Writing Tips

Go Forth and Edit: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Critique Circle

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Today, I want to share some tips for getting the most out of your Critique Circle experience and some etiquette (AKA mostly my own CC pet peeves).

If you are not familiar, Critique Circle (CC) is a free platform where writers post stories and receive critiques. You start out by critiquing a handful of stories and earning points, which you then use to post your own story. Generally, you’ll post 5,000 words or less at a time, and longer submissions require more points. You also may need to wait a few days before your story goes live. When you start out, your story will be posted in the “Newbie Queue” for new members, and you will also critique stories in this queue. Newbie Queue stories get up to five critiques, but my last story received 7(!) for some reason. There are also paid subscription plans if you would like to get going faster.

I’ve been to different in-person critique groups and exchanged stories with friends. I’m not trying to discount the value of those experiences, but I’ve realized that platforms like CC have an advantage that traditional critiquing just can’t match. And that is this: nobody knows who you are! Other CCers are looking at your story in almost the most objective way possible, and they have only the context that you provide. Maybe that sounds lame and impersonal, but experience has taught me the value of this. It’s great to have a place to go where your work is not judged through the lens of your own gender, ethnicity, race, age, socioeconomic status, or persona. Obviously, those things don’t go away, but at least you can choose what you want to share about yourself on CC.

When I first started using CC, I felt a bit of a disconnect with my readers. I didn’t feel like they were really getting my story. It’s probably because I didn’t give them any context for it. I was just kinda like, “here ya go, thanks for reading.” And my story was weird and trippy too, so you can imagine how disorienting that was.

So you can benefit from my own CC mistakes and follies, I’ve compiled this little checklist so you can know what to expect from CC and crush it!

When Critiquing

  1. The Newbie Queue is not genre-specific, so be prepared to critique work from different genres. I think that critiquing outside of your genre can be helpful for all parties involved. Sometimes, I like it when people who aren’t my target readers critique my story — that way, I can see what kinds of things are working/not working for audiences at large.
  2. Let the author know what you liked about the story. It can be hard to put your stuff out there. Even if you have thick skin, you never know who you’re critiquing. They may be just starting out. So try to be welcoming and encouraging.
  3. The other side of the coin is: be honest. If you’re worried about being a douche, you can try this: instead of saying something like, “I didn’t like X,” you can say, “I would have liked to see Y.” Or, “Z would have made more sense to me.
  4. I encourage in-line critiques. “In-line” critiques on CC allow you to make little notes for each paragraph of the story. You can also insert comments at the beginning and end. “Classic” critiques just give you a place to make general comments. I like in-line because I can make cute little comments throughout the story and quickly point out any spelling or grammar mistakes without having to be like, “well, in the third paragraph, tenth sentence…”
  5. Just Google it! Ok, I’m going to rant for a sec. Sometimes, people will read your story and complain if you mention a celebrity or idea that they’ve never heard of. It is the author’s job to explain things, but not every little thing. And do you really want to live in a world where you only read things you’ve read about before? If you see a word or name in a story, and you don’t know what it is, just Google it! And then, you won’t have to complain in your critique.

When Posting and Reviewing Critiques

  1. Provide a short description. If you’re posting a chapter of a novel, briefly explain what the novel is about in the opening comments section. Introduce characters as necessary, important plot points, and little idiosyncrasies that the reader won’t understand if they haven’t read the rest of your work. If you’re posting a short story, do something similar, but less context will be required.
  2. It’s OK to be confident. I’ll go out on a limb and say that many writers are introverts. Maybe, like me, you’ve been conditioned to be unsure of yourself.  Well, that’s ok! CCer’s are all just trying to be better writers. There’s no need to be self-deprecating. You don’t need to put something like, “Well, this was just kind of something I threw together and it probably sucks” in your opening comments. Even if that stuff gets you brownie points in real life, it may not on CC. You may just get less views and less critiques. Why not be confident? What harm could it do you? This isn’t some horrible job interview where you have to demonstrate just the right balance of humility-machismo/alphafemale-ness to mesh with the office culture. Just get to the point.
  3. Pre-Critique. I am more receptive to stories that the author clearly proofread and self-critiqued before posting. Not to say that it needs to be perfect. Before hitting submit, I find it helpful to read my comments together with the text of my story on the browser window to see how it looks. It’s also nice to get out of your own word-processing groove. Seeing the naked text may help you notice things about your writing that you didn’t notice before. Strange, but true. Also, you may need to make some tweaks because certain formatting things like italics will not transfer over from Microsoft Word.
  4. After Receiving Critiques, Let Your CC Friends Know You Appreciate Them. Send personalized thank-you messages and let CCer’s know what you liked about their critiques. I’m a sucker for validation, so I like these. Even if you didn’t think the critique was that helpful or astute, it doesn’t hurt to be gracious. The person still took time out of their day to read your story.
  5. Critique Back! Return the favor by critiquing your critiquers when they have stories in review. If they don’t have a story in review, you can always check back later.

If you’re looking to make real-life writer friends, maybe CC isn’t right for you. It’s not region-specific, so you may do better finding a read and critique group in your area. But if you need to get some quick feedback on your story or you’re worried about being judged by friends and coworkers, CC is the way to go.

Writing Tips

How Do You Write When You Feel Like $#^! ? 5 Steps for Effective Damage Control

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There’s the kind of sad that fuels hauntingly ethereal poems. Can’t wait to turn this boo-hoo into moo-moo! Because I’m going to milk this pain. Sorry for that analogy, vegans.

And then there’s the kind of sad where you don’t want to get out of bed. But if you did, you would destroy all your writing. “I suck, so it must too.”

This isn’t an academic exercise for me because it just happened.

Has this ever happened to you:

1) You feel like you’ve made all this progress in dealing with your emotions and getting things done;

2) You feel like a different person now and even have a hard time relating to your past self?

And then something happens. The wind shifts. You’re forced into a situation that you would rather avoid. Or maybe there is a subtle trigger. You find yourself behaving in the old, “unenlightened” ways and you get a horrible, obnoxious, blast from the past right in your face?

For me the trigger can be something as seemingly innocent as a movie or show about high school. I empathize with the characters and transport myself there to the bottom of the pecking order. I start to think: “Well, I haven’t changed at all. Because here I am, after all these years, still feeling alone and still not a successful author, and still wanting all the things that I used to want that I can’t have, and that wouldn’t make me happy anyway.”

Yikes.

The experience is different for everyone, but the result is the same: good writing doesn’t get done and potentially awesome ideas can go to waste. All because of some distorted thinking and a momentary lack of vision.

What can be done?

Step 1: Don’t delete your shit just because you’re sad, and don’t wholesale dismiss your work.

Don’t do it! Think long and hard before you delete. Highlight or strike-through, but do not delete!

Follow this rule of thumb: if your eyes are still puffy, don’t assume that your writing is … stuffy?

Step 2: Don’t think only in terms of progression and regression.

Too often, we can make things worse by criticizing ourselves and labelling events and actions as progressive or regressive.  

For example, if you used to be in the habit of watching Netflix in the afternoons or drinking with your friends, but now you catch up on chores, you may be inclined to label those old behaviors as “bad” or somehow unnatural. But if you really think about it, the trivial decisions made throughout the day are neither good nor bad intrinsically. Instead of constantly trying to live up to an ideal or avoiding behaviors or situations that remind you of the past, you can instead strive to live in the present and adapt to the circumstances as they unfold.

See, you can learn something from self-help books.

Step 3: Keep a journal.

There are many reasons to write things down.

Many of the things that you write will not be published.

Writing about a difficult experience is probably not going to release you from the emotional pain forever. But, it may make you feel better for a while.

Step 4: Make some coffee or tea.

I used to hate it when people would tell me to just “get over it” or “move on.”

In fact, this is why I don’t share many of my feelings anymore.

The fact is, you often can’t just snap your fingers and “get over it.”

It may take years or a lifetime.

Nowadays, I try to parent myself. Instead of dismissing my feelings, I choose to take breaks by engaging my senses, meditating, or doing something “productive.”

It’s like, “well, this does seem kind of hopeless, but on the bright side, we’re all going to die, so there’s no reason for me to feel so inferior that I can’t get out of bed.”

Step 5: Rinse and repeat.

Being sad is going to change the way you write and change the way you view your existing work. This is inevitable. How can I incorporate my sad work into my happy work? How can I manage to maintain a consistent tone when nothing in my life is stable? Should I start over? I can’t answer these questions. But I can say that all experiences can make your writing better because read that somewhere. People who can’t appreciate the ebb and flow of life cannot be writers. You are not one of those people; therefore, you will figure it out.

I ran out of steps, but I’ll leave you with one more thing: managing expectations.

I think that living in an instant-gratification world can be very detrimental to a healthy writerly mindset. When negative emotions come, we can get wrapped up in comparing ourselves to others. At this age, I should be like ______. I think this comes from having skewed expectations.

Being a writer has never been the safe bet. What even is a safe bet these days? It’s more complicated than putting in the work and getting paid. This is especially true if you’re like me, constantly pushing the envelope. My novel has a prologue and a musical number in the third chapter. Do you think literary agents are going to like that? I don’t.

It’s unrealistic for me to believe that my writing will become an instant success. I also have to live with the possibility that what I do may never be commercially or critically successful, even after I’m dead.

All I can do is try to understand the method behind my madness and respect that. Maybe I can delude myself a little (it’s so punk to be weirdly brilliant in ways that few people will ever understand). What else is there? I can’t expect instant commercial success, or any commercial success.

Sometimes, all you can do is follow the steps and shove your soul into the black box that is the publishing world.

Netflix and Ruminate

‘Midnight Gospel’ Binds to All the Right Receptors

Midnight Gospel is just what the doctor ordered. And no — you don’t need to be high to enjoy it. This show is its own drug.

The adult animated genre on Netflix has been flourishing, with some of my personal favorites like Bojack Horseman, F is for Family, Big Mouth, and the cancelled-too-early Tuca and Bertie. Bojack broke new ground for the genre. It began as a satire about a washed-up reality TV star in a parallel world where humans and equally-sentient animals coexist and quickly transformed into something much more. Bojack was an unflinching look at depression, addiction, and trauma. It also playfully exposed the shallowness of Hollywood (or Hollywoo) and new age trends. While it was amazing in its own right, it definitely left something to be desired. Remember Season 3 Episode 11, when Bojack finally discovered the joy of the present moment while high at the planetarium, and the next moment discovered Sarah Lynn dead from overdose? That was pretty dark. Or the finale where Bojack almost drowned and had that whole dream with the caustic black tendrils, about the finality of death? “Scream into the void!” Literally, so abysmal.

Enter Midnight Gospel.

“Stop fighting it, face the void,” says the comforting voice of Caitlyn Doughty during the Season 1 Trailer, as a collage of little avatar faces populates the screen. There’s, like, this giant blue mushroom, clown robots — question?, and two characters with backs turned, clinking cups. At this point, you may be thinking that you’re about to binge another meaningless stoner series (albeit visually stunning). And you’d be wrong.

The protagonist is Clancy, a little pink guy with a cool pointy hat. He lives on the Chromatic Rainbow, in a trailer equipped with an old universe simulator shaped like a vagina. Aside from that, he’s a pretty relatable millennial guy. He does a “spacecast” where he interviews subjects from his simulator universes, in the hopes of someday getting rich. When he’s not interviewing, he’s usually alone throughout the day, blissfully swilling black coffee, editing his videos, and obsessing over his synthesizers. He’s stereotyped as a slacker, which is pretty accurate: despite the daily prodding, he can’t even be bothered to read the FAQs for his simulator. But it’s fair to point out that he’s a great interviewer with a lot of charisma and emotional intelligence.

We get some hints about Clancy’s anger issues, and there is an inkling that he had to leave earth and borrow money from his sister because of something bad. This flaw only makes him more interesting as a character, and certainly cooped-up youngsters these days can relate to his desire to escape from reality (if there is such a thing). I know that I often feel like I will never be a real adult, and from there it’s not far of a leap to: I don’t know what is real.

While watching, I had no idea that the show was an effort to animate podcasts from the Duncan Trussell Family Hour. Sometimes I like to fly blind. Watch now, research later. That’s the kind of thrill-seeking I’ve been engaging in these days. While some found the podcast dialogue joined with grotesque-pretty-trippy onscreen action to be disjointed and generally a turn-off, I didn’t feel that way at all. I actually enjoyed the weird plot holes and anachrosyncrisies.

I didn’t think it was too confusing when the characters called Clancy “Duncan” a few times. I thought maybe “Duncan” was his earth name. And when the badass lady-knight rode through what looked a medieval village that suffered a horrible  nuclear accident, while calmly chatting about the struggles of making friends in LA, I didn’t even bat an eye. “All part of the experience,” I thought. And it is all part of the experience. If there’s something to learn from the show, it’s this: life is chaotic, but you can ground yourself in the present moment. With each episode, you are given a chance to practice. Free mindfulness self-help! You can’t get bogged down in all the details or mourn all the simulated deaths. You can’t get lost in trying to compare what you’re seeing to things you’ve seen before (e.g., S1E3 looks like… Monument Valley meets album cover of Aeroplane over the Sea?). These are traps for the unwary. You’re better off just finishing the damn show.

In a genre crowded by other awesome adult animated serieses, Midnight Gospel is still a stand-out. It gives us something that Bojack didn’t: a weird kind of hope. Not “Disney hope,” as Clancy clarifies. But it’s not nihilism either. It doesn’t introduce concepts from different religious and mystical traditions just to bash them. It venerates the search for meaning without trying to provide answers. If nothing else, it leaves us with some thoughts. Maybe it does matter what we do. Maybe parts of our consciousness live on after we die in ways that we cannot understand. Maybe true love doesn’t die at all.

Samples

Sample Saturday: “It’s a Lo Fi World”

This content may be offensive to some readers. You have been warned.

            It happened one autumn night when I was driving to San Diego, not long after the 215 ended its flirtation with the 60 and headed straight for its twin flame, the 15. It was dark and flat for miles, the cows having gone home years ago. I tapped the number two preset and heard an oddly familiar, affable baritone:

            “You’re listening to Javier’s Hovel on KUXR. I’ve got a great show for you tonight, a great show. We’ve got some Cowboy Junkies, some Arctic Monkeys, and even, even, some Slooowdive. Bet you haven’t heard them in a while. Slowdive, I mean. Keep it here, keep it queer.”

            I didn’t realize then that Javier was in my Asian American literature class. I saw an empty seat next to him one day. I dodged laptops screens and tried desperately to catch my breath so I could say: “Hey, I like your show because you’re funny and you never play Lou Reed.” We went out for boba tea.

            On New Year’s Eve, Dad left for his client’s party in San Jose. “Ogre Dad,” as Javier would say. He wasn’t due until late the next morning. I had ideas.

            As I lay on top of Javier, he said that I was perfect. He grabbed my butt cheeks. I smiled vacantly at the irony and leaned down to kiss him. I could feel him eating it or needing it. I could never tell which was which.

            I leave Javier’s place early in the morning of January 1, 2020, my head light and throbby, and climb down into my car. I wish someone would have told me how simple it can all be. As I plug in my dead phone and start the engine, I am about to make one of my cute and catty mental pronouncements on the topic of casual sex. The phone vibrates to life. I unlock it and find two voicemails and three seething text messages from Dad:

            “I don’t know where you are but you better answer the phone!”

            “I know you’re drunk and I’m not going to keep paying for you to wast [someone needs autocorrect] your life.”

            “You are worse than your mother. Spoiled, ungrateful, and out of control. I certainly didn’t raise you to be the kind of girl to give it away to anyone.”

            “It’s Kafkaesque!” cries Tucker Carlson meme. 

            Mom told me not to start with Dad, when he offered to let me stay with him and pay my college tuition, on the condition that I promised, in writing, to never drink or smoke “pot” ever again. Mom told me that Dad loves me: he’s just weird about it. She also reminded me again that she could not afford my tuition because of the note on our La Jolla condo.  “Just be careful,” she said. The words sank in, she sipped her dandelion tea, and my eyes unfocused on a cobalt napkin ring.

            Until last night, I had done all that was expected of me. I cooked, cleaned, paid bills, and went shopping — all, by the way, activities sanctioned for the weaker sex, as per http://feminismisthebiglie.co — Dad’s favorite website.

            I gave up my crusade, which was getting Dad to admit that he had an extramarital affair with former family friend Jeanette — all well-documented stuff. 

            Well, now I’m paying. Paying the only way I’ve ever paid for anything. I squeeze at the wheel where it’s already starting to wear, but the tears flow anyway. My phone rings, and of course it’s Dad.

            “Hello?”

            “Where are you?” he asks.

            “Near San Bernardino.”

            “Where have you been?”

            In my sputtering mind, Google maps and my contacts collide so hard it’s criminal.

            “Sarah’s house,” I say.

            “I called her. You weren’t there.”

            “Ok, fine. I was with a boy from school. Is that what you want to hear?”

            “What boy? Is this the Mexican boy? The college radio DJ?!”

            I hang up the phone. It rings again. I press the green button so hard I nearly rear-end someone.

            “You think I’m a slut. Fine. I was with one person my whole life. Guess that makes me a worthless fornicator.”

            I try to swallow the shrillness out of my voice.

            “Ok,” I continue. “Riddle me this. What about you and Jeanette?”

            Silence.

            “What about Jeanette?” he spits. In a lower voice: “I told you everything there is to know about Jeanette.”

            “No, you haven’t. What about the phone records showing that you were in Vegas with her? What about how you always smelled like her? And let’s not forget the lurid voicemail from her husband.”

            “Your mother has brainwashed you. That’s all I can say. Why don’t you stop bringing up ancient history and explain your own shameful behavior. You openly disobeyed me. I told you that you weren’t allowed to drink until your twenty-fifth birthday. And now that you have proven yourself to be a drunk just like your mother, you can never indulge in such behavior again.”

            “Whatever.” If I tell him the truth, he’ll be less likely to believe me.

            “I thought you were doing so well. I just bragged to all my friends about you. I was starting to think that maybe it was time for you to find a nice boy in the church to marry, but now I can see that you are unfit to be a wife.”

            I hang up the phone again, exhale into my turn signal as I pull off the freeway.

            I don’t believe in karma, but I do believe in externalities. I believe that there is no moral high ground in stupidity. No matter how much this sucks, I know I’ve got to smooth things over. To keep a roof over my head.

             If he gives me any subtle shit about Javier being Mexican, I’ve got to keep it zipped, got to get through it, too screwed-up to be self-righteous. I park the car, yank the umbilical cord out of my phone, take a deep breath, and prepare for all-out war.

            I unlock the front door and find Dad sitting on the white couch, laptop in lap. He straightens and just kind of looks at me. It’s pretty anticlimactic.

            “Don’t you have to go to work?” I ask.

            “Today is a holiday,” he says, frowning.  

            “I noticed.”

            He rises, blue eyes popping out of round glasses, locked on me, gut barely contained in black polo shirt. I watch his jowls, feel sick, when he says:

            “I think I know why you did this.”

            The way I nearly jump and his circular glance — I know we’re thinking of the same thing.

            “Please, tell me your theory,” I say. He shifts his weight.

            “You miss Rick.”

            Of all the unwelcome, non-sequitur names!

            “I do not miss Rick. He has nothing to do with this,” I say.  

            “It’s ok if you miss him,” he says, almost empathetic, “But he’s getting married. A man and a woman can’t be friends.”

            “Fucking duh! You think I don’t know that!”

            I am shocked by my own loudness, audacity. So is he. I can’t stop now. Sorry Mom. Sorry, me.

            “Being married didn’t stop you from FUCKING JEANETTE!”

            “Don’t ever talk like that!” he rasps, wounded.

            “She couldn’t even write emails! Always had extra spaces and spelling mistakes, She was a real estate broker and she wrote like a third grader! She was a dumb bitch, and that didn’t stop you —”

            “Say one more word and I’ll slap you!” he screams.

            We both recoil in embarrassment. He turns and walks toward the couch, puts a hand on his forehead.

            “I didn’t mean all that. I’m just so sick of you acting like there’s one set of rules for you, and another for everyone else,” I say.  

            He glances up with a glimmer of self-awareness.

            “She was my best friend,” he explains.

            I say nothing. He takes off his glasses and massages his eyes.

            “I got you a brand new BMW. I’ve done everything for you, and you can’t even keep your legs together…”

            “What?!”

            “Stop talking when I’m talking,” he yells, eyes crazy. I clam up.

            “You have no respect for me or yourself. I know you still miss Rick. And you blame me for not letting you go on that date with him. You were too immature at the time. And now you’re just bitter because he’s found a beautiful and successful woman.”

            I feel so much rage, I want to smile. I give Dad a sociopath smirk and feel all my inhibitions disappear, leaving me nimble and fierce as a sea nymph.

            “So that’s it. You think I’m some sappy little girl who can’t get over her first itty bitty crush. You think I’m just a petulant cunt who’s got a chip on her shoulder, who can’t face reality, who pines day after day for a past that never was. Well, you’re wrong about me. I’m stronger than you’ll ever know, and my upward trajectory is only just beginning.”

            I turn and head for the staircase. I lean over the railing for dramatic effect.

            “I’m leaving this house, and I’m never coming back.”

            I run up the stairs into my room. I yank open the top drawer of my oak dresser so hard that the ballerina figurine rattles dangerously. My paternal grandma gave her to me, a white girl in a baby blue tutu, Vivian Leigh waist and all. I’d like to shove my self-esteem right into one of her porcelain pores. I throw my stretched and stained underwear backwards at my bed. Half of them bounce off the footboard and settle on the floor.

            “Your cadence is crap,” says Negative Self-Talk, brooding near my closet door.

            “Can’t you see she’s already upset?” scolds Abundance Mindset, who hovers near me, unsure of how to help.

            Dad knocks.

            “Please come out, Maggie. I’m sorry. Rick’s fiancée is not superior to you.”

            The sick cackle that escapes is my own.

            Oh, Dad.

            “I just want you to have a good life, full of blessings. Why should you have to pay the wages of sin, like I did? You know that your mother got half, right?

            Hehehe.

            Do you remember, Dad, how you used to hum, “Under My Thumb” while you shaved? Sometimes, I saw you, my hairy-legged hero, under the Hollywood bulb mirror, before Mom would tell me to shoo. Well, they told me, they told me that when one man dumps you, you get under another. No, that’s not quite right.

            “Do you hear me, Dad? You can keep your classic rock capitalism, your status symbol alternative media, your,  your, moral majority happy hour! I’m out of here, and I’m taking the Beemer!”

            I don’t actually say any of this because it sounds ridiculous AF.

            I pace. I’ve got to find my duffle bag. It’s not in the closet, which must mean it’s in the laundry room. My eyes settle on my turntable, opposite the closet. Most of the things that actively remind me of Rick, I’ve already thrown away, even the design award that we shared for the athletic department’s mobile app. But there’s one thing I’ve kept all these years.

            I flip through the bin of records. Boom. Scratched up copy of Eastside Story by Squeeze. I take the record out of the sleeve and break it in half against my nightstand, throw the pieces in my wastebasket.

            “The theory of sunk costs, illustrated,” I pronounce, peppily.

            Ugh.  

            Introverted feeling. What a joke. No one wants High Fi. You see any Hi Fi chillhop playlists ranking for longtail? Don’t think so. It’s a lo fi world.

            It’s an ESTJ cabaret.

            Look out everyone, Maggie Lovell is coming. She’s not going back, not to the bosom of her bullshit. Not to the insecure Ne fever dreams of love, community, and progress. Now she’s after the benjamins, bitch. So pop a squat, pop a corn, and livestream her “upward trajectory.”

            She will be INFP no more.

Writing Tips

How I, an INFP, Fell in Love with Writing (Again)

INFP writing tips

My first little creative renaissance happened when I was twenty. I had just finished my first year of law school, and in the summer, I went to London for study abroad. I had a number of formative experiences, such as: discovering the Velvet Underground Matrix Tapes (props to American Airlines inflight entertainment) during my flight there, reveling in the joy of macarons, making new friends, going to a bar for the first time, and having my first romantic experience on public transportation. During my flight home, I wrote some great material for my novel and, therefore, was completely unable to sleep during the whole trek from LHR to LAX.

I think what really happened during the trip was this: I discovered my Ne, and it was awesome. For you non-MBTI freaks, that’s extraverted intuition, the INFP’s misunderstood auxiliary function.

During parts of my childhood and adolescence, my Ne was poorly developed for whatever reason. Although I excelled in school (Fi-Si) and was sort of likeable when not trying to prove something, I could also be judgmental, selfish, and downright rude. I don’t think my Ne really developed much until my twenties. I still struggle with many social situations, but I think now it has more to do with anxiety than a dormant Ne.

In the months that followed my trip, I finished the first novel that I could be proud of. It was a coming-of-age literary affair called, “The Eastward Exodus of Julie Ashbury.” I had worked on it for years, and while earlier drafts had some good points, it was simply too disorganized to go anywhere. Certainly, this was a product of inexperience. But the root of the problem was that I was trying to do way too much. I’d had a pretty Christian-conservative worldview for much of my life, and that was a huge influence on my writing. Trying to serve God, country, and story — all at once — proved to be a tall order. 

The novel was never actually published. Anyone who knows me is aware that I actually turned down an offer. I’ll be kicking myself for that for a long time. But still, I consider the final version a success in so many ways. It was a raw and unflinching look at growing up for a creative, highly sensitive, and deeply religious young girl. Stylistically, it did a great job weaving heavy dialogue, questionable pop culture references, fantasy, and weird symbolism into a kind of slippy-trippy suburban romp.

I flirted with the idea of a second novel, but I was focusing so much of my energy on law school that it seemed impossible. For a long time, I just wasn’t writing anything of substance. After I took the bar exam, I completed three short stories within a year. The first one was way too Hemingway — and not in a good way. The second one was an experiment that I respect (it’s published here). The third one is forthcoming with Writer’s Resist magazine. This is where I really came into my own as a writer. But it was less than 3,000 words, and so I had to ask: was this just a fleeting glimpse at the writing career that’s already passed me by?

There was a lull after that. I hopefully scribbled ideas in notebooks, but they didn’t satisfy. I was spinning my wheels. Personally and professionally, my life was in disarray. Through late 2019-2020, I struggled with finding a job. Then there was a failed business. I was already starting to feel isolated and lost when Covid-19 hit. I battled fatigue, depression, and mood swings. My pet bird went to heaven. Yeah, it could have been worse. But twenty-year-old me had hoped for so much more. 

I settled into routines. I made bracelets. I made pizza. Also cut down on carbs. My health improved. I meditated. I replaced some of my coffees with ginseng tea. My energy levels spiked, and my outlook on life improved. It was one heck of a montage. As the narrator in my new novel says, “I’ve got a new lease on life, and this is the down payment!” You gotta love the naïvete.

My crazy ideas were tentatively impressed on legal pads. Most were useless: they were permutations of pure boredom, unfortunate puns, and meaningless pop culture jabs. But some were great. The plot slowly emerged. It was awakened more than it was actually “plotted.” An anxious-manic energy flourished.

The working title is “Cognitive Snack.” The narrator, Maggie Lovell, a salty, bat-shit INFP, goes on a quest to turn herself into an ESTJ with the aid of pseudoscience and magical thinking. She uncovers secret societies centered around microdosing, online CIA-MBTI conspiracy theories, and a personality change guru and former litigator who now operates from a shill tarot card reading booth in a Chinese supermarket in the Strip District, Pittsburgh. And yes, she discovers wonderful and uncomfortable truths about herself and the world along the way.

I simply allowed this to happen, and it did. Ne works in mysterious ways. Ne is underrated. Ne is cool. Not as cool as Se. Or maybe even cooler. It’s lustforideas meets lustforlife. No offense to other types (maybe a little), but it’s definitely cooler than Te, when used properly. Ne doesn’t hate, Ne doesn’t judge, and Ne is here for it all.

I’m not trying to denigrate my other cognitive functions. I will need their help too. Fi can help me fill up plot holes, tighten the loose screws holding together my whole emotional arc setpiece, and, more importantly, delete swear words. It takes a village.

I can’t wait for the world (more realistically, a small following of MBTI-obsessed nerds) to gawk over this romp within a farce that I’ve got going on. It’s basically a curated collection of clichés. It defies genre, balks at religion and politics, and wisely dodges the label of Literary.

It could be completely dissonant, banal, and awful. It could be brilliant. There’s really not much of a middle ground. And that’s just how I like it.