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On Being INTJ – And Growing

(Psst! I’m making this blog post available as a Podcast for the first time ever! Check it out here, if that’s your thing.)

Can I be really brave with you guys in this post?

This message has been growing in my heart over the past few months, but I’m nervous to share it with you. I’m afraid that the fact that I’ve struggled so hard with this stuff will reflect poorly on me. I’m afraid of getting this message wrong, or that no one will find these topics as moving and powerful as I do.

But here’s the thing: I really, truly believe in this message. And I made a commitment to be brave this year, and uniquely myself, and I think this post qualifies.

Here’s my truth:

A few months ago I was explaining to a friend the struggle of growing up INTJ and how I’ve changed (and changed myself) over the years. How embarrassed I was by the things I said and did when I was younger, how hard it was to find a place to fit into the world (and sometimes still is), and how radically my job in human resources influenced my growth.

“I know,” she said. “You told me this, once. Years ago.”

Years?

It turns out I have a narrative about myself as someone only recently on the kinder side of things. I guess part of me still feels I’ve only just escaped my old thought patterns. Some part still thinks I have to apologize and preemptively warn people I might slip up and say something completely insensitive, and how hard I’m trying to overcome that.

That blog post I made two years ago discusses the the trials and glories of the INTJ personality type, but I’ve never really explained how I taught myself to evolve beyond the more negative aspects.

In the current political climate I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this: How does one move past judgmental, detached thinking into empathetic, compassionate thinking?

I want to use this blog post to explain how it happened for me, and condense the years of wisdom I’ve accumulated on these topics to hopefully help someone else who wants to change, but doesn’t know how.

But listen, another (terrified) part of me thinks you might read this and go, “Wow, what a freak. Was it really so difficult for you to like and get along with people like, you know, an ordinary human being?”

Have I not made that clear by now? Yes.

If making friends and just generally interacting with people was easy for you from the start, I’m very glad for you. It wasn’t like that for me. My introversion, my social anxiety, my neurotic logical floundering… I was just built and grew up in a way that made people-stuff hard. And because of that, I’ve had to study and practice and dig to get at the heart of what people-stuff is all about, and how I could bring myself more into the fold.

Here’s what I found:

Continue reading “On Being INTJ – And Growing”

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A Collection of the Best Tweets Related to Diversity in YA

As mentioned in my last post, there have been so many great discussions in the YA community lately concerning diversity. It’s a complicated topic, and this can lead to misunderstanding and fighting. The conversations necessarily have to include discussions of privilege, permission, cultural appropriation, giving criticism, receiving criticism, responding to criticism, how to be an ally, whether the term ‘ally’ should even be used, etc.

I haven’t been participating except to retweet occasionally, because I don’t feel qualified to enter the fray. I’m listening instead, trying to absorb as much as I can so I can bring accurate, well-done diversity to my own projects. These are the tweets I’ve collected that, for me, strike at the heart of the matter. I hope you find them as moving or educational as I did:

(the whole thread of the above tweet is super good, but this was my fave:)

In summary:

Diversity is not a trend, a fad, or something only the cool people are doing. Diversity is reality. We live in a diverse world. Representation is important. It is vital for us to change our issue with poor representation, on behalf of ourselves so that we can continue to dismantle our own internal prejudices, and on behalf of the people growing up behind us. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the work we do today can enable children who haven’t even been born yet to enter a world where they can see themselves as the main characters, the champions, the superheroes?

White writers are ‘allowed’ to write diverse characters. No one is telling you to only write characters just like you. In fact, we should include diverse characters, to reflect the natural diversity of the world around us! But if you engage in tokenism, stereotyping, or poorly recreate the experience of being a person different from yourself, expect to get called out on it. Receive that criticism with grace and apology. Vow to educate yourself, not place the burden of educating you on those calling you out. Then follow through. Get better.

Support diversity (This list is a good place to start). Vote with your dollars. If you are in the publishing industry itself, dismantle your own prejudices and make sure you’re giving diverse writers a seat at the table.

Treat each other with love. We’re all humans here. Listen to those who say they are hurting. Believe them. Figure out what you can do to make it hurt less.

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Defining Yourself by Work, not Success

These tidbits from the February 2016 Nelson Literary Agency Newsletter (not my agency but their newsletters are great!) really struck a chord with me:

Your Writing Should Not Be Your Main Source of Validation For Who You Are as a Person – Kristin Nelson

I think this can be the most debilitating mistakes an aspiring writer can make. There be dragons if you start down this mental path.

But here is the reason you need to start thinking like an agent and less like a writer when it comes to submitting your material. If someone passes on your work, that rejection is not a commentary on your qualities as a human being. In a lot of instances, it’s not even a commentary on your ability or talent as a writer!

No matter what an industry person’s response is to your written work, your writing is only one facet of who you are as a human being. Don’t make it everything, or you may lose your joy of writing and find the whole business very depressing indeed.

Ms. Nelson’s article is inspiring and reassuring, but I have a different perspective on her ultimate conclusion. Writing absolutely defines who I am–but my writing career does not, and the difference is an important one.

I used to define myself by my ‘career.’ Ever since I decided in fourth grade I was going to be a writer (abandoning dreams of ‘flying’ as an astronaut), I judged myself by my talents. For many years I was thankfully blind to my faults due to the attention I received from friends and English teachers. I say ‘thankfully’ because if I knew how bad I truly was I might not have written so much or dared to dream so big. And in high school it was fairly easy to shine–I even had an article published in TeenInk which bolstered my cockiness significantly, not to mention the medium-sized but sincere following at Fictionpress for Nameless.

Although it hurt my ego not to have a novel published while still a teenager, like my imaginary rival Christopher Paolini, I did sign with my agent at age 19 and that was a comfort. But even as my understanding of my weaknesses increased, so did my expectation that my worth was defined by my ‘success.’ And for the first year of having an agent, that was good enough. But selling a book just sort of… kept… not… happening. Around me, friends and colleagues were signing deals left and right. But it didn’t happen for me.

I’m on the far side of my twenties now. Still a baby, to most! But my perspective is a lot different than when I was on the other side. At the time, it seemed like there was no tomorrow. If I didn’t catch the debut circles of 2009… 2010… 2011…2012… Then I’d miss the boat entirely. No writing career. No success. Thanks for playing, goodbye.

Maybe it’s because I truly joined the industry in those years, and thought the writer circles I was aware of would be permanent and unchanging, that the big names of 2010 would be the big names for all time. That the incredible frenzy of debuting would always surround the new writers I’d come to know and admire.

But it doesn’t.

And slowly, my awareness expanded to realize that despite how it felt, writing isn’t a race. It’s a marathon. And you’re not really competing against anyone but yourself. Sure, you can see the other runners’ times if you want to, but the only marker for success is the one you place for yourself. Look, I’m 6’2. I weigh 200+ pounds. I’ll never be able to sprint along at an eight minute mile for miles at a time. But when I ran a single (12+ minute) mile without stopping for the first time in my life I was as proud as if I’d completed a full 26-mile marathon. For me, for my journey, that was a win.

Writing is the same. As Maggie Stiefvater put it, it’s not Maggie versus other writers, it’s Maggie versus Maggie. I’m not trying to keep up with anyone else anymore, I’m simply trying to do the best I can in comparison to myself. The market–that’s out of my control. You know what isn’t?

Writing. I can’t stop telling myself stories. I can’t stop imagining new situations, characters, heartbreaks, exchanges. It’s part of who I am. I don’t have a book deal, but that hasn’t stopped me from working on the novels clamoring to break out of me. I would keep writing books my whole life even if I never sold one, because that’s me.

And I think it’s okay to define myself like that. I’m a writer. I’m not an author–yet–but you know what? That word never really did it for me. Writing is exciting. It’s a personal journey with a magnificent destination at the end. It’s a way to share the things that grow inside my mind–A truly bizarre concept, by the way. Why on earth do I feel the need to express these made up scenarios just to describe a fabricated sense of emotion I’ve never felt in real life but want to synthesize because it’s fun? No idea. But having the kind of mind that creates those abstract things, and honing my skills so I can better express them–that’s an irrevocable part of who I am.

As I learned more about yoga and meditation last year I realized that writing is my spiritual practice. It’s expression and self-improvement rolled into one. It is the art that compels me to improve myself in all aspects, and to pursue wisdom about life and being human.

Writing is the garden I work in. Bearing fruit will be satisfying, but that’s only a few minutes of sweetness. Do you think any reasonable person would put in all those months of labor just to eat a single, consumable piece of fruit at the end? No, they’d trot down to the store and buy it instead. But I’m not laboring for the moment of fruition. Not really. I’m doing it for the work itself, for the deep satisfaction of growing something, especially because sometimes that something is me.

And yes, part of my spiritual practice is to keep my eyes on my own paper and focus on writing the best book I can, and to not worry about the rest of it.

Savannah versus Savannah.

Savannah is winning.

As long as I keep writing.

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Writing Revelation: Specificity and Courage

I had a very interesting writing experience with Nameless the other day that I’d like to both record and explore with this blog post.

Side note: Yes, Nameless!!! I’ve turned in edits on The Cobworld and launched immediately into continuing with the new draft on Nameless, which I’d last delved into this past July. This summer I added around 4k words, and I’ve added an additional 7.5k this month, so the total manuscript is now around 65k. Only 35k more to go (and hopefully less)!

A few nights ago I wrote a scene I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It’s an action sequence involving a lot of people in a large area, and a pivotal moment in the book. I’d been picturing it, and telling myself the story of how it would feel to read, but hadn’t given much thought to the actual words. (In hindsight that’s a warning from my subconscious: if I’m thinking in pictures instead of words, either the scene isn’t ready, or I need to do some hard work to figure out the facts.)

And so, I wrote a thousand words describing what happened. Lots of movement, large groups of people, very little dialogue. It was more describing a flow of movement and crowd reactions versus what was going on with individual characters. I meant it to be sweeping, to have momentum.

It sucked.

I did a thing I’ve done lots of times over the years: I rush past details in an effort to trick the reader. I use long sentences, and gloss over descriptions. It feels like performing on a burning stage, dancing and singing as fast and as loud as I can to distract the audience from the catastrophe that’s really going on.

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Accurate description of my problem.

The writing isn’t technically bad. The sentences are formed correctly. Nothing is purple or over-the-top. But if I had to re-read it I would cringe because I know it’s the equivalent of being super loud and outgoing at a party because you’re afraid no one will like you.

And for years, I’d let this bad writing stay. It technically accomplishes its purpose, and it allows me to move on and finish the book, but eventually some brilliant person will come along behind me and say, “This isn’t working.” Then I’ll have to go figure out what it is I hate about this scene so much and why I’m struggling so hard.

And I finally figured out the universal truth of why.

One of the pieces of writing advice I try to follow is: When in doubt, go slower, not faster. This has helped snap me out of the above scenario in the past, but only sometimes. I recognized that I felt better about the writing when I slowed down and examined the character’s thoughts and actions, but it wasn’t quite the universal truth I needed.

26308619Then recently I read The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff. The book contains one short story by each author, with notes detailing their writing process and explanations for the choices they made in the writing process.

Something Maggie Stiefvater (whom I adore) said really stuck with me. It’s something to the effect of, “If I could be the fairy godmother to all new writers, I would whisper in their ears, ‘Be specific!'”

It is specificity that makes good writing. Anyone can describe a person. A good writer will point out the specific things about them that make them interesting. Anyone can write a scene like I did, wide and detached and from 20,000 feet. It is the up-close, micro-view that compels.

This ties in with another lesson I learned over the course of editing The Cobworld: I don’t have a problem with killing  my darlings. I have a problem with deleting bad or mediocre scenes because I’m afraid I can’t replace them with something better.

Specificity and Courage: my two antidotes to that terrible, squicky feeling of trying really hard to disguise bad writing.

So when that revelation barreled into me at a thousand miles per hour, I realized how to fix my bad scene. It’s not as simple as going slower and not faster. It’s about showing the reader how significant that scene really is, by getting very specific with the emotions and actions of the characters living it

And the ridiculous part is, I didn’t even consider how all this action was affecting my point of view character. I was so preoccupied with explaining the vast movement I didn’t think about all the super exciting things I could say about how it felt. Because there are exciting things to say.

I can’t wait to write them down.

Some housekeeping:

I’ve decided to save Fave Five posts for months when I have nothing new to report. If you see one it means I’m still writing, but don’t have any exciting revelations or personal news to share. I mean, this was a big moment for me recently:

 

<3,

Savannah

(Psst: Here’s a video of my gorgeous/hilarious Bella dog playing in the snow. Because I care about your happiness.)

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On Being INTJ

Growing up, I knew I was different. Not different in a good, quirky way, but different in a bad way. I couldn’t make friends. Music made me feel depressed and anxious. I could only take interaction with non-family members for so long before, again, I became depressed and anxious, overwhelmed with the violation of emotions that weren’t my own. I had no understanding of nuance and exceptions; things were or they weren’t and my emotional intelligence was so underdeveloped I could be quite mean, not understanding how my words affected others. Pretty ironic for a writer, huh?

I recognized my failures to be a normal kid but couldn’t understand why it was so. I remember in sophomore Psychology class the teacher asked us what we wanted to get from our experience in the class, and my answer was, ‘how normal people think.’ One girl repeated my words with offense, ‘normal people?!’ and I just looked away, because I knew: I was different, and I couldn’t explain how. No one could, not my friends who accused me of being exhausting and close-minded (they were right), and not the psychologists who just looked at me blankly while I tried to explain my thoughts.

Something was different, something was missing. As a method of self-defense, at times I wore my difference as a badge of pride, even if only internally, though if I’m being honest it always hurt. Still, this self-deception caused me numerous problems as a teenager and it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve been able to let go of it.

Continue reading “On Being INTJ”

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On Being an Older Sister

I have two sisters. One is 3 years younger than me, and one is 10 years younger. I call them my Middle and my Youngest sister.

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Here’s the most recent picture I have of us (Middle on the right, Youngest on the left), and here’s one from last year where we’re flipping our hair like we’re related or something.

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My Middle Sister and I exist on opposite sides of the family spectrum. She has the body type of all our Foley cousins, and physically I’m more on my mother’s side of things. She’s an extrovert, I’m an introvert. She’s more mainstream culture and I’m more indie. She follows trends and I stare at them in bafflement. My parents got one of each and then a compromise, because my Youngest Sister is an exact split between us.

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Here’s me and Youngest Sister on the plane to New Zealand last month.

Continue reading “On Being an Older Sister”

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Changing Perspective: An Outlining Revelation

I experienced a “eureka!” moment recently in regards to outlining, and I’d love to share it with you:

My outlines tend to falter, especially towards the end of books, because I’m not approaching them from the right perspective.

Have you ever played a video game where you can tilt your user perspective? You can watch like a distant god, peering from up high across all creation, or come down to character level and move throughout the game as if you were walking the land yourself.

When I outline, I tend to be at sky-level. Like a puppeteer, I’m peering down into my stage and figuring out how to move my marionettes around. Or like a Chessmaster examining my board and calculating where each piece will end up. I’m very good at technical outlining; I love charts, and diagrams, and color coded maps.

But all that organization and plotting and calculating so frequently fails me. I get to a scene and realize I have no idea why my character would want to make the move I envisioned for them, and suddenly my whole plot falls apart.

Why is that?

Continue reading “Changing Perspective: An Outlining Revelation”

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The Morality of Villain Writing

“Every villain is the hero in their own minds.”

I believe in writing villains that are shades of gray. I want the reader to empathize with the perspective of the villain, and choose the hero’s side anyway — to me that empathy adds depth to the story and makes the villain more realistic.

Moreover, I feel that in certain circumstances creating an entirely evil character is irresponsible. Here’s why:

Continue reading “The Morality of Villain Writing”

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On Growing Ideas From Inspirations to Novels

A long-time reader and friend (who wants to one day perhaps venture into novel-writing) asked me to write a post detailing how an initial inspiration becomes an entire novel. Therefore, in this post I talk about where ideas come from, how to get them, and how to turn some of them into full-fledged, novel-length stories.

“Where do you get your ideas?”

It’s the question writers are asked over and over, and the answer is inevitably the same: Everywhere! (Further delineated into: Dreams! Conversations! Books! It popped into my head!) But what does ‘idea’ really mean? What happens after the initial idea is found? Why do some ideas become novels and others… don’t? Here are my thoughts:

Continue reading “On Growing Ideas From Inspirations to Novels”

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On Endings

Disclaimer: I really wanted to write this with a sassy spin and lots of swearing. But I try to keep it PG-13 around here, so insert your own swear words at will.

I was asked to share my thoughts on writing endings, but here’s the thing: I’m not an endings expert. If I had to pick, I’d say I’m pretty much on Team Kickass Beginnings. Some writers struggle with hooks, or starting the story in the right place, but I’ve got that stuff on lockdown. Endings, though? Not my strong point.

Then I realized the reason I don’t think they’re my strong point is because I’ve struggled with them so much in the past, which actually means I’ve had to learn how to write good endings instead of relying on instinct. So these are the things I know about endings:

Continue reading “On Endings”