January 15, 2014

The introverted writer

As I mentioned on Monday, I invited a self-professed introverted writer to chime in on the discussion we are having about how personality traits impact writing. I first connected with my guest today, Veronica Bartles, on Twitter concerning soup recipes. She happens to be a fellow writer, and her first novel, Twelve Steps, will be published by Swoon Romance in March. Check out the cool countdown she has going on over on her website!

Veronica participated in the aforementioned Twitter conversation about the stereotype of writers as introverts to say she is in fact one. And so I asked her to share her perspective here as we look at this interesting topic from a variety of angles...

Confessions of a Secret Introvert

I enjoy meeting friends at busy writer’s conferences and quiet cafes, chatting about favorite novels, shiny new ideas, and fictional characters that simply won’t behave. And I love giggling with my friends over crazy inside jokes, both online and in person. But at the end of the day, when all the excitement is over and we go our separate ways, I need time to recuperate.

When I say I’m an introverted writer, the reactions generally fall into one of two categories:

Reaction #1: “Well, duh. Aren’t all writers introverts?”

It seems that a lot of people believe the myth perpetuated by Hollywood, that writers all shut ourselves away in lonely cabins to write, with only a laptop and a mug of something delicious (hot cocoa for me, please) for company. And that may be the dream for some of us, but not all writers thrive on alone time. Many of my closest writing friends are very much extroverts. But since I’m not an extrovert, I will leave that discussion to those more qualified.

Reaction #2: “You’re not an introvert. You’re too friendly.”

I tend to surround myself, online and in real life, with honest-to-goodness extroverted people. I love the sparkly effervescence of those life-of-the-party types. And yes, sometimes I’m even really good at playing the part. But here’s the thing: “introverted” isn’t necessarily a synonym for “shy,” although many introverts (including me) also fall into the “terrified of other people” category. The key difference between me and my extroverted friends is not that they’re friendly and I’m antisocial or that they’re outgoing while I’m reclusive, but that social interaction energizes them, while I leave the party totally drained, no matter how much I enjoyed it.

When I was a kid, my parents quickly learned that sending me to my room wasn’t a punishment at all. That’s where I wanted to be, curled up on my bed, surrounded by a mountain of pillows and stuffed animals, with a notebook and pencil or a favorite book in hand. Instead, I knew I was in trouble when Mom set the timer for 30 minutes and declared that I couldn’t escape to my bedroom until the timer buzzed. (As one of eight children, sandwiched between two of the most extroverted girls you’ve ever met, family time was at times quite overwhelming.)

Ironically, I always wanted to be comfortable as the center of attention. I was totally jealous of my sisters, who could walk into any room and immediately become the life of the party, but my introverted nature combined with crippling shyness (I still get nervous talking to my best friends!) prevented me from joining in. I hung out on the sidelines and watched instead.

Writing became my lifeline, my escape from real life, and my window to the world. When I was in high school, I carried a spiral notebook with me at all times, so that I could record every detail of my day. I’d transcribe whole conversations, including facial expressions and body language, so that I could analyze it all later. I wrote about the things I did and said, as well as the things I wished I could do. I wrote about my hopes and dreams, my fears, and my sorrows. And when the filter of the written word wasn’t quite enough, I’d write fictional stories, where I could be the girl I always wished I was, drawing on my journals filled with observations to get the details just right.

Writing has always been a way for me to process real life in a solitary way that allows me to refresh my mind after exhausting social interactions. But over the years, I’ve noticed a benefit I hadn’t anticipated. Writing so many strong, confident characters has helped me to adopt those traits, to some extent, for myself. I’m still secretly terrified of people, and I’ll always need time to rejuvenate after spending time with a group of friends, but I no longer sit on the sidelines wishing I could be a part of life. Instead, I wrap myself in the mindset of one of my confident characters and join the conversation.

This last part is so fascinating to me, because Veronica is sharing the perspective of a fiction writer as well as an introvert. Both different from me and therefore an opportunity for me to expand my horizons! Thank you so much, Veronica, for your contribution to our discussion!

Veronica will be joining me on January 24 for a Google+ Hangout On Air with other great guests as we #talkwriting. Mark your calendars for 10AM PST / 1PM EST and plan to watch! And come back on Friday to link up YOUR post or video on this topic!

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