The Key To Everything Is a Crazy Amount of Focus.

The megaskill that makes way for all other skills: the ability to focus, intensely. (Like ... more intense than ever before. A whole new level.) | lucyflint.com

If you saw my last post on Cal Newport's stirring & motivating book Deep Work, you know that a radical new approach to focus is totally necessary if we want to write with super-high quality. It's also vital if we want to grow exponentially in our writerly skills.

Which: we do. Right? All of us. That's what we signed up for.

Focus. It's a big deal.

So ... how do we learn to focus with that kind of intensity? How do we adopt that training program mindset, so that we become writers who dive in deep and write our most incredible stuff? 

From the last post, we already know that deep work requires literally rewiring our brain. Which ... is hard. We know that this is going to be a challenge.

So, do we have patience with ourselves as we practice, and a readiness to encounter difficulty? Check and check.

High five. Let's go strengthen our ability to focus. 

Where do we begin?

1) Develop a deep work ritual.

Is it just me, or is everyone talking about rituals lately? Morning rituals, bedtime rituals, getting-ready-for-exercise rituals, planning rituals... 

Personally, I love 'em. (Shocking, right?!)

Yes, I love the idea of using a clever sequence of little behaviors to naturally lead my mind into the next important thing I'm doing.

It's like an on-ramp for the brain.

Welp, Cal Newport says we need to ritualize our deep work sessions as well. Why?

After describing the rituals of a few successful deep thinkers, he points out:

Success in their work depended on their ability to go deep, again and again—there's no way to win a Pulitzer Prize or conceive a grand theory without pushing your brain to its limit. Their rituals minimized the friction in this transition to depth, allowing them to go deep more easily and stay in the state longer.

Minimizing friction: that is key!! I don't know about you, but some days I feel like my writing time is friction. I can be forever transitioning between activities and making decisions, instead of getting into a good groove and staying there.

I'm sold, Mr. Newport. So, what does a deep work ritual need to do?

He lists three things in particular that a ritual has to incorporate: where you will work, how you will work, and how you'll support your work.

If we're making and remaking these decisions every time we need to settle in, we'll be flooding our deep work time with that transitioning friction. 

So, for starters, you need to ensure that your deep work area is a good environment. With a low chance of distractions and interruptions, and enough space to think.

And then, when working: how do you want to structure it? Do you need to keep a certain kind of pace, or consider a certain number of questions or read a certain number of pages? 

Finally, do you need some good food (he suggests some good coffee, and you know I'm all "amen to that!"), and some space to move around a little? (He repeatedly recommends walking as a way to enhance thinking ability.)

Personally, I don't have a clear, solid ritual in place yet. But I do have bits of one: 

  • In my planner, I write deep work mode! next to the hours when I'm planning on being uberfocused. That extra bit of intentionality reminds me to be sure and keep distractions out of my work zone.
  • Before I dive in, I sweep my desk space, and clear out anything that would derail me.
  • Like my phone. I march it over to my closet, tuck it into a little drawer, and leave it there.
  • I pull up a soundtrack of nature sounds on my computer. The rhythm of ocean waves works like an audible cue: time to go deep.
  • Finally, I keep a notepad nearby, so that if a distracted thought drops in (I need to text so-and-so! I have to track down that one recipe! Did I ever deal with that one email?) I can note it and not lose it ... but without pursuing the distraction itself.

Yeah, I know. This is pretty basic, and certainly isn't up to the more quirky and eccentric rituals that we hear about. But I'm willing to get there. ;)

And so far, this has been a good framework for supporting my early deep work efforts.

The real key here is to experiment with whatever works best for you. To take care of all those moving parts that would derail you, and make sure that you have everything you need ... and nothing that you don't.

2) Have a plan for your precious deep work time.

The time to figure out how your session is going to go is before the session starts. We don't want to waste precious deep work minutes planning our deep work time, right? Right!

So before you start, be sure that you know how long you're going to work deeply. When you're starting and when you're stopping.

Because when we're working this intensely, it's vital to know that there's only a finite amount of time we're doing this!

Newport says,

Be sure to also give yourself a specific time frame to keep the session a discrete challenge and not an open-ended slog.

And yes, I've thought, "Oh, I'll be fine. I'll just work til I'm ready to stop." Hahahaha—no. For some reason, when my mind doesn't know when it's going to get a break, it starts tempting me to give up, get up, slow down, get bored, and get distracted.

Let's not do that.

Know when you'll start, and when you'll stop. And when you're done, get up and move around and take that break!

One more point about how long we're working: It's tempting to learn about the value of deep work, and then to swear you'll have an eight-hour deep work day, and charge out to save your world with focus.

But that doesn't work so well. That's kinda like me dashing out to run a marathon. (You'd have to scrape me off the pavement after about four miles.)

When we're new to this, it's essential that we start small

Newport recommends that we aim for an hour of this kind of pure focus to begin with. And actually, it's really all we can muster before our brains are retrained.

If even a full hour sounds especially difficult, I hear you! There is zero shame in starting with even smaller amounts. Twenty minutes of total focus can be really challenging and super rewarding!! 

And it's shocking how much good thinking you can get done, in twenty focused minutes.

(When we get super good, we'll be looking at four hours of deep work a day. Even the masters can't do this indefinitely!) 

Also, what kind of work will you be doing? We'll answer that next:

3) Know the difference between deep work and shallow work.

Shallow work is another central concept in this book. Shallow work is the stuff that we still need to do ... but it doesn't require the same amount of focus, and it isn't generating huge value like deep work.

Newport defines shallow work like this:

Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

For me, shallow work is the busywork of dealing with computer updates and gathering resources. It's filling out forms, running errands, editing photos, fixing the printer. It's dealing with email and shuffling files and organizing papers.

Anytime I think, if I had an intern or a clone, I'd have her do this!—that's shallow work.

Shallow work isn't bad. In fact, it's completely necessary! It doesn't take as much focus, so it has a lighter feel to it. 

The reason we need to recognize it is because we're tempted to drip our shallow work all through our day. It can sprawl across our schedules and just take over.

But it simply isn't coming from the same place as our deep work. If we blend the two all day, we keep ourselves from going deeply and doing the kind of lasting work that would, well, make a name for ourselves.

(Doesn't that give you shivers?)

If you have days that look like this kind of once-typical day of mine, then you get where I'm coming from: 

  • work a bit on the draft
  • um, I'm bored/stumped, so I'll check email... 
  • oh, sweet, blog comment! I'll dash over and answer that!
  • okay, right, focus: work a bit on the draft
  • I need a new computer update!
  • Oh, I should back up my computer while I'm thinking of it, can't risk losing data!
  • while it's rebooting, let me just clear my email inboxes on my phone . . . 
  • that outfit on Pinterest is so cute. So are a dozen of the recommended pins alongside it...
  • Oh, right! Drafting. Drafting drafting drafting.
  • Geez, I'm hungry...

THAT is an oh-so typical blend of shallow work and deep work attempts. Sure, I can get some important shallow work done, but when I keep switching back and forth, my drafting (aka deep work!!) suffers.

Because when I'm drafting from a shallow-work mindset, my scenes feel more sketched than deeply dreamed. My characters act more clichéd, their dialogue a little too rehearsed.

We can't completely cut out our shallow work—some important things would fall apart. But, we can't let shallow work take over our valuable deep work time, either.

Newport recommends, instead, batching our work. That's why the deep work ritual is so important: Get into deep work mode, and do the deep work, no distractions!

And then, get into shallow work mode. Scrape all those lighter tasks together and knock them out at once, staying in that mindset throughout. 

4) In fact, give yourself a shallow work budget.

This is such a cool suggestion, and it's one I have yet to implement. But I think that, when I do, it's going to be huge.

Here's the idea. Newport recommends talking to your boss (for those of us writing for ourselves, that's us) about the difference between deep work and shallow work.

Our deep work time will bring the most valuable work to our "company." Our shallow work time won't be so much about generating value, but it will keep everything running smoothly.

Both are important, no question.

Here's the question for our bosses, aka us, to wrestle with:

How much time per week should we spend doing each?

Wherever you're at, this is a great question to think through.

His suggestion for self-employed knowledge workers (like me, like you, if you're working on your novel and/or building your brand): the ratio should probably be around fifty-fifty.

So, roughly half our time we spend digging in deep with our novels, writing our best stuff. Working with pure focus, operating as our absolute best and smartest selves. Thinking amazing thoughts. Growing our skills.

The other half of the time we're answering emails, editing photos, planning social media campaigns, tweaking newsletters, etc.

Make sense? 

And then, as you settle into this rhythm, track your time each day. He says it's an eye-opening and helpful way to keep yourself honest: to keep shallow work in check, and to keep your deep work in your sights.

So, if anyone has swamped her day/week/month by deciding that she needs to clean out allllllll her file folders instead of facing the next few scenes (who, me?? never!) ... yeah, this is gonna help with that.

5)  We already said it, but, it's time to make it official: Distraction, we're breaking up with you.

Oh, Distraction. You talk so sweet, but you clearly don't love us as much as you say you do.

You mess with our game, you change our brains, and you keep us from doing our best work.

And you pretend it's all in fun.

Nope. Not okay anymore, Distraction.

We're all signing off. We're done with constant notifications, chiming, buzzing, dinging, ringing. We're going deep. We're practicing mega-focus.

We're not afraid of being bored. We'll find new ways to stay entertained. We'll notice what's around us and be fully present, instead of disappearing into your mile-a-minute maelstrom. 

And when we truly need a Pinterest hit or a Facebook fix, we'll schedule that time like the deep workers we are, and go check our sites happily for that pre-scheduled half hour, or however long we've decided.

We aren't at your mercy anymore, Distraction. We're taking our power back. No more falling into your lost minutes, lost hours, lost days.

Distraction, we're done. It's not us: it's you.

Ya gotta go.


On the face of it, a lot of these tips are common sense, right? This "deep work" stuff can sound like just cleaning up some habits around working well. I get that.

I think what makes these ideas feel so weighty to me, though, is because Cal Newport treats deep work like a whole new level of working.

Near the book's conclusion, he says,

Deep work is way more powerful than most people understand. ... To leave the distracted masses to join the focused few, I'm arguing, is a transformative experience.

He makes the case that as we learn to do this, we won't be saying, "oh, yeah, I guess I polished that novel rather nicely."

It's more on the level of, "holy crap, I just took that whole GENRE to new heights," or, "I created a different kind of story form," or, "I destroyed the pre-existing limits on this kind of publication launch."

It's about solving problems in a huge way. It's about shattering our previous ways of working, our small successes and tiny increases. Trading all that in for absurd levels of growth, productivity, and understanding.

This is rocket fuel, in other words. 

So, if you're in, if this sounds awesome, here are a few deep-workian questions to consider:

What's your deep work ritual look like? Or, if that sounds daunting, what's at least one way you can signal to your imagination and your brain: we're goin' deep!

How long of a deep work session do you want to start training with? Remember, a killer twenty-minute block is much better than a terrifying one hour, when you're getting started! Don't be ashamed to start small.

What kinds of activities in your typical work week qualify as "shallow work"? Nothing wrong with them, but they just don't come from that mega-focused place. What would it look like if they had to take up only half your time (or less!), and the rest of your time went to pure, total focus? 

And yeah, we just broke up with Distraction. What do you need to do to make it official?

Remember: It's easy to feel like we're focusing well enough. That we already know what focus feels like, thanks, and why must we go to extremes? Isn't that a little harsh, a little crazy, a little weird?

The truth is,we underestimate the power of this level of focus, because most of us (myself included!) have never really, actually, consistently tasted it.

We don't know what it can do, and we assume that we're working as well as we can.

I think it's worth it, my lionhearted friends, to dig in and really try for this. 

Personally, I love the idea of my time—that very finite resource!—doing radically more than it currently is. Of having richer insights, more imaginative work, and better everything.

Woo! I'm getting chills.

So I'm on board with this.

Oh, okay, and one last thing: If all this focus talk makes you feel like your brain is going to fall out, and also like, what the heck, Lucy, that last month was all self-care all the time, and now I feel like you want me to be a machine... 

I got you. On Thursday we'll be talking about strengthening our ability to play. Which is the other half of this deep work equation. 

OH yeah. We'll balance it out. High five, my friend.

When Do We Do Our Most Important Work? (Let's Refresh That Reading Habit!)

Making a fresh commitment to a definite reading schedule on the blog today! Because "whenever it happens" isn't a good enough answer for me anymore. | lucyflint.com

It used to be that I didn't have to think about it.

I didn't schedule it, plan for it: that would have been silly. It was simply something I did, because I loved it. 

As a kid, I had this incredible drive to read.

To read all the time.

I mastered the ability to pin a book under my chin so I could, say, make up the bed and keep reading. Or clean up my room and keep reading. 

Okay. I know. It was pretty counterproductive. (Sorry, Mom!)

But I read all the time. 

In high school and college, I read what I wanted to in and around the school requirements. Even when I was overwhelmed with homework, I still snagged Sunday nights for rereading stuff like  The Chronicles of Narnia or A Year in Provence. 

In the full-time writing life, I've had to experiment a bit more.

Next to the mega-challenge of learning to write a novel, remembering to read them seems like a less urgent task.

A reading habit fits for a while, and then falls apart, needing a redesign.

And that's where I'm at again: realizing that lately (okay, okay—for basically all of 2016 so far!), I've had no real plan for reading fiction.

Which means, I haven't been reading fiction.

I know that part of this relates back to that issue of having permission.

It's hard, sometimes, to know that I still have a bazillion emails in my inbox, or that I'm behind on my work-in-progress, and yet I'm going to do something that's always been classified as "fun." 

That's why I love the idea of a schedule, a routine for reading. 

Because, frankly, adding something to my routine is the best way I have for protecting it, and for proving its importance to myself. 

Mmmm. But what would that look like now?

I've been mentally browsing the possibilities, remembering how I used to get my reading in.

Sometimes, it was the last forty-five minutes or so of my writing day, a late-afternoon habit. But it got too easily pushed out of the way by other projects.

Then I experimented with a once-a-month reading holiday, which was glorious, but also felt a bit exhausting too.

And then, for the longest time, reading was my last act for the day. Cramming words into my head before turning out the light, hoping to brew dreams from my reading material. 

I still love the peace of that, but my days have been too hectic, and I'm too exhausted to read before bed. Which feels weird, but ... it's true.

So I'm looking for a new time slot for reading.

I love how Heather Sellers talks about reading in Page after Page. She writes,

You can't get too far off track as a writer if you are reading. ... Writers read. Reading completes the gesture. Reading is what we do. An enormous part of learning how to write better is learning how to read, sensitively, attuned to all the colors and emotions. ... The best way to tune your ear for this work is to read with passion and abandon. 

WHOA. Right?! 

That's such a helpful, corrective message for me. Something I need to keep hearing.

Because I always know, in my head, that reading is important, that it isn't just "for fun," that it's something that must be part of my daily life. 

But I sometimes forget it with my heart. It feels like I'm stalling, procrastinating, dodging the more difficult tasks.

It's a false belief that I have to just keep shedding, over and over again. 

A couple of pages later, Sellers adds,

I like to read, like Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty ... in the morning, before I talk, before I write.

WELL. That just sounds like the most delicious possible start to the day. 

And it got me thinking of one of my favorite reading memories. One morning, after an early drop-off at the airport, I came home around 5:45 and felt too awake to try and sleep again.

So I made tea and found some lemon biscotti. I sat by the window reading A Very Long Engagement, savoring the beautiful prose and the tea and the sunrise. 

... Which is also why I always love the opening of the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, watching Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet starting her day with 1) a walk across English countryside, and 2) a good book.

Mmmm.

... Okay, so, seriously, I just fell into a little daydream about that. 

Here's the thing: it is so easy for me to realize and affirm that if I put writing first in my day, it'll get done. 

SUPER important. Super worthwhile.

And what about reading—the other half of a writer's job? When does that get the best schedule treatment?

I want that level of intentionality with my reading.  

So I'm wondering about shifting my reading to the morning

(Just typing that feels rebellious somehow!!)

Maybe not every day. Maybe twice a week. 

Oooh. 

I love that. I love that! It feels like a good change.

So, how about you? If reading is of critical importance to a writer—and it totally is!—then where does reading fit into your life?

Do you have a specific time when you make sure you get to it? Or is it kind of "whenever it happens"?

What tricks do you have for preserving your reading time? Or is it time to shake things up, start a new reading routine?

Wanna join me for morning reading? I'd love to know in the comments!


P.S., And yes, I did finish reading my first novel of the month! It was a good story, but A Thread of Grace felt like too heavy of a read, with all the heartbreaking news and the tragedies that have been happening lately.

Whew! I need a lighter book for my second read, just to give my heart a break. So, I'm going back to an easier-for-me category of fairytale retellings, with Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. Here goes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then ... they can break down completely. 

Right? You know the feeling?

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

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

I mean it. 

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

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

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

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

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

Okay? No beating yourself up.

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

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

1. Starting on time is the nicest kickoff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For whatever reason, it can be really tempting.

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

But it turned into an ugly cycle.

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

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

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

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

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

My writing time needs a definite end point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOPE.

That just clutters my brain and further drains me.

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

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

Oh, interruptions. What would we do without you?

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

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

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

Sometimes I stick with the writing.

Sometimes, frankly, I don't.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then I go, and go freely.

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

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

BUT. 

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

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

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

Cameron writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope. Nah. Let's not.

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

Mmmm.

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

Why We Won't Give Up: Finding the Energy to See Our Writing Through

It takes a colossal amount of energy to write a novel. It's a physical, mental, emotional, and creative game. So, where's all that energy coming from? Do you have enough? | lucyflint.com

When our writing jumps the tracks, it's easy to blame our work ethic, discipline, or inspiration. 

But one of the huge players in this whole writing game is energy

Writing a novel takes a huge amount of oomph, every which way. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and creatively. It's big.

You gotta have enough fuel for this game, and you have to have enough each day. We can't show up half-hearted.

I hate to point out the obvious but: Allllllllll that energy has to come from somewhere.

We can't be too drained and depleted from other, non-writing things.

This has been a huge focus for me lately. I have finally realized that I simply don't have the stamina to have much else going on during the week, if I'm also writing hard every day.

My work thrives on eight-hour writing days: my characters love the attention, and they give me amazing stories to tell.

But if my evenings are taken a few times a week, it cuts my writing energy in half. No kidding.

I fought that for a long time, but finally faced it a few months ago. As an introvert, I've had to back away from commitments where I was regularly spending time with large groups of people—because I just couldn't, and still get my work done effectively.

So part of this whole energy equation is: figuring out what drains your energy away, and limiting that.

Or, if you're in the midst of a big challenge, if you're doing something major, then don't stop at just limiting this. Do the scary freeing thing and step away from that commitment completely.

Then there's the other side of the equation. And it's the part that I need to challenge myself to do more of. We need to ask ourselves: 

What gives you energy? What fills you up?

And—because it's 2016 and we've got some stuff to do—I'm not talking just a teeny little smidge of an energy buzz. This isn't just a bit of caffeine.

I'm talking more on the level of: A scandalous amount of energy. 

Like, a two year old on a sugar rush. That kind of energy.

That's the kind of drive we'll need to meet these amazing goals.

So I've been asking myself some questions, looking at what's worked well for me in the past, and how that might look for me now. 

If you're looking for a mega-boost of energy, join me for a bit of brainstorming. Sound good?

PHYSICAL: Can't get around the fact that all this writing affects our bodies. 

  • When was the time in your life when you had the most physical energy? What did that feel like, and what were you able to do?
  • What were the components it took to get that level of energy? Such as: 
    • How much were you sleeping? Were you taking power naps?
    • What were your eating habits like? Plenty of green veggies? 
    • What kinds of exercise were you doing? How regularly?
  • What do you think would make the biggest difference for your physical energy right now? Any kind of adjustment in your habits of resting, eating, and moving?

EMOTIONAL: Writing a novel means we're playing all the roles of an entire cast of characters. We feel all the feelings... and that takes a lot of effort.

  • When was a time when you felt really emotionally healthy? Low stress, low anxiety? Feeling peaceful, cheerful? Relationships going well?
  • What else was going on in your life at the same time?
    • Were you journaling? Practicing a degree of self-awareness? Pursuing a spiritual practice? Meeting regularly with a friend, a mentor, a counselor? 
  • What do you know is good for your heart? 
  • When do you have a chance to be around beautiful things? How often do you let yourself go and do something truly fun? When do you feel most peaceful?
  • What are you craving emotionally? What do you think you need the most?

MENTAL: Obviously our brains are hard at work, and they need the energy to gulp down facts, to research, and to analyze our stories. We gotta be on our toes!

  • When have you felt the most mentally sharp? When were you at your best thinking critically, analytically? When were you best at learning, at processing information?
  • What else were you doing at the time? 
    • What kinds of information were you around? What were your reading habits like?
    • Were you part of a discussion group, either formally or informally?
    • Were there trusted people you bounced ideas off of (colleagues, friends, professors)?
  • What never fails to bring out your best thinking? What kinds of books and media stretch your mind in the best ways?
  • What concepts are intriguing to you right now? What mental habits are you interested in? What would you really like to learn about?

CREATIVE: We are problem solvers and image makers. We're constantly inventing! We have to be overflowing with creative energy to see these stories through.

  • When have you felt the most dazzlingly creative?
  • What's going on around you when you're most on your game as a creative? Are you doing any creativity exercises (freewriting, problem solving games, visualizing challenges)?
  • How else (besides story telling) have you explored creativity? How else have you been a maker? What did you create? (Music, paintings, crafts, food, woodwork, kids, gardens, photographs... )
  • Are you still participating in those creative outlets? Do they get a little chunk of your time still? Which do you miss doing?
  • What topics do you feel curious about? What do you wish you were doing more of, creatively?

So, what did you come up with?

If any of these prompts made your heart leap, or excited you a bit, I'd say: do whatever you can to try and make that a reality for yourself. 

What would happen if you picked one energy-maker in each category, and gave it a regular place in your week?

What would that look like? 

You know I'm a big believer in starting small. If this is at all overwhelming, maybe pick a single tiny habit. Just one little thing to start doing, to bring a stream of extra energy trickling into your life?

But then, I'm also a big believer in going big: What is the most radical thing you could do, to make sure you have a scandalous amount of energy for your work? 

Just think what would that look like! How that could feel, to have huge reserves ready to go straight into your writing?? 

What could you do this weekend, or during the rest of January, to move yourself closer to being that amazingly energized writer?

Oooh, this is the kind of thing that makes my fingers tingle. 

So, what are my big energy initiatives? Because yes, I definitely thought my way through these questions too! 

  • Physically: I'm adding a lot more physical movement throughout my day (standing desk! dance parties! yoga! brisk walks!), and I'm drinking a green smoothie every morning. (Love that!)
  • Emotionally: I'm getting back to journaling my prayers in the morning, and getting rid of extra noise in my life so I can feel more peaceful.
  • Mentally: I've added some more challenging reading to my must-read list for each month, I'm listening to some great podcasts every day for new ideas, and I'm also dipping into some beautiful essays and poems every night. 
  • Creatively: I'm devoting regular time to exploring my curiosities, and I'm finding ways to make some art every day. 

So far, I've been bouncing off the walls! (And I promise it's not just the vat of coffee I drink every morning.)

Your turn! What will you be doing to get yourself some extra energy? Share tips in the comments below!