Thursday, April 21, 2011

Be Brave and Revise (Or, Alternately, My Struggle With Fear)

Before I get into this post, I want to say that I am not complaining about any of the wonderful things that have come my way. If this post comes across that way, that isn't how I intend it. I have been blessed with manymanymany good things, but life is fraught with difficulty no matter how many good things happen to you. So I'm writing this post because one of my goals, when I started this blog, was to be honest about my mistakes and the things I struggle with. I haven't done that recently, and I want to do it now. That's all.

Anyway. Enough with the disclaimers.

The rough draft of D2 was the hardest thing I have ever written, and I had no idea why. Why, when I sat down at my computer in the morning, would I do anything, ANYTHING to avoid typing a single word in the word document? Why would I write a sentence and then immediately delete it? Why did I develop such an affinity for cleaning instead of writing?

I explained it to myself several different ways, desperate to figure out what had turned the hobby and job I loved into something I regarded with such dread. And after discarding every explanation I came up with, I was finally able to land on the one that was actually true: it was all related to fear.

Something I have not shared, because I wasn't sure how to share it, is that I am A Person With Anxiety Problems. I have spent many an hour on a therapist's couch. Once I spent several hours breathing into a paper bag, and not just because it smelled nice. Most of that anxiety comes from my constant assessment of other people's opinions about me. Am I making him angry? Am I disappointing her? If I please everyone, I will finally feel safe. I must please everyone, all the time. I have made many unwise decisions in my pursuit of safety above all else. Decisions that were often to my detriment and, even worse, to the detriment of the people around me.

So, you can imagine what happened when I entered into a profession in which assessments of my work (and therefore me, or so it often seems to my somewhat neurotic mind) are constant, abundant, and very, very public. But in case you can't, I'll tell you: the anxiety got much worse.

Writing used to feel safe because it was so private. I could keep it to myself, and decide only after I was finished if I would show it to anyone. So when I was writing, I was secure; I could do whatever I wanted. But it didn't feel that way with D2. I was constantly aware that people would read what I was writing. And the assessment of other people's opinions crept into my safe space. What will she think of this? What if he doesn't like this? What if I let them all down? I have to please everyone, so that I can feel safe.

Several weeks ago I met with my pastor, and he asked me, in the course of our conversation, something to the effect of: do you think it's significant that, as someone who struggles so much with fear, you chose to write a book about bravery? Well if I didn't before, I do now, Jason.

Tris is someone who can step off the edge of a building not knowing what will meet her at the bottom. The moments in which she faces her fears are largely physical, far louder and more intense than any of our bravest moments will ever be. I don't know why I didn't realize that I wrote about her because I longed for that quality of hers that is so distinctive to me: she chooses the true thing instead of the safe thing. And what she discovers is that the freedom to become who she wants to be is worth the danger.

What I know now, after much reflection, is that I have brought much of this intense anxiety upon myself, because I have started to make decisions that do not feel safe, like Tris. I have let people down. Hurt them, sometimes. Pissed them off, other times. Surprised them, almost always. Yet I have not been able to translate this newfound insistence upon bravery into my writing.

I've been working with my bodyguards (agent, editor, etc.) to create a safer space to write, one in which I can stop the assessments of other people's opinions before they take me to darker places. But I know that's only a temporary solution, because I've learned from Tris that there aren't really safe places-- or that if there are, I don't really want to be in them, because it's not who I am. The permanent solution is something I learned from another character in DIVERGENT:

"I ignore my fear. When I make decisions, I pretend it doesn't exist." (145)

Writing is about decisions. Your characters make them, but more often, you make them. You decide what you are going to say and what you are not going to say; what you believe and what you do not believe; where you want the story to go and where you do not want it to go. And I don't want to be a writer who is ruled by fear. I want to be the one who says: they may not like it, but this story is as true as possible, so I don't mind.

Anxiety doesn't just disappear. I will probably always be someone who struggles with fear. But I am determined not to consult my fear when I make decisions, in life and in writing.

I think I wrote all this on the off-chance that you, like me, struggle with anxiety-- or just fear in general-- and might benefit from knowing that you're not the only one. Or maybe I just wrote it because there are no moving trains to jump off around here and this was the next best way to face my fears. Either way, it's time to be brave and revise.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Amazon Q&A

I have a Q&A up on Amazon, and I mention it mostly because I thought the questions were particularly interesting. I had a great time answering them. Here's my favorite:

Q: You’re a young author--is it your current adult perspective or not-so-recent teenage perspective that brought about the factions in the development of this story? Do you think that teens or adults are more likely to fit into categories in our current society?

Roth: Other aspects of my identity have more to do with the factions than my age. The faction system reflects my beliefs about human nature—that we can make even something as well-intentioned as virtue into an idol, or an evil thing. And that virtue as an end unto itself is worthless to us. I did spend a large portion of my adolescence trying to be as “good” as possible so that I could prove my worth to the people around me, to myself, to God, to everyone. It’s only now that I’m a little older that I realize I am unable to be truly “good” and that it’s my reasons for striving after virtue that need adjustment more than my behavior. In a sense, Divergent is me writing through that realization—everyone in Beatrice’s society believes that virtue is the end, the answer. I think that’s a little twisted.

I think we all secretly love and hate categories—love to get a firm hold on our identities, but hate to be confined—and I never loved and hated them more than when I was a teenager. That said: Though we hear a lot about high school cliques, I believe that adults categorize each other just as often, just in subtler ways. It is a dangerous tendency of ours. And it begins in adolescence.

So if you'd like to learn more about some of the details of Divergent (or, heck, about my life philosophy), check it out. Have a good weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Book Is A Book. Did I Mention It's A Book? Or That It's A Book?

Today I got a very strange package in the mail. It was shaped like a rectangular prism.

It was wrapped in orange tissue paper and secured by a piece of gold, curly ribbon. I suspect the bright color is intended to ward off potential predators. It did not, however, work on me. I tore through the flimsy attempt at self-protection to get a better sense of exactly what this package was.

Lo and behold, upon opening it, I discovered something of intense and awe-inspiring beauty.

What is this strange creature? How did it adapt to the point where it developed a jacket to keep it warm and safe? And how did I get the privilege of having it in my life?

And why does it SAY my NAME on it?

Okay-- in all seriousness.

GUYS. This is a BOOK. It has a JACKET. You can take the jacket off, and put it back on again, and take it off again, and put it on again...

Yesterday I was so cool, calm, and collected. I was all "yeah, I know my book comes out in a month. I'm looking forward to it, but no, I don't feel like I'm about to spontaneously combust. I'm chill. I'm drinking tea and reading in my pajama pants."

"Was" is the operative word.

Because right now? I'm "!!!!!MY BOOK IS A BOOK!!!!!!"

And I hate exclamation points. So I don't use them lightly.

I don't know what else to say, other than...LOOK AT IT WITHOUT THE JACKET!

FYI: This book came to me straight from the printer (well, straight from the HC, who got it straight from the printer), so it's one of about...ten copies that exist, or something. It's not out yet! Only 27 days left, though!

Monday, April 4, 2011

The First 100 Pages, and the DIVERGENT Dictionary

The first 100 pages of DIVERGENT are online!

You can read them HERE.

You know. If you want.

It occurred to me yesterday that now that summaries/reviews/snippets/ARCs are more readily available, and the release date is fast approaching, it might be a good idea to provide some necessary information. Such as: the faction names. What do they mean?

I have been asked in the past if I made the words up. I didn't, but I did intentionally choose unfamiliar words, for an assortment of reasons. One of them is that I wanted to slow down comprehension of what each faction stands for, so you learn as much by observing as by the name of the faction itself. Another is that the definitions of the more obscure words are more specific, in interesting ways. And a third is (since I'm being honest, here) that they sound cooler.

People have also asked me why the faction names are different parts of speech-- three nouns (Candor, Amity, Abnegation) and two adjectives (Dauntless, Erudite). (For the record, I love this kind of grammar consciousness.) I am aware of that, and it was something I thought about in revisions. The reason for the discrepancy is that each faction chose their own names independently, just as they wrote their own manifestos independently, and formed their own customs and rules independently (to a certain extent, anyway). Keeping that in mind, I tried to pick the words that made the most sense for each faction without considering the other factions too much.

And so, from Merriam Webster:

DAUNTLESS: fearless, undaunted.
Undaunted: courageously resolute, especially in the face of danger or difficulty; not discouraged.

It's those two definitions (fearless, and undaunted) that I found so fascinating. Being fearless and being undaunted are two different things. And the characters in DIVERGENT struggle with that distinction.

And from

ABNEGATION: 1. to refuse or deny oneself (some rights, conveniences, etc.); reject; renounce.
2. to relinquish; give up

I like the verbs in that one: refuse, deny, reject, renounce--active forms of stripping things from your life. As opposed to relinquish, give up-- more passive.

ERUDITE: characterized by great knowledge; learned or scholarly

The word "erudite" focuses on knowledge rather than intelligence-- intelligence being something you're born with, and can't necessarily control, and knowledge being something that you acquire. I find that interesting, given what I know about Erudite.

CANDOR: 1. the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression; candidness.
2. freedom from bias; fairness; impartiality.

That definition definitely helped me flesh out Candor more, particularly in the second book. The faction is not just trying to develop honesty-- they're also trying to develop impartiality.

AMITY: 1. friendship; peaceful harmony.
2. mutual understanding and a peaceful relationship, especially between nations; peace; accord.
3. cordiality

It's not just about banjos and apple-picking. It's about cultivating strong relationships and trying to understand each other. Oh, Amity.

Also, it's not a faction, but for fun:

DIVERGENT: 1. diverging; differing; deviating.
2. pertaining to or causing divergence.
3. (of a mathematical expression) having no finite limits

Diverge: 1. to move, lie, or extend in different directions from a common point; branch off.
2. to differ in opinion, character, form, etc.; deviate.
3. Mathematics . (of a sequence, series, etc.) to have no unique limit; to have infinity as a limit.
4. to turn aside or deviate, as from a path, practice, or plan.


FACTION: 1. a group or clique within a larger group, party, government, organization, or the like.
2. party strife and intrigue; dissension.

I'm just going to leave that one alone.


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