I found myself wondering recently if I am a writer because I write, or I write because I’m a writer.
It’s a bit of an existential question. It’s right up there with “why do I write?” In fact, it kind of shows why the latter is quite the wrong question. A better question is “why am I a writer?”
One of the ways professional personality consultants use to figure out how someone ticks is with a personality test. And one of the most well-known tests to do this is called the Myers-Briggs personality test. I used to see it a lot in corporate training days as (amongst other things) it can help people understand how they fit into their team.
Whenever I do the Myers-Briggs personality test, I always score strongly I on the E/I scale – that’s “Introvert” for those not keeping up. Unfortunately, the term gets treated like a disorder. It suggests someone who doesn’t connect with people, won’t talk much and tends to prefer their own company, sitting quietly in the corner. But this is a caricature. As explained here in 10 myths about Introverts, introverted people can connect with people (when there’s a reason to), do like to talk (about their passions) and like their own company because that’s how they need to process the world. They might not like being labelled as “weird” or “different” but they usually are.
It turns out that I can identify with every single one of the items on that list. Every item. I can hold a conversation much more easily with a concrete reason. I daydream and can entertain myself with my own thoughts. I am very much my own person – so much so I often like being different. I seek out quiet places to relax in. I could be the classic poster boy for introversion. Especially when I notice the list in number 10 includes writers.
Whether they really know it or not, writers are observers of society. Many only ever look at narrow slices, but that’s okay, because there are lot of writers looking. They start with wondering about what they see. Then they begin to ask questions. Sometimes they are “why?” or “how?” (these writers tend to turn into scientists). Other times the questions are more complex, like “what if that was different?”. This is one place social commentary comes from. It is also where fiction comes from. This is why I am a writer: I want to ask “what if?” questions, some of them quite complicated ones.
The very process of turning a semi-vague story idea into several thousand (or hundreds of thousands of) words involves a lot of introversion. A lot of introspection. A lot of thinking. In merely the simplest of cases, the writer needs to know how their narrator thinks so it can be described. But at a deeper level, juggling a number of distinct players in the theatre of the mind and page does require knowing not just how different sorts of people think and act, but why. And they have to do it all at once!
There are several names for people who can hear voices in their heads. But I like writer best. It is not, in fact, a disorder any more than being able to see red is.
3 responses to “A Writerly Disorder”
I needed to see this post this morning for whatever reason, perhaps it is the discussion on introverts, or the other words people use for hearing voices in our heads, but I think it is something else. There is something about reading a post that speaks directly to you. I read this thinking; I am an introvert; I am that person seeking solace and thought in the corner; I enjoy talking about my passion, but I can also entertain myself; I could see myself building my stories quietly and people wondering why I’m always off in my own little worlds; I could see some of my own obersations; hear some of my own ideas in my head. And I could hear what others have said. How does that work? Is the science, What if is the writer. I think we combine them, or try to, so that our reader can begin to ask those same questions of what they observe in our writing.
I am learning to accept myself as I am and to not try to be what someone else wants me to be. There is so much pressure to conform or to be mainstream. Yet a fundamental characteristic of people like us is that we *aren’t* mainstream.
The answer is to embrace your different-ness.
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