The Strength That Supports the Others: Tending Our Commitment to Writing

If we're not committed to our writing--mentally, emotionally, and creatively--we're just not gonna go very far. How to forge a stronger commitment? Check out this list. | lucyflint.com

As we wrap up this month's series on building strength, I want to finish by digging into what might be the biggest, most vital strength of them all.

Without it, all the other strengths will eventually derail or atrophy.

I want to think a bit about what it looks like to strengthen our commitment.

YES! Our commitment to our work, our commitment to the overall shape of our writing lives, and our commitment to our own health as writers.

Right?!

Without commitment, we're anchorless.

When our enthusiasm runs dry (because it sometimes will), and our imagination is out of gas (yup, it happens), and our routines go belly-up, and our focus is shot to pieces—what is going to be the rallying force that brings everything together again? 

What's the thing that sends us looking for better answers, for new ways back into the work, for growth and freshening our skills?

What makes us discontented with our apathy, and motivated for change?

Our commitment. To ourselves, and this crazy-wonderful writing life, and our precious works-in-progress.

So basically, at the end of this Building Strength series, I just want to do a little check-in. For you, and for me. 

How's your sense of commitment lately? 

On a scale from Ugh to Obsessed!, how's your attachment to your writing life looking? Are you hovering around a Meh, or is your heart beating a little faster these days?

... Before we go much farther, I hafta say: I'm not approaching this whole commitment thing like it's something you or I have to muster up out of thin air. We can't just generate it.

We have to grow it, fertilize it, tend it carefully.

It's essentially our root system, the thing that holds us in place in our writing lives, no matter what crazy storms blow up. And when those roots grow, we grow. 

So if, in your heart of hearts, you're feeling a serious amount of Blerg toward your writing life right now, I totally hear you.

And I think that the most important thing you can do for yourself is 1) Listen to that, and 2) Start looking for ways to honestly encourage a bit more excitement.

Not fake excitement. But things that would actually nourish and guide you back to more readiness and enjoyment of your writing work.

So! To that end, here's a kind of Commitment Scan. This is what I want to check in with, and what I want to know about my own writing life right now:

Are there practices that I've forgotten about, or worthy habits that I've let slide? Are there toxic mindsets that I've somehow absorbed, or burdens I've picked up without noticing? 

Where have I been having a hard time lately with writing, and how can I swoop in there and fill those places with more creative nourishment, more genuine excitement? 

THAT is what I want to figure out today. And I'm guessing that the results ... could be rather transformational.

Let's dive in.


For starters, what does it look like to commit to your writing life, your writing project, mentally? To have your whole mind on board, committed, excited?

Here's a quick checklist on what it means for me:

  • Clearing all distractions. Yep, I know, you're already convinced: Distractions are Creative Enemy #1. And it's a sure sign for me, that when I'm letting distractions invade, I'm not really committed to whatever's going on.
     
  • Bringing the focus. High quality focus is the best way to make use of the time we have for our writing. But if I'm approaching my desk lackadaisically, the thoughts zipping through my head aren't so focused about work. They're more of a collage of everything that's been going on the past week. It takes intentional effort to narrow my thoughts, but when I do, I can start to really engage with the material I'm working on.
     
  • Rallying mental resources. When I'm fully committed, I'm ready and willing to do what the work requires. The thinking, the decision-making, the learning. This means clearing the time and space when I realize that I need to do a brainstorming session, or when I need to scout out better research material
     
  • Working on the skills that it most needs. When my work-in-progress or my writing life as a whole is telling me that I need to learn more about story structure, or character development, or I need to enrich my vocabulary: this means I put a plan in place to grow and learn those things.

Mmmmmm, that sounds good! Those are the four areas where I want to develop my mental commitment to my writing work this autumn.

How about you? Which ones stand out? Or are there other signposts of mental commitment for you? 


Next on our check-in: What does it look like to commit to our writing work and writing lives emotionally? 

  • Not sniping about it. Ever notice how our commitment, or lack thereof, leaks out of our mouths? When I'm excited about something, everyone around me knows because I will not stop talking about it. (Oh, you noticed that?) And the reverse is also true: when whining and complaining are all that's coming out of my mouth, you can tell: my heart is not on board with this. It sounds old-fashioned, but when we steer our speech a certain way, our actions follow. I wanna commit to my work by what I'm saying.
     
  • Ousting Resistance. OH yeah. Seriously, I had no idea what a huge burden Resistance had been for me, until I started consciously choosing to drop it, and to relax into the task at hand instead of maximizing its difficulty. This is one of the biggest game-changers in my emotional health lately, and it has been huge!
     
  • Practicing gratitude. For a couple of months now, I've been jotting down at least three things I'm grateful for every night before I go to sleep. It's been a really wonderful practice—a way of reframing the day, no matter how difficult it was. I'd love to get even more intentional about bringing this gratitude mindset into my writing life specifically. The Amazing Brené Brown points out in Daring Greatly that without gratitude, we can't know joy. And I don't know about you, but I want to keep bringing joy into my writing life!

Wow. YES. These are three practices that I've just started working on in general, and basically, I'd like to crank up the volume on all three this autumn. By, um, a LOT.

How about you? What's going on in your mind and heart when you're deeply committed emotionally? And how can you bring some of those practices into your writing life right now?


And then, what does it look like to commit to something creatively?

  • Showing up with your imagination. Even when your imagination is rusty, sticking with it, and trying not to just write on automatic pilot. ... Let's be real: I totally get that some days, we all just put words down instead of having a rich imaginative experience as we do. Sometimes, that's where we're at, and we're just getting through. But the more we can nourish our imagination and bring it fully into the game, the richer our commitment is going to be. And then everything gets better. ... More on that next week!
     
  • Nurturing your creativity in every way. We owe it to ourselves and our work to be growing creatively. Even when, and perhaps especially when, off the clock. Being creatively committed means that we're always putting ourselves in the path of inspiration. Going on those artist dates, reading widely, and learning about more things than just writing. (Again, more on this next week!)
     
  • Staying alert to obstacles. When our creativity is gasping, that's an important warning sign. And keeping our creative commitment tuned up means that we take those warning signs super seriously. They give us the essential chance to ask: what's not serving the work, what is getting in the way, what's not working? And then, commitment means we reach for our courage, and go find the answers to those hard questions. (Um: yep, more on this next week.)
     
  • Staying in touch with wonder and curiosity. One of the best ways to keep our creative commitment healthy and thriving is to always be seeking wonder, always be awake to our curiosities. Whether they overlap with the work at hand or not, we have to keep in touch with those things that get us excited, that make us lean in. Our creativity depends on it. (Pssst. Next week. Yep.)

This section, even more than the others, is what's got my attention right now. This is where I need the most work, the most time, and the most relentless self-compassion. Mmmm! But good things are coming, my friends. 

How about you? How's your creative commitment these days?

Does your imagination feel nourished, or slightly starved? Is it full of good nutrients, or has it been binging on junk food a leetle too long, and that's starting to show a tiny bit?

How can you nurture it like crazy this weekend? Can you grab an hour or two for a fabulous little artist date? And what are the topics that give you that zing of excited curiosity? Can you go chase after one for a while this week?


If you've been hanging out on this blog for a while, you probably know by now: I have ZERO interest in being an incredibly prolific writer at the cost of my health (whether that's physical, emotional, or any other kind of health we can think of!).

Nope. Not doing it.

So, as you and I think through all those questions above, let's also ask this: What does it look like to be committed to your own health?

  • Physically, this means sleeping, getting those veggies (my two favorite cooking blogs, if you need veg inspiration, are this one and that one), drinking plenty of water (let's do it like this!), and seeking fun ways to move throughout the day.
     
  • Creatively, this means pursuing non-writing hobbies. SO important. And it also means making your environment—where you live, where you sleep, and especially where you work!—pleasing and inspiring and yummy in every possible way.
     
  • And then emotionally. This means pouring truth into yourself, healing old scars, surrounding yourself with positive people. This especially means that you remind yourself over and over, that you are not your work. You are WAY more valuable than whatever it is that you do each day. This is essential to know no matter what, whether the writing is going well or poorly. 

I keep coming back to this over and over, because if there's one thing that my writing life has taught me, it's this: if the writer isn't doing well, her writing's going to suffer. A lot. 

And it becomes this horrible little spiral of suffering that does no good and also doesn't write a lot of books.

SO. What's one way that you want to commit more deeply to your own health and well-being? How can you make sure that you're getting the support and fuel you need, so that you're strong enough to commit to your writing work?


Welp, I'M all excited. I hope that those questions helped stir some ideas for you.

Where do you most want to start? What little practice could you add in this weekend, and work on next week, that would strengthen your commitment to your work, your healthy writing life, and your amazing lionhearted self?

(And if you're looking for a few more ideas about this kind of thing, check out The Enormous Virtue of Showing Up, and Finding the Energy to See Our Writing Through. They'll be right up your alley!)

Here's to more health, excitement, vitality, and commitment this autumn.

Three Simple Steps Toward a Yummier, Happier, and Much More Sustainable Writing Life

Let's stop burning out. Let's stop running dry. Let's stop straining to hear our imaginations. You on board with all that? Perfect. It's all within reach. | lucyflint.com

One of the reasons why I blew off The Artist's Way ten years ago was because I was a college senior. And I was used to doing writing assignments. 

I could crank them out, no problem. 

The reason for doing all that writing came from outside of me. Sure, I'd decide the direction that I would take each assignment.

But let's face it: the words I wrote for my English major and writing minor weren't coming from a place of listening deeply to the quiet murmurings of my inner artist self.

Haha. Nope.

It was a lot more like me roaring through one paper after another. Taking my best option for a topic and running with it.

Which is probably why some of Julia Cameron's suggestions seemed pointless to me at the time.

But I've changed a lot since then. I've had enough time to run into problems. To realize that I can't always hear or see my imagination clearly. (Yikes.) 

And to burn out, wipe out, and fall flat on my face often enough that I had to ask: isn't there a better way to do this? With a bit less bruising, perhaps?

Which is why her suggestions now make total sense.

And actually, why they seem like the only sane option for those of us who want a healthy, sustainable, and even happy writing life.

Here are three of her strategies, each of which is fundamental in her book. They're simple, straightforward, and extremely rewarding.

Bonus: each of these are things that you can do right now. Today. They don't take a lot of prep, just a little thought and a little time. 

And they're so worth it. 

So let's dive in.

1. Write your three morning pages.

If you've been a writer for a while, you've probably heard this bit of advice again and again.

Julia Cameron stresses that all creatives (and not just writers!) should begin their day by writing three pages, longhand. She says that this is key to unlocking creativity.

So when I first read her book ten years ago, I took her up on it. More creativity? Sounds great. I found a gorgeous leather journal and a fountain pen. Darn it, I was going to do it right

I wrote three pages every morning for two weeks. I waited and waited for a sense of uplifted creativity, for brilliance, for my three pages to blossom into beautiful poems and metaphors.

Instead, I was disgusted. And deeply disappointed.

Because nothing "happened," nothing changed. 

And when I went back to reread my pages? YIKES. My words were all teeny tiny with the worst possible penmanship. And all I did was whine:

It's too early, what was I thinking, why did I stay up so late, I'm really dreading that thing that's happening tomorrow, why haven't I done this or that or the next thing, oh my gosh my eyes are so tired that they're actually crossing, why do three pages take so long to write ...

So I gave it up. And every time after that when I heard people saying we should all write three pages in the morning, I rolled my eyes. Or I'd say, "that just doesn't work for me."

So when I picked up her book again this spring, I laughed when I saw the three-morning-pages advice. Pfft. Sheesh. 

Then I read her explanations very carefully. ... And I kept laughing. But now I was laughing at myself. At how totally, completely, and hideously I had misunderstood the entire point of these pages before.

They are MEANT to be a whine. A rant.

They're meant to sound complainy, if complaints are what you wake up with.

They're meant to exorcise every ridiculous, self-centered, nit-picky thought from your head when you wake up.

Why?

So that you don't have to keep carrying that garbage around.

You get your whining done on paper. You do the pages, she says, to get them done. 

This isn't meant to be unfiltered brilliance. It's meant to be sheer brain dump.

So I tried them again. All through this crazy summer, whenever I could, I'd start my day with three pages. And if I couldn't do it first thing, I'd do it whenever I got to my desk. 

I ranted, I threw tantrums on paper, I complained. I tried to figure out my motivations behind things, and other people's motivations too. I got as nitpicky as I felt like I wanted to be. I let loose. 

And you know what?

I felt lighter. I left some of that stuff on the page and didn't keep thinking about it. The other stuff, well, I was at least a bit closer to processing it.

I didn't use a fancy-pants journal this time, either. I got a bunch of cheap little Greenroom journals from Target. Bright and fun and lightweight, they reminded me that this isn't meant to be a serious writing endeavor.  

I took to heart Cameron's caution that we writers will have the hardest time doing these pages. Because, she says, we'll try to write them. We'll try to make them pretty. We'll think too hard about what we say and how we say it.

Don't do that.

My pages went best when I reminded myself, this is a dump. That's all it is. A total thought dump. Stream of consciousness.

Keep your hand moving, keep the words coming. Don't think about it. Just let loose.

It's now become a key part of my writing day. And if I've missed it for a few days, I can feel all those thoughts running around and chittering in my head. I need to grab that notebook and just get all the clutter out.

Think of it like that: It's decluttering. Don't try to write them.

Just haul your thoughts and complaints and worries out of your head, and by doing that, make room for your writing.

2. Establish a practice of filling the well.

When my writing is going smoothly, this is a practice that I'm doing without even thinking about it, without really noticing. 

But when my writing is off the tracks, this practice has usually gone by the wayside, and, again, without my noticing. Or, if I do notice, I don't understand how important it is. How vital.

That's why, even though this can sound reeeeeally basic, really obvious, I'm still gonna explain it.

When Cameron talks about our need to fill the well (and restock the pond—the other metaphor she uses), she's talking about a way of nourishing our imaginations. 

As we do our work, we're drawing from this internal source, right? The imagery, character ideas, ways of interpreting our own memories, all that good stuff we talked about in Idea Camp

What she's pointing out is, if we don't take the precaution of pouring back into ourselves, we'll run out. We'll run dry. We'll get blocked.

As Cameron puts it:

Any extended period or piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well. Overtapping the well, like overfishing the pond, leaves us with diminished resources. We fish in vain for the images we require. Our work dries up and we wonder why, "just when it was going so well." The truth is that work can dry up because it was going so well.

I don't know about you, but that perfectly describes something I've run into over, and over, and over again. 

Cameron describes two ways of restocking our imaginations. 

First, there's mystery. Play. Curiosity. Little changes in routine. Little sensory adventures of music and exploration and image. 

It doesn't have to be big and dramatic, she says. But we absolutely need to make time for it.

The other way to restock is by doing simple tasks. Even somewhat mindless things that don't require much from us.

And in those spaces, those tasks, our imaginations start to stretch a bit. Cameron says, "Filling the well needn't be all novelty. ... Any regular, repetitive action primes the well."

She includes tasks like driving. Going for a walk. Taking a shower. Cooking. Doing needlepoint. Gardening.

If you've ever scribbled away in a coloring book: That's perfect for this.

I think the real key is, these are the small little things that can feel like we're wasting time.

And it's crucial to realize: we're not wasting anything. We're making space and refilling essential parts of ourselves, in ways we might not totally understand.

Turns out, these little simple activities might be the very stuff that we can't afford to neglect.

3. Shower yourself in authentic luxuries. 

One of the essays that most amazed me in The Artist's Way comes right at the center of the program. It's simply titled "Luxury."

Ha, I thought. I don't do well with the idea of luxury. I'm basically broke, all the time, and while I'll pin all the pretty things on Pinterest, that doesn't mean I can afford any of them. 

So I basically thought this wouldn't apply to me, until I read the first sentence of the essay:

For those of us who have become artistically anorecticyearning to be creative and refusing to feed that hunger in ourselves so that we become more and more focused on our deprivationa little authentic luxury can go a long way. 

Artistically anorectic. That phrase and her definition of it just stopped me in my tracks. 

Does that describe me? I wrestled with it for a while, but then thought of all the times when I say no to play, to pleasure, to curiosity, to fun, to frivolity, all of which are apparently connected to a healthy artist life...

And okay. Yeah. Yes. The phrase applies.

So I gripped the book a bit tighter, and read everything she had to say about luxury.

By which, she doesn't mean Champagne and fur coats and private jets.

By which she means: little things that delight you. That delight the artist in you. That feel like pampering. 

Not the stuff that you necessarily feel like you should get, not the pricey stuff or things that are luxurious to other people but not maybe to you.

She's talking more like: fresh flowers. Or a toy you always wanted as a kid. Watercolor paints. 

Maybe it's a paperweight that makes you happy. A candle that smells like the beach. Sidewalk chalk or a paint-by-number kit. A kite.

When you think luxury, don't think "tons of money!"

Think instead of the thing that is so easy to deny giving yourself. What you might shrug off and say, "I don't need it."

Aim for what delights.

I'm still learning how to best do this. One night, my answer to "luxury" was to splash some (very cheap) white wine into a jam jar and slip outside. I sat on the back deck and watched the sky turn from twilight to night, catching sight of the neighborhood bat, noticing which stars showed up first.

It was such a simple moment. So ignorable. Skippable.

But it felt like total delight to me, like a luxurious thing to do.

So now I'm brainstorming: where else can I invite that kind of luxury in? 

To do some digging in this area, just start asking yourself: What delighted you as a kid? What kinds of things still sound fun or interesting or just cool?

What kind of natural view fills you up? Where would you love to spend more time? What hobbies did you used to love? What scents and sounds make you happy? 

If it seems small or silly or like something that of course you could just do without... then you're probably on the right track. 

After reading this book, I'm pretty convinced: if we want to be original in our work, but we deny the little things that make up who we are and what we love, then we're going to struggle.

And not just struggle to keep working, but to be as unique and brilliant as we're meant to be.

Not great news for our work, right?

So let's listen to our delights.

Let's fill notebooks with our morning brain dumps, and clear our systems for work.

Let's fill up our inner wells, our reservoirs of image and idea and metaphor.

And then let's celebrate the things that make us happy, the things that pamper us, even if they're small.

These three small practices just might be some of the most important pieces of our writing lives.

As Cameron writes, 

Creativity lives in paradox:
serious art is born from serious play.

So, my friends: Let's play.

The Habit We All Have that Poisons Our Writing (Yikes!)

When we use our mouths to highlight the differences between our idealized writing life and our *actual* writing life, we're in for some trouble. | lucyflint.com

Have you ever gone on a trip with a total whiner? Someone who highlights every disappointment, every inconvenience? 

The smell of the room, the weird guy over there, the long line at the restrooms, the shoulder bag is way too heavy, these prices are ridiculous, feet are aching, ohmygosh is it really about to rain, these exhibits aren't really all that great, these streets should be better marked, CAN'T get my MAP folded back up . . .

You know. Whining.

It's funny: I love traveling. Love it! I itch to explore new places. And yet... I do my fair share of whining.

*slaps forehead* 

What's up with that? Here's my theory. I think I love idealized travel. Right? Travel with neat edges: clean restrooms, low humidity, good hair days, smooth traffic, no exploding shampoo in the suitcase.

The kind of travel that doesn't really exist.

So the part of me that loves idealized travel is the part that cannot believe that all these difficulties and irritations exist.

So I nitpick. And whine. About all the inconveniences.

... but have you heard what G. K. Chesterton said about inconvenience?

He wrote, An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.

Meaning: it's all a matter of perspective.

Meaning: all my whining IS TOTALLY OPTIONAL.

What about you--are you a whiner?

(Go ahead and 'fess up. It's good for the soul.)

Do you whine about travel? Or, more to the point: Do you whine about your writing

Oof. I know. Me too.

It's so easy to love writing, to love the writing life, and find out that what you actually love is the idealized version.

The writing life where everything moves at the pace you would choose. Where you never have to throw out that 500-page draft you spent over a year working on. (Who, me?) Where you get money just for TRYING HARD.

Where the words come fairly easily, and any struggles--if you must have them--are beautifully cinematic and cause other people to buy you drinks. (As opposed to telling you to get a "real" job.)

Whining about our writing because it's not the "ideal" writing life. 

I think we need to stop doing that. 

Just go cold turkey. Give it up. No more whining.

To be clear, by "whining" I don't mean: Identifying an obstacle or pointing out that something is wrong. I'm not saying that we shouldn't recognize what isn't working well, or that a situation is difficult. 

By all means, let's stay realistic.

But let's also realize that all our whining is actually optional and not super helpful. And that by turning all setbacks into inconveniences, we just might be missing some adventures.

Need a bit more convincing? Okay. 

Here's what I find when I whine, whether it's about my writing, or about anything else:

Whining means: putting words out there. (I tend to whine in a journal a lot, so I'm literally writing my whines down. I'm using all my writing muscles to whine.)

And it doesn't make things better. Real whining? It's just moving the mess around.

In housecleaning terms, it's taking a pile of clutter and marching through the house with it, spilling papers and paraphernalia all through the rest of your living quarters. Giving yourself MORE to deal with, not less.

I'm not saying that we should never have a negative thought. I'm not saying we need to lie to ourselves, or to Pollyanna our way through life.

What I am saying--and what I've seen at work in my own writing life--is this: When I whine (whether with my mouth or pen or keyboard), I drain words and energy and emotion and courage right away from my writing.

After a big whine festival, I feel like I'm sizzling with ideas for more whining. I feel a bit worn out and self-righteous and like I could write a whole treatise for Why This Thing Is Wrong.

And also, like watching a movie with a gin and tonic. Because now I'm tired, and I feel like I need a break. 

From stewing and rehashing and complaining about something that--frankly--I probably won't even remember a week from now. Something that definitely Does Not Matter.

Usually I'm inflating a petty drama or a misunderstanding. I'm blowing a ton of hot air into it, so it turns into this massive balloon of a mood that sweeps me up and away. 

I'm focusing on conflict that isn't my novel's conflict. I'm rehearsing and recreating dialogues that aren't coming from my characters.

I'm spinning this whole narrative sequence--all those novel skills at work!--and using up my creativity for some silly, petty nothing.

That's whatcha call Counterproductive.

And here's the other thing: Whining dulls us. 

G.K. Chesterton might say that it keeps us from seeing adventures, opportunities, and new ways of thinking.

When we inflate the inconvenience version of things, we can't possibly see the positive version. We go blind. (This is never good for a writer.)

And it messes with our voice. Have you noticed that all whining sounds pretty much the same?

There's a tone and a direction, a sourness. Whining deflates a personality, and turns it into plain old bitterness. Which smells and sounds like everyone else's bitterness. Gross.

Lionhearts! Let's NOT DO THIS. Okay? 

It's toxic. It's bad for our writing, and probably it isn't super for any other part of our lives.

Let's boot it out of our writing hearts. Let's not use our pens to jot down a million reasons why something is no good.

Let's stop dwelling on petty dramas and inconveniences. Let's stop trading our good novel words for energy-draining, personality-zapping dullness.

ICK.

No more letting our moods stomp away with us.

I didn't really plan this, but I've decided to do something. I'm all convinced. I'm sick of being the whiner, of finding creative ways to voice my disapproval of things that don't actually matter.

So I'm gonna give myself a challenge. Thirty days. Of NOT WHINING. 

Of not dwelling on inconvenience. Of not venting and venting and venting. Of not rehashing things that irritated me. 

Without whining, I'll have more room in my brain for my words. More room for my wonderful work-in-progress. Yep, it's worth it. So I'm going to close the door on complaint.

#30DaysNoWhining

You are SO welcome to join me. Let's stop letting moods poison what we do. 

Let's see adventures instead of inconveniences. 

Thirty days. Starting right now.