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.


Originally published at writeitforward.com on February 8, 2017.