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 I suddenly become withdrawn, easily distracted, and quite literally unable to think, let alone socialize.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.

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