Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Divergent Writers

Warning:  While there aren’t any DIVERGENT spoilers in this post, if you’ve never read Veronica Roth’s book (or seen the movie), you may end up a little lost.

Some people find writing easy, like spreading butter over toast or falling down the staircase. Others struggle, as if they wake up every morning and decide to jab pins into their eyeballs (sorry, morbid) instead of doing normal things like drinking coffee, smelling flowers, and dressing in the car en route to work (by the way, I think that counts as a Dauntless activity). Like Tris and everyone else in DIVERGENT, I tend to group my fellow writers into factions—those who draft quickly, those who draft slowly, those who prefer roughing it, those who prefer editing, those who hate their work, those who embrace it, those who are creative and original, those who plagiarize Lord Byron when nobody’s looking, etc… However, as I get older and watch the world expand beyond my own narrow scope, I begin to recognize that these sorts of categorizations are just as limited as Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. People are multi-dimensional and dynamic; no wonder I struggle even to label myself.

In order to stay sane as I write book after book (because I intend to be at this as long as I live), I need to recognize the importance of these—and other—factions. The importance of being Divergent. For instance, if I want my works to mean something to others, I have to be honest and open. As with the Candor, I need to be truthful, even when it hurts, and I need to be reasonable. If I write characters who are not accurate, with relationships that would never play out in real life, I am lying both to myself and to my readers. I am wasting our time. And I am not doing anyone any favors.

However, I also need to be gentle, kind, and palatable; my message should by no means overpower my story. After all, I am entertaining, not preaching a sermon or ranting on a soap box. That’s where Amity comes in. Sure, what I have to say may seem important—it may be important—but it’s useless to shove it down others’ throats. No one likes being forced to believe something, so if that’s my approach, I’d be better off growing flowers or tending crops. When I alienate my chosen audience, my words mean nothing. I am not in charge of everyone, so the best I can do is reason with people and write something worth their time, something that makes them think about small stuff and big stuff and medium stuff. Book after book after book.

Which brings me to Erudite. As a writer, I am a thinker. I read novels that broaden my mind, novels I agree with and novels I don’t. Either way, I expand my horizons by exposing myself to different thought processes. While I don’t have to accept everything others say, I still learn to understand people better and to see where they are coming from (and thus how to better reason with them). But leaving ideology behind, I love reading words and learning facts and crafting worlds. When I’m in the right mood, I could debate style for hours or dissect favorite pieces of literature or trade information on random topics. Like other Erudite, I find knowledge intoxicating so I push my brain to the limits. And sometimes all this writing and processing leaves me exhausted.

When I take breaks, I find myself at war with the Abnegation side of me. Softly yet insistently, it tells me that I am being lazy and selfish sitting around reading books and calling it “research”. Since I’m not doing anything for anyone, I’m accomplishing nothing. I should keep writing—at least that will benefit someone, hopefully. This is the part of me that also questions whether writing is a proper pursuit, or if it is merely self-indulgent nonsense. Is it a real job? Is it worthwhile? Everyone has something to say, and everyone clambers to be heard; why don’t I do the world a favor and just shut up so at least there will be one less voice adding to the ruckus? (Because, as we all know, Abnegation and Erudite don’t get along very well.)

And then there is the thrill-seeking side of me, the Dauntless bit that manifests itself from time to time. Stressful and grueling as it can be, writing pulls me. Sometimes it’s hard and scary, like jumping onto a moving train or climbing a Ferris wheel, but that’s part of the main attraction. If it were easy, it wouldn’t really be worth my time. Writing is dangerous; I craft my darlings lovingly and then send them out into the world, knowing full well that some people will rip them apart, some will misunderstand them, and others won’t ever hear of them. It takes that Dauntless side of me to keep going, even when the rewards seem nonexistent while the punishments stack up all around me. Because writing can be very punishing, and it definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. Not to mention, it takes the Dauntless side to use the Candor side—you have to be brave to be honest; you can’t separate the two.

Just as Tris learns in DIVERGENT, you can’t simply choose one faction as your own and deny the importance of the others. In order to be truly whole, in order to function properly, you have to embrace every virtue. And yeah, sometimes they will seem to be at war with each other, the way Abnegation and Erudite find themselves at odds, but that’s good too. It keeps us balanced.

So when it comes to writing, don’t be Factionless. Be peaceful and selfless and honest and brave and smart. Be Divergent.


  1. I haven't read Divergent but I know the premise and some details, and the way you synthesized the concept of factions and divergence into writing truths was fantastic! I have to agree; when you're a writer you have to play many roles and look at the world from many different perspectives. Adamance isn't going to get you very far, and I hope we all remember that. Excellent analysis, Liz!

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you were able to follow along, even without having read Divergent. :) And I'm glad you liked it! I think it's fun to pick apart stories for writing analogies, and the Divergent analysis just happened. I'd been writing something else, and suddenly I started making comparisons to the factions and decided that was what I wanted to do instead.

      I need to remind myself from time to time that insisting I'm right won't get me very far. And overly didactic stories don't tend to do very well. Subtlety is usually a writer's best bet. :) Thanks again!