Writing Tools: 16Personalities

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I’m always on the hunt for new ways to develop characters. I have a slew of books in my home library on the subject, and a number of web resources bookmarked. The reason is that I love character-driven fiction, and my characters are really at the heart of the fiction I write. That’s not to say I don’t also enjoy plot-driven fiction because I do. But it’s the characters with whom I connect as a reader, and so I try to create the same experience when I write.

To that end, I’ve always liked personality tests for characters. One of my favorites is 16Personalities. I like it because:

  • It’s fast (takes about 12 minutes to complete)
  • It talks about personality in terms of strengths, weaknesses, and interactions with others
  • It’s free

Today, I took it for myself. I’ve never actually done that. I learned I’m not quite as introverted as I thought I was. I always thought I fit in more with the INTJ crowd, but as it turns out–and maybe this is because I’m about 17 years older than the last time I took one of these in high school psych class–I’m an ENFJ, or what 16Personalities calls “the Protagonist.”

I think, for a fiction writer, that’s rather fitting. Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth Bennet also fits into this personality type…and I’ve always connected with her on many levels.

Have fun discovering your characters’ personalities!

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A New Goal: Story Submissions

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I have been sick as a dog this week. I’ve had a head cold that never made it past my throat and it has wiped me out until today. Part of the problem was that I wasn’t getting any sleep…so I wasn’t getting any better. I try not to take things like NyQuil, but I broke down a few nights ago and took it so that I could catch some zzzz. I’m going to take it tonight, too.

Because I was so under the weather, I missed my goal to submit a short story by the end of November by one day. No biggie–I sent out November’s story to two markets tonight electronically, and will submit it to the third via snail mail tomorrow (as they don’t accept electronic submissions). There were other markets I was interested in for this story, but as they’re currently closed for submissions, I’ll keep them in mind as a backup should the story be rejected by the first three markets.

Here’s my new goal–get ready because it’s coming at you in big, bold letters:

Submit one short story for publication each month.

Admittedly, I’d like to submit one every two weeks, or, if I really had my way, submit one every week. But between my MFA program, my TA work, and freelancing, I think it’s far more realistic to submit one a month. That way if I get sick and am out of fiction-commission for a week, I don’t have to feel bad.

Today is an auspicious day to begin this goal because it was seven years ago today that I got my first fiction publishing credit. A King’s Life, a work of fantasy, was published by Fictitious Magazine on December 1, 2010. After that, I stopped submitting stories for awhile. Then I got back into it during and after my MA program, when I had some success with four more publishing credits and an honorable mention in a contest.

My hope is that by setting this goal, I will consistently submit short fiction for publication and continue to build my readership.

I’m aiming for the stars.

Another important shift in my thinking is that I’m starting with the pro markets first. With a few non-pro markets under my belt so to speak, and a lot more understanding of how to produce quality literary fiction, I’m starting with the big publications. The Paris Review. The New Yorker. AGNI. Publications that I used to think I didn’t have a chance of getting into…now is the time to start striving to get in.

If I get rejected, which I probably will, there are plenty of markets I can submit my work to. But I need to stop thinking my work isn’t good enough, because that becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Better to aim high and fall than to never jump off the ground to begin with.

What are your writing goals?

If you’re a writer, what do you want to start to accomplish? Where do you see yourself as a writer? Share in the comments section–I’d love to hear from you!

When is it okay to take work below industry rates?

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This is a question every freelancer must ask herself at some point, and I’ve asked myself this numerous times over the last decade of freelancing part-time, and at least three times in the last six months of full-time freelancing.

Usually, I stick with industry rates published by the Editorial Freelancers Association. There are several reasons I like these rates:

  1. They’re not ridiculously unaffordable for most clients.
  2. They’re professional rates so that I can afford to live.
  3. They offer a range, so that if it’s work I have more experience in, I know I can ask at the higher end of the range. If it’s work I’m just breaking into, I’ll quote at the lower end of that range.
  4. This rate card updates with changes in the industry, so I know my rates are current.

But, there are some situations when I consider charging less.

Friends & Family Discount

About half of the gigs I’ve gotten in the last few years have been for friends and family members. I know that initially, their intent to work with me is to show their support for my career, even before they know where my strengths are. That, to me, is worth acknowledgment.

Another important element to consider is that friends and family are usually my best ambassadors. They’re the ones who come to me saying, “I met with a professional last week who mentioned wanting to write a book. I gave her your name.” These unsolicited recommendations are worth something to me.

Finally, even if friends or family members can need more hand-holding as clients, there’s a base element of love there. That makes it easier to be frank with them about issues and questions that crop up during the course of the project.

Ongoing Work

I wrote in a previous blog that I spend 20% of my time looking for new projects and clients. If someone can save me some of that time by offering ongoing work, I’ll often consider a discount.

This is a tricky one though because I always want to know that there will be ongoing work. Sometimes that’s not something the client can promise, and so I’m awarding their intent but not their ability to make good on that intent. It’s a risk I take when working for lower rates for this reason, but I think it’s more important to cultivate good will with clients than not to.

Just like with friends and family, happy clients make good ambassadors.

I’m New at It

I’ve only been freelancing for about ten years. That means I’m approaching a middle level in my career, and while I feel that I have extensive skill in some disciplines, I’ve not yet worked as much with others. If I’m new at the type of work the client needs, I will either quote at the low end of the EFA range or below.

Working For Free

Do I ever give up writing for free? Yes. I try not to do it often, but there are two scenarios when it makes sense to me to write pro bono:

  1. When writing for a charity or non-profit. I’ve written multiple times for JuNoWriMo, and I’ve loved every minute of it.
  2. When guest blogging on a site that will provide good exposure.

Here’s the thing about writing for exposure: I don’t like doing it when someone comes to me with a site or publication I’ve never heard of and promises that writing for them will reward me with a byline.

What I don’t mind is when I pitch a guest post to a blog that I’ve followed for months or years, and they accept but don’t pay guest posters with monetary compensation. In other words, if you want someone to write only for exposure, let them come to you.

Final Thoughts

Look, at the end of the day, I like getting paid competitive rates for my work. However, there are times when writing for less or writing for free makes sense. There are times when doing so makes me feel good.

At the end of the day, I say follow your gut…but it doesn’t hurt to have some policies in place (like the amount you discount to friends and family, for example!).

Writing Prompt: Thanksgiving

Write a scene in which your favorite literary character joins your family or friends for Thanksgiving, and create some tension. You have up to 1,000 words. Have fun!

Feeling Hemmed In

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For the last month, I’ve tried writing with an editorial calendar. I know that it’s what many people recommend for a successful blog, but the more I plan ahead, the more I feel trapped, and the less I blog.

It sounds counter-intuitive, perhaps, but I blogged almost every single day in October. This month, I’ve only written one to two blog entries a week. So, in the spirit of discovering how to make this blog work for me and be valuable to readers, I’m ditching my editorial calendar.

Dear Editorial Calendar:

That’s not to say I won’t still write ideas and keep a list of them in case I need to pull one out…but I’m more productive when I aim to write every day instead of trying to hold to a particular schedule of topics.

Also, podcasting while the undergrad semesters are in session (i.e. while I’m TA-ing) is insane. I will continue my podcast on breaks and over the summer. I do have plans to occasionally–whenever she’s free–have a guest on with me, but there won’t be any more episodes until the semester is over.

While I’ve run blogs before, including blogs about writing, I’ve not done so while in school, so this site is like an experiment right now. Thanks for joining me!

Update: I will be blogging here 3x a week (Tue, Thu, and Sat) because of other blogging projects.

How Starburst Saved the Day

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I’ve had the opportunity to teach a few mini-lessons in the composition class I’m observing as part of my TA program, for which I’m grateful. I’ve noticed, during those lessons, that the students are a bit sleepy. It’s not a lack of energy on my part; I’ve taught martial arts for years and I understand that students feed off an instructor’s energy. Part of the problem is that the class is at 2 pm on a Monday; another part of the problem was gray skies. And let’s be honest, not every student wants to learn about grammar and the nitty-gritty of writing.

Class During Nap Time

When I was an undergrad student, whenever I had class around two o’clock, I’d get sleepy. With a full stomach from lunch, and often having been in class as early as 8 am (which meant leaving home at 6:30 am because of traffic and parking woes), by mid-afternoon, all I wanted was a little cat nap.

It didn’t help that one of my classes scheduled at that hour was a history of world music course, and for a month we studied nocturnes. With the lights off.

The professor made it dark and played me lullabies. Sleep was inevitable.

I finally got around to asking her not to turn the lights off because I really did want to stay awake and focus on class.

So, as a TA, after observing sleepy faces in my first mini-lesson, I tried to get everyone on their feet for my second. It worked moderately well, and it was part of this past Monday’s lesson (which ended up not being mini at all–it clocked in at 50 minutes). But I knew, from my second mini-lesson, that it wasn’t going to be enough just to get them up and moving.

For one thing, they can’t really move about easily in the classroom without tripping on the furniture. I didn’t want to cause an injury.

Acknowledging the Issue

I started out the lesson with an introduction on what we’d be covering–when to cite in an MLA essay. Then I abandoned my slideshow for a moment to talk with them earnestly about the realistic challenges of class at this time slot.

“It’s your first day off the weekend,” I said. “You’ve spent the last two days working, doing homework, maybe seeing friends or traveling. I get it–you’re tired.”

Then, I talked about how hard it is to stay awake in class. I told them about my undergrad music history class and the nocturnes. I got a few smiles.

“It’s cloudy, too,” I added. “That always makes me want to close my eyes and go to sleep. And I get that some–or maybe even all–of you aren’t that excited about MLA citations.”

I don’t claim to be a mind-reader. I don’t know what they were thinking at this point, but I imagine the smiles and nods I received were in appreciation of my willingness to understand how sleepy college life can make a person.

Having graduated from my undergrad program in 2007, it’s not so long ago that I can’t recall how much some classes–especially gen eds–inspired sleepiness no matter how energetic the professor was.

Let’s Call it What it Is: A Bribe

Perhaps they were expecting me to just move on with the lesson. But I’d hidden a bag of Starburst on the podium at the front of the room. I picked it up and held it high.

“If you participate today,” I promised, “you get a Starburst. And I got the good ones–the red and pink flavors.”

Suddenly, the room livened. Students laughed. More of them smiled. Some of them sat up straighter in their seats.

I told them I knew MLA citations weren’t their favorite subject, and I wasn’t above bribing their participation. So, throughout the lesson, students were offered Starburst for  sharing their work. Some students elected to share even though they didn’t want Starburst. They donated their candy to another classmate.

The key here, I think, is to offer the candy-bribe in exchange for active and willing participation.

I wouldn’t use the candy-bribe in every lesson. But I had a lot of material to get through and I knew it wasn’t as interesting as discussing literature or debating hot-button issues.

Final Thoughts

Is it okay to bribe students? Originally, I was going to use the Starburst to reward correct answers during an interactive part of the lesson. However, two things changed my mind:

  • My fellow TA and I split the Starburst and I worried there weren’t enough for that, so she suggested using them as a reward for participation.
  • As the morning and early afternoon wore on, I decided it’d be wrong to reward the correct answers with candy.

The latter is more important–I don’t think correct answers should be rewarded with some kind of treat. I think that would discourage students from participating if their answers were not correct. What good is it to reward students who get the right answer at the beginning of a lesson when the purpose of that lesson is to teach them the right answer?

I ended up giving away the remaining Starburst at the end of the lesson, but I think the students had fun with it even though they knew it was a participation bribe. They actively and eagerly took part in the lesson even though they were sleepy. Even though the first snowfall started outside in the middle of class. Even though it was a Monday.

Starburst saved the day this week, but it was also, I think, my honesty in the purpose for the candy and the acknowledgment and validation of their sleepiness.

Haven’t We Learned from SVU that Victim Blaming & Shaming Isn’t Okay?

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In the recent and growing flood of accusations against sexual predators, there is one question I hear again and again: “Why didn’t [the victim] report it sooner?”

This is never okay to ask aloud. It shouldn’t even be a thought. For any readers of mine who have never watched a single episode of Law & Order: SVU or who have never known a victim or been a victim, I’m going to lay it out plain and then show why this question should never be asked.

It assumes the victim is in a place of power.

Sexual harassment and abuse is about power, not physical desire. Usually, predators choose victims who don’t hold power over them. Children and minors, employees, students, protégés, etc.

When someone doesn’t have the power to stop another’s abuse of them, it’s usually a sign that they don’t feel like they have the power to report it. This is why when one person does make a report, there are often subsequent reports made public. With numbers comes power–suddenly the victim is no longer alone. This is one reason why the #metoo campaign was voiced by so many.

If an employer sexually harasses or abuses an employee, for example, the employee may feel as though reporting the misconduct/crime will mean losing that job. Then, not only has that victim taken a huge emotional risk, but she or he has also taken an immense financial one, too.

It assumes the victim is not emotionally affected by the incident(s).

When I was sixteen years old, my grandfather passed away. I did not cry for over a year, and then one day, while getting a routine dental cleaning, I just broke down. I felt bad for my dentist afterward, because not only did he think I’d somehow been grievously injured, but he also found himself in the position of having to empathize with a patient about grief. He’d been my dentist for over a decade though, and he altered his appointment schedule to sit and talk with me about when he lost his father.

My point is that emotional trauma, whatever its nature, often has lasting impacts. Sometimes it doesn’t hit right away; other times it’s ever-present.

For victims of sexual harassment, abuse, or assault, they must work through that emotional trauma. Sometimes it’s just not possible to report an incident right after it happens.

It assumes the victim feels they will be believed.

This is a big assumption because most of the time, situations of sexual harassment, abuse, or assault come down to one person’s word against another’s. When one of those people is in a position of power, say a boss for example, the victim may believe that the abuser’s power will lend credibility, and therefore her or his own story won’t be believed.

In many cases, this is true. Even if it’s not true though, the victim may worry that it is.

Imagine being sexually harassed, abused, or assaulted and having little to no physical evidence. Imagine deciding to report it and then imagine no one believes you’re telling the truth. Whatever emotional healing may have already taken place could be at risk, as well as other elements of a victim’s life.

It assumes the victim has done something wrong.

Saying that someone should have reported an event sooner is placing some blame at their feet. Maybe not for the event itself, but for its aftermath, and that’s not okay. It’s never a victim’s fault that she or he is attacked.

If someone speeds through a red light and T-bones your car when you have the right to cross an intersection, you’re not at-fault. We need to stop shaming and blaming victims. We need to stop putting the onus on them to keep themselves safe from sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. We need to provide a safe space for them to come forward when someone has victimized them.

Can it go too far?

The source of victim blaming and shaming isn’t often malicious. Often times, it’s fear of a modern witch hunt that causes this mentality to take hold. After all, since it’s one person’s word against a potential predator, who do you trust?

The answer is simple, I think. Far simpler than it may seem, especially for those of us not involved in investigations into claims of such abuse. Here’s what we need to do:

  1. Treat the victim with empathy. Make her or him feel safe to speak about what happened.

That’s really all we need to do, until something is proven in a court of law. Yes, the court of public opinion matters but we need to guard ourselves that it not go too far. I’m not saying I don’t believe victims. I think in 99.99% of cases they’re telling the truth. But there’s always the possibility for a shred of uncertainty.

In our country, people are legally innocent until proven guilty. We have due process for a reason. I’m not saying it’s always fair or right. I’m not saying that you can’t go ahead and believe someone is a sexual predator.

What I am saying is that unless you sit on the jury for that case, it’s not your job to decide. The system isn’t perfect and it never will be, but we have to work within it to improve it, and that starts with empathy for anyone who feels victimized.

Final Thoughts

I am a feminist, which means I believe in equality for all regardless of gender association or disassociation. I’ve also studied history and literature. Humans have a tendency to go into witch-hunt-mode and I think it’s important to prevent reaching that point while still supporting those who are suffering. Let’s focus on trying to make our system work better so that we can enforce laws that make those who are guilty a) easier to identify and prosecute and b) pay their debts to society.

I’ll leave you with this thought, which I learned from reading Witchcraze by Anne Barstow. Prior to the attachment of the idea of worshipping Satan, witchcraft was not a crime punishable by death. If someone accused a witch who was then found innocent, the accuser would have to pay a fine. The people of the medieval era understood that a crazed witch hunt would devastate the population.

So let’s not get crazy about this. It’s great that people feel safe enough to come forward. And I’m not suggestion they shouldn’t be believed. I’m just saying that judgment should wait until evidence is in.