Even in Darkness, my debut novel, is in the midst of launch month, and I’m coming to the end of the few days I have at home in the flurry of events and travel. Let’s get it right out there that I asked for this. Dreamed of it. Paid for it! The excitement is mine to embrace. And yet, for the second time in less than a year, I’ve become captivated with a serenity-inducing book that not only captured my imagination, but also resulted in a paradigm shift in my sense of myself as a person and a writer. (For the first influential book, see http://bit.ly/1ooc6M2). The book I recently read is Quiet- The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
For the record, I may be the last person on earth that people would identify as an introvert, but thanks to early explanations in Cain’s informative and engaging book, I find I’m one of many writers who play the role of an outgoing person, but are fundamentally loners. Here are a few of the characteristics of introverts that intrigued me, and helped explain some of my responses to social situations, problem solving and my working style as a writer ( not to mention the experience of launching a book.)
Introverts frequently have “highly reactive” temperaments. The noted psychologist, Jerome Kagan, labeled babies who became motorically aroused and distressed when presented with novel stimuli with this term. Highly reactive babies often grew up to become introverted adults.
Being highly reactive may explain why shopping at Wal-Mart (with small children let’s say) is torturous beyond description to me, while a welcome form of diversion to others. It may explain why I always studied in the quietest corner or carrel at the library, and why my writing space is in the remotest reaches of the 3rd floor of my house or on a sand dune overlooking Lake Michigan. I love music, but don’t listen as background to any task that requires close attention.
Introverts “want to preserve the advantageous aspects of our temperaments and improve or even discard the ones we dislike - such as the horror of public speaking.” What a thing to read on the eve of a book launch! Cain tells us introverts have to over-rehearse and desensitize to overcome our aversion to going public in large group situations with our carefully thought-out ideas. No wonder writing appeals to us, with the opportunity to hone and edit, alone, until our work is refined to our best standards.
Cain suggests we should learn to see the “power of the podium” (i.e. public speaking) as a creative project for topics that matter deeply to us- core personal projects – like our books - and that this will make it more manageable and less stressful to speak about them.
When conscientiousness makes us take on more than we can handle, (too many events or too many blogging obligations during a book launch, say,) it should come as no surprise that negative emotions that we thought we’d suppressed leak out. Friends we hold close tell us we’ve strayed too far into the world of book promotion (read self promotion).
Cain exhorts us to remember to strive to work with colleagues we admire and whose company we enjoy. The community of artists and writers, our families and loved ones, those we assemble around us, are such important supporters of our work. The secret, Cain continues, is to put ourselves in the right lighting. “For some, that’s a Broadway spotlight, for others a lamp lit desk. … Solve problems, make art, think deeply.”
In the midst of the madness of promotion, the travel, the hemorrhaging of expenses, we who would rather be on that sand dune overlooking the big lake would do well to remember that “We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world….The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted. Introverts are offered keys to private gardens of riches.” Let’s enjoy those riches.