The Irony of the Introverted Writer

There is an irony to my profession.

Writing is often seen as the ideal profession for introverts. Hours ALONE at a desk with nothing but the computer and an iPod to keep you company. If you want to feel social, flip the wi-fi back on for a little bit and surf the internet, Facebook, twitter, wherever your little heart desires and you never have to talk to an actual person face to face, or even over the phone. It’s always you and a keyboard, nothing else.

Thing is, that’s the romantic version of being a writer.

One technological step up from Thoreau’s cabin in the woods is turning off all your wi-fi and locking yourself in your apartment or bedroom with a bottle of Merlot and a keurig next to your Macbook.

Writing itself – a totally introverted sport.

Being a writer – So. Much. More.

Being a writer, isn’t just about writing at your desk. That’s the part that makes you a writer. I mean, if you don’t write – you aren’t a writer. It’s like, the only qualification. It’s more than just that, though. Being a writer is about experiencing life. People, places, and activities are a bigger part of that than most of us like to admit, even to ourselves. It’s nice to imagine yourself high up in your tower, writing by the light of a candle in a sound proof room, the entire world shut out.

How can one write about the world, write about the experiences of someone living in the world, when one has not had those experiences for themself?

From experience, I’ve found that when one lets themself give in to introverted tendencies and do little but sit behind the computer and write, things happen.

  1. Our bodies start to fall apart. Have you ever tried writing through a cold? The flu? Pneumonia? If you haven’t, chances are you’re thinking that you could make it work. If you have, I’d lay odds you know it’s just that much harder than it sounds. Our brains tend to find focus hard to obtain when we’re operating on less than 100% capacity. Most of our bodies energies are being spent on trying to get better, trying to heal. They aren’t easily reallocated for writing. When we sit in one place for long periods of time without getting up to do something like exercise or eat right, our bodies don’t like it. Our immune system weakens, and our writing suffers.
  2. Our minds start to wander. There is only so much we can pour into any one project at one time. Eventually, your mind wants to do something else. We end up scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, bingeing Netflix, and doing anything at our computer but writing. We get bored. The human brain is designed to shift from task to task, for survival, if nothing else. More than that, when you pour all of your energy into something at one time, you eventually lose momentum. You lose the fuel to write.
  3. Our writing starts to feel forced and uninspired, it might even be of poorer quality. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this. I lock myself up for more than one day to write and the first day, everything goes awesome. The words are really flowing and it’s sounding amazing. (Until revision, that is.) The second day, it gets harder. It’s like trying to make a car go on nothing but the ghost of gasoline fumes. It’s not an easy thing. I might make my word count that day, but I’ll look back on what I wrote and it’ll be repetitive, it’ll have redundant words out the wazoo, and be of a quality I haven’t produced since third grade. It’s a result of not having fuel. Experiencing things, getting out and being a person fuels our writing. Even if it’s just a walk around the block, it gets those creative juices flowing like they don’t when you don’t experience anything for a while. The greats will tell you not to wait for inspiration to write, and they’re correct. You should always write something, every day. You can’t edit or revise, and definitely not publish, what isn’t there in the first place. But, you also shouldn’t force yourself to create something out of nothing. There’s a difference between drained writing and writing that takes place with something in the fuel tank, even if that something isn’t for that project. You can feel it. It might all be in your head, but you can feel it all the same.

These are just a few of the things that happen to a writer: drainage, declining health, and even the lack of enjoyment in writing. Getting out and about is essential for even the biggest introverts. The human being is designed to move and to learn, to do things other than stare at a computer all day.

These are the physical ironies of the introverted writer. But, then there’s the rest of it, the professional ironies.

A lot of the professional tasks of being a writer can be done over a computer screen, yes. But if you’re at all successful there may be things you have to do for one reason or another that require face to face contact with your audience.

As an introvert, I’m sometimes terrified to do things as simple as send out a submission to a magazine so that maybe, just maybe, I might get published. What happens if they like it and I have to talk with a person? Or, worse, what if they don’t like it and I put my neck out there only to have my head cut off when they send me a rejection.

If you’re self publishing, you still might have to deal with a designer to make your cover, bloggers who will hopefully review your book(s), people you want to write blurbs for the back cover. All of those things. You might even get fan mail, if you’re good, that you may wish to respond to.

Writing may have been an introverted task, but once you get into this side of things it becomes extrovert oriented very quickly.

You wanted to be a published writer without a typical 9-5 so when you have to make an appearance at a convention and talk on a panel so you can get paid enough to keep the lights on this month… you’re going to have to be an extrovert for a while. Even if you’re only pretending. No one likes a stand-offish panelist.

If you’re a writer of anything but the big FOUR: Fiction, Creative Non-Fiction, Screenplays, and Poetry… it can be extroverted start to finish.

Freelance blog posts? Networking.

Articles for businesses? Networking.

Reviews for books? Networking.

Blogger? Networking.

There is networking everywhere! At Ball State the English department holds “Stars to Steer By” events where they bring in speakers, give presentations, and a dozen other things that prepare English Majors (and others) for a career with a humanities degree, or getting a career with a humanities degree.

I wish I had attended more of these, but I’m an introvert and I don’t get out much.

One of the sections, that I didn’t attend but should have… Networking for Introverts.

Yep, it’s a thing. And it was something helpful to a few of the people I know because let’s face it, a good portion of the people attracted to a humanities degree? Introverts.

We like what we like.

So, yeah, writing is an ironic profession for introverts. You can’t get away from people, especially when people are what you write about. And lets face it, anything with characters, even talking horses, lions, beavers, fauns, and other non-humans… it’s about people. Which introverts, tend to avoid.

I look at it this way, being an introvert is all well and good, but no one is designed to be completely alone. Even hermits keep a dog or a cat. Castaways have a volleyball.

Writing is a sport for introverts. But being a writer… you might have to step out of the comfort circle for a bit.

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