Introverts Unite!

Introverts Unite!

Many years ago, my local writing chapter – Houston Bay Area chapter of Romance Writers of America – brought in a speaker whose topic was designed to help us use psychological traits to deepen characterization. I’m certain several of my chapter-mates found nuggets of character-building tricks and tips in that workshop, but for me, it was like the speaker had come in to do an in-depth dissection of my personality.

The cornerstone of her discussion was introverts versus extroverts, and she defined them not by how they behaved in public, but by how they recharged. Basically, an extrovert refuels through even more social contact, while an introvert needs alone time to recover. Oftentimes, in a social setting, you can’t tell the introverts from the extroverts. I mean sure, it’s a pretty safe bet that the shy, quiet person in the corner praying their ride will hurry up and say it’s time to go is an introvert, but what about the gal who flits from group to group, chatting with everyone, introducing herself to people she doesn’t know?

She can also be an introvert.

Wow! Talk about a serious lightbulb moment, because that gal is me.

Yes, I’m pretty good in a crowd, but what you can’t see from the outside is that after a party, a meeting, a convention or even a full day at work, I have to come home and decompress. I need at least an hour of reading time – preferably in a bubbly bathtub. Or some veg time on the couch, just me, my remote and HGTV. Maybe an afternoon digging in the dirt. A jigsaw puzzle. Hell, in a pinch, housework will do.

Are you wondering why this idea struck me as so groundbreaking? Well, it redefined how I looked at my desperate need for downtime. No more feeling guilty about wanting to shut myself off from the rest of the world. No more worry that I was anti-social or in need of upping my meds. No more constantly suffering through my husband’s extroverted need to be with people all the time.

Researching the topic of what it really means to be an introvert, I found several articles citing, The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s now on my To Be Read List. Here’s an awesome quote from an article in The Huffington Post:

People are frequently unaware that they’re introverts -– especially if they’re not shy — because they may not realize that being an introvert is about more than just cultivating time alone. Instead, it can be more instructive to pay attention to whether they’re losing or gaining energy from being around others, even if the company of friends gives them pleasure.

Here’s a partial list of Dembling’s secret signs you could be an introvert: (I’m betting this list will sound very familiar to a lot of you!)

  1. You hate small talk.
  2. You often feel alone in a crowd.
  3. You’d be okay giving a talk to 500 but would dread the idea of speaking one-on-one to audience members.
  4. You don’t consider downtime a waste of time.
  5. You’re married to an extrovert.
  6. You begin to shut down when you’re overstimulated.
  7. You have a constant running inner monologue. (This sounds like every writer I know!)

And the biggie:

  1. You go to parties (or meetings) to talk to people you already know rather than to meet new people.

This is the most common sign of being an introvert that I witness among writers. For most of us, writing is a solitary endeavor, but even introverts have their limits on alone time. Even if we’re not normally social people, I believe most of us look forward to chances to interact with other writers. Large-scale conferences can be daunting, but smaller get togethers, like critique groups or monthly writers group meetings, can be fun and inspirational, but only if we get out of our own way and TALK TO OTHER PEOPLE.

This is a lesson I’ve had to force myself to learn, because I haven’t always been such a hard-to-spot introvert. The night I walked into my first HBA meeting, I nearly peed my pants from fear. At that point, no one but teachers and my mother had ever read my writing, and even though I was in my early thirties with a husband and two kids, I still thought of myself as that pudgy, awkward bookworm who never got asked to prom. What business did I have telling stories about exciting, beautiful people falling in love?

That’s a night I will never forget. The room was full of women who looked a lot like me. Some older, some younger, some skinnier, some fluffier, some quieter, some louder, but none of them looked glamorous or intimidating. (I guess in the back of my mind, I was afraid “real” writers would look and act like those pain-in-the-ass beautiful, popular girls from high school!) There were several published authors in the room, but the crowd was so warm and welcoming, I quickly got over being star struck. Even more amazing, I settled in well enough to raise my hand and offer a comment to something the speaker asked.

Like a lot of newbie writers, I joined RWA looking for guidance and feedback from other writers, and eventually, I found just that, but only because I forced myself to conquer my fears and my shyness and put myself out there. After a few months, I showed up and realized I was no longer walking into a room full of strangers. HBA had become a room full of people I knew – the kind of people introverts look forward to interacting with.

Having this baseline group of writing friends as allowed me to attend several national and local writing conferences, where I’ve met tons of other writers and a handful of agents and editors. (Spoiler alert: these folks were all nice, friendly, non-scary folks, some with their own introvert issues.)

So, the next time you find yourself in a group and your turtle tendencies begin to take over, stay strong. Keep your head out of your shell and challenge yourself to speak to a stranger. Start small. Pick one person and ask them a leading a question, which means something they can’t answer with a simple yes or no. “How’s your story coming?”

The important thing to remember is that as people, we are all works-in-progress. What makes us different doesn’t make us wrong. Yes, talking to strangers might be a scary struggle, but confronting those fears will help us grow and improve – both as people and as writers.

PS:  In the years since Sophia Dembling’s first book made a splash and garnered her several national promo pieces, she’s written a second book: Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After. Doesn’t that sound like a book every introverted romance writer needs to read?

 

Dawn Temple

Back when her twin sons were young enough for daily naps, Dawn Temple took advantage of those quiet moments to pursue her dream of becoming a published romance writer. Sneaking in an hour here and there paid off in 2005 when she sold her first book, To Have And To Hold, to Silhouette Special Edition. She managed to secret away enough time to write and sell the second book in her Land’s Cross series, Moonlight And Mistletoe, but alas, her boys outgrew naps and Dawn let go of those stolen moments with her laptop to enjoy life with her two little guys and her big guy, hubby of 21 years.
But now, as an officially retired stay-at-home mom, Dawn has once again found the time and the creative drive to return to writing, and this time around, she’s set her sights on independent publishing. Her first self-published book, Peace of Heart, is scheduled for release in 2017.

4 thoughts on “Introverts Unite!

  1. Wow, Dawn. I can so relate to this. People are often surprised to learn that that I used to be more on the shy side. In fact, I often categorized my former self as just his side of an introvert. Why? Because I worked hard to overcome my tendency towards introvert-ism, although it will still hit me from time to time. These days, I’ve taught myself to “work a room”. So like many of us, as your post decries, I judged my own self based on what folks see on the outside – what I show them on the outside. But like you, crowds drain me. And there simply ain’t nothing like some quiet, alone time after a day of “being on”. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like being in leadership roles. Too much of it is “being on”. And for me, that is not a wholly natural place for me to be. The trick for me is not having too much alone time. Therein lies the road to depression. Mostly, I strike a balance, but sometimes I have to force myself to step outside of my safe space and flit around a room, pretending I’m confident and self assured. I’ve gotten pretty good at this pretending, sometimes to the point of some of it being true. But always, after the fact, I need to unwind with a book or an old favorite movie. Hell, sometimes, I even escape into my WIP. Hey don’t laugh. It happens. :o)

    1. Yeah, I’m with you on that fine line between mental health and depression. Sometimes, wallowing in aloneness can be a dangerous thing!

      The takeaway here is that introvert tendencies can be overcome. You just have to put in the work, dang it!

  2. Great observations on introversion, Dawn! Great resources, too.

    I’m going to put the shoe on the other foot for a moment and say that walking into a large crowd of people who all already know each other and have established relationships can be very intimidating, especially if those folks circle the social wagons and don’t reach out to the newcomers.

    One of the techniques I’ve learned (or call it a coping mechanism or a way of seeing the world, take your pick) is to ask questions of someone I don’t know. Most people LOVE to talk about themselves and asking some basic questions — What do you write? How long have you been doing that? Are you looking to publish soon? — can help new folks get over feeling intimidated. It’s creating a space where the newcomer can fit. The trick for me is to be more interested in the new person than I am in myself…. Be curious. Be open. Be generous with my attention.

    The hardest part is when I ask someone a series of questions and get either monosyllabic answers to an essay question or a blank stare. Especially if no questions come back from them. At that point I figure I’m intruding on their space and will move on.

    And yes, I’m an introvert. It took a Dale Carnegie course and several years of working on this to get as far as I have… But it really comes down to one thing: Be curious.

    1. Sandra, those one-word answers or blank stares are the worst!! The bad thing about that, though, is those are the people who probably really want to join in but don’t know how. My solution there is make sure to always offer encouraging smiles and do my best to remember their name next time I see them. Hopefully, that will coax them into a braver place and they can begin to answer in full sentences.

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