Author Toolbox Blog Hop: The limits of being an introvert

This past week, from March 14th to through the 18th, I attended session 1 of the 2018 Northern California Writers’ Retreat. I learned so much during those five days, and the experience was incredibly rewarding.

But I am (still) very jetlagged as of writing this blog post, so the full rundown of the retreat will have to be saved for later.

What I do want to talk about is the limits of being an introvert when it comes to building a writing career.

According to a personality test I took a few years ago (that still rings true today), I am an extreme introvert. So one of the many reasons why fiction writing has always appealed to me as a full-time job was this idea that I could find a way to work while being allowed a certain amount of solitude. I have this perception of writers, and creative types in general, as working in relative secret until the work is ready to be revealed. I believed that writers could dedicate themselves to their craft, and recognition (and money) would naturally follow as long as the quality of the work was there.

There is a small amount of truth to this; certainly, if your work isn’t good (or at the very least, effective), then it won’t launch you anywhere. But what often goes unreported is the kind of work that goes into getting that publishing deal and selling your books—the work of putting yourself out there.

I’m not just talking about marketing your book. That’s a separate discussion for a different blog post. Nor do I mean having an online presence so that readers can find you. That’s part of it, but isn’t enough. There are many, intermediate steps from writing a book to publishing it that require writers to regularly interact with other people, whether they’re fellow writers, potential readers, editors, or agents. For example, going to conferences to attend panels, pitch fests, and meet-and-greets can go a long way in making connections with decision-makers in the publishing industry. As an extreme introvert, just the thought of these events terrify me, even though I understand how crucial these interactions are.

This isn’t to say that introverts must become extroverts in order to succeed as career writers, nor am I saying that all introverts will fail to get a publishing deal. After all, the introverted writer stereotype persists. But I must recognize that my extreme introversion will come up against its limits as I advance my writing career.

The internet and social media have, of course, changed how much this is true. There are Twitter pitch events that have resulted in book deals, and self-publishing in general has become more lucrative, especially with the rise of e-books, crowdfunding, and other monetization strategies. But I do think that there is no real substitute for making connections. The definition of being there “in person” may change as technology does, but there will still be some requirement to be there as much as possible.

(Sidebar: This discussion about “being there” connects to the limits of accessibility for comes to writers with a physical disability. I recognize that I am privileged in the sense that I can physically access the places where these writing events and networking take place, but there are plenty of extremely talented writers who do not. If being present and participating is essential in order to grow a writing career, how can we make sure that these spaces are accessible to everyone?)

I am still trying to figure out what I can do to be more comfortable in these interactions, but I wanted to share some final thoughts, based on my experience at the Northern California Writers’ Retreat:

  • It’s easier to interact if it’s about writing. I may not be able to speak like a normal human being in casual conversation (I die from secondhand embarrassment at my past self making small talk), but when it comes to talking about writing, the conversation is easier. It’s still awkward if I find that I haven’t read the same books or have common texts with the people I’m talking to, but it’s easier to talk about writing and storytelling than anything else.
  • I may not always have something to add to a conversation, but I can always react to what others are saying and ask questions. The participation portions of my grades throughout college were always dismal, so it gives me a lot of anxiety to think that I have to participate in everything all the time. But 1) I am not being graded, and 2) I can always listen closely and actively to what others are saying, and sometimes that is enough.
  • I don’t have to think about many of these things right now. Whether it’s agonizing over a pitch or attending conferences to make connections, I don’t have to think about them right now. Why? Because I have to write my damn manuscript.

What do you think? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? And how do you think these things will help or hinder you in your publishing career?

This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Header image from Pixabay.

Published by Caroliena Cabada

Caroliena Cabada is a writer currently based in Lincoln, Nebraska. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing, Fiction, from University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her writing has been published in online and print journals and anthologies, and has been selected for Best Small Fictions 2021.

38 thoughts on “Author Toolbox Blog Hop: The limits of being an introvert

  1. Hahaha! Yes, go write it. I am right there with you. Careful planning helps me. I like to know who I am to face so I can plan my interactions and pretend I am extroverted. I memorize thoughts too. I love Your tip on asking questions as a diversion to process the information for a later reflection. Thank you 🙂

    1. Thanks! Planning ahead is definitely useful, though I think for me I end up over-thinking things. But yes, diversionary tactics are my bread and butter. 🙂

  2. I’m definitely an introvert too, and making connections is also hard for me. But this is some good advice, for when you go to these sorts of events. I do love talking with other writers and professionals about writing–I’m just really awkward about starting the conversation!

    1. I’m terrible at starting conversations, too! I usually wait for others to initiate, so I don’t have much advice that way. But I’m glad the other advice is helpful! Thanks for dropping by! 🙂

  3. Making connections doesn’t have to be face-to-face. I live in a small town far from pretty much everything and have connected online with several writers around the world.

    I’ve tried the calls for submissions and twitter pitch parties with great success. I try not to think about my limits and reach beyond my boundaries only when the need arises.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    1. That’s a great point. Online pitch parties can really go a long way, and yes, thinking about these boundaries as the need arises is a healthier way of approaching these aspects rather than agonizing over them. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I’m with you! It’s hard enough for me to people on a regular basis. I always feel like everyone else got the script and I didn’t. Add the pressure of a pitch session or meet and greet at a conference . . . that’s scary. I like your idea of rehearsing before hand. I’ll definitely try it when I head for my first conference.

  5. Intresting write up Emily!
    Do share your writings on
    It’s a great place to support, share your works and lift eachother.We would be delighted to have you as a part of our community. You will connect with a global audience of more than 3 million.

  6. I love this post! I’m an introvert, too, though I’m not sure how extreme it is. I used to never go anywhere or do anything, so I supposed it used to be extreme. Last year, I realized the need for me to go out and so more to promote my books…in person. And I started to take baby steps. I’m finding it’s becoming a bit easier, but it is very draining.

    1. I’m glad to hear that you were able to start taking those steps to promote your books, even if it has been draining. Kudos to you for putting yourself out there!

  7. I am also an introvert, and feel anxious when it comes to face-to-face meetings, but I do agree that it is important. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Geographic accessibility is another big issue. I am definitely more introverted, but when I was in my early twenties, I forced myself to try acting, and now I fake extrovertedness (not a word probably.) Great post, Caroliena! Thank you so much for echoing and putting into words what so many of us feel. I’ll add this on Facebook soon.

    1. I’ve heard a lot of great things about taking improv classes, or acting classes in general, and I’ve been thinking I should try. Thanks for the idea, and thanks so much for putting this hop together, and for sharing!

  9. When it comes to writing, all the rules can change, so you can find common ground with other writers or at the very least ask them to say more about their particular project or ideas. Terrific post — thank you for being brave and putting this out there for everyone!

  10. Planning ahead is great. I think sometimes I’m an introvert and others an extravert. I guess it depends who else is in the room. I like the option of asking questions is I’m feeling introverted. Then there’s room for the other person to talk.

    1. There are definitely ambiverts in the world, and the degrees of introvertedness and extrovertedness also vary from place to place. Thanks so much for commenting! It’s interesting to hear about someone else’s experience with these things.

  11. Yes, introvert problems *sigh* Actually, one of the things that helped me embrace my introverted ways was reading “Quiet” by Susan Cain. Great post!

  12. It is hard, and as an introvert I can relate to a lot of what you’re saying.
    One of my favorite strategies for socializing in general is to let others start the topic, and then react/respond to what they offer.
    But I also think introverts can have the advantage in the actual act of standing or sitting by ourselves, and writing for long stretches.
    I’ve definitely known some extroverts who really struggle with being alone for long stretches of time.

    For me one of the biggest challenges is recognizing that “I can’t do it all” and “I certainly can’t do it all at once.”
    There are some things which may be, or appear, easy for others, but they are definitely not easy for me, and I think there’s a very real need to “pick my battles”, and recognize progress, rather than focus on whether things are moving as quickly as I would like.

    But that’s why posts like this make for such a nice read. One person shares their struggle, and helps others remember that there’s nothing wrong with struggling from time to time. As long as we keep at it, the choice itself is a kind of victory.

    And the blogging community is so welcoming, so supportive. I started blogging to connect on an intellectual level, learn from each other, but really, I love how supportive everyone is.

    1. I’m glad that this is a post that people can identify with. I totally agree that the feeling of “I’m not alone in this” is so reassuring. And it’s so great to hear that blogging has allowed you to connect with people in a way that is comfortable. I’ll definitely keep your tips in mind for interacting. Letting someone else start the convo definitely helps! Thanks so much for commenting. Happy writing!

  13. My preference is introverted alone time, but I can extrovert when necessary. I remind myself before conferences that it’s only for X days, then I can come home and introvert again.

  14. “…going to conferences to attend panels, pitch fests, and meet-and-greets can go a long way in making connections with decision-makers in the publishing industry. As an extreme introvert, just the thought of these events terrify me, even though I understand how crucial these interactions are.” This rings true for me, too. I recently went to a horror-con event and couldn’t talk to anyone. I just strolled around with my sister and left. It’s not even shyness or fearing people. It’s the energy it uses. A few hours a week at university and I’m exhausted. Difficult to know unless people are true introverts, too, so people don’t ‘get it’. Great things to think to about. Shah X

  15. I used to be an introvert. The main feedback I got from my bosses and supervisors was to look people in the eye. Then I met my husband, an extreme extrovert, and I joined Toastmasters, who were super supportive and didn’t pressure me to speak if I didn’t want to.
    I still find myself holding back, but I learned the trick of pretending I’m Cheryl Super Writer. I put on her persona and am so much better in social situations.
    Plus, I’m old enough now to say, “what the hell” and not care what people think of me.

  16. Introvert here too! I can usually manage a couple of hours around groups, but then I start to feel exhausted. I can manage better when it’s an event I enjoy, but it’s definitely tricky, and I find it easier to listen than contribute to conversations!

  17. The upside is a lot of writers are right there with you (me too). I have gone to a couple conferences and they weren’t as bad as I thought. The common interest makes things a little easier. However, most were understanding of my anxiety since a lot of other writers have similar feelings of anxiety about being around other people. However, you need to take things at your own pace. You will get there and do amazing things!

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