This blog is meant to nourish, heal, spark, and empower your creative flame. I help writers who are having trouble finding their voice and writers who have no idea how to get through writing their sloppy first draft. I help writers who have already written the sloppy first draft but now need feedback as they rewrite, revise, and polish the manuscript to the best of their ability.
When I first started seriously writing I also started seriously looking around for writing advice, and the most common piece of writing advice I found was, “write every day.” It didn’t matter if I didn’t feel like it, wasn’t inspired, was overwhelmed and busy with other things, I still needed to write every single day. That was what real writers did, and according to the same body of advice-givers, that was what separated the real writers from the wannabes.
So, I tried it. I really did. I set a schedule for myself and I did what all the advice said, I sat my butt in the chair and I stared at the page until I started sweating blood. And I got mixed results. Some days pushing myself to write even when I didn’t feel like it really seemed to work. I would end up writing one paragraph, and then another, and then I would get into a flow and an hour later I had about a thousand words that were kind of decent. But on other days it didn’t work. I just sat there and then finally pushed out about 500 words that sucked. Words that felt forced and contrived and that I hated, and I never could do anything with them afterward. It seemed that no amount of revising could make them any better.
Well, then years later I started coaching writers, INFJ and INFP writers to be specific, and I was surprised to find that many of them had the exact same problem as me. They were trying to force themselves to write every day but it wasn’t working, and they were actually feeling worse about themselves as writers than they had when they started this whole write every day thing. After talking to these intuitive writers more in depth I began to see the pattern. There appeared to be three major reasons that writing every day didn’t work for most INFJ and INFP writers.
Our Intuition Works on Its Own Schedule.
Although INFJs work predominantly with introverted intuition, and INFPs with extraverted intuition, both need time to gather information and absorb it fully. It’s typical for an INFJ or INFP to observe a situation closely and then turn it over in their own mind for days afterward, finally coming to some sort of epiphany or conclusion long after the event in question is over. Since our intuition is also the function that mainly fuels the creativity of both types, it needs the same amount of time to put together the pieces that make up the pattern of a story, or the next leg of whatever story we’re working on at the moment.
This is why I’ve found it’s usually ideal for INFJ and INFP writers to aim for two to three writing sessions a week, lasting approximately 45 minutes to one hour. Taking a day or two off between writing sessions gives our intuition enough time to wonder, ponder, examine, and finally, hand us the revelation we need to continue on with our story.
It’s All Too Easy for Perfectionism to Creep In.
INFJ and INFP writers may look quiet and unassuming on the outside, but if you are one yourself, you know that inside you are passionate, driven, and hold yourself to higher standards than anyone else. It’s not uncommon for INFJ and INFP writers to determinedly latch onto the goal of writing every day, and then the first day that they miss a session, ruthlessly berate themselves as a “failure.” And, once we feel like we’ve failed at keeping to our rigorous daily writing schedule, we give up on the whole thing, sometimes deciding that our “failure” is proof that we’re not cut out to be a writer.
Going with the flow isn’t easy for INFJs, and it’s actually not that easy for INFPs either, even though they have the reputation of being spontaneous fluid unicorns that love the magic of life. Well, INFPs may be that exact type of unicorn, but they’re still highly creative artists, which means they demand a lot of themselves when it comes to their creative work. The best solution for both types is to chill out. If you really want to try writing every day, go for it. But if you miss a day, it’s not the end of the world. You can start again tomorrow.
We Can Be the Most Extroverted of Introverts.
Any INFJ or INFP who hasn’t gotten enough introvert time to themselves will tell you they hate people and they want to go off to spend the rest of their days living alone in a cottage in the woods. But that’s just because we hit stress points sometimes and we need a break. A truly happy, healthy INFJ or INFP writer actually loves people and is constantly fascinated by all the different souls they run across in this life. Our fascination with people and our deep need to connect with them is also one of the main elements that fuels our art. Most INFJ and INFP authors write books that are heavy on the psychological examination of characters and the interplay of human relationships.
The most ideal creative situation for INFJ and INFP writers is taking days for creative work in solitude (reading, writing, listening to music and watching movies, drawing) and then days for being in the company of others (friends, family, and coworkers). If we pressure ourselves to write every day, this might be taking time away from being around people, which we can only do in moderate doses because we are, after all, introverts.
If you’re an INFJ or INFP writer who has been pushing yourself to write every day and you find that you’re feeling frustrated, resentful, or an extreme lack of motivation when you sit down at the page, then you may be pushing yourself too hard. The most important thing you can do as an artist is begin to cultivate the awareness of what YOU specifically need as a creative being, everyone else’s advice be damned. The more you are able to listen to your own inner voice, the more you will contribute to your growth as a writer.
And sometimes when we take the time to slow down, we actually get a lot more done.
From today until Sunday, July 7 the Kindle editions of my gritty addiction memoir, Between the Shadow and Lo, and the sequel, West Is San Francisco, are both on sale for only 99 cents. If you like dark, weird, twisted and (at times) perverse fiction, then these are probably the books for you. Grab ’em up while you can.
All my life I’ve been attracted to weird things. And all my life I’ve been very much aware that other people think I’m weird for being attracted to those weird things. Sometimes it’s that I can’t help but be drawn in by all the different facets of human darkness. Sometimes it’s that I get interested in a subject that seems complicated and obscure, and extremely boring, to others. But whatever my latest passion is at the moment I can be sure that it’s not something that a whole lot of other people understand.
For a long time I judged myself harshly for this. As an adolescent, I tried to force myself to get interested in what everyone else was interested in—popular music, fashion and clothing, sports and TV shows—but it never worked. Almost as soon as I tried to get invested in something mainstream I could feel that familiar heavy sluggish feeling come over me. Boredom. And there was nothing I hated more than being bored.
When I reached adulthood, somewhere in my mid 20’s, it seemed I had come to an uneasy sort of reconciliation with myself about my weird tastes. I knew by then they were never going to go away. Apparently, I would live the rest of my life inordinately intrigued by the most disparate of things, like serial killers and cult leaders, ancient religions and mystery schools, UFOs, abstract art, and Napoleon’s rise to power. Also, apparently, I would never really find anyone else who understood this about me. That I felt compelled to immerse myself in certain topics and areas of study, and that many of these topics were threatening, repulsive, or just plain odd to other people.
But then, in my late 20’s, I started writing again. I started writing seriously. And a few years later, I started a writing blog and began coming into contact with droves of other writers.
That’s when I realized I wasn’t alone.
I met writers who were obsessed with the narrowest, most specific time periods of certain wars or the reign of certain monarchs. I met writers who were researching how to best dismember a body or dissolve a human head in acid. I met writers who had wallpapered their living space with hundreds and hundreds of notecards detailing the entire alternate galaxy they had invented inside their head, and every character who lived in it.
I met writers who asked difficult, intricate questions about the nature of reality and the truth of our existence. I met writers who wanted to upset the apple cart, challenge the status quo, and use their work to uproot toxic ingrained assumptions and beliefs about human potential and capability.
I met writers who lived for their passion, no matter how dark, weird, or threatening other people found it.
And that was when, for the first time, I truly met myself.
I was reminded of all this over the past few weeks, because I’ve been catching up on my to-be-read pile of books, a collection of work from the amazingly talented writers I’ve met online in recent years. In the last month I’ve read Medieval fantasy, feminist historical fiction, an environmentally-conscious murder mystery, a dark comedy that revolves around sex trafficking in third-world countries, and a love story starring a woman with severe PTSD and emotional trauma. Every one of these books educated me, enlightened me, and shifted my perspective in some positive way, and not one of these books would exist if the writer behind it had shut themselves down because they thought they were too weird or the topics that called to them were too strange.
I think it’s easy to get caught up in feeling like the outsider that no one will ever understand when you’re a young writer. If you don’t know any other writers and you’re surrounded by mostly normal people, you start to get this feeling that something is really wrong with you, that you’re defective in some way. Added to this is the fact that writers are insanely observant and there is nothing we like better to observe than people. So, if we find ourselves in a group setting—like a classroom or an office—we immediately start looking around and comparing ourselves to everyone else. And when we’re the only person in the room interested in religion or psychology or history—or unicorns or telepathic powers or aliens—we start to believe that our difference is a bad thing.
This is why it’s so important to find your writing community. It might happen online, taking the form of a Facebook group or just checking in on the writing community on Twitter regularly. Or it might happen in real life with you meeting just one other person every week at a Starbucks to sit down and do some writing together. It doesn’t matter how it happens, only that it does happen. Happy writers cannot exist in a vacuum. We need to know that we’re not alone, that there are others like us. We need to know there are others who understand our weird tastes and callings, and not only don’t judge us negatively for them, but actually think they’re pretty cool.
Once we feel seen, and understood, and like we’re not so isolated any longer, that’s when we begin to blossom as creative beings.
And once we begin to blossom, all bets are off, because it’s guaranteed that the craziest most awesome flowering plant the world has ever seen will almost certainly come from the mind of a writer.
One of my writer friends sent me a video yesterday that made me drop everything and think about INFJ writers, creativity, and problem-solving for the rest of the day. The video was a TEDx talk from a woman named Jane Kise who is an expert in Jungian type and works with kids who are having trouble learning math. She used real-life examples of different kinds of kids (introverted sensors, extraverted intuitives, introverted intuitives, etc.) solving math problems to show how the different types use different areas of the brain when trying to find the answer to something.
I was engrossed by the entire video, but most especially the part about introverted intuitives and how we learn and figure things out because I couldn’t help but see the connection between how an INFJ child might go about solving a math problem and how an INFJ writer might go about creating a story.
The first thing Kise said that deeply resonated with me is that researchers found that, unlike all the other types, introverted intuitives did not ask for feedback, guidance, or permission while trying to solve problems. While most of the sensing types asked if they could use certain materials provided for them, and extraverted intuitives assumed permission but also said out loud what they intended to do, the introverted intuitives just went ahead and silently used what they needed to without seeking any outside feedback.
This made me think of an INFJ deep in the process of writing the first draft of their novel. I’ve noticed that, for most other types, it can be helpful to share a sampling of chapters with a critique group as they are still in the process of writing the first draft. It’s like they can proceed more confidently if they’ve gotten confirmation that others think they’re on the right track. But for INFJ writers, this can be disastrous. When we get outside feedback before we’re fully finished with the first draft, it can completely disrupt our process. The feedback doesn’t feel reassuring to us. If anything, it just throws a hefty dose of self-doubt into the mix.
In my opinion, it’s not that we INFJs have anything against asking permission. It’s more that it distracts us and breaks us out of our creative zone with the work. Before we got the outside feedback, we never questioned if we were on the right track. We were too engaged with following our own intuition. So, when we “ask permission” too soon by giving our work to a critique group or analyzing it from an editing perspective before we’re ready, it can shut down our creative inspiration.
The second thing Kise talked about that gave me an ah-ha! moment was how the brain functions for introverted intuitives when problem solving. For the INFJ, our brains enter a flow state when doing novel tasks. That means we need new, challenging stuff to be thrown at us in order to become fully engaged. When we do something over and over again, we get bored, and we actually get worse at it, not better. This reminded me of all those INFJ clients I’ve had who have completely mapped out their novel in outline form, written scene breakdowns, character lists, and plot points on notecards, and then suddenly, for no reason at all it feels like, they totally lose interest in the story and cannot push themselves to write the book, no matter how passionately they felt about it before.
Knowing what I know now about how the INFJ brain functions, I would say that this is because they feel like they already wrote the book. With the outline and the notecards and the character lists, they’re just doing the same thing over and over and getting worse at it, not better. For an INFJ writer to truly shine, they need to use an intuitive writing process as much as possible (in other words, pantsing) to keep the task fresh and new and—at times—terrifyingly uncertain and challenging.
The third thing Kise touched on that I thought was so interesting was how introverted intuitives look to others, from the outside, when they’re trying to find the answer to something. When problem-solving, the brain of an INFJ goes “blank,” meaning we let everything else fall away and we stop pushing for the answer. An INFJ child solving a math problem most often just stares at the piece of paper for a while, doing nothing. Or, looking like they’re doing nothing. Then, suddenly, the answer “pops” for them and they write it down. Kise said when other teachers have observed this process they’re dumbfounded because they don’t understand how the child could possibly have figured it out without using the objects and materials provided for them, scratching and scribbling things out on the paper, etc.
But that’s how introverted intuitives do it. We sit and we stare and we let our minds go blank and then the answer just…pops.
Kise also mentioned that there must be two elements firmly in place for this answer-popping thing to happen—there can’t be too much external stimulation and the introverted intuitive has to already have all the background information they need.
Sounds to me like an INFJ writer who’s already spent the last year saturating themselves with their latest passionate research interest sitting in a quiet room staring at a piece of paper and waiting for their characters to talk to them.
So, if you’re an INFJ writer and you’ve always struggled with outlining, plotting, planning, and staying on schedule with writing your novel, it might be helpful to research your type a bit more to see if you can apply different learning strategies to the way you write. And if you’re interested in seeing the fascinating video I’ve been discussing in its entirety, you can find it here:
Writing my first novel was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It took me two full years to get through the first draft, and I felt like I was slogging my way through the entire time. I would write sections of the book and read over what I had written and cringe. Sure, I also had days where I felt like I had actually written something good, but most of the time I was full of self-doubt.
I had never written a book before, so I had no idea what I was doing. I tried to ask people for advice and read writing guides and that helped a little, but it didn’t even really begin to make a dent in the constant fear that plagued me that I was doing everything the wrong way. My book was so messy. I had handwritten most of it, crossed out things, scribbled notes to myself in the margin. At the end of that long, hard two years I was left with a pile of pages that looked like someone had left them outside in every kind of crazy weather.
This was just not how I pictured a good book being written.
I assumed that good writers kept careful notes, and that those notes were always very well organized. I assumed that good writers mapped out an outline and then stuck to it faithfully. I assumed that good writers knew exactly what they were writing, and why, and who their audience would be, and how to market their book to that audience.
I assumed that every other writer out there knew way more than I did about everything, and that, somehow, I was woefully behind and would never catch up.
Flash forward ten years later and here I am today with four published books. Am I a different kind of writer now? Did I learn how to map out the perfect outline and keep careful notes? Do I know exactly what kind of writer I am and who wants to read my stuff? Am I a master at marketing?
However, while I might still struggle with plotting and planning and figuring out every little detail of the writing process, I can tell you that I consider myself a successful writer. I am miles and miles away from the writer I was ten years ago, the writer who was full of fear and self-doubt. These days, I love who I am as a writer and I’m having more fun in my writing life than ever before.
The short answer is: I chilled the F out.
The long answer is: I realized that sometimes our version of “success” doesn’t look like everyone else’s version, and it also doesn’t look like what we thought it might look like when we envisioned our future in our mind. Same thing goes for our book. Much of the time, the successful book we end up with looks very different than what we expected. But just because something doesn’t match our expectations, doesn’t mean that we’ve failed.
This is the turmoil that a lot of writers go through that is difficult to resolve in our own minds. We become so attached to one version of what success looks like, or what a good book should be, or how our writing journey should unfold, that it’s emotionally hard for us to accept any other version of things that shows up in our reality. So, when I took a look at my pile of wrinkled, messy pages covered in scribbles with sections crossed out and coffee stains everywhere, I started immediately judging myself and noticing all the ways that my manuscript wasn’t what I thought it should be. This only intensified when I would read through the actual story and see plot holes, clumsy language, unfinished chapters, and confusing storylines. The reality in front of me was so far away from the expectations I was carrying in my head that I couldn’t help but to let self-doubt overtake me.
The only way to get past this is to let go of expectations and embrace the reality of our story. Are you halfway through your novel and it’s turning into a romance instead of hard sci-fi? Okay, that’s cool. Let’s work with that. Or, have you just finished writing the first few chapters and now you have no idea where to go from here? That’s cool too. It’s okay to be confused. You’ll figure it out. The important thing is to take a deep breath and let whatever is happening with your book happen. The more you try to fight and resist the way your story wants to come out, the more energy you will waste staying stuck on a set of expectations that just aren’t going to be met. And that means you’ll stay stuck overall, bogged down in a book that is clearly not moving.
Take a step back right now and look at your WIP, or whatever creative project you’ve been working on lately. Are you feeling stuck anywhere? Is that stuck-ness possibly related to expectations you’ve created around the work that don’t seem to be panning out? How would it feel to let go of those expectations and accept your art for what it is, right now, in this moment?
From personal experience, I can say it’s highly likely that it feels like relief to do that. It feels like shifting into a lighter, more open place where working on your writing might actually sound like fun again.
That’s where you want to be, feeling light and open and that one of the main priorities of your writing is to have fun.
You can get there. Start with the deep breath. Take the step back.
Three winners will be chosen and each winner will receive both books. The contest ends Monday, June 10 at midnight and is open to everyone, regardless of where you live in the world, so sign up while you still can!
Today’s guest post comes from the satirical G.C. McKay, author of the anthology Sauced up, Scarred and at Sleaze and his recently released novel, Fubar. G.C. is one of my favorite writer friends because he always pushes limits and questions the status quo. Plus, he manages to be totally irreverent and profound at the same time. The following is his take on the writing “rules” for transgressive fiction authors.
Transgressive fiction gets a pretty raw deal. In fact, it gets the same treatment by the world we live in as its characters often do inside their stories. This is probably to be expected, as the themes it explores are normally on the, shall we say, darker side of the human spectrum. Whilst we can argue till our faces turn blue (sexual-innuendo obviously implied) about what actually defines transgressive fiction, I’d venture to guess that we can all agree that it… unnerves us, as Lauren Sapala so adequately put it in her post Why are so Many Writers Afraid of Transgressive Fiction?
On that note, here are seven sin-ridden writing tips to keep in mind when your gunk-filled fingernails sit poised over the keyboard:
1. Never Masturbate before a Scene Climax.
We’ve all been there. Penning down all that dirty shit and imagining just how uncomfortable and disgusted your readers are going to be is enough to make anyone horny. However, it can be a slippery ordeal during the writing phase itself. Many a time have I been in the middle of jotting down my sickest, most illicit fantasies, only to have my genitals get all confused and think it’s time to get down. Whilst this is probably the only real reason us transgressive fiction authors write, it’s important to get things in order. Otherwise, the climax of your scene will most likely feel premature, warming us up but not quite getting us off. If you can, try to make your friend downstairs your accountabilibuddy. That way, once a scene has reached a satisfying conclusion, you can reward yourself with one too.
2. Be Disgusting, but Never for the Sake of Just Being Disgusting.
We all love being shocked. Sensationalism proves it. If Rupert Murdock hadn’t figured that out there’s a slim chance we wouldn’t be able to dumb ourselves down with vacuous tabloids. Good for him. But for us, it’s imperative to remember that the grimmer side of our stories actually serves a purpose. As you might have figured out already, I personally love to make my characters whack off. But reading about jacking it, as beautiful as it may be in its own right, doesn’t make for such good reading, so it needs to connect. Ask yourself, does my character really need to jack off at this point? What purpose does it serve? Is he enjoying it? Or are you, the writer, just thinking about breaking rule number one already?
3. Do Not Worry about Coming Across as a Freak.
Of course, writing about bodily fluids, mental breakdowns, drugs, identity disorders and disenfranchised youth might make some of your readers believe that you’re something of a freak. Let them. You’re a writer, my friend, so that boat set to sail and capsized a hell of a long time ago. It’s part of you now, deep in the abyss of your core. Accept it. Embrace it even. Nobody is normal and normal is nobody. We’re making shit up, just like humanity has been doing from day dot. It’s people who don’t create anything who are the real freaks.
4. Do Not Try to Find the Meaning of Your Existence through Your Writing.
Speaking from experience, I set out to discover the meaning of existence with my first novel Fubar and failed fucking miserably. In fact, I failed so hard that I’m not sure whether my characters went insane, or I did. Writing, or any form of art for that matter, is not a form of therapy, but it will expose you for what you are, with no exceptions. Before you know it, all you’ll be able to see splattered across the pages will be workings of your twisted subconscious. It’s horrifying and traumatic enough in itself to traumatize you all over again… but try not to take it all so seriously. You are not your art, no matter how often the mass media of today want you to believe that. If you are horrified by your work (which you should be) but think it could be a sign of a bigger problem in your life, seek either professional help or a different outlet for your pain. Those who romanticize such things are idiots. Or Hamlet.
5. Just Fucking Write.
With the litany of writers out there comes a whole kit and caboodle of writing advice, from the YouTubes to the blogs (ironic much?) and not to mention, the thousands upon thousands of books about writing that are published each year. Of course, a lot of these will be useful along the way, but never take any piece of advice as golden. There are no rules when it comes to artistic expression. And, if we’re honest, speaking or reading about how to write is a lot fucking easier than it is to actually write (often more pleasurable too, sadly). This comes down to our childish need to be guided and taught how to do things in order to gain confidence in doing them, which is fine, but really, the only way to get better at writing is to write. No book or blog or marketing expert posing as a writer or tweet is gonna change that, so hop to it already. But please, if you have writer’s block, do not write about writer’s block or a writer writing a writing book about how hard he finds writing, especially when he’s got writer’s block. No one cares.
6. Humiliate Yourself.
Getting over yourself is probably the most important rule of them all. Take each memory of feeling humiliated and scribble them all down. For example, if you’ve ever had your arse beaten, found yourself unable to achieve an erection or just got yourself into some dumb shit, write about it. It’s gold. You’ll soon be writing about how you can only achieve an erection if you’ve just gotten your arse beat after getting yourself into some dumb shit. It’s called evolution.
7. Forget Everything You’ve Learnt Every Once Upon A Time.
Be unpredictable! Sure, plot points, natural transitions and character development all work fine for Disney (thanks to the Brothers Grimm) but we are here to make you squeal and squirm. Sure, we could make exposing the dirtiest side of humanity our sole aim, but sometimes it’s better to just be plain weird. Think about how we communicate these days. We’ve got text reflected inside our eyes from multiple screens on a daily basis. Guy Portman stuck emoji’s in his latest piece and Douglas Coupland once filled page-after-page with code. Not to mention House of Leaves. If it feels right and serves the story, have some fun and play around. The nonsensical just makes perfect sense. Sometimes. Everything in moderation, of course.
Today’s guest post comes from Ritu Kaushal, a San Francisco Bay Area-based author and the blogger behind the popular HSP and empath-centric website www.walkingthroughtransitions.com. Her writing has appeared on Tiny Buddha, Sensitive Evolution, Elephant Journal and Having Time amongst others. She recently released The Empath’s Journey, a book I highly recommend that every INFJ, INFP, and empath add to their arsenal of tools on how to survive as a Highly Sensitive Person in today’s world.
As an INFP writer, I have struggled over years with many of those same things that artists have always struggled with. When we are just an acorn, when our creative being has still not taken root, we are masters of self-doubt. After all, many of us haven’t been taught anything about what the creative process actually feels like.
So, when the creative instinct surges inside us, we feel like we’ll short-circuit. When it asks us to take a step forward, we can’t quite muster up the trust. Where will you take us, we want to ask? Will I be safe?
Over the last few years, the experience of writing my first book has helped me take a few more steps in faith, both in trusting myself and trusting the world around me. This process has culminated in my first book, The Empath’s Journey, which weaves together my personal experiences as a Highly Sensitive Person with insights from different psychological theories.
Working on my first book as well as the journey to actually starting has taught me a few things that might give you an insight into your own process as an intuitive INFP writer.
Throwing our hat over the fence is good for INFPs: In my 20s, I was cursed by that “fortunate-unfortunate” temperament that Elizabeth Gilbert talks about, the curse of having too many loves. I loved words and imaginary worlds. I was interested in photography. I loved dance and had learned Odissi, a classical Indian dance form from a nationally-renowned teacher for a few years and had gone back and forth about whether I should follow dance more seriously.
For many years, I went this way and that, never quite making up my mind, often feeling like I didn’t want to close down any option. Looking back, I see how this was partly a lack of faith and partly my INFP mind wanting to keep all my options open. In the meanwhile, life was “happening to me” at my corporate job where I felt increasingly like a cog in the wheel, unnamed and lost as a creative person.
It was only when I threw my hat into my writing self’s corner during my late-20s instead of trying to keep all possibilities open that I started making progress creatively. I decided that writing was the creative expression I wanted to consolidate and build up from. I could, of course, follow all my other loves, but this was going to be my main focus. Once I gave up my double-mindedness, it was then that I started moving forward.
As an INFP writer, we can channel the energy of our many different loves in writing: When I wrote The Empath’s Journey, it was heartening to see how all my different loves, instead of being distractions, were, in fact, now tools in my arsenal. When I had written a lot and emptied myself out, it didn’t mean I was blocked. It meant I had emptied all my words and needed to now dip into the realm of images. Then, doing art, something that seemed to nourish my very heart, filled me up and gave my writing another forward thrust.
During this process, it was also amazing to see how the energy of different activities magically translated into a piece of writing. Towards the end of writing the book, when I was trying to tie together the different ideas I had talked about in the preceding chapters, I felt exhausted and overwhelmed. I felt as if I didn’t quite know how to make the joins.
During this time, my husband Rohit, who loves giant 3,000 and 5,000-piece puzzles, was working on a small-for-him and overwhelming-for-me 1,000 piece puzzle. Usually, all I do is find him a few pieces. But this time, feeling frustrated that I wasn’t making progress with the book, I played for a bit. I let him give me directions and tried to emulate his patience as I sorted the puzzle pieces. In the end, I did maybe one-fifth of the puzzle. That gave me a real feeling of delight. When I wrote afterwards, I felt like I was translating this exercise in patiently fitting the different pieces into my last few chapters.
What was even more wonderful was that when I completed the book and my Beta readers read it, they told me how they had felt that the last few chapters were pieces of a puzzle coming together. Almost magically, the energy of puzzle-making had gotten transferred into the writing.
Since I began working on the book, I have noticed this translation of different loves in other people’s work as well. For example: the celebrated Indian-American writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni loves to paint. If you read her writing, her descriptions are almost visual. They are saturated in color, in light. It’s prose that feels very much like poetry.
Intuitive, imaginative writers can dip into the energy of different forms. INFPs, with their love for many subjects, can channel the feeling of all their different loves, all their sacred spaces into their writing. Our varied interests don’t have to paralyze us. They can be part of our writing process. They can be the fuel that gives us forward momentum. They can also be the pauses that help us rest. Their energy can weave in and out of our writing, and make it a living, breathing thing.
The Writer’s Voice Is Made up of Many Different Elements:
Writing a book has shown me how much writing is a “practice art,” where you learn most when you are down in the trenches. Before I wrote the book, I only had a limited understanding of “voice.” When I had workshopped some material in SF Grotto, a writer’s collective in San Francisco, I had come across different kinds of writers and understood viscerally that voice comes, first of all, from the markings of your own soul. Fundamentally, it depends on who you are, whether you are sarcastic and witty or imaginative and dreamy.
But writing The Empath’s Journey expanded that definition. It showed me that “voice” is constructed. That doesn’t mean it’s fake or artificial. What it does mean is that the way our voice comes across is made up of a series of creative decisions that add up to a whole. For example: I decided to include a few Hindi words in The Empath’s Journey because the book talks about how relocating from India to the United States nudged me towards rediscovering myself as an HSP and emotional empath. I didn’t want to overwhelm my readers with too many foreign-sounding words, so I consciously included only a select few Hindi words (and also translated them).
Using these words wasn’t just a stylistic choice. It tapped into my very feelings, into the pangs of homesickness I felt in the early days of being an immigrant. Like everyone who has left a home behind, language is one of my threads back, and I wanted to share those words and the feelings they contained with anyone who might read the book.
Even now, when I think of India, aflame red-flowered palash trees, the fragrance of Khus or Vetiver and the intoxicating beauty of Raat ki Raani (the Queen of the Night, as night-blooming jasmine is called) are precious fragments of my own self. So, they held a place in a story that talks about synthesizing a new home in a new country where nostalgia was mixed with feelings of overwhelm as I noticed scores of tiny details and again wondered how to relate to being “too sensitive.”
This was just one creative choice I made while writing my book. Another was deciding what personal incidents to include. Like many other INFPs, I am paradoxically both very reserved and also write from a personal space. So, sifting through and deciding what I wanted to share and what I wanted to keep private was a real exercise in learning to express my truth and my voice and deciding the parameters of what I felt was fully mine to share. These were just a few of the things I learned while writing The Empath’s Journey.
Completing it also showed me that I did have the patience and persistence to do it and not just dream it. It showed me that I didn’t have to transform to begin anything. I felt resistant time and again and wrote through it. The process was mostly hard work, but there were also some precious moments of feeling like everything was flowing, as if notes of music were cascading through me, as if I was sounding out the right words.
The experience taught me that “I am not enough” might come lashing out at me again and again, but that I can work in spite of this belief. I am something. I don’t have to be perfect to be myself. I am an artist who creates from everything that is flowing through her.
As are you.
If you are reading this, you have a dream. Our dreams can get choked with all the weeds that grow in our psyche. But you can reach inside and pull them out. The worlds that you spin, your very tendency to explore different directions as an INFP writer doesn’t make you into a dilettante. It makes you unique, someone who can piece together different elements into new combinations, someone who can combine different threads to create a new pattern.
The light is already there. You are the prism that makes it visible. Will you let it come through you? Will you let yourself shine?
Ritu Kaushal is a San Francisco Bay Area-based author and the blogger behind the popular HSP and empath-centric website www.walkingthroughtransitions.com. Her writing has appeared on Tiny Buddha, Sensitive Evolution, Elephant Journal and Having Time amongst others and has been shared thousands of times on social media. Ritu’s work pulls together different threads, combining personal and imaginative storytelling with insights from proven psychological concepts.
By and large, the biggest problem I run into with struggling authors is the challenge they have around marketing themselves. I hear a lot of different reasons for this: “I’m too introverted.” “I hate anything that has to do with sales.” “I don’t want to be fake or phony,” etc. I get those reasons, because way back in the day when I felt like I had an allergic reaction to anything that had to do with marketing, I told other writers I hated marketing because of those very same reasons.
But, here’s the thing. That really wasn’t the whole story.
For me, and for a lot of other authors out there, the real reason behind this aversion to marketing is something deeper. It’s something more personal, more emotional, and way more complicated.
Authors are artists, plain and simple. And being an artist in this world is not an easy existence. From the time we are children we know we are different. We see the world in a way that others don’t, and when we try to explain our observations and thoughts about it, we are usually met with bewilderment from others, or even downright scorn. So, we learn early that it’s safest to keep our viewpoint to ourselves, and this significantly impacts our self-expression.
Sadly, I have talked to dozens of writers and artists who still carry memories of when someone told them they shouldn’t keep writing or that their creations didn’t measure up to some ridiculous standard. These hurtful memories, and the protective shell we have built around ourselves in the aftermath, are what come into play when we feel that overwhelming resistance to marketing that we can’t fully explain, even to ourselves.
So, it’s no surprise that so many authors shy away from marketing before they even get started.
You can do a quick Google search and find thousands of articles and videos on book marketing. Tips and tricks and hacks and how to do it and how to get better at it and on and on into infinity. But if your emotional alarm system is set off by the thought of marketing, and all that old baggage from the past comes up, the content available might as well not even exist. Because you won’t really want to look at it, and if you force yourself to do it, you will emotionally shut down as you go through the process and be unable to engage with the material in a way that will serve you.
When this type of rooted-in-the-past, deeply entrenched resistance comes into play, the idea of marketing grows into something like a huge ugly monster, a giant boulder in your path, or a locked gate guarded by demons who only want to see you fail.
But in reality, at its most basic level, marketing is nothing more than the act of telling other people that you have something to sell, and you think they might like it, and here’s why.
To get to a place where the huge ugly monster of marketing can turn into something that is non-threatening, and possibly even something that is interesting and kind of cool, it’s helpful to start taking baby steps outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes this can be as simple as starting a blog, or posting on Facebook to let your friends and family know that they can read your writing on Wattpad. Sometimes it means expanding your current marketing plan by increasing your advertising budget or trying out a new platform that feels unfamiliar and a bit daunting. Whatever it is, it should be something that challenges you, but doesn’t feel outright terrifying. Something that feels like you’re taking the training wheels off, but you’re not yet diving straight into an extreme motocross race.
The more baby steps you take, the more you will get used to how it feels. The first time you take an action outside of your marketing comfort zone your brain will probably be highly aware of the waves of anxiety and self-doubt your action has provoked. But, as you keep taking these little baby steps, you’ll notice that the anxiety and self-doubt lessens over time, for the simple reason that our brains get used to things. Again, it’s like taking the training wheels off. The first time you wobble and feel like you’re going to fall, but after that you get used to the wobble, and then you start to be able to control it until you’re not wobbling at all.
If you’re really interested in conquering your fear of marketing, take a few minutes to do this quick exercise:
List 3 small things you could do this week to improve your marketing plan.
Pick one thing on the list and do it today.
Tell two friends who you trust about your plan to tackle the other two things on the list. Ask them to help hold you accountable to it.
Check in with yourself 7 days from now and look at what you accomplished. If you followed through on all 3 things, treat yourself to something nice that feeds your creative soul.
That’s it. You just did some marketing. And you can do it again. If you take small baby steps like this, over and over, it will add up. So do your writing a favor, make your 3-thing list, pick your thing and DO IT TODAY.
Because you’re a writer and you got this. There is nothing stopping you from making your writing dreams a reality.