Here's the paradox, to write books, one needs to be an introvert. A writer needs to be able to spend a lot of time alone, both at the keyboard and inside his or her own head. But to sell those books, one needs to be an extrovert, connecting with readers and promoting oneself. It can be a difficult balancing act and it's one that I struggle with.
Last week, I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I found it interesting that she distinguished between introversion, which is defined by being comfortable in one's own company and in an intellectual world, and shyness, which is a dislike of social situations and pressure.
I'm happy in my own world (or worlds, depending on how imaginative I feel). My day job lets me work from home and I much prefer that to being in an office. Not only do I not lose precious writing time while in transit, but I enjoy the lack of distraction and interruption. I know some people who go stir crazy if they don't get out of the house and interact with people, but if I can do a whole week without having to leave or talk to anyone, that sounds like a good week to me. I'm happy in my hermitude.
But I don't dislike dealing with people. I actually quite enjoy going out to reader events or out with friends. I do feel some anxiety, since I am not someone who easily reads social situations and I always worry about saying something stupid or committing a social gaffe. But those worries don't poison my enjoyment, so I wouldn't consider myself shy. Instead, I see it more as a recognition of my own limitations.
Another interesting point in Cain's book was that people are often more balanced between being an extrovert and introvert than they realize. Someone might say "I hate parties" but what they mean is that they hate big group events where everyone is competing for attention in a loud and chaotic environment. They could still enjoy small gatherings with friends where there is room and quiet to talk together. Cain suggests that people should pay attention to where they are comfortable and what causes them to need to recharge. And she emphasizes that introverts aren't necessarily at a disadvantage to extroverts, even in situations that require a high level of social interaction.
One example she gives is a high pressure negotiation, where one side was being highly confrontational and aggressive. Cain, an admitted introvert, refused to engage on that level, keeping her voice calm and using more inclusive tactics, such as asking questions like "What if we did it this way?" By avoiding becoming emotionally engaged and keeping the discussion more on an intellectual level, she defused what could have been a highly unpleasant situation and managed to get most of what her client wanted.
Another example was of a highly-sought after speaker who suffered from a great deal of social anxiety. He didn't have a problem during a prepared talk, but needed time to recharge after. After giving a lecture, his hosts invited him to a luncheon. The speaker knew that he wasn't going to be able to manage the (for him) stressful environment of a spontaneous luncheon and so professed a false fascination for a local landmark. For many years, he gave his lecture and then spent an hour pretending to study the landmark, while in reality, giving himself the time and space needed to deal with the next round of social interaction.
I found her book to be quite encouraging as it didn't give the usual advice of "just pretend to be more of an extrovert" but rather encouraged introverts to see their own skills and preferences as equally valuable, with a little creative thinking.