I have a lot of extroverted friends. One friend makes people go with her to the grocery store because she doesn’t like “shopping alone.” Another friend invites me into the bathroom to keep her company while she’s on the toilet.
For many years, I assumed that I was extroverted, too. After all, I’m a social person. All through my teens and twenties I had lots of friends and was always going to parties and crowded clubs and group vacations. Even now I have a list a mile long of friends I want to call up for a chat.
I wasn’t always a social butterfly, though. As a child, I loved to read, write stories, and ride my bike. I remember spending many happy hours in the backyard, climbing trees and playing make-believe…by myself. Even in middle school I could amuse myself for hours alone in my room, trying on clothes, acting out scenes in front of the mirror, and creating my own fashion magazines or baby-sitting fliers.
At some point, though, I made a conscious decision to become more extroverted. I had figured out that our society values and rewards Extroverts more than Introverts, and so I strove to become more socially engaged and engaging. And I’d say I did a pretty good job. I even had myself fooled for a while. But the key to extroversion isn’t how many parties you attend or how many friends you have. It’s that being around people energizes you. And for me, after spending time in groups, I need to recharge my batteries by being alone. I finally realized I wasn’t getting my energy from other people – I was spending it on them.
My boyfriend and I have been having a lot of conversations lately about introversion and extroversion. Paul is convinced that he’s an Introvert, and he probably is, even though he was whining the other day about how he wanted to go out and be social when I wanted to stay in. Meanwhile, I’ve still been debating whether or not I’m really an Introvert. I feel like sometimes I do get energy from other people…it just depends on the people.
Paul recently posted a cartoon about Introverts on his facebook page, hoping, he said, to “educate” people on the fact that just because Introverts don’t want to go to big parties and spend all night clubbing, doesn’t mean they don’t like people and don’t need friends.
Later, I found an article called “10 Myths About Introverts” and forwarded it to Paul. At the end of the article it said, “a world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers.” I found this especially apt since Paul is a scientist and a mathematician, and I am a writer who also likes to do math.
“I guess I really am introverted,” I said. “Introverted with a few extroverted qualities.”
I don’t know why it took me so long to admit that I’m an Introvert. Now it seems obvious. Ever since Christmas, I have been spending every day alone – from eight in the morning until six at night – and loving it. I write and work on math curriculum and take long walks. Back when I was staying at my mom’s house, my mom would get home at six, and instead of being starved for social interaction, like she thought I would be, I would want to spend the evening reading quietly or watching a movie.
Writing seems to be the perfect activity for an Introvert. You have to spend a lot of time alone, and you have to find the energy to write within yourself. But even for an Introvert, finding that energy to keep writing your novel, or keep submitting stories, can be really hard sometimes.
I’m working on my novel once again – I’m about 130 pages into the first draft – but for the past few weeks I’ve been unable to motivate myself to write a synopsis. Which is crazy, because I have an agent who is interested in working with me, and she asked me to send her a synopsis. You’d think I’d be jumping at the chance to work with an agent, and in theory I am, but I’ve been worried that if I send her a summary, she’ll think it’s silly; she won’t “get” what I’m trying to do.
On Thursday I talked on the phone to my friend, Jeni, who is a fellow writer, and who is probably an Extrovert…or at least she seems like one from the outside. I told her about the agent and my fears of sending her a synopsis.
“My inclination is to just write the whole first draft and then send it to her,” I said. “But I don’t want her to forget about me in the meantime.”
“You should write the synopsis and get feedback from the agent,” Jeni said, pragmatic as always. “It’ll probably be good for your own mental organization of the novel, too.”
“Yeah, but…” I sighed, trying to sort out my thoughts. “I mean, I know basically what’s going to happen in the novel, and I have a lot of notes written down, but other things might develop as I’m writing… I want to just hand her the finished product, you know?”
“I know,” Jeni said.
“The agent said I could call her to discuss it, but I don’t want to do that,” I continued. “The novel makes sense in my head, but if I try to talk about it with other people it’s going to get all jumbled and confusing.” After all, I thought, writing is a solitary activity, and I’m used to doing it alone. I like doing it alone.
“I understand,” Jeni said. “But this is the way it’s going to be with your second book and your third. After you sell your first novel, you’re always going to have to write synopses ahead of time, and you’re always going to have to discuss your plans for new work. What she’s asking you to do right now is actually the way a lot of established authors interact with their agents on a regular basis.”
“But she’s not my agent,” I argued.
“She might be eventually,” Jeni said. “This might be the beginning of your relationship with her.”
And that’s when I realized Jeni was right (as always). This was the way that “real” writers operated. They discussed ideas with their agents and showed them unfinished, less-than-perfect drafts. They didn’t do it all on their own.
“You’re right,” I said. “I need to write the synopsis.” I wasn’t just accepting this fact, either. I was getting excited about it. I could send the synopsis to the agent and start really establishing a relationship with her. Maybe writing the synopsis would help me clear up my vision for the novel. And I knew from my years of fiction workshop classes that getting feedback from others almost always improved my writing. Suddenly, I had the energy to go home and get to work.
“This is why I love talking to you, Jeni,” I announced, feeling giddy. “I talk to you on the phone, and suddenly I feel energized and ready to work!”
Jeni laughed. “I’m glad to help.”
I wrote my synopsis that very day. Writing is mostly an introverted activity, but not completely. I don’t know what I’d do without Jeni. I guess even the most introverted of writers can use a friend every now and again, to jolt them with energy and remind them that, despite their wishes, they can’t do everything by themselves.
P.S. to all my friends: Don’t worry, I still want to hang out with you!!!
Jeni’s website: Burlesque Press