A Reminder for Introverted Writers
I’m calling this a “reminder” instead of “advice” because most introverts already know about what I’m going to address here. But the everyday realities of being introverted can at times cloud that realization, and make us reluctant to accept it. This post serves just as much as a reminder to myself as to anyone else.
I have no statistics on the ratio of introverts to extroverts among successful writers. I do know that about 50% of the American population is introverted, and I know that the popular assumption is that many writers, particularly of fiction, tend towards the introverted side of the spectrum. Yet I have no doubt that many career writers are in fact extroverted.
Many traits of the introvert, however, are advantageous to the author. A deep, rich inner life. A satisfaction, (or at least a tolerance) for large amounts of time spent alone. High degrees of introspection. And of course, a lot of time spent reading.
What wondrous worlds, characters, incidents and scenarios could be borne of this life within the realms of one’s own thoughts, memories, and imagination!
Yet let us remember that the key to solid, engaging writing is an understanding of humanity and the world in which it lives coupled with a willingness to explore those realities through our writings.
This truth isn’t confined to high literature, either. The way different people talk, dress, act, think, react. The way an environment sounds, smells, and appears, to those familiar with it as opposed to those new to it. The details of a particular vocation. These are critical to memorable writing whether you intend to be socially significant, or to spin a gripping suspense yarn. Or if you are writing a memoir of your own experiences. And that is why a certain level engagement and observation of the world around us is imperative. Flowery prose is not enough.
This is where the reminder comes in.
Introverts, I know how tempting it is to say little and think much. How for many of you the default position is to sit with a book for hours. Days if you could. I am in complete sympathy with you if your natural, unencumbered state would entail interacting only with handful of people while walking through the world with a hood up and eyes down most of the time. Where the loudest thing you hear is your own music or the birds in your own tree out of your own window. Someplace where you deal with strangers only when you damn well please and not when others think you should.
I have visited that place often in my mind over the years. And for many of you, it may be your enviable reality. Yet for us authors and writers, it cannot be so as often as we would like it to be.
Please note that I would never advocate the impossible task of an introvert becoming an extrovert. It won’t happen. You won’t see me embracing small talk at a cocktail party filled with strangers who may or may not present the ideal “R.O.I.” That isn’t me. It cannot be me and I know it cannot be you.
What can be you, and what should be you if you are an author is a greater presence in the world on a more frequent basis. I don’t mean that sometimes you venture out to buy bread. I mean that when you buy bread you should take in everything about the experience sometimes. That includes the nature of the strangers around you. The noise you want to get away from as quickly as possible. The snippets of conversation you overhear. And once in a scary while, being a part of meaningless conversation yourself.
Going to places you haven’t been. Accepting invitations to events you’d normally decline. Making that phone call instead of sending an email. And so on. You know intrinsically what some other examples are, I’m sure.
The reason I advocate these sometimes nausea-inducing activities? Not for their own sake, and not to be more popular or to fit some bogus social mold that others expect of you. I remind you to do these things to make you a better writer.
Much as we introverts would love to believe otherwise, there is a universe outside of our minds. Standing up for our kind, I will say that our inner world is quite detailed and expansive, and that by visiting it as often as we do we can indeed get a better idea of the nature of the real universe in some ways. But in other ways, there is no substitution for being present in the world and in society. And doing so intentionally and not incidentally.
Reading is a crucial activity of the writer. We must read on a regular basis, because after all, we cannot directly experience all of that about which we write. But there are times we must put down the book and for a time experience the part of the world which we can in fact attain.
J.D. Salinger tended to greet people who knocked on his door by brandishing a pistol. He mostly got away with his anti-social behavior because he was in fact J.D. Salinger. Yet even that famous literary recluse did not lack in real world experience.
Before Holden Caulfield was introduced to the world, Salinger had lived quite a life, not much of it pleasant, before withdrawing from the world for the rest of his life once his pinnacle work became a success.
That isn’t to say that one day you may not find the ability to create works, or a singular, defining work like The Catcher in the Rye which would allow you a degree of seclusion. But the odds of creating such a piece without ever having been present in the world around you seems to be astronomically unlikely. Besides, 1951 was quite a different time than our own, and J.D. Salinger was an unusual man.
Most of use are not recluses, anyway. Just introverts. We can make the efforts in some of these areas. We just often choose not to. And it’s all right that we often choose not to. We have extroverts for that. This is just a reminder to break your pattern sometimes, my friends. Do it for your writing, and for your readers. Both will be enriched for you having gone through those few minutes of awkward discomfort here and there. Trust me.