Writing with Personality for Introverts

Writing With Personality

Five Fresh Starts for the Living

I’ve studied, trained on, and spoken to audiences about human personality for over a quarter of a century now. But one of my favorite ways to use my education is to help my writing friends.

Recently, one of my author pals described her struggle. “I can’t seem to find my motivation. This summer has flown by with my visiting children and grandchildren. By the time they leave, I’m exhausted and don’t feel like doing anything creative.

“Having a recently retired husband under foot isn’t helping either. I’ve tried moving to several different rooms, but the noise of the TV or his honey-do repairs, not to mention his unrequested input or endless questions, disrupt my thoughts. When I write, I need quiet time to reflect, organized space to prepare, and a break from other people. I also need my family to take what I do seriously — most of them don’t think writing is real work.”

My friend is definitely an introvert. And what she was voicing was permission to work according to her intrinsic, soul-deep needs.

I replied, “It’s okay for you to feel this way. Have you told your family how you feel?”

“Not really,” she said with a sigh. “I don’t want to offend them.”

“I understand, but do you realize they may not grasp what they are doing to you?”

“They should.”

“We often assume other people know what our needs are, but the truth is, unless we tell them, few even think about it. One thing you might consider is coming up with an assertive, yet respectful way to let the people in your life know what’s bothering you. For instance, you could say, ‘I think my writing might have caused some confusion. I know most people don’t realize I’m working, especially since I do it from home, even I forget sometimes. But this is part of my job. I hope you understand if I put a few guidelines in place, to hold me accountable, so my work gets done and I meet my deadlines. It might mean I’m not available as much as you are used to.'”

“I could probably do that,” my friend replied.

I chuckled as I remembered when I first created my Writer’s Cave guidelines with my own family and friends. I had imagined all kinds of reactions, but once I shared my plan, they took it in stride and quickly adapted. It freed me from much writing angst.

I commiserated with my friend. “Dealing with your husband is a different matter — since he does live in your home too.”

Her soft laughter had a tinge of nervousness to it.

“Have you tried scheduling yourself in a closed room for a period of time and asked your husband if he could keep the volume down? Have you requested he wait to do repairs or ask questions until your allotted time ends?”

“Well, no.”

“Silencing ear muffs are another great alternative. I’ve got a set you can borrow.”

Her laughter had a relaxed ring this time. “I’ll have to check into those.”

“If neither of those options work, or if it offends your family, then maybe you could find a quiet coffee shop, restaurant, or other location away from home to help you concentrate. One with few people, since company drains your creative juices.

You can honestly tell your family and friends, ‘I won’t be available from this time to this time, I have a writing appointment.’ They don’t need to know the details, or that your appointment is with yourself.”

“I like that last option. Thanks.”

My introverted friend needed emotional support more than anything. She needed permission to be herself, someone drained of creative energy after an extended period of time with other people, even those she loves deeply. She knew what was necessary, but was afraid to act, she needed a third-party voice to set her free.

It must have worked. The last I heard, she was making good progress.

Know Thyself -- SocratesWriting with Personality is helpful for introverts, and their counterparts, extroverts. (I’ll share some insights about the latter next time.) But wherever you fall on the personality spectrum, as Socrates reminds, know yourself, and allow you to be and do as needed — otherwise, you will struggle to get your writing done. Another great writer and natural introvert, Karen Jordan, shared her insider’s perspective recently — it’s a great read, especially if you don’t want to feel alone.

Are you drained or energized by extended periods of time spent with other people?

 

Google Docs: A Helpful Tool for Writers Who Want to Collaborate

woman on laptop

Years ago Ethan Pope and I wrote a book together called There’s No Place Like Home (Broadman & Holman). Thanks to email, the phone, and a fax machine, we were able to communicate pretty well back them. But not nearly as well as Karen Jordan and I recently did as we worked together on a book proposal. Our collaboration was so much easier because of Google Docs!

What is Google Docs? It’s a free online word processor available to anyone who has a gmail account (which you can get for free). Like most word processing programs, it makes it possible for you to change the appearance of a document: the size of the text, spacing of lines, paragraph styles, headings, etc.

It also allows you to write, edit, and collaborate with others at the same time. And you can upload a Word document and then convert it to a Google document that can be edited by multiple people from different locations.

Levels of Editing Permission

When you want to share your Google Doc, you can grant three different levels of editing permissions:

  • Can edit: This is the default for sharing with specific people. It allows them to make changes and share the file with others.
  • Can comment: Allows others to view and comment on a file, but they cannot make any changes.
  • Can only view: Gives permission for someone to open a file but not to change it or comment.

The sharing settings can be changed anytime.

Other helpful Google Doc features

Another neat feature of Google Docs is that it allows you to see your revision history. If needed, you can restore a document to a previous version. When you are satisfied with your Google Doc, you can download it in another format such as Microsoft Word, pdf, plain text, etc. And, you can even publish it to the web.

If you would like to email your documents to other people, you can do that, too. And if all of this isn’t enough, you can put Google Docs in your Android or iPhone.

I consider myself to be a novice when it comes to Google Docs, but using it was invaluable to Karen and me! Those wanting to try it out could learn much more about it by visiting Google’s “getting started guide” and the Google Docs blog.

Also, you may want to watch this free webinar given to teachers about how to use Google Drive and Google Docs. I watched it and thought it was helpful.

Yes, a lot has changed in the world of technology in the last decade. One wonderful tool for writers who want to work together is Google docs!

If you have been using Google docs, what tips and suggestions do you have for writers who want to collaborate?

10 Tips For Writing Well

10 writing tips

Some types of communication require writers to string a lot of words together as quickly as possible. (Maybe you have a day job that requires this!) When I’m writing in this way, I don’t pause to weave beautiful phrases or engage the reader with well-crafted sentences. But there are other writing projects in which I want to gift readers with words that shine. For these projects, there are some rules of writing that guide me as I purpose to be as artful and effective as possible.

 1. Be specific.

Use precise language. Not “tool,” but lathe.  Not “hot,” but fiery. Not “fruit,” but mango.

2. Appeal to a reader’s senses.

Appeal to the reader’s senses by including sights, smells, tastes, sounds and textures.

3. Avoid flowery speech.

Overusing adjectives and adverbs makes your speech too flowery. Mary DeMuth exhorts, “Use a better noun instead of a weak one that needs an adjective. Use a stronger verb instead of one that leans on an adjective or adverb for help.”

4. Use active voice.

Employ active voice, rather than passive, to create interest and keep readers engaged.

5. Avoid fancy words.

Don’t use a splendiferous fancy word when a plain one will do.

 6. Eliminate unnecessary words.

If any words or sentences can be removed without changing a text’s meaning, your writing will be stronger if you scrap ‘em.

7. Vary sentence length and structure.

Use simple, short sentences. Also use longer and more complex ones.

8. Choose original combinations of words.

Reach beyond clichés and stereotypes to discover fresh expression. “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” (Orwell’s 6 rules of writing in “Politics and the English Language,” 1946)

9. Write to one person.

I’ve heard my wise friend Jonathan Merritt say, “If you try to write a book to everybody, you’ll end up writing a book to nobody. If you try to write a book to somebody, you’ll end up writing a book for anybody.” Identify your target reader—sister? neighbor?—and write to that one person.

10. Show, don’t tell.

Allow readers to discover what you have by painting colorful moments, conversations, conflicts, etc. Writing that “tells” simply informs, like recipe ingredients. Writing that “shows” offers reader a taste of yummy cake.

Cheering you on,

Margot

Enjoying Variety in Writing

Mixed fruits and vegetables at organic fair

Mixed fruits and vegetables at organic fair

Just as a wide selection of fruits and vegetables makes for a nutritionally balanced diet that promotes good health, variety in writing can improve the quality of prose a person produces. While specializing in one type of writing allows a person to focus, I believe a writer can benefit from tackling different lengths and styles of writing assignments. Here are three ways that writing articles helps an author of a book:

  1. Article writing teaches clarity. The limited word count of an article trains an author to think clearly and write concisely. While an author of a book can define and develop his or her message across many chapters, a writer preparing an article must get the job done in less than a few pages. I found that article writing for journals and magazines helped me winnow my words and learn to support my key ideas with only the strongest illustrations from the most reliable sources. Article writing also honed my ability to write an outline – a skill useful for writing book proposals.
  2. Article writing permits creativity. If you want to test an idea or a style, find a suitable publication and write a query to the editor. If you succeed, you will probably have between 1000 and 2500 words to try out your concept. If you discover a great new topic that deserves further exploration, you can follow up by writing a book proposal. If you find that you can express all your thoughts on the topic within an article or two, you have broadened your horizons without the long commitment that book writing entails. Move on and try another topic until you find your niche. Working with a variety of editors will improve your writing career. You will gain insights and learn new techniques from each editor.
  3. Article writing expands an author’s audience. To be granted the privilege of publishing a book, you need a platform. To maintain book sales, you need to connect with readers. Article writing creates the platform a novice writer needs in order to obtain that first book contract. Article writing also helps a seasoned author keep in touch with readers. Choose publications most likely to interest your potential readers, but, remember, if you write for new publications, you will expand your audience. Online publications or print publications with an online presence create opportunities to share your work across social media, a bonus for an author trying to reach more people.

I have learned to enjoy variety in writing, appreciating the different approaches to communicating to the specific audience for a given publication. Article writing gives me the opportunity to address a wider variety of issues than I could cover through book writing alone. What types of writing have shaped your writing career? What have you learned from writing beyond the pages of a book?

7 Ways Writers Can Find an Exclusive Voice

It’s one of the best compliments I receive from readers. “I loved your book. I could hear you encouraging me as I read. It felt like we were talking over lunch.”

Unique. Transparent. Courageous. Authentic. Fresh. Today’s most popular writing voices are often identified by these descriptors. But how do you tap into the exclusive inflections that showcase your authentic self on the page?Grandpa and Granddaughter

Recently, while watching my nine-month-old granddaughter amuse herself by practicing her newly discovered babble, I thought about a writer’s struggle to speak on paper. In the infancy of our career, we could learn a lot from babies about speaking in an identifiable way. And if we relax and learn to amuse ourselves in the process, we’ll likely find our voice faster.

Most of us need help understanding our voice. But if you follow the seven steps listed below, I can assure you, very soon, you’ll relax into the thrill of conversational-style writing.

  1. Karen Jordan author of Words That Change EverythingWrite to your best friend, parent, sibling, spouse, or child. Someone you wouldn’t hold back with. Last month, I rode to and from the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association Conference, (AWSA), and Christian Booksellers Association, (CBA/ICRS), expo with my author friend, Karen Jordan. One of the things I love about her new book, Words That Change Everything, is her transparent way of writing. Like me, she often envisions a specific person when writing her words.
  2. Imagine your ideal reader. Then, write to them, and only them. Writing expert Jeff Goins says, “My ideal reader is smart. He has a sense of humor, a short attention span, and is pretty savvy when it comes to technology and pop culture. He’s sarcastic and fun, but doesn’t like to waste time. And he loves pizza.”
  3. Ask yourself, What do I like to read? Spend some time looking closely at the books, articles, and blogs you are drawn to. What are their similarities and differences? What is the personality of the writer?
  4. Review your recent writing, and ask yourself, Is this how I talk?
  5. Interview some of your readers. Ask them, “What does my writing voice sound like to you?” List the answers you receive, and ask yourself, Are they hearing the real me through my words?
  6. Don’t start your project/page/chapter by thinking about writing for publication; at first, simply write it for yourself. Free-write without pressure or hindrance — you can always trash it later. But for now, allow your mind to run unfettered and your fingers to type unbound. The gems that shine through your free expression may surprise you, and will lend to freshness in your voice.
  7. Ask yourself, If I knew I had thirty days to live, is the message I’m sharing coming through in its purest state? Is this what I would want to say to the world through my last breaths, and how I would want to express it?

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverRemoving our writing masks takes intentional effort. When I wrote Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, I left puddles of emotional blood on many pages. However, I knew readers needed me to do it — our creative endeavors depend on reaching into our souls to thrust our true selves onto the page. When we do, readers feel like they know us personally, and want to draw nearer. Loyal fans are engaged when they can recognize our projects, without seeing our names.

Can you hear my writing voice in this article? How have you learned to write from your authentic writing voice?

Surviving the Valley

You hear a lot on the writing journey that it’s filled with highs and lows—probably more so in publishing because it’s rapidly changing and I personally wouldn’t consider any part of the industry stable or predictable.

valley-of-fire-1390258_1920The problem is the valley is hard. What exactly do you do? Do you give up writing? How do you readjust to keep your writing career moving forward when seemingly no one wants the words you’re putting on the page?

My writing valley (really—the deep dark hole of despair) started after my first trilogy was published. I worked really hard marketing those books, had great reviews, and two out of three of the books were each nominated for multiple awards. I was even told by my publisher that I was (at one point) their second-bestselling fiction author.

I thought there was no way my next proposal wouldn’t be picked up—by somebody. Well, it wasn’t and to be honest it put me in a psychological funk. I was pretty convinced that my envisioned bestselling author status dreams were rapidly crumbling in front of my eyes.

I’ve come through my first major valley (I’m sure one of many to come) and I thought I’d share what I did to survive it without throwing my writing career in the trash and lighting it on fire.

  1. Grieve. It’s okay to be sad about it. The writing life is unpredictable—even that’s a pretty generous understatement. Your writing life didn’t go as planned and it’s hard to readjust dreams sometime—but do readjust.
  2. Help other authors. Help them promote their books. Read books for endorsement. Review novels. Keep your name in the reader’s mind by having your name on their books.
  3. Stay active on social media. Even if you’re not publishing, keep engaging with your readers and other authors.
  4. Keep writing and learning the writing craft. Above all else—don’t stop writing. Journal. Blog. Write a new book proposal. Use this time to brush up on the areas of your writing that aren’t strong. Read those numerous writing craft books that have been piling up beside your bed (come on, I know you have them!) Learn those pesky computer things you’ve been putting off. Scrivner. Newsletter distribution sites. Take an on-line writing course. Even James Patterson has one now that’s very reasonably priced.
  5. Write outside your genre. During my valley, an editor from Guideposts reached out to me and asked me to audition for a cozy mystery series they were putting together. Hmm. Cozy mystery? I write thrillers. Straight up thrillers. I honestly didn’t think I could write gentle enough for a cozy mystery, but what else was I really doing? So I tried it. My first submission, well, you could probably predict the feedback I received. Too dark. The heroine’s not cheery enough. By the way, this surprised no one that knew me. But I resubmitted—and they loved it! And then the series didn’t move forward. I auditioned for a different Guideposts series and washed out again. Maybe cozy mystery wasn’t for me, but it did prove I could write something other than thrillers and I built bridges to editors at Guideposts even if they didn’t take me on for those projects.
  6. Fractured MemoryListen to God’s nudgings. Looking back with perfect vision, I felt that God used the Guideposts experience to get me to write outside my comfort zone. During this process, I started thinking about a contest called Blurb to Book that Love Inspired was hosting. Never did I imagine I would write for them. I didn’t think I was a good fit, but I found myself obsessing about this contest to the point where I couldn’t sleep. So I entered, and I ended up winning a contract for Fractured Memory, my novel releasing this month from Love Inspired Suspense. Suddenly, I was clawing my way out of that dark writing well.
  7. Go indie. In this writing age, there is literally no reason to not have content out for readers. Don’t quit your day job and scrap and save every penny you can to hire a good editor, proofreader, and book cover designer. I do say this with some caution—be sure you put out a good book! Don’t sabotage yourself into another pit.

Overall, take the valley as a place that can provide rest, rejuvenation, and growth. Perhaps you will need to go back to a paying job or postpone the plans that you had of quitting or reducing your hours. Just know that the valley is survivable and it doesn’t have to mean the demise of your writing career.

Tell me, how have you survived low points in your writing career?

 

 

Don’t ride . . . DRIVE the train!

trainAbout fifteen years ago, while taking a graduate course in Spirituality and Leadership, I had a professor who presented me with one of the most motivational sayings I’ve ever encountered: “Don’t just ride the train, be the engineer!”

Okay, maybe not the most theological statement I heard in the course of my graduate program, but it lit up my brain in ways I’d rarely experienced since finishing my undergrad degree decades earlier. Knowing myself to be an introvert and nonconfrontational, I’d always preferred to have someone else take the lead in projects at work; the only role in which I felt confident enough to be in charge was as a mother to my children. (Looking back, I can only say that ignorance was truly bliss, but that’s another post or two or a thousand.)

But the moment my professor uttered that directive, I had an epiphany that any writing career I wanted to pursue was going to demand that I drive the train, and not just ride along on whatever might come my way. As a result, I began to view writing as a vehicle I would steer, and, when necessary, refuel with energy and hard work. I also accepted that no one else cared as much as I did whether that train finally arrived; not even the support of spouse, family and friends (as important as that is!) would bring that train into the station if I didn’t commit myself to being the engineer.

I share this story with you because every writer needs to know that writing requires you to make that train your own: if you want to be successfully published, you have to learn the business, and these days, that means EVERY aspect of the business: writing craft, understanding your audience, marketing, platform building, travel requirements, publishing trends. Gone are the days when your publisher says, “Thanks for writing this swell book. We’ll take it from here.” Even your agent – if you’re fortunate enough to land an agent – can’t hold your hand through every stage of book development, because she or he is swamped just trying to navigate a path to publishers through all the layers of the industry – layers which can shoot down a book proposal for reasons of marketing or audience or numbers of your social followers, which may have nothing to do with the actual value of the book you’re creating.

You have to take ownership of your career. You have to drive the train to where you want it to go.

And that may be the biggest plus of being the engineer – you can CHOOSE where you want your career to go. It will take hard work and learning from the experience itself, but if you find you’re being called to write romance instead of devotionals, or humor instead of profiles, or politics instead of fiction, you can steer that train of your writing career onto different tracks, and see where it takes you. Maybe it will only be a short detour and you’ll end up at your original destination. That’s great! Then again, it may be a whole new journey on the writing rails.

Are you ready to drive the train?