Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Perks of Being an Introvert (Part 2)

6 Reasons Why Awkward Makes for Awesome Writing

Silly me -- I thought I could fit a topic I'm wildly passionate about in one post. At any rate, reader, I wish to continue last week's discussion on introversion and writing, and include here reasons 4-6 why being an introvert benefits the writer's lifestyle:

4. Love of Solitude

Current research now shows that there's a scientific reason why introverts prefer quiet time alone -- and guess what, it's not shyness. Similar to our vulnerability to overstimulation, introvert's energy levels are easily drained by social interaction -- even if they're enjoying themselves. Plenty of introverts are friendly and sociable at parties, but all require some hardcore downtime afterwards to "recharge." Introverts' inclination toward contemplative activities and their ability to work better independently than in groups also result in a lot of "alone hours." The idea of spending a significant amount of time by oneself may sound lonely or miserable, but most introverts are very comfortable with solitude. Even if we love being with people, we thrive on those moments of solitude that allow us to explore our inner worlds in ways that a socially active environment cannot afford. It allows us to time to process and reflect on our day-to-day lives, and we gain pleasure by knowing we haven't let it pass by us in a blur.

As a writer, contentment in solitude is a quality I can never take for granted. Writing -- the truly exceptional, dedicated kind -- calls for many solitary hours spent at the writing desk, away from human contact and distraction. For someone like me, that is perfectly okay. My creative and intellectual properties function much better when I'm alone and don't feel pressured by anyone. This preference, combined with my ADD-esque symptoms, means that I often spend as many as 15 hours a day in a room by myself to write. That may sound insane (and maybe it is, a little), but to me it's not daunting at all, if it gets the job done. Most days, that time alone actually makes me feel more energized, more alive, than I could ever feel around other people.

5. Highly Sensitive

The easiest way to put this is: things affect me more. Dr. Elaine Aron, PhD, has done some amazing research on the trait of high sensitivity, which she found is common among introverts (and many extroverts). Essentially, a highly sensitive person (HSP) is someone who literally feels and thinks deeper than her peers; she is extraordinarily susceptible to her environment, making her more likely to be impacted by an event than a less-sensitive person. (That loud noise, for example? Way more annoying to HSPs.) HSPs are also known for their strong empathy -- probably because they can actually feel what another person is feeling due to their excellent intuitive skills.

As a writer, being an HSP makes it easy for me to find inspiration. Even a small occurrence impacts me on a deep emotional level. I'm prone to find profound meaning in everyday struggles, especially as I tap into others' feelings. I'm more likely to notice someone frowning and wonder what's wrong, or to be moved (sometimes to tears) by sad news and when witnessing an act of cruelty (even if it's a fictional one on TV). Furthermore, my writing has the potential to evoke a stronger emotional response simply because it's more authentically emotional (chances are, I feel what my characters are feeling).

6. Introspective

Want to hear something incredible? I am never bored. Literally, never. That's because, as psychologist Jerry Miller at the University of Michigan says, "There is nothing more exciting [to introverts] than ideas." As an introvert, I am comfortable in my own mind. My thoughts and imagination are my greatest source of entertainment, because I take enormous pleasure in quietly taking in the world and analyzing it to death. Simply thinking, for me, is one of the highest forms of bliss that life can offer. Though I used to hate myself for being so "stuck in my own head" all the time, I now treasure my introspection as a gift. Writing, after all, is an endless search for the significance of things -- finding metaphors in daily events, exploring the reasons for pain, desperately seeking the meaning of human life. My introspection means that such quiet searching is innate; I am constantly imagining, reflecting, and coming up with meanings. I am content to meditate on the strange mystery of existence until the end of my days.
Accepting myself as an introvert is by far one of the best decisions I ever made. We are each born with unique qualities, gifts, and quirks that make us who we are, and that make us suited for tasks that only we can fulfill in ways only we can offer. Becoming the best version of oneself is not about forcing upon yourself extrinsic characteristics in order to fit in. It's about realizing that there is a small corner in the world with a void in it, and that it's oddly the perfect size and shape for you.
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I hope you enjoyed this series. I would love to hear your thoughts, particularly from fellow writers. Introverts, do any of the above qualities play a role in your writing career? Are there others that I failed to mention? Extroverts, what qualities of your nature do you find yourself employing in your writing? Do you feel challenged by some of the more introverted aspects of writing (e.g., solitude), or are these habits easy to adopt for a pursuit you love? Please let me know in the comments below! Also, I encourage everyone to check out Susan Cain's book Quiet, which explains how introversion "works" in the most beautiful, spot-on way I've ever seen.

Grace and peace to you.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Perks of Being an Introvert (Part 1)

6 Reasons Why Awkward Makes for Awesome Writing

It's always been hard for me to explain how my brain works.

As an introvert with ADD-esque symptoms, that's not unusual. By OED's definition, introverts are reticent and inwardly-drawn types, so expressing ourselves comes as a challenge. One wouldn't know it from my silence, but my thoughts can be ridiculously rich and complex. I am remarkably good at observing and at reading people's emotions. And though I prefer to listen or be alone, I can be rather lively in a conversation when it's with good friends about deep subjects. But put me in a room of full of strangers (or lots of bustling), and everything shuts down. I suddenly become withdrawn, easily distracted, and quite literally unable to think, let alone socialize. Before I understood that introversion was a "thing," I attributed this "social awkwardness" to a horrible case of chronic shyness. And let me tell you: it scared me. I hated how "spacey" and quiet I was, because I felt it was limiting me. I even went through a phase where I feared I was doomed to be a janitor because I couldn't handle social situations very well.

What am I ever going to accomplish in life, I thought, when I'm so damn quiet?

It took a long time, a lot of pain, and one enormous identity crisis before I began to accept myself. After many years of trying force myself to be crowd-loving, I realized one day that those efforts were always about "fitting in" and pleasing others, instead of about what I truly yearned. On closer inspection, I found that I preferred to spend time alone and play the silent observer, not because I was afraid of people or had low self-esteem, but because it made me happy. If I was content with my own quiet nature, what did it matter what others thought? (I was too quiet to bother them anyway.)

As time has passed, I've been blessed to develop friendships with people who love and accept me as I am, giving me the courage to (by my own choice) come out of my loner's shell on occasion. I've become increasingly comfortable with myself as I've discovered that introversion is not only normal (and surprisingly common), but also has many values. An introvert might not be well-suited for an assertive corporate job or as a TV talk-show host, but her contemplative nature makes her perfect for artistic, deep-thinking work such as writing. It shouldn't come as a surprise, that behind a quiet and reserved exterior, introverts have a lot to say.

Without further ado, here are six reasons why "awkwardness" has benefited me as writer:

1. Hyper-observant

One of the biggest misunderstandings about introverts, I think, is that our introspective tendencies mean that we like to mentally distance ourselves from the "real world." While it's true that introverts prefer inward reflection to more outward activities, they are actually much more aware and mentally involved in their surroundings than most. Our silence and preference for the sidelines makes observing an enjoyable pastime, but we're also psychologically fit for it too. While extroverts require a lot of stimulation (i.e., arousal of the senses) to feel alert, introverts require very little, meaning even the most "boring" environments are extremely exciting for our brains. (This also explains why introverts are easily overstimulated in busy places.) We notice things more, we see the subtleties of our settings that other people miss, because hyper-stimulation means even small occurrences -- a bird flying by, an old man sinking into a chair -- can set off a lot of mental activity. As an introvert, then, I get excited (at least inside my head) over the little things I observe, making it easy for me to find inspiration anywhere I go.

2. Detail-Oriented

This quality is implied to some degree in the last point, since hyper-observation makes introverts more likely to find interest in the little things. But being detail-oriented also applies to the way introverts work. Contemporary psychology on personality shows that introverts tend to be extremely attentive to the details of any given task, making them prefer to work slowly and deliberately. In other words, we're experts at dotting our i's, crossing our t's, and reading between the lines. I often poke fun at my perfectionism when it comes to writing, but more and more I've come to see the value of it as a creative writer. Being detail-oriented and conscientious means that I'm less inclined to produce halfhearted, unpolished work, and instead place my full dedication into every thing I write. I am meticulous about every tiny sentence, naturally aware of detailed elements like word rhythms, poetic sound, etc. It doesn't mean I'm perfect (I have a long way to go talent-wise). It just means that I'm more likely to pay attention to the details of my prose.

3. Love for All Things Deep

Ever wonder why your introvert friend struggles with small-talk? It's not because she hates people. Quite the opposite. Introverts love to get to know people -- really know them -- by delving deep, longing for conversations that are more personal and intimate than society deems acceptable for everyday chit-chat. We love to know what makes people unique, their life stories, their dreams and fears. While intimate discussions off-the-bat can make an extrovert uncomfortable, introverts thrive on sharing authenticity, and are not afraid to seek out the painful, fragile, even ugly sides of people's minds. As a writer, I've learned to apply my love for deep discussions to my advantage; I use my conversations to discover what hidden battles people are fighting, and consequently write in a way that explores the depth of human emotion.

Wow, looks like I've already filled a significant amount of space for this. Guess you'll have to wait 'til next week to finish the list.

Grace and peace to you.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Publication Alert: "Glutton"

Dear Reader,

I am happy to announce that my poem "Glutton" was recently published in Issue 4 of Zoomoozophone Review, an online literary magazine for contemporary poetry.

I was thrilled -- and rather shocked -- to get this little poem published. After seeing a call for submissions from this bizarrely named journal I'd never heard of, I shrugged and said "Why not?", and submitted some poems on a whim. Within a few hours, I had an e-mail response informing me that they had accepted one of my poems for their next issue. Who knew!

Moral of the story: submit madly, especially when the call of submission says "WE NEED MORE POEMS" in caps.

You can read my poem on page 10 (second poem in) here.

Grace and peace and happy reading to you!

P.S. In future publication alerts, I thought it might be interesting to include some background on the work, but I was afraid to try it here because I didn't want to bore you all. (Plus, there are more grad apps approaching . . . ) Please inform me in the comments below: is an explanation and background information on my published pieces something you'd want to read, or should I let you take my work as it is? Many thanks!


A preview of the above-mentioned poem is now available below (image may be clearer on Web Version):

Friday, January 2, 2015

Recrudescence and Grievances

(i.e., "Welcome Back" and "Why MFA Apps Suck")

Dear Reader,

After all the December insanity that is applying for grad schools, a loved one enlisting in the Army, and a sister moving abroad (she's an artist, follow her here!), we are back up and running. Thank you for your patience, and I hope you'll stay and keep watch for future posts detailing my silly writerly reflections.

As noted above, last month the first round of MFA applications went out. If you want to know what total misery and the height of stress are, apply for an MFA program during your senior year of college. Nothing says "Judge my soul" more than submitting a personal statement, that hair-pulling puzzle that calls for the perfect balance between formality and conversational tone, intelligence and creativity, self-promotion and humility, and logistics and originality (and usually within a strict page limit, too). And if you thought submitting creative work for publication was nerve-racking, how about submitting to a highly competitive graduate program for writing, where your work has to stand out among the 600+ other applicants of all ages and experiences to be considered worthy of professional cultivation?

As you can imagine, sleep has been a rarity.

MFA applications pushed me to my limit -- academically, creatively, mentally, physically, and emotionally. The killer is that booming, haunting voice of reality in the back of my mind, reminding me that even with all my hard work and talent, my chances of getting accepted are about 1 in a million. As one fellow blogger put it, MFA acceptance rates are "the lowest of all graduate programs. You have a better chance of being accepted into Harvard law school" (literally, people). It sucks. The anticipated letters of rejection, I know, will feel like a slap to the face. But I can't let myself take it personally.

If nothing else, MFA apps have taught me the importance of having thick skin. In the writing field (at least for starters like me), one's worldly efforts are 99% failure and 1% success. For every publication, I've had dozens of rejections -- and those are only for venues that don't pay. As a naturally sensitive person, I've found it a hard reality to embrace: I've had to learn that it's not a reflection of my talent, that it's just the nature of such a competitive field. But all of that is only the public side of writing; there's also the private side. The hours spent in my room writing, reading, improving my craft on my own -- that's where real success comes in. If I'm constantly working on my writing, if a poem I write now is better than any I wrote last year, that's progress; that is my measure of real, personal success.

But MFA apps taught me something else, too: how important friendship is in the writing world. During the application process, I was absolutely humbled by all the support I received from professors, peers, and loved ones. I had professors working overtime on the weekends to help me edit my personal statement. My patient boyfriend spent his few hours off from work proofreading my sample. Many friends and family members kept busy making sure I remembered to eat and sleep. I couldn't believe how much people were willing to go above and beyond to assist me in this process. It reminded me that writing can never be entirely a solitary pursuit (and coming from an introvert, that's really saying something). One needs a support system to survive: fellow writers who know the strings and the struggles; an audience to provide feedback and reality; and loved ones to be inspired by, to maintain one's sanity, and to remind one what it's all about. What is writing, after all, if not a form of communication with other people?

I will keep you updated on the rest of the application process. In the meantime, wish me luck on upcoming apps.

Grace and peace to you.

P.S. Small victory, but I made a suggestion to a Mass Poetry series and it made it up on their Poems for Winter Nights page. Check it out!