Tuesday, April 26, 2016

An Ambivert Walks Into A Writing Conference...

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee
Fifteen thousand people at one writing conference are enough to bring out my inner introvert. That’s what I learned at my second springtime leap into the swarms of the annual AWP Conference, this time in Los Angeles. (AWP stands for Association of Writers and Writing Programs, so can anyone tell me why it’s not AWWP?) People often talk about creative writing and introversion as if they’re inseparable, but thanks to writing’s dual requirements of solitude and communication, I believe it attracts a spectrum of introverts and extroverts.

I’m an ambivert: exhibiting qualities of extroversion and introversion in almost equal measure. In Myers-Briggs personality tests, I typically score 51% extrovert/49% introvert. I’ll bet if the tests were not designed for bilateral results, I’d test 50-50.

Non-writers often seem surprised to meet an extroverted writer. Meanwhile, writers who know me seem surprised to learn I’m half-introvert. “But you’re so social!” That’s what an author friend told me when I attended her reading at one of the pop-up events that are my favorite part of any conference.

With that, we both fell into mutual confession, admitting that, although we enjoy such events—typical for extroverts—we feel drained afterward—typical for introverts. She said something like, “I enjoy readings, but I spend most of the time leading up to them dreading it, and most of the time afterward going over every dumb thing I said.”

Without prompting, she volunteered that on Myers-Briggs, she scores 51% introvert/49% extrovert. We laughed over our identical but flipped numbers. I drew an imaginary bubble around us with my hands and said, “We’re both safe here.”

She and I don’t know each other intimately, but I like to believe that for a few minutes after that we both relaxed, eager to get better acquainted with each other, without the pressure of meeting strangers. Then a third author, a stranger, joined us. She was smart, funny, and apparently extroverted. The tension rose, but I enjoyed the conversation. I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable. Still, I missed the one-on-one.

I expected to join a close friend—an introvert—at that event, but she never saw my text confirming our plans. She later texted that she feared being alone so went to another event in hope of finding friends, which is how she ended up alone. It struck me as the classic approach-avoidance conundrum writers face at conferences, the simultaneous desire and fear surrounding social contact.

To write well, we don’t shy from sharing ideas that scare us. How can we ask less of ourselves in a roomful of writers? Yet how will we broach such frank talk with strangers?

I’m convinced that extroverts and introverts are often equally overwhelmed by writing conferences, though perhaps for different reasons. Something like:

Introvert: Why is this person talking to me? Why is she so excitable? Why does she keep talking about herself? Why is she asking me so many questions?

Extrovert: Why won’t this person talk to me? Why is she so disengaged? Why won’t she tell me about herself? Why is she making me do all the talking?

Exhausting. Still, I crave intimate dialogue. That’s one reason I write: the intimate relationship between writer and reader.

In that vein, I prefer events where the halls don’t feel like a pedestrian freeway at rush hour; where presentations are not one-sided, with an invisible boundary between presenter and audience; where I don’t feel lost in a crowd.

At AWP, many fellow-writers and I exchanged the same confession: “This is overwhelming.” A few of us shared ways we deal with that. Here are mine:

1) I only attend two or three classes a day.

2) I spend mornings or afternoons writing in my room.

3) I often choose to eat in solitude.

4) I emphasize offsite events and don’t struggle to meet people. If I do, great. If I don’t, I watch and listen.

5) I don’t feel compelled to go to that thing where “everyone is going,” unless I’m dying to go.

6) I typically attend smaller conferences, seminars, workshops, and retreats, especially where I can spend time with a single group of maybe a dozen.

Those approaches still challenge both my inner introvert and outer extrovert, but I find it worthwhile: reaching within for questions and answers, reaching out to share questions and answers, and synthesizing it all into an improved ability to create and communicate. Introverts or extroverts, we’re writers, and until we share our words we have not completed our purpose.

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Connotation PressRivet Journal, and Pangyrus. She’s a book editor and writing coach. She was a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Ventura, California.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Reinventing the Hero

So many posts circulating on Facebook perpetuate stereotypes about men and women. They get a lot of likes and shares. They are funny on the surface and touch on shared experiences. But not every guy is into beer and cars and not every woman wants flowers and chocolates.

Eliminating gender assumptions allows for a more interesting spectrum of characters to work with and can help send healthier messages.

Traits such as introversion versus extraversion, sensing, feeling,thinking, and judging exist on a spectrum and transcend gender definitions. They are further shaped by our childhood wounds, nurturing (or lack of), and etched by society.

There is a movement to change the messages we send girls about how they should manifest in the world, but the messages are still tainted by gender stereotypes.

An equal amount of focus should be on the messages we send to boys about their presence in the world, without perpetuating unhealthy gender stereotypes.

What a man wants and needs is different for each individual. If you want to win a person's heart, you must first learn their currency.

So often, through fiction, men are told a hero must be a wealthy, kick-ass but sensitive alpha male.

They have to plan perfect dates and shell out serious dough to impress their dates.

They must be able to mutter sweet nothings and pithy phrases while using impeccable fighting skills and super intellect to save the day. 

Being sensitive is often looked upon as being weak, intelligent as being nerdy, kindness as being a sucker. However men with ordinary skills who move through life with kindness, consideration, honor, and steadfastness make the best life partners, parents, and citizens.

Some men need to have their reality validated. They come home with their stories and they need someone to act as their witness. Some men like to "talk."

Some men like loving words and small tokens to remind them they are cared for. The same things make other men very uncomfortable.

Some men need a generous amount of physical touch. Others may not enjoy non-sexual snuggling.

Some men want to be appreciated for all they do to take care of their family. Going to work every day and providing financially are their version of hearts and flowers. They need their effort to be recognized. Some resent being the sole breadwinner.

In addition to rehabilitating the needy, desperate heroine of the past, it is time to reconsider what constitutes the hero.

If you are interested in learning more about improving messages to young men (and women):

Check out The Good Man Project, which is dedicated to international discourse about what it means to be a "good man" in the 21st century.

I am a huge fan of Tom Selleck's steadfast character on the television show Blue Bloods. The actor is co-founder of Character Counts.org, which is dedicated to working with schools to instill good character and ethics.

For more information on building characters through personality types and nature/nurture, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict and SBB: Build a Cast Workbook.

Continue reading about heroes and romance with the following posts:

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.