Monday, March 13, 2017

Writing: A Survival Guide for INFJs

Note: If you don't know your personality type, I highly suggest taking the 16Personalities test.

The day I discovered I'm an INFJ and read my first personality profile, it was like WHO ARE YOU AND HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN SPYING ON MY LIFE? Suddenly, all my weirdness made sense. As I continued to learn about common strengths and weaknesses for my personality type, it was illuminating not just for my everyday life, but for my life as a writer.

They say INFJs make up the smallest percentage of all personality types—less than 1%. And from my very unofficial surveys it seems like writers ARE the 1%. It makes sense, since most INFJs are naturally creative. But while being an INFJ can make us feel unique, it also comes with a unique set of challenges, especially as writers. These struggles are something all writers may face (and on the flip side, not all INFJs may struggle with these), but if you find yourself having a particularly hard time in these areas (like me), here are some tips for surviving and thriving as an INFJ writer...

Struggle: We tend to be more sensitive to criticism and critique.



Why this can be a problem: If you're going to write a book, you're going to need critiques and you're going to face criticism.

What you can do: Realize that critique of your work is part of the process and business of being a writer. And it is NOT personal. When your critique partners read your latest manuscript and come back with suggestions, it's easy to get defensive. It's also easy to despair. Resist the urge to get sucked into either of those whirlpools. Find writing partners you trust and then remind yourself that they don't hate you or your book, no matter how many comments they make on your manuscript. In fact, they want to help you succeed. Critique is essential to growth and success as a writer—and FYI, none of us ever reach a point where we've "made it" and no longer need feedback. If it's not coming from your CPs, it's going to come from an agent or an editor. Learn to see this part of the writing life as a positive, not a negative.

Criticism can be a harder beast to face. My advice? Don't dwell on it. I know—easier said than done. But again, it's par for the course as a writer. Reading is subjective. What one reader thinks is amazing, another might hate. Think about all the books you've loved...and the ones you didn't. Yes, it might feel like a personal assault when someone dislikes our book, but in the end, it's just one person's opinion, and we don't have to let that opinion become part of our identity—as a person, or a writer.

Struggle: We can be extremely private.



Why this can be a problem: We try to go it alone.

What you can do: Find yourself a community of writers who know what you're going through. You don't have to tell them every detail of your life, but having friends who understand the ups and downs of the writing life—and who can offer encouragement and a safe space to feel all the feelings that come with it—is essential to staying emotionally healthy as a writer.

Struggle: We tend to be perfectionists.



Why this can be a problem: We can be tempted to quit in the first draft, or edit and revise for ages, convinced our words are never good enough.

What you can do: Learn that first drafts and perfection do NOT go together. Writing is messy and it takes time. Find trusted CPs and send them your work even when you know it's not perfect. In order for that manuscript to grow up into a book, it has to leave the nest. It will be okay, and so will you.

And remember, editing doesn't stop until that book is in print. Any agent you sign with is probably going to request a few changes, and once you have that glorious book deal, you'll be working with an editor who's going to request a whole lot more. Learn to let go and not obsess over every comma. Or should that be a semicolon? Maybe I should just rewrite the entire sentence so I don't have to figure out which one is right...(Don't pretend you haven't done this.)

Struggle: We hate feeling like we're not making progress, routine tasks are an annoyance, and interruptions push us over the edge.



Why this can be a problem: Cranky writer snaps at anyone and anything that causes delays in their writing goals or interrupts writing time. Despair sets in and we begin to question our life choices. Is this really worth it? Is it ever going to happen? I should just give up. 

What you can do: First, give yourself grace. Life happens. Sometimes you have a week where everything goes according to plan and you hit your daily word count goal with ease. Other weeks, the kids get sick, or appointments stack up, or bad news leaves you mentally and emotionally exhausted. You're lucky if you manage a paragraph. Realize that this is okay. It may be frustrating, but it's also out of your control.

Secondly, learn to prioritize. 99.9% of the writers I know (including myself) don't write full time. We're also students, employees, business owners, SAHMs trying to juggle writing and motherhood...all with tasks that *aren't* writing screaming for our attention. It's easy for writing to become that thing we do when we've managed to get everything else done. I don't know about you, but I have a strong tendency to get overwhelmed by the length of my to-do list, and I don't always prioritize that list very well. I want to check everything off the list as quickly as possible, but what I need to do is decide what HAS to be done today, and what can wait until tomorrow or the next day. If I have a graphic design job that's not due for two weeks, I don't have to finish it in the next eight hours, I can space it over the next few days. As much as I hate the stack of dirty dishes next to the sink, they'll still be there after a quick writing session. Figure out what part of your day is going to be the best time for writing (said time may shift from day to day), and when that time comes, write. For me, it's usually in the afternoon when the kids' homeschool work is done and they're free to watch cartoons or play video games. Sure I could be tempted to tackle that stack of dishes, but it's a lot easier to write during that window of relative peace and quiet. Later, when the husband is home and the kids are running wild through the house with their Nerf guns, and the dog is barking because the neighbors have dared to pull into their driveway—then I can do those dishes.

Struggle: We tend to neglect self care.



Why this can be a problem: Creative burnout is a real thing.

What you can do: This goes along with the last problem, in that it's easy to push yourself TOO hard to juggle life and responsibilities AND write your novel. That's why balance—and knowing when to take a break—is so important. 

Confession—when I'm deep in a project, writing or otherwise, I forget to eat. Yeah, you're not the first person to make that face at me. This is the point where I usually lose people. I have a couple of friends who totally feel me on this, but most folks hear that and are horrified. ("You forget to EAT? How is that even possible?") Turns out it's an INFJ quirk. I mean, I'm in the middle of a five hundred-word streak! Having to stop and make food is SO annoying. Do you know how long it takes to microwave that noodle bowl? Four minutes! I just...give me a second...if I don't write this down, I'll forget this brilliant line...it's okay, I had breakfast this morning...I think...how long have I had to pee this bad? 

Even on days where the words aren't flowing, it's easy to spend hours trying to squeeze something out of your brain and through your fingertips. When you're not actively writing, your mind is still swirling, trying to craft that perfect sentence or fill in that plot hole. Soon you're tired and cranky and your brain is mush. Every sentence sounds idiotic. Your anxiety is skyrocketing and you're convinced you're a sham—you'll never be a successful writer. Who were you kidding? Whut R werds? 

This is your hint that you need to take a break. Rest. Do something that inspires you creatively and/or relaxes your mind and body. Take a walk. Listen to music. Watch a film or read a book. I'm not a person who believes you have to write EVERY SINGLE DAY in order to be successful. In fact, I've found that I'm much more successful at meeting my goals if I include consistent breaks and moments of rest. Take time to recharge. Your manuscript will thank you. And when you do get back to writing? Take a muffin with you.


I'd love to hear from you! Did you connect with any of these struggles? What strategies have you implemented to help you overcome? 

This post is also appearing on To the Shelves - be sure to check out the other great writing tips available on the site!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Author Interview: Jenny Ferguson, Author of BORDER MARKERS (Plus Giveaway!)




Today I'm chatting with Jenny Ferguson, author of BORDER MARKERS. Jenny happens to be one of my Pitch Wars 2015 classmates (and a fellow 2016 Pitch Wars mentor!), so I have first-hand knowledge of what a lovely human being she is. I'm so excited to have her on the blog to tell us more about her debut novel! So, without further ado, here's what Jenny had to say about her book, the inspiration behind the story, and her opinion on metaphorical snacks.





First of all, what is BORDER MARKERS about?

I am not good at this question. How about I let you read the blurb, something a group of skilled people came up with!

After the accidental death of a high school-aged friend, the Lansing family has split along fault lines previously hidden under a patina of suburban banality. Every family's got secrets, but for the Lansings those secrets end up propelling them away from the border town of Lloydminster to foreign shores, prison, and beyond. 
Told via thirty-three flash fiction narratives, fractured like the psyches of its characters, Border Markers is a collection with keen edges and tough language. It's a slice of prairie noir that straddles the line between magic and gritty realism.

See, I feel better knowing you read that and I didn’t mess it up by trying to do something I’m terrible at. I’m a storyteller, not a story-summer-upper.

What inspired you to write this book?

Through one of those silly acts of fate, I ended up living in Lloydminster, Alberta/Saskatchewan, Canada, for two years in the middle of my high school career. A rough move, to say the least. It gets cold that far north in Canada—the kind of cold where you need to plug cars in so that they’ll start in the morning. Once, I drove half way across town with a 50 foot extension cord trailing behind me on the icy roads—but that’s another story.

The other act of fate that turned me into the woman who would write Border Markers was that my parents enrolled me in the local Catholic high school so that I could continue my French Immersion studies, and not the public high school, where I would have been a lot more comfortable. But after all, I’d been studying French since kindergarten: I probably shouldn’t quit just because we moved to what I considered the frigid, middle-of-nowhere.

In the end, I really ended up loving Lloydminster, the people and the places, despite the town’s many problems.

And now we’re going to time warp a few years: I’m back in Toronto, and I’m working as a clerk in a busy maternity ward, and I get an email that sucks the air out of the room.

A friend of mine has been attacked on the street.

My friend dies later that night.

For a long time, I’m wrecked. For a long time, I don’t know how to process. When I can, I know that the town of Lloydminster, this place I thought I didn’t belong to, was the right place to go back to in order to move forward.

Of course, Border Markers is fiction. But the emotion and the weight of life in the pages comes from the town, from its people—and yeah, I’m one of them even if I don’t live within those borders today.

Places imprint themselves on you, and you imprint yourself on those places, as it should be.

I love that—life's imprints. So beautiful. What imprint do you hope your book leaves on your readers?

Always, always, always I hope that my book—and any other books I publish—hit a reader in the feels. Literature, in my heart, is always about transmission of emotion and experience. And by experiencing these things, we change. This is something I believe: Books change people, and by changing people, they change the world.

Okay, re-reading that, I come across as someone who has lofty goals. But, hey, that’s not a bad thing, right?

Do you have any writing rituals when you're penning all the feels? Beverages, snacks, walking three laps around the room counter clockwise before you sit down at your desk?

I have to write alone. I guess you could say that I can be alone in a room full of people, but I need to feel isolated, and I need to feel empty.
That doesn’t mean I don’t snack. The empty feeling is more metaphorical. You know writers, we like metaphors. But not metaphorical snacks. That’s not cool.

The last three books you read:

Other than my Pitch Wars slush pile? Haha. Okay, then we need to wind back to my lovely vacation to Croatia/Montenegro this past June:

Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS
Louis Carmain’s GUANO: A NOVEL (translated from the French by Rhonda Mullins)
Matthew Heiti’s THE CITY STILL BREATHING

Coke or Pepsi?

When I’m bad, coke with a squirt of lime, over ice. When I’m good: water with the same lime over the same ice. 



What's your best piece of advice for writers?

You have to love the process, even when you hate it. Because the process is writing. Publishing isn’t writing. It might be part of writing, but it’s not the whole thing. Oh and I’m going to add in a second, but related, thing: mental health breaks. Take them when you need them. Enjoy the time away from writing, from the process, so you can come back to it and still love it.


Jenny Ferguson lives in a log cabin (without an internet connection) and names her pets after (dead) American presidents. She is M├ętis, French-Canadian, a feminist, and an activist. BORDER MARKERS is her first novel.

Twitter: @jennyleeSD




Thank you so much, Jenny, for being on the blog today! Congratulations on your debut!

BORDER MARKERS is now available to order on Amazon. And starting today, you have a chance to win a copy! Enter Jenny's Goodreads Book Giveaway by clicking on the widget below! (Also, I've been told if you visit Jenny's website, there just might be another surprise giveaway.)



Goodreads Book Giveaway


Border Markers by Jenny Ferguson

Border Markers

by Jenny Ferguson


Giveaway ends October 06, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.


Enter Giveaway

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Letter to the Pitch Wars Hopefuls Who Didn't Get In

Dear Heartbroken Hopefuls,

As someone who didn't get into Pitch Wars (or land an agent) with my first book, I know the sting of rejection. I know how much it sucks to anticipate and hope and wait and then not have things work out the way you wanted them to.

I'm here to tell you, it's okay.

It's okay to feel really, really sad. It's okay to cry. It's okay to be jealous of those who got in. It's okay to be upset, to question everything, to wonder if being a writer is really worth it. To wonder if you want to keep going.

All of these feels are normal feels.

I love the scene in Gilmore Girls where Rory has broken up with Dean and is acting totally okay but Lorelei knows she is, in reality, not okay at all.


This is me telling you it's okay to wallow.


Let me say it one more time.

It's. Okay. To. Wallow.





Take a break. Stay off Twitter if you need to. Set aside your manuscript or WIP for a day or two and indulge in a Netflix binge.

And then come back.

My pastor said in a recent sermon "Bitter experiences in life aren't optional, but becoming bitter is." I know that's super heavy and serious after all those Gilmore Girl gifs, but it's true. Disappointments happen. If you're a writer they happen A LOT. But don't let it cause you to miss out on great things. Don't wallow for too long. Don't go into permanent hiding. Don't stop writing. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The opportunity to learn from the mentors, and your peers, doesn't end now that the Pitch Wars mentees have been chosen. We'll still be writing blog posts and answering your questions on Twitter and sharing encouragement and advice. The feed is still full of other writers looking for CPs and beta readers and just a friend to talk to who understands what they're going through. Embrace that community. Trust me when I say you'll not only want it, but NEED it as you continue to work toward your goals.

And of course, I'll tell you everything you've already heard from us mentors over the last week: Pitch Wars is not your only shot at an agent. It's not the only path to publication. Even those who did get in have no guarantee of either of those things. Keep writing, keep revising, take feedback into consideration, find good CPs, polish to best of your ability, and start querying. All this is great advice, and some of you have already put it into practice. But some of you want to punch me in the face right now because even though you know it's true, it doesn't make you feel better. If that's you, first let me extend you a virtual hug. The pizza guy is on speed dial. There's ice cream in the freezer. And I'll say it one more time.

It's okay to wallow.

We'll be here when you're ready to keep going. And we're already stocking up on confetti to celebrate with you when your time comes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Pitch Wars Mentor Blog Hop (Wish List Inside!)




Oh, hey. Is it the Pitch Wars Mentor Blog Hop already? So nice of you to stop by...


Um...I'm Ashley Martin...it's nice to meet you...here's my wish list and bio and I'm so excited to be mentoring middle grade and PICK ME PICK ME PICK ME PICK ME!!!!


Whoo! Now that that awkwardness is out of the way, allow me to introduce myself.

I'm a wife, homeschooling mom of two, proud member of the Pitch Wars class of 2015, dedicated bookworm, and writer of middle grade novels. Which basically means I'm a night owl who manages to exist on minimal sleep and copious amounts of Earl Grey tea and baked goods.


As a middle-schooler I read mainly adult fiction, and now that I'm an adult I can't remember the last time I read a book with a protagonist older than twelve (which I'm totally cool with). I'm kind of obsessed with personality tests (I'm a Hufflepuff and solid INFJ), fall is my favorite season, Seattle is my favorite city, I love independent films, and I think Gilmore Girls is the best show ever to appear on television.


My obsession with books started the moment I learned how to read. Whenever I got in trouble as a kid, my mom would still give me my allowance, but I'd be banned from the bookstore for a week. No joke. I was a very, VERY well-behaved child. 

Here are some of my favorite books:

  • THE MEANING OF MAGGIE by Megan Jean Sovern
  • THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by Alan Bradley
  • ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll
  • ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L. M. Montgomery 
  • BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo
  • FENWAY AND HATTIE by Victoria J. Coe
  • FORTUNATELY, THE MILK by Neil Gaiman
  • THE HOBBIT by J.R.R. Tolkien 
  • HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN by J.K. Rowling (I mean, the whole series is amazing, but this one is my favorite.)
  • THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins
  • THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak
  • LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS by Lisa Lewis Tyre
  • A SNICKER OF MAGIC and THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY by Natalie Lloyd
  • THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE by Laurie King (I do read adult fiction occasionally.)
  • MR. PENUMBRA'S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE by Robin Sloan (Okay, that's enough grownup stuff in this list.)

Pitch Wars has been a huge part of my writing journey—I submitted in 2014 and was chosen as a mentee in 2015, which led to me signing with my agent, Marietta Zacker, in February!—and I am so excited to have the opportunity to contribute to the community that means so much to me. Whether you're chosen by a mentor or not, I can assure you from experience, you will not regret entering. It's such a wonderful place to learn more about your craft and connect with other writers. I hope you'll take full advantage of it!

Now for what you've all come here for...

MY PITCH WARS WISH LIST!

Give me all your middle grade fantasy, magical realism, heartwarming contemporary, and mystery! 


Here are a few more details on what specific elements will give me a serious case of the grabby hands...

Fantasy

All of it. Seriously. But especially if it involves fairy tales (original or retellings/reimaginings), or any connection to classic children's literature. I love wild and intricate worlds (think Catherynne Valente's Fairyland), and outlandish adventures (CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY or PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH). I also love fantasies that feel like they could be real; the ones that take a historical event, reimagine it and add a fantastical twist, like THE BOUNDLESS by Kenneth Oppel. (Also, I mention below that I don't want sci-fi—however—fantasy with some sci-fi elements is something I'd love to see!)

Magical Realism

I love magical realism with heart, where the bit of magic in the midst of everyday life is the thing that gives the MC hope and/or is part of a strong emotional journey, ala Natalie Lloyd's A SNICKER OF MAGIC and THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY. 

Heartwarming Contemporary

Make me laugh, make me cry — better yet, make me laugh AND cry. Give me something funny and sweet, with a character who is spunky and audacious and determined, or something that leans more toward heartbreaking — especially if you've found a way to incorporate humor. This is one of the reasons THE MEANING OF MAGGIE is one of my all time favorite MG novels: it's equal parts snort-out-loud funny and I'm-not-crying-you're-crying emotional.

Mystery

When it comes to mystery, I love a clever, original plot, in a rich setting with a full cast of quirky and vibrant characters. THREE TIMES LUCKY by Sheila Turnage and Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce novels are great examples.

No matter which of these genres your story falls in, I'm most likely to be hooked by two things: CHARACTER & VOICE. I'm particularly drawn to characters. Scenes can be strengthened, pace can be fixed, tension can be added—give me a character I'm emotionally invested in, with a voice that immediately paints a picture, pulls me in, and gives me ALL THE FEELS.

What I DON'T want:

Horror 
I'm okay with dark elements, and some creepy, goosebump-inducing moments in fantasy (my own book has a bit of a dark side), but I'm definitely not the mentor to go to if you're looking to be the middle grade Stephen King. 

Christmas Stories
I promise, I'm not a grinch! It's just that I recently finished some extensive CPing for a friend who has written a Christmas-themed novel. If part of your novel happens to take place over the Christmas holidays, that's fine. But if your story revolves around Santa and his elves, then you'll be better off submitting to another mentor.

Sci-Fi
As much as I love books like Tony DiTerlizzi's WONDLA, there are probably other mentors better suited to straight up sci-fi. (But if you can give me a fantasy with a setting as vibrant and fascinating as the world of WONDLA, I'm your girl!) 

Added clarification (also noted above): Straight sci-fi would be best sent to another mentor, but fantasy with sci-fi elements in my inbox, please!

Why should you pick me? 

Some of my strengths: increasing tension, pacing, cutting passive voice, chapter endings, consistency in characters (voice and actions), and sentence structure/flow. I love being a CP, I love editing and revising, and I love helping talented writers make their books even more amazing. I'm also a super weirdo who actually enjoys the challenge of perfecting a query and synopsis, so rest assured I'll help you work on those, too. Also, I know what it's like to be in your shoes—I was a Pitch Wars mentee last year and my book went through plenty of revisionsand I know how hard and nerve-wracking and exciting and terrifying it can be. I also know how much it means to have someone believe in you and your story, and I can't wait to come alongside you and cheer you on! 

Thanks so much for reading and for considering me as a mentor! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below, or hit me up on Twitter (@papergram). And if you want to get to know me even more, I'll be part of the Pitch Wars live mentor chat on 7/21 at 8pm EDT. I can't wait to read all your beautiful submissions!                                








shley




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