On being an introvert in an extrovert world

It’s estimated roughly 75% of people are extroverts (although the image at left says its higher for writers). That makes us the majority. Thus, introverts feel a bit put upon. It’s an extrovert’s world.

There are tests, but you pretty much know. Do crowds energize you or drain you? How do you feel when you’re alone? My wife and I were discussing this the other day—how I like to isolate myself, which isn’t particularly healthy. We moved from Write on the River into town, where there are a lot more people, and I have to get out of my comfort zone. Actually talk to people. She’s training me; I’m an old dog, like Cool Gus, but trying to learn a new trick. I’m also trying to teach Cool Gus to talk to people, but it’s not going well.

I remember trudging with Jenny Crusie through an airport on our long book tour for Don’t Look Down. All of five or six weeks long and I mentioned that rock stars can go on tour for half a year and still be going strong. What was the difference? Pretty much every author I know hates the book tour. I think the answer for rock stars might be drugs and groupies. But seriously, I think it’s because many of them are extroverts. They draw power from the crowd. Writers are drained by crowds. The same with keynoters. I think I teach and give keynotes pretty well, but by the end of the day I am completely drained. I’ve pumped my energy out, not taken it in from the people.

The Myers-Briggs has sixteen character types. They label all sixteen with a generic title and one of them is actually labeled “Author”. The INFJ. The first letter is for Introvert. After all, we have to sit alone to write. That doesn’t mean you have to be an introvert to be an author, or an INFJ, but the tendency is strongly there. BTW—the INFJ is the least prevalent of the 16 characters types. So not only are we in the minority as Introverts, if we’re an INFJ, we’re in the minority of 16 different types of personalities!

What’s fascinating, and what I use when I teach Write It Forward, is that we need to look at not only what we are, but more so what we aren’t. The exact opposite of the Author Label INFJ is the ESTP– the promoter.

Ah-ha! Big problem for writers, especially these days when discoverability rules over distribution (thus the fading effectiveness of book tours!). We’ve got to get found. But how?

We not only have to be found, I think it goes beyond discoverability. My new term that I focus on is engagement. Whether in person or on social media. That’s excruciating for an introvert. Because it works on two levels: intellectual and emotional. I can do intellectual engagement. My books have tons of history and facts and interesting stuff. I can talk about that all day. But the emotional engagement is a very different beast. That comes out in the writing through characters that engage, but also in our interaction with others. For some of us, emotional engagement can be very hard.

One key is consistency. Intermittent reinforcement is extremely destructive to relationships but also to engagement. People need to know what to expect. That’s hard for me, because I have a form of Asperger’s that makes me inconsistent. Deb and I used to refer to it as Bob A and Bob B. I was reading a book recommended to me by a psychiatrist about my personality disorder and it was written by a psychiatrist who had the disorder, so I researched him too. And it’s interesting. People all saw him differently. Some people thought he was the greatest guy ever. Others thought him the biggest asshole ever.

I get that reaction. If I’m not consistent, the overall impression is cloudy.

So it comes down to how do I change things? Essentially, my brain is broken in some key areas. I can’t repair that. But I can act differently. Act differently long enough, and your actions change and what the world sees is the actions, not what’s in the brain. The Army used to call that training and I know about that.

What’s funny was I was about to write: Introverts band together! But that goes against being an Introvert.

8 Comments

  1. Congrats on your move. It sounds as though it was a wise one. Ever since I retired from my day job, I’ve been more and more inclined to stay inside my house, preferably in my office, so I identify with your comment about intermittent reinforcement. I must become more proactive in interacting with other people—but I doubt I’ll ever feel comfortable in that role.

  2. I’m an introvert whose chosen career was in education, which included classroom teaching (regular and special education, administration, and school psychology…lots of opportunities for extrovert interactions and situations. Talking to people (intimate setting with a few people excepted), public speaking, and being in crowds exhausts me. I’ve always recharged my internal batteries through my alone time. Now that I’m retired, it’s easy to slip into recluse-mode with my writing. It’s a good thing I have grandchildren to spend time with so I get out of the house regularly.

  3. I must have a Diane A and Diane B. On the inside, I’m introverted, like being alone, a hermit (esp. in winter), hate crowds. Yet most people think I’m an extrovert. Hah! I taught elementary school, so I’m comfortable talking to groups. But, as you said, I come home exhausted. I didn’t get it until I read your post. Good job.

  4. Introverts Unite! Separately. In our own homes.

    That’s one of my favorite memes, not just because it’s funny, but because I can relate. Crowds exhaust me. I guess I need a little bit of that Army Training, sir. 🙂

  5. I like the Ursula K. Le Guin quote — so accurate. Never figured you, Bob, as being inconsistent, esp. with your Special Forces background . . . seems consistency and flexibility would be key traits in that area. And introverts can band together — just in very small groups of two or three!

    I always enjoy reading your posts.

  6. Found an on-line Asperger’s test . . . I tested borderline. And we all know how accurate on-line tests can be . . . Also test as an INFJ . . . Who knows? I can deal with crowds like at a concert (because I can cheerfully ignore everyone) but family gatherings keep me on edge — despise being hugged and kissed on and expected to be chatty about my life!

  7. Well-said. I’m reading Susan Cain’s book “Quiet” right now. It slays me when those chatty folks walk up to me and ask me what I’m reading.

  8. Thanks Bob. I agree, that writing is a solitary activity. I find with extroverts, all thoughts come out of their mouths; with introverts, they come through in their written words. Verbalizing is difficult and painful (unless it’s something you love or you’re in deep conversation.) I taught high school for many years, and the stress was debilitating. I think that introverts want to serve humanity and make the world a better place, so they’re drawn to teaching, but then…

    Curious. I am an INFP — Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving. In one of the articles I read, the author says “all truly great writers in the world have been INFPs (the writer must be one:) She went on to say that George Orwell made politics into art, and then listed Tolkien, CS Lewis, George RR Martin, Virginia Woolf, AA Milne, EA Poe, Shakespeare, and even Homer as INFPs. Oh yes, and Mother Therese. Perhaps, it’s the INF that makes a writer, or the IN ,or even just the I, that tempts us to go deep into solitary reflection and then sculpt it into wordly images.

    PS. I’ve been to your workshops. Your brain is not broken. You have a gift. And an amazing dog:)

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