Oh look, another month! How the heck did that happen??
Autumn is my favorite time of the year, so as soon as I hear the word September, I'm already daydreaming about apples with cinnamon and pumpkin-spiced everything and cooler days and the smell of bonfires and the sound of the marching band on football nights and snuggling my toes into cozy knitted socks ...
Whoops, got carried away. (Besides, it's going to feel like summer around here for the whole month anyway, so no need to rush things, I suppose.)
I love the beginning of a month, because it's always a good time to take stock.
... Oh, who am I kidding. I like taking stock at the end of the month too. And every day in between.
So, whenever you read this, here's the question: Where are you at right now?
How are you doing, in your mind? Your heart? Your creativity?
How's the work-in-progress? How's the writing life?
It's been a whirlwind of a year (on my end, at least). And I'm more than a little amazed to be facing the last four months of the year.
I loved—and desperately needed—August's self-care focus. All that self-understanding and self-nurturing was absolute balm to my hassled soul.
And now that we're on this side of it, I asked myself what we should do next. The answer was clear and immediate:
I want to gather strength. Build stability. Stamina.
So much of this year has been about taking things apart and trying to put them back together in a better way.
That has been amazing. It's been (seriously) life-changing.
And also a bit, um, disruptive.
I'm ready to find a good groove and to get back in it, know what I mean?
Personally, I love the idea of following a month of self-care with a month of strength-building. We're taking better care of ourselves to a purpose, you know?
Now that we're better at nurturing, now that we're alert to better ways of operating—what do we do with ourselves?
Get stronger. Build strength. Yes!
But as soon as I knew that, I had another problem.
What the heck does that even mean?
Because if you spent any time watching the 2016 Olympics, you've realized that there are about a bazillion different kinds of strength.
Watching those athletes compete, you can totally tell: what makes someone the best at one type of sport would be completely destructive to someone in another sport.
So if I want to build strength in my writing life, I have to do a little digging to figure out exactly what I mean by that.
Where does that desire—I want to feel stronger!!—come from? What's the urge behind it?
Part of me was echoing Julia Cameron's statement: Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong.
Yes! Let's keep building strength with nurturing! Let's have incredibly strong imaginations! Let's have writing days that come from a strong sense of enthusiasm!
And another part of me was saying, "Also, let's do a ton of writing, please."
It's worth remembering: We build strength physically by repeating a difficult action. By challenging ourselves.
By going right up to our limits (we find where they are by "failing"), and then building strength and skills right on the borderlands of our ability.
I want to get better at working hard, at the very same time that I want to get better at working happy.
So what might that look like in our writing lives this month?
In other words, here's my question for you today:
How do you, personally, define strength?
What kind of strength are you looking for right now, in your writing life?
It's worth doing a little digging, a little self-reflection. It's important to get clear on what we mean by it.
Because if we don't check our unspoken definitions now and then, we can slip into this funny little habit of valuing opposing things.
Conflicting habits. Mutually exclusive "strengths."
Here's what I mean:
Sometimes I tell myself that I really value a distraction-free environment. Strength of focus is a beautiful thing!
But then, I discover that I'm secretly also valuing hyper-productivity: "I can't let a single unread email sit in my inbox!"
Funny how those two ideas don't work together very well. (More on all that later this month.)
Or I can tell myself that I want to be really well-rested. Feeling healthy: definitely makes me feel stronger.
But then, as I work on honoring that, something else in me freaks out. "No, no, wait," it cries. "I also have to work at least ten hours a day with no breaks, or I feel like a slacker."
So apparently, somewhere in my inner workings, I've mislabeled "working incessantly" as another sign of strength.
It sounds a little silly, but I think it's worth taking the time to investigate. Because if we dive into the idea of "strength" on autopilot, without thinking about what we value, we can sabotage ourselves.
We might find that we're holding ourselves to a dozen competing standards. And that's not gonna go so well.
Honestly, whenever I've burned out in the past, this has been part of the problem. I've mislabeled something as strong, and then worked to build that strength ... in spite of warning signs. In spite of a need to balance it out.
So. Take a little time today, or this weekend, and just check in:
What kind of strengths do you most value?
When you think of yourself growing in stamina and building strength as a writer, what kinds of things come to mind?
Skills? Habits? Attitudes?
If you gave your writing life a kind of athletic identity, what would most symbolize strength to you?
In other words: for some people, strength looks like a body-builder's physique. For someone else, it's a yogi's amazing flexibility.
There's a gymnast's incredible sense of balance, the endurance of a rowing team, or the sheer speed of a sprinter. Or what about a hurdler's take on navigating obstacles?
I've narrowed down my own sense of writing life strengths to a handful of traits. These are the things I really want to dig into this month.
I want to put in my time in the weight room, and nurture these skills with habits, with practice, with good stretches, with quality repetition.
I want to check in with how we treat our work. With how our imaginations and attitudes work to strengthen our writing.
I want to definitely build muscle around the whole strategy of routine, schedule, and balance.
And then I want to check in with the obstacles we face. What saps our strength? And what's our vision for all this work and effort, anyway?
So, that's what's ahead in September! Let's take allllll the good wellness we explored in August, and let it support us as we move into muscle-building mode.
It's time for more flexibility. Better endurance. And the ability to heft some serious poundage.
Let's create a stronger writing life.
What's going on in your life when you feel strong as a writer? What skills are in place, what habits?
Have you seen how the right habits build strength in you, as a thinker, a creator, a writer? What creative muscles are you most itching to target?
Where do you most want to increase strength this fall?