Saturday, June 23, 2007

Extraverts can be great writers, too

People know me as an extraverted person. I get energized by being around people and doing things in the world. When I think of my favorite foreign trips, I inevitably imagine myself walking in large exotic public spaces surrounded by throngs of people. Once in college I talked for eight hours in one day. You get the picture.

Because my extraversion has always been so clear, I have often wondered whether I am the right kind of person to be a writer. Writing usually happens when you are alone. It requires a lot of concentration. It takes a long time to get the words down, and then to edit them into the right shape. You can talk over ideas but at some point, you need solitude. Lots of it.

While introverts are 25% of the population, I am pretty sure that a significant majority of are introverts. Introverts’ personalities are streamlined for the process of writing in the same way that super-studly Olympic champion Michael Phelps’s body is streamlined for the process of swimming.

Introverts rarely have resistance to the notion of spending time thinking by themselves or working by themselves. For instance, my partner, who is a law professor, is an introvert. He spends his days happily working on legal scholarship. Ten hours after turning on his computer he is still at his desk, the only signs of physical movement an expanding set of empty coffee cups.

That is just not me! I can sit still for maybe a couple of hours, max. And even then I need to indulge in various kinds of self-bribery, most of which involve food.

And yet—my whole entire life I have been drawn toward writing. As a 12-year old in California, I typed 150 pages of a novel (it was about a 12-year old character named “Michael Melcher” who lived in a townhouse in New York City and went to a special school for millionaires’ children). I’ve continued writing, on both serious and wacky topics, ever since. Several years ago I wrote a novel with three other people (about a student prostitution ring at Harvard), and I just wrote a self-help and career-management book for lawyers (which is … a self-help and career-management book for lawyers). Plus articles, travel emails, crazed letters to the editor . .. the whole nine yards.

My urge to write has persisted. Writing is not the thing that makes me most comfortable, but fulfillment and excitement are rarely about comfort. When I do it, writing makes me very happy in a very unique way.

So now, instead of wasting any time wondering whether writing is really me, I focus on creating the workarounds that enable me to write—I have lots of clever tricks (more on those, later).

All this kinda makes me wonder how many of us put off pursuing things that excite us because they don’t seem to fit. Instead of just making them fit.

There are a lot of masterpieces of all kinds waiting to be created. What would it be like to make them happen, rather than pondering the reasons you might not be able to?