When 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?