This interview is with Amanda Linehan, a fiction writer, indie publisher and fellow INFP. Amanda has published three novels and a couple handfuls of short stories. Her short fiction has been featured on Every Day Fiction. She lives in Maryland, likes to be outside and writes with her cat sleeping on the floor beside her desk.
You can follow Amanda on twitter @amandalinehan, on instagram @amandalinehan and on Goodreads.
In this interview, Amanda talks about her creative process, being an INFP writer and the gifts and challenges that come with following your unique path. I learnt from this interview and I think, you will too!
Hello Amanda. We know that you are a fiction writer who has written three Young Adult (YA) novels and several short stories. You also have an inspiring blog at www.amandalinehan.com where you talk about your own creative process, being an INFP and living life as a creative person. Can you tell us a little bit about your own artistic journey? How did you start writing? How has your journey changed over the years?
I have always been a big reader but it wasn’t until my mid-twenties around 2007 or 2008 that I became interested in writing. I was reading a lot of blogs at the time–mostly personal development and inspirational type stuff–and became interested in starting one myself. In early 2008 I grabbed the domain amandalinehan.com and in June of that year posted my first post.
A couple months later I had the thought that it might be interesting to try my hand at fiction too and I actually got started on novel sometime in the Fall that I only got a few thousand words into. For whatever reason I just couldn’t sustain the energy to get it done, but wasn’t too worried about it. The blog was keeping me busy and there was a lot to learn.
In the summer of 2009 I wrote my first fiction pieces (and finished them this time!). They were two flash fiction pieces (under 1,000 words) and I was feeling pretty good. Late in October of that year, I decided to do NaNoWriMo and tried again at the same story I had that I never finished the year before. This time I got it done and ended up with a first draft of a 50,000 novel (just enough to “win” NaNoWriMo). And from there, I’ve never stopped. Though that first novel will never be published. That was purely practice.
“Jayne looked at the money in the cash drawer and in an instant knew exactly what she was going to do. She was going to make a run for it.” So begins your YA novel North – An Adventure. It’s a fast-paced novel that follows the protagonist on an unexpected road trip, which becomes a defining journey in her life. I just finished reading the book and I thoroughly enjoyed it! While reading it, I felt as if the story sprang up organically from and around the main characters. Can you tell us a little about the process of creating these characters and writing this book?
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.
Jayne was a character who first appeared to me probably five or six years ago now on one of my long commutes to work. I would often get story ideas while in the car. I saw her heading out on this road trip but being chased by someone or something and when I finally sat down to write North (also a NaNoWriMo novel–2013) that was the image I started with and I went from there.
I generally don’t work from an outline, which makes me a “pantser.” Basically, I’ll start from somewhere, and in the case of North, it’s Jayne closing up the retail store in which she works and contemplating stealing all the cash that’s in the register, and simply walk (or run or drive) my characters through their environment and based on their unique personality, see how they would act. As I’m writing, I essentially write down whatever pops into my head.
I enjoyed the way in which you wove symbols into the narrative. Without giving too much away, the ouroboros — an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail — is an important motif in your book North. As a symbol, it has various interpretations, from re-creation and re-birth to denoting nature’s endless cycle of creation and destruction. For me, the snake has been an important symbol and has meant different things at different times. So, when I read your book, this symbol felt deeply familiar and I appreciated the way in which you used it. In India, the snake is used to describe Kundalini energy, which is divine power, coiled at the base of the spine, half-asleep. Different meditative practices aim to raise this energy upwards, to realize what lies inside. I had a few Kundalini experiences a few years ago, with energy rising spontaneously in my spine. Could you talk a little bit about your own interest in symbols? Are there other symbols that are important to you personally or that have come up again and again for you?
I would say that I’m very interested in symbols, in that I’m interested in the idea that an image can point us in the direction of some meaning, without us realizing it consciously. We feel the message the symbol points us toward, but it’s outside of our thoughts.
In the case of North, with the ouroboros, I loved the idea that Jayne just thinks it’s a cool-looking thing to add to a tattoo, but doesn’t understand its meaning. Of course, I think it does have meaning in her life and for this particular journey, but that’s not something she understands on a conscious level.
In my other stories, other symbols do pop up (some quite often!) within the story. In my YA novel Dragon (which is actually a contemporary story and not a fantasy in any way), dragons come up again and again and in the YA novel I’m currently working on called Lakeside, spiders come up a lot. I probably couldn’t even begin to break down all the symbols that come up in my stories but these are just a couple examples.
I first discovered you through your lovely blog. One of the first posts I read was The INFP’s Guide to Goal Setting. In it, you talk about how traditional goal setting, with its narrowed-down goals and rigid, time-bound action steps is an approach that often does not work for INFPs. For example: You talk about how the most important thing to you is the feeling a goal gives you. Reducing that inspiring feeling to “have-to do” actionable steps doesn’t work because it doesn’t motivate us. Instead, having a “possible next steps” list might be more helpful for INFPs. I think this might be a missing piece for many INFPs who find themselves struggling with conventional goal-setting but haven’t figured out what works for them as yet. In terms of writing, can you talk to Intuitive Feeling writers who typically don’t approach writing in linear steps. You have written three novels. How similar and how different was the process of writing them? Are there things that are constant in your writing process?
My writing process is pretty similar for all of my stories and it essentially entails coming up with an idea or starting from a prompt and then writing down whatever comes into my head to write.
I tend to write in one thousand word chunks, which means that in any given day I’m only worried about my next thousand words. This makes things more manageable for me especially because I’m not working from an outline.
I really love not writing from an outline because I can discover things while I’m writing and feel like I can follow them wherever they lead. Also it adds a little bit of excitement and fear to the process because there is always the possibility that I might get stuck somewhere in the story. I find this motivating, although others may not. It can be sort of exhilarating.
The funny thing is though, even without a plan, I find that things usually turn out totally fine, even if I went in an unexpected direction. Because planning things out in advance is the most socially acceptable way to go about doing things, I sometimes find I’m having trouble believing things will work out, but they almost always do.
You have indie published several books. Can you tell us about your experiences with indie publishing? How tough has it been to wear different hats, since indie publishing takes us from the sphere of the writer to being both a writer and an entrepreneur?
One thing that I absolutely love about indie publishing is the ability to take on a variety of tasks. I can get bored easily. Being able to switch tasks often is something that is really motivating and stimulating for me. So the fact that I do so many things as an indie publisher is something I really enjoy.
There are a lot of challenges and steep learning curves but I find it very rewarding. If there was one thing that I would say I find the most difficult about wearing so many hats, it’s that if I wore less hats I would probably be able to move faster in that I would be able to publish more books. But I can live with going a little slower.
Many creatives love more than one art form. Are there any other art forms that you practice and that seep into your writing? For example: There are writers who paint and some of their prose seems almost bathed with the colors of their paintings. Do you feel that you write differently after having practiced another art form?
I do create my own book covers and design my own ebooks and paperbacks so that’s a different creative outlet even though it’s still related to my writing. But I actually don’t have another art form that I practice right now. About twelve years ago I took up clay for a while, both sculpture and pottery and I really enjoyed that. Something about using my hands and getting them dirty with the clay, while making something beautiful and functional. I like to think of it as the more adult version of playing in the mud. I’d like to get back into it one day.
We know that some creatives hate schedules while some say that they wouldn’t get any work done without them. As an HSP, how do you keep overwhelm at bay? How do you relate to time and its limits? Do you have any systems in place that you follow to keep you on track?
I am routine-oriented in a lot of ways, but I also want to be able to break the routine whenever I want to. So, the structure of a routine feels comfortable to me and helps with HSP overwhelm, but I don’t like it when the routine is rigid and can’t be broken easily. So I would say that I do best with a flexible routine.
As an HSP it’s also really important to me to have frequent downtime, so that’s essentially unscheduled time where I can follow my whims. If I’m too scheduled, I will get overwhelmed very easily. So I keep a sort of loose structure to my life, which I think I figured out by trial and error.
Another really important thing I do to keep overwhelm at bay, is physical activity. I practice yoga, walk, go to the gym for some cardio, take a hike. I’m inside my head a lot so getting into my body with some exercise really helps me out.
What advice would you give someone who is just starting out on their creative journey? How can they value themselves and their work even when it seems to “produce” nothing tangible for a long time (at least in worldly terms)? How do you define value and success for yourself?
Enjoy yourself. Early on in your creative journey there won’t be a lot of external rewards, so it helps to actually enjoy what you’re doing. This might mean following your inspiration the way that you want to or exploring something that you’re very curious about or just really, in a sense, putting yourself first in your art. You can then start sharing that with people and see what kind of feedback you get. But if you’re enjoying yourself from the get-go, then in a sense you always win.
In terms of success, I try to simply keep improving on what I did the day or week or month before. If I’m improving on something then I feel like I’m moving forward, and that feels successful. But the truth is sometimes success feels very out of reach and that’s frustrating, but if you keep going anyway, without those external rewards, that probably means something internal is driving you and I think that’s a good place to be.