Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Writer's Confession: I'm Shy and an Introvert

by J. Lea Lopez

I blog. I tweet. I Facebook. I also belong to almost half a dozen social networks for writers (some I participate in more frequently than others). I don't usually mind sharing some rather personal anecdotes when asked. For those familiar with me via my "public" online presence, you might also know that I write erotica without a pseudonym, never hesitate to speak up with advice or encouragement when my writer friends need it, flirt with strangers on Twitter and point out the hidden sexual innuendo in everything, and just last week I let loose with a scathing judgment of my own genre and a small group of writers within it.

Why am I telling you all this? Because despite that laundry list of putting-myself-out-there-ness, I have a confession to make.

I am an introvert. And you know what else? I'm a bit on the shy side as well. Does that surprise you? Let's talk about introversion and shyness, as it relates to being a writer, and then you might be able to see how all of those things I listed might actually highlight my introversion, without any of us ever realizing it.

First, I'll state that this isn't a post about marketing or promotion for introverts (our own Mindy McGinnis touched on some of that already, and there are other sites dedicated to the topic). This is just a tiny peek into an introverted mind so all my fellow introvert writers can say "I'm not alone!" And who knows, maybe some of you will glean some insights into the introvert mind that could help you write a character or two.

Introversion and shyness are not the same thing. You can be shy and and an extravert. You can be an introvert without being shy. Susan Cain spells out the difference quite nicely, and succinctly, as such:
Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.
I won't lie, my shyness and introversion is a one-two punch that creates a lot of challenges for me as a writer. This blog post alone is proof of that. I've sort of stumbled onto a dry patch in terms of knowing what to blog about. I put a shout-out on Twitter asking for ideas, and then I also added that I thought my introversion might be hindering me in this area. In groups, I'm often slow to speak, or even completely silent, because I like to think for a long time and make sure I'm 100% sure of my opinion before I state it. I'm prone to moments of self-doubt where I'm sure there's nothing I could say that anyone would be interested in reading (don't even ask me how long it takes to write the first draft of a novel—good lawdy lawd!). I've been better about it recently, but my personal blog has sometimes gone weeks, even months, without a new post for this reason.

This same fear of negative judgment is (mostly) what kept me from self-publishing my first novel last year. It's not ready. It's not ready. I can't do it. Maybe it is ready. But what if it's not? What if people don't like it? I can't market. I can promote the hell out of other people, but not myself. What if my marketing attempts make me look like an ass? All of these things, and more, absolutely paralyzed me with fear. I often get great feedback from beta readers and writers whose opinions I respect. But my first instinct is embarrassment, which I quickly push aside. The second instinct is to seek out another, more critical reader. Why? To tell me I suck? It's not that I don't believe people when they say good things about my writing. I'm just a perfectionist, and I'm always looking for some other way to improve. And maybe I am looking for that one negative opinion to satisfy my own inner critic. Because I need to be right.

Do you know any introverts? Do they sometimes come across as know-it-alls, stubborn not only in their opinions, but also in asserting the "rightness" of those opinions? Not all introverts are this way, but a lot are, myself included. So forgive us, please. It's not that we think we're superior to anyone else in that way. But we spend so much time on reflection, introspection, and being an objective observer to (as opposed to participant in) the interactions around us that we're often so sure we know what's really going on in any given situation. And for me, that includes being sure I'm right about my own plainness.

Don't mistake this for simple low self-confidence, either. I like what I write. I even think I'm pretty damn fabulous sometimes. I just fear that other people won't like it as much as I do. Is that splitting hairs? Maybe. But I live with this type of cognitive dissonance every day. It's not one or the other, it's both—I'm confident in who I am, what I write, etc., but I still care an awful lot about what other people will think.

After I mentioned my introversion and lack of blog ideas on Twitter, one friend (thanks, Lela!) suggested I blog about my struggles with being an introverted writer (hence this post). She said I could talk about the social media mechanisms I use to cope with my introvert tendencies and anxieties. I thought to myself, What if the answer is 'I don't cope'? Of course you do, Lela said. And I got to thinking about it.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me mention the #goatposse. They're a group of writers who support and encourage each other, chat about writing (and silly things, too), post funny pictures of goats, and just have a good old time without taking ourselves very seriously. The #goatposse makes Twitter a lot of fun for me. I was sort of "enveloped" in the #goatposse phenomenon. I didn't really make a huge effort to insert myself into it—it's not really in my introvert nature to just jump into any group. I let myself be swept up in the fun of it. I've "met" some fun new people through the group. People I can "let my hair down" around. I chose the people I follow very carefully, and I interact with a lot of them (not just the #goatposse) on a fairly regular basis.

I've created my own introvert haven, right there on Twitter. I feel more comfortable speaking my mind, opening up, and sharing things with people I've come to know and like. Even online, in an otherwise very public place. It's also easier to let that sliver of extravert within me come out to play online, be it here, on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Yes, I put my real name and my real face online, but I'm (slightly) less anxious about looking like an idiot online than I would be in a face to face situation. Yes, more of my apparent incongruity there, but that's how my brain works.

Am I being deceitful, disingenuous, or otherwise "acting" if I behave online in a manner I probably wouldn't in "real" life? Absolutely not. You won't catch me giving praise where I don't believe it's due, saying things I don't mean (so pay attention to an introvert's carefully chosen silences), flirting with you if I don't think you're fun to flirt with (hey, I'm married, it's just fun and games!), or conforming to any type of groupthink because I want to be accepted and liked—even though I do want to be accepted and liked. Make sense?

Hang on with me just a bit longer, here. The navel-gazing is almost over, I promise. Going back to the list of things I mentioned at the beginning of the post. Can you see yet how they're all both indicative of and a way I cope with my shyness and introversion as a writer?
  • Social networks—I belong to many. I'm more active on the ones where I've managed to build a close-knit network of trusted and respected peers (as opposed to a huge network of less well-acquainted contacts). I can get both the criticism and encouragement I desire.
  • Writing erotica without a pseudonym—Doesn't seem like a very shy thing to do, does it? My quiet pride and self-confidence (definitely an introvert characteristic) wins out over my shyness here. Love it or hate it, you'll know I wrote it.
  • Playful online flirting, joking around, and general silliness (such as with my #goatposse)—The obvious indication is that humor distracts both me and others from real issues—like whether I'm a judgmental bitch, or a talentless hack, or whatever my fear du jour might be. But it's also a great way to just relax and have fun. It relieves any pressure about having to "perform" (i.e., be an extravert) in a way I'm not comfortable doing. Plus we all need to laugh at ourselves once in a while.
  • Sharing personal tidbits, giving advice when asked, incessantly pointing out sexual innuendo, and occasionally being painfully blunt—Yes, all of these things are related and belong in the same category. While introverts may tend toward the quiet end of the spectrum (and we generally hate—HATE—small talk), we can still talk your ear off when we're interested in or feel strongly about a topic.
    • I mentioned a "scathing judgment" at the beginning of this post, which I stated on my own blog, knowing it might be an unpopular opinion, and could cost me maybe some respect, maybe some readers, I wasn't sure. I almost didn't post anything about it at all. It took me months before I did. But I did. Scared of negative judgment? Yes. But passionate and willing to defend my opinion? Absolutely. Again, there's that dichotomy of confidence bordering on arrogance and deep-rooted fear of judgment.
    • I value honesty, and I'll give it to you if you want it. And if someone asks for my help, I have a near-pathological inability to say no. It makes me feel good, it makes me feel needed.
    • I joke around about the unintended sexual innuendo I see everywhere—it's funny, of course, but this stuff goes through my head every moment of every day (right along with some of the judgments I mentioned a moment ago). When I point it out, you get my mostly uncensored thoughts at the moment—something that's pretty rare for me to give.
    • And the part about sharing intensely personal bits of info? If there's one thing only you take away from this post, either for your writing or your real-life interactions with your favorite introvert, let it be this: learn to ask the right questions. I'll willingly share just about anything with anyone, if I'm asked, often despite my own shyness. We introverts probably won't offer up too many juicy tidbits of our own volition, but a few well-timed, appropriate questions can open the floodgates.
I guess I have coped with my shyness and introversion fairly well in terms of making connections with people online. I'll have a brand new set of challenges to overcome later this year as I finally take the plunge into self-publishing and will be working on that self-promotion thing. Don't take this post the wrong way—there isn't anything wrong with being shy or an introvert. There are a hell of a lot of things right with it, and it helps me in my writing just as much as it challenges me. But I think that's a post for another day.

Are you an introvert writer? (If you are, you'll probably just nod your head and move along without commenting ;-) ha) What challenges does introversion or shyness pose in your writing life—either in trying to capture an introverted character on the page or overcoming challenges of your own introverted nature?


Lela Gwenn said...

:D YAY! You did it ;) *happy dance*

(Just so you know the Captcha for this comment is shyptea. I think this is funny.)

Christopher Hudson said...

Introversion doesn't hamper my writing life ... but it sure plays havoc with marketing.

J. Lea Lopez said...

Thanks for reading, Lela :-)

Christopher - Marketing... oh, marketing haha. That is definitely a challenge. Marketing and networking in general, where you have to really put yourself out there, are certainly anxiety-inducing for me as an introvert. With the actual writing part, it's the confidence/second-guessing and the tendency to be slow to form concrete opinions/ideas and be sure that's what I actually want to say that gets me.

Ty Unglebower said...

Well, you know I agree with and relate to all of this.

Matt Sinclair said...

Is it any wonder why some writers drink too much?

E.B. Black said...

I am both shy and an introvert. I do find it easier to talk about myself online, but I usually do it anonymously on forums and have a lot of anxiety about putting myself out there professionally (in a writing blog and a twitter) without looking stupid. I honestly haven't found my voice yet online when it comes to blogging and promotion. I realize that I blend in too much because I haven't put my own personality enough out there and am terrified of doing so because writers sometimes face huge ramifications for doing so later.

J. Lea Lopez said...

Ty - hooray for an introvert stopping to say hi! :-) I know you can definitely identify.

Matt - mojitos all around!

E.B. - I've struggled with the same thing as far as putting myself out there professionally, and trying to make sure my personality comes through in my online presence, while worrying about looking stupid. Definitely a little easier to do online, but still difficult. You know what, though? I was pleasantly surprised with some of the reactions when I started to let my personality really come through, even if only in little bits and pieces. Not every one will love you, but plenty will.

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm definitely on the shy and introverted side too. I've learned to fake it well in certain situations, but it is hard. The thought of marketing (especially in person!) is absolutely terrifying!!

Mindy McGinnis said...

Wait? Some writers drink? *hiccup*

Lydia Kang said...

I think I've changed. I was very introverted when I started writing and with all the social media, but I warmed up over time.

Elana Johnson said...

Look at you sharing all this stuff! I think it's hard to share too much online, unless asked a question.

Susan said...

Fabulous post! Thanks for so clearly stating the difference between shyness and introversion and -- even more important -- that neither one is bad.

I'm definitely an introvert, but I'm becoming quite the extrovert on social media. I love it -- can't get enough of it, in fact. People around me don't believe it, but there it is. As you said, it's the ability to think and contemplate before responding that makes social media more attractive for interacting.

I also liked your point about being confident -- but still wary of judgment. I can definitely relate. After all, I called my blog The Confident Introvert -- and most of the time, I am! But there are still times when I feel I'm not doing what others think I should and disappointing them. I'm getting better at it, but it's still a struggle.

Looking forward to more posts on introversion. We need to stick together!

J. Lea Lopez said...

Jemi - marketing? *shudder* lol I'll let you know about that when I get there.

Lydia - happy to hear you've embraced the extravert within! :-)

Elana - thanks for reading! You definitely nailed it with the sharing freely vs. being asked. Ask me something, I'll tell you. It's only recently that I've started really sharing freely on my own, with little prompting.

Susan - the Confident Introvert?? I'm headed over to check that out now! I'm glad you enjoyed this post, and I'll definitely post again soon about the upsides of introversion as it relates to my writing.

efjace said...

I actually think it's the introversion of writers that, once we find our group of writerly buddies, makes us such an awesome and tighter group. Because we know for the most part where everyone else in the group is coming from.

I'm also shy and an introvert, although that's lately been changed to me just being called a 'hermit' lol. It's definitely easier to talk, and let the mask slip as it were, online than in person. I would take a chat on a forum or bumming around Twitter all day generally over socializing in person. Although I will admit once I get to know people and they reach that higher list of 'close friends' I won't mind shedding the PJs to hang out, but at that point, they're like family and don't really count anymore lol.

I think my paranoia most shows when it comes to looking for critiques. Like everyone I freak out that it's not good enough, that more than just getting notes on what I need to fix, I'm afraid I'll just flat out get an email back to says "Lol, are you kidding?" I'm constantly doubting my decisions when it comes to my blog, the MS and all that stuff inbetween. It's definitely not easy, but I think the fact that we're all here chatting about it is certainly indicative of how determined we are ;)

J. Lea Lopez said...

Well dang, Jace... you could've written this post for me. :-P

I think you're right about the community aspect. There are certainly a lot of introverted writers out there, and once we find others like us, I think we're definitely inclined to stick together and support each other.

Fran W said...

Thank you for your honesty, knowing you are not alone helps a great deal!

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