Every so often, I discover a book that makes a deep impact on my life. When I was a kid, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle made me decide to become a writer of fiction for kids. As a teen and later an adult, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy made me decide to write fantasy. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a nonfiction book I’m reading right now that makes me accept what I am: an introvert.
That’s not a newsflash to those of you who know me. And perhaps you’re shrugging your shoulders in a so-what manner at such an admission. But being an introvert always seemed like a negative based on feedback I’ve had over the years and my own observations. Who often gets the most attention in class or at the office? The one who talks the most. And how about these statements: “You need to be more assertive.” “You need to promote yourself more.” “You need to be more outgoing.” Ever hear this advice? I certainly have—even on the job.
I’ve suffered through office Christmas party activities usually chosen by extroverts who assume that “everyone” loves to shout lines of Christmas carols or act them out in front of a crowd because “it’s fun.” And if you don’t see it that way, well, guess what? You’re not fun! That’s why I especially understand this notion: “If you’re an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain” (6). Oh yes. I have felt that pain.
This bias is what Cain in the introduction to the book identifies as the Extrovert Ideal:
We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal—the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual—the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” (4)
If you read Divergent by Veronica Roth or saw the movie starring the delectable Theo James (oh and Shailene Woodley played the lead role) you saw this notion played out. In a post-apocalyptic Chicago that has been divided into five factions based on virtues, the coveted faction is Dauntless—the risk-taking group that leaps off moving trains instead of disembarking at stations and jumps off buildings. They are the loudest and the brashest—the ones who gain the most attention.
In an Internet poll of faction choices (http://www.epicreads.com/quizzes/pollresults/id/341/), Dauntless was the faction of choice by a large margin.
Zoë Kravitz and Shailene Woodley leaping off a train in Divergent
In Quiet, Cain demystifies the Extrovert Ideal and discusses times when an introvert should act more extroverted. But this post isn’t a book report or a book review, so you’ll need to read the book for yourself if you’re interested. Cain’s book is a bestseller, if that gives you any indication of how it has been received.
This post is a celebration—it’s okay to be an introvert! (And yes, it’s okay to be an extrovert too.) Many writers I know are introverts. (Not all are of course.) But the world of book promotion—an extroverted activity—is one that takes us out of our comfort zone. We have to put ourselves out there to be noticed (i.e., blogging, social media, book trailers, interviews, arranging for book signings—whatever). Even if we’re querying agents, we have to sound “comfortable ‘putting [ourselves] out there.’”
Naturally, this is the area in which I struggle the most. But I’m willing to try out of love for my stories. It’s like being a proud parent. You want people to notice your child and love him or her, so you do what it takes to get people to notice him or her. I’m grateful for the family and friends who help me in this venture, who encourage me and give me the kind of advice that helps me do things my way.
Cain’s book also has helped me understand how I can be assertive in a quiet way without pretending to be something I’m not. And that gives me hope.
Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Broadway Books, 2012, 2013. Print.
Roth, Veronica. Divergent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2011. Print.
Book covers from Goodreads. Librarian photo from mrsbossa.wordpress.com. Movie still from alicemarvels.com. Balloons from bubblews.com. Theo James photo from divergentsociety.net.