Friday, April 29, 2016

Inside Out

The weekend was so crazy that I totally spaced on a big anniversary this week. Monday marked ten years since the initial publication of Once Upon Stilettos. I can't believe it's been that long.

One of my areas of interest is psychology, since I think it helps me create well-rounded, somewhat realistic characters. I like figuring out what makes people tick, and that's also useful in real life. If you can figure out the underlying reason for a person's behavior and grasp where they're coming from, they're easier to deal with (and, yeah, manipulate). This was useful back in my PR days, when a client would make an unreasonable request. I had a knack for figuring out what was behind the request and then coming up with a way to meet that underlying need that was more reasonable. If you met the underlying need, they were usually happy even if you didn't give them exactly what they asked for. I find the same thing often works with editors, where I can figure out why they think something needs to be changed, so I can find a way to give them that without changing my vision for the story.

Of course, before you can really understand other people, you have to be willing to take a good look at yourself, since that filters your perceptions of others. It's also important as a writer, since you're the only person you know inside-out. One of my first big revelations came when I was a couple of years out of college and my employer sent me to a week-long professional workshop. Most of it was stuff related to my job, but the first thing they did at the kick-off event was administer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test (Google it -- you'll find some free online versions). The huge revelation from my results was that I was an introvert, which meant something different than I'd always thought. I'm very verbal and can be outgoing in the right circumstances (people talk about how vivacious I am on convention panels), which I thought meant I was extroverted. But in the sense of these personality types, it's about where you draw your energy. If you get recharged when you're around people, you're an extrovert. If you get recharged by alone time, you're an introvert. I felt like I was in one of those Peanuts cartoons where someone has a huge revelation and shouts out "That's it!" and sends the other person somersaulting backwards. It suddenly explained everything about the way I worked and my social life. I suspect that my life would have gone very differently if I'd taken that test in high school, along with all the other "what career should you have?" assessments. Most of those tests were about what you were good at doing, but they didn't take personality into account. I ended up in journalism because I liked and was good at writing and enjoyed reading and research, but that's a terrible career for someone who's drained by being around people and who doesn't like having to make phone calls. Then, to make matters worse, I ended up going into public relations, as one of the jobs you could get with a journalism degree, which requires even more dealing with people. Though I'm not sure what other job would have suited me, given the lack of entry-level novelist jobs. I was interested in TV writing, where there are staff jobs, but those writers have to work as part of a team and I can't even imagine that.

Anyway, understanding that about myself allowed me to develop a lot of good coping mechanisms and taught me how to treat myself, that it was okay to say no to invitations when I want some alone time. Now it seems that introversion is a cool thing, or else a huge number of my friends are introverts, because I keep seeing articles on the topic pop up in my Facebook feed. Recently, there was this one on owning your introversion. I think I'd add to that the idea that alone time doesn't necessarily mean staying in. I like going and doing things by myself, which is sometimes a challenge to manage with friends who want to do things with me. It's hard to explain that I want to do the thing, but I don't really want to do it with them (or anyone), and it gets awkward if you say no, you don't want to do the thing with them, but then you do the thing on your own and you run into the person there, which usually means that unless it's a multi-venue thing (like a movie), once someone asks me to go, I either have to go with them or not go at all. There's a very different energy to doing things alone, and I have a different experience alone vs. going with someone. I find that I interact with my environment more and get more out of a lot of things when I do it alone, while if I'm with a person, I interact with that person and it seems to shut out other people (which is why I prefer to travel alone). And it's different with different people. Some people are good about the idea of being at an event at the same time, but not necessarily being together. We can intersect at times but we can also do our own things and don't have to be joined at the hip. Other people expect to stick with you the whole time if you go to something together, and that's a lot more restricting and draining.

But when I found that article, there were a number of other things on that site that were specific to my Myers-Briggs type that were rather eye-opening. It was like "oh, that explains so much." This article on the Dark Side of the INFJ was like me in a nutshell. I was particularly interested in the "door slam" part because I didn't realize it was a known thing. There were a couple of particular instances that came to mind when I've done that, but then looking back, I realized it's happened a lot, though it's not always so obvious when we moved so often and that put a natural ending point on a friendship where there might have been a door slam if we'd stayed. Plus, that's the way just about all of my romantic relationships have ended (I don't stay friends after a breakup). It's usually not something I've necessarily done on purpose when I've let a friendship end this way. It usually comes in conjunction with a major life upheaval, when I have to retreat for a while to deal with it, and then when I'm through it and get in touch with a friend, I get blasted with accusations of being a terrible friend for being out of touch. Then when I point out that I'm the one who initiated contact here and I haven't heard from that person in just as long, I get blasted some more, and it's more than I can deal with, so I back off for a while to recover and get past the anger, but then after the last blast I start to fear I'll get more of it the next time I try to say anything, and meanwhile I've discovered or rediscovered other friends who have been supportive during the major life upheaval, and I start to realize that this friend was always an emotional drain, so I just let it go, drop it, and move on. I think maybe that comes back to that introvert trait of tending to attract needy people. The needy ones are the first to lash out when you're not meeting their needs, and they're less likely to take the "I haven't heard from you in a while, are you okay?" approach rather than sulking until you reach out to them and then blasting you for not being in touch. I've gotten better about avoiding those relationships in the first place now that I've learned that I'm not so desperate for friends that I have to deal with difficult people. I've also learned to look for the red flags in the early stages.

And then this article pretty much sums up my personality.

I suspect a lot of my characters are a lot like this, just because it's easier to write from that worldview. It's a lot harder for me to write an extrovert, and when I do, it doesn't always feel authentic because it's essentially faked. I can write the behavior, but it's hard to write the viewpoint. I get tired just writing it. But then avid readers tend to be introverts, so they're more likely to identify with the kinds of characters I write.

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