Have you ever said to yourself: “I can’t do marketing because I’m an introvert?” or “I can’t write a novel because I’m an extrovert?” Or perhaps you didn’t use the word “can’t” because you are someone who likes to overcome obstacles. However, as your career progresses you wonder if there is something in your personality that is holding you back.
Contrary to popular belief, writers do not skew toward introversion. I would expect the writing profession to have the same number of introverts and extroverts as the general population, nearly split 50/50. I’ve worked with a lot of writers and editors over my 40 years of being in the profession, and as the founder of a cooperative press, I’ve learned from and mentored writers along the introvert-extrovert continuum. I see no data that says one personality type is more successful than another. If you’d like to check out a range of popular writers, this article from Book Riot has rated writers using the Myer’s Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) system.
Don’t Let Labels Define You
Everyone has a reason that “successful writers” fall closer to one end or the other of the introversion-extroversion continuum. When I’m in a down mood and compare myself to a writer I admire, I’m sure that their personality is the opposite of mine and that is why they are more successful. Because whatever it is I hate doing, they are a natural at it.
The truth is, I’m looking for excuses. I know there is something I’m not doing that might be important to my career. Usually it is something that I don’t enjoy — like networking at parties or conventions. I know it is important, but the noise and the constant interaction is hard for me. Instead of trying to find what will work in that environment — what I can do — I use my personality type, an introvert, to excuse myself and get off the hook.
Those who believe that the solitary work of writing is skewed to my type, those who get their energy from quiet introspection, would say the majority of successful writers are introverts because of the need to write a lot of books to be successful. Others would point out that the most successful writers are those who can market themselves and their books; and that requires a personality that loves to engage with people and feels confident in talking about their accomplishments — extroverts.
I would suggest that extroverts can write a lot of books, but they probably don’t choose to do it in long periods of alone time. By the same token, I would suggest that introverts can be great marketers. However, they approach marketing very differently. Instead of talking about themselves or engaging with readers in large in-person venues, they might excel at a one-to-one approach through newsletters that is more story-based.
Labeling is dangerous. In our quick-moving, technological society people get impatient. They feel the need to quickly diagnose a problem and fix it. I think we are too quick to accept a label and then use it to become fixed in a way of behavior or to be excused from certain types of tasks. Realistically, it is fairly rare that someone is 100% of any label or diagnosis. All labels and types, diagnose and prescriptions are based on statistical means and averages. People are very complex in the way they perceive the world, make decisions, and act. In addition, humans are adaptable. We are capable of learning and using our strengths to overcome perceived weaknesses.
For me, the key is accurately identifying what I know about myself. Then learning how to use my natural tendencies and behaviors as strengths. For those areas where things are difficult for me, I need to find what adaptations I can make that will work consistently for me to succeed. I hope I can help others to do the same.
What do the terms introvert and extrovert really mean?
First let’s identify the myths. Introverts are not always shy and hate being around people; extroverts are not always gregarious or loud or seeking center stage. These personality types were first described by Carl Jung, a Swiss Psychiatrist in the 1920’s. He was not describing specific behavior. Instead, he was theorizing two personality types that were based in two ancient archetypes: Apollo, who focused on internal visions and dreams to shine a light on understanding; and Dionysus, who focused on sensory perception and action to live in the world.
Depending on where you are on that continuum you may have value judgments that one is better than the other. Both types are needed to be successful and most of us have both archetypes within us. Our behavior reflects what is perceived as desired and what is experienced as most comfortable. Because we have the capacity to learn and grow and change, we also have the ability to use parts of each type as needed in our business as authors.
Extroverts Draw Energy From Action.
“I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger as reason. I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I cannot transform into something marvelous, I let go. Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.” –Anais Nin
Action means putting out ideas, living life, implementing plans, plotting aloud, etc. Extroverts need a place to regularly put out those ideas and get feedback/reactions from others. After receiving feedback, an extrovert will reflect briefly, then act again. A writer who is an extrovert may engage in this cycle many times before they commit any words to paper or create an entire chapter of a book. Once the writing begins, they need to act regularly — share it again to a group of people in order to draw energy again.
If an extrovert is unable to act — to engage in this action-reaction dynamic regularly — their motivation tends to decline. In other words, extroverts get energy from actions of engagement. Too much time in reflection depletes their energy. This means an extrovert would likely do well to consider creating on a platform that has quick and constant turnaround — like Wattpad, or Medium, or Heart and Story where writers share their story as it develops, or working with a critique group that loves meeting regularly and sharing the next scene or chapter.
Introverts Expend Energy Through Action.
“I did not have a functioning pen with me, but I do think that this was probably a good thing. I simply sat and thought, for four hours, while all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn’t know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.” — J.K. Rowling
Whereas extroverts need to engage with others to get energy, introverts get their energy from solitary reflection. Their process is to reflect first, then act, then reflect again. This means they need a writing environment that is quiet, provides plenty of alone time away from any other activity or calls for action. Some introverts can work in a noisy environment, like a coffee shop, because the noise becomes background — like waves coming to shore or cars passing by on a busy street.
An introvert’s motivation will often decline when they are being asked to engage with other people too often. Talking to people, solving problems, exchanging ideas are all actions that expend energy for the introvert. This means an introvert would do poorly in a group that meets regularly and critiques scene by scene. An introvert would likely do better to have an online exchange, via email, with critique partners who like to see larger chunks of writing (perhaps half the book or an entire book) and then provide feedback. Instead of talking over that feedback, the introvert will want to reflect on it before engaging again.
Some introverts who are highly sensitive to noise or body language, and don’t have an isolated space at home, find that the majority of their writing is completed in a retreat environment. They escape to a place that is isolated and without the daily energy of other people or commitments that distract them. It may be for a weekend, a week, or sometimes even a month or two if it is affordable and they can give up their normal day-to-day commitments for that long.
Using Core Strengths for Success
Beyond simple introversion or extroversion, there are many other personality factors that play into one’s ability to be successful. The MBTI mentioned at the front of this article provides some structure for those other traits. They are:
Intuition (N) vs Sensing (S) — Sensing and intuition are both perceiving functions. Whereas, the introvert versus extrovert dynamic was about how one gets or depletes energy. The perceiving functions determine how you take in information.
Thinking (T) vs Feeling (F) — Thinking and feeling preferences refer to how you make decisions, either by objective logic or subjective feeling. Decision-making is also related to the information you have gathered, so the perceiving functions of intuition and sensing play a large role in the decision-making process represented by thinking and feeling.
Judging (J) vs Perceiving (P) — This preference is often confused in that people automatically believe judging means one is judgmental and perceiving means one can’t make a decision. That is not the case at all. All of the types discussed prior to this pairing were for internal processes. The judging vs perceiving dynamic is about outer processes. It doesn’t say anything about what’s inside you; only how you interact externally, and how others perceive you.
The Judging personality type appears to be more decisive. Others tend to perceive them as organized, and with a preference to have things decided rather than in-process. The Perceiving personality types appear to be more laid-back and flexible and have a reputation for being willing to take in additional information before making a decision. Often the perceiver’s decision-making process isn’t obvious which is how they get mislabeled as people who can’t make a decision.
As in the extrovert versus introvert discussion earlier, it is rare that one’s personality is all one way in any of these defined pairings. However, most people tend to have preferences in the way they prefer to take in and evaluate information, make decisions, and share the results to the outer world.
Those preferences will feel more natural to them and tend to lead writers to choose behaviors or tactics in their writing and business choices that are comfortable to them.
See Where You Are On the MBTI Preference Scales
If you’ve never taken the MBTI, or it has been a long time since you took it, you may be interested in a free online test (not the actual complete MBTI instrument) that identifies these types. https://psychcentral.com/quizzes/personality/start.php The site does collect demographic data on age, country you live in, and gender preference for their own research. However, they do not ask for any identifying information like name, email, address or phone number.
I suggest you use the results as one among many ways to look at your personality tendencies. It is important to remember that people grow and change based on their experiences, the jobs they hold, and the challenges they face and overcome. In other words, no personality test defines you.
In subsequent articles, I’ll be using the MBTI types to illustrate how successful writers might use knowledge of their preferences to capitalize on their strengths in both the way they approach writing and make business decisions about their career. I’ll use my own results as examples. I am now an INTJ. But with only three points different I could be an INFJ (which I was when I took the test in college more than 40 years ago). This is proof how things can change as you grow, have experiences as an adult, and make choices along the way as to who you want to be and how you want to act.
Have you ever taken the MBTI? I’d love to hear if you found it useful and if you use the results to help you in your writing career or other parts of your life. Feel free to share as much or as little about your experiences in the comments below.