(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)
I know I’m not the only one inspired by Veronica Roth’s writing—her debut novel, Divergent, not to mention her deeply honest, and deeply true, blog posts about writing and so much else. Now here’s what she finds inspiring:
Right now what inspires me is a slight, short girl with blonde hair and an attitude problem. Her name is Beatrice Prior. She’s my main character.
A few nights ago my husband asked me what occupies my thoughts, most of the time. I told him that what used to take up space in my mind were my characters and their stories. But for the past few years, what takes up space in my mind is myself, because that’s what anxiety is, for me, it’s a self-obsession unrelated to arrogance or ego. It is the little voice that says, Did I say the wrong thing? Did I do the wrong thing? What if they hate me? What if he gets hurt? What if that weird mole on my arm is cancer? What if everyone hates the next book? What if I…did I…why can’t I…just get it together? That little voice is obsessed both with what it perceives to be my failures, and with the worst-case scenario. It’s really annoying. I wish I could send Beatrice in to punch it in the face. (Assuming it has one.)
It’s hard to sit down to write, because for me, writing is about losing myself in Beatrice (or whatever character I am writing about). And it’s hard to lose yourself when you’re so nervous about yourself. But somehow I manage to do it, most of the time, and that’s really because of her. I was able to finish a book only because she was at the helm. Her story fascinated me, and so did her world, but more than that, it was her voice that commanded my attention. It took me a few months to figure out what exactly it was about her that made her so compelling to me.
The answer is a little uncomfortable. See, Tris starts out where I am: among selfless, wonderful people, convinced of her own selfishness. Desperate to feel free, she breaks away, and escapes to a place that is not an escape at all—a place where she has to grapple with her own fears, one by one. Tris, in other words, begins where I am, and goes where I can’t go, but where I desperately need to go.
She is like me in so many ways—she feels awkward, and doesn’t trust her ability to navigate social situations. She’s too hard on herself. She’s too hard on others. She takes herself a little too seriously. She declares things without embellishment, meaning that she’s not a classically good storyteller. (Odd, since she’s my narrator.) But she’s different from me, too, because she has a lot to be afraid of—she lives in a terrifying world, unlike me—but never once does she allow that to stop her.
It would be too easy to say that she makes me brave, because sometimes she makes me feel discouraged, or like a coward. But living with her, these past two years, has meant that I feel her fear with her, and I find ways for her to fight through it. In other words, I am developing a way of pushing through fear, through her. I am inspired by her because she helps me to figure myself out. I search her, and I search myself, and I come to the same conclusions.
The past two years, as I wrote about her bravery, I found some of my own. In one week, I leveled my life and started over, almost from scratch. At the end of the rebuilding, I was married, all my possessions were in a ten-foot-by-ten-foot cube somewhere in the suburbs of Chicago, and I was living in Romania. She didn’t inspire me to do those things. But she did them first—I wrote it out, projecting the bravery I wanted onto the page, and finding it months later.
My characters pave the way for me. They run into difficulties and I help them get out (eventually—sometimes I help them get themselves even further into difficulty first). I work out my problems through them, word by word, line by line, page by page. Maybe it’s self-centered, because what’s inspiring me to write are my own problems, my own struggles. Well, let me confess that I am a little self-centered. But now I’ve learned an important lesson: I’m not the only one who struggles with these things, and maybe they can figure out something about bravery through Tris, too.
I like this quote—Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue. We are always mending. But sometimes I get scared that I can’t do it and I’ll just break again and again. So I sit down with Tris and mend little parts of her, even though a lot of damage remains at the end of a book. But then I think, just a stitch at a time, and I think, okay, now me.
And sometimes I look around at all the people she has in her life, friends and parents and siblings, and how, though many of those people—most of them, really—don’t stick around when the going gets tough, some of them do, just as they do with me. And I think, okay, just a stitch at a time, and if she’s not doing it alone, then neither am I.
Whether it’s by what she does or what she doesn’t do, what she has or what she doesn’t have, she reminds me of who I am, and what I have, and that there’s nothing to be afraid of. I couldn’t write without those reminders.
Writing isn’t everything—a life is much more than that. But for me it’s a little microcosm. It’s a safe place to try to make life better, to gather up my strength for the times when I step away from the computer. And sometimes, when I do, I’m a little braver than before.
Veronica Roth has spent most of her 23 years in a Chicago suburb. She studied Creative Writing at Northwestern University. She’s also the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Divergent, and its upcoming sequel, Insurgent. Until that comes out, she can be found shoeless and eating a bland breakfast cereal in her apartment, likely staring at a computer screen, and possibly in Romania.
Visit Veronica at veronicarothbooks.com.
Follow @veronicaroth on Twitter.