Introverted: The Writer’s Power and Downfall

Permalink

Do you love to go to your writing cave and spend hours? Do you hate marketing, which means getting out in front of people? Why is is so easy to be alone for hours at a time while working on a project and so hard to be out among the crowds?

You’re an introvert. Of course.

I’ve been reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Wow, I’m so there. Here’s a TedTalk she did on the subject.

(See the TED Talk transcript here.)

Our society encourages and rewards the extrovert in unique ways: leadership roles, better sales, more opportunities. Writers, on the other hand, are the people you overlook at a social gathering. And put a group of writers in the same room and it’s, well, quiet.

Cain says,

“. . . Extroverts are sociable because their brains are good at handling competing demands on their attention—which is just what dinner-party conversation involves. In contrast, introverts often feel repelled by social events that force them to attend to many people at once.”

In other words, as I tell my husband, I think slowly. It takes me a while to understand a joke, to catch an implied compliment or threat or insult.
While society rewards the extrovert, though, they need the introvert. We are the ones who think deeply about situations, who have insights into potential pitfalls (if they would only listen!), who can produce more verbiage than you ever wanted if you just leave us alone for a while.

I recently read a college entrance essay for a high school senior who bemoaned his social skills. Immediately, I told him to go and read this book because he needs to know that he is an introvert—and that’s a good thing. I’m telling my writer friends the same thing today: you’re an introvert, and that’s a good thing.

Strengths of Introverted Writers

Don’t rely on approval of others. Do you agonize over what someone thinks of your writing? Well, yes and no. While you’re writing that first draft, there’s only you to please. The only time we worry about others’ opinions is when it comes to publishing. Mostly, I work alone and I do what I like. I choose the projects; I choose the way I work with those projects; I decide what to send out. This is good. Writing shouldn’t be a committee affair, but the storytelling or insights of one person.

Able to spend large chunks of time with just yourself. Writing a novel or a long nonfiction project demands time, and that’s time spent largely alone. Even when my friend, Carla McClafferty goes to Mount Vernon for a week to research George Washington, that’s only a fraction other time spent on THE MANY FACES OF GEORGE WASHINGTON: REMAKING A PRESIDENTIAL ICON. Personally, I couldn’t write that book because it would require me to go to Mount Vernon and actually tell people that I plan to write a book about Washington. Carla can do that and then come home and spend the time alone needed to actually write the project. And she’s doing it all over again, as she researches a future book on Martha Washington.

Concentrate on a long, detailed project. Books have been called the archive of our culture. They include information that needs long-term storage, as opposed to a daily newspaper, which is just a short-term conversation about events. Books are long, detailed, intricate pieces of writing that take a large chunk of time. The details of such a project can be overwhelming: organization of information, drafting multiple times, proofreading, fact-checking, etc. Do you think an extravert could manage something that unwieldy? Maybe. But it’s a natural fit for the introvert.

Think long and hard about something. Is it any surprise that introverts often come up with innovative ideas,whether that’s an invention or a fresh, new way of storytelling? A story that takes a year or two to tell—that’s a lot of thought.

Weaknesses of Introverted Writers

Please yourself first, and others only secondarily. Sometimes introverts stumble onto something so odd and idiosyncratic that only they will like it. Being out of society’s main stream can mean that your writing won’t find a ready audience. No one will buy your book because you’re just so weird. (Just saying.)

Marketing is HARD. Yes, introverts CAN teach and some do well on stage—but every public event takes extra energy and produces greater stress. My introvert daughter teaches high school math, where she is literally on stage every hour of a school day. It’s not that we can’t do this; it’s that it takes its toll. When I have days and days of just teaching and marketing, I get cranky. I actually love to teach and talk to groups of people (not so great one-on-one). But I need to gear up and for a couple days after, I’m more depressed until I get my equilibrium back.

The hardest thing I do is stand up and say, “See my book.” Well, no. The hardest thing is, “Buy my book.”

I can teach, speak to crowds, entertain 1000 kids at a time. But holding up my book means holding up a piece of myself that I care about so much that I can’t stand the possible criticism. Oh, I do it. You have to just get over it and do it. But it’s never easy.

Hard to open up and discuss your ideas and emotions. Communication is hard, but it’s the business of writers. We communicate through our written words, where we can carefully control the emotional content of what we say. That’s important.

When I first met the woman who would be my future mother-in-law, I was overwhelmed. She was an extrovert, who never met a stranger. Furthermore, nothing in her life was secret and she told the whole world about anything and everything. To my great dismay. I am still a very private person (read: introvert) and had never had such a person in my personal sphere. I never got used to her open attitude, though I did learn to appreciate it.

I’m an introvert and a writer. My emotional struggles will come out eventually. When I’ve had a long time to think about what happened and what I felt about that event of my life. And only disguised as a novel. I am learning to be more open, to imbue story events with emotional power. But it’s hard.

But that’s the struggle of an introverted writer.

Do you feel me?

0 Comments