Singing the Introverted Writer Blues: On Being Retiring in the Self-Promotional Age

Once upon a time, I had a dream of what it meant to live life as a Real Writer.  I had a dream that writers were people who jotted things down because they didn’t have the social wherewithal to string together more than a few stilted sentences in regular conversations. Writers, to my thinking, were people like me—those erstwhile kids in the classroom who had known the answers to most questions but never raised their hands because to call attention to oneself felt as unseemly and as uncomfortable as taking a dump in public. Writers were misfits: inept, maladroit, tortured—in short, all the things I was so naturally good at being. (In hindsight, though, I am sure that my view on writers was colored by the novels I read at an early age—stories of girls who wrote poetry in their garrets, glimpsing the moors beyond through a smudge of cleanliness in their otherwise filthy windows.)

But what do you suppose, Faithful Readers? I was wrong! I was wrong about everything! My foray into the land o’ writers  has taught me that many scribes have social skills beyond what I could have imagined. I suppose this should have dawned on me when I was getting my MFA and was surrounded by writing compatriots who were not always humble or reticent in touting their accomplishments. These were the types of people who, unlike me, were unlikely to dodge an acquaintance at Gristedes because they had forgotten to put on deodorant that day and didn’t want to inflict their stink on hapless victims. These were self-assured, charming people, and that alone should have tipped me off to the fact that a writer’s charm can hold him in good stead.

It wasn’t until my first two books were published that I realized my vision of the introverted writer was but a half-truth at best. I learned this swiftly as I participated in joint readings among co-presenters who were masterful and confident, whereas I meekly asked the crowd, “Would you mind if I sit down while I read?” (This, so that the  knocking of my knees would be less apparent.)  I participated in panel talks where my fellow presenters were so dazzlingly glib, witty, and self-possessed that I retreated into my turtle shell, speaking only when asked a direct question, and even then apologetically What I learned is that the writing world is filled with people who are not shy—at least not outwardly. And to be fair to myself (as I am always my worst critic and my worst self-effacer), I must leave room for the possibility that I come off as more poised than I feel. But in my own mind I will always be that little girl who is afraid to raise her hand and speak her mind—the girl who wants her written words to speak for her.

Am I handicapped, in this day and age where bold self-promotion and confidence seems to make or break a writer? I hope not. I still hold out hope that my written words do speak and that my readership might comprise people like myself who understand what it’s like to be on the margins and the fringes—people who are brimming with things to say yet are not saying them aloud, for whatever reason. If you are someone who has ever felt terrified by life, uncomfortable in his or her own skin, or torn between the compulsion to be reckoned with and the keen desire to remain in the shadows, I write for you. I write for you because I know what it is like to have a voice that still, in its own perverse way, wants to be heard.