Breaking a Deadly Habit: Are You Abusing Your Creativity? Let's Rescue It.

This is such an easy trap to fall into, an easy habit to pick up. But it's literally killing our creativity--and starving our work. We have to stop. Here's your invitation to a rescue mission. | lucyflint.com

As writers, one of our most vital resources, our most prized possessions, is our creativity. 

That's a fair thing to say, right? If there's no creativity, there are no words on the page, no stories brewing in the mind, no plots, no outlines, no characters.

Creativity is a tool, a source. It's the thing we use constantly in our lives and our work.

Given that, we should be as invested in protecting it and caring for it as we are our other important tools—our computers and software, the copyrights for our work, our access to books. 

Right?

But it's so easy to forget to see it that way. 

It's easy for me to make sure my fancy computer is well taken care of, but creativity, well, it's there when I need it, right?

We can get kind of blasé about our creativity. Careless. We can take it for granted. Leave it out in the rain, let it pick up a few dings, stop putting it in its protective case.

You tracking with me? 

Not that I want to get too precious about this, but I want to be a better protector and champion of my own creativity. 

I want to treat it like it's the thing that's bringing home the bacon. The central engine for everything I'm trying to run. 

I want to take better care of my creativity.

One thing that kinda shook me up with The Artists's Way was how Julia Cameron kept calling it a course in creative recovery.

I feebly tried to fend this off a little, when I picked the book up in the spring. "My creativity is basically fine, I'm just looking for a little pick-me-up, it's not like I'm in trouble here or anything..."

( ... Whoops, sorry, I snort a little when I laugh sometimes.)

Ahem.

The more I read, the more I realized I'd been so casual about creativity. So narrow-minded in how I think of it. And so dismissive about the possibilities and the power of creativity, that I'd been kind of strangling mine. 

Not that it was dead, but it was definitely a bit winded and it didn't want to sit too close to me.

And since I want to take everything I've learned and plunge oh so deep into writing my trilogy this fall, I don't want to alienate creativity. 

Instead, I want to put a huge welcome mat by my desk. I want to hand it a hot drink and give it the comfiest seat in the house. 

Creativity!! It is so good to see you. Please come in. Please make yourself at home. What can I do to make you comfortable and happy? 

... How about you? How are you and creativity doing these days? Are you on speaking terms? Best friends? Or avoiding each other's eyes?

The books that I've been studying have a bit to say about ways that we thwart our own creativity. So if you, like me, want to get super imaginative in the upcoming weeks, you'll want to keep reading.

We've been feeding cyanide to our creativity.

Just a little warning: None of us are going to like what's ahead here. 

Because if we know how important our creativity is, and how beautiful it can be, it's going to be a real bummer to realize that most of us have been slipping cyanide into its food. 

And maybe even kicking it a little, as it writhes on the floor.

How are we doing this? 

Through comparison. Competition. Measuring our work against someone else's, and focusing on the differences we see. 

This will literally shut down creativity. 

It changes everything. 

Think back to times when you've done this. Can you kind of feel, in slow-motion, how those comparison-driven thoughts flooded your ability to create with poison? 

I don't know how it looks for you, but this is how it goes down for me:

When a classmate of mine got an interview with a big-name author I admire, and when I found out that she'd published quite a few books as well, I didn't think, "Marvelous! Good for her! And I'm going to my desk right now!"

I didn't. 

Instead I felt like my lungs had filled up with poison gas, and my arms and legs felt hot and slow and my mind was yelling at me that I'm so stupid, and I've lost all my chances, and everyone's given up on me by now, and what the heck have I been doing with my time? 

I looked at my novel and thought, "Pfft! Books for kids! I'm just writing silly stuff and I can't even do that very well!"

I dismissed everything I've worked for and everything I've become with one contemptuous shrug of the shoulders.

(Plus I was LYING to myself in a huge way and pretended it was the whole truth. Not a helpful move.)

My work-in-progress didn't really thrive that day.

Neither did its writer.

... I know I'm not alone here.

This is such an easy thing to fall into, and I'd love to take a lot of time to talk about how our culture encourages this, how crappy teachers and vile schoolmates do it to us, how misguided "encouragers" can point out where we should be more like so-and-so...

But no matter how we got here, the point is: when we let comparison and competition into our writing lives, it cackles a bit and then strolls over to murder our creativity.

And frankly, my friends, that's not great. Nor is it a useful long-term writing strategy.

I love how Julia Cameron says this—it's just so helpful to me:

When we focus on competition, we poison our own well, impede our own progress. When we are ogling the accomplishments of others, we take our eye away from our own through line. We ask ourselves the wrong questions, and those wrong questions give us the wrong answers.

I LOVE that. She's so right: it switches our attention.

I so wish I could time travel back to when I found out about my classmate. I wish I could have just taken a huge breath, said "Good for her," out loud, and then put the information aside.

And then I wish I would have surrounded myself with my beautiful characters, my incredible storyworld, and the next hilarious scene.

Instead of asking, "Why can't that be me?!" I wish I would have gently and compassionately asked, "What is the best thing I can do for my story today? What is the next exciting thing to write?"

THAT is what I wish I had done.

Instead of wallowing in hateful comparison, I wish I had just thrown my arms around creativity.

Cameron goes on to say,

The desire to be better than can choke off the simple desire to be. As artists we cannot afford this thinking. It leads us away from our own voices and choices and into a defensive game that centers outside of ourselves and our sphere of influence. It asks us to define our own creativity in terms of someone else's.

Gaa! Doesn't that last line just get you?!

Comparison isn't our friend. It's not on our side. 

Creativity is. 

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown talks about how comparison is the thing we need to let go of, if we're going to cultivate creativity. She says,

Comparison is all about conformity and competition. ... The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of "fit in and stand out!" ...
     Letting go of comparison is not a to-do list item. For most of us, it's something that requires constant awareness. It's so easy to take our eyes of our path to check out what others are doing and if they're ahead or behind us. 

She goes on to say, 

If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. ... Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared. 

If you're struggling with this whole comparison thing like I am, please do this for yourself: Write down that last bit and stick it to your computer, your mirror, your forehead. 

Remind yourself of it often!

What you bring to the world—your story, your writing style, your characters, your take on the genre, your setting—it's COMPLETELY ORIGINAL.

It cannot be compared. 

If we're going to move forward as writers, if we're going to keep growing in our work, then we have to put to death this habit of comparing. 

Comparing ourselves to peers, to the people who are writing in a similar genre or sphere.

Comparing ourselves to established masters of the craft.

Comparing ourselves to people who seem to be doing "worse" than we are.

Comparing ourselves to unattainable perfection.

We've gotta stop doing it, my friends. 

How to embrace a radically new perspective on creativity.

One way to help loosen our grip on comparison is to have an even clearer sense of our own creativity.

Julia Cameron uses one metaphor for creativity over and over, and honestly, at first, I thought it was a bit hokey.

And then, the longer I sat with it, the more I realized she was totally right.

(This is true for about 99% of my experience with the book, by the way. I'd react with, "Gaa! That's so silly." Pause. "Well, she might have a point." Pause. "Oh gosh, actually, that's dead right." And the book would just grin up at me.)

Cameron talks about creativity, about our inner artist, as a child.

(I know, I know. Just go with it for a bit.)

If you've been around kids for ten minutes, you've seen how explosively, endlessly creative they can be. 

So, what's the best way to grow your creativity? Cameron says, throughout her book, that the way to grow it is by nurturing it—just as you would nurture a child.

Give it a sense of safety. Protect it from unkind influences (like the nasty lies that rear up in our minds). Provide it with fun things that it wants to play with.

Do not abuse it with harsh words, the silent treatment, lies, or starvation.

She says, 

We must actively, consciously, consistently, and creatively nurture our artist selves. ... Only when we are being joyfully creative can we release the obsession with others and how they are doing. 

Can you practice treating your creativity like it's a child that you dearly love? Can you practice giving it room to play? Handing it every fun tool or toy that it wants? 

Can you let it make a mess? 

Can you talk to it with compassion, gentleness, as if it were someone you loved?

One of the best ways to do this is through a core principle in The Artist's Way: the artist date.

From the start of the book, Cameron asks that we make a commitment to a weekly artist date. 

What does that mean? 

She says, 

An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. ... The artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers.

YES.

I just love this concept. And the rare times (I mentioned the summer was crazy, right?) that I was able to do this, I felt so much better.

More connected to my imagination, to a wider sense of the world, to my ability as a creator.

The amazing thing is, an artist date can be so simple. An outing to a beloved art store, or a nearby quirky furniture/home store are two favorites. Or sometimes I block off the time to sit and paint with watercolors. 

I'll be the first to say: I'm not great at doing this yet. It's an area where I really have to practice defending my time (from others and from myself!).

And it's hard to let myself have fun. (Honestly, if there was a rehab center for learning to play and have fun, I'd probably have to check myself in. So, if this doesn't come easily to you—solidarity, my friend.)

I really believe that these artist dates—time set aside for pure nurturing—are truly worth it. 

So here's my crazy suggestion: Can you, can I, can all of us give ourselves permission to take an artist date this week? 

To block out time and go on an outing? Or to pull out some dusty hobby that we love but feel sheepish about, and pursue it for a while? 

Can we essentially hand our inner artist a huge ice cream cone and say, "Go to town, kiddo! Today we're just going to have fun together!" 

Maybe this means buying yourself balloons or maybe it means going on a long walk by a lake.

Maybe it means buying the huge pack of fifty markers from the back-to-school display and a coloring book or four.

Or maybe you grab a bunch of sidewalk chalk, and let loose on your patio.

Maybe it means getting messy, or maybe it means wandering in a new place.

If you're stuck for ideas, try these quick prompts: 

  • What are twenty things that you love doing? 
  • What hobbies did you love as a kid? 
  • What were your favorite toys as a kid? What did you just love playing with? Where did you most love to go?
  • What did you love to do in art class? Music class? 
  • Where do you like to explore?
  • What kinds of activities or places seem to release something good in you?

Remember, you are not allowed to label your artist date as something "silly." (That's comparison sneaking in again, and remember that it just wants to slit creativity's throat. Don't let it.)

Aim for delight. Play. Fun. Joy.

Even if you're not good at it, like me, practice anyway. 

Even if you get caught up in questions like, "am I doing this right?" ... practice anyway

Why? Because it's worth it.

As Cameron says,

Serious art is born from serious play.

Let's make our creativity feel welcomed, supported, nurtured, and loved.

And let's take our artist date this week.

Calling All Sore, Troubled, Tired, and Discouraged Writers: I Know Exactly What Book You Need To Read Next

This is the book that's been radically reshaping my approach to the writing life. It's an absolute must-read, especially if you've been feeling weary, discouraged, and frustrated. You won't regret diving deep into this one, my friends. | lucyflint.com

Let me just start by saying: I'm totally blushing.

Why? Because when I first read this book ten years ago, I blew it off.

I thought it was "nice." Had some okay advice. But I didn't really take it to heart.

I completely disregarded this book. For ten years!! 

WELL.

I am here today to set things straight.

To declare my deep, deep love of this book. To celebrate its profound impact on my view of writing this summer.

And to report that it's basically changing my life and rearranging my heart and all kinds of good, important, radical stuff.

It's a big deal.

Whew. Deep breath. 

So have you read The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron?! I've maybe mentioned it a half a dozen times this summer, so you've seen it go by a few times if you're a regular around here. 

But oh my goodness. I don't even know how to start talking about this book and how much it's helped me.

Let's rewind. Here's what happened ten years ago.

I was a mostly terrified and somewhat cocky college senior, a few months away from graduating, when I first read this book.

At the time, I felt fairly well supported. I was a student/writer who lived among students, who was praised by professors, who wrote a lot, who aced her assignments, and who could absolutely prioritize between School and All That Was Not School.

No sweat. 

The writing life? Pfft. My main concern was how do I produce fast enough? And, you know, make a wad of cash and meet Oprah?

(Pardon me while I laugh a whole bunch and wipe away a few tears. Ahem.)

What I didn't know at the time was that, at my core, I have a maniacal perfectionist bias.

Which means that, when it comes down to it, I'm convinced that I should work five times harder, five times longer, and make flawless things on the regular. (While being irreproachable in every area of my life as well.) 

I might have suspected that I had a slight perfectionism problem.

But if you'd asked me, I'd say that really, perfectionism is helpful, right? I mean, who wants to read crappy stuff? I'm all for excellence.

I had no idea how much of a block perfectionism is. How many awful messages are wrapped up in it, and how they've been trickling poison into my writing life. 

Yeah. Turns out, perfectionism is 100% toxic to a healthy writing life. (Whoops.)

I also didn't understand how my childhood (yep, I just went there) radically affected how comfortable I am at trying difficult things. Taking risks. Being seen. And maybe failing at them. 

I didn't realize that I have some really deep, persistent, gnarled roots of shame and frustration and anxiety that are all around the act of making something and presenting it to people.

As in, writing a novel, and, you know, publishing the thing.

Turns out, those kinds of scars, when not dealt with, will absolutely sabotage this kind of work. (Whoops again.)

But ten years ago, when I shrugged off this book, I didn't know that. I read all these same words, but I didn't really hear them. I definitely didn't see myself in what she was saying.

I just wanted some zippy advice for writing fast novels, perfect novels.

Heal and grow and take time to nurture myself? Nah. I want perfect novels, please, written at a blistering rate. Phone Oprah for me, okay? 

Well. Fast forward about ten years later, to January 2016. 

I was feeling some creative restlessness. 

No, it was more than that. I was getting really uncomfortable and anxious about this pattern that I kept seeing in my writing.

I could barrel along though a first draft and a second and maybe even a third, but then something would happen that would make me feel like my entire novel was broken. Beyond repair.

No editor, no amount of redrafting could save this manuscript.

So I'd chuck it and learn a bunch (characterization! structure!) and go on to the next thing.

Basically, in a nutshell: My progress toward publication kept getting derailed. It was uncanny. And I was getting really tired of it.

Something kept tripping me up, and though it had always seemed external, lately I'd started to wonder if it was partly ME, sabotaging myself.

And I felt this kind of nudge to go check out The Artist's Way again.

I was half rolling my eyes at myself. This book? How was this loopy, silly book going to help me?

So I dragged my feet about reading it. I ignored it, not really looking at where it sat on my nightstand. 

Until finally, in the spring, I began reading. 

And reading. And reading.

And—I'm not kidding—I felt like every single paragraph was written about me.

How did she know these things? She was describing everything I'd been wondering and feeling lately.

She talked about how artists can self-sabotage without even realizing it. 

She described the idea of a shadow career: one of the ways that artists try to skip being artists, or dodge what they're really meant to do.

How we can hide behind things that are like our main art while not actually doing our art.

(Which of course bears NO resemblance to my own path of working in two bookstores, working for two publishing companies, nearly becoming an editor, and now sometimes hiding behind a bunch of blog posts while neglecting a novel project. Doesn't sound like me at ALL, does it.) 

... Did I mention I'm blushing?

And then, yes, she looks back at the messages we received in childhood. Which I wanted to shrug off ... but which turned out to be one of the most vital parts of the book for me.

I was reading and rereading as I went. I kept circling back and finding even more insights. Which is part of why it's taken me so long to get to the end of it. 

It's set up as a twelve-week course. (Which is marvelous for those of you who, like me, still love thinking in school terms.)

Each "week" has a theme, and each theme is based around Cameron's idea of artistic recovery. So, for example, Week 1 is "Recovering a Sense of Safety," and Week 4 is "Recovering a Sense of Integrity," and Week 8 is "Recovering a Sense of Strength." 

(Doesn't that just sound gorgeous? Sigh. I'm definitely about to launch into a re-read.)

In each week, there are a few essays about that theme, and then some really amazing and helpful tasks at the end, followed by a weekly check-in. I loved the structure, and both the essays and tasks were massively helpful.

But the biggest and most healing thing for me is her constant, persistent, unflinching sense of support and love for the artist.

For you, my writing friend. And for me.

She keeps having the reader acknowledge the fear and pain and artistic mistakes from the past, through a variety of helpful prompts and exercises. And then we work on healing it, by nurturing our artistic selves. 

How do we do that? 

Oh. This gets really fun. (And terrifying, if you're like me and have a hard time with this kind of thing.)

We nurture ourselves with play. With joy. With little luxuries.

By doing silly things. By indulging. By spoiling ourselves.

(And yes, that death rattle noise is my inner perfectionist, who is hiding under a blanket. Because this goes against everything she stands for. How can being silly help make me a better artist? Indulging yourself?!? Where will it all end? Gasp, cough, wheeze, choke.) 

But basically, Cameron trains you to pamper and love and spoil and listen and treat yourself (and your work and your creativity), with utmost care and respect and kindness.

In other words, this book will help retrain all of us to stop beating ourselves up.

To stop starving parts of our creativity.

To stop submitting to the scars of the past and letting them destroy the future.

Nope. 

In fact, one of the mantras she recommends (which I both adore and really struggle with) is this:

Treating myself like a precious object
will make me strong.

Whoa, right? 

I mean... sit with that for a bit. Let it mess with you.

Where have you been believing that it's by beating yourself up, by being really harsh (and calling it accountability), by being inflexible and refusing to reward yourself, by nitpicking and sniping at yourself, by staring at your mistakes until you want to hide...

Where has that spirit of self-abuse been ruling your writing life? 

And do you, like me, feel like if you treated yourself super kindly—like you are in fact a precious Ming vase or an exquisite artwork—that if you do that, you'll just screw everything up, you won't be disciplined, you'll just get lazy, nothing will ever be done...

See, that's the argument that starts up in my head too. But Cameron calmly reasons it out of me.  

In a nutshell, she proves very conclusively that when our artistic lives are full of delight, excitement, and kindness, we are drawn to our work, we are truer to our own voices, and we write from a place of well-nourished strength. 

The results?

Are freakin' spectacular.

So, lean in to that.

Whoever you are, wherever you are at in your writing. Try to pamper your writing self.

Skip being harsh, skip self-punishment, skip all the nasty things we do to "keep ourselves in line." 

And try a softer, kinder, more intuitive way.

... You'll be hearing more about this book in the next couple of weeks, as I share some of the biggest lessons I've learned from it. Because this was just the tip of the iceberg, my friends.

But seriously, don't wait for me. You owe it to yourself to borrow The Artist's Way from a library, or grab your own copy and start underlining.

Dive in with an open mind and an open heart.

Commit to trying all her exercises. And get ready to discover yourself (and appreciate your instincts and your amazing writer's heart) in a deeper way than ever before.

This book will challenge and prompt and prod and hug you. 

I'm seriously going to reread mine, immediately, from front to back. Like, today. Right now.

Because it's changing everything.

And I'm convinced that it's absolutely essential to being the kind of writer I most want to be.

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?

How to Dodge Burnout in Your Writing Life Before It Even Comes Close

The trick about being your own writing boss is that... so many things can go wrong! Here's one way to keep the peace, negotiate through difficulties, and stay on course, before you ever have a chance to burn out. Sound good? Bring some paper, and let's get started. | lucyflint.com

One of the most freeing, and most daunting, pieces of my writing life is simply this: I am my own boss.

It means that my degree of contentment, fulfillment, and happiness in my job is basically up to me

Which is completely wonderful and a bit frightening, at the same time. 

It also means that when something goes wrong in my writing life or writing process, it's up to me to figure out what happened. 

"EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE," is how I used to respond.

Which is a very accurate feeling. But a really unhelpful diagnosis.

But if we're all being our own bosses (which we totally are), and if we're going to do amazing things in 2016 (which HECK YES we are!!), then we need to learn how to discover what goes wrong in our writing lives. 

And figure out how to fix it. And get it going again.

And just to clarify: I'm not talking about what's gone wrong in our novels, though of course that's also our job to unravel.

I'm talking about what happens when the whole darn writing life rolls over and sticks its feet in the air. Or, when its engine won't start and the radio won't either.

Or whatever other metaphor feels right to you.

If our goals are going to happen, then we need to know what to do to make sure our writing life is working well, all systems go, everything healthy. 

One of the ways that I run my own self diagnostic is by thinking of myself as a team.

Yes, I know that can be a little weird, but stick with me here. If you're working for yourself, if you're working alone, you're still managing a team's worth of jobs, right? 

It's just you, but you're performing all the different tasks, fulfilling half a dozen roles. You're the one doing all the things.

Right? 

The way I think about it, the Writing Team of Me breaks into these roles:

  • Chief Executive Officer: She's the general manager of everything. She plans for the long-haul. She has her eyes on a career that will span decades and reach great heights. She's extremely ambitious, but also has a strong administrative focus. She manages all the other members of the team as well, and brings them in line with her vision for the career.
     
  • Chief Creative Officer: She's the "idea girl." She manages the entire imagination matrix and generates the big gooey ideas that turn into novels, as well as the smaller ideas that illuminate scenes and blog posts and other little projects. She manages the overall creative vision, as well as the flavor of everything the team produces. She animates and signs off on every bit of work we do around here.
     
  • The Staff Writers: They take everything from the CEO and the CCO and turn it into words, words, words. These are the draft monkeys, the paragraph producers. They're super hard workers, but they like to have a good time whenever possible. 
     
  • The Editor: She works closely with the staff writers. Sometimes she gets overexcited and tries to interfere too soon, so they stick her in the hallway with a thesaurus and a knitting project. But when managed well, she's an essential part of the team. She cleans up all sentences, adjusts flow of content, and does all proofreading tasks. (She hates how often the staff writers stick "words" like kinda and gotta into this blog. She can be somewhat mollified by gin. Don't tell her we know that.)
     
  • Public Relations Manager: She's our social media guru! She's overflowing with ideas for ways to get our words out there, meet the team's ideal audience, find out what that audience wants, and then give it to them! She's highly caffeinated and absolutely adores the Internet. If her doctor would allow it, she'd never sleep.
     
  • The Intern/Administrative Assistant: She's the catch-all girl, filling in all the gaps, doing what no one else seems to remember to do. She makes the coffee, cleans the junk out of the office area, purges file folders, makes sure all the tools and equipment run smoothly. She dashes out to grab office supplies, does preliminary research on projects, and performs assorted janitorial duties (bless her heart!). 

... Annnd that's my team. (We're interviewing a Publisher and an Accountant, because, you know, 2016 is when Everything Happens. But that's still down the road a teeny bit.)

Your team might look and feel a little different—you might have more roles, or less. More vivacious personalities or quieter ones.

The point is: We're embodying a variety of roles as writers, every day, every week. And I think it can be incredibly valuable to take some time and figure out: What does that particular role need? What is it missing? 

This is a great way to sift through the overwhelming feeling of "something's wrong," or "something could be running better." Or even, to avoid burnout and deep neglect before they even happen.

(Which is part of being a really stellar boss, by the way.)

What would happen if you had an interview with each member of your team? 

Yeah, I know. It's a little bit weird. But we're writers: we can get away with weird. Treat it like a freewriting exercise, and just see what happens. (It could be really cool.)

If you're up for it: Grab a blank notebook, or pull up a clean document on your computer.

Figure out who your team is, and what the general idea is behind each role. (If you don't know where to start, you can borrow my team's descriptions. I promise that they won't mind.)

When you have a clear-ish idea about which is which, ask each team member these questions, and then listen as they tell you. Take notes, jot down exact things that they say, and try to follow each thought further. 

Ready? Here goes: 

1) What is going really well in your job right now? What are you really happy with?

2) What is not going well? Where are you most frustrated?

3) Where do you feel like the rest of the team is asking too much of you? Do you feel undervalued?

4) What would you need so that you could do your job really, really well? (I.e., tools, more learning, celebration, extra support, assistance, time off, more time with a certain project, free time for brainstorming...)

5) What would make the environment you work in (the tools you use, the space you occupy, the sounds you hear) the best place for you to work?

6) Is there anything else you want to tell me? 

Okay. Maybe that felt a little hokey. Or maybe you realized something about how you work. 

For me, running through this exercise always amazes me, because it helps me realize how much I'm doing. It helps me respect each member of my team that much more. 

It makes me more patient, less demanding. I become more flexible with assigning deadlines, and more quick to add in support. 

What about you? What did you discover?

If we forget how many different roles we're doing, and how many different angles we're working from, we can feel at odds with ourselves.

And our whole team will wind up being understaffed and malnourished.

The goal of this experiment is to find a happy balance where each member of your team is satisfied. Where all their needs are met, and where each is operating out of their best possible environment.

That's an exciting thought, right? 

So don't be afraid to experiment a bit. And to recalibrate how you work until you get to that place.

Adjust a few things, see how everyone on your team feels, and then make new adjustments. 

Because if we can figure out how to do that, we're on our way to having a writing practice that runs incredibly well, that meets its goals, and does it all without killing us. 

Which sounds GREAT to me. 

And the rest of 2016? Pffft. No worries.

We'll climb those big mountains. Tackle those enormous goals.

We'll have our whole team striding forward together—and we'll be unstoppable.


If you want to dive deeper into creative self-management, you've gotta check out: Making Ideas Happen, by Scott Belsky, and Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon. They're keepers.

Celebrate the Relationships that Make Your Writing Possible

It's tempting for us writers to think we're creative geniuses, at the center of our own little universes. It's tempting to forget (or ignore) everyone who is and has supported us. ... Let's not do that. | lucyflint.com

When you're throwing yourself into your writing work, and putting every little bit of your brain and heart into it, you can get a little... how shall we say... self focused.

To an extent, that's a really good thing.

I will always champion self-care and self-awareness and grace and rest and all those things. You're the one most able to monitor how you're doing, how you're handling stress, and if your imagination needs some oomph. You have to pay attention to how you're doing.

But it's easy to let this self-focus thing get out of hand. Right?

It's ghastly to say it out loud, but after too many days of manipulating fictitious events, I can start thinking that I'm the creative genius at the center of the universe.

That's not a habit I want to develop.

And if you've ever met anyone with a runaway ego, you know how ugly this can get.

We can all see how disgusting it is when someone forgets how many people have helped them, supported them, sacrificed for them.

Yikes. But it's a cautionary tale for us writers.

Because it is so easy to get caught up in our work.

It's ultra absorbing, making worlds out of our brains! It's easy to take for granted the people we rely on--whether they're helping our households run more smoothly, or dishing out emotional encouragement, or helping us financially. 

It's so easy to forget what other people are doing for us. 

If you are fortunate enough to have a person, or a few people, or--let's dream big--a whole tribe who thinks that what you're doing is Okay, and who support you in any way--

Then how about celebrating them this weekend?

Whether with gifts and flowers, or a long coffee date that is not about all your writing dilemmas, or maybe some good old-fashioned public acknowledgement of everything that they've done to help you. Of what you owe them.

Thank them out loud.

Sound good? 

Here, I'll go first.

I know it's cliché to say that my mom is my number one fan, but, well...

My mom is my number one fan.

I'm super fortunate in that the rest of my family is awesome and extremely supportive as well. But my mom is the person who actually modeled writing for me. 

For as long as I can remember, she had a writing desk with story ideas posted above it, as well as a growing collection of books about how to write. She talked about her stories, her characters, and her work, which taught me that this writing thing was Normal and Okay to do.

She always encouraged my sisters and me to read, helping us haul our library loot home and back again. She read out loud to us at night. She made up stories on the spot when we were bored.

She gave me spiral notebooks and story prompts when I was in second grade, she read my first attempts at poetry (eek!!) when I was in fifth, she was one of my first readers of my honors thesis in college, and she's the first one I'll let read my ramshackle rough drafts now.

We share books, tips, conferences, and anything we're thinking through. We talk about process and structure; we share writerly woes and writerly joys.

We're in this together. 

I literally can't imagine what my writing journey would look like without her. Especially without her saying, from day one: 

  • You can do this. You are a writer.
  • Being a writer is a GOOD thing to be.
  • And also, you always double the amount of chocolate chips in a recipe.

We add books and words (and maybe chocolate) to the difficult places in our lives.

So clearly, I owe her a lot. And I'm realizing that I don't say that enough, out loud. 

It's her birthday this weekend, which is partly why I've been thinking about how much she's inspired me and how much I still depend on her encouragement.

And how I'd probably not be sane trying to write without her.

Who is that person for you? Who is it who gave you encouragement during a hard time, or who modeled reading or writing for you, or who believed in you early on?

Let's be bold in our appreciation. Let's celebrate the people who have supported us.

I'll be making my number one fan a cake this weekend. How about you?