I’ve always considered myself as an introvert, the shy girl, the one to hide in the shadows because it’s too intimidating to be seen ‘out loud’. If you ask many other authors, I think it would be fair to say, they too, are often introverted, preferring to speak through their written words. After all, being an introvert doesn’t mean you don’t want to be heard, that you don’t have anything about you, you’d just prefer to do it behind the power of a pen. In the words of Seamus Heaney, ‘This is my pen, I’ll dig with it’. Every introvert has their reason for wanting to stay hidden – low self-esteem, trauma, learned behaviour – to name but a few. I believe some people are born like it, that it runs in families, however, there is usually a story there.
When it comes to writing, particularly romance, introverts tend to excel, for they hang back and spectate human behaviour. They see beyond what most others do, which makes them very good at character development. They’ve often lived through situations that have caused them to be naturally quiet. I’ve had some reviews comment that a character wouldn’t react in the way I’ve portrayed them; however, I often know they would because I’ve either experienced it myself, or I’ve witnessed it happen to those close to me. Of course, different people behave in different ways, but I try to write about things that I can relate to.
Introverts are great listeners too, taking on board what they hear daily while storing little snippets of stories inside of their heads for later. It’s incredibly useful for plot development. It gives the main body of the story those little twists and turns that help flesh out the main themes, as well as offer a more three-dimensional and realistic plot.
As for my day job, I’ve had to fight against my naturally introverted persona to get to where I am in my career. This was perhaps harder than all the studying I had to do. Teaching interviews often involve being observed whilst teaching, giving a presentation to a bunch of strangers, as well as a formal interview (once in front of the whole board of governors). I’ve had to role-play situations, as well as engage in debates with groups of people I’ve never met before. And in the back of my mind, I had to keep telling myself to push my way forward; that if I wasn’t noticed for my voice, I would never get the job. I had to compete, even though I am not naturally competitive. For an introvert, this was incredibly stressful. Fifteen years on and I still find speaking out in front of adults really challenging. Children are different, for me at least. There’re no expectations from them, and they generally accept your word as a given. I might not be as theatrical or flamboyant as some of the other teachers, but children tend to warm to me as I am calming, non-threatening, and always ready to listen.
What’s hard is the fact that people don’t know or understand your reasons for being inhibited. I remember being frequently told off for being rude as a child, for not speaking to people. At school, I would be made fun of, particularly by boys asking me why I didn’t speak. Even though it would make me feel frustrated with myself, I couldn’t even find the voice to argue, to tell them to leave me the hell alone. I still can’t (apart from with my hubby, because he’s special). You’d think I’d be loud, bubbly, and happy to talk in front of an audience because I chose to be a teacher. I have had to give presentations, lead assemblies, and speak at staff meetings. Perhaps I see myself as someone completely different when in a teacher role, but when I’m me, in a social situation with new people, my mind goes blank, and I instantly want to blend into the wall behind me. In fact, part of my social anxiety is the need to decide what I want to say in my head before I say it out loud. The last thing I want to do is bring more attention to myself by saying something stupid or controversial.
Let me give you a hint as to what it feels like. This week we had to attend a staff meeting on drama. As you can imagine, this is not my cup of tea. I’ll do it with the kids because a) they’re kids, and b) I want to be the best I can be for them. But in a hall full of adult staff members, some of who did drama at school, or who are naturally theatrical, I found the whole experience extremely difficult. Upsetting, in fact. It made me appreciate how a child who is shy must feel when we try to get them to ‘act’. The whole time I was sitting in my chair, I was thinking, ‘please don’t pick me, please don’t pick me!’ My head was dizzy, my hands were clammy, and a deep-set panic was developing inside of my stomach. I did it, to some extent, but I hated every moment of it.
Later in the week, I had someone say something to me which made me feel extremely angry. So angry, I ended up in tears. And whilst most people would say something back, explain to them how insulting they’ve just been, I physically couldn’t open my mouth to utter a single word. You then end up feeling angry with yourself. It has its plus points; I come across as calm, peaceful, and easygoing. I don’t hold grudges and I would say my life is better for the ability to let things slide, however, I have also been told that I’m too nice; a pushover. Perhaps I am. I’ll admit, there are still occasions when I wish I could go back in time and say my piece. If I had, perhaps I wouldn’t be the same shy, unconfident person I am today.
On the other hand, I would argue that introverts are very thoughtful beings, always looking beyond the surface. It makes us naturally caring, empathetic, and creative. I would also say it has made me a good observer of people, trying to see beyond their dominant behaviors. When you see an angry person, what is it that has caused them to react in such a volatile way? When my five-year-old is having a meltdown, has she already gone past the point of rationality? When I cannot stand up for myself, why is that I feel so silenced?
The trouble is a lot of people who aren’t introverted look at shy people like me and come to the conclusion that I am either weak, stuck up, stupid or vapid. I’ve been accused of all these things at one point or another. Funnily enough, this has often been by men. Not all men, for there are many introverted guys out there too, but from my personal experience, it has usually been men who have found my shyness confusing or perhaps intimidating. If I don’t talk or give much away, they can’t read me. If I don’t respond to their teasing or bullying, it makes them feel small. Whatever it is, it has never been intentional. I would argue it is my natural instinct for self-preservation. If I keep quiet, you’ll eventually leave me alone. I guess some people see us as going against the grain, unintentionally showing a silent defiance, even when the perpetrator of the abuse keeps pushing at you to react in a more obvious way. There’s a power in it, though the introvert is rarely aware of this fact. I know I never was. I just wanted whoever it was to leave me alone, or, in most cases, to run away and hide. Remember, indifference is more hurtful than hate.
‘Save Me’, Book 1 of The Mayfield Trilogy, goes live on May 9th on Amazon!