Last week, Tiffany Shelton and I took the Max towards Beaverton, hopping on the 20 and letting ourselves off in front of Powell’s. Not the maze-like Powell’s in downtown Portland, but the slightly smaller yet wide expanse that sits inside a mall. We went for a panel featuring five young adult authors. (The author’s names aren’t really relevant to this post, but they were Amy Tintera, author of Reboot; Debra Driza, author of Mila 2.0; Kasie West, author of On The Fence; Lisa Schroeder, author of The Bridge from Me to You; and Shannon Messenger, author of Let the Storm Break.)
To be honest, I haven’t read a single book by any of the authors I listed above. I went because Tiffany asked me to, and I’ve learned that you have to get out there and be a part of the “book world” if you want to be the author sitting at that table one day. Or even if you want to be the publisher who produced that pretty little book displayed proudly in front of them. This is the soil you’re trying to cultivate and the culture you’re trying to make last, so don’t fall victim to your introverted, bookish ways—get out of the house! (Yes, I am talking to YOU). Plus, you get to take cool pictures with authors like Shannon, like Tiffany did (see below).
Since coming to Portland, the amount of people who have told me I’m an extrovert is a bit staggering, really. Because I never thought of myself as one, and even now, I’m reluctant to concede. When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time in my room, scribbling angsty poetry into spiral bound notebooks and living vicariously through the three generations of Sims I had created like a god. I sometimes told my boyfriend I was sick and couldn’t leave the house, because I didn’t know how to say I need space to do absolutely nothing yet. Now, I simply mutter “go away” and keep my eyes locked on the words on the screen, and he flees the room.
People say “writers are introverts” like it’s a thing. Like that’s the only way to successfully be one, but I don’t buy it. And neither should you. That night, as I watched five women speak for an hour, I could only safely say that one of the women—the only brunette, actually—was truly an introvert. In the lightning round, the women were asked what their favorite smell was, and when the mic was passed to Kasie West she burst into a fit of laughter that spread throughout the panel. She had been stopped, in the airport security line, for attempting to carry on a scented bottle of massage oil that was a little bit bigger than the allowed three ounces. Her face turned bright red as she tried telling the story to the audience. I felt like I was stuck in an inside joke I couldn’t relate to, but the image of a TSA officer lifting up a bottle of lube with their latex-covered hand had a small smile forming on my lips. It was too perfect—something you might read in one of their books. Amy Tintera wasn’t laughing though. She was like me, with that small smile on her face as she waited for the laughter to die down. When it was her turn to speak, she explained that the four of them—minus Lisa—often travel together on book tours. That this happened a lot and she often sat there with the same lost expression on her face. “We call it the three blondes and the introvert tour,” she said.
According to Merriam-Webster, introverts are people who turn inward. People who get energy from inside themselves. Extroverts, on the other hand, are gregarious and unreserved. They obtain gratification from what is outside of themselves. Writers have to be self-reflective, and some of the best writers in history, like Virginia Woolf or J.D. Salinger, are well-known introverts. But does that mean that extroverts can’t be? Some say yes. The argument is that extroverts aren’t comfortable being alone, something that’s necessary for writers. Last year, a blogger at The Intrinsic Writer wrote “I will venture to say that generally speaking, writers are people who posses rich, inner lives that reveal thoughts and ideas from the heightened states of consciousness that can only come from spending a lot of time in solitude.”
And while I know this blogger wasn’t speaking about me, directly, I will stand for extroverted writers everywhere and say, that is slightly offensive. Extroverts inner lives are not suddenly less rich because they enjoy time with others. Growing up, and even now, I had a very rich imagination. I used to collect old clothes from family members and tromp around my room making up stories—whole other lives. I did this, most often, alone, but when friends were over I’d make them join me. Extroverts might need time to get out of the house, to take a walk and witness the outside world, but this, again, doesn’t mean their writing is any less rich. Not all great writing is born of solitude. I can’t tell you how many poems and stories I’ve written inspired by a scene I saw while outside, while walking, riding the bus, or, even, drinking with friends. Just ask Tiffany. We’ve ridden the Max together many a time, her body hunched over a new book and my eyes on the faces of the passengers around us, tapping down my observations in my phone or journal.
Extroverts may even be more productive, because they can write with more distractions. They don’t need utter silence to work, like many writers do. And lastly, writing is such a small portion of what goes into actually producing a book. After hours of solitude, writers must eventually make their way out of their caves and into the sunlight. They must find an editor or a support group of other writers who will read their work and offer critical feedback. Those unreserved, gregarious extroverts may have an easier time doing this part of the process. And, eventually, when you have revised and revised until your fingers are numb, writers have to talk to agents. They have to feel comfortable pitching their books, their babies, to complete strangers. Even after this step, when the book hits the shelves, there are signings, readings, book tours, panels, interviews—all of which require a writer to leave the comfort of their homes for sometimes months at a time. Time not writing, but promoting. Tell me, my friends, how well do you think having a “rich inner life” helps with all that?
Oh, but if you still need more of a reason to believe me, just know that Hemingway was considered by many to be an extrovert. So there’s that.
Image via Melanie Figueroa.