by Marcia Yudkin
Having coached scores of writers over more than 30 years, I’ve observed that they often struggle for two reasons:
- They tend to fight their inborn tendencies rather than accommodating them, and
- they have an overly rigid idea of how writing needs to take place.
Have you tried to write in the way that you’ve heard other writers write, for example, but then failed? Have you set up a daily schedule like you’ve been told to do, but then had trouble sticking with it? Have you tried to create a quiet work area, only to find that you can’t get anything done there?
It could be that you’re fighting your natural inborn tendencies, especially related to one important personality dimension: introversion versus extroversion. (If you don’t know which best describes you, take the free assessment here or here.)
By accepting this aspect of your personality and adjusting accordingly, you can make writing a lot easier for yourself.
Writing Struggles that Affect Extroverts
Extroverts are people who feel most themselves around other people, but tend to feel drained by solitude.
They often struggle to get to their writing projects and to stay with them. Though they may feel committed to the writing, activities with family, friends or work colleagues seem to take precedence.
The image of the writing process that gets in the way for extroverts is that writing is something done alone in a room, with no one else around. Something that needs to be done alone feels inherently disagreeable to them—so it’s no wonder that they’d rather play with their kids, talk on the phone or go out to bars or restaurants.
In fact, dead quiet and isolation may represent the worst environment for extroverts.
Some time ago, I spent a month at an arts colony, where authors, composers and artists each had their own room, with both breakfast and lunch delivered to that room. The group convened only for dinner.
In talking to the director, I learned that several times a year, someone arrived at this remote retreat assuming that they needed peace, quiet and privacy to create. Yet after several tortured days they would quit and return to the city, realizing that the hustle and crowds at home were necessary for them to feel inspired.
I’m pretty sure those who escaped in this way were extroverts.
How Extroverts Can Work With Their Personality to Make Writing Easier
In the 1940s and 1950s, Jean-Paul Sartre did his philosophical and political writing in bustling Paris cafés rather than at home. Today, this can easily be done at libraries, at coffee shops like Starbucks or in shared workspaces.
Extroverts thrive in an atmosphere of activity and togetherness. What seem like distractions actually help the extrovert to focus on the task at hand.
Another solution for extroverts who are floundering is team writing. Comedy is traditionally crafted in a small group, but why not apply that approach to writing novels or serious nonfiction as well?
Bouncing sentences, metaphors and plot ideas off another person is extremely energizing, motivating, and productive for this personality type.
Extrovert/introvert collaborations can also work out well. I co-wrote two books with a speaking professional who would put her ideas down on paper in short bursts for me to edit and organize into a coherent whole.
She had the content, and I (an introvert, in case you haven’t figured that out) supplied the patience and writing experience.
Another Solution for Extrovert Writers: The Talking Cure
As an extrovert, you might also find it easier to talk your book or blog posts out loud to another person.
A college professor wrestling with the book project he needed to earn tenure once hired me to help. My job was to sit in his office while he delivered the content of his book to me with a tape recorder going, two hours at a time. Occasionally I would prompt him with questions.
It wasn’t the method of dictating that made this work for him, he told me. It was having a “friendly face” across the desk. By himself, he got stuck.
Other people who feel more at home talking than writing get their content down on paper by teaching unscripted teleclasses or webinars and using the transcripts as rough drafts for their books.
It may even work to talk it out to one’s dog or a child who’s too young to meaningfully respond.
Writing Struggles that Affect Introverts
Since introverts feel most themselves when they are alone and enjoy spending time with their ideas and thoughts, introverts generally don’t have trouble getting words, paragraphs and chapters written.
If they don’t have a quiet space for writing where they can keep others away, however, that can pose a serious obstacle. Even with a room of one’s own, interruptions can intrude, in the form of a ringing telephone and emails or instant messages arriving on the computer.
How Introverts Can Work With Their Personality to Make Writing Easier
One introvert I know who had a boisterous family solved this problem by going in to the office early or staying late and working on his writing project there when he would have more privacy.
Another made the greatest progress on her book by checking herself into a country inn for a weekend at a time, away from her husband and daughters.
To deal with interruptions, introverts may need to give themselves permission to ignore incoming emails or texts and let calls go to voice mail. Some post “Do Not Disturb” signs on their home office doors when they’re working, while others invest in babysitters who will keep the kids occupied and safe in another part of the house.
Introvert Writers Need to Balance Time Alone with Social Activities
Although introverts feel comfortable with the solitude that’s conducive to productive writing, too much aloneness can threaten one’s mental health.
Years ago, I introduced balance into my freelance writing life by signing up to teach evening workshops. That got me out and about with other people just enough to add a pleasant variety to my weekly routine.
Other introverted writers I know create such balance by singing in their church choirs, participating in community action committees, or joining reading groups.
To Make Writing Easier: Know Yourself
There isn’t any particular advice about the writing process that works for everyone.
When you realize you’re tied up in knots trying to honor some writing rule you’ve read or heard, back up. Consider your personality type and what works for you in other areas of your life besides writing. Then fashion an idiosyncratic writing routine—or non-routine—that fits your natural tendencies.
Your double reward from taking your personality into account: writing productivity, as well as peace of mind.
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Marketing expert, author, and writing coach Marcia Yudkin is a fierce advocate for introverts, showing them how to claim their talents and strengths while rejecting the culture’s emphasis on hype, manipulation and ego.