nemesis.

And "lifelong" isn't an exaggeration: I have memories of being super young and paralyzed by decision-making overload, going back and forth between two possibilities. (There is an epic family story about my inability to choose between a hamburger and a cheeseburger. Yep, it's real.)

It is so easy for me to get stuck, to get pulled into this trap of cerebralizing and analyzing. Breaking down the problem from every single side, every possible angle.

Instead of diving into what I need to do, I sit there at the edge and worry, make lists, plan things, consider endlessly. 

Obviously, there are times for deep deliberation.

Equally obvious: Not EVERY time.

Usually, this overthinking is a fear tactic. A stalling technique that feels intellectually noble.

How do you tell the difference? For me, when overthinking smells like panic, it's fear-based. It's coming from that frightened part of me, and so it's a way to stall.

This is when perfectionism is singing over my head that if I screw this up, I'll never recover from it. 

When I truly need to think something through, it feels different.

It's much more calm—a reasonable analysis. It's when I ask myself, "should I do this project now, or can it reasonably wait?"

And I answer, "Well, if I go down the wrong path, I'll just make it right, I'll just turn around." 

Fear-based overthinking just keeps inflating the issue. It gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger. It says, But I might never have a chance for a cheeseburger again!!

There's a rigidity in it. It's insisting, just below its surface, that I must make the perfect choice, the irreproachable way forward.

Everything gets dramatic. The shadows get longer and darker, and suddenly you and your pros & cons list are in a battle of good versus evil.

Yeah. It gets ugly.

I am only just beginning to find my way out of overthinking. 

One thing that has helped enormously is the way that Julia Cameron describes overthinking in Walking in This World (her lovely sequel to The Artist's Way).

She compares working on an artistic project to the moment of firing an arrow at a target. 

She says that if we overthinking the project, we're essentially standing there, pulling back the arrow, and then just waiting. Analyzing, heart pounding, while our arm loses strength and the arrow begins to sag.

So when we finally fire it, it doesn't hit the center.

She sums it up by saying,

In short, you have mistaken beginning something with ending something. You have wanted a finality that is earned over time and not won ahead of time as a guarantee. You have denied the process of making art because you are so focused on the product: Will this be a bull's-eye?

Ouch, right? She's got me. Most of the time, I'm overthinking because I want a shiny guarantee: "Yes, go for it, because it will work out swimmingly and everyone will pat you on the head and say that you've done something amazing."

But we don't work with guarantees. We work with our hearts, we learn on the way, and yes, it gets messy. But that's what we've really signed up for, and if we're all in, it can be a wonderful way to work.

Cameron adds,

We have attached so much rigamarole to the notion of being an artist that we fail to ask the simplest and most obvious question: Do I want to make this? If the answer is yes, then begin. Fire the arrow.

I love that straightforwardness. Yes!

How about you? Where in your creative life do you get swamped in overthinking?

And where is something inside you saying, let's fire the arrow!


Treating myself harshly.

One of the most effective ways to undermine our own strength? Talking bad about ourselves. Diminishing what we do, calling our work crap, saying that we'll never finish or improve.

This can be hard, hard, hard to shake.

For me, this comes directly out of shame, fear, and doubt. 

I can still be nervous about the fact that I'm a writer, that I've yet to publish. It makes me feel childish when it seems like my peers have glorious, flashy, paid grown-up careers. (Nothing's ever quite as glorious as it can look from the outside, of course, but I never remember that when I'm struggling.) 

I can feel the sting under someone else's words when they say doubtfully, so, not published yet? And I'm ready to disparage myself so that they don't have to.

As I talked so much about it last month, y'all already know that I've been learning about shame resilience from my new best friend Brené Brown. (Okay, we're only friends in my head, but whatever. She's lovely.) 

So, I'm working on this. I am trying to remember to breathe through it, to remind myself that I am not my job and I am not what I produce and I am not my salary, thank God! 

So that's half of the battle.

The other half, is to sincerely tend to what I know I need.

I am starting to develop a habit that helps me break out of this inner harshness and, bonus! that overthinking cycle too.

Here's how it works. Let's say I'm trying to decide which direction to go with a project, and there seem to be three strong options.

And the Overthinking Monkey is saying don't screw this up, you've gotta look at all these different parts of the different options. And THEN what if this happens, and look, here are more reasons for each thing over here, and oh my gosh this is hard isn't it...

And the Shame Monkey is saying, this is why it's taking you so long, you can't figure anything out, and you don't know even a quarter of what you need to know, and meanwhile everyone thinks you can actually write, so you better not mess up...

SO HELPFUL those monkeys, aren't they?!

So I've started to catch when this cycle is happening. And here's what I've started to do. It's so simple but it helps so much:

I get up and move away from my desk. I go to the other side of the room and I lie down. I take a few huge deep breaths, and I close my eyes and I just hold still.

(This is great, because the monkeys freak out. "She's walking away?!? It's like she doesn't even care about us!")

I breathe for a little while, and then I tell myself in my kindest, and most calm voice: You know the thing that you need to do next. You have one option that seems like the right one for now. What's that option? 

And I give myself permission to 1) pick something, and 2) that it doesn't have to be the perfect choice. It's the choice that seems right, for now, and that's good enough for me, I tell myself.

In about ten minutes, I'll get up with a very clear calm-ish path in my head, and dive in. And I end up not regretting my choice, even if I have to revise it later.

Seriously, this has been huge.

So if you're nodding along with this, and you get what I mean about overthinking + harshness, here are my four steps again. I apply: 

1) Oxygen. For real. Because I start breathing too fast, or holding my breath when I'm anxious. Good decisions require oxygen! Try to relax, unclench, and breathe deep.

2) Space. I can't find my way out of a spiral if I'm staring at a bunch of lists or all my different options. I need to separate myself.

3) Clarity. I try to boil it down: I just have to take one step, and I just have to pick that step. It isn't rocket science or brain surgery. If they all seem equally good and even equally risky, then I really can't go wrong. I can simply choose.

4) Permission. I take the idea of a "right answer" off the table. I'm not looking for a perfect choice. (And yes, sometimes I have to say this out loud.) I'm just looking for a choice. A starting point. I'm allowed to change my mind later when I see things even more clearly. But at the same time, I'm not going to second guess myself just because

This little sequence has been a game changer! 

How about you? Where in your writing process are you most tempted to be hard on yourself? And what would it look like if you gave yourself a tiny dose of kindness instead?

And what would it look like if you gave yourself a really, really BIG dose of kindness?


Resistance.

For anyone who's read the excellently butt-kicking motivational books of Steven Pressfield (I'm thinking especially of The War of Art, Do the Work, and Turning Pro), Resistance is something you're already familiar with.

For the rest of you ... well, you're familiar with Resistance too. You just might not have called it that.

Here's how Pressfield introduces the concept in The War of Art:

There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write.
     What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

He goes on, 

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
     Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? ... Are you a writer who doesn't write, a painter who doesn't paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.

It's an internal, persistent, relentless force that keeps us from doing our work. That's it.

That slippery, negative feeling that we get before we do something that we honestly, in our heart-of-hearts want to do ... but in this moment, we seem to want to do ANYTHING else.

You get this, right? I mean . . . anyone who's tried to write for about two seconds understands this feeling.

There is so much good in Pressfield's books. He is super helpful when it comes to understanding Resistance and the whole creative process. Definitely ones to pick up, if you haven't yet!

I'm half tempted to type out the whole second half of his book right here in this post ... okay, actually the whole book.

But I won't because of plagiarism and rules and all that. You'll just have to read it for yourself. It's a quick, very helpful read—which is great because you can flip it over and reread it and get it deeper into your brain. 

But anyway, here is the Resistance-fighting technique I've been using lately, and, amazingly, it's been working.

It's deceptively simple. Ready? Here it is:

I'm working toward a bunch of goals right now. Seriously, so many. And though they're worthy, I can feel a ton of Resistance anytime I'm working on the next step toward a goal.

What's suddenly changed for me is that I've realized where that huge burden feeling is coming from. The real burden, the real problem, isn't the task itself.

So, the problem isn't actually the intense, complicated scene I need to write today.

The real problem is that Resistance tells me that I'm not up to working on something so complicated. It tries to convince me of this by flooding my mind with dread.

Resistance tries to convince me that the task is the problem. That the task is why I have dread.

When really, Resistance is why I have dread. The real problem is Resistance. 

So I wrote myself another note, and I stuck it to my computer monitor: 

It's not the task that is burdensome, but the Resistance to the task that is.
 

It's Resistance that's killing me.
Drop Resistance.

Yes, I know. That sounds simplistic.

But what's happened in my head since realizing this is amazing. 

By rereading that note, I can catch Resistance when it sneaks in. And I can remember that its chief trick is to make me think that something else is the problem—instead of the Resistance itself.

So, when it's time to write, and I sense that slow build of "Meh, I'd rather not" working its way through me, I'm alert to it. I snap out of it.

I say, AHA, look, it's Resistance! You, Resistance, are the thing that's even harder than the hard work. You're the thing that's worse than bad writing. You're worse than brain cramps and elusive sentences and revisions. 

So I'll get rid of you.

And I'll stop resisting the task.

... And that simple moment of reframing the situation WORKS. And it's lovely.

So, try it. Identify your real enemy.

It isn't the writing. It isn't the scene that will come out somewhat backwards (though with a few glowing phrases, a few spot-on descriptions!). It isn't the journey we take into the unknown every day.

It's the thing that would block us, with no truly good reasons, with no clear helpfulness. It's the thing that creates a mood, a doubt, a dread. It's fat angry Resistance squatting in the middle of our road.

Refuse to buy into it. Refuse to welcome it, listen to it, pick up the burdens it hands you. 

When you feel it rising, remember that it is the difficulty, not the thing that it's pointing to or hiding behind. Don't listen to it, and dive into your work.

And then see if that makes a difference.

If We Don't Ask Our Writing Lives This Question, Really Bad Things Happen. (Like Block, Burnout, Discouragement, and Dead Ends.)

There's so much going on that it's easy to work on autopilot. But if we don't dig into how we define this one aspect of our writing lives, we could be setting ourselves up for serious trouble. | lucyflint.com

Oh look, another month! How the heck did that happen??

Autumn is my favorite time of the year, so as soon as I hear the word September, I'm already daydreaming about apples with cinnamon and pumpkin-spiced everything and cooler days and the smell of bonfires and the sound of the marching band on football nights and snuggling my toes into cozy knitted socks ...

Whoops, got carried away. (Besides, it's going to feel like summer around here for the whole month anyway, so no need to rush things, I suppose.)

Ahem. 

I love the beginning of a month, because it's always a good time to take stock.

... Oh, who am I kidding. I like taking stock at the end of the month too. And every day in between.

So, whenever you read this, here's the question: Where are you at right now? 

How are you doing, in your mind? Your heart? Your creativity? 

How's the work-in-progress? How's the writing life?

It's been a whirlwind of a year (on my end, at least). And I'm more than a little amazed to be facing the last four months of the year. 

I loved—and desperately needed—August's self-care focus. All that self-understanding and self-nurturing was absolute balm to my hassled soul.

And now that we're on this side of it, I asked myself what we should do next. The answer was clear and immediate:

I want to gather strength. Build stability. Stamina.

So much of this year has been about taking things apart and trying to put them back together in a better way.

That has been amazing. It's been (seriously) life-changing. 

And also a bit, um, disruptive.

I'm ready to find a good groove and to get back in it, know what I mean?

Personally, I love the idea of following a month of self-care with a month of strength-building. We're taking better care of ourselves to a purpose, you know?

Now that we're better at nurturing, now that we're alert to better ways of operating—what do we do with ourselves?

Get stronger. Build strength. Yes!

But as soon as I knew that, I had another problem. 

Strength? 

What the heck does that even mean?

Because if you spent any time watching the 2016 Olympics, you've realized that there are about a bazillion different kinds of strength.

Watching those athletes compete, you can totally tell: what makes someone the best at one type of sport would be completely destructive to someone in another sport.

So if I want to build strength in my writing life, I have to do a little digging to figure out exactly what I mean by that.

Where does that desire—I want to feel stronger!!—come from? What's the urge behind it?

Part of me was echoing Julia Cameron's statement: Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong

Yes! Let's keep building strength with nurturing! Let's have incredibly strong imaginations! Let's have writing days that come from a strong sense of enthusiasm!

And another part of me was saying, "Also, let's do a ton of writing, please."

It's worth remembering: We build strength physically by repeating a difficult action. By challenging ourselves.

By going right up to our limits (we find where they are by "failing"), and then building strength and skills right on the borderlands of our ability.

I want to get better at working hard, at the very same time that I want to get better at working happy

So what might that look like in our writing lives this month?

In other words, here's my question for you today:

How do you, personally, define strength?

What kind of strength are you looking for right now, in your writing life?

It's worth doing a little digging, a little self-reflection. It's important to get clear on what we mean by it.

Because if we don't check our unspoken definitions now and then, we can slip into this funny little habit of valuing opposing things.

Conflicting habits. Mutually exclusive "strengths."

Here's what I mean:

Sometimes I tell myself that I really value a distraction-free environment. Strength of focus is a beautiful thing!

But then, I discover that I'm secretly also valuing hyper-productivity: "I can't let a single unread email sit in my inbox!"

Funny how those two ideas don't work together very well. (More on all that later this month.)

Or I can tell myself that I want to be really well-rested. Feeling healthy: definitely makes me feel stronger.

But then, as I work on honoring that, something else in me freaks out. "No, no, wait," it cries. "I also have to work at least ten hours a day with no breaks, or I feel like a slacker." 

So apparently, somewhere in my inner workings, I've mislabeled "working incessantly" as another sign of strength.

Hmm. 

It sounds a little silly, but I think it's worth taking the time to investigate. Because if we dive into the idea of "strength" on autopilot, without thinking about what we value, we can sabotage ourselves. 

We might find that we're holding ourselves to a dozen competing standards. And that's not gonna go so well.

Honestly, whenever I've burned out in the past, this has been part of the problem. I've mislabeled something as strong, and then worked to build that strength ... in spite of warning signs. In spite of a need to balance it out.

So. Take a little time today, or this weekend, and just check in: 

What kind of strengths do you most value?

When you think of yourself growing in stamina and building strength as a writer, what kinds of things come to mind?

Skills? Habits? Attitudes? 

If you gave your writing life a kind of athletic identity, what would most symbolize strength to you? 

In other words: for some people, strength looks like a body-builder's physique. For someone else, it's a yogi's amazing flexibility. 

There's a gymnast's incredible sense of balance, the endurance of a rowing team, or the sheer speed of a sprinter. Or what about a hurdler's take on navigating obstacles?

I've narrowed down my own sense of writing life strengths to a handful of traits. These are the things I really want to dig into this month. 

I want to put in my time in the weight room, and nurture these skills with habits, with practice, with good stretches, with quality repetition.

I want to check in with how we treat our work. With how our imaginations and attitudes work to strengthen our writing. 

I want to definitely build muscle around the whole strategy of routine, schedule, and balance. 

And then I want to check in with the obstacles we face. What saps our strength? And what's our vision for all this work and effort, anyway?

Mmmm.

So, that's what's ahead in September! Let's take allllll the good wellness we explored in August, and let it support us as we move into muscle-building mode.

It's time for more flexibility. Better endurance. And the ability to heft some serious poundage.

Let's create a stronger writing life.


What's going on in your life when you feel strong as a writer? What skills are in place, what habits? 

Have you seen how the right habits build strength in you, as a thinker, a creator, a writer? What creative muscles are you most itching to target?

Where do you most want to increase strength this fall?

Unleashing Bravery Into Your Writing Life

Writing takes guts. Here's where to get a bravery boost. | lucyflint.com

Bravery never came easily for me.

Being a kid and being a teenager just felt like a long series of different kinds of fear. Know what I mean?

Scared of what my teachers thought of me, scared of classroom bullies, scared of failing.

Which is why "trying to be brave" has always been part of my vocabulary. 

Growing up, heading off to college, choosing writing as an emphasis, reading my poems and short essays in front of an audience—

Trying to be brave. Every step of the way. 

It is hard work, trying to cultivate gumption!

But oh, you already know this. Because you're a writer.

And writing takes guts.

No surprise, then, that the last lionhearted trait to discuss in this series is this one: Bravery. 

A lionhearted writer works with courage

I want a writing practice that's infused with courage. At every stage, every level.

Because letting all the fears run the writing show? Means that there isn't a writing show. 

When fear has the final say, we lose everything. Ev-ery-thing!!

Our material, our willingness to protect our writing time, our belief that our words have any importance. 

Fear zaps our conviction that we can learn how to do this thing. Our belief we will get better at it. Our determination to come back to it again (and again! and again!!).

To create a writing life, to grow at writing, it takes courage.

Buckets of it.

So there are two things I want to do right now, to stir up our bravery.

First, let's revel in a few quality quotes about what courage looks like. 

And second, let's talk through one huge way to steadily gain courage, every day. (It's a good one!)

Sound good? 

Here you go, a mini quote fest on courage!

If you're going through hell, keep going. -- Winston Churchill. (We're talking about a bravery blast over at lucyflint.com)

PROBABLY Winston thought of that while revising one of his amazing books. Probably. Just a guess. ;)

Daring greatly is being brave and afraid every minute of the day at the exact same time. -- Brené Brown | We're having a bravery blast over at lucyflint.com

I love this. (Can't beat Brené Brown for good courage talk!) 

We all need to be reminded: the presence of fear doesn't negate our bravery, our courage. 

Even with a quivering heart, we can still dare greatly—in our writing, our thinking, our creativity, our stories.

Sometimes heroism is nothing more than patience, curiosity, and a refusal to panic. -- Leif Enger | (We're having a bravery blast over at lucyflint.com)

The awesomest little cocktail of bravery ever. One of my favorite approaches for staying the course.

Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow." -- Mary Anne Radmacher | It's a total bravery blast over at lucyflint.com

Yes! This too. One of the best forms of courage for a writing life.

Let's always say that, okay? I will try again tomorrow.

Mmmm.

Finally, this one. C.S. Lewis (one of my absolute favorite writers!) had this to say about courage in The Screwtape Letters:

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. 

I completely, completely love this. 

You take a virtue, a characteristic, a trait. How about the lionhearted trait of kindness, from last Thursday?

All right. Kindness looks like kindness, right? 

In its smallest, simplest form, it's pretty straightforward. Easy. No big deal. 

But what happens when things heat up? When you run into problems that make it hard to be kind? 

It takes a lot more determination to act on that level of kindness, right? 

And then, when the obstacles increase, when the stakes are higher—what does kindness look like when it's hard, really really hard, to be kind?

Well, according to Lewis (who was pretty smart): at that fiercest point of testing, at the point of highest reality, the ability to be kind is the same exact thing as courage itself.

Because if we're not brave enough to be kind when it really matters, when it's really hard, then we're not really kind, right?

Make sense? 

The point, the point that I love, is this: if we want to get better at courage, it means we dive in deeper to these other characteristics

If we want to be brave with our kindness, we practice being kind, even when it stings, even when it hurts.

We find that edge where it gets hard, where it's easier to give up—and that's where we focus our effort and our strength.

And THAT is how to grow our courage.

So how do we bring a lot more bravery into our writing lives?

By growing at each of these lionhearted writing characteristics. 

And the more we do that, the more we'll see courage, all along the growing edge.

When our trust in ourselves is put to the test, the ability to keep on trusting is gonna look identical to courage

And when our patience has been tested and tested, and it's looking more than a little frayed, the decision to not flip out, to carry on, to keep pressing forward—that's going be exactly the same thing as courage.

Firing up ambition when it's so much easier to just stop challenging ourselves? That's courage.

Choosing contentment in the midst of a comparisonitis culture = some pretty radical courage. 

Picking the wisest path, loving the ugliest parts of the writing life, leaning in to the wildness of what we do, and gripping kindness in both hands even when it's darned hard

It's courage. All of it. 

Lionhearted courage is a composite. It's made up of all of these traits. And as we grow in each of these qualities, as we get stronger in each one, as we practice them all, come what may—

We become amazingly brave, incredibly courageous writers.

THAT is the essential lionheart. 

That is what we are heading toward together.

Does it sound a little daunting? (I mean... it kinda does, right? Exhilarating, sure. But also a little daunting.)

The good news is that this can be done bit by bit. 

Stretch yourself now and then.

Pick a quality or two and lean toward them harder today. You're flexing your courage muscle!

For me, today, I am practicing trusting myself, and I'm choosing patience instead of flipping out. Even though it's hard (SO HARD today!). Even though I can feel the strain.

... But I keep working at it, and right there in that moment, there is courage.

So what qualities are you practicing today?

Keep ramping them up, keep growing at them, and—oh! There it is.

There. Right there.

Look at how brave you are.

Kicking Out the Negativity (So We Can Fall in Love with Writing!)

We're going to keep shedding the negative ways we think about writing... so that we can open ourselves up to a super healthy and, yes, head over heels relationship with our writing lives! | lucyflint.com

How are you feeling, lionheart? How were the first three days of the challenge for you? (If you're new to this series on Falling in Love with Your Writing Life, check out the first post right here.) 

My hope is that we're all shaking out some of the negative feelings we've carried around about writing. That we're shining some light on them, and scaring them out of their dark corners.

For the rest of this week, I'm hoping we can either squash them, or at least send 'em skittering on their way.

(Is anyone else thinking about roaches right now, or is that just me? Ahem.)

Sound like a plan? Cool. I'm excited. 

Okay, here are the prompts for the rest of the week... 


February 4: Write a letter.

There's something downright magical about writing a letter. Something about that format, that invitation to be honest.

Today, we're writing two letters. One of them is from you to your writing life. And in the other, the writing life will be writing back to you.

(Just go with me on this.)

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Take a little bit of time, and write a letter to your writing life. And begin by saying: "Dear Writing Life, I'm afraid that you will..."

And then go from there.

Tell it all the things that you're worried about in your writing life. All the fears you have—the big ones, and the really really little ones. Everything you'd try to dismiss if someone asked about it. The things that maybe embarrass you.

No one's going to read this—except your Writing Life, and it probably already knows all this anyway.

Dig deep. And be as honest as possible. Get it all down.

Because, seriously, you don't need those thoughts just scampering loose on their own in your mind. Grab them, drag them into the light, and pin them onto the paper with words.

Whew. 

Then, write that second letter. The Writing Life is going to write back to you, and answer your fears.

It can't guarantee things that it has no control over (audience response, family response, critics, money, fame). But there are a lot of other things that it can promise. There are a lot of wonderful things that it can give in return. And there is a lot of courage in it, just waiting for you.

The writing life is really wise. It's been around a long, long time.

Give it a chance. Listen hard. And see what it writes back to you.


February 5: Let's redefine "bad" writing days.

I recently came across this idea from Rachel Aaron, and I absolutely love it.

She explains that difficult writing days—days where our imaginations seem to go on strike, where the words won't come, or where we can't seem to get to our desks—are actually telling us something important.

And—spoiler alert—it isn't telling us that we're lazy, unmotivated, undisciplined, stupid, ignorant, blah blah blah.

That's not what bad writing days mean at all. 

She says: "Instead of treating bad writing days as random, unavoidable disasters to be weathered, like thunderstorms, I started treating them as red flags."

She realized that they meant: Her story had gone in the wrong direction.

Or, that she didn't actually love what she was writing about. 

The most effective way to get back into writing, to be writing with joy, was to fix those problems. Whatever they were.

Which did NOT mean: beating herself up. 

Isn't that an incredible shift? Such a game changer.

She comes from the point of view that maintains: Writing is enjoyable. Telling stories is fun.

This writing life is an inherently good thing, which means that, if it doesn't feel good, something's gone wrong.

And that something isn't you.

You're not the problem!! Isn't that a lovely thought?!

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Maybe you haven't had a bad writing day in months; or maybe you're having one right this second

Either way, let's practice shifting our focus. Let's take it for granted that a bad writing day doesn't mean anything bad about you, the person, the writer.

Actually, you're great. Let's just all accept that.

And it doesn't mean that the writing life is a terrible, stingy, horrific machine of punishment for the unsuspecting.

Nope. The writing life is great too.

Instead, let's assume that something else is going on. 

Let's assume that a bad writing day is more like seeing the first few symptoms of flu show up. 

It really doesn't help to be angry at ourselves for catching it. It doesn't help to rail against immune systems having a momentary weakness and letting those germs grow.

All that really matters is that partnership between Human and Immune System, and blasting those germs together. Yes? Yes.

The same thing goes for tough writing days. It isn't your fault, and it isn't the writing life's fault. Something else is amiss.

Today, take fifteen minutes and list everything else that might be contributing to a bad writing day for you. (If you're not having a bad one, think back to the last one you did have.)

What else is going on? Maybe it's external, non-writing stuff. Maybe you don't have enough energy.

Or maybe something's gone off in your work-in-progress. Do you love the subject? Has something shifted? Did you lose an element that made you happy? 

What is your absolute favorite thing to write about? Have you lost track of it, in this story, in this bad writing day?

You get the idea. Probe around. Try to find out what might have gone wrong.

Keep reminding yourself: it isn't you. It isn't the writing life.

Instead, explore what might have happened together, and play around with ideas for how to get it back on track.


February 6: Discover the best true advice.

I don't know about you, but when I'm in the midst of a problem, I can be totally blind to something I already know.

But if someone I care about goes through the same thing—I become a fount of wisdom. I have legitimately helpful things to say. 

Sometimes we don't have the right words for ourselves. Sometimes, we find them when we help other people.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: On your best day, on your absolute best day, when you are your wisest, happiest, kindest, and most content self... what would you tell someone else about the writing life?

Imagine that you're describing it to someone who hasn't really tried it on yet, but someone that you think would be an excellent fit. Someone who you know will be a good writer and will thrive... but who needs your nudge to get started. Someone you genuinely want the best for, and you believe that that's the writing life.

How would you sum it up?

What true things would you say about what the writing life has meant to you? What is it really like, this pursuit of words? What can your friend expect? What will she find?

Write it down. Write as much as you like. Try to write for about ten minutes, if you can.

Then look over your words, and choose a sentence or a phrase that really sums up what you've written down, and copy it separately onto a little sticky note.

And above your sentence, write: "This is what I REALLY think about writing." 

And then post it in your writing area. 

Those are your words. Your real definition of writing. And it's true.

Steer by it. On days when you're tempted to be frustrated at writing, let your own words remind you of what you really believe.


February 7: Enjoy the reward of reading.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: This is what we're going to do every Sunday this month. We're going to find about half an hour and we're going to read something lovely.

That can mean whatever you want it to. Grab a favorite novel or a new one. Find some really excellent non-fiction, or a book of letters, or poetry. (Mary Oliver and Billy Collins are my favorites!)

Or dive into some kids' books. Because language always sounds better after Dr. Seuss has been playing with it.

All I want you to do is make some space, and fall into a pile of words. 

Without envying the writer's skill. Without even a whisper of comparison. 

Enjoy the words simply because you enjoy them. Let them transport you.

Let yourself love the reading life with absolute abandon.

Because the reading life is always our way back to a truly wonderful writing life.


I hope this first week of prompts goes really well for you! Feel free to leave comments on how it's going, and please do share with anyone who might love this too!


Ready for more? Get the next prompts right here!

This Is the Better Way to Dress Up: Imagining the Writer You Want to Be

Daydreaming a rosy-hued future writing life? Cool. Me too. Here's why that's *not* embarrassing (and how it will help you focus!). | lucyflint.com

So HERE'S an embarrassing question. It's Monday, and hopefully you have some coffee or some such thing, and hopefully you won't reach through your screen and wallop me for being so nosy. 

Besides, I'll even answer it first. 

Embarrassing question: When you daydream about your future as a writer, what does that look like? 

Not the humble, Twitter-acceptable version of "oh, I'm going to just keep growing and learning and eventually publish." (Even though that's all great.) 

I mean, what does it really look like?

In my daydreamed future, I'm usually living in an airy little bungalow--a ridiculously charming and cozy place, crowded with books (in the places where it isn't being airy, I guess). 

The bungalow was purchased with money made from selling books. (Probably a very small bungalow in that case. But nevertheless.)

I'm busy as a bee in my office, churning out one book after the next, creating books for a series that has mega fans.

MEGA. As in, readers dressing up as my characters, or naming children after them, or having themed weddings based on the books. 

(Ahem. Daydreams are allowed to be silly and totally unreasonable. It's their job.)

Daydreamed-Lucy is always full of ideas, always scribbling, and then maybe jaunting about getting coffee and meeting friends at a bookstore, and...

Yeah.

Happy, cheery, energetic writer, who writes, writes, writes, in the midst of a happy, cheery life.

Especially: Making an actual living with my writing. (Also consuming enormous amounts of baked goods and caffeine.)

That's what I dream up. 

And I usually dream it up when I'm not doing a lot of writing. 

I take refuge in this little daydream whenever life gets crowded and my writing habit slips. Or when I'm sick for a while and have a hard time working (I'm looking at you, epic sinus infection of September!!).

So, your turn: What do you daydream about, when you imagine your writerly future? 

(Nothing is too silly, too far-fetched, or too grandiose. I promise.)

What do you imagine? 

Got an idea? The general gist of your dreamed-up future?

Okay. Good. Here's what I want us to do:

In honor of the week of Everyone Dressing Up, aka, Halloween, let's think of what it would be like if that writing life became yours this week.

If you and I could put on our dreamed writing lives, if we could become that kind of writer by Saturday night, as easily as my neighborhood kids become ghosts, princesses, and the Avengers ... If we could do that, what would it look like?

I promise that this really is a practical question. I promise I'm not just being silly.

Because behind my dreams of the snug cheery bungalow and the brioche and the ever-intensifying caffeine addiction, there's something extremely concrete and real. Something that illuminates a goal that I can, shockingly enough, forget I have sometimes.

I want to make a living from writing and selling incredibly good books. Books that readers just LOVE.

Sometimes, I forget that.

Sometimes, I must think I'm aiming to be a binge watcher for Netflix, or a cookbook tester and reviewer, or professional Pinner of knitted goods. 

Because honestly, sometimes that's what my behavior looks like. That's what I get more enthusiastic about some days. 

And THAT, my friends, is why these slightly-embarassing, future-writer daydreams are so dang helpful! They aren't as foolish and time-wasting as I sometimes think. They don't have to be dismissed outright. 

They actually show us what it is that we'd really like to aim for. They point us where we need to go.

Time for an empowering quote? Sure. Here's one from Henry David Thoreau:

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost;
that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

HIGH FIVE, Thoreau. I am so with you. 

What does it look like, to put the foundations under your daydream?

For a little more illumination, here's some extremely practical insight from Heather Sellers. (Yes, yes, I quote her all the time, but she has saved my writerly skin so often, I can't help it!)

In Chapter After Chaptershe tells about her writing friend Rachel, who was writing her first novel in spite of an intense day job.

Sellers writes: "She wanted to become a full-time, well-paid writer, so she hired herself (without pay) and did what full-time, well-paid writers do: Write. A lot."

Makes sense, right? Pretty straightforward. Even simple.

But something clicked in me when I first read that. It was exactly what I needed to hear, to start putting the foundations under my castles in the air. 

What kinds of habits could you adopt now, to become that writer of your daydreams? 

Another way to say all this (and something that Austin Kleon writes about): Fake it 'til you make it.

Not the bad kind of faking. This is the good stuff. As Kleon puts it: "You have to dress for the job you want, not the job you have, and you have to start doing the work you want to be doing."

YES. Right? Let's do that.

Let's practice being the kind of writer we most desperately want to be. The writer of our dreams. Let's practice being that.

And you know what happens? We get to become that.

So what are you dreaming about? And what will you be practicing this week?

Let's treat our daydreams--even the silliest ones!--with the seriousness that they really do deserve. Let's honor them by practicing those behaviors.

By dressing for the job we want to have.

For me, this means:

  • Digging deep into revisions, building a solid story, fixing the structure, going crazy-awesome on the characters. If I want a trilogy that will inspire mass devotion, it needs to be the best dang thing I can muster! Editing without flinching. Game on.
     
  • Learning from the pros. I've been reading excellent books from Steven Pressfield (this and this), Rachel Aaron (this might change EVERYTHING for you!), and the amazing Joanna Penn
     
  • READING MORE FICTION! Ack! It keeps falling through the cracks, so I am scheduling it. An hour a day. (The schedule is legit. This is going to happen.)
     
  • Staying nice. It's all too easy for me to get wild-eyed and rabid when it comes to productivity and not screwing up. But that daydreamed version of me is happy as she is writing. Not glowering at everyone and hating everything. So I gotta remember to be a kind boss.
     
  • Drinking coffee. (DONE.)

How about you, lionheart? What's your list? How can you be a little more like that Future Writer You this week? 

Put on those habits. Just dress right on up in them. Act like that writer you want to be this week. 

(It's a waaaaay cooler costume than Iron Man. And it looks excellent on you. Just sayin'.)

Superhero Your Writing

When you lean into your strengths, you become extraordinary. | lucyflint.com

It can seem very heroic, can't it, to have an all-embracing sense of your flaws. To beat our critique partners to the punch by saying, I know it's terrible because of x, and y, and z. 

And because drafts have flaws, and because we aren't perfect (yay!), we have a point.

There will always be weaknesses in what we do.

But there will also be strengths.

I don't care how execrable your latest draft was: If you itch to write stuff down, then you have a strength.

Whether it's your point of view, your perspective, your sense of pacing, your grip on setting, your flair for unusual conflict, your lovable characters...

Face it, writer-friend: Somewhere, somewhere, your writing has some strengths.

Here's what I want you to do: Make 'em stronger. 

Work on your best points. Find where you glow, and become incandescent. Light it up.

"But no, no," comes the protest. "We have to focus on our weaknesses, right? Find all the bad places and make them better. Right?"

Well, okay. There's a time to focus on weaknesses and make them better. To build up those places.

But I want to introduce you to this crazy, revolutionary practice of appreciations, taken from Making Ideas Happen:

When Scott Belsky went to a storytelling workshop, led by Jay O'Callahan, he and the other participants took turns telling their stories. And after each story, the rest of the group would talk about what the teller had done well, what they appreciated.

They talked about the strengths. 

And then, the storyteller would take all that feedback, rework the story, and share it again. 

If you're like me, your first reaction to this is: But what about all the weaknesses? 

Here's how Belsky describes the effect:

"I noticed that a natural recalibration happens when you commend someone's strengths: their weaknesses are lessened as their strengths are emphasized. ... The points of weakness withered away naturally as the most beautiful parts became stronger."

So... the weaknesses get taken care of, when we bring out what was good? 

When we lean on our strongest and best points, the crappy bits fade?

BONUS: The storyteller is not writhing on the ground in tatters. I call that a win.

So here's what I propose: Next time someone reads your writing to give feedback, ask them to tell you the three things that they most appreciated.

And try revising based on that.

Belsky writes: "A creative craft is made extraordinary through developing your strengths rather than obsessing over your weaknesses."

Made extraordinary.

See, that's what got me thinking about superheroes.

Superheroes tend to have one specific extreme ability. And then there are a few strengths that support that, that help make that useable. (And they have a suit, maybe a cape. You can get those too if you like.)

Find your three top strengths (or more!). Nourish them. Exercise them. Make them stronger still.

And then you're basically a writing superhero. And that piece of writing you've been revising? Extraordinary.

Not because you've been focusing on a detailed list of all your failings, and trying to bring them up to par. Nope. You already have some gold there.

Get your readers' help finding it, polish it up, and make it the centerpiece.

Unleash your strengths.