Between Two Stools.

I don’t think Rebecca Woodhead reads this blog, but in August’s Writing Magazine, she covers the subject of extroverts and introverts, as I did in a previous entry. But she takes it one step further, adding a middle category of ambivert.

My research shows this is not a horrendous neologism – in fact the term was invented in the 1920s – but I still hadn’t hitherto heard about this third way. It also turned up a wonderful WordPress post that goes into more depth about the subject than I will.

In the article, Woodhead argues that writers should aspire to be ambiverted and that few fall into the extrovert category. Yet in my experience, I’ve found that many already are extroverts; indeed I can think of a number who actively invite audience questions, or can’t wait to offer their views on a hot topic.

I can identify with the needs of an ambivert or introvert, as I’m quite fond of solitude. This is generally because I’m tackling a task that requires it, such as typing, editing, or reading – the very activities that make me a writer. But often, I’d much rather be reading my work out on stage, or answering audience questions, or negotiating with publishers.

Quite independently of the -vert spectrum, but not unrelated to it, I’ve been mulling over the notion of right- and left-brained people. It seems this theory is now outdated, as research shows that both halves of the brain generally work in tandem. Yet I still think my ‘dominant side’ has shifted at some point over the four years I’ve been writing fiction.

I have a BSc Music Technology degree because when I left school, I wanted to be in the music business or the radio industry. I used to delight in recording the perfect sound level, learning MIDI Commands, or editing video footage. In other words: what used to be termed left-brained activities. These days, I’m more inclined towards my fiction, speech-based radio stations and podcasts, and appreciating others’ artistic expressions. These were considered right-brained activities.
Perhaps I’ve always been at least partly right-brained but I hadn’t unlocked it until I discovered fiction. Alternatively, it’s maybe because I’ve had more success with writing, or at least more external validation, that I’m now subconsciously inclined towards chasing these rewards.

That external validation is a classic extrovert trait, and why I still place myself in that camp.

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Extrovert Through The Gift Shop.

There’s no escaping the truth that writing is a solitary occupation. Authors can spend hours of their life alone in attics, sheds, and cafés, immersed in the land, world or universe they’re trying to create. It’s therefore tempting to imagine that this breed of people are shy introverts. Actually, of the majority I’ve seen, I’ve found the reverse to be true.

These days, it’s important for a writer to be able to self-promote, as many publishers’ marketing budgets are not massive. A prime example is Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton, whom I had the privilege to see at a live event last week. She was interviewed about her book The Luminaries and gave some excellent, confident answers. Doug Johnstone also illustrates my point, as he’s forever looking for an opportunity to crack out his guitar. Chris Brookmyre dispenses entirely with an interviewer in favour of his own speech, while Iain (M) Banks usually invited questions from the word go.

This space reserved for Banksy's next piece
This space reserved for Banksy’s next piece

Have you considered trying it yourself?

Public reading and question-fielding is not reserved exclusively for established authors. Anyone can do it, and I believe they should. Like many authors, I read my work out loud when there’s nobody around, as it’s a valuable tool for ironing out clumsy phrases and misplaced punctuation.

I also consider myself an extrovert. I might spend time alone in front of a PC churning out short stories, but I’m perfectly at home in front of a microphone or camera. I volunteered at hospital radio for a long time, and used to keep a video blog. I’m also lucky enough to have a writers’ open-mike night nearby, where I can try out new material. The audience is made up of fellow authors and poets.

That’s not to say I don’t find it terrifying standing in front of them. I’ve never made a complete hash of it, but I have stumbled, and that’s something I need to work on. But even if you’re an introvert, find a willing audience and push through that barrier. It’s valuable for seeing how well the piece goes down with the public, particularly if they’re laughing when they should be shocked, or vice-versa.If you do, your work will almost certainly improve, and if you become published, you’ll already have the experience of making public readings.

While I was writing this, I thought of one introvert who always causes a fuss whenever he exhibits a new piece. I refer you to Banksy in his iconic film Exit Through The Gift Shop. He seems uncomfortable with the camera being near him, but his self-promotion skills are second-to-none. I know he’s an artist, but if he were a writer, I wonder what type of work he would produce?