The Introverted Writer and Community

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Or, Why We Need Each Other

If the Twitter profiles of all writers were dumped into some sort of algorithm attempting to identify the prominent personality traits of this demographic (which robots are undoubtedly doing as we speak), it seems to me that one self-proclaimed characteristic would leap to the top of the charts.

We are the introverts.

We weave our furtive spells in the darkest corners of coffee shops.
We mark out our personal boundaries in rings of wizard’s fire.
We watch you secretly, encoding your essence in adjectives so precise you will not recognize yourself when we write you into our stories.
We cloak our self-revelations in fictive names and places, building a wall of words around our vulnerabilities. If ever you choose to read what we write, which is our deepest, most desperate desire, we will run away screaming and bury our heads under our pillows until you are finished.

We are the introverts.

I’m not sure why the writing world’s domination by introverts should surprise me, being myself a writer and an introvert. Yet I have one strange attribute which skews my perspective of those entrenched in a love affair with words: I am also an actress. Amongst actors, introverts are rare birds. I remember trying to explain to a fellow actress why I sometimes needed to eat my lunch in solitude during a month of grueling, all-day rehearsals. She patted my arm and said something like, “We always knew you were different from us.”

Theatre is an essentially communal art form. No one produces “theatre” by oneself. The playwright, director, actors, stage crew, designers, etc., form a community in which each member is dependent on the others to bring art to life. Any theatre artist attending the first rehearsal of a production understands: This is my new community. I am a critical part of this whole. The survival of this specific community depends on the surrender of my insecurities to the vicissitudes of these interactions. Is it any wonder that extroverts thrive in theatre?

I may be excused, then, for wandering from the theatre world into the writing world and finding its solitude unnerving.

I didn’t feel that way at first. Having determined that the hour had come, and that the novel which had been haunting my mind for ten years had to be expelled at last, I barricaded myself in Emily Dickinson-esque isolation and wrung myself dry. This activity, as any writer knows, was exhilarating and glorious, fraught with hazards but rich in rewards. I reveled in my solitude; potential intruders into my creative cloister were greeted with threats of violence. Then I finished the first draft.

All at once, I realized I was alone. I grew frightened.

“Where are the other people?” I asked myself.

I tried to imagine who those other people might be. An agent, perhaps! A publisher! Can I even dare to dream of… actual, voluntary readers? Oh, happy day!

Yet, as I began to comprehend the sobering scarcity of such artistic companions as literary agents and publishers, I realized that the community I desired was something different—more like what I had as an actress. Agents and editors were comparable to theatre critics, not fellow cast members. “Beta readers” were more like the audience of a dress rehearsal. Where were my fellow actors? People in the same boat, striving toward the same goal, learning from each other how to become our best selves.

I wanted to find other writers.

But how? I could pay to befriend them at writing workshops or conferences. I could stalk their blogs and imagine they were writing personally to me. I could find the grungiest urban coffee shop and put up a table tent that said, “Lone writer. Needs friends.” Surely, I cried to myself, I cannot be the only writer in the world! There are somehow enough novelists to crowd me out of agents’ query inboxes; where are they hiding? Have they all formed a club without me?

Then I discovered—they had. It’s called Twitter, and it is the introverted writer’s paradise.

Brief, cryptic bios. Highly abstracted profile pictures. Bright javelins of no more than 140 characters hurled with painstaking precision. The vague gesture of liking a tweet. Reply tweets venturing into the shallow, well-charted waters of relationships which can be trusted not to pass the embryonic stage. An account of one’s inner and outer life never complete, sometimes fictive, and always stylized.

“You thought you were alone,” the Twitter writing community seems to say. “Here we all are! We want to let you know we exist, but we’re glad you can’t come any closer. If you really want to understand who we are, read our books. Will you please read our books? All we want is for you to read our books… our books… our books…”

I’m so grateful for the community of writers I’ve discovered on Twitter. I’m delighted by their unique voices, their relatable triumphs and struggles, their often-contradictory advice. The joy of having a writing community, even a virtual one, has caused me to realize how much I need the support of other writers.

In fact, Twitter helped me realize I needed a deeper writing community than the format of Twitter is able to provide. I needed face-to-face interaction. I formed a writing group with local writers I met a conference. I contacted one of my brother’s friends and said, “Hi, I’m a writer. You are too. Can we talk about that?” I worked up the courage to ask an English professor I barely knew to be my writing mentor; she agreed, and this has been one of the greatest gifts of my writing journey.

For me, a huge part of the writer’s life is the search for balance between creative solitude and creative community. Yes, it can take detective-like doggedness to flush other writers out from their hiding places. Yes, it’s more vulnerable to sit and look another writer in the eye as she critiques my writing than to find random beta readers on Twitter. But it’s absolutely worth it to have a real community who can help you navigate real situations when the writing world seems harsh, lonely, or bewildering.

We need each other, writers. Don’t be a stranger.