Are Freelance Writers Introverts?

by John Soares on May 14, 2012

Since I was a little kid I knew I was different. Yes, I had a few friends, but I preferred to spend most of my time exploring outside by myself, or sitting alone reading.

As I continued in school, I got really good grades. I was the “smart kid.” I socialized with others, but I found most of what interested my classmates really bored me. I left high school after my junior year and enrolled in college, a place were I felt much more comfortable. After working in research labs and teaching college, I settled in as a freelance writer in my early 30s, and I’ve been content in that career ever since.

There’s a word for people like me, a word that has negative connotations in our twenty-first century western culture:


Author and fellow introvert Susan Cain recently wrote an outstanding book that addresses introversion, its characteristics, and how introverts are often treated in school and in the workplace. The book is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Ms. Cain examines psychological studies and case studies that detail key characteristics of introverts and extroverts, and she argues that there’s a place for both in the world. We need the dynamism and boldness of extroverts, but we also need the clarity and focus of introverts.

Quiet Table of Contents

Part One: The Extrovert Ideal

1. The Rise of the “Mighty Likeable Fellow”: How Extroversion Became the Cultural Ideal

2. The Myth of Charismatic Leadership: The Culture of Personality, a Hundred Years Later

3. When Collaboration Kills Creativity: The Rise of the New Groupthink, and the Power of Working Alone

Part Two: Your Biology, Your Self?

4. Is Temperament Destiny?: Nature, Nurture, and the Orchid Hypothesis

5. Beyond Temperament: The Role of Free Will (and the Secret of Public Speaking for Introverts)

6. Franklin Was a Politician, But Eleanor Spoke out of Conscience: Why Cool Is Overrated

7. Why Did Wall Street Crash and Warren Buffet Prosper?: How Introverts and Extroverts Think (and Process Dopamine) Differently

Part Three: Do All Cultures Have an Extrovert Ideal?

8: Soft Power: The Wind Howls but the Mountain Remains Still

Part Four: How to Love, How to Work

9. When Should You Act More Extroverted Than You Really Are?

10. The Communication Gap: How to Talk to Members of the Opposite… Type

11. On Cobblers and Generals: How to Cultivate Quiet Kids in a World That Can’t Hear Them

Reviews of Quiet

There are many detailed reviews on Amazon.

You can also search “Quiet Susan Cain review” on Google to pull up many more.

There Are Many Types of Introverts…

And I share many, but not all, of the characteristic traits of introversion. I’m a bit of mixed breed:

  • I do like interacting with intelligent people, though usually in small groups.
  • I can be comfortable in large social situations, although I usually don’t like to stay late.
  • I also was very comfortable in front of classes of 50 or more college students back when I taught political science courses, something that’s rare for most introverts, who often have strong fears of public speaking.
  • And I can and do speak forcefully for my ideas, when that’s called for.

Susan Cain’s TED Talk about Introverts

Here Susan Cain shows what introverts can do when they’re really passionate about their mission in life. It’s 19 minutes, but well worth your time.

Are Freelance Writers Mostly Introverts?

I can’t speak for all freelance writers, but I know that most of us do solitary work that requires focus and concentration, and that we need to use our brains to succeed in our field.

Your Take

Are you an introvert? if so, how has it affected your life? Your freelance writing?

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing May 14, 2012 at 7:50 AM

Interesting post John — I am definitely an extrovert, but as I work with writers, I’ve come to feel I may be an exception! When I hear writers talk about their terror of going to a cocktail party and talking a little about what they do…yeah. Introverts. After all, if we were extroverts we’d be actresses or TV news anchors or something…
Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing recently posted…How to Get Tons of Freelance Writing Assignments by Pumping Up the Volume


2 John Soares May 14, 2012 at 8:22 AM

Carol, I’ve also noticed that many writers fear putting themselves out there, whether in person at a party or networking event, or on the phone to a prospective client, or even in an e-mail.

My college teaching experience helped me overcome that shyness; I’m now quite comfortable talking to groups large and small, and talking about myself.
John Soares recently posted…Is a College Education Necessary to Be a Successful Freelance Writer?


3 Anne Wayman May 14, 2012 at 9:25 AM

John, I seem to alternate between periods of introversion and extroversion. Not sure what that makes me ;). I love being out there, on stage part of the time and I love being home by myself and being quiety.
Anne Wayman recently posted…How To Find A Literary Agent – Ask Anne The Pro Writer


4 John Soares May 14, 2012 at 11:33 AM

One key characteristic of introverts is a strong desire for quiet alone time, even if they also appreciate doing extrovert activities. It’s the equilibrium that’s shifted: introverts need a lot of quiet time, whereas introverts need relatively little.
John Soares recently posted…Nine Key Steps to Freelance Success on LinkedIn


5 Anne Wayman May 14, 2012 at 12:13 PM

well, by that definition I too am an introvert, but I notice I’m resisting that… which may be good info for me in some sense.
Anne Wayman recently posted…How To Find Out Exactly What Your Writing Client Wants


6 Sharon Hurley Hall May 14, 2012 at 10:10 AM

I’m much more of an introvert (in person, anyway), but like you, John, teaching in college helped me get to a place where I could fake being more social than I really am. Online, though, I’m less introverted, which is kind of interesting.
Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted…Presenting My Work to Clients


7 John Soares May 14, 2012 at 11:28 AM

Sharon, I’ve also found that I’m more extroverted online. And I’ve also become more outgoing as I’ve gotten older, perhaps because I just feel more comfortable in my own skin.
John Soares recently posted…The Well-Organized Freelance Writer’s Home Office


8 Sharon Hurley Hall May 14, 2012 at 11:32 AM

Yes, feeling comfortable has a lot to do with it as well, John. I just don’t worry as much as I used to.
Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted…Presenting My Work to Clients


9 Anne Wayman May 14, 2012 at 12:14 PM

totally blows me away how little I’m bothered by stuff now that used to make me crazy… getting older does have its advantages.
Anne Wayman recently posted…How To Find A Literary Agent – Ask Anne The Pro Writer


10 Cathy Miller May 14, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Definite ham and extrovert here, John. However, I do have Lone Wolf tendencies.

I always tease my Mom that I blame it on my parents. My Dad loved sitting in his chair and reading. He could stay like that forever, while my Mom is the chatty, social creature. I have both traits at various times, which leaves some of my friends confused. 😀

Interesting topic, John.
Cathy Miller recently posted…Your Litmus Test for Marketing Success


11 John Soares May 14, 2012 at 11:31 AM

I find that I’m most comfortable in groups when I know and like all the people in it. Then I open up a lot, often cracking jokes, although I rarely talk for a long period of time.

And my parents mirror your parents. My dad definitely liked his quiet time.
John Soares recently posted…How to Eat Your Way to Freelance Success


12 Lori May 14, 2012 at 11:32 AM

Well, believe it or not I was once a painfully shy introvert. A few decades and hot flashes later…. voila! LOL

I still maintain my introvert qualities, which I call my quiet time, my reflective time, my peaceful side. I think nurturing that side of my personality makes my extroverted outbursts easier to digest. :)


13 Sharon Hurley Hall May 14, 2012 at 11:35 AM

Reflective time is so important, Lori. I don’t get as much as I used to, but I treasure it when I do.
Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted…Presenting My Work to Clients


14 Lori May 14, 2012 at 11:37 AM

It does become tougher to get, doesn’t it, Sharon? We should schedule it as a “group” activity!
Lori recently posted…Writers Worth Week: Using Your Time Wisely


15 Sharon Hurley Hall May 14, 2012 at 11:38 AM

Group alone time; there’s an interesting concept, Lori. 😉 Scheduling is good, though, because at least then it will happen.
Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted…Presenting My Work to Clients


16 John Soares May 14, 2012 at 11:42 AM

My best reflective alone time comes when I’m out hiking. Just getting away from society and the Internet calms my body and my mind and helps me get clarity on my life.
John Soares recently posted…What Freelance Writers Must Know About Inbound Marketing


17 Cathy Miller May 14, 2012 at 11:46 AM

Mine is when I’m walking, John. Combine exercise and outdoors and how can you not get reflective? :-)
Cathy Miller recently posted…Your Litmus Test for Marketing Success


18 Samar | The Writing Base May 14, 2012 at 12:56 PM

Interestingly, I’m an extrovert in real life and an introvert in my online one. It takes me a while to find my footing in online social situations. Probably because I don’t have tone of voice and facial expressions to clue me in.

Oh and I’m a complete loner when it comes to working. I practically snarl if I’m disturbed while working – in person or by phone. Email and IM is okay. Maybe that’s why my family emails me first now during work hours. Heh.
Samar | The Writing Base recently posted…4 Ways to Fire a Client without Burning Your Bridges


19 John Soares May 14, 2012 at 8:52 PM

I started out a bit introverted online, but I’d already been published in large magazines and I’d written a couple of books, so I overall I had very little shyness. I do remember carefully crafting the very first comment I left on a blog: fellow freelance writer Tom Chandler’s trout fishing site.

And like you Samar, I don’t like to be bugged when I’m working!
John Soares recently posted…What Freelance Writers Must Know About Inbound Marketing


20 Chamois May 14, 2012 at 2:35 PM

Hey John,

I’m clearly an introvert and it’s amazing how our early school years are nearly identical.

In fact, I have similar issues with large groups and social events. But, I’ve noticed being in business forced me out of my comfort zone and I’ve adopted or enhanced the extrovert inside.

I’m always intrigued about the dynamics of introversion and the book you highlight sounds tempting. But, I also think readers would like “Self-promotion for Introverts” by Nancy Ancowitz.

It’s like a do-it-yourself” workshop for introverts seeking promotion in their career or business. Plus, it offers surprising stories on well-known, highly publicized individuals who you would not believe were introverts.


21 John Soares May 14, 2012 at 8:56 PM

Self-Promotion for Introverts looks like an interesting book Chamois — thanks for sharing it with us. I’ve put it in my “Saved” list in my Amazon shopping cart to examine in more detail later.
John Soares recently posted…New Freelance Writer Community: About Writing Squared


22 Greg May 14, 2012 at 5:33 PM

I’m with Lori up there as an ex-painfully shy introvert who’s now pretty extroverted. But I think my introvert childhood is where the love of reading and writing came from. Where else? And like you said John, I CRAVE my alone time, even now. Without it I go nuts.


23 John Soares May 14, 2012 at 9:00 PM

Greg, one of the few pictures of me as an adolescent shows me sitting on the couch reading a science fiction book, probably one by Robert Heinlein. I know that all those hours I spent alone reading had a lot to do with my becoming a writer.

Must be a bit difficult getting that important alone time when you have a kid on your shoulders!
John Soares recently posted…How to Eat Your Way to Freelance Success


24 Greg May 14, 2012 at 9:48 PM

Oh good lord yes, it’s difficult… pretty much impossible.


25 margie May 15, 2012 at 1:50 PM

I think the problem in our culture is we tend to pit introverts against extroverts and seem to value extroversion more when we really need to realize both types contribute and offer value in different ways.

We seem to view introverts as weak and socially awkward, but that’s not the case. We’re just more introspective and “take things in” as opposed to extroverts, who like to put it all out there. Neither is better than the other — we’re just different.

I’m definitely an introvert, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like socializing or being around other people. I’ve found that I don’t enjoy large group situations because I want to have more intimate, one-on-one interactions with people rather than shallow, brief conversations with a whole lot of people. It’s confusing and exhausting for me, but that’s just how introverts are.

I think introversion can help as a writer in that you may be naturally more intuitive. As a freelancer, it may be to your benefit because you don’t need the outside stimuli, i.e. co-worker chats, etc., as much as the extrovert. An introvert may prefer to connect online or one-on-one coffee meetings as opposed to the extrovert who may prefer networking events. We all work in the way that works best for us. I don’t think we introverts have to view introversion as a negative.


26 John Soares May 16, 2012 at 9:51 AM

Margie, you are right on about the value of introverts, points that Susan Cain also makes in the book.

We are very similar about how we like to socialize. I remember when I was young I never liked to “party,” although I find that I like potluck gatherings of good friends where people break into groups for good conversation.
John Soares recently posted…Nine Key Steps to Freelance Success on LinkedIn


27 Lisa June 16, 2012 at 5:46 PM

Introvert here. That book looks pretty interesting, I’ve read the Introvert Advantage…which is another good one on the subject.

I think people commonly misunderstand the difference between introversion and extroversion. The difference is in what energizes you. Introverts are capable of enjoying parties and conversation and extroverts are capable of reading and working quietly. However, an introvert will not feel the same as an extrovert after 2 hours of small talk in a room full of new people and loud music. The introvert will feel drained. The extrovert will be just getting started. Likewise, if an extrovert is doing some solitary reading or research for 2 hours…they will probably feel the urge to take a break and call up a friend. Whereas the introvert might have more energy than they did at the party. So if you’re not sure whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, think about what levels of social stimulation energize you and what tires you.


28 Charles DeYoung September 3, 2012 at 7:25 AM

I don’t understand why people are attracted to the intro-/extrovert construct? Is the reality of the human social animal so easily bifurcated into two groups? Anthropologists call patterns of organized social behaviors “ritual behavior”. People learn how to “act” at an early age just as they learn language. That you think in English and act American is not “inborn”. Think of your self as a small aircraft placed in the Amazon jungle. You are discovered by stone-age people that will find someway to explain you. They may use you for a temple or a toilet, but you will never fly with those people. Friendly or hostile; they have no idea what you are capable of. My point is you should not think of yourself in terms of labels. Most action starts as a thought in your head and you should be very careful about the ideas you let in your head. Because ideas can limit you and what you do. It’s simple do you create a world to your own standards or do you seek to fit in to a world that doesn’t understand you?


29 John Soares September 4, 2012 at 10:52 AM

Thank you for the thoughtful comment Charles.

I agree that we shouldn’t think of introvert/extrovert as a simple dichotomy. I think it’s best to think of it as a continuum.

And yes, some introvert/extrovert characteristics or behavior choices will be shaped by culture and specific upbringing, but one of the points made in the book is that some people are born with innate characteristics of introverts or extroverts.
John Soares recently posted…How the Web Changes Your Brain and Hurts Your Life


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