Type yourself

An Enneagram chart showing the nine personality types

Photo via Sarah A. Downey

I love introspective soul searching and dreaming about possibilities. I also love getting inside another person’s head to better understand what they’re feeling or thinking, or what their motivation might be.

As you can probably guess, I love personality quizzes.

When I was a freshman in college, we were required to take the official Myers-Briggs test. I learned I was an ENFP, but just barely an E. I knew I wasn’t a full extrovert, but figured the results proved I was an ambivert. After all, I loved going out with my friends as much as I loved being alone with a book.

When I was older, I began to question being an ambivert and took the MB test again, albeit an unofficial one online. I was definitely an introvert this time (although not as extreme as my husband). The description of an INFP is definitely more accurate of me.

I think parenthood can push a person’s extrovert/introvert meter toward the introvert direction since being needed by others constantly can be draining on anyone (so, an extreme extrovert might become an average extrovert, and a slight introvert can become an extreme introvert). That certainly was the case for me.

I’d also heard about the Enneagram, but since it cost money to take the official test and I wasn’t required to do so, I never got around to it. But yesterday I came across a link to a free unofficial test, which only took me five minutes to complete. It was enough to suggest my probable type, and since there’s a wealth of information at the Enneagram Institute Web site detailing the method, I was able to read up on it and confidently determine my type.

I’m a type 4—the individualist! It describes me very well, although I don’t tend to fall into depression. But my feelings can definitely run away with me sometimes.

I’m still reading all about it (I need to determine which “wing” I am, and so on), but I’m having fun. You can read about it on the official site too, or read the shortcut version at this Medium article.

After this, my next read will be Anne Bogel’s Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything. I always enjoy my binge reading/research, so I’m looking forward to this!

 
If you’re curious, you can take the 5-minute test as well. What’s your type? Do you like learning about personality types like I do? I find these helpful when getting into the heads of my characters when writing. But mostly I do them because I find them fascinating. I can’t help but type those around me as well, to better understand them.

Treat your writing as a job

A woman walking with purpose through nature, next to the words: I will write every day. I will write every day. I will write.

Photo via Visualhunt, modified under CC License.

As much as I love babies, mine are growing up and I just registered my youngest for kindergarten—that means from this fall I’ll have more hours during the day to dedicate to my writing! I’m sad about the growing up part, but I’m excited to be able to write without “Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?” interrupting me every few paragraphs.

I’ve worked freelance before, so I’m using my past experience to set myself up for success. Without a plan I’d be ending each day still in my PJs wondering where the time went. So, how can I ensure I treat my writing as a job?

Show up every day

We don’t go to work only when we feel like it, or when it’s convenient. We go to work every day because that’s our job and we’ve committed to it, even when it’s hard. The same goes with writing. Sit your butt down in your chair each day, especially on the days you don’t feel like it or your writing seems terrible. Often we’ll look back and see it wasn’t so terrible after all, or find that all the practice increased our skills over time—practice we wouldn’t have had if we hadn’t written in spite of our feelings.

Set up your office

It’s harder to get focused on your writing if your set up is the same as when you’re just surfing the Web at leisure. Have a special spot that you only sit in when working, whether that’s a designated desk or just at the kitchen table. My writing is better when I sit in a chair with both feet on the floor and my computer off of my lap, than when I’m curled up on the couch with my laptop like I do in the evenings when I try to relax.

This mindset shift is really important. Other ways you can help yourself get into work mode quicker is to have a uniform and/or have a beginning ritual, in addition to a dedicated work space.

The uniform doesn’t need to be a literal one, so much as clothes that feel like work clothes. People often quote being able to work in your pajamas as a benefit to working from home, but you’ll find you’re more productive if you dress with intention.

A brief ritual before beginning your writing can help as well: Pour the tea into your mug, sharpen your pencils, take a deep breath, and then re-read notes you left yourself when quitting yesterday (or whatever ritual works for you). Now you’re focused and ready to start.

Another part of setting up your office is to have any supplies you may need close by and organized so you don’t have to waste time looking for a pen, that specific notebook with all of your plot scribbles, and so on before progressing with your work.

Make a plan

You’ll never reach your destination if you don’t know where you’re going. Decide what it is you want to accomplish. Write a novel? Sell at least one article to a magazine or online publication a month? Draft a book proposal and query X number of agents by the end of the quarter?

Figure out your goal and how long you want it to take you. Let’s say you want to have a finished and polished novel in a year. Set the final deadline, break the project down into manageable steps, and then plot backwards in time until you reach today. Now you’ve got deadlines to keep you on track throughout the year.

Also, your goals will determine your daily process. Should you be spending each day only writing, or do some days need to be dedicated to learning about the craft? Perhaps one day a week is for research and another for marketing, and the rest are for writing. Your plans will shape your schedule.

Stay accountable

It’s easy to let things slide when you don’t have a boss or coworkers depending on you. Avoid this by becoming your own boss. You’ve already set deadlines on your calendar, so make sure you keep them. For me, it helps if I have set rewards for meeting each deadline and set punishments if I don’t (I get to buy a new book if I do, I have to take one of my husband’s chores for a week if I don’t; etc.).

You could also ask someone to be your accountability partner and have them occasionally check in on your progress. But “How’s it going?” and “It’s going well,” can be ambiguous sometimes, especially if your deadlines (checkpoints that are more defined than how you feel about your productiveness today) are spread far apart.

That’s why you should track your actions, and then their results. In the book 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron, she talks about keeping a spreadsheet tracking not only her hours and the number of words produced during those hours, but also where she was when she wrote them. This helped her to realize she produced her best work in a coffeeshop rather than at home, and if she had 4-6 hours to write uninterrupted. She didn’t have the Internet to distract her, and she could get in the zone if she wrote for more than 4 hours… but her energy petered out by the seventh.

So far I’ve learned that I do my best writing mid-morning, in quiet (no other people or music), and if I have ample time to spare. I don’t know how much yet though, because I haven’t had the liberty with children underfoot. But I hope to find out this fall!

Keep office hours

If this is your job, treat it like one. That means you begin and end at specified times, you turn your phone on “do not disturb” during those hours, and you don’t do house chores. You are not at home, doing work on the side. You are at work, which happens to be in your house. Your chores can wait until you’re done with your job for the day, just like anyone else who goes to work.

If you thrive with structure, you can even set a lunch hour and “smoke” breaks (mental breaks). I plan to give myself a 40 minute lunch break and two 15-minute breaks. I can check social media and the like during this time, but I also plan to use them for stretching or short walks to make up for all the sitting I do while writing.

I will also set a specified number of PTO days and sick days, to accommodate life being, well LIFE. This way I don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “Well, I already fell off the wagon so what’s one more day of skipping going to hurt?” In the long run, it hurts a lot. Keep your accountability partner (or your spreadsheet) updated with the days you take off from writing.

Whether you work five hours a week or thirty hours a week, you need to set them in stone. This isn’t just so that you’ll take your work seriously, but also so that others respect your work as a real job as well. Which leads me to…

Protect your writing time

No, you can’t pick up the dry cleaning. No, you can’t walk your neighbor’s dog midday. No, you can’t make that call, run that errand, or take responsibility for something that’s not yours because you’re conveniently home during the day.

You are not available for the convenience of others. You have a job, and you are working during those hours.

And on that note, you are not available for your own convenience either. If you’re going to set a dentist appointment during your work hours because it’s easier than working around your hours, then take PTO off for it.

You won’t take your writing seriously if you don’t respect it as your job. Others won’t respect your hours either unless they see you drawing clear boundaries.

Having said that, the great thing about working from home is that you can set your own hours. So, you can decide to work from 10am until 2pm, leaving you time to run errands or make appointments in the early morning or the afternoon. How convenient! But don’t let yourself or others take advantage of your writing time just because you’re home. Unless you’re on your lunch break or take PTO, you need to keep your work hours for work.

 
I know I still have the rest of this school year and the summer left before I can start my new schedule, but I’m getting really excited! I can’t wait until I can make this my full time job (well, while the kids are in school anyway, heh).

Did any of this advice resonate with you? I hope it helps you with your writing, even if you can only devote slivers of time to it right now. And if there’s anything I missed, please share your wisdom! I’m always eager to learn more about how to improve my writing and my writing process.

How I found minimalism

A cat sleeping on a green armchair

Photo via Visualhunt.

Back in autumn of 2015, my husband and I had to make a decision: Were we going to sign a contract to work another year at the international school in Japan that employed us, or were we going to move back to the states? We struggled over the choice (especially me, who grew up there and considers Tokyo home), but ultimately we chose to finish out the 2015-16 school year and then move to the US that summer.

When we moved to Japan in 2010, we had brought 4 suitcases and 2 carry-ons of stuff, and left 8 boxes in a relative’s basement. We didn’t own much as a young couple only three years out of college, and our hand-me-down furniture had been easy to let go of. But when it came time to move back to the US in 2016, we had grown to a family of four and a house full of stuff, as well as furniture we had purchased with our own hard-earned cash.

It was overwhelming. I didn’t know where to begin.

Being a perfectionist procrastinator, I have trouble starting something until I have all my ducks in a row. So, as I always do when overwhelmed, I ignored the giant to-do list and chose to read about the problem instead. About that time, Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was quickly gaining popularity (also known as “the KonMari method”). I purchased a copy in hopes that it would help us downsize.

She wasn’t kidding about the life changing part.

If you’ve never had to downsize, let me put it this way. Every single item you own has become several questions. Do I love it? Do I need it? Have I used it in the last six months? Is it broken? Is it repairable? Will I repair it? Will I have space for it in our new home? Will this still be useful after we move? And in our case, will it cost more to ship this back or to replace it once we get there?

Imagine asking all of those questions about every single item you own, from your couch, to your plates, to your books, to your socks. The decision fatigue is incredible, and on top of that there’s the physical exertion of sorting and removing and cleaning and packing those things. Add hesitation and doubt to that mix, compounded by the number of questions you have to ask yourself for each piece. Oh, and don’t forget about your toddlers, who “help” by rearranging your piles—or who suddenly and desperately get attached to an item they didn’t care two bits about a week ago and was in the “to get rid of” pile.

EX. HAUST. ING.

So to simplify a process that makes you want to go boneless and lay there sobbing on the floor down to one question and no doubt is, as an understatement, an incredible relief. Just one question: “Does it spark joy?” And it either does, or it doesn’t. The end.

We were quoted by movers for a full shipping container before we downsized (since it was an international move, it all had to go by boat). After the KonMari purge, we had less than a quarter (equivalent of about 50 diaper boxes), too small for them to take on. We packed and shipped them ourselves.

It felt great. I felt accomplished. Our new house was free of clutter, and only had the things we really needed in it. I loved it.

But I blinked and found us a year later, in the states, with our new home feeling a little crowded again. How could that be? Didn’t we get rid of everything? Where did this stuff come from?

About that time, someone recommended the documentary “Minimalism” on Netflix to me. I watched it and the last pieces of the puzzle Marie Kondo had started clicked into place. She had taught me how to choose what to keep and how to get rid of the rest, guilt free. Minimalism freed me from the addictive need to bring unnecessary things into my life in the first place, and to make space for the things that really mattered to me.

Another reading binge.

I read every blog on minimalism I could find. I read several books on the subject (Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things was my favorite). I watched YouTube video after video about it.

“This is it,” I thought. “This is what’s been missing from my life.” I’ve always craved order, but found it too overwhelming to maintain the order I wanted. Minimalism made so much sense to me. With less stuff, I’d have less to manage, and it’d be easier to create and keep order.

My home underwent another purge and tidy. But as I learned more about minimalism, I began applying it to more than just my stuff.

I started reevaluating my priorities and my values. I learned what things make me go nuts and began drawing clear boundaries to protect myself. I started considering actions I did out of habit instead of out of necessity. I began to view people differently, and was able to listen past the noises they were making to hear the need they were really asking for. I learned to breathe and to appreciate quiet.

Most importantly, I developed an attitude of gratefulness.

It’s 2018, and I’ve changed so much since that autumn of 2015. My home is not a stereotypical minimalist home with white empty walls, minimal pieces of modern furniture, and only the belongings that fit in a backpack or a car. I have kids after all, plus a maximalist husband. But the empty box for a home isn’t even the goal.

I want to make space for what’s important in my life—literal, physical space for the objects I own, figurative space for my relationships, schedule, and goals. As a minimalist, I don’t get rid of everything. I just remove the stuff that gets in the way of the things I love or the activities I choose to participate in or the relationships I value.

I’m a cozy minimalist (a hygge minimalist?). I keep just enough to be comfortable—not too much, not too empty.

I am happy.

 
What is something that makes you happy? Has something you read shifted your perspective lately? It doesn’t have to be about minimalism. I love reading about things that expand my perspective or help me to grow as a person. I also love fairy tales and YA fiction, so there’s that too, ha. I’m a reading mood, so if you’ve got a great book to share, let me know!

Shifting blog focus

A vase of tulips on a desk with a laptop

Photo via Visualhunt.

It’s been a few months since I’ve written a post for this blog. The holidays are one excuse, having young kids underfoot is another—but I’ve also struggled with the narrow focus of this blog.

I write stories. Sometimes I write articles for magazines or Web sites, but they don’t bring me the same joy that writing fiction does. I have hope that someday I’ll have my novels traditionally published, so I wanted to start building my brand image now. Hence, an author blog.

But I’m not just a writer. I have a wide array of interests and I like to talk about more than just writing! I’m also a “if you give a mouse a cookie” kind of person, who likes to latch on to a current topic of interest with zeal before suddenly switching to another.

I’d like to post about whatever I feel like writing, even if it has nothing to do with writing, reading, or the English language. I know traditional blog advice always says to stick to set topics under a specific theme, but as a person I’m not that structured. I’m going to let my blog reflect the fickleness of my true nature and see how it goes.

My current obsessions are:

  • minimalism
  • Dress Your Truth by Carol Tuttle
  • my current novel; a Cinderella retelling
  • So, you might (or might not) be seeing some posts about those, as well as anything else that’s a part of my life, such as parenting, my faith, or other hobbies. I’m sure there will still be posts about writing, too. I just don’t want to get stuck writing only about writing. There are a zillion blogs out there that are eager to teach amateurs how to write. I don’t feel the need to become an authority in that.

    How about you? What’s something that you’re obsessing over, which others may or may not understand? I’m also really loving lemon tea (tea made from lemons, rather than tea leaves), though hōjicha (roasted green tea) is still far and away my favorite. I’m also really loving rose-gold or champagne colored shoes, though I can’t seem to find any that fit my wide feet properly—I’m still looking. But I’d love to hear about what’s catching your fancy these days, so let me know in the comments!

    NaNoWriMo prep, part four: What to expect

    Four matches; the third is burned out

    Photo via Visualhunt.

    Hurray, you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year! It’s going to be so much fun and you’re going to have a whole novel written by the end of it and it’ll be amazing and you’re going to get published and you’re going to become rich and famous! Right?

    Uh, no.

    So, hold your horses, because if you’ve never done NaNo before, you need to learn what to expect. Here’s what your November may look like.

    Week one

    You’ve been waiting for NaNo to start and you’re so excited! You might have even stayed up late on Halloween so you could start your novel as soon as it was midnight. During the week the story is flying out of you. This is fun! Things you didn’t plan for happen, like new characters or your MC’s personality is different than expected, but who cares! That’s part of the experience. Uh, that was not your best sentence just now, but oh well! We’re supposed to be turning off our inner editors anyway, right? You’re doing pretty good about staying on track for your word count goal… sort of. But if you’re a tad behind or skip a day, no worries, because you totally can make that up later. This is great!

    Week two

    Oh. This is a little more complicated than you thought. You’re still having fun, but issues are cropping up in your story. Your real life is as demanding as ever and it’s easier to think, “Well, I’ll catch up on my word count later,” and deal with those things instead of making room for your writing. You notice that some members in the forums are already past the halfway mark on their word counts and you begin to doubt whether you can do this. But you still like your story and you don’t want to be a quitter, so you keep plugging away.

    Here is where the path splits.

    Week three

    This week looks different depending on which fork you took in the road. Some of you will manage to stay on track with your word count goals. It’s hard to ignore the glaring problems with your story but you’re going to muscle through. You committed to this. Plus you’ve probably been to at least one write in or have a buddy doing NaNoWriMo with you, so the additional motivation and/or accountability helps you keep going.

    Or, you’re falling behind. You kept telling yourself you’d catch up, but the gap between what you do have and what you should have has grown so much it doesn’t seem possible to reach 50,000 words by November 30. Plus you know you’re going to cut huge chunks of what you’ve already written from your novel because it doesn’t serve the story or is just plain terrible. Or maybe you know you’re going to have to go back and rewrite some, if not all of it. You feel guilty and frustrated. This was supposed to be fun. Now you feel bad.

    And to make it all worse, if you’re an American, it’s Thanksgiving! How can you get any writing done with all of those relatives around?

    No matter which path you’re on, don’t give up! This is the hard part for everybody. Whether you’re hanging in there or falling off the wagon, once you stop writing you guarantee that you won’t reach the end. If you quit early at, let’s say, 24,000 words, you’ll end the month with 24,000 words. But if you keep writing you might end the month with 32,000 words. That’s 8,000 more words than you would have had if you had quit early! So, don’t stop. During week three you will doubt that you’ll have any more fun after this, but there is still more fun to be had in week four. Going to write ins will really help in the fun department, too. Try to attend at least one, if not more of them.

    Week four

    The end is in sight. The clock is ticking. There are only seven more days until the end of NaNoWriMo! If you took the first path, you’re excited again. You’re nearly there! Your friends are cheering you on. You write like mad trying to finish on time. You keep updating your word count tally and are marking down the days until they open the official word counter that determines whether you’ve won yet or not. You might stay up late a few nights if you’re cutting it close, trying to get more words in. Here it is, November 30, and you’re still writing! Will you make it? Will you make it? WILL YOU MAKE IT???

    Boom! You made it! You’ve won!!! Pop all the party poppers and drink a glass of bubbly (grape juice, if you’re not old enough for champagne). Dance in your pajamas—because of course it’s nearly midnight if you’re cutting it this close—and try not to wake your parents/roommates. You feel great. You feel accomplished. This was so much fun! Good job.

    If you took the other path, this week will also drum up excitement in you, but you may be interpreting those feelings and the tightness in your chest as anxiety or guilt. Remember, there is no penalty if you don’t reach 50,000 words. There are no NaNo police. The point of this whole thing was to motivate you to write.

    Did you write? Yes! Whether you have 5,000 or 50,000 words, be proud! What you’ve written is an accomplishment. Even without reaching your word count goals, you’ve already won.

    So, throw off those negative labels to what you’re feeling and rename them. You are excited. The clock is ticking and you’re feeling a rush. This is fun! Race towards the finish line with everyone else. See how much more of your novel you can eke out before midnight of November 30 hits your region. And when it does, be proud of what you’ve produced. I’ll say it again, BE PROUD! Because you have every right to be. You did a hard thing and didn’t give up. Good job.

    Now what?

    Remember the first paragraph of this blog post? It’s time to address those misconceptions. First, even if you reach 50,000 words, you won’t have a completed novel. Most novels are about 80,000 to 100,000 words. At the end of November, you might be about half way through your plot.

    Second, even if you manage to write over 50,000 words and finish your plot, it probably won’t be amazing. Yet! Writing a novel is fun, hard work, but that’s not even half of it. Editing it is just as much work, if not harder work than writing it in some cases. Yes, publishing firms will have editors on site, but they won’t waste their time on a manuscript that’s littered with errors (editors are polishers, not construction crews.) And if you self-publish, no one will want to buy and read it if there are typos or glaring plot holes. Before you even consider publication, you’ll need to take the time to make it the best possible version of itself that you’re able to make it with the resources you have.

    At the end of November, your NaNo story is not ready for publication. I’m saying this again because it’s important and often people don’t believe it—it is NOT ready, no matter how wonderful you think it is, or your friends or mother says it is. Do NOT submit it to any literary agents/editors or self publish it until you’ve let the novel rest for a few months and THEN you’ve edited it thoroughly. You’ll save yourself from a bunch of heartache (rejection slips, poor reviews, embarrassment) this way.

    Well, that was a downer

    I know. Hearing that your novel is a mess when you’re still on a NaNo high is hard to stomach. But the point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to churn out quality work. It’s to help you to shut off your inhibitions and self criticism and just write. Get it out. Get it done. And have fun while doing it.

    Some NaNo novels have been published and have seen success—but they didn’t submit them the December after they wrote them. It took a lot of hard work after NaNoWriMo was over.

    But now that you know that, you can avoid the crash and instead end NaNo on a high note. You can celebrate having done a hard thing. You’ll have had fun, and will probably learn a thing or two about yourself or about your writing along the way.

    Between the friends you make, the lessons you learn, and the words you write, NaNoWriMo will be worth it. And addicting. I can’t wait to join you on this journey next month, as well as every November after that!

    I can’t believe we begin next week. Where has the time gone? I have a few more kinks I want to work out in my plot/notes before I start writing. How about you? Are you ready? If you know what you’re writing about, share the premise in the comments!

     
    This article is the fourth in a series about NaNoWriMo.
    To see the other posts, click one of the links below.

    NaNoWriMo prep, part one
    Part two: Getting started
    Part three: Notes and plans
    Part four: What to expect [that’s this post]