Permission to Write—Granted

This was going to be a completely different post. I was going to consider writing rituals—those choices of location and atmosphere that we feel inspire us to be more creative. I was going to talk about superstition, and how it can sometimes be a good thing, if, like a magic feather, it helps to trick your mind into performing.

So I started doing some research. What do other writers—ones with far more authority than I—do to get the creative juices flowing?

I began by paging through my copy of On Writing, by Stephen King, which I first read about seven years ago. But after only a few minutes of this, I was hooked. I opened the book to page one and read it straight through. I finished the next day (it’s not a very long book, and it’s an easy and engaging read, half autobiography and half pep talk).

I’m a more seasoned writer now than I was the first time I read the book, so I noticed different things this time around. Bits of advice that had seemed profound many years ago (avoid adverbs whenever possible, kill your darlings) were now simply nice reminders. What surprised me the most, though, was the message I took away from this second reading: with nearly every page, King grants us permission to write.

It turned out to be a message I really needed to hear that day.

You see, I was feeling a little down about all the time I’d been spending with my laptop. Maybe I was even slightly ashamed of it. “I, uh, write a bit,” was a huge—I mean huge—admission for me. As if my friends and family were going to demand a resume, a bibliography, and three years worth of tax returns to prove my credentials.

You may be familiar with imposter syndrome—that idea that whatever success you’ve had is a fluke, and you’re about to be found out. There have been some excellent Thinking Through Our Fingers posts on it, such as here and here.

Why is this so prevalent among writers? Is it because writers tend to be such an introspective bunch that self-doubt comes naturally to us? Is it because popular culture only venerates the bestsellers, the blockbusters, the top-forty hits? Or is it because the statement, “I’m a writer,” calls to mind stereotypes of pretentious know-it-alls who delight in correcting one’s grammar?

If you (or any of your friends) play golf, you probably don’t mince around with the word golfer. You don’t say, “Well, I golf a bit, but y’know, it’s just something I do when I have time. I haven’t been able to earn a living at it yet.” No. You say, “I’m a golfer.”

My husband’s hobbies are rock-crawling (extreme four-wheel-driving) and desert racing. And while I can’t say he’s never made a dime at it, I can affirm that he’s spent far more money on it than he’s ever made doing it. And he’s never apologized for it, because he loves it. It’s part of what defines him. He’s a rock-crawler. I’m a writer.

Say it with me. I’m a writer. There, that wasn’t so hard.

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So if you’re feeling a little down yourself, feeling like you’re maybe wasting your time, here are some words of permission by Mr. King himself.

“…when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy.” (p. 150)

“If you feel you need permission to do all the reading and writing your little heart desires…consider it hereby granted by yours truly.” (p. 150)

“In writing classes, if nowhere else, it is entirely permissible to spend large chunks of your time off in your own little dreamworld. Still—do you really need permission and a hall-pass to go there? Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word WRITER on it before you can believe you are one? God, I hope not.” (p. 235)

“I have written because it fulfilled me … I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.” (p. 249)

So what are you waiting for? Write. Even if you never make a dollar at it. If it makes you happy, write.

For what it’s worth, you have my permission, too.

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Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of {too much} Solitude

I work at a university, which is another way of saying that I never had to leave school. At least I’m on the other side of the red pen, now. And I still get to have that school year mentality—the one where Christmas break, spring break, and summer vacation are the most wonderful times of the year.

Ah, summer vacation! I start looking forward to it in March (pretty much the day after spring break ends), because I am going to get SO MUCH done. When May rolls around, I think with awe about the months spanning uninterrupted before me. I make elaborate lists: write, work out, write, read, write, yard work, write, home improvement… I wake up early, excited to get started. Why can’t the entire year be like this?

And then, about mid-June, the novelty wears off. I start to get…bored. I sleep in later. Seven a.m. turns into seven-thirty turns into me barely cracking an eye when everyone leaves the house. The sad truth is, as much as I love my writing time, my mind starts to unravel when left to itself for too long.

As I’ve been doing this summer thing for awhile, I’ve developed some coping techniques. When the kids were younger, I was still at my wits’ end by August, but at least it was never dull. Then they started getting drivers’ licenses. The house got too quiet. My low spot was the summer a few years ago when pretty much my sole hobbies were playing Candy Crush and crying (yeah, I know—so many warning signs). After that, I took a good hard look at myself.

Writers, of necessity, spend a lot of time in their heads. We long for those quiet hours when it’s just us and the keyboard. But this isn’t a healthy place to stay for too long. These are some of the things I’ve learned that keep me functioning.

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  1. Take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. After my rock bottom summer, I started seeing a wonderful endocrinologist, who did some blood work and prescribed a medication for hypothyroidism that changed my life. It turns out that was what I needed to combat depression, but everyone is different. Don’t neglect yourself, and don’t downplay symptoms.
  2. Stay in touch with other writers. And not just through text on a computer screen. I have a writer friend I don’t see often, but we message each other every now and then and meet up for lunch. It’s incredibly invigorating to have even just that little bit of contact. Critique groups are wonderful for that, too. Also writing conferences.
  3. Join or start a critique group. I know I mentioned this already, but it’s important enough to repeat. A thriving critique group is hard work, but a go-to support group is a lifesaver. It’s also a source of accountability. I find it a lot easier to sit down at that keyboard when I know three other people are waiting for 5,000 words by Tuesday.
  4. Get some exercise. I am the world’s most reluctant athlete. I don’t get runner’s high—I get runner’s I-hate-this-I’m-so-miserable-and-why-is-it-so-damn-hot-(or-cold-or-windy)? Some might say I don’t run far enough (I’m looking at you, my marathon-running critique partners). My answer to that is…well, I won’t say it here. But even with as little as one yoga session and a couple of walk/jogs with the dogs every week, I find my body refreshed and my brain churning with new ideas.
  5. Hide the snacks. Getting rid of them is best, of course, but that’s too hardcore for me. I’m guilty of leaving treats in plain sight—right at this moment I’ve got a family pack of Reese’s Pieces, some strawberry peanut M&M’s, a bowl of tortilla chips, a box of candy left over from Christmas, and half a bag of chocolate Chex Mix on my kitchen counter. And that’s only what I can remember without going to look. Welcome to my sugar-addicted life. It’s only a few steps from my laptop to Chocolate Heaven—not nearly enough to count as exercise, more’s the pity. But out of sight, out of mind, and putting all that stuff away in a cupboard helps. And right after I finish this, I’m going to do just that.
  6. Train your family to be supportive. This one doesn’t always work. But if you’re fortunate, you may have someone in your life who will not only respect your writing time, but help pull you out of any writerly funks you may fall into.
  7. Learn something new. For awhile, I made a game of developing a new skill every summer. One year, I learned how to knit. Another, I took piano lessons. Last summer, I canned 36 jars of peaches from our tree. (For someone who hates to cook, that’s a huge accomplishment.) New hobbies keep me busy when the words don’t come, and hey, now my characters can talk semi-intelligently about knitting, pianos, and canning fruit. This summer’s goal? Dog agility training. Really.
  8. Or volunteer. Or otherwise become involved with something external and different. My family is usually supportive (see above), but my husband is occasionally guilty of uttering the words, “Since you’re not doing anything this summer, why don’t you…” But you know what? One day a week of working at his business has actually been good for me. For one thing, it resets my mind. After applying it to new and challenging problems, I return to my writing refreshed. Also, new skills: if your characters need intimate knowledge of state and private vehicle impounds in the state of Utah, I’m your guy. And it keeps me on a reasonable getting-out-of-bed schedule.
  9. Finally, have something to look forward to. For me, it’s road trips, days at the lake, and returning to my fulltime job in August. Ah, fall semester! I can’t wait.

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Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.

Getting Back on that (Writing) Horse

I went horseback riding last month, for the first time in about [number redacted for security reasons] years. I grew up in Los Angeles, owned a horse, and went riding a couple times a week. My husband grew up in Southern Utah, had horses in his backyard, and had never been on one in his life. Go figure.

So I decided it was time to see what my life’s companion looked like on horseback. (Spoiler: like someone way more comfortable with a steering wheel in one hand and a gear shifter in the other.)

It wasn’t until right before the big moment that I started to wonder about what I would look like on horseback. Even though I rode all the time as a teenager. Even though I’ve been bucked off, stepped on, kicked, and shoveled more manure than I ever want to see again. Ever. Even though I endured months of riding lessons, walking, jogging, and cantering around in circles while my teenaged instructor made out with her boyfriend in the middle of the ring (which made me an expert in boredom, if nothing else).

So, yeah, I used to be an ok rider, but remember that number? The big one at the beginning of this post?

But of course that’s not the real reason I was worried. The real reason is plain ole’ everyday stage fright. The tittering voice in the back of our heads that tells us we’re just not good enough, and why on earth would we put ourselves on display like that when it would be so much easier to go sit in a corner somewhere?

Getting Back on that (Writing) Horse

I don’t know about you, but this gnawing doubt has always been part of my writing experience. As with riding, I took several years off from writing seriously. There was always a reason. My kids were young. I had just started a new job. I went through a divorce, and then a remarriage. But at heart, the real reason was this: I knew, just knew, that real writers had something I didn’t, and that nobody could possibly be interested in what I had to say.

Until I realized that there was something missing in my life, something I missed desperately. So I started taking my writing seriously again. But it took me some time to feel comfortable with it.

To return to my dubious horse metaphor—I was convinced I’d make a fool of myself, even though the poor little mare I hoisted myself onto wasn’t much bigger than I am. There was little resemblance to my old horse, Aman Mirage. Aman had been a piss-and-vinegar half-Arabian with attitude to spare. The horse before me now made me think of Banjo, the tired, grizzled pony I rode once a week until he died at age 24. I hoped this one wasn’t about to die, as well.

Now, I’d known all along this ride would be no heroic adventure. It was a cruise ship shore excursion, of all things, designed to suit every possible level of physical fitness. Sleepy toddlers would have finished the journey with their slumbers intact. I think my horse slept through it, too.

But I’ll admit, it took a minute before everything started to come back. And I felt so sorry for my little horse that I didn’t have the heart to push her into anything more energetic than follow the leader. But soon my feet fell into place, my hands remembered their job, and my back straightened up. Turns out riding a horse is like riding a bike. And you know what they say about riding a bike.

My “aha” moment, the profound thought that inspired this post, was when I noticed my right hand. These reins were short, but I had learned to ride Western style, with long, trailing reins. I glanced down, and caught my right hand resting on my thigh, looking forlorn. It was missing those trailing reins. My right hand had remembered what to do, even though I had never consciously reminded it. Here I was, trying to force myself to remember everything, and all along, my hand just lay there, unconcerned, wondering where the rest of the reins were.

I was trying too hard, as usual. When I started writing again, too, it took some time to relax and let my word-generating muscles take over. I (mostly) stopped worrying about what people would think and just let myself do it. And pretty soon, things started rolling along.

We’re all here because we love words—reading them and writing them. But we don’t always consciously remember what we know. Sometimes all it takes is to flex those muscles to get them doing their thing. And soon enough, we’re riding off into the sunset.

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Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.

Writing Real People in Unreal Settings

Raise your hand if you’ve ever stared too long at someone because you were trying to memorize their features for a character description. Ten points if there was awkward eye contact. Twenty-five if it was a work colleague, and you were casting a villain.

There’s a whole lot of great advice out there for developing characters. Maybe you have an entire notebook filled with information about yours, up to and including their favorite ice cream. If you do, I confess I’m jealous. I’m a great believer in outlines, but I’m an inveterate pantser when it comes to character development. I have no idea who my characters are until they start interacting with each other. Only then can I figure out whether they prefer vanilla or mint Oreo.

If you write contemporary fiction, you may have been able to transplant your real-life human subject into your story with few modifications. However, those of us who write historical or speculative fiction have a bit more work to do. We have to think about language, the mannerisms and habits, and especially the fundamental assumptions of the time and place. Each of those could warrant its very own post, if not its own textbook chapter.

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This is my short advice: research, research, research. Write what you know, sure. But also: write what you’d like to know. Write what you’d willingly spend hours reading books, articles, and web pages about. This doesn’t only apply to historical fiction. Even if you write high fantasy, your setting will have at least some similarities to an actual historical period, whether it be fourteenth century Italy or feudal Japan, Viking Denmark or Queen Victoria’s England. I mean, come on, you know you didn’t make everything up. (And if you write science fiction, I’m begging you to know at least a little science first.)

Say you’ve got this wonderful character in this fantastic setting. Say it’s 1543 Munich. You know what your character looks like, because you’ve taken your spouse, your neighbor, or that guy in line at Starbucks, and put him in a doublet, beret, and, ahem, a bright orange codpiece.

He’s waiting for a friend. Since it’s not 2017, he’s not going to pull out his phone and catch up on social media. Will he pull out a book instead? Would he own a book in 1543, and if he did, would he take it outside and risk exposing it to the elements? Would he pick a flower? Pick his nose? Say he steps into a mud puddle. What does he say?

The most enjoyable research I’ve done in months was to read Holy Sh*t! A Brief History of Swearing, by Melissa Mohr. It’s not for ready blushers, but it’s humorous and contains a world of information of how (mainly English-speaking) people have used obscenity and swearing since Roman times. It discusses how oaths—the “holy”—and obscenities—the “sh*t”—have waxed and waned in their relative gravity over the centuries.

Our sixteenth century man might have used an excremental word to convey his displeasure. But if he were really, really mad, he might say something like, “God’s teeth!” And you see what side of the pendulum swing we’re on now, since I didn’t have trouble typing his oath, but hesitated before typing the other expletive. But our man lived in a different world than ours, in which sex and bodily effusions were rather more out in the open.

For this gentleman, an oath before his god would have been worse than epithets about excrement. The pendulum was swinging, however, with the rise of a new middle class, who showed off their hard-won respectability by declaring barnyard activities obscene. (This is why people have sworn like lords, tinkers, and sailors, but no one ever accused someone of swearing like a grocer.)

So now that we’ve figured out how our character talks and acts, how about his assumptions about his world? I’m not talking about the things we need to tell a good story—his hopes, fears, flaws, or his emotional arc. I’m talking about the things in his environment that he probably will not question—ever, unless our plot forces him to. Like the role of religion in his society. Or women. Or kings. Or the plague. Or the intelligence of children and peasants and dogs.

And yet we want to make our characters resonate to our readers, despite possible different worldviews. We want to identify with this man, codpiece or no. We want to look through his eyes, and feel his loves, hates, and needs. He needs to be like us—he is like us—in all the ways that matter most. So we walk a thin line between historical truth and emotional truth.

I’ve read a few novels written by historians, and in my opinion, most were dry as dust. I think these scholars spent so much time trying to be true to the historical figures they’d spent years studying that they’d lost sight of the fascinating people living behind the history. The books were nonfiction masquerading as fiction, and thus fell flat. I write historical fantasy rather than straight historical, so I can probably get away with a little more fact-tweaking. But I enjoy, and try to write, stories that strike a balance between historical accuracy and storytelling.

We writers have at least one advantage—we’re all experts at being human (apologies to any nonhuman writers out there). We enrich the worlds we create, intentionally or not, by placing the people we know into them. And no, I haven’t ever cast any work colleagues as villains. All right, maybe once, but it was years ago. Promise.

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Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.

Lessons Learned by a First Time NaNoWriMo Participant

I admit it. Until two years ago, I lived under a rock. I’d never heard of NaNoWriMO until after I became involved with my critique group, and when I did, I was horrified. Write an entire 50,000-word novel during the month of November? Oh, HELL no!

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And that remained my opinion—until about two months ago, when one of my critique partners (possibly the one whom I suspect of writing half a novel before breakfast every morning and two on the weekend) asked if anyone else was thinking about NaNo this year. And everyone said yes except for me.

Lesson 1: Peer Pressure Is a Fantastic Motivator.

After an awkward silence, I said, “Maybe?” Because I had realized that if there ever was a time for me to try to write 50,000 words in 30 days, this was it. Over the summer, I had come up with a new story idea that I was excited about. I had drawn up a rough outline, done a dozen or so hours’ worth of research, and written a beginning. And then life happened and my idea languished. I needed a kick-start, and NaNo seemed like a pretty good one. So I told my group I was in, wrote a more detailed outline, and revised my beginning. By October 31, I was ready to go.

Lesson 2: Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard, or, If It Were Easy, Everyone Would Be Doing It.

Working at a steady pace, you need to average 1,667 words a day to finish NaNo. However, I wanted the option of taking a weekend or two off, as well as Thanksgiving Day, so I set myself a daily goal of 2,000 words. And on the first of November, I began slogging away.

I won’t lie—Day One was awful. That first 2,000 words took me about four hours to write. Solar systems form, grow old, and die faster than I generally write chapters. But that first night, I dreamed about my characters. It gave me enough impetus to keep going, and I vomited up 10,000 words the first week. Did I cringe every time I looked back over it? Yes. Yes, I did.

Lesson 3: Writing Produces Highs and Lows.

Then, during Week Two, my story took off. “This is easy!” I thought. “Why have I never tried this before?” Suddenly I was an addict. The plot twists were coming fast. The characters demanded my attention, keeping me awake at night. I felt as if I were trying to close the lid on a box full of snakes. I’d push one in, and two others would wriggle out. What are we going to do about the gold coin? And the little sister? How does the garden figure in? And when did my MC and I develop a crush on our villain? 20,000 words gushed out of me.

And then Day Fourteen hit me like a semi-truck.

Lesson 4: Keep Your Drafting and Revising Separate.

In a recent TTOF post (Drafting, November 25), Todd Petersen says, “The trick of drafting is keeping myself from meddling in my own business.” Well, I meddled. I started reading over what I’d written. Ordinarily, this is what I do. I tend to write a few pages, revise, write a few more pages, revise, and so on. But revising requires a completely different mindset than drafting. From a NaNo perspective, it just doesn’t get the words written.

“Is this it?” I asked, rereading my awful mess. “Really? But—but—this is LAME! My characters whine. My plot stinks. Nothing connects—I have a big mess of disjointed conversations between selfish, unmotivated characters. I’ve been wasting my time.”

This is where the slogging resumed. With my eyes on the 40,000 word badge, I plodded along, hating everything about my story. I fantasized about typing, “This sucks!” 7,000 times and then sending an asteroid crashing down on all my characters to put them out of their misery.

Lesson 5: GPA Can Also Be a Motivator

When I finally reached 40,000 words, I thought, “Eighty percent done. I now have a B minus in NaNo. A passing grade—not so bad. But if I make it to 45,000, then I’ll earn an A minus.” (Yeah, I was one of those students. I also give myself grades when I’m working out—85% of a mile, 90% of a mile…don’t laugh. It works for me.) So my characters jerked along, puppet-like, trying for that A, and every once in awhile, someone said something clever.  Or two unrelated events fell together as if I’d planned it that way. And I started to get back into the zone

I was almost reluctant to write my final 1,900 words (an A grade, thanks). Because my excitement was rising again. Just a little, but enough to make me think that someday I might find a few nuggets of gold in this muck.

Lesson 6: Any Way that Works for You Is the Right Way.

Now, two weeks later, I’m older and wiser. I don’t have a shining new novel, but I do have a skeleton on which I can begin to hang a story. Not one of those clean, elegant anatomy lab skeletons, mind you, but rather something I might have assembled while sleepwalking and blindfolded. The feet are on backwards. There’s a humerus where one of the femurs should go. The phalanges are sticking out of the eye sockets, and there are a few extra bones still lying in the box. But hey, it’s a start.

My final takeaway from NaNo is the most important one. Whatever motivates you to write—to sit down, grit your teeth, and pry the words out of your head, even if they’re not perfect, is good. I’m proud of myself for finishing NaNo. I may do it again someday, or I may not. This year, it was the push I needed, but I may not always be in the same place, and that’s all right, too. Any trick that works, on any given day, is the right one.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of revising to do.

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Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.

Introverts Unite! – No, Wait…

 

“I’m such an introvert!” shouts my friend at a party. “I’d much rather be home watching TV.” Not that I doubt her, but this would be easier to believe if my friend had not just (pick two): jumped off a makeshift karaoke stage to thunderous applause, organized an impromptu game of charades, dived off a boat with a whoop and splashed into the middle of half a dozen sunbathers lounging on floats, or planned the entire party, complete with party favors and silly hats. (Disclaimer: both the friend and the party are composites. I promise—the parties I attend are not that exciting.)

As a classic introvert, my party experience usually conforms to stereotype—sitting in a quiet corner with a handful of chips, getting to know the local dog or cat. (A dog named Pepper lives across the street from us. I cannot for the life of me remember the names of any of her humans.)

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I have so many early memories of my family saying, “Oh, she’s just shy,” that it became an enormous part of my self-identify—as defining as my name or sex. I was that child who was always being exhorted to “come out of my shell,” as if I were a hermit crab curled up in a stolen seashell with my carapace turned to the world.

So my gut response to my friend is to explain that she has no idea what introversion is—it’s not possible. Or is it?

Introversion, it turns out, comes in all shapes and sizes. It is possible to be an introvert without being shy, and to be shy without being an introvert, although they often go hand in hand. Susan Cain, in her book Quiet, a marvelous owner’s manual for the introverted personality, talks about the relationship between introversion and shyness. “Many shy people turn inward, partly as a refuge from the socializing that causes them such anxiety. And many introverts are shy, partly as a result of receiving the message that there’s something wrong with their preference for reflection….”

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Okay, but what does this all have to do with writing? Well, writing is a solitary activity, and writers are, in general, an introverted group of people. We enjoy living in our minds—we know where all the cozy nooks are, there, and the fluffiest pillows, and where to get the best coffee. We are a sensitive bunch who tend to feel emotions strongly. We are often happy sitting on the sidelines, observing people and empathizing with them. It goes without saying that these traits are a great advantage to a writer.

Perhaps, if you call yourself an introvert, you’re similar to my party-loving friend, who is very social, but needs some downtime after an activity-filled day. Or perhaps you relate more to my stepdad, whose idea of a good time is spending the day alone in the desert, collecting rocks, and who once changed gyms just so he wouldn’t have to make small talk with his next door neighbor. But whatever part of the spectrum you fall on, you probably feel the world a little more intensely than most, and need solitude to recharge.

This is great, because solitude is a breeding ground for creativity. We think better when left to our own devices. “Introverts prefer to work independently,” says Cain, “and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation…in other words, if you’re in the backyard sitting under a tree while everyone else is clinking glasses on the patio, you’re more likely to have an apple fall on your head.”

As writers, we live for the days when the ideas are ripe and low-hanging, ready for harvest. This can happen in the middle of a crowded room, of course. But more often you have to cultivate your apples carefully. To non-writerly types, this hard work can look like doing nothing at all (another good reason to choose solitude—it saves you from the puzzled looks people give you). I was grateful to hear a writer friend extoll the joys of just being able to sit and stare at a wall for an hour. And here I was thinking it was just me.

So maybe you’ve been harvesting for a while, and now you have this heaping, shiny bushel of apples—a story. And stories, like apples, are better when shared with a friend. Yet, this is where many of us, myself included, stumble, decide the road is too difficult, and consider not going any further.

If writing is an introvert’s activity, then the act of sharing your work with a reader is a supreme act of extroversion. It’s shouting to the universe, “Look at me! I have something important to say!” Exposing your thoughts to friends, family members, and critique partners is only the beginning. After that, you begin to think agents. Writing query letters. Maintaining a web presence. Promotions launches interviews reviews, where does it all end?

You bare yourself to public criticism in a way that many extroverts can only have nightmares about. Am I the only one whose palms are sweaty? Whose insides are shriveling up like a collapsible garden hose at the very thought of the word pitch?

This is my challenge. To push myself past my comfort zone. To tell the world that yes, I am a writer. And to brave the huge, terrifying world out there. And perhaps, like me, you wonder if you’re even capable of taking that next step.

I was that terrified kindergartner who anguished over a homework assignment requiring her to use a class phone book to call a classmate. But I was also the regional science fair director who somehow managed to stand on a stage and address four hundred people without breaking a sweat. Because—and this is the encouraging thing—one’s personality is flexible, and can be trained.

Research indicates, says Cain, that “we are born with and culturally endowed with certain personality traits—introversion for example—but we can and do act out of character in the service of ‘core personal projects.’ In other words, introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.”

Such as writing a book.

So here’s to those who are breaking out of their comfort zones to do something they believe in. Here’s to those who are nervous but willing to begin the daunting process of sharing their darlings with the world. I’m in. Let’s do it together.

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Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.