I'm a writer who prefers to socialize and abhors routine, yet I still (have/want to) deliver. Ask Me Anything

Annabel Hertz
Jun 7, 2018

Research shows extroverts (and ambiverts) need social interaction to feel good, while neuroscience has found that creative personality types are complex, paradoxical and tend to avoid habit or routine. So how do those of us who fit this bill get our writing done?!  As a professional writer (for think tanks), a novelist (www.amazon.com/Seeing-Green-Annabel-Hertz/dp/1497376556) and writer of opinion pieces, academic papers (while in a doc program) and now a blog for my new business (goodbuysugar.com/so-long-sugar/) — and sometimes visual artist—I've developed ways to balance the quest for adventure and human interaction with the need and desire to produce.  I'd love to share and discuss some strategies and tactics with you!

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Do you have any techniques that helps you stay focused and determined when you have an approaching deadline?
Jun 11, 9:22PM EDT0

Hi Chinkerbelle,

Deadlines themselves naturally make me determined. Maybe I am lucky, or maybe I suffer from enough anxiety over performance and/or pay, but I work much better with them than without. They provide instant structure and an impetus to focus. If there is part of an assignment that is not engaging, then I listen to inspiring music while working. One exception is when I am overtired. If I have not gotten enough sleep or have been traveling and am exhausted but have work to do, then the experience is painful and it takes all my effort to focus. I slog through, maybe try to squeeze in a power nap, but it definitely hurts. Even just writing about it here hurts!

Jun 12, 11:30AM EDT0
Where do you go to find inspiration? What are the things that you experiment with to get your creativity flowing?
Jun 11, 3:37PM EDT0

Hi Shellwin,

I get inspired by observing people and by reading, including global, cultural and political news, and also by other creators—be they entrepreneurs or artists, filmmakers, musicians, etc.—as well as by individuals I meet or read about who are far more interesting than me (!) and/or accomplish much more. Spending time outdoors (hiking) and powerful dreams are also inspirational. Not sure how much I experiment to get creative: if anything, I have trouble keeping a lid on my imagination. Even so, in fiction, I've found that reconnecting with the love of language is a helpful way to get at plot and structure, if that's where I've felt stuck. Other ways include doing something artistic like painting, or anything involving exercise.

Jun 12, 11:28AM EDT0
How did you get to work for think tanks? What is the most rewarding thing about this job? How hard was it for you to get your first job with them?
Jun 11, 11:20AM EDT0

Hi Anmaya,

First, just to note in the category of 'think tanks,' I include a higher education initiative, a foundation, the UN, and perhaps my previous role at WEF—which I'd call more of a media platform/strategic philanthropic organization but that undertakes some think tank functions (as do the UN and foundations). I came to this kind of work through a combination of NGO advocacy and leadership, teaching and doctoral training, networking and responding to published opportunities. Getting my first job in this area was not necessarily hard, but often with consulting, you have to keep pitching yourself, which can be hard energy and time wise.  There is also self-selection involved (I pursue interesting topics, good people/organizational missions) and people also approach me if they think we'd work well together. In addition to topics, people and missions, it's the functional aspects that are most rewarding. Some of my favorite things to do are research and analyze problems and solutions (always learning), write (and express new ideas) and—in the context of external relations—exchange ideas, persuade and get exposed to what makes people tick.

Last edited @ Jun 11, 5:20PM EDT.
Jun 11, 2:54PM EDT0
In your opinion, what constitutes as a good ending for a book?
Jun 10, 7:01PM EDT0

Hi Kristen,

In fiction, I personally like to be surprised. It doesn't have to be a shocker—just an ending I didn't foresee, and one with some emotional resonance. Though I will say I found the ending of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, one of my favorite contemporary novels, to be very surprising, dramatic and even upsetting (but don't skip ahead/read about it, or it won't be the same)! I also like idea of threads being tied together, though not perfectly, in some kind of synthesis. There are also the endings that gnaw at your gut. For example, the Age of Innocence really conveys the principle of lost opportunity in love, the feeling of a life you did not get to live because of some flaw in yourself. The themes of ultimate sacrifice and what it means to be human are of course compelling. That's why I found the endings of 1984—where the state wins over humanity—or the less nihilistic but meaningful ending to Lord of the Flies, where we finally get perspective on the insular, cruel world of children and also its parallel in the adult world of war. I also recently read the Tuesdays with Morrie memoir, and that ending was a good example of where a story's message, character development and spiritual aspects get driven home without overdoing it.

Last edited @ Jun 11, 2:54PM EDT.
Jun 11, 2:33PM EDT0
How do you make time for business when you do so many things already?
Jun 9, 7:20AM EDT0

Hi Skululul,

For the last ten years, I balanced clients and fiction writing, which would have been very hard with full-time work. Now that I've started a business (but am doing less consulting), my time is probably equally divided in thirds among the activities, but that ratio may change in the future: I am aiming to take on more work and hire someone to help with business. Also, I went from developing desserts (which I was going to sell from a solar bicycle at farmers' markets) to an Internet-based model, which requires some slow and steady inputs at the start (learning WordPress, building content) and activities I was already doing organically /in my leisure time as someone who personally enjoys and seeks out low-sugar sweets.  Had I gone with option that was more bricks and mortar, I wouldn't have had time and energy for the other two activities.

Last edited @ Jun 9, 5:24PM EDT.
Jun 9, 5:18PM EDT0
Do you create a working title first or do you come up with a good title last? Any tips in coming with a great title?
Jun 9, 6:46AM EDT0

Hi Marija,

I came up with the title fairly early on and it seemed perfect. The funny thing is I had scoured the Internet to see if the title was in use, and (at that time) the first 100 pages of a Google search showed nothing. But.... I had not googled the title on Amazon specifically! Not sure what I was thinking. So of course later I learn that there's a Nancy Drew book with  the same title, and one by Hannah Montana (!) and I freaked out a bit, but stuck with it—and then at least three books with the same title were published after mine. I have two titles in mind for the sequel but I am going to wait this time and just keep them in reserve.  So my tip would be to try to find a title that is unique, captures the essence of your story—could be based on a sentiment, location, meaning— and that feels like it sits well with you personally (your "brand" as they say), and do a more thorough search than I did.  If you're looking for a title now, feel free to send me a synopsis of your story or book and I will send back some ideas! I love brainstorming, and have named a band, two businesses and several projects. You could also crowdsource possible titles among your networks. 

Last edited @ Jun 10, 7:08PM EDT.
Jun 9, 5:08PM EDT0
Would you consider yourself a freelancer or are you employed full-time by any company to write for them?
Jun 9, 2:16AM EDT0

Hi Sue,

I have been a freelancer for the last decade, though that may change going forward depending on opportunities going forward.

Jun 9, 4:56PM EDT0
What’s the best review or feedback you’ve gotten so far from readers of your work?
Jun 9, 1:53AM EDT0

Hi Mabhierox,

I love constructive feedback—good or bad. Some of the best feedback I've gotten is negative, because it's useful in writing the sequel, though fiction is as subjective as art, so you can only aim to please some of the people some of the time. Funnily enough, with the negative reviews (focused on the protagonist), people still feel compelled to finish the book. In fact, I love when people say they read it in one sitting or one evening—or when they say they laughed!  In terms of written reviews, for me the best are the ones that are creative, thoughtful and detailed, such as the review on Huffpo (www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-dingledine/book-review-seeing-green_b_1403256.html) and several on Amazon. These make me appreciate the writing abilities of the reviewers!  Some of my faves from Amazon include:

"I didn't want the ride to end....I wondered what would happen next to the protagonist and her co-workers. And that's probably the best reason to read the book, other than the colorful and at-times-hilarious scenes -- the author has created compelling characters, ones that evoke an easy camaraderie but who have smile-inducing foibles that keep them from being saccharine sweet."

"Hertz's magic is her masterful weaving of different parts of Arcani's existence with the atmosphere in the 1990's Washington. Power politics and idealism fight to take control of the new Clinton administration as they also try to control Arcani's life. Hertz [kept it] sharp and focused. "

"This book was engaging and informative from start to finish... I enjoyed the freshness of the protagonist, her trials, introspection, and her personal and professional growth as she confronts, grapples with, and reaches resolution on points of uncertainty and conflict in her life. I also gained insight into the tactical dance between NGOs, politicians, and the challenges of working for global change. We need more 'characters' like Arcani!"

"I found myself laughing out loud at this universality of experience... a humorous validation of experience for those currently engaging in this work.

"The witty voice of Arcani, the novel's protagonist, makes this book laugh-out-loud funny!"

"Once I went to the store for a bag of cheese puffs but instead accidentally grabbed a bag of shrimp flavored puffs. I was appalled ...but tried them anyway... a couple of hours later, licking the last salty yummy crumbs off my fingers, I devoured the entire bag. This book is similar in that I did not think I would like it. I ended up ripping through it...and wanting more."

Jun 9, 4:54PM EDT0

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Last edited @ Jun 9, 8:37PM EDT.
Jun 8, 12:12PM EDT0

Hi Judy,

Readers have found my book through meeting me (networking), hearing me speak, word-of-mouth, book fairs and via social media/media/promotions.

Last edited @ Jun 9, 5:10PM EDT.
Jun 9, 12:09AM EDT0
Do you write every day or anytime? Do you need to wait until you feel like writing? What if you don’t feel like writing? What do you do?
Jun 8, 2:01AM EDT0

Hi Alex,

Yes I tend to write something every day, and I've detailed my strategies and tactics in many of the responses below. Depending on the purpose of the day's writing, I rely on things like expectations to deliver (to clients), external stimuli (news, reading) to jump start my brain, exercise and social incentives—or even smaller, simpler rewards, like the opportunity to eat a good lunch!

Last edited @ Jun 9, 5:10PM EDT.
Jun 8, 11:38AM EDT0
Can you tell us a bit about your most recent book? How did you begin the storyline and how long did it take you?
Jun 7, 10:40PM EDT0

Hi BPS Barbara,

 

I've only completed one novel and it took me about three years, though some months I did very little work on it, and some months I was on it full time. I'm about 50 pages into my current effort, which is both a sequel and a stand-alone novel. On that, I know what's happening in the first four chapters or so, and I have a rough idea of the ending, and I have a general idea of the rest of the storyline, but I don't have the scenes down yet. The story takes place in the near future when the protagonist is burned out, the UN is crumbling, remnants of the disinformation age are still in full swing, global society is structured partly on the gap between the super rich and the rest. Arcani comes across a chance to do something very redeeming for the planet, but it requires she engage in some serious ethical gymnastics. My dream is to finish it in 2018, but I am nowhere near close to that now.

Last edited @ Jun 8, 11:32AM EDT.
Jun 8, 11:31AM EDT0
How do you think about how your characters think, how they are allowed to think and reflect?
Jun 7, 8:04PM EDT0

Hi Maria,

Seeing Green only gets inside the protagonist's head because it's first-person narrative, but I do think through each character's raison d'être and motivations, and try to show them as evolving if possible. All the characters have some kind of general backstory and, probably more importantly to the plot, something they are seeking—control, status, societal change, achievement, power, recognition, connection, love.  So if you keep that in mind, you can come up with ways to demonstrate how they exhibit their thinking, though this is always through the eyes protagonist, who can sometimes be a bit unreliable/subjective because she's of course bringing her own expectations about others and biases to bear in her observations.

Jun 8, 11:29AM EDT0
What are some ways that people describe your work that feel right to you, and what are some ways that feel wrong?
Jun 7, 1:37PM EDT0

Hi Nataliia,

Your question is particularly interesting for fiction because so much is interpreted by the reader. I didn’t realize how fascinating it would be to get feedback! People's descriptions are all over the map, and also say a great deal about their own personalities and perspectives. For example, I've been told that Seeing Green is "totally tongue in cheek " as well as it being "a very earnest account" (totally contradictory). People involved in politics generally find it a light and fun read, yet one seasoned activist said it made them "uncomfortable" to be reminded of the way "Washington works," and yet another saw even more politics in the story than I intended. One person said the story was amazing but the writing contained too many big words while another said they loved the writing but that I should've written something more exciting. So, you learn so much about others when you write fiction. When people focus on how much they dislike the protagonist, that doesn't feel right. When readers get that she is flawed, and see some humor in that, and see universal themes in the story (whatever those may be), that feels right.

Last edited @ Jun 7, 10:50PM EDT.
Jun 7, 2:54PM EDT0
Do you have any rituals or traditions to get you in the right mood for writing?
Jun 7, 10:18AM EDT0

Hi James,

I like the idea of rituals or traditions— as distinct from from strategies and tactics. And yes, there are some that help me. Though after your reading your question, I'd like to acquire more! One is, if I am in need of inspiration, kick starting my imagination by reading or watching something thoughtful and/or controversial, which could mean just listening to domestic and international news on the radio. But if I do this in the morning, I try to stretch and putter a few minutes first while I make a morning espresso (another ritual), so I can see where my own thoughts are before I inundate them with external noise. I might also clean up a bit first, to buy some time and to feel prepared and organized. Also, I do think what the experts say about minimizing distractions is critical, so I glance over my emails —just to make sure there is nothing urgent with my family or friends—but do not open and read them until later. Once I have checked the phone for the same, I leave it somewhere far from me and don't consult it until I am on a break. When I have been writing for awhile and it feels like I have too many ideas at once (the opposite of needing a jump start), I go do something physical to relax and get clarity.

Jun 7, 11:39AM EDT0
How do you go about researching these topics and incorporating them so seamlessly into your writing?
Jun 7, 7:57AM EDT0

Hi Ann,

I'd be delighted to know if my writing comes across as seamless! I think most of that comes from editing, editing and more editing. For non-fiction, I get a sense of the context and case I want to build and then I research evidence to support what I am writing, as well as the evidence against it, so I can account for this and come up with a nuanced discussion. It's like looking for the closest thing to truth.

With assignments like grant writing, you are thinking, what information do I need to make our case for funding compelling? If you are intellectually curious and have opinions, I think this will become second nature. Combined with extensive editing, this will make your writing persuasive and seamless.

In the novel, I put the story in an historical context that I lived through and events that I remember, which made things easier on me. I would come up with a scene that both showed the characters' world and moved the story/character development along, and then include factual references to ground the story, to balance its satiric elements and make it more believable. Thanks to the Internet, these details can still be found! By closely aligning the characters' motivations with current events, the research hopefully blended in well. I am working on the sequel now, which takes place in the near future, so I am thinking about today's current events and politics and imagining their trajectory, kind of like scenario planning, to come up with the plot. I hope I can make these projections— likely based around the disinformation age and the growing gap between rich and poor globally—read seamlessly.

Last edited @ Jun 7, 11:41AM EDT.
Jun 7, 11:40AM EDT0
What is the message you want to send through your book?
Jun 7, 7:45AM EDT0

Hi Fallin Dove,

The biggest message of the book is that it's difficult to following your convictions, but you must—and you must be true to yourself. That message is reinforced at the ending, when the matriarch of the story finally finds her voice. This also happens to be the essence of Dr. K.M. Keith's 'The Paradoxical Commandments'—written for student leaders and later attributed to Mother Theresa, though I didn't make the association until after I wrote the book. For me, the 'Paradoxical Commandments' apply directly to idealism-based work, which is what I try to portray through Arcani and her colleagues, and the idealism we project onto our loved ones (the way Arcani does with her family and romantic interests and vice versa). I share them here below (with some paraphrasing in the brackets):

  1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
  2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
  3. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
  4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
  5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
  6. [The biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest minds.] Think big anyway.
  7. People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
  8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
  9. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
  10. Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. [Give your best anyway.]

The book also has a green message—a de-emphasis on materialism—and how hard it is being green (!) both on a professional and personal level, which is conveyed through the plot and protagonist’s values, but is not the direct message of the book.

Jun 7, 11:43AM EDT0
What are some of the things you do to break the routine when you're writing?
Jun 7, 7:10AM EDT0

Hi schnider2k,

Since I was never able to set an established routine for writing (which would make many writers cringe), I went with what has worked for me. As I mention in the response to Sally, and before I came up with the social incentive strategy I emphasize in this AMA, I move around a LOT while working on my book or an assignment. When I need to change my environment, in one day I might write in three different locations, starting at home, then moving to a café and maybe finishing outside somewhere. This breaks a day into phases that feel different, and makes it less monotonous than sitting in one place all day (it's good to use a standing desk or table for part of the day too). There are times I will set myself up to write somewhere and if there are too many distractions, I have to move elsewhere. That wastes a bit of time, but overall, I like the element of surprise involved. Nowadays, I am more likely to write from home, but I break up the day with physical activity (critical), phone calls or social activity, cooking, etc.

Jun 7, 11:44AM EDT0
Do you ever have problems with procrastination? How do you manage it?
Jun 7, 2:28AM EDT0

Hi Herinaina,

Thankfully, I don't have problems with procrastination when it comes to writing for clients because I feel too much accountability and responsibility— I need to pay the bills! Even if I don't feel like writing, I always want to get a head start so I can do my best work and have time to edit. Same with academic writing or editing for a friend or anything where someone expects me to produce. From years of training and practice, I'm disciplined in these contexts. Writing for myself is another story (literally and figuratively!) and though I manage well with a social incentive structure (which I detail in other posts here) I've procrastinated at times with my weekly blog and my second novel. With the blog, I am determined to get a post out every Monday for continuity and SEO purposes, but I've not always gotten it out first thing in the morning, because I've started it late Sunday and then realized the topic's more involved than I thought. In those instances, under a self-imposed deadline and since it's ostensibly for business, I still got it out Mondays, but it was no fun rushing. So now I start earlier and work on it in bits before Sunday. So once I noticed the pattern of procrastination, I adjusted.  With the novel, there's not much I can do about procrastination other than give in to it, knowing it will pass. And sometimes it really can be about having too much physical energy to sit and write, and needing an organized environment around you, and so cleaning one's whole place before writing actually makes sense (!) and clears/prepares the mind. If I have too much energy, one of the best remedies is to do something outdoors and come back to writing later.

Jun 7, 11:47AM EDT0
How does your writing help you creatively, personally, and financially?
Jun 4, 2:30AM EDT0

Hi Joshua,

Writing helps me creatively in that it's an outlet for imagination, knowledge and expression, and an avenue through which to explore ideas and truths. I have also found it to be a meditative craft in the sense that when I write, I am very much in "the flow" and in the present, and it is satisfying to spend time in another world (without having to physically travel) and to emerge from that world feeling refreshed for the real world. Finally it requires discipline, which is a great trait for anyone to have. Academic writing in particular I've found to be the best for this, because it involves synthesis, research logic, analysis and persuasion—you have to concentrate! In some instances, writing helps me financially, but not in all—and fiction writing in particular is strictly a labor of love unless you or I become lucky enough to knock it out of the park like J.K. Rowling or other commercially successful authors.

Jun 7, 11:48AM EDT0
Arcani Kirsch, the main character in the book is a multicultural woman. What role does your main character's ethnicity play in "Seeing Green"?
Jun 3, 8:46PM EDT0

Hi Maricel,

Arcani started out as fully Native American but I added my own background to hers halfway into writing the book to personalize and complicate the story. As such, her mixed heritage plays several roles in the book. First, it’s a fundamental source of her questions around identity and she tries, throughout the book, to relate to both sides of her lineage and draw upon and unify these heritages for inspiration—and for guidance her own life (especially in the absence of parents or a regular mentor).  At the same time, she sometimes feels a bit in limbo because of this mixture, and even experiences tension around it—not to mention how she feels as a minority, which causes her to wrestle with her identity as an American. Her multiculturalism is also symbolic of all the other ways that she is divided in the story—between striking out on her own and staying close to her aunt, sticking up for herself and not making waves, getting ahead without sacrificing values, being a Washington inside and an outsider….carefree and committed, east coast versus west coast, etc. So, like many of us, Arcani spends a fair amount of time trying to both assert and reconcile competing tendencies in—or parts of— herself. Finally, her mixed heritage is intended to be a source of humor.

Last edited @ Jun 7, 11:58AM EDT.
Jun 7, 11:50AM EDT0
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