The Song of the Introvert
Calling all #IntrovertAuthors! Aleksandr Voinov shares the way he copes with large bookish events as an introvert.
I’m very much an introvert. I get some incredulous eyebrows when I say that anywhere, because I’m quite happy to hold speeches, and interact with readers and fellow authors at conferences for days. If it’s about anything I’m passionate about, I will talk—even a lot—to any number of people, any size of crowd, for as long as people let me.
And afterwards I go to my room and sleep for 12 hours. That’s really the mark of an introvert—as much as I enjoy putting on the “extrovert” shoes for specific things, my actual nature reasserts itself and I need to re-charge my batteries. And that appears to be the main test of being an introvert—do crowds re-charge or exhaust you? I’d say “pleasantly exhaust”, but it’s still “exhaust”. I tend to skip the crowded dinners in full ballrooms and grab a couple of friends, or one friend, or quite happily eat on my own. In fact, even a very busy restaurant with people to-ing and fro-ing and loud conversations all around are super stressful. Give me a quiet, dimly-lit place and one or two friends any day.
My former boss expressed shock when I left journalism—he told me I was “born” for it. And yes, I did well in helping to organise and run conferences; I herded senior bankers, moderated panels and wrote and held speeches from London to Moscow—and I was so glad when I could go full-time into editing where I get paid to focus on text all day and a little project management. Even that can be too much; when our small team of editors starts discussing last week’s football (soccer for you Americans), I’ve been known to put my noise-cancelling headphones on, because I find trying to focus on one thing while people are talking around and over me very difficult. I have no doubt at all that open-plan offices were designed specifically to torture introverts.
Some people think I’m “not sociable”, but, to adapt a phrase from a song, “I’m just not your kind of sociable”. I think one thing about being an introvert is that I need a good amount of silence to listen to my internal voices, and I can’t listen to external and internal voices at the same time. Since the internal voices is where the creativity and book ideas come from, and I can happily entertain myself for hours by staring into the indeterminate distance, I think having that kind of silence and calm is crucial for my creative work.
If not for a day job, I could lock myself away for a couple of months at a time and re-emerge, somewhat disheveled and manic with either a question or a piece of work that I want to share or need input on. And then I’d vanish again. I’m certainly not alone—when I look at my slice of the industry, I’d estimate that 90 percent of writers are introverts, and I know that some writers who put on a good show of being extroverts at conferences totally aren’t. And most readers I interact with seem to be wired the same way. I’ve been at conferences where it was painfully obvious that pretty much everybody was initially really uncomfortable on account of everybody being an introvert, writers, readers and most of the organisers, but it’s also really fun to see people open up a bit and relax on, say the second day or a few hours later. I guess there’s just something about books and reading and writing that comes more easily or naturally to the introverts than the extroverts, but that could be a prejudice.
Personally, I manage that trait by simply saying “no thanks” to group activities (as a teenager I sometimes still tried, but now I’m old enough to quite happy admit I’m just not a disco/sports/concert, festival/large-masses-of-people-doing-something-together type). I’m lucky to be from a culture where that’s respected, and in the UK at least, even the extroverts seem relatively modest compared to those of some other cultures.
Another important thing is to monitor my personal energy levels—after a long hard week at work, do I really want to see that exhibition at the British Museum enough to deal with large crowds on a Saturday? Answer: rarely. All it really requires is being kind to myself—to not force myself into stuff to not to be seen as “rude”, and know when I need a breather by myself, and, yes, the strategic use of noise-cancelling headphones.
Do you have any tips for surviving book events as an introvert? Let us know in the comments or join the #IntrovertAuthors discussion on our Social Media where you'll find yourself in very good (and supportive!) company.