Writing as an Introvert (or “As I wrote in my book…”)

Ben Myers, in a piece in the Guardian yesterday on the public role of the private writer, bemoans the fact that “we’re living in era where a writer can’t just write. They have to be out there.”

No kidding.

Last spring I attended a local writers’ conference. I hadn’t been to one in a few years, so I was surprised to hear the stress put on writers’ being “out there.” From editors to agents to writers themselves, the speakers and workshop leaders stressed building a platform, being on Twitter, and having a website or a blog.

And we have to be out there even more once a book is published. Unfortunately, very few books on writing or workshop sessions discuss how an introvert prepares herself or himself to withstand the discomfort of readings, interviews, talks, and book signings, much less excel at them.

I remember clearly doing a radio interview after my first book was published. I’m not a fan of telephones to begin with, and I was very nervous. I paced as I talked, sat, stood up, paced again. In the end, I didn’t do too badly. My very supportive publisher congratulated me afterward, but had one suggestion: “You need to talk about the book more. Say ‘As I wrote in my book…’ and give the title.”

For whatever reason, I still have trouble doing that. I’m much more comfortable discussing the topic of the book, assuming listeners will somehow figure out the title and that I wrote it and where to buy it on their own (not!).

If any of this sounds familiar, you might enjoy an insightful Creative Penn podcast (32 minutes) on resilience, accepting criticism and being an introvert. In it, Clare Edwards addresses many aspects of introverts, such as we tend to prefer writing to talking and reflecting first before having to speak. When doing an interview or a podcast, we are forced to “speed up our thinking process” in a way that is unnatural.

However, Edwards also discusses how we all have both extroversion and introversion inside us:

“As we grow older…if we can learn to really embrace the side that we’re least comfortable with, then it brings us into a whole new world of interacting with more people, and essentially becoming more successful and more rounded.”

In a video interview with the Guardian’s Sarfraz Manzoor, self-proclaimed introvert Malcolm Gladwell talks of how he has “consciously chosen to do more speaking” because he finds it “interesting and challenging.” Be sure to find time to watch the six-minute interview in which he explains that public speaking “has nothing to do with extroversion. It’s a performance, and many performers are hugely introverted.” If it’s a performance, then we can also learn performance skills to get better.

The lesson for introverted authors? While you are typing away at that novel or memoir or short story or article, also make the time to practice using your less comfortable side. Read your work aloud to friends or family members. Engage them to do mock interviews with you.

Repeat after me: “As I wrote in my book…”

4 thoughts on “Writing as an Introvert (or “As I wrote in my book…”)

  1. These are my exact fears right now. I knew them going in, but there comes a time were you ask yourself do you let your fears concur you or do you follow your dream. As I wrote in my book (hee hee) Meriden faces many fears (including giant spiders). Now, I have to face mine. I’ve taken public relation and public speaking courses, hoping they will prepare me for such occasions . Though, I’ll admit, I’m still scared very time I have to give a speech. However, I try to think of teaching instead of purely speaking to a crowd, since I love teaching : ).
    The major fear though is my schedule. As a student, my schedule is very tight. I would have to work around that somehow. All well. One hurdle at a time.

    • Kelsey, oooh, I dread spiders! 🙂

      I’m a teacher, too, and I think that experience in a classroom is very helpful when it comes to the marketing and promotion part of writing. I know you’ll do fine, and the schedule will somehow work out. 🙂 Being a little scared is probably good. I teach college speech, and the worst speeches are often the ones given by students who aren’t nervous at all, and who don’t seem to care about what they are saying or whether they say it well.

  2. I love this! My hubby is a total introvert but he’s a different person when he’s performing on stage (he’s a singer/songwriter). I’m also an introvert, although less so than him, yet I have no problems with public speaking. I’m way more nervous about giving my critique partners my manuscript! 🙂

    • I completely understand! I’m not a performer, but I love to give public talks, although I dread one-on-one interviews. My husband is extremely introverted, more so than I am, yet he is a fantastic teacher and taps into a different part of his personality in order to perform in the classroom.

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