Just in case there is any lingering confusion, writers do not have to live up to the writing myths that countless movies, 20th-c literary figures, and internet memes have perpetuated about us. In fact, Whitney and I launched this series to burst through as many myths as possible, so that we can hold ourselves to high creative standards.
In that spirit, I want to examine an assumption that is often made about writers, one that potentially discourages talented people from joining our ranks:
Writers are introverts.
There are two things going on here that I take issue with:
- automatically aligning a particular artform with a particular personality type
- reinforcing the introvert-extrovert binary, as though there were no other way to be.
The way I see it, folks are rarely this or that. And it isn’t useful to stuff anybody in a box, even if we say “so-and-so tends to do such-and-such” to soften the act of categorization. What’s the harm? I think it leaves a good many of us feeling misunderstood and overlooked, including writers of all different personality types who are wondering whether they’re “cut out” for the writing life.
Embracing this and that
Now, anyone who’s taken the Myers-Briggs thinga-ma-bob knows that this introvert-extrovert business is just a fancy way of assigning preference to your sources of energy, as though one source were better than the other. Extroverts apparently get energy from interacting with other people, while introverts get energy from within.
Or something like that.
Some of us cheerfully go along with these distinctions and act accordingly. Others of us position ourselves solidly in the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum and draw energy from a variety of different sources. There’s even a word for this: ambivert.
Now, all that’s stuff is fine, I guess. But truth be told, writing a novel requires your focus and stamina, on top of your creativity. Truth be told, you’re better off if you can spend hours in front of your computer without stabbing your eyeballs out with a yellow No. 2 pencil. And unless you’re a master multi-tasker, you might want to spend those hours alone, or at least without direct social interaction. Why? Because characters and scenes need you. They can’t come to life without your undivided attention.
“Fine by me,” an introvert might say, sinking into the couch cushions. An extrovert will have to adjust … or resist the writing life altogether.
But … do we have to make this whole thing about adjusting or resisting? Can’t we all–extros, intros, and ambis alike–take a more empowering approach to aligning our personalities with the writing life?
Cultivating a range of tendencies
If you can’t tell by the tone or title of this article, I’m an extrovert, at least according to the Myers-Briggs thinga-ma-bob. How, then, can I stand the solitude and focus that writing a novel (or anything) requires?
Well, I’ll tell ya, it’s really not that bad. In fact, I kind of like it. Weird, right? That none of us has to be at the mercy of Myers-Briggs labels? That our writing doesn’t have to be at the mercy of labels either? That, no matter what, we can cultivate the flexibility of an ambivert? That we can draw energy from different sources? External? Gasp! And internal?
True story: I venture pretty far into the Zone, on a daily basis, and when I’m there, I feel amazing, like … like I’m riding on the back of a giant eagle. Except, I’m the eagle and these are my wings and ….
I suppose it doesn’t look very exciting from the outside. Some girl, staring at her screen … At least one person has looked me in the face and uttered the words, “You’re an introvert, aren’t you.” No question mark in the tone.
Make that two people. Both times, I just blinked my eyes and said, “I don’t know, I’m just tryin’ to tell some stories. They’re really important to me, so I have to …” Then I point at my screen.
Sooner or later, though, extroversion picks my a$$ up and scoots me out the door. And I’m like, “Wait, you jerk! I am writin’ here!”
Extroversion’s like, “I know, man. Just wait till you get back to your desk.”
Fun ensues. Hilarity magnifies. Energy escalates. Ideas proliferate. I’m right back up there with the eagle, until–
“I don’t don’t wanna go back.”
Sure enough, I get back to my desk with:
- A sharper understanding of character and dialogue.
- Countless collaboration opportunities, scribbled on the backs of business cards or thumbed into my phone.
So, there I am, clicking on the online conference, reading, scrolling through each page, feeling more excited, more energized … until I see the words,
My excitement immediately deflates. I take my hand off the mouse and cross my arms.
What exactly is my problem? I mean, I have a high regard for many an introvert. And it’s not like the website’s appeal to introverts explicitly dissuades extroverts like me from even thinking about registering. Surely, the conference organizers just want to welcome introverted types, who may feel overwhelmed by the crowds at traditional conferences.
Even though the appeal comes from a good place, it still bugs me, because of the implied assumptions about the majority of participants. The same annoyance I started this article with.
The irony here is that, from what I understand, it’s introverts who usually feel left out in the cold by all the gregarious party-goers, forming cliques and making weekend plans.
But I would hate to think that the world-wide writing community has created a clique of quiet types who’ll make no room for anyone giving off those pesky high-energy vibes.
So ya know what I say? I say we should navigate different terrain. Combine our writing lives, athletic lives, and social lives often. Note the results. Add layers to our identities. Never use our “natural” inclinations as an excuse not to pursue a creative goal. Go against nature, if we have to. Tell the personalities we’ve grown accustomed to, “Take a back seat, dude,” so we can achieve something great. Vibrate with a positive life-force that moves ever forward. Don’t let anything snuff it out.