Understanding the Introverted Writer

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Introvert vs. Extrovert is the current question raging across the web. Which one are you? Which one is better? Can’t we all just get along? Of course, the answer is that both are valuable, beautiful, and essential to the big-picture human community on earth. The reason that the introvert extrovert debate has become so popular lately is not because we need to figure out which one is better, but because introverts are finally finding a way to accept themselves for who they are.

So what does that really mean for introvert writers?

If you’re an introverted writer you might have read many of the recent online articles about introverts living in an extroverted world and you now know that you probably need more alone time, a quieter environment overall, and that it’s okay to give yourself a chance to think before you speak. You’ve also heard that all is not lost for introvert writers when it comes to the promotional demands of a successful writing career. You can harness the power of social media. You can connect deeply with your audience through public speaking.

This is all well and good, but what about you as a writer?

Being an introverted writer is about more than figuring out how to market yourself or mingle at author events. It’s about paying attention to your introvert needs and building your writing practice to meet them.

It’s about choosing the energy of patience.

Patience is the bedrock of successful introverts. Once you begin using patience consciously and actively in your writing practice, you will see a significant difference in the way you feel, and in the pages you produce.

You can start with slowing down the pace of your writing. Now, I do understand that sometimes it’s helpful to race against a deadline, or to try to achieve a certain hefty word count in a certain number of days. But overall, I believe that most introvert writers need a substantial amount of time for their ideas to inwardly coalesce in such a way that they can then express them in tangible form. Personally, it takes me between a year-and-a-half to two years to write the first draft of a novel. And yes, I do write very slowly, but my writing reflects a process of each piece emerging into my mind on its own creative schedule.

Introverts typically don’t like to be rushed. Feeling hurried disrupts the intense concentration that feeds our creative process. When you let go of the expectations that come along with rigid word counts and deadlines, your introvert mind can breathe and expand into its natural creative space.

Introverts also don’t like to be watched. They tend to feel a strong aversion to learning something in front of others. So for instance, if a new game is introduced, introverts would rather go off by themselves, study the rules and ways to play on their own, and then come back to the group when they feel they have a decent grasp on it. Our primary method of figuring something out is to figure it out alone. This does not mean that we will never benefit from a group setting, but that we will do much better in that group setting if we’ve had a chance to be on our own first with the project at hand.

So if you are an introverted writer, you will probably have a much better chance of success if you finish that very first sloppy draft on your own, and then bring it to a group for feedback and critique. It’s important that you’re able to let the whole work emerge from your consciousness onto the page before you seek outside guidance. In fact, some introvert writers might even benefit from revising their first draft a time or two before submitting it to first readers for suggestions.

These avenues take time. You might have writer friends who tear through their first draft, offer it up for critique just a day or two after writing it, and then do revisions in a matter of a couple of weeks. In fact, I have many writer friends who do just that. And it’s incredibly awesome to witness. I am always in awe of those artists. But it is not helpful to compare yourself to the writers who work faster if what you really need is more time.

If you’re an introverted writer who is learning how to accept yourself in the wake of the recent introvert trend, the only thing you really need to cultivate is patience. Patience with yourself, your individual creative process, and the timing of your own unique creative work.

Slow down and let go. Give yourself permission to take all the time you need.

For more articles on introverted and intuitive writers, you might be interested in:

Know Your Type, and Then Sit Down to Write
Introverts, Empathy, and the Art of Creating Character
How to Develop Characters Intuitively
Why INFJ’s and INFP’s Have Such a Hard Time with Criticism
Why INFJ’s Have Trouble Writing

And if you’re interested in learning more about introverted writers and how we work check out my book:

The INFJ Writer

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24 Comments

  • Reply Setsu 7 October, 2013 at 9:11 am

    “Choosing the energy of patience.”

    Love this. You’re so right. Regardless of how a person categorizes himself, this will always benefit. Thank you for this.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 7 October, 2013 at 9:17 am

      I constantly struggle with the knowledge that my life is made up of choices, not things that are just “happening to” me. So I try to use the word “choosing” and “choice” on a regular basis to remind myself 🙂

  • Reply Mary M. Forbes 7 October, 2013 at 9:23 am

    Thanks for an insightful article. I now realize I am very much an introvert, without the fear of being an extrovert. I agree – we need time alone. All you mentioned in your writing is me – I often daydream my scenarios – doing something else. And I guess it’s up to us to find a way to have people understand we need time alone, because an extrovert doesn’t seem to need it so much.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 7 October, 2013 at 11:30 am

      Thank you for the kind words! And I daydream my scenarios as well. That’s really the only way inspiration comes to me.

  • Reply Justine Covington 7 October, 2013 at 10:50 am

    I read “Quiet” by Susan Cain and it was an excellent observation of introverts in an extroverted society, as well as how business should be harnessing the power of introverts. I’ve known I’m an introvert since I was 16 and took my first Myers-Briggs test (my family finally understood that I wasn’t dissing them when I went into my bedroom and shut the door for several hours). I hadn’t thought about time for things to percolate, though. Should try to adopt that in my writing “schedule” and let the ideas come when they come. Great post!

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 7 October, 2013 at 11:29 am

      Thank you! Susan Cain’s book is still on my to-read list. I’ve been looking forward to reading it for a while as I’ve heard so many good things about it.

  • Reply Kimberly Hill 7 October, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Very helpful post. I have elements of both introvert and extrovert, and I have found it best to wait until I am ready to show off my work rather than rushing it to a beta reader or critique group. I do need outside eyes for my full revision process, but I can do many revisions on my own, and I prefer to do them before other people view my work.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 7 October, 2013 at 1:16 pm

      That’s interesting! I’ve become increasingly interested in the “ambivert” personality (the personality that has about equal parts introvert and extrovert). I have a writer friend who identifies as an ambivert. I’ll have to ask her about her writing process! Thanks so much for commenting on this 🙂

  • Reply hilarycustancegreen 7 October, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    I think we are persuaded by the media to think of ourselves as either introvert or extrovert, whereas most of us are in the middle of the graph and we are ambiverts. So we can stop worrying.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 7 October, 2013 at 3:13 pm

      Yes, I just saw a really great video on this through Twitter. It talked about how there is a whole spectrum, and it’s not just a cut-and-dried binary system. It’s called “Is There an Introvert Craze Because of Technology?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtGscT3l-bs

  • Reply Ty Unglebower 7 October, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    I wear a hoody whenever I write…something I developed as part of my introverted need to tunnel my vision and thoughts inward a bit…when otherwise they sometimes go many places ad meander.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 8 October, 2013 at 9:29 am

      OMG I love this idea! I’m going to try it this weekend when I sit down for my next writing session.

  • Reply Marie Ann Bailey 7 October, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    Love this post! You inspired me a few weeks ago to write about being an introvert in cyberspace. I think that post got the most likes and comments of any, and most of the comments were from self-described introverts 🙂 The only thing I differ about in this post is the idea of feeling rushed. I’ve found that I kind of like being rushed to write, as in the NaNoWriMo challenges. But the challenge is actually coming from within me. I’m making the decision to participate and try to write 50K words in 30 days. Nobody else is making me do it. And I like the challenges because I’m so busy otherwise, that NaNoWriMo is the only time I actually focus on my own writing, outside of blogging. These are fine points, and everything else you say is spot-on for me. Thanks again for the post.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 8 October, 2013 at 9:28 am

      I have an introverted writer friend who LOVES deadlines. She says they really help to focus her energy. That’s why I said that sometimes the deadline-strategy ca be helpful, and I also think NaNo is an incredibly valuable exercise for writers. It really encourages writers to barrel through the temptation to go back and re-read and re-read and self-edit, etc.

      Are you doing NaNo this year? Would love to follow along on your blog! I’ll check in there for updates…

      • Reply Marie Ann Bailey 11 October, 2013 at 5:04 am

        Yes, I will be participating in NaNo and I will mark my progress on my blog 🙂

        • Reply Lauren Sapala 11 October, 2013 at 9:29 am

          Wonderful! I’m already following your blog so I’ll definitely get the updates.

  • Reply E.K. Carmel 8 October, 2013 at 8:17 am

    It’s nice to see introversion being discussed more and more, and happily, not as a social disease! You’re post has definitely added more good info to the discussion.

    My family is split 50/50 and I (introvert) am usually the one trying to explain everyone to each other. It gets tiring!

  • Reply Joe Adams 8 October, 2013 at 11:10 am

    I really enjoyed this post as I do the great majority of things you write about. I can never get enough information about my introversion and how it affects me, as well as my writing, and so I was very happy to see you discuss this.

    Great job 🙂

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 8 October, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      Thanks so much Joe! I appreciate the kind words 🙂

  • Reply Robyn LaRue 9 October, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    I’m an odd introvert in that my fiction drafts come out fast, but non-fiction? You hit the nail on the head…don’t rush me, please. I also really struggle to write if someone else is in the room. That’s rough when I share a computer room with my husband. 🙂

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 10 October, 2013 at 8:36 am

      That’s so interesting! I seem to do better if another writer is in the room writing alongside me, but not if anyone is looking over my shoulder. And your thoughts on nonfiction writing are also very interesting. I’ve never written nonfiction myself, so I’m always curious to hear how nonfiction writers get along in their process. Thanks so much for sharing this!

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