I met Jan O’Hara somewhere along the cyber highway. The when or where doesn’t matter so much as the fact that I liked her immediately. Maybe it’s her red hair or that sassy attitude or the fact that she loves Colin Firth as much (if not more) than me. Any fan of Colin is a friend of mine. I’m thrilled to host Jan today; she offers us great insight into writing and leaves us with a link to a virtual hug any time we want one. Welcome, Jan!
How Introvertus Interruptus Taught Me
Four Simple Writing Lessons
As a self-identified introvert, who generally becomes re-energized in solitude, imagine how surprised I was to find myself rocking a people-filled errand day this past summer.
It didn’t seem to matter where I went, either. Whether I was in the coffee shop, the grocery store, the bottle depot, the library, people were uniformly warm and receptive to my jokes. “Wow,” I remember thinking. “This could be addicting.” For a brief time it almost seemed possible to have a hive-free social life.
Then I caught a woman eyeing my chest.
Now, peeps, you don’t know me, but trust me when I say she wasn’t flirting with me or evaluating me as a sexual competitor. Nor was she a reality show makeover artist who’d found her next hapless victim client. Rather, she was my educator, for as her gaze scanned my boobage and a smile bloomed on her lips, I finally understood what had triggered that morning’s success:
- When I’d straggled out of bed and, in an unthinking moment, thrown on my husband’s pumpkin-orange t-shirt – the one with the caption My Mama Thinks I’m Special – I began to project a certain personality.
- Presumably thinking I was informal, approachable, and had a healthy sense of humor, strangers engaged me at an atypical level.
- We began a positive feedback loop in which pleasant conversation led to more of the same.
- The change was so profound I rethought my self-imposed label of “socially awkward.”
Why am I telling you this, and what bearing does this have on the world of writing? Well, I took a few lessons from that experience:
1. When working with people, it’s hard to go wrong if you operate from a place of self-deprecating humor. This is true whether you’re crafting blog posts, tweets, a Facebook status, or simply putting butt in chair to write fiction. People are eager to laugh and connect.
2. If the writing is going well, huzzah! Carry on. But if it isn’t and you’re trying desperately to recreate whatever worked three months or three years ago because that is the way you write best, dang it!, reconsider. Quite simply, we aren’t always the best judge of why things go well or go poorly. All we can do is experiment in a spirit of hope and tenacity until we find the combo that works for right now.
3. Be mindful of the stories you tell yourself about your struggles as a writer, because to some degree, we get what we expect. Optimists label setbacks as temporary, external, and specific to particular circumstances. So for instance, it’s healthier to say, “I haven’t mastered the art of scene transition yet,” than to say, “I suck as a writer.” (And it’s healthier to say “I tend to be an introvert” rather than “I’m a socially-awkward hermit.”)
4. Take the time to view your writing environment with fresh eyes. What does it tell the world about the importance writing plays in your life? What does it tell you? Within the resources available to you right now, are you making it as easy as possible to slip into a productive writing mode?
For instance, I work better without clutter. If my office gets away from me and I don’t have time to tidy it, I’ll head to the coffee shop or library to write, then come back to establish order.
I also work better when I don’t take myself too seriously, so I’ve tried to extrapolate that Forrest-Gump-shirt ethos to my office, using free or reasonably-priced props that require little maintenance. Once set up, they act on a subliminal level to relax me and buoy my spirits.
This is why my office walls feature Betty Boop tin art and I’ve been known to wear Mr. Bean t-shirts. My mechanical timer, which I use to motivate myself for less-pleasant tasks, is a pig named Pinky MacOinkus.
On days where I’m feeling a touch of loneliness, I switch Pinky out for a timer my brother made specifically for me. The latter displays a customized picture and sound, so every time I use it, it’s almost like getting a hug. (If you have a PC and would like to try it, you are welcome to download the TartAlarm with this link).
What about you folks? Are you an introvert who’s discovered untapped depths of extroversion? Have you worked to change your internal dialogue about your writerly struggles? If you could make one modest improvement to your writing space, what would it be? Conversely, what feature of your office brings you the most pleasure?
Jan O’Hara left her writing dreams behind for years to practice family medicine, but has found her way back to the world of fiction. Currently the voice of the Unpublished Writer on Writer Unboxed, she’s hard at work on her contemporary romances, hoping one day soon to become unqualified for the position. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two children, and welcomes visitors to her citrus-infused blog, Tartitude. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.