January 13, 2014

The extroverted writer

The other day, I butt in on a conversation taking place on Twitter. As I am wont to do. When I happen across a chat I find interesting, I join in. That is simply my nature, which became a significant part of the conversation.

This particular chat concerned the stereotype of writers as introverts. As an extrovert, this label tends to make me a little crazy. OK, a lot. I can't stand it. And I said as much when I pushed my extroverted self into the discussion.

A little later on, one of the conversation participants suggested I write a post on the topic:

Challenge accepted, Jessica! I explained I was on a blogging vacation until the new year, but would post something in January. And here I am.

It is never a good idea to make generalizations, or lump large groups of people together, assuming certain traits based on one aspect of their lives.

It is also common to misunderstand the meaning of extrovert and introvert. Many assume the former like to be around people and the latter don't. That is too simplistic a definition.

I like the view of introversion-extroversion as a continuum, with people possessing both "sides" but being dominant in one. There are common traits that can be identified for each, but the fact is "people fluctuate in their behavior all the time, and even extreme introverts and extroverts do not always act according to their type."

Yes! And I would add people should not automatically be labeled on a specific part of the continuum based solely on their profession.

But how does where you are on the continuum relate to writing? That was the question that arose from our Twitter conversation, and I found it to be a very interesting one.

The problem I have with that assumption that writers are introverts is what people often mean by introvert is - loner. Which is not necessarily so. Yes, writing is by its nature a solitary endeavor. But for me, the result of participating in the act of writing, the reason I do so, is interaction with others.

Writing creates connections that fuel me.

I identify primarily as an extrovert. That is not to say I have all the classic characteristics of one. I don't particularly enjoy large groups, for example. And I do need some alone time. However, if I don't have regular, quality interactions with others, my well being suffers.

I began blogging in 2010, after the decision to stay home with my daughter led to a life of isolation in which I was very unhappy. I named this space, "The Writer Revived" because 1) I was doing something I loved again and 2) writing this blog led to connecting with others, something I critically needed.

In other words, I got my mojo back. Through writing. Why?

Because it enabled me to interact with others. And, hopefully, to inspire, help and support those who relate to what I am writing about. As a nonfiction writer, I am sharing life experiences. Primarily my own. Writing about them, and receiving feedback, helps me process those experiences.

Or, as Kristy Sammis put it when she joined the Twitter conversation:

This. Is. Me. I was fascinated she shared my perspective so closely. So I asked her to elaborate...

My concept of extroversion stems from the Myers-Briggs definitions (based on Jungian theory), which essentially defines extroverts as people who get their energy from being around others, AND who process their thoughts externally. We "talk to think."

Being 100% in this extrovert camp, I learned at an early age that talking isn't always an appropriate or available option. Ahem. So I turned to writing. I kept journals on a near-daily basis from pre-adolescence through to adulthood... where I tapered off journal writing and/but soon after discovered blogging. And while I haven't been able to keep up with blogging (uh, and my novels are merely first-chapter drafts, and 90% of my "writing" is now either work-related or 140-character fodder) I still consider writing my truest passion.

To me, writing is like putting a puzzle together, except there's no picture guiding you and there are about 20x more pieces than you need. It's about taking big, broad ideas and figuring out what the story is, and maybe even how you feel about it. You have to decide what the extraneous pieces are, and put the rest in an order that makes sense to your audience. Putting thoughts to paper is the best way to organize my thinking -- even better than getting to verbally "bounce ideas off" someone, though I prefer the latter. :)

I have also found that writers often self-identify as such because we have constant running narratives about our lives. I wonder if this is even truer for extroverts? Perhaps not, but my extroversion compels me to want to share my narrative -- and when I can't do so verbally, I do so in writing.

Another writer chimed in, stating she too was an extrovert. See? I knew I wasn't alone!

I contacted Karma and asked her to tell me more...

I'm a freelance writer and have done everything from marketing copy, to ghostwriting a book, to blogging, to magazine articles. These days I mostly write for magazines, though I do some corporate work from time to time. And of course, I write fiction (women's fiction). In journalism school we were often thrust out into the world with little more than a notepad and pen, a vague idea, and an extremely tight deadline. It was critical to get the interviews you needed, quickly, and feeling shy about asking for those interviews did not equal a passing grade. I learned a lot about putting myself out there and being willing to go for the "ask" -- I was surprised many times at how willing people were to talk and share their expertise!

I suppose in fairness I've always been more of an extrovert, which may explain why I chose journalism in the first place (though I'm sure you can find introverted journalists, as well!) -- you often have to put yourself out there, to ask tough questions, and not be afraid of hearing "no" or getting a door slammed in your face. Similar with magazine pitching, and trying to get an agent for fiction ... you hear a lot of "no thanks", and must learn to push through that and keep putting yourself out there. Though it's easier to be an introvert and still do all these things with the way social media is now in my opinion, there's still a fair bit of "getting out there" required for things like contests, participating at writers' conferences, or even pitching agents in non-traditional (read: query slushpile) ways.

Though I am a work from home mommy, which means I write solo (or with my wee one for company!), I am not that tortured writer who loves the comfort and privacy of her four walls. I actually prefer to write in a busy coffee shop, a) because I love coffee, and b) because I am more creative when I have background noise. I enjoy the dynamic of focusing intently on a scene, then looking up and smiling at strangers around me as they read books, sip their coffee, or tap away on their laptop keys. I'm most productive that way!

I've invited a self-labeled introverted writer to guest post here on Wednesday. She'll be exploring this issue from a different perspective, which I am eager to read. Then, we'll open up the discussion on Friday, offering anyone who is interested a chance to write a post on the topic and link up!

And look for information to come on a Google+ Hangout On Air January 24, when writers and literary agents will be discussing this topic! Follow the hashtag #talkwriting on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter for all the latest and to join the conversation!

If you are a writer, where would you say you are on the continuum? What is your dominant side? How does that influence your writing? And does it contribute to your being a writer in the first place?

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