Being green (with youth, with envy)

When I was stressed out about my schoolwork and wanted to take a break this semester, I started re-reading the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. When I first read them in 2018, I read them faster than I’d read pretty much any book in the past few years. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I loved (and still love) the books so much I’m trying to emulate the narrator’s voice in writing exercises in my journal. I recommend them at every possible moment. I evangelize these books so hard.

And I feel like the novels are a cleverly-disguised grab bag of ideas; everyone finds something in there that’s tailor-made for them. Based on the Goodreads reviews, readers grasp the intricacy and complexity of the novels, but they also subtly highlight the defining quality that held the books together for them, whether it’s the strong connection to a place, the intensity of the central female friendship, or the turbulent political atmosphere that’s more explicit in the later books.

For me, what holds the story together is the narrator, Elena Greco, and not just because the books stay in her point of view. I feel that I am Elena, especially during her early adult years. Her relationship with her mother is tense and rife with conflict, but also contains moments of affection. Education is her way of advancing her status, but when she does succeed in that new arena, she is still dragged down by an intense self-doubt. And then, probably the characteristic I felt the closest to most of all: Writing eventually becomes the lens through which she sees the world.

In the novels, Elena Greco publishes her first book after graduating from university, around the age of 22.

For me, I have not yet experienced that kind of success.

Throughout the past few years, I’ve absorbed all kinds of advice on writing and publishing. (I’ve even sometimes dispensed my own, somewhat meager, advice on the former.) And there is a certain kind of combo advice and motivational speech that published authors dispense when asked to give some words to the aspiring: “Never give up.” “I was rejected a hundred times before I published my first piece.” “You never know if the thousandth attempt is going to be the lucky one.” Et cetera. And I feel like I have taken this advice to heart. I have my rejections, and I have even flaunted them in a way (i.e., occasionally in my Instagram story where it will disappear in 24 hours). But it is still hard to take sometimes, especially when so many success stories seem to emphasize youth and vitality.

I am 26 years old now. This coming week, I’ll be turning 27. I’m still laughably, sickeningly young, and yet also worried that the youth card will be revoked soon. Who cares if I publish? I didn’t do it fast enough.

When I was 21, I had my first ever short story accepted by a literary magazine at my university. I was taking an introductory creative writing class while studying abroad in Australia, and the first story I had workshopped was the one I decided to submit, on a bit of a whim, the day before the deadline. A few months later, I ended up getting an acceptance, when I was expecting a rejection.

That early success went to my head in much the same way that Elena’s first invitation to submit a short piece to a magazine unleashed a torrent of daydreaming about writing. I started having grand ideas of submitting somewhere every month, of getting story after story out into the world. But, as you can see from my somewhat paltry publication record (at the time of posting this), that hasn’t been the case.

Here’s what I didn’t take into account in the throes of my immature ambition: I did a lot of writing to get that first story to a good place. I had written three different stories before stumbling on the one I would eventually take to my class for feedback. I edited. A lot. I sat at my desk for hours copying it by hand, making tweaks to it as I went, then spent more time marking it up, then typing it again, tweaking it again. I did this because early in the semester I had the energy for it. My other stories submitted to the class later on didn’t get that same attention. And it’s no wonder they ended up not going anywhere.

Since that first success, I’ve grown a little more realistic about writing and publishing. I’ve stopped seeing my twenties as this benchmark, this window of time when I can launch my career as a writer. And I’ve also become more familiar with the things I personally need to do to get my stories to a good place. Write. Rewrite. Edit. Become intimately familiar with every word of a story. Step back and give it time. All things that writers before me have said.

I revisited the Neapolitan Novels a lot this semester because I had a lot on my plate. I was in a Fiction workshop, a Poetry workshop, and a Science Fiction class that had a workshop component; I co-taught an undergraduate Creative Writing class; and I also took a class on climate change. I have felt euphoria in my writing and intense self-doubt on re-reading it. In those moments of self-doubt, I returned to a book I admired. On my second full read-through of the series, I am finding so much more in it than I had initially.

And this is the only way I know how to ripen from green to a full-flushed color: Reading and re-reading. Becoming familiar with every word of the stories (and people and places and experiences) I love.

Stepping back and giving it time.

Breaks and beginnings

Even-numbered years, for me, tend to be split in two. In 2014 I graduated from college; the first half of that year was characterized by my being a full-time student, and the second half of the year by my being a full-time employee. In 2016 I switched jobs from that first full-time job to a new one more in line with my passions and interests. And in 2018, I left that job to return to school and start my time at an MFA program.

Maybe it’s the nature of even numbers, cleanly bisected, that lends them to before-and-afters. Maybe it’s my pattern-seeking brain finding recurring themes in the even-numbered years (elections, Olympics, decades, etc.). Or maybe it’s the timing of my birth; born in the first half of an even-numbered year, my graduation milestones typically happen in even-numbered years, splitting them between one education level and another (with an interminable summer in between).

Whatever the reason, it’s the split years that have felt the most satisfactory, in a way. I feel like I’ve changed the most in these even-numbered years (before-and-afters, of course) that I’ve started to develop some nervous anticipation around odd-numbered years. On some level, I’ve already unconsciously decided that 2019 couldn’t possibly be as good for me as 2018 was, so I’ll save my energy for 2020.

Then again: 2011 was the year I got together with my partner (with whom I’m still in a relationship); 2013 I studied abroad and took my first creative writing class; 2015 I did my first NaNoWriMo; and 2017 I started pursuing creative writing and publishing again in earnest. If even-numbered years are characterized by before-and-afters, odd-numbered years are characterized by beginnings.

I can only speculate what beginnings are in store for me in 2019. One of my projects this winter break is to plant the seeds for summer vacation as much as possible. Apply for summer writing workshops, fit in as much travel as I can, and save money in the meantime for these pursuits. But the thing about beginnings, for me, is that they happen somewhat suddenly. I can never really plan for what next desire will derail me onto a whole new track.

Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it in the new year.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Building a reputation (beyond writing and publishing)

Let me say this first: The best way to increase your writing reputation is to get published. Whether it’s publishing a well-received indie or self-pubbed title, or getting published in literary journals or widely-read magazines, getting your work out there, from what I understand, is the way to demonstrate that you are a writer of repute.

But sometimes, the publishing game can become a vicious circle. Publications may rely on name recognition or your past publishing history to determine whether or not to take your work, but how can you build that history if no one will publish you? While some of this advice may feel like putting the cart before the horse (i.e., giving marketing advice without having something to market), I do think that building your writing reputation can help you get off on the right foot when you start gaining traction with your writing.

To start, let’s talk about online relationships and network building.

This semester, I’m taking a course called Teaching of Literature and the Literature Curriculum, and it’s part pedagogy course, part literature criticism and analysis. One of the course requirements is to be somewhat active on Twitter, not just to extend the discussion from the classroom into public, online spaces, but to also connect with other teachers to share ideas, resources, and engage in some digital networking to inform our future teaching careers. We’re required to follow teachers on Twitter, participate in Twitter chats, and share our thoughts on English education using the course hashtag.

It has been really fascinating to use Twitter as part of a class, having used it in a personal and professional capacity. It’s helped reveal to me some of the aspects of social media that I’ve picked up somewhat unconsciously, and I’ve been finding some ways in which my use of Twitter for class can inform the ways I use Twitter for my writing. Engaging in hashtag games, Twitter chats, and more are all relatively easy ways to connect with fellow writers and also reach potential readers. There’s a lot of talk about having an “online presence” and the do’s and don’ts of being online (DO tweet regularly, but DON’T have your account be just purely promoting your book, etc.). But it’s more than just having a place people can go to find out more information about you and your writing. It’s also a place for you to go and find people who are doing interesting things.

All this said, there is still something to building connections offline; it’s a matter of meeting people where they are.

Working in social media, marketing, and communications, the main argument for using social media is that it is “where everyone is.” It’s where conversations and sharing are happening, and we should be meeting people where they are. However, there are still limitations to social media. There’s a minimum requirement for tech (a smartphone or laptop, a reliable internet connection, etc.) that may be difficult for many people to reach. The ethereal algorithm makes it so that it’s not a guarantee that what you share on social media will actually reach everyone you want it to reach. And then there’s the fact that people are in a love-hate relationship with social media right now, and the advice to occasionally disconnect from the online world becomes more and more prevalent.

Which is why I also recommend disconnecting every once in a while and finding in-person events to attend. This past weekend I went to the Twin Cities Book Festival and got to see a lot of different vendors and presses, even chatting occasionally with authors and asking questions about their work. I’ve also taken in-person creative writing classes in New York with Gotham Writers, and have been to events in the Asian American Writers’ Workshop space. Attending these classes and these events have broadened my horizons and also put me in contact with people who have become essential to my writing life (and my life in general), from new writing friends to mentors who believe in my journey as a writer.

Sometimes location can make it difficult to find events to attend. I’ve moved from New York City to Ames, Iowa for grad school, and there has been a dramatic change in the kind of access I have to writing events. However, I’m lucky that my university has a robust lecture and event series that I can take advantage of, and there are nearby cities that have more of the literary events that I’m looking for. Plus, in an area that might be bereft of literary life, it might be an incentive to start a new events series.

Another possible way to build your writing reputation is to volunteer in specific writing capacities.

This past year or so I’ve been volunteering as a reader for Empire and Great Jones Little Press for their three journals, Ember, Spark, and Zetetic. As part of my MFA I’m also reading slush for the journal Flyway, which is run by the program. These can help build my writing reputation because I’m part of these literary publications and am getting experience in this part of the writing/publishing process.

Other ways to volunteer in specifically writing capacities that I can think of: Teaching or running an after school writing program, being a Municipal Liaison for a local NaNoWriMo chapter, creating an in-person meet-up for writers at your local public library. All of these are great ways to build local connections but also demonstrate to others outside of these local contexts that you have experience and have immersed yourself heavily in this world.

All this said, remember to step back and appreciate the time and effort you have put in so far, and recognize your achievements.

Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve published, or maybe your social media growth is stagnating for one reason or another. These periods will happen, and it can be a great time to reflect back on all that you have done so far to build up your reputation as a writer. View them from a different light, share the memories with people on social or in person, and use them as a way to focus where you want to go from here.

What do you think? What are other ways writers can build their writing reputation (aside from publishing)?


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Header image from Pixabay.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Keep a little of your self for yourself

I’ve been grappling with the “Write what you know” adage again. Earlier this month, about midway through the third week of classes, I made a list in my journal of “Things I have learned in grad school so far.” At the top of that list is this little note to myself:

Keep your interests and passions alive…Not everything you experience has to be fuel for your creative fire. In fact, it is probably best if that’s not the case. I am all for going out and experiencing life and drawing from your well of memories to inform your creative work. But keep a little of your self for yourself.

I know that the old saying of “Write what you know” is largely a matter of being able to convey truth in fiction. “Write what you know” means using your knowledge to inform a story, making it more believable to the reader, and doesn’t necessarily mean that you must write solely based on lived experience.

But the idea still persists that writers, to some degree, must use their lives and their memories to fuel their creative works. Pushing this idea, though, can quickly become problematic.

I think of this tweet thread from the poet Chen Chen:

When I read this tweet thread, I couldn’t hit the retweet button fast enough. And I feel that this idea may work in reverse: Not only is there the presumption that minorities have more trauma to write about, but when they do write about trauma, they must be writing from personal experience.

Do my experiences (some of which, yes, aren’t all sunshine and daisies) inform the stories I write? Yes. My stories are often built up around something I’ve done that I then twist, change, and alter until I’m not writing about a memory but something completely new. Still, I sometimes worry that, although I am writing fiction, readers may try to “decode” the story by retracing my steps to find the original sliver of my reality that served as the starting point, and then take it one step too far to try and decode me. While I don’t strictly believe in the “death of the author” mode of performing literary criticism, I don’t particularly enjoy the idea of people trying to pass judgement on my life through the medium of the stories I tell. That’s unfair, I think, to all stories that writers write.

I’ve deviated a little from the first lesson I’ve learned in grad school: Keep the passion for things outside of writing alive. I worry, sometimes, that the idea of creative burnout isn’t taken seriously enough. Not only are writers overworked, with the constant hustle of the publishing game and all of the necessary tasks that pile up in order to make a living as a writer. But there’s an expectation that writers, and all creative types, must perform some kind of self-immolation in order to be a “real” artist. Everything about us is fair game for the works we produce. But we can’t complain about how heavily this weighs on us, because artists have the “luxury” of pursuing passion rather than pragmatism.

Don’t buy into it. Keep a little of your self for yourself.

What do you think? Is everything in a writer’s life fair game? How do you find the balance between your writing life and your personal life, if such a balance exists?


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Melt

A few weeks ago, my partner and I listened to an episode of the podcast Hidden Brain about a phenomenon called summer melt. Summer melt is what happens when a student who has matriculated at a university fails to make it to the first day. They “melt” away in the summer because their finances fell through, or their plans changed, or other reasons that may or may not have been in their control. And in the weeks between listening to that episode and leaving for Iowa, I had summer melt on the brain. Constantly.

Summer melt felt like a real possibility for me. I feared that I wouldn’t pack in time, or I wouldn’t be able to afford the relocation, or that there was a mistake and my acceptance had been revoked. I feared that I would end up putting so much time and effort into something that just wouldn’t work. It kept me up at night. It made it harder to actually accomplish the things that needed to get done. But gradually, once I was no longer working full-time, once I packed up my bookcases, once I booked my flight, once I paid my university bill, once I made a number of incremental steps towards the start of the semester, the fear of summer melt faded.

Yesterday was the first official day of classes at Iowa State University, but the luck of my schedule meant that I didn’t have any classes to attend. And today I only had one class, a seminar on sustainable agriculture. Having made it to and through my first class, I finally feel like the fear is gone altogether.

I don’t remember fearing summer melt when I was going into my undergraduate years. Maybe it was because I didn’t know about it, so ignorance kept me from fixating on it too much. Maybe it was because my younger self felt more invincible, more invulnerable, and I didn’t think about the things that could go wrong as much as I think about those things now. Maybe it was because I had seen my siblings start their college careers, been with them from move in day through to their graduations, before I had to start that process myself. Or maybe it was because I had spent a few days in New York for an orientation session over the summer before the semester started. Maybe the three days of orientation, enough to get me to fall in love with the city, gave me the confidence I needed to get my act together and make it to the fall.

Whatever the reason, eight years ago, I didn’t fear summer melt. Instead, I only suffered from anticipation, impatient to start my first semester at college.

During the final few months of living in New York City, it took an enormous amount of energy to be able to see the city with the same level of optimism, the same feverish pursuit, that same kind of love that my eighteen-year-old self had. Much of that had transferred to my graduate program, even though I hadn’t visited the college or really knew what I was getting myself into by going to graduate school. My prediction is that in three years, or six years, or another eight years, when I’ve earned my degree and am making the next big leap in my life, I’ll have that same feeling of wanting to catapult myself into the future.

And I’m sure I’ll fear melting again.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Learning how to write, part two

When I wrote this Author Toolbox Blog Hop post back in January, I had just finished submitting the last of my graduate school applications. Once I got my sixth and final confirmation email that my application materials were received, I immediately thought that I would get flat rejections from all six programs. All of the doubts and worries about not getting in anywhere filled the vacuum that writing samples and personal statements had left behind. So I put together a learning plan to improve my skills and be in a better position to get accepted the second time around.

But then in March I got a call from my top choice school, Iowa State University, telling me I was accepted and also offered the Pearl Hogrefe Fellowship in Creative Writing. By that point, I had fallen behind on most parts of my plan, but I was still writing regularly. Fast forward to the past few weeks wrapping up loose ends with my job while also saying my goodbyes to New York City and the people in it. I’ve been barely writing at all because of how much I had to get done before moving.

Now, I’m in Ames, nervous and excited and ready as I’ll ever be for this new phase of my writing life.

There are countless articles, blogs, and pro/con lists about the MFA degree and whether or not it’s “worth it.” When I read through some of these things as I was making the decision to apply, the only thing I became certain of was that there’s no one true answer to the MFA question, no hard Yes or No. I had to decide the “worthiness” on my own, and eventually I decided that yes, I wanted to pursue this. For me, my reasons for applying boiled down to:

  • Wanting to throw myself into writing to see how far I could go with it; an MFA environment can give me the time, space, and support to experiment and learn.
  • Wanting to meet more writers like me, who were seeking that same time, space, and support to learn and grow.
  • Wanting to go back to school for a graduate degree; a fully-funded MFA program fit the bill.
  • Wanting a change of scenery; as much as I loved New York, it was getting a little overwhelming.
  • Wanting a way to transition from my current career path to something in publishing, whether as an author or editor; there are obviously many ways to do this, and an MFA program can be one of them.

Classes start next week, and so far (before I’ve even officially started the program) I feel confident that I’ll be fulfilling all of the wants I’ve listed above. Already I’ve met some of the members of my cohort, all of them friendly and fascinating, and Ames is definitely a change of scenery from New York. We’ll see in three years if my feeling is right.

Do you have a degree in creative writing? What do you think of creative writing programs in general?


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Header image from Pixabay.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Duotrope and the resume of failures

I regularly review my resume about once a month, not because I’m always actively looking for a job, but because it’s generally a good idea to keep it updated. My job responsibilities might have changed, or I might have some professional achievement that I want to put on there. And every time I do this review and update, I also think about the things that I want to put on there.

I want to have more publications to list, I want to add more soft and hard skills related to writing, I want more relevant experience to show how my professional life has developed and changed. And when I think about the things I want on my resume, I think about the work that I need to put in behind the scenes to get there.

Alongside the resume I regularly update, I have another document that gets a similar treatment that’s almost like my resume’s shadow. It’s my resume of failures, and it’s a concept I came across a few years ago from scientist Melanie Stefan, Ph.D1. The title is pretty self-explanatory: This is a document of my rejections, not just from literary magazines, but from other things like colleges, fellowships, and other things I’ve applied for and didn’t get. There’s the saying—”You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”—and this document shows me all of the shots I did take.

In general, it’s a good idea to keep track of submissions and the final decisions, if only for purely practical reasons. You want to make sure you’re not submitting multiple times to journals that don’t take multiple submissions, or making sure you’re not breaking guidelines around simultaneous submissions. For data and tracking like that, I rely on Duotrope2. Duotrope is a database of projects, publications, and even literary agents for writers and artists to submit work to. The site has a number of tools to track your writing and can also calculate stats like acceptance rate and turnaround time. A $5 monthly fee lets you create an account and access all of the resources available. To me, it’s worth it just to be able to keep track of submissions, though the calculations are also extremely useful.

However, although Duotrope is a powerful tool to help me keep track of my submissions, I still have this resume of failures. Because like my normal resume, I feel galvanized to try and add to it. It motivates me to take more shots, because even if I fail, those attempts still have a place to go. I turn a failure into a success, and that helps me continue writing and submitting.

What about you? Would you consider building a resume of failures? What helps you stay motivated in pursuing writing?


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Header image from Pixabay.

Notes

[1] A CV of failures, Melanie Stefan, Ph.D., Naturejobs.com

[2] Duotrope.com — from the site: “Duotrope is an established, award-winning resource for writers and artists. We help you save time finding publishers or agents for your work, so you can focus on creating. “

Long goodbyes

I have lived in New York City for the past eight years, and come this August I will be moving away to earn an MFA at Iowa State University in Creative Writing and Environment. Though it’s still up in the air whether or not I will return to NYC after I finish the program, I have been saying my goodbyes as if this were for good.

During the past few months since accepting the place at Iowa State, I have been spending some time out of the city for various reasons: a writers’ retreat in California, my brother’s wedding in Indiana, and other, small trips here and there. And during every trip I’ve felt like a rubber band stretched just shy of snapping apart. Coming back to New York felt like relaxing back into my original shape, one that feels as easy as the grid of Manhattan.

On one recent trip, my boyfriend and I visited some of my family in Virginia. My paternal grandmother left for the Philippines a few days ago, so much of my extended family gathered the weekend before she left to say goodbye.

I have a large family, but our interactions and reunions are somewhat infrequent (at least, my interactions and reunions with them are somewhat infrequent), and so I’ve forgotten what family get-togethers are like. The chaos of being in one place, the constant conversations that branch and split and spiderweb across a room. And, of course, the long goodbyes.

As a kid these used to annoy me. After hours spent at a relative’s house, playing with other kids our age, my siblings and I would inevitably ask, “When are we going to go home?” And our parents would answer with a vague, “Soon,” and continue their conversations with the other adults. Even as we made progress toward leaving—moving from the dining room to the living room to the hall closet where we put our shoes and jackets—the time from the initial inquiry to the actual act of leaving felt like hours.

When my boyfriend and I went to Virginia, our goodbyes at the end of the visit weren’t long like this. They were just long enough to convey the message: “Goodbye for now. See you later.”

Maybe I feel some residual aversion to goodbyes because of the way they tended to linger in my family. Since coming to New York, I’ve become the type of person to slip, hopefully unnoticed, out of a party or gathering of any kind, moving on to the next thing, going to the next place. But as I prepare for leaving this city, I find myself taking more scenic routes, prolonging my time with my feet on the pavement. I take it in, counting the steps from home to wherever I am going.

And the packing process for the upcoming move has felt incredibly daunting. I hadn’t really started until this week, and I have this constant panic in the back of my mind that I didn’t actually give myself enough time. Though we don’t have many possessions, there has still been a steady accumulation of things, first from four years of college, then from four years of living in this apartment building. It’s amazing how things get lost in the back of a deep drawer, or fall into the spaces behind bookcases. As I find more and more things I have to say goodbye to, I find that I want more time to say it.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Practicing voice

I’ve just finished reading the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein), and if you haven’t read them yet, I highly recommend that you do. But among the many virtues of these books, one that really struck me was the voice.

Over the course of the four novels, I became so familiar with the voice of the point of view character, a woman named Elena Greco, that I felt myself unconsciously starting to write in it. (I often have this tendency to imitate; I fear the day I might meet my current celebrity crush, Tom Hiddleston, and accidentally do a bad impression of his accent.)

I decided to fully commit and try on the voice for myself. At first, I tried to spice up my own, personal journaling about my real life by writing about my day in the voice of Ferrante’s narrator. The narrator—not the character. To me, this distinction is crucial. I felt that writing from the perspective of Elena Greco would be somewhat restrictive; an Italian woman in her 60s probably wouldn’t have much to say about my life. I wasn’t looking to write from a total outsider’s perspective, but rather wanted to imitate the intimacy, the attention to detail that Elena projected on her friend Lila’s life, and on her own experience. So I focused on what the narrator sounded like, the word choice, the sentence structure. I focused on what details the narrator drew out and described facial expressions, attitude, the atmosphere between characters.

Voice experimentation and practice through imitation isn’t unheard of, but I hadn’t really done it in the past. Now, having written through this exercise a few times, I can see how useful it is to help me pick out what makes a writing voice unique. Hopefully, that means I’m improving this aspect of my own writing that can be difficult to pin down but is so necessary to great storytelling.

What are your favorite ways to work on voice? Let me know!


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

P.S. The header image is a photo I took of the third Neapolitan Novel. I was on a work retreat and had trouble falling asleep, so would read basically until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I woke up one day to the sight of the book in bed with me.

P.P.S. Another thing I’ve been enjoying is Elena Ferrante’s column in the Guardian. Check it out: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/series/elena-ferrantes-weekend-column

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: The limits of being an introvert

This past week, from March 14th to through the 18th, I attended session 1 of the 2018 Northern California Writers’ Retreat. I learned so much during those five days, and the experience was incredibly rewarding.

But I am (still) very jetlagged as of writing this blog post, so the full rundown of the retreat will have to be saved for later.

What I do want to talk about is the limits of being an introvert when it comes to building a writing career.

According to a personality test I took a few years ago (that still rings true today), I am an extreme introvert. So one of the many reasons why fiction writing has always appealed to me as a full-time job was this idea that I could find a way to work while being allowed a certain amount of solitude. I have this perception of writers, and creative types in general, as working in relative secret until the work is ready to be revealed. I believed that writers could dedicate themselves to their craft, and recognition (and money) would naturally follow as long as the quality of the work was there.

There is a small amount of truth to this; certainly, if your work isn’t good (or at the very least, effective), then it won’t launch you anywhere. But what often goes unreported is the kind of work that goes into getting that publishing deal and selling your books—the work of putting yourself out there.

I’m not just talking about marketing your book. That’s a separate discussion for a different blog post. Nor do I mean having an online presence so that readers can find you. That’s part of it, but isn’t enough. There are many, intermediate steps from writing a book to publishing it that require writers to regularly interact with other people, whether they’re fellow writers, potential readers, editors, or agents. For example, going to conferences to attend panels, pitch fests, and meet-and-greets can go a long way in making connections with decision-makers in the publishing industry. As an extreme introvert, just the thought of these events terrify me, even though I understand how crucial these interactions are.

This isn’t to say that introverts must become extroverts in order to succeed as career writers, nor am I saying that all introverts will fail to get a publishing deal. After all, the introverted writer stereotype persists. But I must recognize that my extreme introversion will come up against its limits as I advance my writing career.

The internet and social media have, of course, changed how much this is true. There are Twitter pitch events that have resulted in book deals, and self-publishing in general has become more lucrative, especially with the rise of e-books, crowdfunding, and other monetization strategies. But I do think that there is no real substitute for making connections. The definition of being there “in person” may change as technology does, but there will still be some requirement to be there as much as possible.

(Sidebar: This discussion about “being there” connects to the limits of accessibility for comes to writers with a physical disability. I recognize that I am privileged in the sense that I can physically access the places where these writing events and networking take place, but there are plenty of extremely talented writers who do not. If being present and participating is essential in order to grow a writing career, how can we make sure that these spaces are accessible to everyone?)

I am still trying to figure out what I can do to be more comfortable in these interactions, but I wanted to share some final thoughts, based on my experience at the Northern California Writers’ Retreat:

  • It’s easier to interact if it’s about writing. I may not be able to speak like a normal human being in casual conversation (I die from secondhand embarrassment at my past self making small talk), but when it comes to talking about writing, the conversation is easier. It’s still awkward if I find that I haven’t read the same books or have common texts with the people I’m talking to, but it’s easier to talk about writing and storytelling than anything else.
  • I may not always have something to add to a conversation, but I can always react to what others are saying and ask questions. The participation portions of my grades throughout college were always dismal, so it gives me a lot of anxiety to think that I have to participate in everything all the time. But 1) I am not being graded, and 2) I can always listen closely and actively to what others are saying, and sometimes that is enough.
  • I don’t have to think about many of these things right now. Whether it’s agonizing over a pitch or attending conferences to make connections, I don’t have to think about them right now. Why? Because I have to write my damn manuscript.

What do you think? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? And how do you think these things will help or hinder you in your publishing career?


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Header image from Pixabay.