Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Extroverted Writer: A Survival Guide

I always thought I was an extrovert—I was nourished being around other people. I loved big parties and going out on the town, spending my free time with my best friends playing board games.

But I've never quite been able to reconcile this part of me with the part that can spend hours alone in front of the computer, building a world from scratch. The part that can invest hours at a time in a project, happily not seeing or speaking to another human being from dawn until dusk.

So that's why in this post I've used the word extroverted, instead of simply extrovert. I don't know that I believe any writer, anywhere, is a 100% extrovert. It's simply too antithetical to what we love doing: researching, thinking, writing. Creating. Sitting in silence alone for hours at a time—and loving it so much that we come back to it, over and over again.

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I do, however, believe that a huge part of me is an extrovert. On the daily I crave human interaction, like I crave food. I thrive at parties where I don't know anyone. I love going to concerts full of strangers. I can carry on a conversation with just about anyone—I'll totally be the girl on the bus who talks to that weird guy—and I'll likely enjoy myself.

Social interaction rejuvenates me. I can start out in a terrible mood and, after a good stint joking with buddies over drinks, emerge a shining unicorn again on the other side. But how does that mesh with a mostly solitary career path?

I don't know about you, fellow extroverted creative-types, but figuring out how those two pieces fit together has been the most challenging part of my journey so far.

So I decided to put together a nifty little guide, containing what I've learned so far, for the creative types out there who know in their hearts that they're at least part extrovert. How do you get what you need, while maintaining your time and space for writing? It's a tough balance.

And I still haven't mastered it yet.

Reward Systems

The great thing about having a little extrovert inside you? She's easy to coerce with social incentives. She's craving getting away from the computer and goofing off with her friends—so why not use that to your advantage?

- Task lists. Achieve everything on the task list (or enough of the things), and you get to select a social reward. (Go out for a drink that evening. Have a friend over, or visit one.)

- Word goals. Reach a certain word count on your project (whatever seems reasonable to you in a day, which for some writers I find lies anywhere from 500 words to 5,000) and select a social reward. I like to choose a reward proportional to the work completed. Oh, you manage to spew out 4k tonight? Nice job. Let's take the day off tomorrow to go on a hike with a friend.

Combining Activities

Obviously, one who craves social time should, occasionally, dedicate themselves to that social time. Don't be looking at Twitter while hanging out with a friend, or trying to write while watching a movie together. (This is basic, I think.) But in the life of a working writer, when a huge amount of time is required to simply do our jobs every day, there are some easy ways to slide in some social interaction without taking away from that dedicated writing time.

- Co-working. This is my favorite of the bunch, because it takes me back to my days in the office—I never liked my job, but I do miss having colleagues.

Co-working performs a number of functions at once. It forces me to stay on task (I try to pick co-workers who will question my giggling over Facebook, or ask me how far I've gotten in my word count goals), and it makes me feel a little less alone while doing my job. It can also be super helpful in plotting and brainstorming.

- Exercising. I hadn't even conceived of this idea until other writers mentioned it, but I think it's a genius idea to fill your social interaction quota alongside your other daily routines whenever possible.

If you already dedicate an hour of your day, three times a week, to the gym or a martial arts class, why not make some friends there? Everybody's sweating together already—you've passed the bar of sharing something intimate by default.

- Parenting. This isn't something I deal with personally, but I hear about quite a bit from my writer buddies. Your kids come built-in with some incentives to be social: they have friends with parents, required park time, and need you to occasionally walk away from the computer and build a couch fort. Just like they can be distracting, they can also be a force for balance and mental health.

Snacks and Meals

It seems like everyone has a different opinion about the role of online friendships and interaction in a writer's life. For some, online friendships are deeply satisfying and rewarding; for others, they're delightful and nurturing, but are still only the snack between meals.

However, I'd never discount the value of a friendship, online or offline. Especially in the world of a writer, where our colleagues live anywhere from 2 to 2,000 miles away, a partner in crime is a partner in crime, no matter how far away.

If you're finding your social needs aren't being met, spend some time getting to know your online colleagues. Adopt Google Chat or Facebook Messenger to give each other updates—"I wrote 2,000 words today." "Great work! I wrote 1500!"

My online critique partners save me day in and day out. When I'm stuck or lost, they're perfect for talking something through with me—and often, they're willing to give me a boost when I'm feeling a little lack of confidence.

There are great resources for finding CPs online. Maggie Stiefvater often hosts a "Critique Partner Love Connection." Twitter is also a great place to go looking. Check out if your city has a writer's group on Facebook—I found my old writing group that way and, by extension, some fabulous critique partners.

Finding Balance

If you're anything like me, letting myself be social and finding time to write is a delicate balance. Especially now that writing is my job, it's hard sometimes to back away from having too many social activities planned, and carve out enough time for my writing. I want to play, not work! Even if I love what I do, I start to procrastinate when I get stressed—and my friends are the first place I go to do it.

To this end, I offer my fellow extroverts some tools.

- Goal-tracking in Scrivener, or on an external website like Write Track or 750words. I haven't used 750words myself, but I hear good things. I have, however, used Write Track, and highly recommend it. Scrivener takes the cake, though, for ease of use. I'm already in it 24/7 to work on my WIP, and I don't need to be online to take advantage of it.

- Freedom or SelfControl. Freedom can block your internet completely, while SelfControl allows you to block certain social media websites. This is great for focus, and for those (like me) who struggle a bit with good self-discipline. (I prefer SelfControl because the guy who makes Freedom is kind of a jerk, and it also costs money, whereas SC is free.)

- Find someone to keep you accountable. Whether it's a friend, partner, or spouse, having someone who asks about your work, encourages you, and keeps you loyal to your goals can be incredibly helpful. If you're the kind of person who hates being beholden to anyone, though, this might not be for you!

I hope this helps, my fellow extroverts-in-the-trenches. And I wish you good luck in meeting your goals!

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