Monday, June 16, 2014

The best of both worlds

You once said that you would like to sit beside me while I wrote. Listen, in that case I could not write at all. For writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind. ... That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough.
Franz Kafka, in a letter to his fiancee

For the past several years I have been attending some of the evening readings at the Writers in Paradise conference held each January in St. Petersburg, Fla. I am always struck by how much fun some of the writers attending these events seem to be having, especially such regulars as Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Ann Hood and Sterling Watson. Are they always having such a good time, I wonder. When can they write? How can they write? Yet each is a successful author who turns out book after book.

Susan Cain writes in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking that the most creative ideas are not the work of committees or the product of brainstorming sessions but rather result from individuals going off by themselves to think. And this kind of isolation, as Franz Kafka describes above, is often best done by introverts, who thrive on being alone. Extroverts, on the other hand, thrive on being around other people.

Creative thinkers like Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, George Orwell, Theodor Geisel, Mohandas Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Frederic Chopin, Warren Buffet, J.K. Rowling and so many others have been introverts capable of withdrawing by themselves for long periods of time just to think. This is not to say extroverts cannot also be creative thinkers. Yet in this respect, introverts do seem to have an advantage. People who need people may be the luckiest people, as Barbra Streisand used to sing, but those people who can get away from other people may be the most creative.

So what of Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman,. Ann Hood and Sterling Watson? Are they really the extroverts they appear to be when I see them each January? I really don't know, but Cain suggests they might actually be introverts in disguise. The phrase she uses in her book is "socially poised introverts." These are the people researchers have found to be the most creative of all, those who, while in reality introverts, can function very well in social settings and, in some cases, may actually give the appearance of being extroverts. It's sort of like having the best of both worlds.

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