Many writers self-identify as introverts. I know I do.
“Writing is something you do alone,” John Green, author of the bestselling young adult book, The Fault in Our Stars, once said. “It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.”
Apart from John Green, other famous introverted writers are thought to include J.K. Rowling, Agatha Christie, William Shakespeare, Homer, George R.R. Martin, and Ayn Rand. And that’s just for starters—it’s quite a list.
For the record, not all writers are introverts. Ernest Hemingway was by all accounts a larger than life, boozing, sparring, story-spinning, limelight-loving extrovert.
Let’s get this out of the way first: introverts are not shy. (Not necessarily, anyway.) An introvert is someone who prefers calm, minimally stimulating environments. These are people who tend to feel drained after socializing and regain their energy by spending time alone. That’s because introverts’ brains respond to dopamine differently than extroverts’ brains. In other words, if you’re an introvert, you were likely born that way.
Even introverts who don’t necessarily write for a living are likely to favor texting and emailing over talking on the phone. That’s because for many introverts, writing their thoughts is easier than speaking them. In her book The Introvert Advantage, Marti Olsen Laney explains that writing uses different pathways in the brain than speaking. It’s the writing pathways that seem to flow more fluently for introverts.
According to Laney, introverts may also rely more on long-term memory than short-term memory, whereas extroverts might do the opposite. This can make it harder for introverts to put their thoughts into words on the spot, because pulling information out of long-term memory is essentially more difficult. Extroverts have words on the tip of their tongue because using short-term memory is easier.
Sure, anyone can write. But it takes a certain type of person to create worlds in their head, work in complete isolation for hours on end, and strive to get every word just right. Here’s 3 reasons why many introverts are awesome writers.
1. Good writing is good thinking. And who thinks more than introverts?
To be fair, not all introverts are “lost in their head,” as the stereotype suggests. But it’s true that many introverts do a lot of thinking and reflecting.
2. We’re comfortable with solitude.
If you’re an introvert who loves writing, it’s probably in part because you get to work alone. There are no staff meetings, no small talk, no group brainstorming sessions, and no social burnout. It’s just you, your screen (or page), and whatever your inner world devises.
3. We’re keen observers of people, places, and details.
“I think many introverts naturally see the world in terms of story and symbol,” Lauren Sapala, a writing coach for introverts, says. “And when we use writing as a tool, we’re able to connect the dots and lay out the patterns we see for others.” In other words, writing allows introverts to share their insights with others — something we rarely get to do in casual conversation.
One of these days, you may need to work with one of these awesomely talented, introverted writers. (Maybe you will even work with me—yay!) Writers are everywhere if you look closely enough: there are speechwriters, copywriters, technical writers, ghostwriters. And all of those jobs involve collaboration with colleagues or clients. (That’s you.) So it’s worth knowing how to permit an introvert to flourish and do their best work for you.
Here are some tips for working with an introverted writer.
- Recognize that she will take the time to formulate a considered response, so that it will BE considered, not top-of-head ramblings.
- Writing is her forte, rather than speaking. (Go figure.) If she stumbles over her words, it may just be that she has too many thoughts busting to get out all at once.
- Be aware that when she is struggling to come up with the right words in conversation, she might need to pause and let her mind wander. That’s when her brain may latch onto the right “key” to pull up the memory she needs. She might buy herself some time by saying, “I need a few moments to think about that.” If all else fails, she might need to get back to you later — via text or email.
- Get ready for some quiet moments. Your writer loves listening and observing, and doesn’t feel the need to fill silences with chat. That enables her to go deep in interviews, finding out more in the space of an hour than many people might discover in a month of conversations.
- Just because your writer is quiet during a conversation or meeting, doesn’t mean she’s not engaged. To the contrary, there’s a lot going on in there: she’s processing deeply and maybe taking notes on what you are saying.
- Embrace brief meetings. Your introverted writer probably believes meetings are most effective when kept to an hour or less. That pretty much fills her brain to capacity, and then she needs to go process.
- Schedule accordingly. Your writer probably loves doing interviews and strategic meetings, but needs to recharge after each one. Best not to plan all-day interviews or back-to-back meetings.
- Consider your working methods. The introverted writer may be passionately collaborative but also needs solo time to write. It’s likely she won’t thrive in situations of simultaneous Google-doc editing.
If you’d like to know more about introverts and their secret superpowers, check out Jenn Granneman’s book The Secret Lives of Introverts.