How Learning My Personality Type Is Helping Me Write My Next Story

I’ve always been proud of my productivity. When I know something needs to get done, I plan without hesitation. I create goals, break them down into smaller tasks, and celebrate little victories. My planner is my savior.

When it came to writing I took the same approach. I planned my ideas down to the tiniest detail. My outlines ran ten pages long because each chapter contained as much information as possible. My character sheets were thorough and their relationships clearly defined.

Then the time came to start the first draft and my fingers wouldn’t budge. My brain hit a brick wall and I’d be sitting there — twenty minutes or more — just staring at the blank screen before me. 

What the hell?

I couldn’t figure out why with this amazing outline in front of me I wasn’t able to write. I spent a month or more planning, plotting, and outlining. The actual writing part should be a piece of cake. Right? Wrong!

This happened more times than I care to admit. I gave up writing fiction for a long time because of it. I just couldn’t seem to get a draft written with a full-fledged outline.

I’d read advice from best-selling authors and aspiring writers alike where they’d all say, “Just start.” 

One of my favorite Stephen King quotes even goes…

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

I’m going to say something you probably shouldn’t say (unpopular opinion?): But the advice of “just start writing” is bullshit. It’s all well and good to tell someone that, but it’s a lot harder than it sounds. It’s literally the saying, “Easier said than done.”

I knew the concept of “just start.” I share that advice with people myself. And why not? It’s solid advice. You truly can’t finish something unless you start. But that advice doesn’t help me when I’m sitting with my fingers frozen above my keyboard. 

Because in my mind I’ve already started. I put time and effort into the outline I created. Yes, I know an outline and a draft are two different beasts, but the notion that I could punch out an exceptionally detailed outline but not a draft was bothering me.

Now, I’ve finished manuscripts before. At least five. All written and edited with a detailed outline beside me.

So what changed? Why isn’t this tried and true method working for me anymore?

The older I get and the more I learn about this industry has made me realize a few things:

  1. You cannot expect a process to work for you forever.
  2. It’s hard to put your own writing advice into practice.
  3. The only writing advice that matters is the one that gets you writing.

As a copywriter, I know if I don’t produce a piece of content by the due date I tell my clients to expect it, I’m not doing my job right. I’m putting my business in jeopardy. Since copywriting is still writing, I’ll admit I have off days. There are days I don’t have any inspiration to write a blog or email sequence. But I set my timer for an hour, draft whatever comes to mind, and edit it the next day. Sometimes I find what I wrote wasn’t horrible. Other times I cringe reading it back.

So I ask again, why can’t I do that with fiction writing?

If you’ve made it this far, I applaud you. I realize I spent the first chunk of this post whining and I apologize. Let’s get to the solution, shall we?

While sorting through old files, I found my Myers-Briggs results. Done when I was working for a non-profit, I was reminded that I’m an INFJ-T also known as “The Advocate.” Essentially, I am someone with introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging personality traits. The T stands for Turbulent, which is the opposite of Assertive. I never really dove into the meaning of this until recently. 

I was particularly struck by this paragraph:

People with the Intuitive trait prefer to exercise their imaginations as they seek new ideas and possibilities. They live their day-to-day lives just like any other personality type. But while that’s happening, their minds tend to point inward while at the same time gently focusing somewhere beyond the horizon. Their lives are ones of questioning, wondering, and connecting the dots in the “bigger picture,” and they love the theoretical. They often ask, “What if?” and ponder the possibilities the future might hold. [1]

Further reading led me to discover that INFJ types create more through intuition and feeling rather than observations and thinking. This then brought me to look deeper at the differences between plotters and pantsers. Wouldn’t you know it, but most INFJ personalities are pantsers. 

For those that don’t know what I’m talking about: In the writing community, writers often identify as plotters, pantsers, or plantsers. Plotters detail their story from beginning to end. They know every twist, every turn, every character flaw. Pantsers write “by the seat of their pants.” They are inspired by an idea and write without a plan. Plantsers are a combination. They have a general idea of what they want to write and have some basic outline things down, but if they go off-script they’re okay with it. 

Have I been doing this all wrong? Has having a rock-solid outline disrupted my intuitive feelings when it comes to writing? I’m a planner, yes, but perhaps I’m not a plotter.

With this new knowledge in hand, I plan — LOL — to tackle my next project using the pantser method. I have a few ideas in mind and a lot of “what if’s” brewing. So I am going to “just start.” I don’t know how long I’ll be drafting for or where the story will take me, but I’m excited. This is the first time I’ve been excited about a fictional story in a long time.

I’ll be sure to update you guys with how it’s going.

And I also recommend finding out your personality type. If you feel like the process you’ve been using has been slipping from your grasp perhaps you need to try something new. If your process works every single time, then keep it up. I’m not here to tell you to try something that won’t work for you. I’m here to tell you that if something isn’t working, maybe you need to look deeper into yourself to find out why.

Do you know your Myers-Briggs personality type? Do you swear by outlines or do you switch up your process project to project?

You Have to Learn to Pace Yourself

I’ve been thinking a lot about pressure. To be more specific I’ve been thinking a lot about the pressure we put on ourselves.

January is over. The first month of 2021 is gone. Did anyone else feel like January was as long as this pandemic? No? Just me? Ok.

Let me ask you this then: Are you pleased with what you got done in January? Or do you feel like you could’ve done more?

If you’re thinking the latter then this post is for you. You are my people.

Like you, I didn’t get everything I wanted to get done in January. There were moments I had time reveal itself to me but I didn’t take it. Twelve days in, I started to resent myself for not taking the free time I had.

The instant a weight of self-loathing began pressing on my shoulders, I paused everything I was doing and gave myself a pep talk. I took out my journal and literally wrote, “Relax! It’s only the first month of the year.”

After that, I took a few deep breaths and decided to give myself the next day off. I read, I rewatched season 3 of Cobra Kai, and I updated my Spotify playlists. For the rest of the month, I allowed myself to get away with not doing something just because there was time to do it. 

And you know what, it was glorious.

I pride myself on being a productive person. I’m always writing something, plotting something, reorganizing something. Having my own business and working from home gives me the freedom to change my hours as I see fit. Though I usually stick to the same hours, it’s nice to know I have the flexibility to alter them if something comes up.   

I want to share this tweet from author and screenwriter, C. Robert Cargill:

He isn’t kidding. 

In January alone we saw a siege on the Capitol building, a second impeachment, and the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris (Madam Vice President!!!). Basically, it was a month of roller-coaster emotions. People were scared, excited, hopeful, worried. I myself felt all of those plus some. My mind was so preoccupied with the state of the world, I barely had the creative energy to write.

If you — like me — didn’t get a lot done because you were trying to hold it together, it’s ok.

Personally, the majority of the writing I did during January was journal writing. My goal was to make sure my mental state was in check. The last thing I worried about was a deadline or finishing my plot outline. 

Now, if you were able to write or complete your January to-do list, way to go! Never be ashamed for working hard. Everyone reacts differently to historical moments. Whatever your reaction was to these January events, I’m here to tell you it’s normal.

February is a new month. The Age of Aquarius starts in February. It is a time of rebirth and transition. Let January be known as the month you dipped your toes in the water. February is the month you’ll jump in, swim forward, and never look back.

Let’s go!

If you don’t already I recommend following C. Robert Cargill on Twitter. He posts a lot of inspirational and relatable writing posts.

Fun fact: The title of this post comes from Billy Joel’s song “Pressure.” It’s a great tune that was sung by Jane Levy on Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist in an absolutely hysterical scene. If you’re not watching that show, I highly recommend giving it a go. I’ve never laughed and cried so much.

How did your January go? Did you get everything done that you wanted to? Did you feel more stressed than usual? Comment below.

NaNoWriMo Check-in and How to Avoid Burning Out in the Last Week

We’re in the final full week of NaNoWriMo. Can you believe it? I swear I blink and the month is gone.

How are you doing?

Are you on track to writing 50k words? Are you a bit behind, but feel confident you’ll catch up? Are you glad to have any amount of words written without a care as to whether you do 50k?

If you’re like me, welcome to the any amount of words written club.

I started to fall behind midway through the second week of NaNoWriMo. This didn’t surprise me. I knew it was bound to happen. I knew because this month I’m currently:

  • Participating in NaNoWriMo.
  • Writing and editing personal essays for upcoming contests.
  • Writing and editing flash fiction stories for upcoming contests.
  • Editing a proposal for a December 1 deadline.
  • Editing a query letter for a December 1 deadline.
  • Writing content for my copywriting clients.
  • Pitching services to new clients.

All in the single month of November!

Ambitious? You betcha. Insane? Hell yes. Biting off more than I can chew? Maybe. 

I woke up feeling a slight touch of burnout on November 16 and decided to give myself the day off. I knew it’d set my NaNoWriMo project back, but I also know that I’ll finish the project. Definitely not on November 30, but maybe on December 7 or December 14. Either way, I know I’ll get it done.

Burnout is nothing to be proud of. I saw a quote on LinkedIn the other day stating people wear burnout as a badge of honor and we need to stop doing that. It’s true. Working yourself to the point where you physically and mentally can’t handle anything is not healthy.

Yes, you gave yourself the challenge of writing 50,000 words in November for NaNoWriMo, but if you don’t “win” it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Even if you fell short by 1,000 words, be proud of yourself. 

Believe me, looking at that bullet list, I’m freaking out. I know that’s a lot to tackle in a month. Even for someone like me who is a pretty damn good time manager.

I knew instantly on the morning of November 16 that I needed a break. The symptoms of burnout are clear:

  • Headaches
  • Stomachache
  • Feeling drained
  • Reduced creativity
  • Exhaustion
  • Cynicism

If you wake up feeling any one or more of these symptoms, give yourself a day to rest and recharge!

I’m going to break a major taboo right now: you don’t have to write every day to be a writer. Once more for the people in the back:

You don’t have to write every day to be a writer.

This is something I learned far too late in my writing career. I felt if I didn’t write and write 1,000+ words every day, I wasn’t a good enough writer. I wasn’t dedicated enough. This mindset led me into two and a half years of no writing and deep depression. I wanted to vomit every time I picked up a pen or turned on my laptop.

Then I stumbled upon a bunch of writers part of the I-don’t-write-every-day-club and my life was changed forever.

NaNoWriMo challenges you to write every day, but it’s not going to yell at you if you don’t. Only you can do that. What I love most about the website — courtesy of a writerly friend — is how it gives you an estimated date of when you’ll finish. It averages out your word count and updates that deadline every time you put in a new word count.

Right now, mine says December 14. That’s two weeks from November 30. Even if it elongates, it’s nice to know I’m on track and nearing the finish line.

Do yourself a favor. If you’re feeling any of the signs of burnout, give yourself one day to relax. Sleep in. Binge a few episodes of a show you love. Read a book. Know those 50,000 words will be written. Your writing is important, but not at the risk of your mental and physical state.

Take care of yourself, my friends. The world needs your words.

Your turn. Have you ever been burnt out before? How’s your NaNoWriMo going? Are you done? Close to the finish line? I’d love to hear how you unwind when you feel on the verge of burning out.

10 Online Shops to Find the Perfect Bookish Gift

It’s never too early to start thinking about holiday gifts. And online shopping this year is predicted to be higher than any other year — thanks, COVID — so it’s time to start ordering now. 

If you’re looking for the perfect gift for the bookish person in your life, or if you need to give people an idea of what to get you, I’ve gathered some sites that offer amazing items. I certainly wouldn’t mind getting some of this stuff.

Whether they’re a writer or an avid book reader, your bookish loved one will appreciate the thought you put into their present this year.

Here’s my top ten list of places to find the perfect gift for the writer or reader in your life.

  1. Scribbler
  1. Book of the Month
  1. Out of Print
  1. OwlCrate
  1. MyBookBox
  1. Frostbeard Studio
  1. Chick Lit Designs
  1. Storiarts
  1. Introverts Retreat
  1. Our Little Book Club

Happy shopping!

Tools to Help You Succeed at NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is a week away and if you aren’t hyperventilating yet, please don’t start. You’ll be fine. Remember, you’re joining thousands of other writers across the globe embarking on the exact same journey. Connect with them. Lift each other up. Cheer each other on.

You’ve got this!

Since I’ll be participating this year, I thought I’d share some of my favorite resources. These are essential whenever I sit down to write.

Self Control

How many times have you said, “Ok, I’m going to write for an hour and not check Facebook or Instagram.” But then you remembered an awesome outfit or meal on your friend’s account and you want to use it in your story. You break your promise and go on social media. Next thing you know, your hour of writing is up and you’ve only written 100 words.

Mind you, it’s 100 words you didn’t have before, but you’d have a lot more if it wasn’t for social media. 

Self Control is a great, free, app you can use to block certain sites. You create a “blacklist” of sites, set the timer, and within that time frame, if you try and go to those listed sites, Self Control will block them.

It’s pretty ingenious. But what about your phone? How do you stop yourself from switching to your phone for a social media fix? 

The best and only option: put your phone in another room. Or invest in a kitchen safe. Put your phone in the jar, set the timer, and get to work. You won’t be able to remove the lid until the timer goes off. 

These may seem like extreme measures, but if you’re too easily distracted by your phone or social media, they’re actually pretty smart investments.

Be Focused

Bestselling author V.E. Schwab swears by timed writing sprints. She tracks these sprints monthly in her notebook which she shares via her social media. These sprints are usually 30 minutes each.

You may have heard of the Pomodoro Technique. A popular time management method, you work on whatever task you assign yourself for 25 straight minutes. Afterward, you get a five-minute break. Then you work for another 25 minutes and so on. Once you complete four sessions, you get a longer break.

Be Focused is an app that makes using the method easy.

This method has been a life-saver for me. I prefer timed goals rather than word count goals and this one makes me quite productive. Some days I only have time for two sessions instead of four. On really tight days, I can only do one session. But focusing on writing and nothing but writing for those 25 minutes sees a pretty impressive word count.

The app is free and there are a few variations. If you don’t want to use the app, the timer on your phone works just fine. 

Trello

Trello is a list-making website that is great for project management. My team at the non-profit I work at uses it to track our projects and now I use it for writing and personal projects.

You can make “boards” for each individual story and create lists for characters, scenes, playlists, etc. Within those lists can be tasks/notes and within those tasks are the nitty-gritty details like checklists, due dates, and resources. 

What I love about Trello are the functions. You can create labels and color code them. You can attach links, YouTube videos, images, Google docs/sheets, and more. I love making checklists because breaking large projects into smaller tasks makes it more manageable. And the deadline feature is a great accountability tool. 

You can share your board with other writers, especially if you’re collaborating. 

The program is free. The pro version gives you a bit more bells and whistles, but nothing you’d really need if all you’re using are the basics. You can download the free app on your phone to keep all of your notes and deadlines handy when you’re away from your computer. 

Alternatives include monday.com, Asana, and Wrike.

Notebook & Neo

A lot of my first drafts — especially my short stories and essays — are done longhand. Even with Self Control, I sometimes find myself too distracted by the computer to write on it. Basically, I have fear of the blank page.

But when I open a notebook and start handwriting, my thoughts flow. 

I can’t explain it. Writing my first drafts longhand guarantee they’ll get written. I also use my trusty Alphasmart Neo word processor. I can bring it outside and not worry about the sun’s glare. The sound of the keyboard is soothing and it only shows four lines of your current work. Perfect for those who go back and edit too much. 

I’ve noticed a lot of writers — published and unpublished — switching to word processors. With good reason. It’s amazing how much easier the words and thoughts come out when I’m not working off of a laptop. 

If you’re feeling stuck, switch it up. Try longhand writing in a notebook to unblock your thoughts. If you have a word processor, switch to that. 

One final piece of advice 

Be kind to yourself. 

This isn’t an easy thing you’re attempting. You’ll have good days and bad days. Don’t let the bad days discourage you. Write on. Celebrate no matter how much you write next month.

What resources do you swear by when writing? Are you looking for an accountability buddy this NaNoWriMo? Have you ever written a draft longhand?

Countdown to NaNoWriMo

It’s rare to find someone in the writing community who hasn’t heard of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Every November, thousands of writers — published and unpublished — embark on a mission to write 50,000 words in thirty days.

If you’re wondering, “Is that a lot?” the answer is YES! Broken down, you’re essentially writing 1,667 words a day.

Most writers, including yours truly, can punch out 1,000+ words each writing session with ease. But daily, with all the obstacles of life — daytime jobs, kids, spouses, etc — it’s not always feasible. 

Personally, my daily goals are not word count related. I strive to write for at least 25 to 30 minutes a day. Within that timeframe, I can usually type out 1,000+ words. On rougher days, I’m lucky if I get a solid 100 words down. But for me so long as I’ve sat and focused on writing for 25-30 minutes a day, I walk away feeling productive.

Many writers prefer word count goals. NaNoWriMo is the biggest word count goal you can dedicate yourself to for a month.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo in the past. I’ve also done the July CampNaNo, which allows you to choose a different kind of goal like how many pages you want to edit a day or how many minutes you want to write in a month. It’s why I’ve always preferred CampNaNo to NaNoWriMo. It also never helped that I’d be finishing a draft come November and I’d use that time to relax before diving into edits.

But this year, I’ll actually be taking part in NaNoWriMo.

Yes, I am going to break my preference of writing 30 minutes a day to writing 1,667 words a day.

Why am I changing it up?

The great thing about NaNoWriMo is it allows you to challenge yourself. You connect with writers all across the world participating in it. You’re all doing this crazy thing. You’re telling a story you’ve wanted to write forever.

At its core, NaNoWriMo is your ultimate cheerleader. It wants you to succeed. It wants you to befriend a community that has each other’s backs. Seriously, just search #nanowrimo or #preptober and you’ll find millions of posts. This thing grows every year.

Preptober, for those who don’t know, is when writers plan what they’re going to write or how they’re going to write during NaNoWriMo. Hence the name PREPTOBER (prepping in October). People have created workbooks, downloads, and playlists they then share worldwide. 

My favorite thing about NaNoWriMo is how together the writing community becomes. How much we’re there to hold each other accountable and lean on when we’ve had a bad writing day.

While I don’t talk about what I’m writing, I can say here it’s part of a memoir I started back in April. I plan on using NaNoWriMo to complete Parts 2 and 3. Part 1 is finished. Now, I want to challenge myself and get the remainder of the book written so I can start editing in 2021. 

I’ll be honest and tell you the two other times I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo I “lost.” Meaning, I didn’t write 50,000 words in thirty days. But I wrote a hell of a lot more than I thought and I was proud of what I accomplished.

That’s what NaNoWriMo wants you to take away. You set out to accomplish this insane task. Whether or not you did is irrelevant. Be proud of yourself no matter what. 

I’ll share more about my NaNoWriMo journey as we get into the thick of it. Until then, tell me, are you participating this year? Have you tried it in the past? Have you won? Hit the comments below.

The Editing Process and How to Make It Work for You

Writers have a love/hate relationship with editing. I assume it stems from our fear of rejection. We pour our heart and soul into a piece. No matter what it is. A novel, essay, blog, poem. We steal time away from our already busy lives to work on it. Then we send it out into the world. Before that happens, however, we put it through rounds and rounds of edits.

Though an official editor will look over a piece prior to publication, writers become temporary editors. And boy, are we our worst critics.

How can something we loved during the drafting stage end up with so much red ink all over it?

We all know the answer: to make it stronger.

As much as we would love to punch out a masterpiece on the first draft, editing is part of the game. We can’t avoid it and we can’t skip it. What we can do is create an editing system that’s not so cut and dry. Ditch the red pen! You should be excited to edit because you’re about to make your writing better.

Bring some color into the mix. Make it fun to look at. All that red will no doubt drive you crazy. I couldn’t stand it. So, I changed it up.

Here’s a peek at my editing process.

I barely use a red pen anymore. I’ve switched to using pencil. And I mean a regular pencil, not a red pencil.

I find when I’m rewriting a sentence, paragraph, scene, etc, I tend to start writing something, erase it, rewrite it again. Rather than have more scratches and cross offs in red, I’m able to erase, which saves space on the page.

But before I start rewriting, I read through the piece. Highlighters at the ready, I color code corrections using the following system:

  • Yellow = awkward sentence structure; run-on sentence
  • Pink = words ending in -ly
  • Green = words ending in -ing
  • Blue = words to spellcheck
  • Purple = areas to show, not tell
  • Orange = things to fact check

You’re going to end up with a bunch of colorful pages. But I’d rather look at a colorful rainbow than a horde of red markers any day.

Color coding makes it easier for you to remember what you’re looking at. If you circle or underline a sentence in red pen and you go back to it later, you may run into, Wait — why did I mark that again? With color coding, you know what each color means.

When revising, I won’t rid my text completely of -ly and -ing words. But highlighting them shows me how often I rely on them. During a first draft, it’s a lot.

Once I have highlighted the hell out of the text, I get to work rewriting. I use a notebook to rewrite. I only rewrite on the original document if it’s fixing a sentence or two. If I’m going to add a new paragraph or rewrite an entire page, I write it in the notebook.

I can’t edit on a screen. I know some people can, but it’s not for me. Rewriting in longhand allows me to slow down and really make sure I’m making the text stronger. When I edit on the screen, I tend to go too fast, and I miss something crucial.

I use the color coding system for at least the first two rounds of edits. After that, I send it out to my trusted readers for feedback.

At most, I do five to six rounds of edits. It varies depending on the project but that’s my comfort number.

What you need to do is find an editing system that works for you.

And like everything else in the writing community, it’ll change project to project. For example, my blog posts go through one, maybe two rounds of edits. It depends on the length and the topic. I don’t use highlighters when editing blog posts.

Editing is all about finding what works and what will make your words stronger. When you find a system that flows with your creativity and improves productivity, it’ll change your mindset about editing. You may even come to love it.

Your turn. Do you swear by the red pen and only the red pen? Are you a screen editor or a hardcopy editor? Have you tried color coding? Let me know below. I’d love to hear how you make editing work for you.