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Comfort Zones

Thursday, July 17, 2008

We’ve had an ongoing joke in my local writing group, Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, about how on the second Saturday of every month, we’re the most extroverted group of introverts anyone has ever seen. This most recent meeting, we had a visitor come who’d found out about our meeting through the announcement on our group blog. Usually what happens is that someone posts a comment that they’re interested and they’d like to be contacted by “one of the moderators” (me) and we have an e-mail dialogue before they visit one of the meetings. I can thoroughly understand someone wanting to do this—it’s more comfortable to visit a new group when you’ve already met someone there (even if it’s just through cyberspace). But this gal just decided to come and check us out. Well, come to find out, she’s an extrovert—doesn’t mind going new places and meeting new people; in fact, she probably is stimulated personally and creatively by doing so.

Most of us always assume that a great majority of writers are introverts. And I’m using that term in the technical sense—introverts need time alone, it’s through solitude or time away from others that introverts recharge and get energy; being around large groups of people is extremely draining for the true introvert. (Extroverts, naturally, are the opposite and get their energy and stimulation from being around people; they have a tendency to shut down and become depressed if forced to spend too much time alone.) Those who are closer to center (like me) can do both when need be, but always we revert back to our natural inclination (which, for me, is getting away from it all to recharge).

I’m starting to wonder now if that commonly held belief that most writers are introverts is as true as we think.

Think about writers who talk about how they can’t work in silence, or they get their best work done down at the local coffee shop where people are coming and going all the time. Now, I personally, don’t work well with complete silence. I almost always have music playing—but very softly in the background. But there’s no way I’d be able to write in a coffee shop where people are talking, the register is going, the barristas are taking orders, the doors opening and closing—I’d find it far too distracting. Yet some writers love this environment. I’d venture a guess they’re extroverts.

People who’ve met me at conferences have a really hard time believing that I’m not an extrovert, that I am very uncomfortable when in large groups, and that for me, approaching someone I’ve never met and talking to them is one of the hardest things I do. For a couple of years, being an officer with ACFW made it somewhat easier because I was representing the organization, not myself. I’ve also learned over the years techniques for networking and taught myself (through lots of practice) how to handle social situations not by focusing on the large group of people surrounding me, but by focusing on only a few people out of that large group. (For more tips and tricks, check out the two series on Networking on the Writing Series Index page.)

Ah, yes, networking. You’ve read about it often enough here, and heard about it elsewhere. Why is it so important to push ourselves out of our introverted comfort zones and do something we don’t enjoy?

As I’ve stated before, you don’t have to network in order to get published. You don’t have to be a member of a professional writers’ organization (ACFW, RWA, MWA, etc.). You don’t have to attend conferences. You don’t have to blog. You don’t have to enter contests. You don’t have to do anything but write and submit in order to pursue publication. But those things sure do help.

How many times have I relayed the story about how I knew my agent for a couple of years before I ever submitted anything to him? He not only interviewed me for a job (when he was publisher of one of the CBA houses located in Nashville), but from that meeting came an idea for a project that we worked on together for ACFW. I took his continuing education session at that year’s ACFW conference. The next year, I’d planned to seek him out at conference just to touch-base and keep the dialogue open—and then I learned he’d left the publishing house and was opening an agency. Since I was only there for one evening (the banquet), as soon as I saw him walking down the hall, I had a decision to make: stay in my comfort zone, not put myself forward, OR talk to him and ask him if I could submit. The conversation lasted less than two minutes. And he’s now my agent.

Knowing the boundaries of our comfort zones is important, because if we don’t know where the boundaries are, we won’t know in what areas we need to be pushing ourselves.

Building name recognition (in a good way) before publication is important. If you are actively involved in your writing organization, if you are successful in contests, if you volunteer or serve as an officer, if you write a blog that generates interest amongst other writers—and possibly editors and agents—then when you start submitting, if the editor whose desk your proposal lands on recognizes your name, he or she might be a little more interested in looking at it (just like we’re always more interested in reading debut novels by people whose names we recognize than those we don’t).

This year at conference, I’ll be pushing my comfort zone by giving one of the morning devotionals as well as volunteering to be a timekeeper for the editor/agent meetings. But in a way, this was sort of a selfish act. You see, I enjoy public speaking, so getting up in front of everyone (though I’ll be nervous) will be enjoyable for me. And when I saw the call for volunteer timekeepers, my heart leapt because all I could think of was being able to be there for all of those people who are so nervous they’re nearly sick to their stomachs—to be able to talk to them, and possibly pray with them, beforehand, and to be able to see them afterward. Yes, it will mean talking to a bunch of people I’ve never met before, but it meshes so well with my desire to lift up and encourage other writers that it’s an easy way to step out of my own comfort zone.

So I challenge you: what’s one way you can step out of your comfort zone to help further your writing career this year?

  1. Thursday, July 17, 2008 9:31 am

    Kaye, I always find so much to connect with in your posts. I have a profession for which I need to be extroverted (music teacher) and in fact, most people think I’m poised and confident. I’m glad I come across as such, but there’s a long running joke in my family that reflects who I really am. On a vacation to the lake when I was about eight, all the other children were splashing in the water and skipping rocks, and I sat on a big boulder gazing across the water, daydreaming, making up stories in my head. Despite my confident exterior, that’s who I am on the inside.

    I attend my first conference next month. I will put on my professional clothes and slide into my professional veneer, though when my laptop opens, that’s who I’ll really be. I already know that it will be a stretch for me to introduce myself to people “blind”, but with my teacher-clothes and briefcase in hand, I can “put on” that extroverted side of me and (hopefully) step out in confidence.

    Great topic. Thanks for opening this discussion!


  2. Emilie permalink
    Thursday, July 17, 2008 10:00 am

    I have some friends who are truly introverted, and my husband almost didn’t make it through our wedding reception because so many people wanted his attention, but I find myself closer to the middle like you described yourself. Even so, when I went to my first writing conference this past April, I was so drained from being around that many people that I sought solice on the balcony of our fourth-floor site, even though I’m normally afraid of heights!!! And I wasn’t the only one out there, pretending they had the whole thing to themselves:)

    I’m stepping out of my comfort zone right now, actually–my husband and I started a web site to promote my writing last weekend. We’re having some issues with the host, so it’s not up yet, but it’s something I’ve been avoiding forever and I finally said “I need to do this.” Now that it’s almost ready, I’m excited for people to see it and I hope it will become a way to connect with other writers and readers in the future.


  3. Thursday, July 17, 2008 10:12 am

    @Gwen–I know just what you mean about putting on that professional demeanor when going into uncomfortable situations. The first few minutes that I’m doing it, I always feel like a fraud—but then once I start feeling comfortable, it’s easier to start feeling more like myself and less like I’m playing a role.


  4. Thursday, July 17, 2008 10:13 am

    @Emilie–Self promotion can be one of the hardest things for introverts. Most of the time, it makes us feel like we’re standing (naked?) in the middle of a crowded room shouting, “Look at me! Look at me!”

    So, good job in stepping out to do that–and be sure to post a link here to your site once it’s up and running.


  5. Thursday, July 17, 2008 12:47 pm

    Kaye, let me just tell you now, keep a papersack handy for when I come by for my appointment. My stomach is churning right now just thinking about it.

    I am in complete agreement about networking! it is so difficult for me, but really important too! This entire year has been OUT of my comfort zone. I attended a writer’s retreat, I joined ACFW, I actually got up the guts to go to the MTCW group meeting (even though I was 20 minutes late after I got thoroughly lost and was so embarressed I thought I would die). I joined a critique group, I’ve sent out emails to strangers with this horrible fear that everyone would hate me and think I am a horrible person, I started on the ACFW forum thingy which was easy after I got started, but it took an aweful lot for me to post those few times.

    So, I think for me it is the initial step. Once I’ve done it, it gets easy.

    Here is my story for the day: Actually, I thought better of it and just put it on my blog ( because it was too long… but it relates a bit to comfort zones and how big names are scary (to me anyway!!!).

    Sorry for my slight self-promotion, but it is really a funny story (I think anyway..)


  6. Thursday, July 17, 2008 1:12 pm

    I’m a faking extroverted introvert. I loathe public speaking, but according to people I’ve talked to you wouldn’t have guessed it by hearing me speak. I’m fairly good at pretending that I like to be around a lot of people, but really I’m generally lazy and prefer to just stick to what I know just because it takes less energy than meeting groups of new people or keeping strangers entertained. I can if I have to, but it’s not my favorite thing to do.

    And I’ll figure out how to handle this once I get settled into Wilmington.


  7. Thursday, July 17, 2008 2:44 pm

    I guess I must be an extroverted introvert. Talking to people that I have never met is a scary proposition, but once I do it, I’m always glad. I like to write in restaurants or coffee shops (though I watch people as much as I write) and at the library (though I write in the quiet room with my face in the carrell where you can’t see anyone else.)

    This year at conference I’m slated to pick up agents, editors, and faculty from the airport and deliver them to the hotel. I’ll be the one standing in the baggage claim area with my little card “Joe Editor” and quaking with fear.


  8. Thursday, July 17, 2008 3:09 pm

    Introvert, extrovert isn’t confined to authors. As a calligrapher, I need silence to work. Think monk in a scriptorium. Five years ago, an opportunity to teach at an art museum came up. I had never thought about teaching. The first night, I was scared to death. I had never considered myself good at public speaking. What I discovered was I enjoyed teaching, enjoyed sharing my skill and passing on the joy to others. Pushing our personal envelope makes us grow and sometimes we discover new things about ourselves.


  9. Thursday, July 17, 2008 4:12 pm

    I am an introvert that craves being around others. I noticed the last week when I was depressed about trying to meet new people in a town I am new to, that most of what I do is alone activites. Reading, running, writing, and studying do not fill up a social calendar. Even though I do all those things I do like to talk a lot, so I have realized I need to expand my activites and have started with a bookclub. As for expanding my writing career– I have just started it by joining this group, starting a very basic blog page, and writing a little. I do need lots a of grammer help anyone have some advice. Should I get a workbook and work on it every day which would take up the small amount of time I have to just write or just write??


  10. Thursday, July 17, 2008 4:25 pm

    @Shellie–sounds to me like you’re an extrovert who just thinks she’s an introvert. 😉 Most introverts crave “alone activities” and would be jealous of the time you’ve had to yourself recently.


  11. Thursday, July 17, 2008 4:48 pm

    Okay, I’m going to say that I’m going to step out of my comfort zone by actually submitting one of my manuscripts to one or two publishing houses…finally…this year. Might as well start accumulating those rejection slips now, right!

    Sadly, I’ve had to back out of going to the ACFW conference for some family reasons. I’m bumped and get depressed just thinking about it but I know this is what God is calling me to do. He’s the boss. I’m listening. Otherwise, I’d add actually attending agent and editor meetings to my list of stepping outside my comfort zone. I didn’t do any such meetings at the last writer’s conference I was at in June, so this would have been a great one to try that at, too. Praying that next year will be my first ACFW conference.


  12. Thursday, July 17, 2008 8:24 pm

    I’m an introvert, but I don’t have a problem networking and approaching strangers to strike up a conversation. I prefer to be alone when I want to write, but I’ve had to learn to write wherever I am. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get much of a chance to write because of my full-time job and other responsibilities of being a mom and wife and familie activities. Great topic.


  13. Friday, July 18, 2008 4:09 pm

    I was beginning to have Kaye withdrawals – I’ve been without internet for a couple of days as we changed providers!

    What a great post to make my return. Growing up, I was the classic introvert, but jobs and livelihood turned towards sales, and I had to “turn it on” to become a great salesman. It worked, but only when working. I’m still incredibly shy when on my own.

    As I grew toward fulltime freelancing, I began retreating again – and even today, made the comment that I was becoming more hermit-like each day – and enjoying it. Even going to the grocery store, being around people drains me to the point of headache every time.

    So this challenges me. More than you could realize. I’m trying to decide now whether to go to conference. Finances are a major factor, but my current hermit status plays an almost equal role – it would be a major step out of my comfort zone.

    Thanks for the challenge.


  14. Friday, July 18, 2008 4:44 pm

    I am volunteering at ACFW for registration. I am a deep introvert, but I do enjoy one on one activities.


  15. Amy permalink
    Saturday, July 19, 2008 2:57 pm

    Kaye, I have to say I will always believe that 99% of writers are introverted as defined by Meyers-Briggs. IMHO only people who are introverted are able to stand the long, lonely periods of isolation in order to create something on the page.

    For those who aren’t familiar with it, M-B works with 4 axes of personality: introverted/extroverted, sensory/intuitive, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. A fun test is located at After you have your personality type, google it (eg INTJ) for lots of fascinating info. As far as writing, I was once advised that Meyers-Briggs personality categories can even be used to help build consistent characters!


  16. M Isaac permalink
    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 6:47 am

    I think that trying your hand with freelancing will be a great way to get out of your comfort zone! I am sorry to hear your bad news – been there, done that. An uncertain future can be scary but this will help you become stronger in the long run. I always say the saying “things happen for a reason” is true. Look at this as an opportunity to take the next path in your life!

    I think it is great that you love speaking in public – I despise it. Interesting how we are all so different.


  17. Thursday, July 24, 2008 1:18 pm

    I’m an introvert, without a doubt. I can pretend I’m happy and upbeat and talk to people I don’t know, but it’s incredibly draining. I much prefer one-on-one interaction, or Internet interaction. Except at Kent House. It was always very easy for me to strike up conversations with tourists there, because they tended to love history as much as I do. But, I also stayed very tired all the time because of the constant interaction.

    I’m home all by myself right now and I’m in heaven. It’s just me and my cat in the house. It’s so quiet and peaceful and I’m sitting here watching thunderstorm clouds blow by. I’m the person you’re going to see off in the corner by myself. And I’m perfectly happy to be that person. I am stepping out on a limb Saturday and meeting a fellow ACFWer for coffee, while she’s in town visiting family.

    Talking to people at conference didn’t happen last year. I couldn’t make myself do it. If Kaye and Erica hadn’t talked to me first, I probably never would have worked up the nerve! I think it’ll be much easier this year since we’ve got our little forum group going and I feel like I know some of you already.


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