Have you ever looked forward to reading a book? I mean, really looked forward to a particular book. For whatever reason, you've decided this book is going to be good. Maybe it's the author. Maybe you've been told repeatedly that it's the best book ever. Maybe it's about your favorite thing (like a book all about chocolate or Star Wars or coffee or whatever). Whatever it is, though, you finally read the book, and wow such disappointment.
For a variety of reasons, I was really looking forward to Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. It sounded interesting. It had really good reviews. But, mostly, being an introvert and constantly being annoyed by people listening to stupid things from people that are loud and more assertive, I wanted to know what this book had to say. And people were saying it had a lot to say. I think what I expected was something along the lines of (and, yes, I know I mention this book a lot, but, really, most of you ought to read it) Bright-sided. Something that was like a science experiment. I have a question, and, now, I'm going to do the research and find the answer. And Quiet was sooo close.
As I read through "Part One: The Extrovert Ideal," I thought I had a winner. I thought I had a book that I was going to be able to say to all of you out there that are introverts and writers (because most actual writers are introverts (and I say it that way to exclude people (celebrities) who "write" books but don't really do the actual writing)), "You need to read this book!" But, as it turns out, I was wrong.
So what happened? Well, Susan Cain (the author) did. As it turns out, she wasn't really interested in introversion, she was actually interested in why she was afraid of public speaking. As many people do, she tied the fear of public speaking to her introversion. It's a great stereotype, right? Introverts are scared to speak in public? Except that it's wrong. Numerous studies have shown that the fear of public speaking has nothing to do with introversion. Extroverts have the same fear of public speaking that introverts have. Meaning, if you're scared of getting up in front of people and giving a speech, you are just as likely to be an extrovert as an introvert (possibly more likely, because we think extroverts make up a larger portion of society). The initial section, the research about extroverts and the rise of our extroverted society is quite good and interesting (but it's not worth buying the whole book for it). It's where the actual, objective research happened.
After that, though... well, it begins an exploration of why she's still scared of public speaking even though she's been doing it for years.
She starts with biology and how much of introversion may be nature and how much nurture. Some of that is also interesting, especially the newer child-focused studie that are trying to differentiate the nature/nurture debate. However, as she went on, she relied more and more on "maybe"s and "might"s rather than actual data. Because there was no solid data to back up any of the claims she wanted to make, so she relied on speculation to make her points. Sometimes, it was her own speculation. And I don't have a problem with speculating, but I do have an issue with speculation being presented as evidence.
The other thing she did was to rely heavily on anecdotal evidence, "I heard a story once...," to prove her points. That's just as bad as speculation. I mean, it's the same as me saying "one time, this friend of mine found a dead cow in the woods with all of its organs removed" to prove that aliens exist. Or that aliens target cows because they like cheese (yes, Briane, that was for you). At one point, she even uses a story Mark Twain told. Really? Because he was know for his non-fiction?
The worst part, though, is that she over-generalized her own brand of introversion as being what all introverts are like, and that's just not true. The introvert/extrovert thing is not something that's cut and dried like that. It's known as the introvert/extrovert spectrum, and it's called that for a reason. But she very happily lumped all introverts into her specific type of introversion, and my own introversion is nothing like hers. For one thing, I don't have a problem with public speaking. At all. I spent years and years getting up in front of people and talking, and the only time I ever had an issue with it was 5th grade, the first time I had to give an oral book report. She also equates introversion with shyness, which is also not true. Shyness, like fear of public speaking, is not something that only introverts lay claim to. Again, shyness is something that falls across the introvert/extrovert spectrum. [At one point, she does, kind of, say this, but, then, she goes on talking about it and discussing it as if it was a purely introvert issue.] But she was a shy child; therefore, all introverts must be shy.
If the book had continued to focus on society (as in the first section) and how introverts can make a place for themselves in a society that holds up extroversion as the ideal (by the way, the US is one of the most extroverted societies on the planet), as the full title suggests, it would have been a good read. However, it goes offtrack and explores how introverts can get over their fear of public speaking (because, you know, that's the assumption, that all introverts are scared of this). In short, it becomes a self help book, and I really wasn't looking for a self help book (nor was it marketed as one). I mean, really, she spends probably 1/3 of the book dealing with strategies and studies and plans about how to get over the fear of public speaking. It was like a big bait-and-switch.
Oh, and also how introverts can act more extroverted. There are strategies for that, too. My issue with this is that she spends the entire first section of the book talking about how we shouldn't have to act like extroverts to get along in our society, and I fully support this. [Introverts should not have to pretend to be extroverts to get along. That's just wrong.] But, then, a huge portion of the book is about how to set aside blocks of time to be extroverted and for no other real reason than that people expect it. Like I said, I wasn't looking for a self help book, especially one I don't consider a "help."
At the very end (for, maybe, 5 pages), she did talk about the issue of children that are introverts in classrooms designed for extroverts, and that was interesting, but it's the kind of thing that really could have benefited from a closer look. It has to do with how, as a society, we mess up our kids by trying to get them to be one way (an extrovert) when they're not. It's the equivalent of forcing left-handed kids to write with their right hands [my example]; it's just not so visual. [And this issue of the extrovert designed class is pretty much everywhere I guess. Desks arranged in "pods" so that students can work together instead of individually. That's prevalent at my kids' school, too, so that was an eye opener that that's what that's about.]
Anyway, unless you have a fear of public speaking and need to do it, I would just skip this book. I wish I had. I dislike finishing a book frustrated at the lack of information the author actually gave.
As you might expect, I have my own take on the whole introvert/extrovert controversy and how it applies to writing, because, yes, the "extrovert ideal" has been encroaching even upon a field that is populated predominantly by introverts.
Prevailing wisdom says that better, more quality work is done by groups of people rather than people working individually. The problem with that "wisdom" is that virtually every study out there shows that this isn't true. Basically, the more people you have involved, the more muddled the work gets and the longer it takes to complete. Group work also produces an inferior product. Let me say this again, virtually every study done on this subject shows it to be true. But it doesn't "feel" like it ought to be true and some very loud and assertive people speak loudly and assertively about how beneficial it is for everyone to work together, so that's the model that businesses are using. And schools. And, yes, writers.
And you know it's true. Everyone says you need your pack of betas and CPs or you just can't write a novel. You'll get better work if you have more and more feedback. It seems so sensible. And it's hogwash. You can't write a book by committee. Not a good one, anyway. As a writer, you need a vision of what it is you want to write, and you need to pursue that vision in solitude. You need to be alone in the silence of your mind until you can hear whatever it is you need to say. I'm not prescribing a particular method here other than that you need to not let other people muddle your story and destroy your vision.
You need to find that for yourself. Find your vision and pursue it wherever it takes you. Don't get sidetracked by others. Don't let their ideas invade your space. Other people can't see your vision and can't help you to fulfill it.
This doesn't mean don't get feedback when you're finished; you certainly should. People that can see inconsistencies or grammar errors or whatever, but don't spend your time writing by trying to fit other people's ideas into your story. They need to take their ideas and go write their own stories.
Anyway, if you're a writer and an introvert, embrace the introvert within! Go lock yourself in a closet or go down in the cave (or, even, the cafe, if that's how you do it) and write your book. Don't try to conform to the prevailing "wisdom" of the extrovert ideal.