Rachel, writing

All things novelling-related as I embark on my self-publishing adventure

The rise of the introvert

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There seems to have been a lot of talk of introverts recently, with books extolling our virtues making best-seller lists. Like many writers, I generally prefer my own company to that of others. I like to meet up with people, but after an hour or so, begin to feel drained.

We’re still often seen as needing help, or viewed negatively. One friend said she considered introverts by definition to be selfish – but isn’t needing other people to be around you more selfish? We seem to be seen as problematic because we don’t fit the majority view of what’s desirable.  I’ve realised that I tick a lot of boxes for schizoid personality disorder simply by being an introvert, which is something that therapists think should be ‘fixed’ (no, I don’t need fixing. I’m not broken). I’m not sure whether this is lack of understanding or an urge to pathologise for profit’s sake.

I’m quite capable of social interaction when required. I’m not shy. I’m not desperate to belong or be accepted. My instant reaction when receiving social invitations is ‘How can I wriggle out of this without seeming rude?’ A couple of hours with a friend? No problem. An evening with a crowd? No thanks. But if I need to mingle, I can do so perfectly competently – with some effort, I have to admit.

As Anneli Rufus observes in Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto, introversion is regularly associated with crime. Serial killers are often described as ‘loners,’ but this may be misguided: they are more likely to be outcasts, who want to join in but are rejected. Introverts are quite happy on their own, thank you very much. To add some balance, here’s a youtube thingy of Sister Wendy Beckett, a nun who’s had several TV series in the UK on art appreciation. I heard her interviewed on the radio over Christmas for Desert Island Discs,  and she figured the only thing she’d miss on a desert island was attending Mass – other than that, the isolation would be a huge positive for her. Someone once said to her that she was the only person he knew who was perfectly happy without other people – “And it wasn’t a compliment,” she said.

Reading Rufus’ book has made me question my preferences. Why do I love my evenings at my writers’ group? (Because you can sit and listen, in your own little world, and there’s no pressure to make polite conversation). Why do I enjoy running in a group? (Because you can trot along, in your own little world, and nobody’s capable of non-stop talking because they need the breath) Why am I unfazed by public speaking, or leading an exercise class, but freeze when asked to play piano to an audience? (I really have no idea. Any suggestions?)

As far as writing goes, introversion is probably an advantage: it’s quite an isolated activity. It’s also possibly the reason that so many of my characters are relative introverts too. I can relate to them. I found writing India’s dialogue and diary entries in The Syndrome Diaries the most challenging part of the novel, as her extroversion was quite alien to the way I am.

Do you identify more as an introvert or extrovert? Do you think it affects the way you write – in terms of your writing activity, or the content?

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12 thoughts on “The rise of the introvert

  1. Mike Swindells on said:

    I have never thought of you as particularly introvert. Self-sufficient, yes. I think you freeze when asked to play the piano because you are not as good as you used to be – lack of practice. But, on reflection, you were always reluctant to play.

    I used to be rather introvert, but have become more sociable and even extrovert since retiring. Is this common?

    Dad

    • It’s supposed to be fairly stable but activities with some social element often seem to replace the social networks found at work when people retire. I think I can blag extroversion when necessary, but my natural inclination is introversion, more so as I get older.

  2. There are a lot of misconceptions about introverts. One is that we never talk. Of course, we talk. Get us on a subject we’re passionate about, and we’ll talk one’s ear off. We’re just not usually comfortable speaking among big groups. That being said, we are very capable of lecturing to large groups if that is our profession, though just like extroverts, some of us are more comfortable with this than others.

    Another misconception is, as you point out, that we don’t like ever being around people. That’s not true either. I love a night out with my family or a few close acquaintances. But like you, I’ll shun a party every time.

    • I like to talk about pet subjects too, although I often find it difficult to get a word in when others get started. Maybe that’s why I like writing – it feels like I’m talking about things that matter to me, even if nobody’s listening.

  3. Sally Swindells on said:

    Nurture/nature?

    your fellow introvert – Mum

  4. I’m definitely an extrovert. Before I retired and began to try my hand at writing fiction, I never gave this much thought. Now I can see more clearly the downside – this is a solitary business and I don’t like to be alone. Perhaps it’s us extroverts that need help, not you introverts? I rather envy you, Rachel, your happiness in your own company.
    On the other hand, because of my gregarious nature I have gathered lots of ‘character material’ to put into my stories. And because I so love to communicate I am strongly motivated to get my stories out there. I suppose I see writing as another kind of talking.

    • That’s really interesting, that writing should satisfy certain extrovert tendencies in different ways to how it fulfils introverts’ needs. Do your characters tend to be extroverts?

      • Not necessarily. My short stories are about all sorts.
        But where I’m being autobiographical I suppose yes. But that refers to a novel that is in its very early stages. I’ll be better able to answer that when/if it is finished.

  5. I think a lot of normal human characteristics such as introversion have only recently been drawn to wide attention, and I think it’s because of the web and the way that it mediates interactions between people. Introverts are suddenly visible, and can communicate without being drained by the experience of having to handle people. As Barbara points out, writing is indeed a form of talking. Especially for introverts.

  6. I was a single child until my brother was born seven years after me. That meant I had only my own company for a long time – and it’s something I still enjoy.
    I find parties and large groups to be chaotic and fret (needlessly in 90% of cases) about fights breaking out.
    Writing, a solitary business, suits me just fine and I only seek company when it becomes unavoidable. I can mingle and chat, to all outward appearances, quite well, but that half-hour clock is always ticking down to the moment when I can excuse myself and sidle off….

    ‘I’m not introverted – just don’t talk to me or look my way.’ 🙂

  7. Think I’m an introverted extrovert – or maybe that should be the other way around. Like my own company, happy to be alone. Happy to be with friends but not especially keen on making new ones – not really anti-social, just selfishly comfortable with the old ones.
    I am a chatterbox – with people I know – and can do a talk to a room full on a subject I know well (worry in advance, re-do the whole thing in my sleep afterwards, only better).
    Writing suits me. I can be alone yet not lonely, with all my characters to keep me company. And I can soap-box on my pet subjects without boring all my friends to sleep!

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