Jessica Ingold

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I'm Not a Real Writer

Posted by Jessica Ingold on January 23, 2016 at 1:50 PM Comments comments (0)

There's a lot of writing advice floating around out there: read anything you can get your hands on, keep a daily journal, never leave home without a notebook. The Internet is bursting at the seams with how-to columns and motivational quotes, productivity hacks and educational blogs geared towards aspiring writers itching to launch their careers. If there was ever a time to embark on the (self) publishing journey, this is it. Thanks to a noticeable uptick in web-based self publishing services, everyone and their neighbour now has the capacity to share their stories with the world, thereby infusing the market with a deluge of fresh, new voices. Make no mistake: the era of creative autonomy is here to stay. And it is glorious.

Being a writer means the world to me. It is the lifeblood of my identity and the cornerstone of my career. The pen is mightier than the sword and words have saved me more times than I care to admit. There has never been a time in my life when the sight of someone grinning at something I've written has not caused my soul to sing. And now, at 24, I know without a glimmer of a doubt that I will always be in love with my craft. Certainty is a beautiful thing, isn't it?

I'm a writer. But according to conventional wisdom, I'm not a real writer.

Real writers, I'm told, write every day. They hole up in the privacy of their office, alone, and churn out page after page of blistering prose. They ponder the validity of their art continuously, chiseling away at society's preconceived notions one keystroke at a time until their name rises like cream to the top of every search engine and bestseller list. Real writers, apparently, do not have any other obligations.

Here's another thing: real writers, they say, are seldom self-taught, and the successful ones are merely flukes. Real writers go to school and enroll in creative writing programs. They receive grants to cover their expenses while they toil over their literary masterpieces. Real writers have agents, go on tour, and attend book signings. Real writers get real press coverage from real industry publications. Real writers get paid to write. Everything else, I'm told, is just noise. Make believe. Wishful thinking. A soapbox for the misunderstood. A hobby.

If everything I just said is true, then clearly I'm not a real writer at all.

I've tried it all: the daily drudgery of keeping a journal, pouring my insecurities onto the page in exchange for a few fleeting pearls of inspiration; the halfhearted hunt for the latest and greatest writing apps; the frenzied search for writing fairs and conferences that don't require representation by a recognized publishing house. I have tried, with no small amount of apoplexy, to establish a regular writing routine and concrete word count goals, only to end up slumped in my chair staring at the screen wondering why I torture myself in this way. After all, I'm not a real writer. All my deadlines are arbitrary and self-imposed. No one is waiting for my manuscript with money in hand--in fact, I'm lucky if I break-even on my investments. You can't put a price tag on passion, but that doesn't make it worthless.

Let's get real: being a writer is a terrifying prospect. Unlike other careers, it doesn't follow a predictable, linear trajectory. Either you strike gold--the right words on the right desk at the right time--or you end up facedown in the mud. There are no guarantees. I have always known this, and yet, here I am again, typing furiously in hopes that my words will somehow catapult me from the trenches of obscurity into something deserving of being called real--even if it's just for a minute.

I'm not a real writer, but I sure as hell feel like one when I type THE END at the bottom of an 85,000-word document. I'm not a real writer, but you'd never know it from the size of my smile every time someone likes, shares, or retweets one of my trite revelations. I'm not a real writer, but you'd never guess if you saw how many notes I've squirrelled away in shoeboxes and drawers, certain that these handwritten musings, hastily scribbled on whatever was handy at the time, will one day find their way into a story, poem, or blog post. I'm not a real writer, because I'm too busy enjoying the journey, rather than the destination.

I'm not a real writer, so for now, I'm going to cut myself some slack, pour myself another cup of coffee, and relish the freedom of an empty agenda--because when nothing is real, anything is possible.

 

Let Me Finish: A Case for the Quiet Geniuses

Posted by Jessica Ingold on December 11, 2015 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Guys, I’ve wanted to write this blog for a VERY long time. How long, you ask? Well, since I started admitting to being an introvert—so, a few years, at least.

For the past several months, I’ve been working on hammering out the second installment of my three-book YA series. Prior to writing, I spent a full week drafting a fifteen-page outline that includes a colour-coordinated, chapter-by-chapter breakdown, a hyper-specific timeline, and a detailed set of sketches for all my major and minor characters, complete with birthdays, strengths, and weaknesses. All well and good, especially since I’m on course to finish the first draft some time before the New Year. But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because in the midst of consulting my trusty outline, I realized something horrifying. In the process of characterizing one of my male characters, I wrote this in his Weaknesses column: Introverted.

I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal—and truth be told, it isn’t. But for someone who has spent her entire life being told she had to “come out of her shell” and “learn to adapt”, this sort of blunder is bitingly ironic. Introversion isn’t a weakness. I have known this my entire life, and yet, when tasked with defining the psychological makeup of a wholly fictional human being, my knee-jerk reaction was to perceive his soft-spoken demeanor as a handicap, as something he will eventually have to overcome rather than a source of limitless potential.

In my defense, this oversight may actually prove beneficial. You see, given that I’ve made the mistake of assuming my quintessentially introverted character will be at a disadvantage, I now have no choice but to explore his unique personality in exhaustive detail. I feel like I owe this to myself, and to everyone else who has ever been made to feel like they need to change in order to be socially acceptable. But before I do, there are a few things we need to discuss (and by ‘we’ I mean the 25% of us who are unified in our understanding that being quiet doesn’t mean we have nothing to say. But more on that later.)

So, without further ado, I present you with this handy list of 10 things extroverts need to stop saying to introverts. Extroverts: we love you guys, and we know you mean well. But for the love of all that is holy on this planet, please stop trying to indoctrinate us. We know—you’re cool. And chatty. And occasionally generous to the point of being overbearing. But we’re cool, too, even if it takes a little longer to see it.

And now, the list...

1. “So, do you talk?”

Nope. I’m mute. I go through my days communicating strictly through hand gestures and a series of systematic eye blinks reminiscent of Morse code. C’mon. I know this may come off as somewhat of a surprise, but introverts DO know how to engage in verbal conversation. Shocking, I know.

2. “Don’t be shy!”

Let’s get one thing straight here: introversion is not (I repeat, NOT) synonymous with being shy, just like not all extroverts are loud, boisterous, pushy, or self-absorbed. Sure, most of us may seem a little shy or reticent at first blush, but I promise you, it’s temporary. Think of it as being in power-save mode. (Spoiler alert: all introverts are robots. That’s why we’re so predictable.)

I should also mention that this question usually goes hand-in-hand with the first one, resulting in this loaded command: “Don’t be shy, say something!” You see, there’s this little glimmer of overlap between “Don’t be shy” and “Why aren’t you talking?” and this is where most of us introverts spend the majority of our time: on the narrow verge between not being shy and not having anything to say. Please stop asking me to come out of my shell simply to prove I have a set of fully functioning vocal cords. You’re embarrassing us both.

3. “Are you autistic?”

Guys, do I really need to explain why this is an absolute no-no? Further to my earlier point, introversion is not a disability, so stop treating it like one. Also, I think this is a good time to mention that pointing out defects or personal struggles of any kind is never appropriate. Just don’t do it. Rise above the impulse. Mind your own business. If you need help in this department, I know just the people to talk to…

4. “You know, if you really wanted to be an extrovert, you could.”

Wow. Thanks. I had no idea you guys were so inclusive. (Sarcasm. You social cheerleaders are always trying to get us to join your Awesome Club.) Here’s the thing, though…

We can’t (and even if we could, we probably wouldn't want to).

It’s true. Contrary to what some people believe, introversion isn’t a choice or a learned behaviour. There is an actual, physiological explanation for why some people exhibit introverted traits more frequently than others, and it has to do with how our brains process dopamine. Don’t believe me? Then read this.

Now, at the risk of alienating some of my more introverted friends, extroverts may not be entirely wrong on this one. After all, this isn’t Pleasantville and the world isn’t black and white. We’re human beings, not light switches. It doesn’t have to be an either-or type of thing. I’ve met outgoing introverts and standoffish extroverts. For the most part, though, most of us spend our lives closer to one end of the spectrum than the other. So, while we appreciate the invitation, it’s a LONG walk to the other side.

5. “You need to get out more.”

Why? Home has food…and cats…and Netflix.

In all seriousness, though, I’m an introvert, not an agoraphobe. If I didn’t leave my apartment, I’d starve. Being introverted doesn’t mean we’re anti-social. We like going out, just not all the time and not with so many people at once. We need our quiet downtime. It re-energizes us. So, in addition to being robots, we’re also batteries. Go figure.

Here’s another thing: introverts don’t usually invite themselves to social functions; it just isn’t in our nature. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to hang out. Invite us anyway. We might still say no, but at least it will have been our choice, rather than an unfortunate miscommunication. Fact: everyone likes to feel included. Even introverts.

6. “So, I guess you’re a total nerd who plays chess and listens to Beethoven, right?”

Not all introverts are nerds (nerds—there’s another word that gets a lot of shade, eh?) Believe it or not, introverts’ interests can be just as diverse—and dare I say it, cool—as extroverts’. I don’t play chess (in fact, I suck at all games that involve a board) and I hate classical music (so sue me). Somewhere along the way, society developed this stereotypical view of introverts that includes a twiggy-looking, adenoidal-sounding, socially inept caricature that rejects pop culture and can recite the dictionary from memory.

I realize I’m exaggerating here, but the truth is, extroverts often have more in common with introverts than they think. We don’t like to talk about ourselves (or your aunt Sue’s geriatric poodle who just had hernia surgery), but we can bend your ear for hours about our passions: books, cooking, spelunking, semiology, artificial intelligence, wind surfing…you name it. Don’t talk about yourself, talk about your interests. You might be surprised by what we have to say.

7. “If you want to get ahead in life, you need to be more outgoing.”

There’s a longstanding belief that introverts make lousy leaders. This is simply not true (but then again, if society is so quick to cobble together a clichéd image of an introvert, why wouldn’t they do the same for people in positions of power?)

Yes, introverts engage with the world differently, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless. We often tend to be more sensitive, analytical, and detail-oriented—qualities that are considered valuable in most workplaces—and yet so many environments seem averse to fostering them. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little put-off by job ads seeking “outgoing, energetic, self-starting team-players.” Wallflowers need not apply. What ever happened to workplace diversity?

TL;DR: you don’t need to be outgoing to get ahead. You just need to know your stuff and stay true to yourself.

8. “No wonder you don’t have any friends.”

No. Do not say this. Not only is it pejorative, but it’s unnecessarily cruel. I’ve been on the receiving end of this one a few times, and guess what? It HURTS.

You know what makes introverts great friends? Their undying loyalty. Their sense of compassion. Their ability to tell when you’re not really okay. We’re perceptive like that, and we understand more than you give us credit for. Most of us don’t need a lot of friends, but by golly, we take care of our inner circles. Having lots of acquaintances is pretty handy, but is it really better than having a handful of fiercely loyal comrades with whom you can discuss your interests for hours on end? I guess it all depends on where you stand along the spectrum.

9. “Why are you so depressed? If you’re happy, you should smile more.”

I’m not depressed. I’m thinking. I know it can be tough to tell the two apart, but when I say I’m not depressed, I actually mean it. Introverts aren’t the Negative Nancies society makes us out to be. Most of us are actually pretty happy—we just don’t have the charismatic façade to prove it. Not to worry, though: the resting bitch face is part of our charm.

10. “What’s wrong? Are you OK? Are you sure? REALLY sure?”

Yes, I’m sure. I’m OK. Thanks for asking for the 500th time. No, really. I’m fine. Please stop asking. Everything is OK.

Did you hear that, guys? We’re all going to be A-OK—because we’re introverts and we’re AWESOME.

 

Please stop asking me when I'm getting married

Posted by Jessica Ingold on November 8, 2015 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

“So, are you married?”

The first time I heard this question, I was 21 and working full-time as an intern at a local newspaper. At the time, my boyfriend and I had been dating for nine months (and living together for two) when my assignment to interview a local entrepreneur turned into a game of twenty questions ranging from my first job all the way up to how many children I planned to have. Not wanting to seem cagey or evasive, I’d politely answered every one, all while secretly plotting my escape from the tiny, one-room house serving as my subject’s office.

“Not yet,” I’d said down to the notebook on my knee. “My boyfriend and I just started dating and I’m still in school, so we’ve decided to wait.”

“But if you’re already living together,” she’d pressed, “then why wait?”

To be fair, it was a legitimate question: after all, cohabitation has long been seen as the precursor to marriage, though the jury’s still out on whether living together before tying the knot guarantees a lifetime commitment. But I wasn’t thinking about any of this at the time. All I could think, seated on the couch amidst the baskets of yarn and boxes of mittens awaiting distribution, was how much I loved having a choice.

Now, before you start thinking I’m some power-hungry Feminazi with a political agenda and a need to rock the boat, hear me out: I have nothing against the institution of marriage or the sanctity of family dinners. For those of you who think this blog is an attempt to diminish the significance of matrimony or discourage women from pursuing marriage and motherhood—it isn’t. As far as I’m concerned, as long as your decisions don’t cause harm to others, then more power to you. You do you.

I don’t have a problem with marriage. I do, however, have a problem with people who think that a couple’s decision to delay their nuptials is somehow a reflection of their commitment to one another. In case you missed it, the year is 2015 and 50% of marriages now end in divorce. I’ll give you a minute to think about that.

I wish I could say that was the last time I heard that question. It wasn’t. Not surprisingly, the longer my boyfriend and I dated, the more obvious it became that marriage was no longer a distant possibility, but something we were simply expected to do. Now, three years, two apartments, and one cat later, it seems like everyone has an opinion on when, where, and how we should say our vows. A few months after my interview with the local artisan, I was working alongside a sales associate at one of my employer’s client stores when she turned to me and asked if I had a husband and kids (I was 22). Some time after that, I was speaking with an old friend who expressed concern over what he perceived to be my man’s lack of commitment, claiming that if he really did love me, he’d have—and I quote—“married me the first chance he got” (right—because nothing says commitment like rushing into something with a potential shelf life of 50+ years). Then, less than a month ago, I was speaking to yet another acquaintance when, out of nowhere, the dreaded M-word appeared again: “So, when are you two getting married? It’s been almost four years now, right? What’s the holdup?”

I am. I’m the holdup, and I have no shame in admitting it.

Here’s the thing: placing all the responsibility on the dude turns me into a victim of circumstance rather than an active participant in a healthy relationship. The decision to forego marriage—at least for now—was as much my choice as it was his. A diamond ring wouldn’t last five minutes on my finger, so I told him not to get me one (not to mention I despise the thought of being someone’s property). As for those over-the-top flash mob/movie theater/skywriting proposals that take six months and a year’s worth of rent to pull off? Forget it. Save the cash for a downpayment on a house and spare me the humiliation of having to tell you off in front of hundreds of perfect strangers. Our love isn’t a spectacle, and I refuse to enter into marriage just to prove a point.

Contrary to popular opinion, I didn’t grow up dreaming of my wedding. I never identified with those helpless female characters featured in practically every Disney movie, and if we’re being honest, I was more interested in Prince Charming’s horse than in him. Fifty years ago, marriage was considered to be the apex of a woman’s happiness, but the times have changed. Now, we have options—everything from returning to school to teaching abroad, running a company to running a country—so I can’t help but be surprised (and, admittedly, a little dismayed) when the conversation eventually winds around to marriage and motherhood. When am I getting married? I don’t know—maybe a year from now, maybe five, maybe never. Ditto the baby questions. I don’t know about you, but for the time being I’m enjoying my life in all its diaper-free splendor. Marriage isn’t a race, and I have yet to hear my biological clock tick even once (okay…maybe just once).

So, now that we’ve determined I’m not getting married anytime soon, I guess this means I can go back to eating as much pizza as I want—with my man, of course, because that’s the kind of thing you do when you’re young, in love, and have all the time in the world to prove it.

 


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