by J. Lea Lopez
In my last post, I confessed that I am both shy and an introvert, explained the difference between the two, and talked about how those traits have created challenges for me as a writer. Today I'm back to talk about the positives.
There is nothing wrong with being an introvert, or being shy. Let's be clear about that. If there's some aspect of one of those things that causes you such distress or disadvantage that you decide you need to change it, that's great. Go for it. But introversion is simply a different way of thinking and behaving. It isn't something to be fixed. You might not realize that in today's society, where so much emphasis is placed on teamwork and being outgoing, despite the many benefits of quiet solitude. (For more on this, read this excellent article on the "New Groupthink" and the inherent bias against introvert tendencies.)
It's also important to understand that introverts, like extraverts, aren't all the same. My tendencies may differ from yours or anyone else's, even if we all present as introverted. There are calm introverts, but there are also impulsive introverts (just as there are both calm and anxious extraverts). I think some of the things I'll be talking about are fairly common experiences among introverts, but I'm talking about them from a strictly personal point of view.
So how does being an introvert help my writing?
I mentioned in the last post that many introverts hate small talk. I know I certainly do. One of my fellow introverts and writers, Ty Unglebower, spells out all the reasons why it makes us uncomfortable in this post. I share many of those feelings, and I also feel the same way about dialogue in writing. I tend to be as minimal as possible with dialogue, and I hate to waste a word. You won't catch my characters engaging in meaningless small talk, unless it's done as an effect - like it's obvious to the reader that one or more characters is talking just to hear themselves talk, or because they can't bear silence instead. In my opinion, every word of dialogue should be meaningful in some way or another. I pride myself on dialogue that is realistic but not real. I kind of obsess over it, in fact. If I write too many back-and-forth volleys of dialogue, my pinky finger gets a little twitchy over the backspace key. And not to sound too proud, but I have been complimented on my dialogue, so I guess my distaste for small talk is working for me.
Nuance and Subtext
I may not speak much in a group setting, but I listen. And I watch. And I connect dots other people might not even see. I'll notice how Janet's opinions always align with George's, and how she smiles when George calls her out for a good idea. I'll be the one who sees the game of footsie between George and Mary under the the conference room table, and I'll feel bad for Janet. More than just the non-verbal communication taking place between people in the room, I often hear subtext in what's being said, or how it's being said. By the end of a discussion, I could tell you not only what was said, but a little bit about the personalities of the people involved. George manipulates others to get his way. Janet is overly agreeable toward anyone who gives her praise. Mary is stone-faced, serious, and commands much of the conversation even as her under-the-table games with George inch away from G-rated and more towards R-rated. She's always in control, and she likes it.
I try to incorporate these different layers of action and meaning into my writing. There is a time for straightforward action and dialogue, but there is also a time and place for more nuanced, subtle clues. Sometimes one small detail, enlarged and given the right treatment, can change the way a scene reads.
I can write without writing
I live in my head, in my thoughts. Even in a crowded room, or at work, or driving in the car, I can be deep in thought about anything besides what's going on around me. So while being an introvert means I often take a long time to think before I speak (and therefore speak little), it is this same aspect that allows me to work out minute details of my stories before I ever set pen to paper. It takes me ages to write a first draft because I do so much think-writing and not nearly as much actual-writing. But once the first draft is done, it's pretty clean.
Some people pound out a first draft in four or five months, let it rest a bit, then spend another six or nine months (or more) revising, getting feedback, and editing through dozens of drafts. I'll take close to a year (sometimes more) just finishing the first draft, but that's often pretty close to how the final product will look. It's not necessarily a better method, just different. There are times where I wish I could knock out a draft in mere weeks, but I can't. I've finally decided that's OK and I don't beat myself up about it.
I'm a fairly calm introvert, though I'm prone to moments of anxiety about certain things (which I think mostly stems from my shyness) and this is actually a good thing. It keeps me from jumping into things too fast, before I'm ready. Sure, maybe I could've sold lots of books last year if I had self-published then. But with the benefit of hindsight, I know now that I had ZERO clue about anything last year. I might've managed to put out a nice, well-formatted, clean e-book (or I might NOT), but I wouldn't have had any type of marketing strategy and would've hated trying to navigate the marketing aspect nearly blind. I probably would've been miserable.
I spent last year reading, absorbing, watching others with more knowledge and skill navigate their way through the new indie and traditional publishing realms. I also saw some people behave in ways that served as examples of what NOT to do. I learned a lot. Some of it assuaged certain fears and aggravated others. I'm in a place now where I feel I know enough to take the leap, and if I fail or succeed, I'm confident that I'll have done so to the best of my ability. Which brings me to my last point:
I want my word to have integrity.
I mean this both in the sense of honesty in the things I say and do, but also in the written words and stories I create. I've never had trouble changing the way I think, or my opinions on certain things when faced with evidence that speaks to me and points out the error of old ways. I want to bring this to my writing as well. If I get pretty unanimous and authentic feedback that something isn't working in my writing, I'll change it. If I fail, or if I succeed, I want it to be because of the choices I've made, and nothing else. Not because I kissed ass--or didn't. Not because I whored myself on Twitter despite feeling bad about it--or didn't. Not because I slept my way to the top--or didn't. (Seriously, that doesn't happen in writing/publishing, does it? Because if it does, let me know. My husband might make an exception to our vows if it means lots of money for us..... Kidding!) I feel about my success or failure with writing the same way I feel about my life in general: I'm responsible, no one else, and I will always strive to make good, honest, informed decisions and put out the best product I know how.
What are some of your own quirks or traits that have positively influenced your writing, even if they're otherwise considered negative traits by some?