“I’m such an introvert!” shouts my friend at a party. “I’d much rather be home watching TV.” Not that I doubt her, but this would be easier to believe if my friend had not just (pick two): jumped off a makeshift karaoke stage to thunderous applause, organized an impromptu game of charades, dived off a boat with a whoop and splashed into the middle of half a dozen sunbathers lounging on floats, or planned the entire party, complete with party favors and silly hats. (Disclaimer: both the friend and the party are composites. I promise—the parties I attend are not that exciting.)
As a classic introvert, my party experience usually conforms to stereotype—sitting in a quiet corner with a handful of chips, getting to know the local dog or cat. (A dog named Pepper lives across the street from us. I cannot for the life of me remember the names of any of her humans.)
I have so many early memories of my family saying, “Oh, she’s just shy,” that it became an enormous part of my self-identify—as defining as my name or sex. I was that child who was always being exhorted to “come out of my shell,” as if I were a hermit crab curled up in a stolen seashell with my carapace turned to the world.
So my gut response to my friend is to explain that she has no idea what introversion is—it’s not possible. Or is it?
Introversion, it turns out, comes in all shapes and sizes. It is possible to be an introvert without being shy, and to be shy without being an introvert, although they often go hand in hand. Susan Cain, in her book Quiet, a marvelous owner’s manual for the introverted personality, talks about the relationship between introversion and shyness. “Many shy people turn inward, partly as a refuge from the socializing that causes them such anxiety. And many introverts are shy, partly as a result of receiving the message that there’s something wrong with their preference for reflection….”
Okay, but what does this all have to do with writing? Well, writing is a solitary activity, and writers are, in general, an introverted group of people. We enjoy living in our minds—we know where all the cozy nooks are, there, and the fluffiest pillows, and where to get the best coffee. We are a sensitive bunch who tend to feel emotions strongly. We are often happy sitting on the sidelines, observing people and empathizing with them. It goes without saying that these traits are a great advantage to a writer.
Perhaps, if you call yourself an introvert, you’re similar to my party-loving friend, who is very social, but needs some downtime after an activity-filled day. Or perhaps you relate more to my stepdad, whose idea of a good time is spending the day alone in the desert, collecting rocks, and who once changed gyms just so he wouldn’t have to make small talk with his next door neighbor. But whatever part of the spectrum you fall on, you probably feel the world a little more intensely than most, and need solitude to recharge.
This is great, because solitude is a breeding ground for creativity. We think better when left to our own devices. “Introverts prefer to work independently,” says Cain, “and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation…in other words, if you’re in the backyard sitting under a tree while everyone else is clinking glasses on the patio, you’re more likely to have an apple fall on your head.”
As writers, we live for the days when the ideas are ripe and low-hanging, ready for harvest. This can happen in the middle of a crowded room, of course. But more often you have to cultivate your apples carefully. To non-writerly types, this hard work can look like doing nothing at all (another good reason to choose solitude—it saves you from the puzzled looks people give you). I was grateful to hear a writer friend extoll the joys of just being able to sit and stare at a wall for an hour. And here I was thinking it was just me.
So maybe you’ve been harvesting for a while, and now you have this heaping, shiny bushel of apples—a story. And stories, like apples, are better when shared with a friend. Yet, this is where many of us, myself included, stumble, decide the road is too difficult, and consider not going any further.
If writing is an introvert’s activity, then the act of sharing your work with a reader is a supreme act of extroversion. It’s shouting to the universe, “Look at me! I have something important to say!” Exposing your thoughts to friends, family members, and critique partners is only the beginning. After that, you begin to think agents. Writing query letters. Maintaining a web presence. Promotions launches interviews reviews, where does it all end?
You bare yourself to public criticism in a way that many extroverts can only have nightmares about. Am I the only one whose palms are sweaty? Whose insides are shriveling up like a collapsible garden hose at the very thought of the word pitch?
This is my challenge. To push myself past my comfort zone. To tell the world that yes, I am a writer. And to brave the huge, terrifying world out there. And perhaps, like me, you wonder if you’re even capable of taking that next step.
I was that terrified kindergartner who anguished over a homework assignment requiring her to use a class phone book to call a classmate. But I was also the regional science fair director who somehow managed to stand on a stage and address four hundred people without breaking a sweat. Because—and this is the encouraging thing—one’s personality is flexible, and can be trained.
Research indicates, says Cain, that “we are born with and culturally endowed with certain personality traits—introversion for example—but we can and do act out of character in the service of ‘core personal projects.’ In other words, introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.”
Such as writing a book.
So here’s to those who are breaking out of their comfort zones to do something they believe in. Here’s to those who are nervous but willing to begin the daunting process of sharing their darlings with the world. I’m in. Let’s do it together.
Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.