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 🙂