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

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

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

In other words, we talked about deliberate practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

and work there.

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

Excited yet? Me too.

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

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

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

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

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


Here are 34 ways to practice writing deliberately!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Deliberately Practicing Deliberate Practice

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

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

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

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

And instead of skipping over it, we focus in.

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

I completely disregarded this book. For ten years!! 

WELL.

I am here today to set things straight.

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

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

It's a big deal.

Whew. Deep breath. 

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

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

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

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

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

No sweat. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was feeling some creative restlessness. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until finally, in the spring, I began reading. 

And reading. And reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

... Did I mention I'm blushing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For you, my writing friend. And for me.

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

How do we do that? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

To stop starving parts of our creativity.

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

Nope. 

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

Treating myself like a precious object
will make me strong.

Whoa, right? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The results?

Are freakin' spectacular.

So, lean in to that.

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

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

And try a softer, kinder, more intuitive way.

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

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

Dive in with an open mind and an open heart.

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

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

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

Because it's changing everything.

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

Continue Your Idea-Making Awesomeness with These Six Amazing Guides!

My go-to team of books for when I'm in desperate need of a new idea. They'll have your back, too. | lucyflint.com

We writers live among our ideas. Kind of a cool reality, isn't it?

It's the truth: The degree to which our ideas delight us is the degree to which we're going to have exciting and enjoyable writing lives. 

That's what I'm aiming for! You too, I'm guessing. ;)

I hope that Idea Camp has been fun for you! You now have some fantastic strategies for making appealing, useable, and energizing ideas! 

SUPER good news for your work-in-progress, and for all those works to come! (Your future projects are all stoked, by the way.) 

But today's our last post for Idea Camp. And the writing life is a big one. Which means that, we're all going to appreciate having even more idea-making guidance in the days to come!

Here are six of my favorite books for creativity and idea-making. If you've been reading the blog for a while, you've heard of them all. But they're a part of my core team when it comes to creativity, so they deserve a big shout-out at the end of Idea Camp!

If you want to level up in terms of creativity, consistency with idea-making, and general awesomeness (that's all of us, right?!), then these are the books to read!

1) A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative, by Roger von Oech

This is, no surprise, a totally off-the-wall book. (Title kinda gives that away, right?) But it is super helpful at shaking up the way we normally think.

Von Oech asks provocative questions about creativity, and he flips the ways we normally approach problems.

This is where I learned about the oracle method, "stepping stone" ideas, and a bunch of other ways to reframe creative problems. (His concept of "the second right answer" is totally brilliant and oh so helpful!)

This book will help you with your writing, for sure, but—bonus!—it will also make you a creative, problem-solving dynamo in the rest of your life as well. 

2) Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Yup, it was a mega-sensation in all creative-minded circles for a while, and for good reason. I devoured it, and then listened in on the accompanying podcast, "Magic Lessons," as well.

I just love Gilbert's frank discussion of creativity, her view of the artist's life, and her perspective on ideas like inspiration, wonder, and following your curiosity.

It's also just a thoroughly enjoyable read! This isn't so much a book about actively generating ideas, but the way she approaches creativity will definitely shift the pressure you feel in your writing life.

And that shift will bring wonder-filled ideas in its wake!

(I especially loved: the trickster vs. martyr discussion; the "sandwiches" we eat in pursuit of what we love; and the story about the lobster. Oh my gosh, the lobster. I laughed 'til I cried!)

PS, if you can't wait to get the book, check out her fantastic interview about Big Magic with Marie Forleo. It's all the things!!

3) Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon

Yep, I've done a post on this one before. But it's worth bringing up again here, because Kleon has such a helpful way of describing idea creation: he breaks it down and makes it feel so doable.

I love his whole concept of "the genealogy of ideas," and how he recommends learning from the artists you admire. He says: 

Copy your heroes. Examine where you fall short. What's in there that makes you different? That's what you should amplify and transform into your own work.

How's that for inspiring?! Geez!

And then I'm also haunted by this bit of brilliance: 

Think about your favorite work and your creative heroes. What did they miss? What didn't they make? ... If all your favorite makers got together and collaborated, what would they make with you leading the crew? 
     Go make that stuff.

Riiiiiight?? Doesn't that just get your mind fizzing? The whole book is like that, so, if you haven't checked it out yet ... um, go do that.

(He has a pretty fantastic blog as well... hop on over. And also, if you're trying to wrap your mind around the whole Internet, social media, how-to-be-seen thing, his book Show Your Work! is also exquisite and deeply encouraging. It gave me the courage to start this blog.)

4) The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp

This one again! For sure. Not only does Tharp talk about all aspects of the creative life in a compelling and exciting way, but she also has incredible tips on how to find ideas.

The whole book is helpful for this, but the best chapter for finding ideas is "Scratching." Scratching is Tharp's term for that process of hunting for an idea. She has a bunch of great habits and routines for idea searching... you've gotta read that chapter and try her exercises! You'll have plenty of new ways to forage for brilliance.

5) The Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne

My favorite-ever structure book belongs in Idea Camp?! Yup.

Because if you're writing a novel, and you don't know what do to next, it helps soooooo much to remember the conventions of the genre you're dealing with, the parts of story form (in scenes, in acts), and the "change curve" that Coyne explains.

Having a solid grasp of novel structure definitely saved my idea-making bacon with my work-in-progress! And understanding story form is critical when you're defining the problem that you're trying to solve

6) A Writer's Book of Days, by Judy Reeves

This is THE BEST writing exercise book I've ever encountered and it literally changed my view of my writing and my imagination. For the much, much better. 

It is seriously good.

Working through her daily writing prompts showed me just how incredible my brain can be at making ideas. At creating stories out of thin air. Even on days when I felt dull.

If you give the habit of writing exercises a try, you'll get into the mode of having a flexible, ready, energized mind, eager to snatch and develop any idea that crosses your path. 

BASICALLY, you acquire idea-making superpowers. Yes, really.

Because some of the best ideas you'll ever get, you'll get while your pen is moving. And that is an exhilaration that's worth finding!

Oh, and the articles and essays that make up the rest of the content? MEGA valuable and encouraging.

Dive in: you won't regret it.


We did it!! A month of relishing all things idea-related. WHOA.

I'd love to hear how you're doing: which idea-generating practices have been the most helpful? Any writing blocks blasted away? 

The second half of our writing year is going to be so full of good ideas now! Mmmm. Happy dreaming, lionhearts!

Four Quick Fixes for the Next Time You're Looking for a Fresh Idea

A few more tricks for the next time you need a fresh idea! | lucyflint.com

Well, Idea Campers, how are you all doing? Do you feel armed and ready to face anything your work-in-progress throws at you? Because we have covered sooooo many idea-finding strategies by now!

When you're on the lookout for a new idea—an appealing, useable concept with velocity—it helps to have a range of techniques, right?

We have a list of major interests and a list of curiosities, to spark excitement in our ideas. We have a list of topics for which we've already done allllllll the emotional research (so let's put it to good work!). We have idea scout files and title files, ready to add shape and heat to our projects.

When things get really tricky, we know how to go over the problem in laser-like detail, to know exactly what idea we're looking for. And finally, we have the all-purpose skeleton key of idea-making: my favorite strategy ever.

Whew! That's a lot of power tools!! 

But just in case you'd like a little more back-up... 

Here are a few other idea-making techniques. Because it's good to have a trick or four up your sleeve for those really tough days. 

1) Remember the value of bridging ideas.

One of the reasons why I like to do a lot of my idea work with pen and paper is so that I have a written record of my process.

Why is that important? 

Because along the brainstorming path, there are sometimes these weird idea cast-offs.

Bizarre, off-the-wall, "couldn't possibly work" kind of ideas.

The awesome thing about these crazy ideas is their ability to spark other ideas.

They bridge you forward to a new idea that you might not've had, if you thought "pffft, I'm not writing down that dumb idea."

Know what I mean? 

Roger Von Oech calls these "stepping stones." In A Whack on the Side of the Head, he writes: 

Stepping stones are simply provocative ideas that stimulate us to think about other ideas. Stepping stones may be impractical or improbable, but their value consists not in how practical they are, but in where they lead your thinking. 

Exciting, right? 

So after an idea session, save your notes for a little while. Go back over them in a calm moment. You might find cast-offs that belong in your idea scout files: tidbits that didn't work to solve this problem, but which might be pure gold another time!

2) Shake your imagination up with a crazy challenge.

I saw this approach in Twyla Tharp's outrageously helpful book, The Creative Habit. She says we should have "an aggressive quota for ideas." 

Such as?

Such as, come up with sixty ideas in two minutes.

No, seriously. That's what she said. 

This is the kind of challenge that blasts you over obstacles, over hurdles.

You lose your hang-ups. All ideas count: everything is written down in the rush to fill up the list!

Which means? You end up with some really cool ideas. (And even the unusable ones could be stepping stones to other ideas...)

So before you totally dismiss this (like I did the first time!), give it a try.

Set a timer. Number a piece of paper. And then let rip.

You might just shock yourself with what you come up with... especially just before the timer dings.

3) Turn random into spectacular.

This is based on an exercise that Donald Maass presents in his incredibly helpful guide, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. (This book is on my all-time absolute must-read list for novelists, so, if you haven't read it yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out!)

In the exercise, he's showing how to weave elements of a novel together (and it's fantastic for that!), but I think that you could do it with any kind of idea generation.

Here's how it works:

Whatever your main problem or question is, try to split it into three categories or three topics. Write them out (with a little space in between) across the top of a sheet of paper.

So, in his example, you're listing characters, settings, and plot layers.

To look for an idea that might happen within a scene, you might list characters allied with the protagonist, characters allied with the antagonist, and various motivations/goals. 

If you're creating a title, you might list key characters, important images from the book, and the main settings.

Make sense? 

Once you've figured out your three categories, try to list six things in each category, and write them under each of your headings. 

And the more in each list, the better. So if you can come up with ten or even twelve for each of the three categories, that's great.

And then? And then it gets really exciting: 

You take a pencil and start drawing random lines, connecting entries from the first list to the second to the third.

What are you after? You're looking for connections.

You're looking for three entries to combine in such a way that your mind grabs the idea and starts running. 

So give it a little time, and keep messing around with it. Draw lines every which way. Link names and concepts together, and watch for what happens in your mind. 

I love this strategy because it shows me how to pair story or scene elements in new ways. And then? The idea sparks fly!

4) Get a new environment.

If you keep looking for good ideas and keep not finding them, try changing up where and when you're doing your looking.

If you normally brainstorm at your desk, in the afternoon, try: outside, in the morning. Or in your car, at midnight. In a grocery store, at 4:30. 

Sometimes we just need to change up the mental chemistry, move to fresh air, switch it up a bit.

It is perilously easy to fall into a rut when I'm doing all the same things in the same ways.

Find a way to change your surroundings, and you just might find your way to a fresh crop of new ideas.


There you go! A few more ways to find the brilliance that's lurking all around and inside you.

At this point, you're essentially unstoppable. I mean, look at you!

But just in case you hit a really rough patch, I've got you covered. Stay tuned for the next post...

Your All-Purpose, Idea-Discovering, Secret Weapon! (My hands-down, favorite, most-used technique.)

The easiest, clearest, best, favoritest, all-purpose idea making strategy EVER. (I love it. Can you tell? I really love it.) | lucyflint.com

Last November, I had a ton of fun inventing a list of fifty off-the-wall plot twists to help out all my writing buddies doing Nanowrimo.

Fifty plot twists! I was surprised at how quickly I thought of them all (more to come on that!). And I loved the quirky list when it was done. (It's a little bizarre. Just what I love, haha!)

Well, it turned into my most popular post of all time. I'm thrilled that it's been such a helpful resource for thousands (and thousands!) of people. 

But the coolest thing about all that and what I love most about it: It was so easy to come up with all those ideas! Seriously!

To generate so many crazy plot twists in just one afternoon, I turned to a method that I've enjoyed using for a long time.

I learned it from Roger Von Oech's A Whack on the Side of the Head—which is a MUST READ if you want to supersize your creativity! 

He calls it creating an oracle. (Check out more of his explanation on his blog.)

I've seen this method other places too, but Von Oech's book was the first place I saw it. And he was the only one who referred to it as an oracle. Which is, let's face it, a pretty cool name.

I've mentioned it before on this blog, but it's such a life-saver that I had to talk about it again, here in the midst of Idea Camp

The premise of the oracle method is really straightforward and simple. But it's incredibly powerful. Why? Because your brain brings all the magic. And our brains are pretty incredible.

So, buckle up!

At the heart of it, the oracle method is all about connecting two dots. You provide Dot #1 (your question or problem). The oracle provides Dot #2 (a random word or concept, which usually feels completely unrelated to your question).

And then: your brain steps in and connects the dots.

That connection—sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, sometimes wild, sometimes fantastic—that is your new idea.

Sound fun? Because it's totally fun!!

Give yourself some time to practice it, and then marvel as your brain provides one solution after another.

So here's the real step-by-step. 

1) Find your oracle.

Yes, that sounds a bit weird. But all Von Oech meant was some book or resource that provide you with nouns.

I use a dictionary, or an encyclopedia. Or even, in a pinch, any novel or book lying around.

(He says you can even use a magazine and refer to the pictures... but I'd get too distracted!)

2) Define your problem.

Yep, you're all over this step by now!

You don't have to go mega in-depth, but you do need a crystal clear sense of what your problem is. The clearer you are, the better. This is your Dot #1!

3) Open your oracle and get a noun at random.

Open the book at random. And then grab a word off that open page. 

Oh, and don't try to select a juicy word.

At least until you get the hang of this, force yourself to get a random one: the top left corner, or the bottom right are good places.

Pick the very first noun there, and then close the oracle.

4) Consider your "answer."

So this word you've just grabbed? That's your marvelous Dot #2. And you owe it to yourself to give it a little thought.

You don't have to do a ton of research about it (unless you really want to!). Just mull it over in your mind for a second.

What does it mean? What images does it bring to mind? What special meanings might this word have for you? 

And then what are its other uses? Is it also used as a verb, or a proper noun? How many things could it mean? Does it represent other, bigger concepts as well? Are there metaphorical uses you're familiar with?

What else does it make you think of?

Feel free to jot some of these down. Again, it doesn't have to be laborious... just see what comes to mind, and take down a few notes.

If you have several angles to work with, you're in pretty great shape.

5) Give your brain the chance to connect the dots.

This is where it gets crazy and fun: the creative process up close! 

Decide that this Dot #2 somehow gives you the answer to your problem or question

Yes, that can feel a little weird. You might stare at it in frustration for a while, thinking, how in the heck are these two things related?

Because that's what you're looking for: A connection. 

Any connection. 

Give your brain a little space. Doodle on the edges of your paper. Stare out the window for a while.

Just keep turning the two things over in your mind: the problem, and this weird, doesn't-make-sense "answer." 

And keep looking for how they might be related.

It could be really off the wall. It could make you laugh. It might be too strange to credit at first.

But the more you play with it, the more you see how it actually, really, truly could work.

6) Call in extra help.

Usually one word is all I need for this. But now and then, I honestly can't think of anything workable with my first chosen word. I'll do all the thinking, and give myself time, and nothing breaks loose.

What to do? Flip open the oracle and grab a second word! Sometimes even a third. 

Play around with a few more concepts. See how your new words interact with the first one, how they're similar, how they contrast. And see how they react with your proposed problem.

Give them some time, and see what shows up!

So far, I've never needed more than three words to hit on a brilliant idea. So, even if you're frustrated with the process, hang in there! Let your brain play longer. Take a break and come back. Doodle more.

7) Take notes on your fledgling idea.

As soon as you feel like you're on to something, take those notes that you need! 

Flesh out the idea, add anything else that you're thinking of, the supporting details, the other information you'll need, anything you see in your head.

If your solution has stirred up more problems, you know what to do: Grab that oracle and launch into the next idea-finding session.

And then apply it to your draft or project, and you're off and running!

8) Repeat as necessary (and feel like a genius).

This gets easier—a lot easier!—with practice.

The more you trust the process, the longer you can hang in there when it feels uncomfortable. You get into a rhythm. You instinctively feel your way to the wild possibilities a lot faster.

Best of all? You get kind of addicted to that miraculous feeling of a new idea sparking in your mind.

(Because it is SERIOUSLY cool. And really fun.)

And then... go crazy! Invent to your mind's content. You can solve a dozen story problems in an afternoon. Or dream up fifty plot twists! ;)

This is truly the problem-solving technique that I use the most. It's easy, it's quick, and it's deliciously fun. 

Please give it a try, and let me know how it goes for you. 

Here's to overflowing with ideas! 

You Are Completely Surrounded By Potential Ideas: Here's One More Way To Capture Them!

You have a wealth of ideas right at your fingertips: here's a fun, easy way to capture them! | lucyflint.com

One of the most stimulating forms an idea can take is that of a marvelous title

Know what I mean?

A really juicy, intriguing, provocative title just gets my imagination whispering (and maybe bouncing up and down a little). 

Obviously, titles do so much to set the stage for a book.

They create atmosphere and build the world. Or they nod to the main characters and what they're up against. 

The best titles are a tantalizing welcome mat for the story inside. They wave their arms to the ideal audience, saying, "Come read me! You will LOVE this story!"

... Okay. I know. I get a little worked up about titles. 

But for those of us who are idea-seekers, titles are incredibly valuable: Even if you only have a title, you're set. You have a potent, miniature writing prompt. 

Come up with a title with the right kind of ring to it, and it's a bit easier to invent a story to go with it.

You start to develop a sense for the story, for what it might hold, what it promises. 

Big surprise: I love inventing titles, even when I don't have any plans for writing books to go with them. 

So, by now, I have a huge Title File. It's ... well, it's really, really big. 

I've arranged it by category: titles that refer to a character, a conflict, a central image, a setting, a genre. (And then of course, a miscellaneous section for all the crazy titles that didn't seem to fit.) 

When I used Scout Files to write a novel for Nanowrimo, I also used my Title File. I pulled out a bunch of titles that seemed to have the same feel as my central idea, and I used them as chapter titles for the whole project. 

Every day, I wrote a new chapter. And each chapter had a delightful, pre-brainstormed title. Which gave me an incredibly strong launch point for that day's work.

It sped up my process and guarded me against clichés. And it hugely influenced the sprawling, rambling, fun-for-me feel of that draft. 

Oh, TITLES. Look out: They can steal your heart.

There are two ways that I go after creating intoxicating titles.

1. Remix.

We've already established—multiple times—that I'm a total word nerd on this blog.

So, maybe it won't surprise you if I confess that I, ahem, make a game out of remixing titles. 

It's so fun. Seriously—it is SO FUN.

Here's what you do: looking at a bookcase or a list of books, you grab a few juicy titles. You can look at books that are near each other, or just pick whichever ones you like best.

Write 'em down. 

And then you just jumble up the words. Mix and match. Swap parts of titles around, until you get compelling images, phrases, ideas. 

And then you write down those titles in your Title File. 

Super straightforward. 

Did I mention it's easy? And fun? 

So... just for kicks, just because it's Monday, just because we like to have fun: here are a handful of titles from my bookshelf. 

  • Great Expectations
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society
  • Peace Like a River
  • So Brave, Young, and Handsome
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  • Wildfire at Midnight
  • The Wind in the Willows
  • The Woman in White

All right, lionhearts! Get in there and mix and match. Make some new titles!

There's no wrong way to do it: You can even cut words in half, or sprinkle in extra parts of speech when you need 'em. 

Remixing the above list might give you titles like:

  • At the Bottom of the Willows
  • The Brave, Mysterious Peace
  • Handsome Midnight
  • Pie Expectations
  • The River Society
  • The Sweetness in the Wind
  • In the White Wildfire
  • The Young Woman at Midnight

Just play around until you find titles you like. 

And—this is important—not every title has to be amazing. In fact, they don't have to be amazing at all. They might just have a ring to them that you find... intriguing.

Like: Would Pie Expectations be a series of essays about pie? Or would it be a weird kind of modern day Hansel and Gretel retelling? Or maybe it would be about a young girl who works in a bakery and changes the feel of her whole city when she ... 

Hmmmmm. See what I mean? A pretty calm title. But some interesting possibilities.

This is a great thing to do when you feel stuck on your work-in-progress, or when you need a warm-up, or when you can't work for whatever reason: Look over your bookshelves and fill a page with remixed titles.

2. Out of not-too-thin air.

This is when you just pluck titles out of your surroundings. When you turn everything that you're observing around you into a possible title.

No big explanation needed, because that's really all there is to it: Turn your environment into titles.

So for me, sitting here at my desk and looking out the window, some titles could be: 

  • Wildflowers in a Pitcher
  • The Undrunk Coffee (Oh, doesn't "the undrunk" sound like a zombie spoof??)
  • Supplements: A History
  • Pinestraw Afternoons
  • Heat (and What Happens In It)

One of my favorite ways to do this exercise is when I'm sitting in a coffee shop or a waiting room.

I listen and observe for a while, picking up bits of the moods, of the other conversations and interactions between the characters, I mean, people around me.

And I'll start dreaming up as many titles as I can. Usually I'll challenge myself to fill a whole page, and I'll try to exhaust every possibility that's right in front of me. 

Obviously, some of them are more quiet and less noteworthy. But they can still be valuable. 

Title files especially earn their keep when you use them in conjunction with your Scout Files and Idea Lists.

Once you start taking entries from the lists you've made, and stir in a few great ideas from your Scout Files, and sprinkle in some of these titles to help guide the way...

Whew!!

Seriously, the ideas start flying, and your brain fills in the blanks with much more ease.

That's why it's good news for us that title making is kind of, um, addicting.

You can do it literally anywhere, and it's only going to strengthen your work. 


I would LOVE to hear any of the remixed titles that you created from the list I gave you... or even remixes from your own shelves! And if your surroundings start whispering titles to you as well, feel free to share those too in the comments!

What Happens to You If You Actually *Enjoy* Writing?

Welcome to Week Three of the Fall In Love with Your Writing Life series! I can't believe that we're this far along already!

Can I just say, y'all are troopers. You are amazing.

I'm so proud of all the lionhearts who dove into this challenge, and I hope that you're feeling a little weak in the knees about your writing life!

And there's more fun up ahead! It's just going to get better! (Have I mentioned that I'm still super excited?? I have so many exclamation points I haven't used yet...)

This week is all about enjoyment. About a writing life that is marked by joy, pleasure, and fun. 

Why be grim and tense about writing if we really don't have to be? Right?

Yeah. That's why we're here.

So let's dive in!

That old mentality that says writing must be grim and excruciating? Pffft. The old school isn't always best. Let's shift that paradigm. What would happen to you if you actually *enjoyed* writing?? Come find out. | lucyflint.com

February 15: Take dancing lessons.

Today, we're talking about dancing.

And not in my usual, dance-your-writing-anxieties-out way. (Although that's still a good idea. By all means, let loose.)

I'm talking about dancing with your writing life.

And before that gets any weirder than it already sounds, what I mean is:

Write some poetry.

... I just figured we'd all freak out if I led with the "poetry" thing. So try to think of it like dancing lessons. I promise it will help.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Yes. Really. You. Poetry.

In particular, I'd love, love, love it if you wrote a haiku. (Or two. Or seven.)

What's the point of taking dancing lessons in a relationship?

It's about spending time with each other, learning a skill that brings you (literally) closer, and doing something beautiful together—or, actually, doing something silly. 

Yes, you'll totally step on each other's feet. Yes, you might look ridiculous. But that's great!

It's a wonderful reminder that the point of dancing with someone you love isn't about doing it perfectly, or even about doing it right.

The point is: enjoying each other's company. 

So, if this exercise makes you laugh, bonus points for you.

If you throw all kinds of words at the haiku but they just sound lame, bonus points for you!

And if you try this and find that you love it, then bonus points for you.

Get my point? It isn't about being a haiku master. It isn't about creating award-winning poetry.

It's about doing a dance with language. About putting your feet here and then there and then there, a little awkwardly, a little out of rhythm, but practicing at it—simply because those are the steps of the tango, the foxtrot.

Or the haiku.

A haiku is a three-line poem, and the length of the line is governed by syllables. Five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, five in the third. And that's it!

Here's a more detailed explanation... but seriously, just dive in for ten minutes and have fun. Let the syllables fly.

Forget about perfection: this is about enjoying your time together.


February 16: Contemplate.

Sometimes the mark of a really great relationship is that you can sit there in silence together.

Is that really the prompt for today? 

Yes! Yes it is! 

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Free yourself from the need to be demonstrably productive. Just for fifteen minutes. 

Can you sit in your writing area, and just practice feeling happy and peaceful there?

Think about enjoying the space, the feel of it. The ghosts of the words you've written here. The nebulous stories that you will write someday.

... If the idea of fifteen minutes of doing nothing makes you break into a rash, I get it. No worries: you can doodle on some scrap paper.

Or maybe scrawl a sentence... but try to write slowly.

Make a list of nouns you like, but in really, really slow motion. Like you're drawing the letters for the first time.

Or invent a word even longer and funnier than Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Maybe you do that. 

Or maybe you don't: And you just sit there, feeling open and available to the writing life, but without demanding anything back from it.

Is this a little weird? That's okay. It's just fifteen minutes. After this, we can all get back to optimizing and producing and tallying and researching and media-ing. 

But I love to take the pressure of being productive out of the equation, just for a bit. 

And let the life of words and writing mean more than just "getting this project finished."

Maybe, for these fifteen minutes at least, the writing life is a way of being. A direction. A type of feeling, and considering, and dreaming. 

What if the writing life wasn't a career at all, but instead it was a life that loved stories and language? 

What if all the books and blogs and essays were simply the by-products of a very happy marriage between a person and words? 

Hmm.

If nothing else appeals, try spending your fifteen minutes contemplating that.


February 17: Get a little fancied up.

I love the freedom of working from home. Of being comfortable. Of wearing whatever.

But sometimes—I gotta be honest—my whole style statement can be summed up as "Didn't actually think about it."

(Fair enough. I'm working on figuring out the intersection between being extremely comfortable and having a legitimate style choice. At which point, I'll discover my dream writing uniform. One day, folks!! One day!)

There's this funny correlation between what I'm wearing and how I feel about my work.

It isn't necessarily dramatic. But it creeps in now and then.

And, if I'm in sloppy clothes, I can start feeling like my whole posture toward my work is, "I honestly don't care."

It can feel demeaning. I start saying, "Why bother."

Suddenly I feel a lot less like writing and a lot more like, say, polishing off a package of Oreos. (Let's be real.)

On the other hand: when I dress up—and I mean just a smidge, just a bit, just a little—it sets an intention.

It sends me a message about my work: I care about this. This matters to me. And I'm bringing my best.

That's how we want to show up to our work. And that's what we want the writing life to see from us.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Dress up a little for your writing today.

This isn't about being uncomfortable, or hiding yourself, or being less like you. Not at all!

It just means leaning into the work a little bit. Bringing a little sparkle. Doing something a little extra.

And that can look however you want it to.

Maybe this means just wearing some lip gloss, or maybe you're writing in a party dress today.

When I want to take things up a notch, I pull out this perfume. It's called Paper. (I promised you I was a nerd, right?)

It smells like the sweetness of—no kidding—paper.

*swoon*

When I feel like I'm having a drab writing day, sometimes I change my clothes, do something halfway decent to my hair, spritz this on, and then get back to work.

It doesn't make me an instant genius, but it does make me feel much more confident about what I'm writing and why.


I hope you have an incredibly yummy and fun week with your writing! Check back on Thursday for four more ways to dive deeper into joy and love in your writing life. 

Want to revisit the older prompts? Here are the first four posts in the series: one, two, three, four.

Happy writing!

Go Flirt with Books! (And Other Fun Ways to Love the Writing Life)

Okay, lionhearts. How's it going for you?

I hope you're having fun with this Love Your Writing Life series, and that you're experiencing a bit more fun and a lot more love in your writing life.

... I'm aiming for butterflies in the stomach, but anything cheery is good with me!

Over the next few days, we'll be celebrating more and more... Ready? Let's go!

The next installment of the Love Your Writing Life series: we're going to be flirting with books, celebrating our happiest writing moments, giving gifts, and savoring words. SO much writerly fun--join us! | lucyflint.com

February 11: Write a letter.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Just like last Thursday, we're taking a little time today to write a letter to the Writing Life. But this time, let's begin by saying: 

Dear Writing Life, I remember when you and I...

Let the letter be full of your happiest moments together. Feel free to just list 'em out: all the best times in your life of words, whatever that was, however it look. 

All your happy moments around reading, writing, words, bookstores, friends who love talking about books and writing, the mythology around Shakespeare, the movie Midnight in Paris, author crushes, your favorite fiction, the characters you invented, the moments when you were writing and it felt like flying...

All of it. Get it all down.

If you can, try to capture what you first loved about it. What drew your attention. What was bubbling in your heart when you decided to commit, to get serious about it.

When you're done, you'll have one of the best resources you can possibly create: a letter that you can reread every time you feel discouraged, when you get nasty criticism, when you have too many days where the writing is hard.

You'll have your best reminder, and in your own words, of what you most love in the writing life: It's your personalized guide for getting back on track.


February 12: Go flirt at a bookstore.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Get yourself to a bookstore, or a library, or any other place that has shelves and shelves of books.

And then, get flirtatious. 

Not with other people! Pfft. I mean with books.

Scan the titles, open dozens of them, read all the first lines on one shelf, or (if you're feeling very brazen) read all the final pages.

Flip through them at random, run your fingers over the spines, smell the pages. Admire the fancy endpapers, the beautifully rough-cut edges.

Be one of those eccentric daydreamy book lovers.

In the words of that famous relationship specialist Ray Bradbury,

You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders
to sniff books like perfumes
and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.

To which I would add: By all means, get yourself a raspberry & white chocolate mocha at the coffee shop.

I mean, let's go all out. This is love after all.


February 13: Buy flowers; buy chocolates.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Give your writing life a gift. Something fun, something special.

It can be really silly and playful (bright and cheery office supplies!), or it can be super serious (amazingly fancy fountain pen). 

It doesn't have to be expensive or super involved, but it DOES have to make your heart beat faster. A little giddiness is a very, very good thing.

You can go as far with this as you'd like: overhaul your office area and make it feel like a place where you would love to spend your time.

Design a writing life care package and then give it to yourself.

... Or just grab a cheap but lovely candle and put rose petals all over your desk.

If you can't afford to buy anything, no worries. I'm with you. The writing life doesn't necessarily bring in money—so let's do something else to express affection.

Rearrange your office area, bring in a lamp or cozy pillows from other parts of your house. Brighten it up. Make it beautiful.

Or hand letter a wonderful writerly quote that means a lot to both of you. (If you need inspiration, I put a bunch of my favorite quotes into this post.) Make some art. Handmade gifts are often the best!

Whatever it looks like for you—make your writing space more lovely, more special, more fun. Make it feel noticed.


February 14: Savor a meeting of minds.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: No matter what your other Valentine's Day plans are, take a little time today to read something beautiful. Something delightful.

It can be romantic poetry, or a sharp and funny personal essay. A stack of Elephant & Piggie books, or your favorite Agatha Christie mystery.

But whatever you choose, take a little time to snuggle up with words. Decorate your day with language. 

Savor the words. Try to hold them on your tongue for a moment. Let yourself read slow, read at a snail's pace.

Like every word is made of expensive chocolate.

Catch the feel of the phrase, the way language is like music. 

It's a beautiful thing, the reading life.

(And oh, if today feels more like Singleness Awareness Day, I'm totally with you. Invite a really amazing book to keep you company. Do a little readerly time travel, a bit of teleportation.

After all, Stephen King says that reading is telepathy, "a meeting of the minds." Who are we to argue? Take some time for mind-meeting. It's really not a bad way to spend February 14.)


And there you have it, lionhearts. We're about halfway through February at this point, and halfway through the series! I hope it's been fun for you so far!

I would looooove to know: What has been the most fun prompt for you? What have you enjoyed the most, or what's been the most productive? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Meanwhile, Happy Valentine's Day, you beautiful writers! And come back on Monday for your next batch of prompts.

Boldly Loving Our Writing Lives (Because Actions Speak Louder Than... You Know.)

February is all about falling in love... with your writing life! If you're new to this series, check back with the week one posts, here and here

It's the third installment of our Loving Your Writing Life Series... These prompts are gonna double-dare you to *act* like you love your writing life like crazy, even if you don't quite feel that way. Yet. (It'll come.) | lucyflint.com

Last week we started clearing some ground, getting rid of negativity, and looking at how we think and talk about writing. 

This week, the fun really begins. We'll be playing around, being silly, and having a blast.

Yep. I mean it. Having a blast with our writing lives. Sound good to you? 

If it doesn't, if you're still not in a great place with writing, I'd like to just say this: 

There is some really fantastic advice out there, that says when you act as if something is true, you eventually start feeling like it's true.

Interesting, right? Emotions can follow actions.

And that's the principle that we're going to exploit this week. 

Let's practice acting like we love the writing life, and maybe those warm fuzzies will follow. Worth a try, right? 

Let's dive in.


February 8: Steal some moments.

I don't know exactly why this is true, but when I start stealing little moments out of the rest of my day to spend on writing, several things happen:

  • I start feeling more excited about my work.
  • It gets even easier to continue working, to keep stealing more moments... a nice little snowball effect.
  • And I generally feel happier. Like I'm doing something special.

It's a little like the phenomenon of keeping secrets about our work.

By the way, adding extra little sessions of writing isn't a productivity strategy. It can be, of course. But today we're doing it to have more fun, not to do more work. It's an important difference.

We're just turning our attention to our work, and giving it a wink. Taking a few minutes to play with characters, play with sentences, enjoy the words. 

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Take fifteen minutes today to write when you normally wouldn't.

And you can totally break it up: Maybe this means three little bursts of five minutes, or all fifteen at once, or a bunch of two-minute sessions. However you like.

Maybe you decide to write as the first thing in your day, or maybe the very last. Maybe you slip it in between appointments, or sit in your car for fifteen minutes after getting home—writing in that little space of quiet before diving back into the fray.

Maybe it's you and your morning tea, or maybe you're jotting notes in the line at the grocery store. 

However it looks for you, the main objective is: Write when it's not a usual time for you to write.

And the second main objective is: Keep it playful and fun. 

This isn't serious. It isn't work. It isn't burdensome.

It's meant to be lighthearted, and a little quirky. Have fun with it.


February 9: Write silly little love notes.

Yes. You read that correctly.

Just go with me on this. Remember, we're acting in the way that we want to feel, even if we don't feel this way yet.

Okay? Okay.

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Write a silly little love note to your writing life.

Take that whole relationship of you + words. And send it a love note.

It can be super short. It doesn't have to be overly gushy. You can do this even if you think it's the dumbest thing EVER. 

You can just write, "I cannot believe Lucy is making me do this, but, Writing Life, I think you're pretty great." 

That's all it has to be! I promise! Just write it.

And then stick it somewhere where your writing life will see it. In your journal, in the pen cup on your desk, on your bulletin board.

If this is fun, and if you aren't rolling your eyes at me right now, you can write as many notes as you like.

Celebrate all the tiny little things about the writing life that often get forgotten. And feel free to keep it silly. 


February 10: Enjoy each other's company.

One thing about healthy relationships: you spend time in each other's company for no other reason except that you like each other.

Just hanging out, just having fun, just because you can.

What does that look like for us? 

Actual writing. 

(Don't get scared.)

Writing exercises are the perfect place to have some fun with words, in a no pressure situation. (No pressure writing. How nice is that?)

TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Here's the deal. I'm going to give you six writing prompts, and you'll pick five.

Grab a timer, and spend three minutes on each writing prompt.

Just three minutes!! You can do anything for three minutes.

I'd encourage you to do this even if it feels like a TERRIBLE idea. Even if your brain has been blank for WEEKS.

You don't even have to write in complete sentences. You can write only nouns and verbs, or snippets and phrases, or just scratch your pen over the page in huge lines.

Just enter the writing space. Put down a few words. That's all.

But mostly? I'd love for you to enjoy writing just because you can.

Choose to enjoy it. This doesn't have to be hard. No one's going to read it.

You can write the silliest things, you can spend all three minutes writing down one sentence over and over, or creating a huge run-on sentence.

I don't really care what you come up with, but I'd love for you to write, and to write with the mindset of enjoying it. Words on pages. It really is a lovely thing.

Ready for your writing prompts? (If none of these work for you, I have fifty crazier ones over here.)

  • The flock of starlings tumbled around in the sky, and for a moment they formed the exact shape of...
  • When we finally opened the door, we saw...
  • It was the last thing I expected to hear on a summer morning.
  • "This," he said, "is why I never like poetry..."
  • The most eccentric babysitter I ever had was... 
  • Even when I'm old, even when I'm dying, I'll never forget the smell of... 

Pick your five favorites, three minutes each. Just write the first word or image that comes to your mind, and follow it. It can be from your own life, or just total fiction. Okay?

The main thing is, decide to have fun. Ready, set, go!


I really hope that you've had some fun with this challenge so far! I'd love to hear how it's going for you, so please do leave a comment so I can cheer you on.

And then come back on Thursday for more fun ideas for loving your writing life!! (And more exclamation marks. They'll be coming fast and furious for the rest of the month...)