An Introvert and an Extrovert Walk into a Bar…

by Gilian Baker

If an introvert and an extrovert walked into a bar, how could you tell them apart?

introvert or an extrovert

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!

introvert and an extrovert

However, Jung identified that introverts and extroverts are indeed very different from one another.

Introverts:

  • 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.

Extroverts:

  • 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.

If you aren’t sure which you are, I recommend this free personality test.

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.

introvert and an extrovert

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:

introvert and an extrovert
Edgar Allan Poe, Introvert
  • 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:

introvert and an extrovert
Mark Twain, Extrovert
  • 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.

Painting

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.

Playing Music

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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9 thoughts on “An Introvert and an Extrovert Walk into a Bar…

  1. K.B. Owen

    Gilian, I never knew about the different receptors – that’s really cool! I love how you apply the personality types to the creative process. Over the years, I’ve come to realize how important it is to tailor the approach to each person. I was once in a writer workshop group that was very methodical and structured. Perfect, I thought – I like method and structure. However, we had to create endless character profiles and send them around for group critique, and only when those were polished could we move on to the next step of plotting (I’m convinced the method’s creator is an extrovert, based on other indicators). But I was really uncomfortable with all this early feedback (I’m an introvert). It felt as if it was stifling my creative process rather than stimulating it. I couldn’t figure out why, because I definitely seek out feedback to make my work the best it can be, but not until I’ve finished the most complete version I can write. Thanks for the perspective!

    Reply
  2. Gilian Baker Post author

    My pleasure, K. B.! I shuttered when I read about your experience! 🙂 I love discussing writing in a hypothetical way, maybe even with some of my own WIP examples. But not interested in letting a bunch of people I don’t know tear apart my work! Eek! Glad you found the discussion of interest!

    Reply
  3. Kassandra Lamb

    Great post, Gilian! I think you pointed out somewhere that introvert and extrovert is on a continuum. I’m an excellent example of that. When I take the Myers-Briggs personality test, I am very near the cusp between the two, with some traits of each.

    And lo and behold, I have some traits of both as a writer. I am definitely an extroverted pantser and I do like to process things out loud, and often get new ideas while bouncing my plot points off of others in conversation. But I need quiet to work (like an introvert) and I don’t like feedback until I’m done the first draft and at least one or two self-edits.

    Reply
    1. Gilian Baker

      *Not sure why my reply didn’t show up right beneath your comment, Kassandra. Let’s try it again* 🙂

      How fascinating, Kassandra! I’m so glad you shared that because I didn’t have a good example to show. How long did it take you as a writer to figure out that being on the cusp between the two was impacting how you processed ideas and wrote? Extroverts can now blame their pantsing habit, which is often frowned upon in writing circles, on their extroverted personality! Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  4. Shannon Esposito

    I had no idea there was a different feel-good chemical for going inward. Very interesting! I’m definitely an introvert & have to have complete silence and a chunk of time to write. But I’m a panster not a plotter. I get bored with the story if I know the ending.

    Reply
    1. Gilian Baker

      Me too, Shannon, and actually, the amount of plotting introverts needs varies greatly. If I take the time to plot out every detail, as some writing guides suggest, what’s the point of writing the book? I need some structure to make sure I’m hitting the story arcs, but other than that, I like to pick the ideas out of the air as I write. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  5. Jean Filson

    I so enjoyed reading your insights on introverts vs extroverts, and how it relates to various life experiences. I was unaware of the different reward receptors. Very interesting as well as helpful in evaluating oneself and others. If each of us were encouraged to work under the circumstance more efficient for us, much more would be accomplished. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Gilian Baker

      Thanks so much for your comment, Jean! I couldn’t agree with you more about how we could all work more effectively, not to mention get along better, if we understood the differences between us at our core. So glad you enjoyed the article! It will be interesting to see how you can utilize this new information in your own life! 🙂

      Reply
  6. Gilian Baker

    How fascinating, Kassandra! I’m so glad you shared that because I didn’t have a good example to show. How long did it take you as a writer to figure out that being on the cusp between the two was impacting how you processed ideas and wrote? Extroverts can now blame their pantsing habit, which is often frowned upon in writing circles, on their extroverted personality! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

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