Incognito Introvert

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Recently, I attended the annual Washington Romance Writers Retreat.  This convention brings together 150 romance writers (many of whom — indeed, most of whom — write in other genres, including speculative fiction) from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, for a series of panels, meals, lectures, meals, one-on-one pitch sessions to agents and editors, meals, happy hours, meals, games (such as “Romance Jeopardy”, with category titles inappropriate for a family website), meals, etc. 

For a handful of lucky authors (and I consider myself very lucky), the Retreat is preceded by a booksigning at Turn the Page Bookstore, the independent store owned by Nora Roberts’s husband.  Picture an antebellum Maryland town, with a small house turned into a bookstore, with a tiny side room filled with tables for fifteen authors, including Nora.  Then, picture more than 200 readers who arrive more than an hour before the store opens, to buy books from the fifteen authors.  Then, picture three hours of authors chatting with patrons, talking about their books, selling their books, smiling, chatting, and constantly being on.

So, basically, picture presenting a positive public — very public — face from 10:00 a.m. on Friday through 1:00 on Sunday.

Sound like heaven?  Or hell?

For this introvert, my answer used to be “hell”. 

But over time, I’ve developed strategies for coping with so much exposure, with so much human contact.  (Remember, a regular workday for me involves bidding farewell to my husband at 8 a.m. and not seeing another human being until he returns at 6:00 p.m.  I love that regular workday…)

I’ve learned how to parcel out my energy when I’m an incognito introvert, when I need to present as an extrovert.  I’ve learned how to give myself breaks during the day — even if I just sit in a bathroom stall  for fifteen minutes.  I’ve learned how to fuel myself with caffeine.  I’ve learned how to cut back on alcohol (in my current case, to zero).  And I’ve learned how to skip out on the handful of activities that are just too boisterous for me to handle (see above reference to Romance Jeopardy). 

I had a great time at the WRW Retreat — I learned things, I taught things, and I made a number of new friends.

And I adored the following week at home, when I worked in near-solitude, each and every day.

Fellow introverts?  How do you handle conferences, conventions, retreats, and other aspects of the writing life that require you to be “on”?  Extroverts?  Do you identify with anything I’m writing about?  Do you find other challenges with public writerly events?

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20 comments to Incognito Introvert

  • Well, there are times when I play a persona. I’ve played so many RPGs and LARPs that acting a role just kind of comes natural. I play the me I would be if I was more of an extrovert. I’ve sort of fallen out of that of late for some reason. I mentioned in another post that I’m a wallflower and introvert by nature and I tend to watch people. In that regard, I have also watched a person and then acted like the type of guy they’d want to talk to. Not a good solution, because it’s more a lie, but works at times. Beyond that, a drink or two (but not too many) gets me loosened up and pushed away from the wall. The more I know a person, the more likely I’ll be to show my true self to them, but that’s not always possible, like in the instance of talking to strangers at conventions and such. I’m sure it’d get easier and more natural the more I did it, but right now I have to kind of force myself to approach another person. It doesn’t help that I’m also soft-spoken and too laid back for my own good.

  • I consider myself fairly extroverted. I enjoy conferences and conventions; I do very well speaking in front of crowds of people; I love chatting about work-related stuff. But I also am very protective of my writing time and the isolation I need in order to be productive. And I absolutely suck at small talk. So I suppose I have elements of the introvert in my personality as well. And I definitely find that I require down-time — alone-time — during the course of a working weekend.

  • It’s the breaks for me. Just being able to take a moment for peace and quiet helps immensely. Making sure that I’m well-rested beforehand helps. (Since my next trip involves crossing the continent, I’ll be taking the red-eye on the Wednesday night, so that even though things don’t get started until Friday, I have time to catch my breath.) And I don’t drink *much*, either. Maintaining some sort of control helps me enjoy myself.

    Tonight I have to be “on” for a library technician reunion/gathering, thankfully held at the college where I work. While I want to maximize my time, I’m still on the fence about how long I can stay without going crazy. In my heart I know I need to take advantage of this opportunity, but I’m still *very* tempted not to stay the entire four hours.

  • MaCrae

    Ha. Ha hahahaha, I am the epitome of introvert. When new people talk to me, I blush like crazy. Doesn’t matter if they’re an adult, kid, teen, boy or girl. I tend to plaster more “uhs” and “ums…” in my conversation than usual. I’ve had people tell me I’m a people person…but nothing could be farther than the truth. I hate people! I could live my life in the corner of the room and just watch them and never say a word. But one day I just got sick of being the awkward anti-social girl in the corner who scowls all the time. In real life I’m a very hyper person, so I’m trying to open up more and have people want to talk to me, instead of have to. But if I ever had to go to a convention I’d freeze in fear and start babbling about how I hate crowds and disappear into a corner where no one can find me. (I’m very good at that.)

  • Mindy, I was such an introvert as a child, hiding in books and coming up from my fictional worlds to glare at Real Life before grabbing a breath and going under again. Hated to be around people.

    Like you I developed strategies to cope — notably, going to my room at Cons and Events and Retreats and hiding for an hour (sneaking a nap). I also developed a public persona to deal with the fans and other writers, teaching myself, forcing myself, to *try* the small talk I so suck at. That public face has melded to my own over the years and I am much better now at reaching out to the people around me. I guess you could say I am an introvert by nature, extrovert by intent. 🙂

  • Unicorn

    As a homeschooled and naturally deeply shy person, I am an introvert right down my bones. Not so much shy as petrified of people, especially people I respect, so I guess that is one skill I *really* need to work on before trying to stammer out a pitch to an editor/agent. For now, though, I need to finish writing a novel so that I have something to pitch, so I guess it’s back to the WIP for me…
    Thanks for an interesting post and resulting discussion, Mindy.
    Unicorn

  • Daniel – I find your response interesting, the way you so consciously put on different personas. I know that I construct different exteriors for my lawyer-, librarian-, specfic- and romance-conferences. I think that your matching individuals needs/expectations is a highly-specialized version of the same!

    David – So far, you’re the only person copping to extroversion 🙂 I agree with you, BTW, that “small talk” is a whole different skill. I had the good fortune, two years ago, to be seated next to a master of small talk at a signing. It was like receiving a Master Class, watching her work… (A large part of her method was finding out something about the other authors around her, so that a casual question like “What sort of books do you like to read?” could be turned into a compliment to fellow authors, no matter what response she received.)

    Laura – Often, I find that the dreaded four-hour gatherings move much faster once I’m there. For me, the hurdle is making myself *get* there in the first place…

    MaCrae – I, too, am often told that I’m a people person, or that I’m so good/comfortable/clearly enjoying myself in public situations. I try not to choke on my surprise, and I’ve learned not to contradict the well-intentioned, to their faces 🙂

    Faith – I love that phrase “introvert by nature, extrovert by intent” – it sums up everything I was trying to say, in six easy words!

    Unicorn – In many ways, pitches are easier, because you can prepare for them, very concretely, very specifically. You only need a very brief gloss, for when you meet the person you’re pitching to. (My unasked-for words of advice: Don’t be *so* memorized that you forget to listen to the person you’re pitching to. I watched a few pitchers last weekend forget to answer questions like “How is the conference going for you?” because they were so focused on their pitches!)

  • I’ll cop to being an extrovert. 🙂 I like being around people. I like parties, talking to folks, speaking to groups (that helps since I’m a prof and have to talk to classrooms and at conferences!) I’m an only child, too, though, so I like my alone time and I really like having my own space. I get the need to not be with bunches of people. I do find stuff like cons tiring, but also exhilirating and inspiring. I’m always ready to write more and I have so many ideas when I finish a con!

  • LJ_From_SA

    This feels like a session of Introverts Anonymous. 🙂 A few years ago I could have been the poster boy. I hated talking to strangers, especially when I didn’t have a say in the matter. My job forced me to change, however. I have daily tele cons with people all over the world and being shy and quiet doesn’t get the job done. I still suck at small talk though. Every time I make an attempt to break the ice it feels so forced. It usually fails spectacularly, leaving me standing like the proverbial deer in the headlights. 0_0

  • Boy, can I relate to this, including having people who don’t know me well assume I’m an extrovert. One thing that helps me a lot is recognizing the difference between social anxiety and introversion. One is a problem, the other is a personality type. Once I learned to accept my own introversion as healthy, acceptable, and just who I am, it became easier to recognize the difference between the introvert moments (I need ten minutes of alone time before I can enjoy other people again) versus the social anxiety moments (OMG! People are going to judge me! I’m so ugly/awkward/generally horrid that I should hide under the bed like a troll.) Now I accept and accommodate my introversion and I tell my anxiety to shut up because I refuse to live my life based on fear.

    An aspect of my introversion is that sometimes I run out of words to say to other people. I don’t dislike them, I’ve just used up all my social energy, but it used to make me seem cold and surly toward other people. At times like that it helps to follow my grandmother’s advice – encourage people to talk about themselves. Then they know I care about them and I don’t have to say as much. Eventually they’ll say something that hooks me back into the conversation and I’ll have something to say again.

  • I’m much as Daniel is. People don’t generally believe me when I say I’m shy, but it’s because I learned many years ago how to play the part of the extrovert in public. I love going to cons and meeting people, but after a while I have to retreat to a quiet place to regenerate. I have friends who know the real me, but not that many, because I’m not completely comfortable showing the real me to the world.

  • Taking one of those personality sorters, I pegged out on the Introvert scale. I don’t like people, for the most part. I hate crowds. I’m uncomfortable around strangers. I do fine in social situations when I’m with people I trust and consider friends – Silly Me can take over and I have fun! Put me in a room full of strangers and Watcher Me drifts to the edges and, well… watches.

    At work, though, I can’t be an introvert. I’m a manager. I have to talk to people; I have to do presentations; I have to be diplomatic with Customers and Upper Management. And I’m very good at my job. I wouldn’t say I don a mask, though. It’s more like the Professional Me is just different from Me.

    At conventions I’m somewhere in the middle. If I’m on a panel, the Professional Me steps up and takes over. If I’m in a bar and one person approaches – pro or fan – sometimes I do fine, other times I think I might come off as being a bit surly with short answers and an air or indifference (me looking for a place to run away to). Walking around a con, Watcher Me is in full mode looking for the edges or a friendly, familiar face that’ll cover for me.

  • Razziecat

    Another introvert here. I used to freeze up when among strangers. I love solitude! As I’ve gotten older I have somehow learned to relax more, but I still find it difficult to approach strangers. I don’t know if I would be confident enough to make a pitch; how exactly do you start a conversation like that?

  • I’m an introvert too. Lucky for me I have an extrovert husband who I’ve watched and learned from over the years. I realized much of my problem was I needed to get over the intense reluctance beforehand, then once I was at a function, I enjoyed myself. Figuring that out works fine for the short term, but I’m testing the long term when I go to my first convention in June, Con Carolinas. The difference here is that I’m excited to go, but I suspect I’ll have to take breaks periodically as some have mentioned already. Crowds really drain me.

  • Pea_Faerie – It’s good to hear from the “other” side 🙂 I think it’s only natural to find cons tiring – we’re all up late, and we’re all spending a lot of energy doing a lot of things. The drain I feel (as an introvert) goes beyond that; it’s sort of like the difference between being tired from exercise and being tired from sitting in my chair writing all day… (And yes, I agree that cons are one of the best sources of new ideas!)

    LJ_From_SA – “Introverts Anonymous” sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit 🙂 I, too, found that my professional life taught me a lot of the skills I needed to overcome my basic introversion. Management (and coaching introverted employees) will do that, I guess! It’s interesting, though, that most office places don’t encourage small talk, so we can’t use that as a laboratory for learning…

    Sarah – I know some people who consider social anxiety and introversion to be on a continuum, but I think they’re actually two very different phenomena. (To me, intro- and extroversion speak more to where one sources one’s energy, rather than to the psychology of dealing with others.) (And I envy you your ability to tell your anxiety to take a hike. I’m still working on that one 🙂 ) We could all do well, mastering your grandmother’s advice!

    Misty – It’s amusing, isn’t it, how we compartmentalize? I always find it odd when I attend cons with my husband – there are some whiplash moments of when I’m Public Mindy and when I’m Private Mindy :: wry grin::

    Lyn – I’m amused at how we all start to sound schizophrenic, with all the “me’s” running around in public and private… And may I just say – I love it when people state affirmatively, “I’m very good at my job”; all too often we’re conditioned not to say that. 🙂

    Razziecat – I think that initial approach is the most difficult thing for me to tackle — overcoming that inertia to initiate social interaction. (Often, I have to steel myself to leave my hotel room at the beginning of a con; I’ve found it helps to have a scheduled appointment with a specific known friend or business associate, early on in the day.)

    E.K.Carmel – Thanks for chiming in! I’m jealous of you, heading to Con Carolinas – so many folks from this group will be there! I hope that the anticipation of meeting up with the MW crowd in person will continue to help you manage the “long term” qualms!

  • Mindy – we’re not schizophrenic – we’re writers.

    “Me, too,” says Introverted Me.

  • ajp88

    I’ve been to too many massive gaming tournaments to be a complete introvert. Competing in front of, and against, thousands one has to relish the attention and thrive in it or you quickly fail to place well. But exposing the creative side of me is a different, more personal beast.

    I recently read a whole chapter from my WIP at the writing group I attend. Took a good twenty minutes and I have never been a good public speaker. But five minutes into the reading, after the first “oohhh,” I stopped focusing on how my nervous mannerisms made me look while speaking and just slipped into the story to get the next audible reaction. Taking that plunge to share a major chunk of the novel really helped to break the ice on having all that focused critique directed towards me. Can’t wait to do it again.

  • ajp88 – Reading work out loud *does* create a great energy, doesn’t it? I love learning where my readers react, especially how they respond to humor in my work…