By Maggie James
Now there's a question! After all, being an author is one of the most solitary professions there is, as I know from experience. I work from home, keeping normal office hours, and unless I venture out at lunchtime, I don't see or talk to anyone until the evening. I'm not complaining. As a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I've always needed plenty of solitude, and can get a bit stir-crazy if I'm surrounded by people for too long.
Before I carry on, let me explode the most persistent myth about introverts: that we're shy people who dislike socialising. Not so! No way do I consider myself shy, because I'm not. Despite my strong need for solitude, I love spending time with my friends and meeting new people. Like other introverts, though, I prefer smaller social gatherings, and not to spend too long at them. Furthermore, loud noisy events or people don't sit well with me. Live music is my idea of torture and I prefer to socialise with fellow introverts.
So how does one define an introvert? The word itself provides the clue; it originates from the Latin 'intro' (inwards) and 'vertere' (to turn). A great definition is this one from Psychology Today:
'Introverts are drained by social encounters and energised by solitary, often creative pursuits. Their disposition is frequently misconstrued as shyness, social phobia, or even avoidant personality disorder, but many introverts socialise easily; they just strongly prefer not to.'
Part of this makes me cringe. For anyone to label introverts as having a personality disorder because they're not raving party animals is ridiculous. The perception persists, though, with some dictionaries defining the word as meaning 'shy person,' which neither tallies with its Latin roots nor with reality. As Pyschology Today points out, introversion or extroversion has nothing to do with levels of confidence, shyness or social skills. Instead, it relates to how individuals respond to stimuli and replenish their energy. Extroverts thrive on hustle, bustle and social connections, whereas introverts find such situations draining. In contrast, we derive energy from within and by being alone.
We're frequently misunderstood, though. Partly, I suspect, because we're in the minority. Estimates vary, but it seems betwen 25 - 33% of people fall in the introvert camp. As part of this misunderstanding, introverts can suffer pressure to socialise more by well-meaning friends, which can be very wearing. Some people have postulated that there's a distinct global bias towards extroverts; their traits are perceived as desirable, with job adverts requesting 'bright and bubbly' or 'outgoing' candidates. I think famous introverts such as Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg prove we have much to contribute to the workplace! Other well-known introverts? How about Albert Einstein, Barack Obama, Stephen Spielberg, Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Buffett or Frederick Chopin?
One of the few professions that's carried out alone
Let's examine how this relates to writing fiction. Whether novelists tend more towards introversion, I can't say, but a Google search on 'famous extrovert novelists' reveals nothing, with most of the search results concentrating on introverted writers instead. Many of my author friends regard themselves as introverts. Given that we need solitude, and creating novels being one of the few professions that's carried out alone, it does seem we may have an advantage. I imagine it would be torture for an extrovert to spend hours at a computer, cut off from human contact, wherease it's entirely natural for introverts. Any extrovert drawn to writing would probably thrive better as a journalist, perhaps. Or maybe they'd be attracted to other forms of creative expression instead, such as acting or the music business.
Not all writers need solitude, of course. I know authors who write in coffee shops, libraries and pubs, places where the hum and bustle of daily life surrounds them. They're probably further along the scale towards extroversion than I am, that's all. Or perhaps they just get cabin fever more easily than I do.
One consideration that acts in favour of introverts becoming novelists is the fact that, as Psychology Today says, we're often drawn to creative pursuits during our alone time. Famous introverted writers are plentiful; J K Rowling is said to be one, along with Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, J D Salinger and the entire Brontë family. I'm in good company!
Vive la différence! Each to their own...
Both introverts and extroverts have their strengths and weaknesses, of course, and those strengths can be brought to the writing table. Introverts are often better listeners, and this skill enables them to find great true-life stories that provide great fodder for book ideas. Hand in hand with that goes an increased ability to understand human foibles and behaviour. I've often said on this blog how I'm fascinated by what drives our behaviour, especially when it encroaches into weird and wacky territory. All the time we spend alone gives us time to reflect, explore ourselves, skills we can use when creating our characters. Lastly, of course, we're better able to deal with long periods of solitude, a prerequisite of the writing life.
But we don't hold all the cards. Extroverts meet a wder variety of people and engage more with them, thus providing material for characters and stories from a different angle, as well as from more plentiful sources. I suspect they're also far better at promoting themselves on social media. I love Facebook and Twitter as much as anyone, but don't post that often - it's simply not my style.
Neither is better or worse, of course - people are what they are and a mix of extroverts and introverts makes for a more interesting world. I'd prefer the split to be more evenly balanced, but vive la différence, as they say!
Over to you - what do you think?
Do you think introverts are more suited than extroverts to the writing life? Are you an author yourself, and if so, in which camp do you consider yourself, or are you somewhere in between? If you're an introvert, have you experienced misunderstandings about what the word means? Extrovert authors, do you need to write somewhere public, so you get the stimulation you need? Leave a comment and let me know!
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