by Gilian Baker
If an introvert and an extrovert walked into a bar, how could you tell them apart?
Easy! The introvert would quietly order a drink, wince at the noise level while she waited for the bartender, and then move to a remote table where she could watch the surrounding activity.
An extrovert would walk in and high-five the people she knew. She’d stop several times on her way to the bar to chat with acquaintances. Once she had her drink, she’d sit down in the middle of a table full of friendly faces and shoot the breeze.
But I’ll let you in on a secret…
Our introverted or extroverted personalities impact our lives in many aspects, not just how we socialize. For example, how we “do” creativity is an often-overlooked aspect of how our personalities affect us.
What does it mean to be an Introvert or an Extrovert?
It all started when Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist in the 1920s, observed a variety of “functions” in the way people access their cognitive processes. These processes include how we gather information, make decisions, and relate to ourselves and others. He coined the words “introvert” and “extrovert” to explain how we focus our attention and energy and how we relate to the world around us.
Jung’s terms are often misunderstood. Many people believe introverts hate being around people, probably because they are shy. Not true! Likewise, some believe extroverts are loud attention seekers, the life of every party. Not always!
However, Jung identified that introverts and extroverts are indeed very different from one another.
- Recharge their energy by being alone and turning inward. Being with others for too long is draining.
- Do their best thinking alone in a distraction-free area where they can engage with their inner lives.
- Tend to pause before they act or speak to think through how they want to respond.
- Recharge their energy by being with other people. Being alone too much is draining.
- Do their best thinking when discussing their ideas with others.
- Tend to jump into action without much planning.
Regardless of our type, embracing it makes our lives more enjoyable and way easier. After all, why fight your natural tendencies when you could go with the flow?
The Introvert and Extrovert Brain
The emergence of neuroscience has validated Jung’s earlier findings. An introvert and an extrovert’s brain works differently!
Without getting too technical, the difference between the two is their preference for pleasure neurotransmitters.
Acetylcholine makes us feel good when we turn inward to reflect and ruminate for extended periods. When acetylcholine is released, it triggers the parasympathetic nervous system—the “rest and digest” system.
When dopamine floods the brain, we turn outwardly. We become more talkative and attentive to our environment. We feel confident in exploring unknown experiences and are more willing to take risks. Dopamine activates the sympathetic nervous system or the “flight or fight” response.
Introverts favor the calming pleasure neurotransmitter acetylcholine, while extroverts prefer a dopamine buzz.
Both introverts and extroverts have and use acetylcholine and dopamine, just as they use both components of their nervous system. They just each have a preference of which one they use, and they make use of it more often.
Personality and Writing
As a writer, I use my understanding of my introverted nature to my advantage. I guard my writing time, making sure it happens when I can shut the door of my office and not be disturbed. I also prefer to write in large chunks of time because I can deeply engage with my inner life as I dream up characters, plots, and worlds without stopping and starting.
There are other ways that being an introvert or an extrovert affects the writing process as well.
Introverts as Plotters:
- Need to anticipate the direction of their writing before putting words on paper (Plotting)
- Write all or parts of their work in their heads before they write it down.
- Often pause while writing to clear their minds from distracting thoughts, rework what they’ve just written or anticipate where they are going next.
- Reluctant to seek feedback, and when they get it, need time alone to mull it over before taking action on it.
Extroverts as Pantsers:
- Develop their best ideas while writing (“pantsing”).
- Do their best thinking out loud or while discussing their work with others.
- Invite others to “interrupt” them to improve their work in progress.
- Gain enthusiasm and energy while writing the first draft in noisy, busy places.
What I’ve found as a writing coach is that writers who embrace their personality type write more effortlessly and with more joy than those who don’t. I use the personality type of each of my clients to teach them how to overcome their creative struggles.
An Introvert or an Extrovert Creativity Style
Obviously, writers aren’t the only creative people on earth. You’ll also notice that you tend to choose how you “do” creativity based on whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. Here are a few examples to consider:
Knitting and Other Needlecrafts
Introverts—enjoy this creative pursuit alone. They might take online courses or use YouTube videos to learn new skills.
Extroverts—join a Stitch and *itch group where they can learn from and talk to others while they work.
Introverts—work in their own studio or alone in nature where they can get caught up in their own world of creativity.
Extroverts—take a class and maybe join a group of people who are painting murals on the sides of buildings.
Introverts—learn new techniques by taking online courses or going to YouTube. They play for their own enjoyment or possibly for a small group of intimate friends.
Extroverts—take lessons, or, better yet, a class with other students to learn new skills. They might join a band and spend their evenings and weekends playing for any crowd who will listen.
As you can see, we can all enjoy the same activities—we just do them in different ways. It’s not important if you are a plotter or pantser. Or if you sit alone or with a group at your local bar. There isn’t a “best type.”
What matters is that you know which you are and then use that information to guide your decisions about how you use your creativity. Your brain has probably been trying to tell you for years to “give in” to your natural tendency. I’m giving you permission to listen!
Are you more an introvert or an extrovert? Which of the ways of expressing creativity above do you relate to most?
Gilian Baker is a former English professor turned mystery author and writing coach. She uses personality theory and brain science to help intuitive writers embrace their unique writing process so they can overcome their creative blocks and write books readers crave. If you are an introverted writer who is struggling to get their book finished, go here to schedule a free Story Strategy Session. Together, we’ll dig into how you can crush your creative blocks!
Grab her first book, Blogging is Murder, for free on her website.
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