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