Writing as an Extravert

My agent, Connor, took part in a video panel today for #talkwriting, focused on the question of personality type when it comes to careers in the writing and publishing world. It’s a topic I find super-interesting, and the conversation pinged a couple of things for me, so — I blog!

A lot of the panel dealt with the stereotype versus the reality. It’s one of those things that I feel like everyone knows, and yet the internet still perpetuates the worst case scenario. (The internet is, admittedly, good at that). There’s this prevalent idea that introverts are gentle fragile flowers who must be sheltered from the harshness of the world, and extraverts are shallow drunken party-crazed egomaniacs — and people reblog cartoons to this effect and lol all over the place, and it makes you wonder what’s going on in their heads. For example, one of the introverts on the panel gave voice to the prevalent idea that extraverts are extraverted because they’re “not afraid of people”. Which just sort of makes me laugh. I’m an extravert, and I also have some social anxiety issues. These things are not mutually exclusive, as I think the stereotype would render them. In a lot of ways, I have the issues because I’m extraverted. Because I want to be around people and because that’s where I get my energy, I also worry tremendously about what people think about me. I don’t just desire but require positive feedback in order to function optimally. It’s not a crippling problem, and I tend to master it well (by now, through years and years of practice), but it does exist. I don’t know if I’d call that “afraid of people”, exactly, but I maintain a constant awareness about how I’m presenting myself and how that presentation is being received.

I also know what I was like when I was living by myself at the beach during the off-season. It was not pretty. That’s the most secluded I’ve ever been in my life. I was by myself on the Outer Banks of North Carolina during a time of year when there was no one on the island. I was working at a bookstore and lucky if I saw two customers in a day. The isolation was staggering. By the end of my time there, I was talking to my cats a lot more than is appropriate even for someone who talks to her cats anyway. I once went eight days without physically touching another human being, and I was in a really despairing mental place by the end of that.

I live alone in Staunton now, and have done for about three and a half years, but it’s tolerable mostly because I do see people every day at work, I get plenty of physical contact, and I have friends I can go see almost whenever I want. I do wish, though, that I had even more of that. I tend to see the same people under the same circumstances, and I wish those circles were larger. I have a lot of internet friends, or real life friends who are now long-distance, and I’m very active on social media. That acts as a sort of placebo, but it isn’t the same.

I wish there were more parties in my life. I miss there being lots of parties in my life. It’s part of why I love going to cons so much — I know what I’m like at cons versus what I’m like in my usual, more secluded daily life. It’s not just about it being a party, as the stereotype would have it. I’m way, way happier when I have more engagement with more people. I feel more myself that way. I love to talk. I love to teach. I love to play games. I like organizing events — which is how I ended up in charge of so many social clubs in high school and college. I like finding new friends. I’m almost literally incapable of keeping my life to myself — I can keep other people’s secrets, but not my own. I have to share what’s going on in my world and in my heart, even if it’s just with a select few people. I look outside myself for help and for feedback. I don’t feel comfortable making major decisions unless I’ve talked them out with at least one other person.

I do hit a point where I need time alone, and that’s been the case since I was a small child, as my parents can attest. But until I hit that point of overstimulation, I want to be around people (and I tend to hit that point of overstimulation because I’m not always great at knowing when to pull myself away from festivities until it’s too late).

And no one’s 100% one thing or another, really. This is a point both of the extraverts on the panel made — it’s not that you want to be around people 100% of the time, any more than introverts want to be alone 100% of the time. There’s a spectrum. When I take the personality tests, I definitely skew extraverted, but it’s a moderate skew, not an extreme. But I more easily get energy from people than from being alone. Being alone tends to make me sluggish and lethargic, whereas being around people pumps me up. I’m more productive the more I have to do and the busier my schedule is — otherwise I just loaf. I tend to end nights of partying more energized as opposed to more tired (which is why if I’m having a good time and getting good positive feedback, I can cheerfully stay up and out until 4am). The exception is tied to the social anxiety — if I’m in a situation where I feel like I’m not wanted, like I can’t contribute, or where I’ve been awkward, then it all crashes.

So what does this mean for me as a writer? I… don’t know, exactly. I know I don’t fit the stereotype of the secluded introvert writer who spends all of her time staring off into the middle distance, wearing pajamas and drinking tea. It’s nice to get affirmation that there are plenty of other writers who also don’t fit that mold. I don’t write around other people much, but that’s more because I can’t afford to drink the number of lattes it would take to keep me in coffee shops for extended periods of time. I do need noise while I’m working. Silence disagrees with me. I like talking about my work — though I like to have things down first, because I sometimes feel like talking about it can bleed out the energy that fuels the impulse to actually write it. But I’m not shy at all about telling my stories out loud to people.

Does the extroversion come through in my writing? I think so. When I look at what I write, both Aven and other projects, I know that I definitely do not write loners for my main characters. The Vitelliae enjoy a lively and varied social life — the dinner parties and afternoon outings that they host and attend form large portions of the plot. Other characters in other stories leave that sort of structured social life behind — but it’s to join up with some new group of people that they then spend all of their time with, for some reason or other. All of my heroines, whatever the challenges they face, learn and grow through their interactions with other people, not through introspection. So I guess my own personality comes out in that way.

The #talkwriting panel wrapped up their conversation by discussing Myers-Briggs types, and whatever you think of that test in particular or personality testing on the whole… it’s a nice shorthand. I’m an ENFJ — which is a shift. I used to be an ENFP, but I’ve drifted over that P/J line in the past few years. Definitely an NF, though, and stronger E preference than J preference. For what that’s worth. 😉

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