You’re an introvert, aren’t you?

solitude

I am finally reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. I know I’m an introvert – many writers do, I think – but reading this book makes me feel an even deeper respect for my need for solitude. It also justifies my recent splurge: a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones.

If you're an introvert and you haven't read it yet, give yourself a treat and get the book already. You will feel validated! Yes, you really do need a lot more down time than your family and friends. You do work better when you close the door to your office. And yes, you are more creative when you work alone. Alone, writing at your desk, engaging in Deliberate Practice.

You’ve probably heard the “ten thousand hours” rule by now, a theory by research psychologist Anders Ericsson, made famous in an essay by Malcolm Gladwell: this is the amount of time a person needs to practice a skill deliberately before becoming an expert. In Quiet, Susan Cain writes about the importance of practice too, and why introverts benefit from practicing in solitude. However you find time to do it, you want to practice with focus and concentration.

“When you practice deliberately,” Cain writes, “you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly. Practice sessions that fall short of this standard are not only less useful – they’re counterproductive. They reinforce existing cognitive mechanisms instead of improving them.” **

This is why writing practice is different than journalling. Writing a few pages every morning to dump your thoughts and worries is refreshing, therapeutic, and maybe even necessary for some writers – but it isn’t instructive. It doesn’t change your brain; it doesn’t function as a deliberate creative writing practice.

This is also why it’s important for writers to read. Read brilliant work by writers who are so masterful, their stories give you vertigo! Read stories that make you think, how did she do that? And if you ever read something outstanding and hear your inner creep say, You’ll never write anything that good, take that comment as a personal invitation to practice.

If you want to be a better writer, you must write; but more than that, you must also spend time learning techniques that you haven’t mastered yet – techniques that are continually just out of your reach.

In deliberate practice, you must challenge yourself exactly at the place that you need to be challenged.

What’s just out of your reach? Where is your comfortable writing groove? Where does it feel unknown or mysterious? How do you work your way up and out of your groove, and into uncharted territory?

Yours in deliberate practice,

Sarah Selecky

     

** This passage is so good, and I wanted to quote the whole chapter! You can find this excerpt on page 81 of Quiet.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something using one of these links, I may earn a commission. I only recommend books or products I trust.


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25 comments

Thanks so much for sharing this Sarah. I've watched Susan Cain's video series of Quiet and I found that I'm predominantly an introvert as well. Though I like the occasional party or social gathering, I do need a lot more recharge time than most people. I also like to devote my attention to a small group of friends (another introvert characteristic). Maybe a brief reduction of online reading may be in order as well. It may be what I need to revitalize my writing practice. Check out Tiffany Shlain's TEDxWomen talk when you get the chance. She backed up the same idea and started a site for people to discuss their experiences - http://tedxwomen.org/speakers/tiffany-shlain/
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Susan Cain's book is so wonderful, and completely illuminating. I loved it. Her TED Talk is also good for a quick snippet of what the book explores: http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html
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I have still yet to read Susan Cain's book, but I've had it flagged since it was first released. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to watch a live webcast she did through a company called SkillSoft that offers web-based training. It's a service my employer subscribes to for its employees. That was the single, most useful, insightful and meaningful offering that I have personally partaken of through that service. I am an introvert, but the peculiar variety who has anxiety issues too, resulting in my being able to chat (a nervous response) with people in person, but also results in a hyper-sensitivity to light and noise. I do NOT work in an introvert-friendly environment. One of my introversion-spawned areas of respect for my coworkers (that I rarely get in return) is that when I listen to or watch something online in the office, I use headphones. I started that webcast with headphones. When I realized that *I* wasn't the one in my company or my organization or my immediate group who NEEDED to be watching/listening, I did something brazen: I unplugged my headphones and turned the volume up to max. If my coworkers ignored the message, they would have to do so with effort, just like I do daily. I was disappointed, however, when I realized just how few people took the opportunity to watch that brilliant webcast where Cain even had live Q&A, speaking on everything from work, being an introverted child, and on having children who are introverts. It was wonderful, but no one saw it. I'm SO happy you read "Quiet" and are singing its praises. Susan Cain has a way of validating the introvert in a special way, but her message is falling mostly on the ears of the quieter ones unfortunately. I would love to see her and this book stuffed under the noses and in front of the eyes of the extroverts who often cage in and offer no understanding or respect to the introverts around them -- making us feel "wrong" or "broken" instead of just accepting that we operate differently and respecting that. Thank you again for sharing your experience with Susan Cain's insight and how it applies to a writing practice. I appreciate that aspect as well -- even if it isn't my personal daily struggle vs. my job. It's still always good to remember to revisit craft amongst the creative to make that creative output the best possible gift one can produce.
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Kristin Offiler

I've heard such great things about this book! Must check it out. I'd also like to add HSP (highly sensitive person) to this dialogue. For the longest time, I thought I was just introverted, but this summer I discovered HSP and while I see many similarities to introversion, it's certainly its own trait. The biggest a-ha for me as a writer, when I first read about HSP, was understanding my sensitive nervous system. I need quiet alone time after a lot of human interaction not because I'm simply introverted, but because my nervous system is actually more sensitive than a non-HSP person and I get physically overloaded by a lot of environmental stimuli. So I do need my own quiet space to write and be my most productive, literally for physical reasons. Thanks for this post, Sarah! Love this topic!!
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Kathy Martens

Thank you Sarah, for being a brave example in a world that is so disconnected in our 'connectedness'. Thank you for reaching out while honoring your conviction so that we can glean from your exploration. Hopefully we will all find a balance that leads us back to giving quiet its much needed place and giving words back their power. You are an inspiration. xoxoKathy
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Yes! I loved Quiet.
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I loved Quiet. I am so happy to read other people's thoughts on it- it feels like a giant book group lately. The application of the principles to writing practice makes a lot of sense to me. It also validates the fact that I write best in total quiet. My lunch break at work, something I thought would be great for writing, has never been the refuge I thought it would be and now I fully understand why: I can hear everyone in the office when I am here! Thank you for pointing out how much we need our time alone. This helps and I know it will improve my strategies for taking time to write.
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Dorothyanne brown

Great post, and "Quiet" is on my to read list, though I'm sure my mother would laugh herself off her chair if I told her I was an introvert. You are so right about the need for practice, deliberate practice, and I have to say (and I've not been paid to do so ;-)) that the exercises in your Story is a State of Mind program have been deliberate practice for me. They force me to stretch and make an effort to do it better. Really enjoying the process, though you make me work hard...
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Kristin: ME TOO!!! Sigh. Yet another thing we have in common. I love you. Thank you, Sarah, for writing this. So much value and truth.
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Lesley Trites

Thanks for another great piece, Sarah. The subject line of your e-mail for this post immediately resonated with me, because I (after leaving it on my desk for weeks) finally picked up Quiet a couple weeks ago, too. I think my writing will definitely benefit, because it has given me justification for some things I already knew about myself but felt guilty indulging.
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I really need to read the book. I come back to the vid series a lot (and I didn't know Susan Cain did TED!) but it's about time to grab a copy. The prompts have really helped in revitalizing my writing. Keep them coming Sarah!
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Sarah Selecky

Thank you Matanda! I will check out Tiffany's talk. xo S
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Sarah Selecky

Yay! I was wondering what she'd be like as a speaker - thank you for the link, Allison!
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Sarah Selecky

Julie, how lucky you were to have participated in Cain's live Q+A. I also love what she says about parenting introverts especially. Thank you for sharing your story here! xo S
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Sarah Selecky

Kristin - she writes about HSP in the book too! You'll love that chapter. She goes to an HSP conference, and writes about her experience. My nervous system is especially sensitive too: the sound-cancelling headphones are a revelation. xo! S
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Sarah Selecky

Thank you, Kathy! xo S
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Sarah Selecky

I finished it yesterday - I'm recommending it to everyone now!
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Sarah Selecky

I'm so glad to hear it, Caroline. May you find a lunchtime refuge!
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Sarah Selecky

Thanks Dorothyanne! Yes, SSMind is built to do that - there's an arc to the lessons, so you build and stretch and challenge yourself continually - and surprise yourself along the way. I'm so glad to hear that you're working so hard (and loving it). xo S
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Sarah Selecky

xo!
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Sarah Selecky

Oh yeah. I hear you. I gave a talk to an MFA class this week, and I actually gave myself permission to take the rest of the day off, to recover from it. I loved meeting the students at the university - really loved it - but I was so wiped out afterwards. Having a quiet, non-social recovery period made all the difference. Last year, I probably would have felt guilty about that. But it's a necessity, not an indulgence! May you find your Quiet too. :)
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Hi Sarah. Thank you so much for this piece. I enjoyed it. I haven't had the opportunity or time to read Susan's book yet, but I have connected with her elsewhere. As a woman who works with introverted women in furthering their self-expression and strengthening their assertiveness muscle, I REALLY appreciate that you understand writing as the beautiful form of self-expression it is. It just happens to be one of my most dominant forms of expression as well. I notice it's also the dominant form of self-expression for many of the woman I work with. I provide mini workshops for 11 of the most common forms of self-expression, and within the writing workshop, I always ask people to head on over to your site. Appreciate the work you do and I would love to reach out to you to be a guest in my Expressive Introvert series soon, if you're interested. Best, Tamisha
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Hi, I am reading The Quiet. I feel a deep sense of pride now, knowing that it isn't a condition. But I also feel a bit sad about my childhood because I was compared and wasn't "like my sister" (the extrovert). I hope to be illuminated and see the beauty in both my children, whether they are introvert or extravert.
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Thank you Sarah for sharing this post. I've been reading Susan Cain's "Quiet..." for [thinking] six months now. Silly, I know and I've thought repeatedly, especially considering the fact that while I was reading "Quiet..." I still managed to read 4 novels within one month. But I just don't want to come to the end of that book. It was released at just the right time, a time where I'm trying to figure out what line of work will suit my constant itch for solitude without being looked at as "anti-social" (a word whose definition has been eroded from my conscious by sheer irritation). Plus I really would like to know more about how to write, and your connection between Susan Cain's book and mastery of writing...simply fantastic. Once again, thanks for sharing this post. Have a wonderful day!
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I realize this is an old post, but I just discovered your blog recently. Anyway, I am so pleased to hear such praise for the book, "Quiet, The Power of Introverts..." It's been on my wishlist of wanted books since it came out, and the responses to it here have just pushed it to the top of my list! Hmm, perhaps I'll try to snag a copy this weekend. I hadn't heard the term "HSP" until now, but it describes me perfectly. Sarah, I have your course on my "Really Want To Do ASAP!" list. I hope funds will allow me join it soon. In the meantime, I'm finding your blog very helpful, so thank you for having it. :) Wordsgood
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