Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Suit Yourself, Not Someone Else

Today I posted over on my author blog about being an HSP (highly sensitive person). It's a personality trait title for the scientific term, Sensory-Processing Sensitivity. In a nutshell, I get more easily overwhelmed than other people. I think a lot before entering situations, even a blog post. I often second-guess myself. And I'm a big crier. I cry a lot.

This has all made me stop and think about our personalities in correspondence to our writing strategies. This is one of the reasons why I get really, super irritated when I run across blog posts or articles claiming that there are only specific ways one should write a novel. I really dislike those "rule lists" you see go up all the time, and I really don't like writing advice in general, even though I have given it many times. I believe I've always made it clear that my advice is just suggestions, and I do believe trying out different things is a good thing, but a writer just shouldn't feel pressured to write a specific way. Ever.

For me, being an HSP, I have to outline. Writing by the seat of my pants is a Bad Idea because as with anything in my life, I plan. I observe. I once did National Novel Writing month (writing 50,000 words in a month), and it was a Bad Idea for me, even though it did eventually end up in a published novel, but not without a lot of heartache. Still, I tried it and found that writing under pressure does not work for me. I do no write best that way.

So this helps me see that my personality plays a huge part in the way I write. This should be obvious, of course, but I think a lot of writers these days listen too much to outside sources and not enough to themselves and their own needs. My suggestion today is that you stop and observe your own personality. Are you writing the most efficient way possible for how you normally function, or are you trying to force your writing style to suit someone else's idea of a good writing style? In all honesty, I think when we hit the correct stride of writing suited to our personality, that's where our voice really shines through.

28 comments:

  1. I totally agree that we all have our own "writing method." For me, I HAVE to have some sort of deadline (even if it is fake and self-imposed). Otherwise I am like a bird flittering toward shiny things...easily distracted and all over the place.

    I also have to write in pencil...in a notebook...with self-numbered pages. I have to outline as I go (to see where I have been, and then confirm it again 93 pages later). I have to write in silence (unlike so many writers who are helped into a mood by music). I can tune out background noise to some extent, but really why turn on music if I just tune it out?

    I have had people tell me to write only when I am genuinely "inspired"...um, yeah...if I did that, I would write for about 37 minutes per year. I have to write often, whether it feels like it is worthy words or pure drivel. I have to get it out...I can polish it later. The Muse tends to come around more often when I have some raw material for her to work with, anyway.

    I, too, get some serious sensory overload going on. And I will admit it...I wept openly over a certain Lifesaver commercial once.

    But the important thing, is that you recognize what you need and what works for you. It makes a world of difference!

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I seriously can't write by hand anymore, and it makes me sad. I get too cramped up in my fingers and I can't write fast enough and I just crash. So I'm jealous you do that! Glad you know what works best for you. It makes a huge difference, absolutely.

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  2. It's always interesting to see someones process even if it doesn't work for me. I need deadlines! I also have to trick my brain into wanting to write, so I like to give myself a forced writing hiatus every now and again. Nothing motivates me more than telling myself I CAN'T write for a week. Then it's all I want to do.

    If I did outlines I'd drive myself mad. They kill all my creative joy and find myself puppeteering my characters into illogical behavior just to serve my outline. I write and then I rewrite it until it makes sense. It probably take four times longer than it would for someone who has a more organized personality but it's the only way for the novel to flow for me.

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    1. Yay for reverse psychology on yourself! Hehehe, that's great. I can totally understand why you can't outline. I used to think that's what would happen for me, but I'm the type who has no qualms about going against the outline and/or changing it. When I read my first outline when I finish a book, I just laugh. How cute that I thought I knew where the book was going. :)

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  3. You make a very good point and now I need to go away and think a bit. I am also very sensitive, and pay too much attention to others opinions. I weigh every bit of advice and tend to be too fickle, swaying this way and that over every suggestion I hear because, as you know, there are always conflicting ideas out there. I'm in between writing projects right now, writing and rewriting queries (because I get so much great advice!) and can't seem to get going on a new piece. I think my difficulty is that I'm thinking too much about how the genre I'm considering or the protagonist I'm considering or the style I'm considering will be received. I need to trust myself and write what I want. That's the only way anything will get done. Thanks for reminding me! Christy

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    1. Christy, it sounds like you know what you need, so I suggest (it's not advice, *cough*) that you run with it and do what you want. Catering and worrying to what everyone else wants through the rest of your career will seriously suck the life out of you. People will see through it eventually, anyway. Just ignore it all do things YOUR way. Forget that I suggested this. ;)

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  4. You know I'm all about process, and I need to have a writing routine or I won't write at all. I don't believe in inspiration; I believe in routine and discipline. I believe in knowing the ending before you get too far along in the first draft. I also believe that most writing advice I've received has been either irritating or useless (often both) and that when my writing process gets upset in any way, I become twitchy and physically uncomfortable.

    I also get sensory overload easily. Social events wear me out and I'm always the first person ready to leave a party because I need quiet. I also have this weird thing with menus: if I go into an unfamiliar restaurant and there are a lot of things on the menu, it's all just a blur and I can't even read it. Too much is happening all at once. Which is sort of why I write to an outline; I need boundaries and limits or the choices overwhelm.

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    1. Ah, Scott, that all makes sense. We are so much alike it's scary. Menus freak me out too. I've never, ever said that aloud before, but it's true. The worst one is The Cheesecake Factory. Holy crap, it's a freaking novel. How their chefs keep up with all of that is beyond me.

      I find most advice irritating and useless, as well, but I'm usually willing to at least listen to it and try it if I seriously feel it will help me, which isn't often. I mean, you have to start somewhere, but I figure the older I get the less I'll be willing to try new stuff. Stubborn, I am, and will remain.

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    2. LOL- the menu thing made me smile (because I kind of understand what you mean). When I first came to the U.S (a 7-8 years ago)- I was overwhelmed by the number of choices. I remember the first few times I was at subway and I prayed that they wouldn't ask me which veggies I wanted in my sub. Also with coffee (oh and caffeine does make me nervous, so I've stopped drinking coffee)- the number of choices used to make me panic. I was relieved when I found this coffee place which made just one kind of coffee..:)

      What ended up happening to me was- I started researching every single thing (from laundry detergents to body creams) so now I have way too much information on too many things. but I feel less overwhelmed by choices. I guess the only reason I don't get overwhelmed by menus is that I am vegetarian, so don't have too many choices to begin with..:)

      Lavanya

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  5. "I think a lot of writers these days listen too much to outside sources and not enough to themselves and their own needs."

    --I completely agree. I try to limit my writerly advice to "Read, write, don't be afraid" but sometimes I can get a bit busy body and try to persuade others to use certain techniques that have worked for me. No one's voice should come through in your writing but your own.

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    1. Yes, exactly, Taryn! It's so easy to let noise in, and even to be a part of that noise, sadly. More and more I'm adopting the attitude of keeping my mouth shut. If I open it, I try to do it carefully.

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  6. I'm way too pig-headed to force my writing to fit someone else's idea of "proper" writing style. I do listen to criticism, and sometimes even act on it, but I still hold sway as the decision maker.

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  7. "I figure the older I get the less I'll be willing to try new things."

    I'm thankful that I don't suffer from this particular problem. Not to worry, though, I have plenty of others to worry about.

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    1. Chuck, hah, yeah, I'm not sure if it's a curse or what. It seems a lot of older people suffer from it.

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  8. Michelle, I absolutely agree with the conclusion of this post. I think it's so important that we listen to ourselves. And, personally, I think that what time and experience has given me is the sensitivity to be more aware of what I actually like. In the beginning we try different things. We're learning. It's all to get to a point where we can choose exactly what we want to write.

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    1. Davin, yes, that's exactly it - getting to a point to where we consciously choose. I'm thinking about your publishing decisions lately, and that's really having an effect on me.

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  9. Excellent post, Michelle. When you describe yourself you seem to be describing my own personality and my own ideas. Fabulous! I feel relieved to know that I am not alone.

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    1. Julia, you are definitely not alone! Thank you for reading. :)

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  10. I absolutely have to plan too. Any pantsing efforts on my part doesn't end well. The project is usually scrapped to be outlined later.

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    1. Laura, do you see that this has to do with your personality? Or is it separate for writing?

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  11. I agree there is no one way. I don't mind the advice and 'one way' lists that go up. I figure just give 'em a try and see if it works for me. Some bits do, some bits don't. I love plot outlines and even outline plots for each scene. Love the charts and character profiles and index cards. But I did try pantsing a NaNo novel once... some potential but basically must be rewritten from scratch (with a plot outline). I am a fan of deadlines though, stops me from getting out of me seat every five minutes for another biccie or cuppa :)
    Wagging Tales

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    1. Charmaine, yeah, I don't think most people who put up advice think it's the only way to go. I think most of the time they are just doing it as a suggestion, but so many writers (including myself at many points) take certain things as gospel, and it can really send you down the wrong path if you're not seeing that it's hurting you. I've never tried index cards! I have a feeling they wouldn't work for me, sadly. :(

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  12. I see myself in your description, way too sensitive, and I used to give way too much weight to anyone and everyone's opinion on my writing. But part of that was beginner's lack of confidence. I think I've since learned to always listen to criticism without always acting on it. No knee-jerk deletions or additions now that I'm older and wiser. But I've never written to an outline. I wouldn't know how to do that. Maybe I should try NaNo sometime!

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    1. Yvonne, the beginner's lack of confidence is hard, yeah. And yep, it doesn't hurt to try! But it's not necessary, either. Whatever you're comfortable with. :)

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  13. Thank you!

    I hate it when people make rules. And that's just it: they know what works for them and then make the arrogant assumption that it works for everyone and/or that every writer must do it that way or they're doing it wrong. /rant /run-on sentence

    :)

    How I do things:

    - I sometimes have parts of an outline, but they're not the law... more like "guidelines"

    - I don't work well under pressure either. NaNoWriMo was an absolute nightmare for me every time I tried, though Script Frenzy went really well. Twice. Odd.

    - I usually have a variety of music playing while I write. Twilight soundtracks are good for my writing, though what I write isn't anything like Twilight. I also have YouTube playlists, ranging from Taylor Swift to The Killers.

    Being antsy and somewhat out-there personality-wise, variety works well for me. That's why I have multiple projects at one time, often revise as I go, etc. Variety is my spice :)

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  15. I have a love-hate relationship with rules. They make me feel safe, even as I shrug off the weight of them. I read your post on HSP's (I'm also an HSP) and I find it interesting that you prefer to outline (correlating it with the HSP type) while I find outlining too restrictive (though later on in a story, I do have to get things under control with some kind of structural tool).

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