Introvert or Extravert?

I don’t like the words introvert and extrovert. The common definition of an introvert is a painfully shy person or someone who thinks only of him/herself, while an extrovert is an outgoing, sociable person with interests outside him/herself. In our society, which rewards the gregarious, being an introvert seems to put one at a disadvantage. Introverts, however, are not always shy, and apparent extroverts can be uncomfortable in crowds. And introverts are no more self-centered than extroverts.

According to Laurie Helgoe, author of Revenge of the Introverts published in Psychology Today, “It’s often possible to spot introverts by their conversational style. They’re the ones doing the listening. Extraverts are more likely to pepper people with questions. Introverts like to think before responding—many prefer to think out what they want to say in advance—and seek facts before expressing opinions. Extraverts are comfortable thinking as they speak. Introverts prefer slow-paced interactions that allow room for thought. Brainstorming does not work for them. Email does.”

Colin DeYoung, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, says that introverts do best in quiet conditions and extraverts do better with more noise.

So being an introvert is neither a disadvantage nor an advantage, simply a different way of processing information. Which could provide an answer to a conundrum I’ve been considering for some time now: why some authors can effortlessly flood a page with words, and others struggle to find a few words.

All the books about how to write say not to edit as you go, but to let the words gush out of you, to write the first draft as quickly as possible. As much as I like the idea of letting the words flow and seeing what transpires, nothing shows up on the page unless I sit and ponder. So, even though few writing coaches admit it (and why would they? They are probably all extroverts) there are different approaches to writing: extrovert and introvert.

A writing extrovert would be someone who can write anywhere — on a bus, in a crowded room, in a coffee shop. Even when alone, they like to write accompanied by sound, either music or the television. And no matter what, the words gush forth as fast or faster than fingers can type.

A writing introvert would be someone who can only write when alone and in absolute silence. The words come slowly to these authors. Once involved in a scene, however, these writers get into the flow of writing, and the words can come more quickly, though still slowly in comparison to the writing extroverts. And, though they are gradually shifting to computers, their preferred method of writing is by hand so they can get the best mind/hand connection.

Of course, few people inhabit the extremes of this writing spectrum — most authors find themselves somewhere in the middle.

It’s apparent what kind of writer I am — an extreme introvert. I need the quiet so I can find the few words that bobble to the tip of my mind. What kind of writer are you?

15 Responses to “Introvert or Extravert?”

  1. Jill Lynn Says:

    Really interesting article, Pat. I’m definitely an general and in writing. I’ll be curious to see if anyone who’s an extrovert socially is an introvert writer, and vise versa.

  2. Carol Ann Hoel Says:

    I am an introvert socially. I’ve never thought about writing being introverted or extroverted. Like you, I prefer quiet; in fact, I can’t concentrate with any kind of background noise, not even calming music. For me it would be distracting music. Words come slowly at first, but as I engage in the scene, I may gain some speed. Introvert writer? I think so. Good question. Interesting post. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Beth Says:

    In test situations, I prefer quiet. But as for writing, I can write (and most often do) in a quiet office. Yet I can also write in a restaurant, not paying any attention to the goings-on around me. I have more trouble if people I know are near me. I want to escape into the fictional world, and that’s difficult when real people I know well intrude. I don’t do fictional well with real people–maybe I don’t want them seeing into my imagination.

  4. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    According to your definitions it’s clear I fit firmly into the introvert category on both fronts. I’ve pushed myself beyond my comfort zone in a lot of things and learned to cope with situations I’d rather avoid, but it’s never become easy for me.

  5. Pat Bertram Says:

    Until I read the Psychology Today article I hadn’t realized introvert and extrovert were not just a personality type, but a way of processing the world. Introverts are aware of more stimuli, and so it takes them longer to process what they see and hear. Hence, the listening rather than the talking.

  6. Kat Sheridan Says:

    I participated in a number of studies on this back in my working days. In addition to processing information, introverts are people who are drained from being around others, and need a certain amount of solitude to regenerate energies. Extraverts are the opposite–they gain energy in their interactions with others.

    Although tests show I peg the charts as an introvert, I learned to “play” at being an extravert in business situations. In writing, I utilize both skills. I spend a lot of time pondering and thinking about a scene, but as soon as I have it in my head, I can sit down and just let it pour out. Sometimes it changes a bit as I go, and the creation sparks more ideas. I used to only write in silence. I’ve since learned that headphones and classical music (Mozart is a favorite) form a sort of ‘white noise’ for me that works well.

  7. Vivian A Says:

    Like Kat noted, I can play extrovert, so well in fact that no one believes I’m an introvert, but it exhausts me. Utterly. I go all out and depending how long I extend the effort the recovery time is not equally balanced. In my writing, when it happens is all extrovert, at least fiction– research is far more deliberate and introverted. I often have to purge the extrovert writer from my non-fiction writing.

  8. Ken Coffman Says:

    You’d think I would be an extreme introvert. After all, an extrovert wouldn’t spend an hour on a paragraph, then throw the damned thing away, but through necessity, I found I could write on a plane, in a coffee shop or on a sidewalk with people strolling by. Once again, I refuse to be put in one box or the other. I demand to be in all of them. Ha!

  9. James Rafferty Says:

    I like Pat S’s point about playing extrovert. Certain situations demand it and I learned over time to adapt. I also prefer the word introspective to introvert. As the blog points out, an introvert (introspective person) processes information differently than the extrovert, but in a way that often highly benefits writing, by using one’s focus to hone their observational skills. Thought provoking post.

  10. leesis Says:

    what a relief Pat! As a wanna be writer Ive been a bit overwhelmed by writing coaches etc who demand a very extroverted way of writing and indeed the whole approuch now to publishing has had me seriously wondering if I can ever pull this off. I want to write, I think I have some useful stuff to say and will develop the skills to write over time but I am very much an introvert and have found much of the advice contary to what allows me the space to create good writing.
    Thanks for the post…cheers…Leesa

  11. Bonnie Toews Says:

    Pat, like others here I’m an introvert in nature and writing but have managed to suppress it when I need to play the part of an extrovert. In fact I can talk spontaneously and give a speech without preparation as long as I can come up with an opening and closing sentence before I open my mouth. Like Vivian, however, those times acting out as an extrovert are totally exhausting and I seek solitude to recover. The irony is my husband who was always perceived as the quiet one and considered his responses before he spoke is actually an extrovert who asks all kinds of questions — some were embarrassing to me but people didn’t seem to mind — was clearly extroverted in nature because he needs the stimulation of people around him. When I was his caregiver I found this even more exhausting because I had little recovery time of my own. I write best in silence and like you ponder over everything before I begin to write. Now and again I still go back to writing with pencil in hand though most times if I plot out my opening sentence I’m clear to go.

  12. knightofswords Says:

    I don’t like noise, crowds, Walmart or big city traffic. Silence, for me, is golden and necessary.


  13. interesting introvert Says:

    Wow, I can’t imagine writing on a bus or in a coffee shop or any public place, I can’t think straight when I’m around other people. I need to be alone when I’m writing. Great article! Thanks!

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