[Geek Pride welcomes guest blogger Katrin Schumann]
I’m reading a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain
. Ostensibly, I’m reading it because I’m looking for parenting
insights. The pressure to be quick, social, persuasive, dominant—constantly engaged
is a burden for some. I want to recognize and celebrate the value in people (aka one of my kids) who represent the opposite of this modern ideal of extroversion
But in this perceptive book I’m also discovering unexpected insights about myself and my work as a writer and editor. These insights may be applicable to you, too.
As a writer, there is huge value in being single-minded, observant, reflective, measured. These qualities help us when we are producing books and ideas but often feel like liabilities when we are promoting our work.
Your book is being published—yay! But for the more introverted writer managing the onslaught of media to-do’s can feel overwhelming and unmanageable. How to do everything, and do it all well? How to prioritize?
The need to constantly reduce our work to a peppy one-liner or a single compelling hook—whether it’s for radio or mingling at a cocktail party—can feel inauthentic and even disingenuous. For those of us who value accuracy and subtlety, the process is often terrifying. How to sound humble and “real” when you feel like you’re lying (even though you know, rationally, that you’re not)? Will you be revealed as a total fraud?
Being a professional writer means coming out from behind the desk. It means connecting at conferences, giving speeches or being on panels (where you are paid real money to voice a relevant opinion and to do it without hesitation). It often means interacting with new writers through teaching and editing, where you have to be honest, hopeful, authoritative and in charge (when, secretly, you may be feeling the opposite).
In ducking out from the shadows, we often feel pressure to change who we are. We try to suppress or even change those very traits that serve us so well during the creative process.
We must be firm when we are in fact skeptical, loud when we are confused, in control when we are merely observing, and succinct even when while seeing the complexities.
Good writing always arises from the impulse to think deeply about a problem, whether big or small, external or internal. Being reflective and exploratory and living in the gray areas—that’s what feeds many of us creatively.
But that’s not what works in publicity. Give a TV interview in which people can’t get the gist of our book, or in which we come across as uncertain or—please, no!—boring, and we’re not going to connect with readers.
It’s liberating to understand that to be successful in launching our work (or ourselves) into the world, we don’t actually have to change our personalities: We just have to fake it from time to time.
This is one of the main ideas we propose to debut authors in Launch Lab: You can stay true to yourself and still be an effective spokesperson for your work.
But isn’t faking it being inauthentic? According to Susan Cain, not really. It’s both effective and temporary. Her manifesto for introverts lists as #4: “Sometimes it helps to pretend to be an extrovert. There will always be time to be quiet later.”
Some important questions to ask when emerging into the spotlight:
- How can I make best use of my strengths and avoid areas of weakness?
- Is it okay to say no?
- How can I fake it without feeling like a fraud?
- Can I be an introvert and still connect effectively with others?
- Can I be an extrovert without turning readers off?
- What do I really want from this process? What does “success” mean to me?
- Am I learning from my mistakes and listening? Am I cutting myself a break?
- Am I still doing what I love, at least some of the time?
[This originally appeared on GrubStreet's Grub Daily]
Katrin Schumann is co-author of The Secret Power of Middle Children (Penguin, 2011) and Mothers Need Time Outs, Too (McGraw Hill, 2008). An instructor at GrubStreet in Boston, Schumann helped design and run their program for debut authors, The Launch Lab. In addition, she works as a freelance editor and book doctor, and teaches writing classes in the Massachusetts prison system. She is a recipient of the Kogan Media Award for her work at National Public Radio.