For authors it can be difficult, even shameful today, to be an introvert in a media culture where being social and outgoing are valued above all else. The reclusive literary artist who disdains self-promotion is silenced, even suppressed, in a system that rewards extraverts. Yet, when it comes to creativity and productivity among authors, we need more introverts.
“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas. Zero,” says Susan Cain in her recent TED Talk. Talking about introversion, as an introvert, has its ironies; she commands a standing ovation. Cain provides an entertaining overview of the seven years of research and writing that went into her brilliant new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, January 24, 2012).
Extaversion and introversion are concepts traced back to Carl Jung and codifed into a personality assessment instrument called the Myers-Briggs Test still used by psychologists today. No one is completely one or the other; these are archetypal extremes. Yet, certain archetypes are preferred and favored over others in historical and social contexts.
Contemporary cultural bias toward extraversion rewards authors who can “sell” and excel at marketing good ideas. Many introverted authors — who are now expected to market, publicize, promote and sell their own titles — see the cultural bias as one in which they relinquish autonomy, originality, and craft. Authors are brands, and books are products. That’s pretty far outside the comfort zone of most literary artists.
Authors today need to be ambiverts. We need a balance between introversion and extroversion. Authors need privacy, freedom, and solitude to find their voice and write. And yet, the writing requires engagement with readers. The reason to write for publication is to be read.
After reading Cain’s book, the reviews, and thinking about its relevance to writers, I offer three suggestions for writers, both introverts and extroverts, based on her findings.
- Stop the madness for constant group work and instant feedback. Authors need to take ownership of their writing. Too many writers go on the social media bandwagon and workshop circuit but never apply the take-away lessons to their work-in-progress. Free yourself from the distractions of group dynamics. Spend more time alone. That’s when the writing happens.
- Routinely find a time to unplug. Go to your wilderness. Listen long enough so you can hear yourself think your own thoughts. Solitude matters.
- Honor contemplation before action.
I highly recommend Quiet. The voice of the narrator is soft-spoken yet highly persuasive in her argument that our culture has underestimated the power of introverts. Their contributions to literature, the sciences, arts, and politics present a powerful body of evidence. One out of every two or three people is an introvert. Wild guess? Two out of every three writers.
What kind of writer are you? Introvert? Extravert? Ambivert?