What do you think are the chances of ever coming across a Help Wanted ad that reads like this:
La La Land, NJ
Fiction factory seeks imaginative daydreamer to brainstorm, draft, and revise/edit story ideas for potential publication. Applicant must have been born with a calling, and posses a quiet, low key personality, yet still be temperamental enough to be artistic. Salary + bonus and full health benefits included. Send resume and writing sample by June 30, 2013.
Zero? Damn. Ah, well. I’ll apply anyway. See what happens. Never know. Right?
I’m currently knee deep in Susan Cain’s innovative new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts. One page in, I already knew it was the book I’d been waiting for my entire life. Through this impeccably researched chronicle of the introvert’s rich inner life, I’m learning to understand myself with a whole new kind of clarity.
Cain also gives a great speech on the topic on Ted Talks. See video here.
Since the notion of introversion has been ruminating in my mind lately, I’d like to ponder a question out loud: Can a writer—a keen, devoted, fanatical writer—ever be anything but an introvert?
I can hear the shouts already. “Of course not! I’m a writer but I’m also a very sociable person!”
This may be true. And of course there are plenty of gregarious writers in the world. Take me for example. I’m a textbook introvert—but I’m also a teacher. I love being in front of a classroom. Like everything else in this world, there is spectrum. Take any given Are you Introvert or an Extrovert personality test and if zero equals pure introvert, and one-hundred equals pure extrovert, most people will fall somewhere in between.
However, through my reading of Quiet, I’m learning that introversion and extroversion go beyond personality styles and daily verbal word count. Cain suggests that it has more to do with responses to stimuli and levels of energy. Extroverts, according to studies, aren’t as distracted by outside noise or activity, while introverts are more likely to be bothered by disruptions. Extroverts get their energy from interactions with others or at social events; on the other hand, introverts get their energy from inside themselves. So, hence, extroverts=external energy going in vs. introverts=internal energy going out.
The crazy part? The part I never allowed myself to realize is this: Neither one is better than the other. Cain says we need both types (and all the kinds in between) of people to keep this world functioning the way it does. It’s evolutionary. So far, nature hasn’t weeded out the timid folks. Society, however, places higher demand on the extroverted way of being. (But hey, don’t you remember an old saying: the WHO shall inherit the earth? :))
So how does all this relate to writing? The title of this post poses the question of whether or not writers, by nature, are typically (key word there) introverts? We all know some classic examples.*
1. Emily Dickinson
2. Virginia Woolf
3. J.D. Salinger
4. T.S. Elliot
5. The entire Bronte family
But surely not every single writer who ever lived dreaded even the mere thought of a cocktail party? Am I right? I’d be willing to bet, however—and I say this on no other grounds than I’m both a writer and an introvert—that many of them did…dread the dinner parties and such.
Face it; writers are the kinds of people who need downtime—and not just to do their work. Writing is one of the few activities that is done primarily alone (not counting television series, for which there is often a team of writers), but your typical novelist, journalist, memoirist, short story writer, and poet works solo. And by nature, introverts are more comfortable being alone than extroverts.
Ask yourself, who is the most outgoing, vivacious, liveliest person you know? Is he or she a writer? (It’s funny, actually I know a lot of extroverted readers, but when it comes to sitting down at a computer for hours at a time…not a chance) I’ll doubt it. Extroverts need a lot of action to feel stimulated and writing—even at its best—doesn’t provide a whole lot of action.
I’m not making any assumptions of course. Nothing is ever black or white. But I will venture to say that generally speaking, writers are people who posses rich, inner lives that reveal thoughts and ideas from the heightened states of consciousness that can only come from spending a lot of time in solitude.
Thoughts? Can you think of any extroverted writers? Or more examples of introverted writers?
By the way, this was recently posted on BuzzFeed:31 Unmistakable Signs That You’re an Introvert
*Did I say introverted? I meant reclusive 🙂
13 responses to “Are All Writers Introverts?”
In an age where writers, especially celebrity status writers like Neil Gaiman or Stephen King, are commonly asked to speak and read and of course blog, it’s hard for me to imagine the stereotypical reclusive writer getting very far with his or her career at all nowadays. It’s kind of sad in a way. I wonder how many wonderful writers are going unnoticed because they are afraid to stand in front of a group of people at, let’s say, a conference and say a few words?
On the other hand, I really love getting to ‘meet’ my favorite writers via youtube or Twitter and confirm that they are every bit as witty and entertaining as I imagined they would be from their written pages.
And, despite being a confirmed introvert, I love cocktail parties! What could be more fun than neon-colored sugary drinks, animated conversation and wearing a slinky cocktail dress? (Remember I’m the fashionista. 😉 )
But in the end, learning that I draw my spark from the time I spend alone confirms it. I’ll always be an introvert, and that’s a good thing.
Very interesting post.
Thanks, Kirsten! I love colorful drinks as well 🙂 You make a good point, actually. One I hadn’t considered. There is a need for writers to make public appearances, do book signings and readings, etc. While it’s important for writers to be able to do this stuff (I know I could since I’ve had so much practice with teaching and public speaking), that still might mean they are introverts at heart that have taught themselves to “fake it” or appear more extroverted for the sake of maintaining success. They may still PREFER the part of writing that consists of staying in their offices and clicking away on the keyboard.
But you’re absolutely right. Writers need to strike that balance. And another good point you made….I always somehow expect writers I love to have witty personalities as well! It never occurred to me that they could very well be the soft spoken types!
Enjoyed your post! I love the distinction you mentioned: “Extroverts get their energy from interactions with others or at social events; on the other hand, introverts get their energy from inside themselves. ” That’s a really good way to put it. My guess is that “most” writers “tend” to be introverts. But I think most of us introverts learn to be socially acceptable, to act like extroverts when we have too. I also taught for a few years and loved it, but the part I loved was the reading and planning I did at home to prep for classes, my long monologues in class when I was speaking passionately about a topic, and interacting with the students, listening them, encouraging them. The staff meetings, staff parties, etc, not so much. So even while teaching I was more introvert than not.
I also appreciated the focus on energy. I’m very, very social. But I also need alone time badly to create and re-energize and focus. I think that’s the key to writers who look like extroverts.
Hi Rebecca! I absolutely agree. I love my downtime. According to the book I’m reading (that I mention in the post) there are certain people who don’t need downtime, they prefer to go from one social interaction to another. I don’t think I could ever handle that!
Hi Deborah! Yes, I agree with everything you said. Even though we introverts “learn” to be social and gracious around others, we still remain introverts at heart. Our inner beings don’t ever really change. We may go out in public (as in teaching, or giving a speech, etc.) and be wildly successful, but then long for that “break” or “down time” that follows. I’m fine speaking in public, but when it’s over I always feel the need to recharge.
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As an introvert and a writer, I enjoyed this post. I think most writers probably lean more toward the introvert end of the spectrum for the very reasons you mention — they couldn’t generally handle the hours that must be spent alone mulling and creating. However, I do have a friend that is a very talented poet and rapper and she is the most extroverted person I know (an admitted ham, actually). But she does enjoy the performance and public reading aspects of her writing as much as anything.
Another separate but related issue to consider is whether a person is a “highly sensitive person” — about 15-20% of the population that has a high strung nervous system and takes in more stimuli than the non-sensitive person…hence, requiring a lot of down time. They also tend to have rich inner lives. The majority of them are also introverts, but not all. Humans and non-humans have been shown to have the trait in this same 15-20% range consistently. A book called The Highly Sensitive Person about this was written by psychologist Elaine Aron. She also has a website at http://hsperson.com/index.html
that folks may want to check out. Fascinating stuff!
Hi Natylie. Thanks for your great comment! That’s interesting about your poet friend. It makes though–the part she likes is the performance, while for many other writers, it’s the writing or the creation part they prefer. I guess it could go either way.
Yes, I’ve heard of the “highly sensitive person” aspect to introversion/extroversion as well. Actually, in the book I discuss in the post, “Quiet,” the author mentions Elaine Aron’s work. In fact, Cain, (author of ‘Quiet’) draws from Aron’s findings quite a bit. Thanks for the link 🙂 I’ve actually taken a quiz to see if I was a HSP, and it turns out I’m not. Yet, I’m definitely, without a doubt, an introvert. But it’s like you said, MOST HSP are introverts, but not necessarily all.
This was interesting and made me want to add the book you mentioned to my reading list. I am a definite introvert and have also discovered I willl never be a full time employee for someone else. My sister says I’m not financially motivated enough, but it’s just I am the type person who genuinely needs more down time and have learned about the important things in life that really count. I believe in the long run it will lead to a much more satisfying life and one I can look back on without regrets.
You should DEFINITELY read the book! I’m loving it! It’s really changed my perspective on being introverted (in a very good way). I personally don’t think introverts get enough credit in our society, and that’s not fair. I agree with what you said though…in the end it’ll you who lives the more satisfying life. This is something I’m really starting to understand of late. It’s more important to me to feel at peace inside than anything else. 🙂
I too saw this book and have been meaning to read it. Thanks for giving me a reason enough to actually purchase it. Yes…I’m definitely an introvert. What’s interesting is that in my professional life I’m in an extroverted role i.e., I interact with people all day. They feel charged and pumped after we interact, I’m EXHAUSTED. *laughing*
I’m a writer and all round creator. I have a very large personality, I love people and opinions and someone told me once that every time they see me I’m laughing and I told them that it’s because I everyone one of my many friends is purely entertaining. But yet sometimes, I prefer to spend time with the people I create. Being a writer means that you can easily shut out the world and retire to one of many others. So yes, I think that all writers are introverts, we have so much life within and we love to bring it out. It’s just not all of us are introverts at all times e.g. me.