The Writer’s Dilemma

introvert3When I was a kid, people used to call me shy. And for awhile, I believed them, because what did I know? I was a kid! But as I grew older, I realized that while shyness connoted fear, or trepidation being around groups of people, what I knew about myself was very different. People didn’t make me nervous or fearful, they just drained me. I found that my greatest energy, my sense of peace and of self was derived from being alone. What I am, is an introvert.

Over time, I learned how to be alone even in a crowd, and I do it still to this day because otherwise, I would be in a constant state of emotional depletion. Sometimes, when forced to socialize for work or go to crowded events with friends, I literally “get into character”, summoning my more sociable alter ego who can make small talk with the best of them, covering whatever topics are currently on people’s minds and tongues. But I hardly ever truly enjoy it. At best, I can say that it ‘wasn’t that bad.’ I’ve learned extrovert skills and am fairly good at most of them.

None of this is a big deal. Millions of people share the same story as mine. But my dilemma is that I am a writer, and to do that well, I need to engage with the world.

Wherever I go, I watch people. I listen to what they say, watch the things they do as they speak. Do they make eye contact when talking about their spouse? Do they sound tired when they talk about their job? I listen to how they speak, the words they use, the dialect, or slang, verbal tics they may have. And most of all, I love listening to people tell their own stories, of their lives, their families, their relationships. In that context, I am endlessly fascinated by people. But, as I always joke to another writer I’m close to: ‘my interest in people is purely academic.’

That’s an exaggeration, of course because I do care deeply about others. But it’s only a slight exaggeration.

What I mean is, watching people helps me write better, learn more about how they tick, which in turn might help me develop characters more skillfully. Problem is, observation only takes me so far. At some point I have to get in the ring and really, truly engage with people, which I don’t like to do because I’m an introvert: so there you have it, The Writer’s Dilemma.

If you knew before you got to this part of my blog exactly where I was going, and thought for a moment that I might have a solution, you’re wrong. I have no idea what to do about this dilemma. But I do know that it has to be solved — I need to engage to write well, but to write, I also need time, and space and silence. I’m working on a magic formula: maybe three parts introversion to one part extroversion and engaging with people? I don’t know.

If you share this dilemma, tell me . . . what do you do?


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Woman-Centered Fiction Writer, commenting on books, culture and the human condition.

23 thoughts on “The Writer’s Dilemma

  1. Great post. I’m an introvert also but I also love people and who they can be, I just don’t need to be near them all of the time or communicate with them often. What I find helps so that I am not so drained, is being authentically me.Giving them, in those moments that I am engaging, the best part of me(even if that is silence) because being who I am all of the time feels better than pretending to be what makes them feel comfortable, which could be talking, or commenting on a post, or laughing at a joke. In doing this, I haven’t wasted moments, I’ve only improved myself and the experience I’m having and hopefully they enjoyed who I am too. If not *shrugs*, but I got something out of it and maybe my writing will too.

    1. Hmm. Interesting. I wish silence were an option for my work and then I would definitely avail myself of it more often. I think for me the inauthenticity isn’t in the ‘way’ I communicate or ‘what’ I communicate, it’s in how often I do which tends to be more often than I’m naturally inclined to.

  2. I can completely get that. Work would be one of the places where I have no choice to engage because it’s a responsibility of my job title. However, I’m speaking more of the relationships and connections that come by choice so I apologize for not specifying that Nia. Hopefully, you find a solution that will work for both professional and personal engagements. When you do, please share 🙂

  3. This is interesting because I had this conversation at a party on July 4th. Of the 5 people sitting at my table, only 2 of us identified as introverts and our extroverted tablemates were shocked and appalled as we told them how sometimes, well many times, we choose not to answer the phone or the door bell because we just want to be left alone…we don’t want to be interrupted, whether we are doing something in that moment or not. We tried to explain that for us to be suitable for public engagement, we need our alone time to be respected. This was an entirely foreign concept to the extroverts, “how can you not answer the phone? It could be anybody, a new friend”, they said.

    But to answer your question about engaging people as an introvert, I realized something at that party. I realized that while there were tons of people there, I may have said hello to all of them but only spent quality time with just a handful. I realized that this is the only way I can handle engaging people – in bite size portions, so to speak. As an introvert, I’ll be the one having a deep meaningful conversation at a party. I’ll talk to a few people all evening but leave having made a connection and maybe even a new friend(s) out of those few. I use the same tactic when I’m networking at an event whereby I engage a few people and then leave when I want to, leaving the extroverts to shut the party or event down :). I think this goes along with what Aja said, which is to be authentic.

    To function in an extroverted world, we introverts need to play by our own rules and make IT work for us. We can go about it in our own way, at our own pace. Introverts are good listeners, and tend to be deep thinkers who care about quality (conversations, relationships, etc) than quantity. When we let those and our other amazing human relations skills shine through whether to one person or 5 or 10 people, they and us are so much richer for it. And what ive realized is that people become attracted to us and start seeking us out because well, the extroverts are too busy talking to listen and hear each other out :).

    1. I do the same Jobo — engage meaningfully with a few, though I may be in a situation that compels me to have at least SOME engagement with many. As a result, I have a few longtime friends, some I have been close to for more than two-thirds of my life, and to whom I am extremely connected. And of course, there are many people who have fallen by the wayside. But to write well, I need to branch out! And that’s tough sometimes . . .But your advice is well-taken. Thanks!

  4. Well Nia, I think you do a good job of hiding the fact that you are a introvert I have Introvert tendencies myself. I say hire a promoter, authors do it all of the time, the promoter will post your books, engage readers in conversations and you could check in and respond as you like without feeling pressured to do something that does not fit your personality. I am sure you are not the only writer who feels the way you do, there is a solution out there just for you Nia.

    1. Deloris, I LOVE talking to you and enjoy hearing from people who like my work or want to talk about it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t blog, or be on Facebook. In fact, those are very manageable. It’s engaging with the ‘real world’ that’s more challenging. Like having to do speaking engagements for my work when I’m writing a book — it’s tough to flip the switch from having to be very chatty and extroverted for that work, to going deep inside myself for my writing. And also, I’m very aware that to write well, I can’t just be a hermit, even though I sometimes need to be alone to re-energize. But please know that our every interaction is a delight.

      1. Ah. I understand better what you mean. I don’t honestly have a clue how to manage that other than to try as much as possible to get rest and quiet time immediately before and after the engagement…with breaks in between. Maybe give them a topic to discuss amongst themselves or an activity as you take a pause or sneak off? My dear introverted sister, I have no good answer for this.

  5. I appreciate that you addressed this subject Nia. That you’re an introvert isn’t a surprise. I’m sure that there are a lot of writers that are introverts just because writing is a solitary life and external stimuli, (especially the sound of another voice that isn’t a character in your head can be distracting and annoying) for me it was apparent a while back and I doubt that it comes as a surprise for most that interract with you – even on facebook, even though we’ve never met in the “physical world”. I’m an extrovert with introvert tendencies. I love people and love to interract but I do a lot of it for work and I agree, it does become exhausting. I’m notorious for (when not being in a work setting) for not answering either my house phone or my cell and if I lived alone, would probably choose not answer my door most of the time. When I decide to go out, I’m perfectly content going by myself – in fact I prefer it. I’m capable of engaging people in most situations but may not always choose to. It keeps me balanced and quite honestly? I enjoy the company of others but I like being alone with me – just me.

    1. You sound more introvert than extrovert! I definitely have to work at interaction more than not. And yup, not answering the door or phone is a habit of mine. I come from a family of introverts, so when we all get together, it’s like that scene from the movie The Accidental Tourist where the William Hurt character and his siblings hear the phone ringing and spend five minutes debating whether to answer it until finally the ringing stops, making it moot. 🙂

      1. That is hilarious Nia! My father was a serious introvert, how he and my mother ever got together boggles my mind, talk about complete opposites! I’m not uncomfortable interracting with people – I really love interraction with most, however; sometimes I just don’t feel like it. What I do know about myself is if I were to give in to what feels most comfortable for me? You’re probably right – I would be a complete introvert. But I’ve worked hard against that aspect of my personality from taking over – so that I can work effectively and raise my children to function comfortably within the world. I guess we are all motivated by something.

  6. Oh Nia, I could have written this post This is SO me! Being around people just drains me and I constantly joke with my friends- who are all extroverts that I don’t know when/how I’ll ever start dating cz I avoid people like the plague. Now, doing journalism in college has sort of forced me to interact a little since I have to conduct interviews to write articles but that cannot compare to what I imagine you have to do. I admit, I was looking forward to reading the end of your post to see if you have the solution to your dilemma because I would have loved to know. My strategy is always to avoid these things- parties, social gatherings, etc but every once in a while I get sucked in & have to attend if someone means a lot to me but it’s never really fun. I know I didn’t offer any help to your dilemma cz I’m looking for the same answers 🙂

  7. …boy can I relate! I too am an introvert but often have to summon my extroverted self to endure social gatherings (including Facebook and Twitter). I’m embarassed to say that if I didn’t have to speak to people (or hang out at times), I probably never would (Kinda sad, huh?). I’m not uncomfortable around people, I just prefer to be alone. *shoulder shrug* At first I thought being a writer was the perfect career solution…but I find that having to socialize on social media sites is just as exhausting. So Nia, you’re not alone…

  8. Nia, this is my life story as well. I grew up with people telling me I was shy, sometimes to the extent of being standoffish. Even now my friends tell me that I “shut down” (their words, not mine) just because I don’t answer every phone call or text right away. AND I’m an only child so that probably exacerbates the situation. I have always been more of an observer than a talker especially when I don’t know someone. I need to feel a person’s energy before I fully engage. I’m friendly, but not overly so. I feel that you learn more about people by listening than talking so I think this trait has served me well.

    I think the solution is acceptance and just being okay with who you are. As writers we spend a lot of time watching people, accessing body language, conversations, physical traits, etc. We read books, watch movies and basically view everything on a different level. We watch and absorb so much for our characters’ sakes that we are drained by time we have to deal with real people. It’s our cross to bear. Sometimes we feel isolated and even alone (not lonely) but without the silence, how would we ever get any writing done?

    We may not engage people as often as we should but we engage them as often as we can. We have characters running around in our heads all the time and now real people need love too! Ain’t nobody got time for that!! I have a quote that I love so much that I printed it, framed it and I keep it on my desk to remind myself, when people try to make me feel bad about being “incognegro”, that it’s ok to be me.

    It says INTROVERTS UNITE…separately. 🙂

    P.S. We also have a weird sense of humor!!

  9. Well of course I understand. Balance is the greatest challenge! As I say to myself and my daughter, all things in due time. When you have energy to engage–take advantage. When you need to retreat, you have to take some things off of your list. It is difficult to overcome what is a natural part of ourselves. I advise to do it as you can, when you can. However, you’ve been doing much better! ❤

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