This Is How You Develop Guts In Your Writing and Your Writing Life

There's a kind of training program that all writers are going through. As things knock us off our writing course, and as we re-engage with the process of writing, this amazing, incredible thing happens. (Hint: We get more awesome.) | lucyflint.com

Hands up: Whose 2016 hasn't started quite the way she expected it to?

Who has maybe not done nearly as much writing as she hoped she would? 

Wow... So many hands!

Haha. But seriously: does the year ever start as hopefully as we imagine? Maybe not.

If your writing has faltered a little, check out Monday's post (on sticking with it!) and then come back here, for the follow up. Because this is kinda like a Part Two.

This is the quote that we're ending our series on. It's one of the best ways to shape a writing life.

It's good.

You ready?

Today's quote comes from the marvelously creative SARK

"We are repeatedly tested and challenged with our commitments, to give us a chance to recommit, over and over again."

YESSSSSS.

Think about how your writing has looked for the first three months of this year. And just let that quote sink in a bit. 

See all your tests and trials as chances to recommit. Stoke the fire. Lean in closer. And keep going. | lucyflint.com

We all face a bunch of difficulties, a series of circumstances, a sequence of being thrown off course: and over, and over, and over again, we keep coming back to the work.

This is huge, by the way, this sticking with it. This is how we win the game.

Perseverance is how we get the amazing, agile muscles we need—this is what makes us writers, in the face of everything that would make us something else.

But that's not all. At the very same time, we recommit. We rededicate.

And this recommitment is what gives us the huge, amazing, all-enduring hearts that writers need.

"Sticking with it" gets us back and working.

The rededication means, we do it with our hearts back on track. With our courage up and fighting. With a clearer vision. With steadied feet.

We get up, we brush ourselves off, we learn our lessons, we stick with it, we recommit.

Again, and again, and again.

As this process runs its course, we don't look like a bunch of defeated writers. 

We look like the truly lionhearted wordsmiths that we are. Working with gumption and heart. Coming back to the writing.

Each time, our commitment drives deeper and deeper.

So if you've been knocked off balance by anything lately—whether it was something major crashing into your life, or whether it was the painful minor event of a project slipping somehow out of your grasp—

See this as your opportunity.

Opportunities are precious, incredible little events that open up a whole new path for you. (It's like Choose Your Own Adventure!! #nerdalert)

When you get back to your desk, when the dust has settled somewhat (or even as it's still falling!): take a little time to get back in touch with your purpose.

Remember why you're writing. Remember who you want to be as a writer. 

Take a little time to intentionally recommit—not to the mere achievement of writing (though of course that's awesome).

Recommit to the two big things that you are daily creating:

The project that you're working on (showing up for it, and putting your heart into it), and the incredible path of your own writing life.

Both of these are truly worth your time. They're worth your full commitment.

And both will continue to shape you into the remarkable, lionhearted person that you are.

When Doubt and Negativity Come Looking for You (and Your Writing), Here's What To Do.

It isn't about talent. It isn't about feeling GREAT about your writing all the time. It isn't about perfect schedules or exquisite time management or an elegant vocabulary. It all comes down to just one thing. | lucyflint.com

This is just a plain old straightforward quote. But it's totally lovely.

And I still need to hear it. And you still need to hear it.

This is just a lionhearted essential.

Doris Lessing, writer extraordinaire (she won this tiny, obscure award called the Nobel Prize), said: 

"What I did have, which others perhaps didn't, was a capacity for sticking at it, which really is the point, not the talent at all. You have to stick at it.

Happy Monday, in other words. 

"What I did have, which others perhaps didn't, was a capacity for sticking at it, which really is the point, not the talent at all. You have to stick at it." -- Doris Lessing | lucyflint.com

This kind of philosophy sometimes requires a very large coffee mug, so by all means get one. And then let's have a little chat about perseverance.

... Got your coffee? Me too.

Okay. Look: There are a million things that are going to show up to knock us off course. 

Legitimate things, and not so legitimate ones. True reasons for slowing down, and lies that slow us down too. 

We're facing redirections, obstacles, setbacks. There are new skills to learn, old habits to discard, better patterns of thinking we can embrace.

It's complicated, busy, and ever-changing. 

It can feel like a lot. Heck, let's get real: it is a lot!

Total true confession: I still have moments when I think, just out of the blue, maybe I should chuck it? 

This was me. Just last night.

Lying in bed, explaining to my pillow, "It would be so much simpler if I just worked for a bookstore and stopped all this writing nonsense. I would do great at a bookstore. I love recommending books to people! I could read a ton, yay, and there would be so much less wear and tear on my brain. Also, um, paychecks."

Of course, I didn't believe myself as I said all this. Not really.

(Neither did my pillow. It is never fooled.)

In the morning I pulled out this quote and thought, right. 

Sticking with it. That's what's right. That's the answer.

This whole writing gig—it isn't won by brilliance. It isn't won with perfect writing routines and spotless writing schedules.

It isn't a game of ideal circumstances

Nope.

So if you don't feel brilliant this instant, and if your writing routine has developed a serious wobble, and if your schedule has faltered a smidge—no worries. 

You are still in the right place.

Because it all comes down to sticking with it. Stick with the writing life.

On the glorious, exhilarating days, yes!

And also on the ones where you feel ragged and dry and aren't really sure it makes sense anymore.

We stick with it. 

Which is why I got to my desk today anyway.

Which is why I pulled out my characters (even though I felt grumpy, and I probably did a few big dramatic sighs) and I said, "Hey kids, what should we talk about?"

Which is why I still plunged into my book today. And it maybe wasn't spectacular writing, but it was still right and good and exactly where I should be.

Don't believe the weird funky lies that show up at midnight, or at four on a rainy afternoon, or at a bleak eight-thirty on an overcast morning.

Okay? Don't let those lies seep into your soul.

We're sticking with it, you and me. 

Because it doesn't have to look perfect, and it isn't about talent, and it isn't always neat and tidy. 

It's just about endurance.

About scribbling a few sentences even on our worst days. About carrying on, learning what we need to learn, and digging a little deeper. 

Also, of course, dancing. And also chocolate.

(And if you haven't had a good, shake-everything-loose dance party in your office for a while, you need to. I did today and it fixed so much. And then, of course, so did the chocolate part.)

All of this to say, sometimes it isn't super helpful to pay attention to all of our writerly feelings.

Feelings pretend to be absolute truth tellers, but sometimes, they're full of crap. Or they're only partly true. 

I try to say, Thanks for the input; your complaint has been acknowledged. And then I go to the desk anyway.

On my pillow, I said, "Work in a bookstore? Hm. How interesting. You're right, I could wear a collection of brightly colored tights and dye my hair a shocking color and strike up conversations with the charming barista. What a nice idea. ... And then, at night after closing down the shop, would I be crying about the novels I didn't write?"

"Um," said the traitorous feelings. "Um, yeah. Probably."

"That's what I thought." (And my pillow totally agreed.)

Stick with it. 

Even if you have the worst case of the Mondays, stick with it.

Sometimes that means you shrink your writing practice to the smallest possible unit. To a mouse-sized writing practice, just to get by.

And then you can blow it back up later to a big, splashy, wonderful writing practice.

Sometimes, if you're a bit battered, you give yourself a week of just reading, all novels all the time, or all poems, or all essays...

But you're still sticking with it. That's the thing.

Move toward it, even on your awful days. 

Don't give up.

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

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

How's your writing going, lionhearts? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of tension! Intriguing settings! Plenty to do!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoops.

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

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

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

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

Use it shamelessly.

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

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

I need to hear this.

Because sometimes, I misdiagnose.

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

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

Refuel, write, repeat.

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

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

It is, dare I say it, easy to write.

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

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

(Terrifying to be out of that habit!)

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

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

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

Whew! I'm so out of practice! 

But this is what saves my writerly bacon. 

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

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

We're not accountants.

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

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

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

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

Happy spelunking.


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

This Is Why You Can Embrace the Crappiest of Crappy First Drafts (Bad Drafts Aren't Just for Beginners!)

Writing terrible first drafts is all part of the process. Whether you're a beginner, or whether you've been around a while. It's actually a GOOD sign, and here's why. | lucyflint.com

Oh, it's going to be one of those good Mondays, you know?

I can just feel it.

How are you doing today, lionheart? Does it feel like spring?

I'm much cheerier and more sane than I was last week, because I have written thousands and thousands of words on my novel in progress. Whew. I just needed to stop planning and get scribbling, and that's made all the difference to my mood, and my mindset.

... In some ways.

In other ways—which you're familiar with too, if you've ever written anything down—I'm feeling a smidge bleak.

Because this draft is, like all other first drafts, QUITE a mess.

I'm thrilled to be moving forward on my draft. But I'm frustrated that the draft sounds weak, the voice is a little off, and some scenes are frankly a little dull. (Even though they get the story to the right place—yay, structure!)

In other words, it's a first draft, and it's behaving exactly like one.

I know that. You know that.

We all know first drafts are rough, messy, crappy drafts

... But it's easy to believe that at some point we'll emerge from the Forest of Crappy First Drafts, and break into a glorious place where our first drafts aren't bad at all. 

Where we write marvelously the first time around.

Which is why today's much-needed writing-life quote comes from Eric Maisel, in his (lovely! must read!) book, A Writer's Paris

"Everything changes the instant you accept that you are bound to do lots of inferior work. Then no particular piece of inferior work is much of a blow. You just burn it and get on with your masterpiece."

THERE WE GO.

"Everything changes the instant you accept that you are bound to do lots of inferior work. ... Get on with your masterpiece." -- Eric Maisel | lucyflint.com

It's extremely counter-productive to wait around for the day when our first drafts are pristine.

Writing improvement doesn't happen in a neat, straight, predictable line.

Have you seen this in your own work, your own first drafts: Moments of true writerly brilliance coexist right next to moments of true writerly befuddlement.

I can write a gem and, in the very next paragraph, write pure slop.

On the same day! In the same ten minutes! 

I go back and forth. Gems, slop, mediocrity, beauty, back to muddling, back to something solid, a bit more crap, and then oh, good, a lovely little twist at the end of the chapter.

And that's my drafting process.

What I love about Maisel's quote is that it helps us to think of this good draft/bad draft thing more like we're operating in a ratio, not like we're moving chronologically to a new stage of no mistakes.

Ratios! And last Thursday I mentioned percents! What, is this a math blog now?

But go with me on this.

What if there's a kind of proportion that exists: we must do x amount of really crappy work, in order to do x amount of really brilliant work.

It isn't that we graduate from doing the crappy work; it's just that the more crappy work we plow through, the more opportunities we have to write gems.

Does that make sense?

In other words, it doesn't do any good to cut ourselves off, or to stop writing, or even slow down, just because the crappy work shows up.

It has to be there. It's doing its job, holding up its side of the ratio. 

As Maisel says, we're bound to do lots of it!! 

And if we stop now, we don't get to the work in the other part of the ratio—the really brilliant stuff!

We don't magically arrive at a place where everything, from first draft to final, is impeccable. We just don't. 

With time and experience that ratio might change: we might not have to do quite so much inferior work to get the really good stuff. Maybe. 

But in the meantime, if we let our bad work stop us, we're believing the wrong thing about progress as a writer. It would mean we've bought into the idea that we can't write magnificently, even amidst the crap.

Don't believe it for a moment, my lionhearted friend!

When you see the crap show up in your work, keep right on moving! You are that much closer to writing the good stuff.

If you're feeling almost cheesily optimistic (which I am, because, hello, it's spring!!), you can almost take the crappy stuff as a good sign. 

You're on your way to the best stuff in the draft. It's like a promise.

You gotta keep going. 

Inferior work simply doesn't mean we're inferior writers. It is just what happens when we write.

Part of the process. Part of the ratio.

Right? Good.

Let's get on with our masterpieces.

Let's Leap Out of This Oh-So-Common Writing Trap!

There's a fiendishly easy trap to fall into with our writing, especially if it's been chaotic, busy, or complicated in your life lately. Let's do a quick check-up, and leap back into a solid writing practice. You with me, lionheart? Let's go. | lucyflint.com

It's turning very spring-like here: our magnolia tree just exploded with blossoms, the lawns are greening up, and tiny leaves decorate the branches of our lilacs.

You can almost feel the energy fizzing in the air: seeds falling from trees, buds bobbing on stems... 

And writers ripe with ideas, spilling them everywhere but at their writing desks.

OH, wait. Maybe that's just me. :)

As y'all know, it's been a complicated February & March for me so far. But now that the chaos has calmed down (I think!), it's time to refocus on my work-in-progress.

But my unintentional strategy for doing that has mainly been through chattering.

Seriously, I'm talking up a storm.

About writing plans, about the chapters I need to write, about a murderously tricky deadline I have coming up, about how rusty I feel after such a strange couple of months...

And I keep hearing myself say (very convincingly): "If I could just get going again, this draft would fall into place, no problem."

Ahem. Yeah: there's a massive disconnect in there. (Oof.)

To get back on track, this is the quote I need. It comes from Chapter after Chapter, by the amazing (and frequently mentioned* around here!) Heather Sellers:

     "Reverse your field. If you spend 90 percent of your creative energy dreaming of a book and dreaming of the writing life, and only 10 percent of your time actually writing, you need to flip it around. 
     Give 90 percent of your energy to the words on the page." 

It's easy to get our ratios mixed up. To talk and plan and daydream 90 percent of the time, and only write for 10 percent. Let's flip it around. "Give 90 percent of your energy to the words on the page." -- Heather Sellers | lucyflint.com

Whew! There it is!! The butt-kicking I needed.

Can we be real and say: It is such an easy trap to fall into.

We're daydreamers; we're communicators.

It's so easy to get mired in just dreaming about the writing life—especially how smoothly everything will go, once we get into it.

It's so simple to just talk it up—hang out with fellow writers on social media, or chat to friends and family about the project.

And then to just ... stay there.

Dreaming, talking; talking, dreaming.

It's so safe! It feels deliciously writerly, with very low risk.

It is one of the nicest ways to not get work done.

Believe me, I've tried it often enough, but I have never successfully talked my way into doing a draft. 

The work only happens when I make a conscious decision to shush. Zip it. Stop talking

To put the pencil down and back away from the plans. To give myself a shake and quit dreaming about how nicely the draft will come together "once I get going." 

All that talking and dreaming distances me from the actual work.

It builds up a kind of resistance to the untidiness of the new draft. (After all, dreaming about drafting is so neat! The actual drafting is much muckier.)

It puts off the linguistic juggling act of getting everything set up in the first story. (Characters! Personalities! Conflict! Stakes!)

You know? Talking about writing, daydreaming about writing: it scratches the itch. And it's risk-free!

But I need to plant myself squarely in the midst of the writing itself.

How about you, lionheart?

Are you camping out on social media and lovely writerly conversations and reading fun writing books, and doing all other writerly things ... without the actual writing? 

It's such a tough thing to catch yourself doing, isn't it? Such a tempting, sticky trap.

But Heather Sellers gives us an incredibly effective equation for getting unstuck.

It calls for a bit of honesty. (Okay, okay. A lot of honesty. A radical amount of honesty. Deep breath.)

How much of our time and energy is spent in writing-like enterprises?

Talking, social media-ing, reading productivity newsletters, planning, chatting, listening to podcasts, networking, reading writing blogs and books, and daydreaming? 

And then ... how much time and how much energy is spent doing the actual work of, you know, putting words in a line? (Or revising, editing, whatever major writing work you're up to right now.)

What happens when we flip the amounts? 

When we dial back on the talking and Internet-ing and daydreaming and planning—when we bring that down to just a tenth of our energy...

And then we take the actual story, and crank our energy way way up. Ninety percent of our time, our energy, our focus.

What about just plunging in and going deep?

WHOA, right? 

Granted, I know we probably can't be super precise with this. (Unless you have an Writing-Energy-ometer lying around.) 

So while we could figure out some kind of scientific strategy (timers! charts! graphs! lengthy reports!), I think I'd rather just rely on my gut.

I don't need a timer to tell me that I've gone way overboard in talking up the work. And I've severely undernourished my draft.

So I'm going to flip things around by going immersion camp style. I'm going to dive in deep.

And I'll stay alert to every time I'm tempted to talk about my work, or to fall into a daydreaming/planning frenzy...

I'll try to catch myself. And march that energy right over to my computer, and pour it straight into the draft itself.

It comes down to this: 

If you know that there's some serious fluff in your writing life right now, start getting rid of it.

You might have to be a little bit ruthless with yourself. Cut yourself off social media for a while. Or put a limit on the time you spend there. (I'm going to have to do this, for sure!)

Or, you can do this gently. After every writing-that-isn't-actual-writing session, pay yourself back with twice as much time drafting. (And then start bumping up that amount!)

However you choose to go, discipline tastes better with chocolate and celebratory dancing. So loop those in as well.

Whatever it looks like, you know the formula: 90 percent of our energy goes to the words on the page.

So let's turn down the volume on the noise, the static, the general background music of daydreaming and talking and clutter.

And start cranking up the volume on the sweet symphony of the story itself. 

Sound good? Sound like a plan? 

Awesome. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go get some chocolate, and then dive head first into my draft.


* I've said it before, and I'll just keep saying it: The reason I mention Heather Sellers so dang often is because I would have stopped writing by now if I hadn't read her books Page after Page and Chapter after Chapter

She's been one of the biggest influences on how I think about my writing life, and I'm just so grateful for her books! 

Page after Page is required reading for anyone who wants to have a writing life, and Chapter after Chapter is required for all novelists! They are the most underlined books in my whole library, and every time I reread them, I'm the better for it. 

The Cure for the Common Workday: Let's Get a Little Feisty Right Now

When writing feels like a tame little office job, this is what we need to remember. Come get fired up, you rebel you. | lucyflint.com

I don't have any tattoos. I don't own a single sassy t-shirt. My ears are only pierced in the most conservative, standard way—and I haven't even worn earrings for years!  

I'm usually fairly quiet in person (unless well caffeinated). I'm a born rule-follower. The type of girl who will round up abandoned shopping carts and roll them back to their corrals. 

Not exactly anyone's idea of a rebel.

Except for this one little thing.

This vocation I have. This habit of writing down everything, everything. Of taking notes on my own life, the lives of others. Of asking myself hard questions on paper. Of drilling down, of drilling deeper, and then turning that material into scenes and dialogue. 

I look like a quiet mild-mannered girl, like a very nice citizen ... and then I go to my desk and pull out my novel and blow stuff up. 

Novelists can make people nervous. Have you noticed? People don't always trust novels or the writers who devise them. They don't always know what to do with us.

I'll have people tell me this point blank: Oh, I would never let *my* daughter do what you're doing. You're a quiet person, and quiet people scare me. I won't read fiction. I've never read a single novel. I will never read anything you write, sorry

A really good novel puts you inside someone else's head: the writer's. The characters'. It's mind travel. Pretty sketchy, right?

It's a dangerous thing to do, to submerge yourself in a gripping novel: just hope you don't drown in it. Right? It might change your life. It might turn you inside out. You gotta be careful. 

Mmm. A life full of words. It can be quiet. But also very, very risky.

But sometimes, I slip out of this warrior mindset. Know what I mean?

I start treating my work like it's a standard office job. Like I'm a paper pusher, filing things, double checking things, making graphs, keeping everything nice and tidy. I can forget, just a little, why I'm really here.

And that's when I need this quote. I need it to ruffle my feathers, to fire me up, shake the paradigm, and get me asking questions again: 

The writer who is a real writer is a rebel who never stops. -- William Saroyan | lucyflint.com

I love this quote. I love it because I'm no one's idea of a rebellious person, and yet I'm doing this incredibly daring thing of writing novels. 

I need this quote to remind me of what I'm up against. To remind me not to slack off on the tension in the story. To remind me to put my whole heart into this thing. To remind me to show up, day after day

It's a dangerous thing that we're doing—this telling of secrets on paper. (Normal people don't DO this. Have you noticed?) 

And no matter what kind of writing you do, if you're telling the truth, you're being edgy. Rebelling against anything that would tell you to be silent.

It's part of the calling. 

And—if you want to take this idea as far as possible, and I totally will—rebellion is all over what we do. 

We don't have normal jobs. We don't have to keep normal hours. We do something for the love of it first, until we figure out the money end of it. We're engaging in a career with no guarantees. (SUPER weird.)

We devote ourselves to a craft that it takes a lifetime to learn. (Which takes some serious pluck.)

We tell secrets—our own, our friends', our families'. We go everywhere, watch everything, and take notes. We write down what we hear at restaurants, at grocery stores. And if you cross us, we'll write you in, just for revenge.

We get to figure out everything that makes us odd, that makes us unique, and then stick it into stories. Fill whole volumes with it. 

We get to pick our fights. To choose the flags we carry.

We don't even have to rebel against all the same things everyone else is mad about on Facebook or on Twitter. We can rebel against rebellions!! We get to listen close to what's going on, and find the injustice we care about. The thing that we need to shine a light on.

We're in a vocation where we can always innovate, always tell, always fight.

Sometimes the fight is in the story; sometimes the fight is the fact of the story itself. (Even lighthearted stories can stand against darkness, after all.

We spend our days crafting things that other people are scared of. I mean ... whoa.

It's a big responsibility, lionheart! Are you feeling that too? It's a weighty thing, this life of words. A wonderful one, but a challenging one too.

And I go back to this quote to remind myself: Don't slack. Don't settle. Keep that fire going.

The writer who is a real writer is a rebel who never stops.
William Saroyan

Find out what it is that you're meant to expose with words, with story, and keep on fighting.

Never stop.

Remember This When All Of Your Writing Plans Blow Up

When everything goes crazy in your life, and your plans for your writing blow up: what can you do? What can you count on? I've got your answers here. | lucyflint.com

I am a recovering control freak. (HUGE surprise, right? I know, I know.)

I still have a major fondness for one-hundred-item lists. For plans that map out the next three years with precision. 

I love the idea of my personal universe clicking along, on well-oiled gears, everything spinning just as it should.

I love that. It's so tidy.

And when I'm on a planning tear, it feels so, so possible. Give me a calendar and a notepad and a pen, and you will see me work up some serious control-freak euphoria.

There's only one thing more dependable than my desire to plan: The way those plans almost always explode. Or dissolve. Or vanish. 

They tank, they go south, they self-destruct. Swept overboard by crises, illness, injuries.

(What's that? Oh yes. I'm still fending off a four-week sinus-infection-meets-bronchitis supervirus from hell. It has slowed down my writing progress a tiny bit. ... It is also gross.)

Plans blow up, and then I'm reminded—oh, yet again—that I am actually operating in a world that I don't control. 

Whoops.

So I take a little time to recover, to soften my grip on the calendar and the pen and the hundred-item list. I give myself some chocolate, find a cozy blanket, and then remind myself of this quote. 

This fantastic, writing-life-altering quote: 

Teach yourself to work in uncertainty. — Bernard Malamud

That's the kind of quote that used to reduce this control freak to a quivering wreck. Because that is not what I wanted Mr. Malamud to say. 

I wanted him to say: "Never fear, writer! You actually are a little god! You can make everything go your way if you just PLAN HARD. Don't give up!! Fight! Grip it all too tight! Insist on your own version of reality in the face of everything else! Mwahahahaha!!"

He did not say that.

Teach yourself to work in uncertainty.

"Teach yourself to work in uncertainty." - Bernard Malamud // There are three constants in a writer's life: the writer, the work, and uncertainty. Now that we know that, let's write anyway.

Kind of makes it sound like the certain thing in the writing life is actually—its uncertainty

I'm finally waking up to the fact that the thing I can absolutely predict is that there will be chaos, there will be some event that checks my plans, there will be evil-minded germs.

And the writing itself can jump the tracks: Outlines suddenly sound like gibberish. Favorite characters start acting like morons. Dialogue devolves into silly clichéd exchanges. 

An appetite for reading goes dry. A disciplined working routine fizzles. Plans fail.

There is always uncertainty. We can count on it. 

It took me a while to see how hopeful and wonderful Malamud's quote is. Because yes, there is always uncertainty.

But there are also two other constants in that quote. Two other things to be counted on:

There is always the work. That work we're called to, like someone tied a string to our hearts, and tied the other end to stories. 

That work. 

And then, there is always the writer. 

She might be beaten up, she might have suffered loss, she might look like she's just clambered out of a shipwreck.

She might have just drunk all the tea in the house and be sitting amidst a pile of used tissues. (Who, me?) 

She might not be able to save her writing with plans and schedules. She might not be able to see clear to the end of the endeavor like she wants to. 

But that's okay. That's the thing. That's the really, really good news:

There is always uncertainty. There is always the work. And there is always you, my dear lionheart.

And when we train ourselves to work, despite the uncertainty, then we actually become invincible. 

We don't have to understand exactly how we're going to get this draft done on time. We don't have to be able to diagnose all the ills of our upcoming months in advance. 

Spoiler alert: 2016 is NOT going to go according to plan.

Seriously. There is some major stuff heading toward our lives.

Some of these plans for our writing—so neat! so clever! so possible!—will absolutely be swallowed by the perfect storm of crazy that is coming. 

I'm guaranteeing it. 

That used to make me tense and white-knuckled. That used to make me run around, screaming. 

Guess how I thought I'd fix everything? By planning harder.

Granted: A bit of good strategizing will help. Of course it will. 

But it is so easy to get trapped in a cycle of overthinking and overplanning: Let's get all the variables accounted for! Let's find three ways to defeat each obstacle! Let's make a list of forty things I have to do every single day to stay on schedule!!

But the best, best, best thing to do in the face of uncertainty is the work

The ACTUAL work. 

Not planning the work. Not analyzing notes. Not listing new ways to research.

But the real, true, sweet storytelling work itself. 

Craft the next sentence. Write the very next paragraph. Sketch out the next chapter. 

Actual words for the actual story.

Even though you're not sure! Even though everything's shivering and unstable! Write. Even then.

Over the last three years, life has dealt me a serious amount of bizarre and frustrating and crazy circumstances.

Planning has its allure, but it has never, ever saved the day like writing has. 

It gets easier with practice. It comes more naturally. It's a skill we can grow.

So let's practice that together, okay, lionheart? 

Whatever form of uncertainty is facing you right now—whether big life circumstances, or just the normal plain uncertainty of how the heck are you going to finish that novel?!—whatever that is, consider it for a moment.

And then take a really deep breath.

Right now. Yes, really. 

A super deep breath. And then let it all out. Then do it two more times. (Something about three deep breaths. It's a thing. I love it.)

And then do a little writing. It doesn't have to be much. 

Grab an index card and write the very next sentence of your story. A line of dialogue that's spot-on for your protagonist. A smidge of description for your favorite bit of setting.

Write down something, anything, that reconnects you to the heart of the tale you're telling.

Not to the planning. To the work.

Writing is the best medicine, the best antidote, and the best safeguard in the face of uncertainty.

Use it well. And use it often.

(Don't you feel just a little bit better now?)

The Best-Ever Program for Designing Your Writing Life (It's Closer than You Think)

If you're looking for someone else to show up and fix your writing life (and I totally hear you on that!), then this post is for you, my friend. | lucyflint.com

Today's life-shaping quote comes from a story that Heather Sellers shares in her (stellar, fantastic, sanity-saving) book Chapter after Chapter

She writes: 

     Don't be like the man I met ... when I was speaking at a writing conference. He said, "I have ideas for five books. Do you know what software I should get?" ... 
     "Software?" I said.
     "Yeah. You know. The software makes out the structure and you fill it in. They have programs. Do you know a good one?"

     You're the program, baby, I did not say.

... How great is that, lionhearts?? I just love that line:

It's so easy for us to want to hide behind something else: a teacher, a boss, a guru, a program. But guess what. The best boss of your writing life is right there inside you. You're the program, baby. | lucyflint.com

So many times, I've wanted some writing wizard to show up, sit on my desk, and rescue me. 

To tell me everything. What to write. How to write.

Annnnnnd then how to manage everything else, too.

When I finished school and started writing for myself, I missed having live teachers so desperately—and not always for the right reasons. 

I wanted to have a teacher or a boss so that I could blame them if anything went wrong. I wanted someone to hide behind. Someone whose expertise would, hopefully, guide me to great heights... 

But if they misstepped, I could point and say, "THEY did it! Not me! Not my fault."

Basically, this was another way of being afraid.

I was afraid of the responsibility, so I dodged it by wishing for someone else to take charge of my writing life, my creativity, my output, my education.

It was a way of avoiding the super-deep thinking I needed to do. The soul searching. The slow learning process of discovering my limits for myself. Learning what I need and how and when.

Being my own writing boss: It's messy. It's unpredictable. It's frustrating. 

And really, it wasn't my favorite thing ... until I slowed down and started asking better questions. Until I finally shifted my focus, and stopped demanding that I get it all right the first time.

I started asking myself, How do I really need to work? What is best for me? 

What do I actually, honestly need? And what do I need in real life—not in some "everything goes perfect always" version of life.

My real life includes everlasting sinus infections (!!!!) and family crises and mental setbacks and days of zero imagination: so what do I need for that life?

You're the program, baby, is the quote that reminds me: The responsibility for figuring this out is mine. No one else can do it for me. 

And I can either let that freak me right out ... or I can step up. And get learning.

And not learning in a terrified, panicky way. Not spinning my wheels and flinging things out at random. And not searching for some writing book, blog, or guru to idolize and copy. Nope. 

I can show up, calmly, as my own boss, and learn what I need to learn, each day.

Because I'm the program.

Designing my own writing life, my own creative life, has been hard but also immensely rewarding. It's been one of the best tools for understanding myself better.

And every time I add better practices back into my setup, into my routine, and keep tailoring it for myself, for my books, for my process...

Well, it's exhilarating! 

Yes, it's a lot of responsibility, and that responsibility can feel pretty heavy some times. 

It's easy to fall into a spiral of nerves: What if I'm doing it wrong, what if I've missed something big, what if I screw everything up? 

Am I making the right choices? Did I make the wrong call? Should I push harder? Or should I take more breaks? Or both?

The wonderful, wonderful thing is: For every time I've messed up or made a bad call, I've also found the tools I need to fix it. And in the fixing, I learn even more.

I burned myself out, and then I learned how to recover from burnout.

I shackled myself to a book with no clear center. ("People doing stuff" isn't actually a plot, whoops.) So I wrote it four times through before pinpointing its problems. And then I learned how to write a book with an actual center.

I wrote a story that had zero structure and therefore didn't function at all. And then I learned a ton about proper story structure. (Wahoo!)

It's like any complicated skill. When you only know one way to do it, to run your writing life, you can feel brittle, fragile. If something goes wrong, it's all over. 

But as you grow, you learn how to correct, how to save a bad month, how to fix things. 

Those skills, the correcting and recovering skills, are the real power tools. They are what make you flexible, less afraid, resilient. 

They are what's saving my bacon right now, after a February with basically no progress on my so-called work-in-progress.

And as far as I know, the only way to learn that flexibility, is by diving in and doing it yourself. 

You are your own program.

You're the vocational designer. You're your own—and your best!—boss. 

You get to create an amazing workplace for yourself. You can learn how to take the best care of your mind, your energy, your creativity. 

And learning how to take impeccable care of your writing self? That's maybe one of the most rewarding things ever.

What do you need to do, to take super-good care of yourself this week?

Don't panic. You really do know the right answer. Or the half-dozen right answers. Or at least a really good starting point.

Just take a deep breath. And trust yourself.


Want a little more direction on accessing your self-management superpowers? Check out these posts for a be-your-own-boss celebration:

And then if you want to just become an all-around unstoppable director and leader of your own life, you must check out the amazing book that I discuss in this post: This Is the ONE Thing You Need to Plan Your New Year.

Ooooh, baby. Look at you go!

The Counterintuitive Way to Protect Your Writing (from Everything that Gets In the Way!)

Ever feel like you're in a war, between your writing and the rest of your life's demands? Always defending one from the other? I totally get that. Here's how I found a resolution that frees me up to be a calmer, better writer. Let's dive in. | lucyflint.com

I can't believe that it was a year ago that I re-launched this blog as a place for lionhearted writers to gather and talk about courage, self-management, and an incredibly healthy writing life. 

A year of courageous writing! Let's all dig in to a big bowl of confetti!

So to celebrate this month, I'm coming back to one of my favorite things: quotes about writing.

If you've been around here for a while, you've probably noticed that I'm addicted to quotations.

I've done a series on helpful writing quotes, and I did another post on some of the best quotes for the "shadowy side" of the writing life. (Which I still loooooove. They are good quotes, y'all.) 

And this month, I'm coming back to them again.

Our writing lives are shaped by voices, after all. 

By the words of our teachers, our readers, our characters, our own selves, and all the books and writers that have gone before us. 

So many voices. So many words. 

And the awesome thing is, we get to choose which ones we'll hold on to. Which ones we'll believe in, and learn from. 

I love that. 

Here's the quote that's on my mind today: 

"One may achieve remarkable writerly success while flunking all the major criteria for success as a human being. Try not to do that." - Michael Bishop ... So, lionheart: What kind of a writer do you want to be? And what kind of human? | lucyflint.com

I love this quote. This reminder. 

Because this is where I've been lately, my friends.

Over the last month, I've watched my grandma's health decline to nothing. I visited her, read to her, and even sang to her (not very well) because singing was something that still got through.

I saw her the night before she died, and we all sang Happy Birthday and ate cake to celebrate her ninety-second year, even though she couldn't respond. 

I sat with my mom the next morning as we got the news that my grandma had died. I witnessed the flurry of preparation for a visitation, a funeral. I helped proofread her obituary. 

We welcomed my sister and her husband and their four incredible kids into our home; I talked with friends and family for five hours at a visitation.

There was a funeral, a burial, a luncheon. We brought home flowers from the church, and I woke the next morning to the scent of roses.

I stared at the obituary photo of my grandma (bright-eyed, smiling, content) to erase the memory of how she looked the night before she died—when she already seemed like a ghost.

Along the way, I totally neglected a head cold, which responded by turning into some massive sinus-infection-meets-bronchitis thing.

(I sound very elegant while typing all this, coughing like this and sniffling, sitting here in my pajamas and my robe amidst a pile of tissues. Real talk, y'all.) 

And oh yeah, I didn't do any writing. Not a scrap.  

My novel has curled into a tiny little ball. Its notes look like they were written by someone else. The current draft—my epic structural rewrite—is cool to the touch, sitting there at just 7500 words. 

Here on the blog, I had prepped the Love Your Writing Life series in advance, because we knew Grandma wasn't doing well. I checked in with the posts as they published and read them again, doing the prompts that I could manage to get to.

But for the most part, I felt very, very missing-in-action with writing. 

Which is why I love today's writing quote.

Because I can say: That is TOTALLY OKAY.

I had big plans for my writing in February. But it turned into something else.

It was a month for family. I was a granddaughter, a daughter, an aunt, a cousin, a niece, a sister, and a friend. I sang and prayed and held hands and matched faces to names that I'd heard of for decades. 

It was a month for relationships. It was time to be the human, more than the writer. 

And if this sounds very unremarkable to you, I have to explain: in the first several years of being a full-time writer, I divided my life into Writing and Everything that tries to interfere with writing. 

That's the dichotomy that I rode for years, and can I just say: Pitting the rest of your life against your writing gets exhausting.

It turned everything into a fight. It made me bitter. It made me a resentful crazy person. 

Please don't do that.

I threw out that paradigm a while ago, and now I try to live by something else.

I want to be a really good human. Someone who pays attention to the world around her. Who catches the nuances. Who loves people first, and then remembers what they say and writes it all down.

Yes, still a writer.  A writer to the core. Believe me, I was staring at pictures of my grandma, pictures taken ninety years ago in Puerto Rico, imagining stories for the faces and the places that they showed. 

I was absolutely noticing everything at the visitation, the funeral. What, after all, do people say to you, when you've lost someone? 

I soaked up the stories that were shared. The sweet moments. As well as the surreal sense of going through the motions.

I was a family member, first and foremost. 

Here's the thing, my friends. Splitting life into Writing and Not Writing makes it hard to live well.

So I've decided to choose a better focus. Now I protect both sides of the equation (the writer, the human) by trying to live an attentive life.

Because the heart of being a really excellent human and a really excellent writer is the same: To pay attention. To love big. To notice things. To show up.

When I live like that, I get to be the kind of person—daughter, aunt, granddaughter—I most want to be. 

And, when I get back to my writing desk, I find that I have stories to tell.

I'm more calm about getting my writing in, and my writing gets richer at the same time. How's that for a more pleasant way to live? 

So this week, my mission is to get well.

To sleep a whole bunch. Eat a lot of chicken noodle soup. Use those clever essential oils, and take plenty of vitamin C and zinc. I'm gonna banish the snot and the cough.

I've also cleared off my desk. I sat and stared lovingly at the outline I have for my novel on the wall. (Oh look! Characters! I have characters! Hello, you little beauties. Next week, we will dance and dance and dance some more.)

And then I showed up in this space to write some words, and to send love to all you lionhearts, and to say:

We are writers, but we are humans first.

That's how it's supposed to be. Let's not get the two confused.

Let's be present every single day, shall we? Let's pay attention to whatever life hands us.

Let's write by being alive, first. By being attentive, first. 

And then, let's trust that when it's time to sit at our desks again, our stories will be so much richer, because we've been such real and wonderful people...

Even when we weren't writing.