ny time writers get together, it seems that someone brings up the “problem” of being an introvert.
After all, they say – quite accurately – writers also need to promote their work, unquestionably an uncomfortable activity for many introverts.
Moreover, when using primary sources, the tool is usually the interview – which involves contacting and talking to complete strangers, which can be downright yucky if you’re not an extrovert. This has become even more of an issue because Google is increasingly rewarding in-depth, original content – and so interviewing is a skill that should be mastered by SEO copywriters and content marketers, not just journalists.
The conversation then causes most of us to examine where we fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum – and, although many writers seem to be introverted, I must fall right in the middle. I need plenty of alone time, when I live inside my own head: reading, writing, examining new words that I’ve learned, analyzing why a particular phrase or sentence captivated me – and continually translating the world around me into potential writing topics, usually nonfiction but occasionally fiction.
It’s hard, bordering on impossible, to shut down this process once I become immersed in the introvert zone. In fact, once, when I was being wheeled into the operating room, I observed some amazing imagery and all I wanted to do was disconnect myself from the beeping and blinking machines long enough to write down my impressions.
Most introverted writers would be able to totally relate to what I’ve just said – and yet, much of whatthey say sounds completely foreign to me. I love public speaking and I adore idle chit chat on offbeat, even nonsensical, topics (just ask my beleaguered coworkers). My more introverted husband and son once refused to sit with me at a basketball game because I wouldn’t stop singing along to the music on the loudspeaker (I let the impulse to stick out my tongue pass unfulfilled).
Fortunately, for me, at least part of my solution to the “problem” of being introverted is to work on promoting my writing before submersing myself back into the introvert zone. But, for writers who are truly introverts, what’s the answer?
Strategies for writers with an introvert personality
Before we begin, psychologist Frank Bevacqua offers up an important clarification. “Many people,” he says, “have a misconception about what an ‘introvert’ actually is. Indeed, ‘introverted’ and ‘shy’ are not synonymous, although many people make them out to be as such. Extroverted and introverted are often confused with outgoing and shy, respectively. These labels more accurately indicate ‘from where a person derives his/her energy.’ For instance, when an extrovert is stressed and needs to unwind and recharge, he/she seeks out others. For an introvert, he/she takes alone time to think and reflect.”
We decided to seek out solutions for writers who feel as though their shyness is hindering their writing efforts. We found enough great info to create a two-part post so, next week, find out more about how to deal with phone anxiety.
For now, though, we turn to the guru on the subject.
C. Hope Clark
Our first interviewee, C. Hope Clark is the author of The Shy Writer, reissued as The Shy Writer Reborn.
Why did you decide to write The Shy Writer?
Because I was fighting so hard to be a writer, and the more I advanced in the profession, the more people wanted to “see” me. It was nerve wracking. So I started thinking of ways to make it easier on myself. Some worked and other didn’t. I understood that while I might be the most introverted person in the room, I was usually one of the most confident. I knew who I was and what my goals were. The problem was I didn’t know how to communicate to others, not that I was any less of a person. I was indeed a strong individual, just uncomfortable in crowds. So as I made strides, I kept notes. And I soon learned that there were so many writers out there stagnant and not progressing professionally because of their shyness. Thus, the book. Because when we help others, we come more out of our shells. There’s a magic when we can aid others. They become more important than our shyness. The same concept can be used when we present a book, do a signing, or speak. Our book is important . . . more so than our fear.
What new material is in The Shy Writer Reborn?
The original SHY was published in 2004, before social media, before conferences were huge, before podcasts, before self-publishing. Needless to say, new skills were needed to manage our introverted behavior in these other arenas. So I just discarded the 2004 version and started over. I think it’s heads-and-shoulders better.
Being introverted is often presented as a problem. But you don’t see it that way. What is your perspective?
Being introverted is a character trait; it’s not a habit to break or a lifestyle choice. Like your eye color and shape of your toes, it’s in your genes. Introverted people get their strength from within, not from crowds, so the point is to teach an introverted writer to step into an uncomfortable situation using her strengths, so that she can rely upon those things in her life that raise her confidence. To tell someone that she needs to avoid being introverted only raises the stress level and makes that person worse when attempting to adapt and perform. She needs to define her strengths and draw upon them, which diminishes the nerves, enabling her to be her best. You cannot be your best pretending to be something you’re not.
What are some of the strategies that you advise shy writers to use when they need to step outside of their comfort zones?
1) Be prepared. Know what is expected of you, practice what you may have to present, become familiar with the setting beforehand, study the speakers/agents/editors/interviewer. Reducing the unknown lifts your confidence. Nothing jumping out of the shadows.
2) Memorize some one-liners to help you answer expected questions, such as: what is your book about, what do you write, how did you start writing. Having one-liners prepared for a social setting makes you seem more collected, which makes people treat you as if you were collected, which makes you act more collected. Such a simple concept, but it works. It’s gold-plated.
3) In a difficult situation, tell yourself: “I’m okay and the world hasn’t ended” or “After this is over, I will (fill in the blank) to enjoy myself” or “If I wasn’t afraid right now, how would I act?” And use what I’ve used before in a crowd setting: “I’ll probably never see these people again, so it’s all right.” Chapter 5 in The Shy Writer Reborn is remarkable covering this aspect. I still stand before people and tell myself these phrases.
4) Find a partner. I often travel with my husband who gets along with everybody. He helps break the ice. You can do this with a family member, an assistant or another writer. Even if they do nothing more than sit in the audience or in the back of the room, just having that other body there lightens the pressure on you.
5) Find nonverbal ways to make an introduction. Dress classy, not plain. It speaks on your behalf and raises impressions of you without you saying a word. When we are respected, we stress less. Wear a custom name tag, not the one used at the event. People will notice and make the first advance, alleviating you from taking the first step in an introduction. If you are selling books or speaking, come prepared with banners, business cards, and other items that clearly show who you are. I tended a table at a mystery conference and loaded it with books, postcards, candy, all sorts of items, decorating in my website colors, and posting a six-foot banner with my books and a huge pic of me. I never had to make a single introduction.
What kinds of reactions have you gotten to the book over the years?
The thanks have been tremendous. I was just today answering someone on Twitter whose husband bought SHY for her birthday. She’s been rejected a lot and stuck in a rut, afraid to get out. I’ve had readers write and tell me how they build up the nerve to pitch to an agent, to submit to magazines, to enter contests, to finish a book, even to speak. I even had someone pay my motel bill at a conference, because she wanted me to speak on SHY and the conference wouldn’t pay an honorarium. I never knew it until I was leaving when the front desk sort of gave it away. I was awestruck. She said it was her way of thanking me for what I’d done for her through that book. The list is endless. People need this message. I think I’m strongest as a speaker when I’m speaking about SHY. The book isn’t a NY Times Bestseller, but it’s timeless in its advice to aid people . . . and I’ll be keeping it around a long time.
Thank you so much, Hope! We have no doubt that you’ve helped plenty of writers with your advice today. Next week, we’ll share tips on how to avoid phone anxiety.