“Hardly anybody ever writes anything nice about introverts. Extroverts rule. This is really rather odd when you realize that about nineteen writers out of twenty are introverts. We have been taught to be ashamed of not being ‘outgoing’. But a writer’s job is ingoing.”
~ Ursula K. Le Guin ~
I am an introvert. And I am also a writer. It isn’t easy trying to look and act like an extrovert when you aren’t one. The way I make it work is to pretend I am someone else. No kidding. My first job interview after college, in order to calm my nerves and boost my confidence, I pretended I was a princess who had fallen on hard times. I got the job.
In a recent issue of TIME magazine, Brian Walsh wrote an article about the upside of being an introvert. There are a lot of cool people who are shy. I think Mr. Walsh is pretty cool for turning himself inside out and admitting to the public that he hides in the bathroom when he needs a few minutes to recover from working a social event as a reporter. He says he would rather cover a famine or flood than make small talk with strangers at a cocktail party. I get it.
Insofar as it challenges me to be friendly and helpful, to get the job or to get the job done, I’m glad to make the effort to be more outgoing even when it makes me feel frizzled afterward. But it has taken me decades to understand: introversion isn’t a flaw, it is part and parcel to the kind of writer I am. I like sitting in a quiet house for hours on end with no other sound but the tick of the clocks and the hum inside my head. I like the solitary work of harvesting words from the fields of imagination to feed my need for expression. I don’t mind turning myself inside out for perfect strangers, as long as they aren’t standing around in a circle looking at me. I like being alone. Some of the time.
While I am an introvert, I am not antisocial. I could never thrive as a hermit. I like people too much to eschew them altogether, especially children, and adults who have kept a child-like wonder of the world around them, and people who are interested in interesting things. But I like them one or two at a time.
I could have been a wallflower, standing around the edges of life watching others have all the fun—in many ways it would have been easier—but I have realized the satisfaction and joy of personal experience that observation alone cannot deliver. So I write a novel and try to get it published, help a refugee settle into her new life, get a sales job in a posh store, travel to Brazil to speak to a group of pastor’s wives, and try to make others feel more comfortable at parties than I do. I put on shoes a little too big for me, clomp around in them and hope that nobody notices they don’t quite fit. Someday I may grow into them. Meanwhile, I pretend I am a princess.