August 14, 2008
I got a panicked e-mail today from an anxious author. You wouldn't recognize the panic by looking at the e-mail--nothing in all-caps, no frazzled smiley faces, internally consistent spelling and punctuation--but I knew that at the other end of the Internet that connects our computers sat an author who was at her wit's end, grasping at whatever straws I might hold out to her. "Can you please help me understand how I can write as an extrovert?"
That's a tricky business, isn't it? There's hardly anything that appears more introverted than writing, particularly when that writing is directed not to an individual (as in a letter or an e-mail) but to a faceless, anonymous mass of readers (as in a book). Making use of common jargon or shared memories is a dubious proposition when there's no immediate or even direct confirmation that the message was received, that the joke was got. So the concept of writing for an as-yet-potential audience is highly abstract and consequently highly ungratifying to many extroverts.
And then there's the discipline of writing, described at least once as "easy . . . all you have to do is open a vein." A compelling percentage of writers who write about writing are notoriously, self-referentially martyrous, delighting in the ironic juxtaposition of being deeply vulnerable from the comfort of their faux-leather office chair. Writing is relished for the pain it causes such people, even as the laptop into which the person is writing is reassuringly warming his or her lap.
Extroverts are not opposed to martyrdom in principle, so long as they have some company. But writing is ultimately a solitary experience. One pencil per hand, one voice per book, one subject per sentence. Writing requires so much mental presence on the part of the author that other people--even people the writer loves--are sometimes reduced by the mere act of writing to either potential readers or potential distractions.
Ah, there's the rub: how does a person who abhors a relational vacuum crank out 50,000, 5,000, 500 or even 50 internally consistent words in a relational vacuum? I'm not being rhetorical, I'm really asking. Where are my extroverted writers at? What advice can you offer?