Date Archives June 2013

The lure of introversion: QUIET by Susan Cain

Quiet_Power_of_introverts_Susan_CainI’m having a pyjama day today. I’ve had a couple lately. Every now and then the world gets too busy, I get run-down and I jump into bed (I try not to take my laptop – too often). The kids are at child care so I can luxuriate in nothingness. Sleep. Read. Try not to think too much. Recuperate. When I was a teenager I used to need pyjama days a lot. Each year in high school, I’d take one day, and it would turn into a week. I would lie on the couch and watch morning TV, then the soap operas, then vegetate. I’ve always loved my mum for understanding that I needed to do this. As a kid I put a lot of pressure on myself. I didn’t need parental expectations, I had enough of my own. I was a hard worker, a passionate student and wanted to excel. This downtime kept me going. There’s a reason people call them ‘mental health days’. But I wonder, does everyone need them?

I’ve recently read a book that has changed my perspective on the world, and given me real insight into the way I approach things. Susan Cain’s QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (she also does a great session on TED). It’s become my Bible that I want to carry around and refer to all the time. It’s certainly explained a lot of my behaviour for the past 41 years. Cain focuses on introversion not as a form of shyness, but how we respond to external stimulation. Most introverts prefer, and get off on, quiet environments. They prefer one-on-one conversations over group activities, usually D&Ms (deep & meaningfuls), not social chitchat. They enjoy time alone. They like working in spaces where they have their own office (and can shut the door), where they can focus right in, without distractions. All of this is so familiar to me.

But problems can arise because these days there is great pressure to be an extrovert (especially when you’re a writer, an often introverted profession), to be a great public speaker, to work the room at events. While I don’t think Australia is quite at the level of the US (where it’s almost seen as a stigma to be introverted), many grow up thinking that to be successful they need to be a ‘people person’. It makes me laugh thinking back to my first job interviews as a teenager, as I always said this about myself knowing it to be key, but even then I felt like it was a deceit.

Susan Cain talks about the power of introspection at TED
Susan Cain talks at TED

As I grew older, I put more pressure on myself to take on roles that involved a public life (information officer, marketing) but in the end it was exhausting. What I really wanted was to be an editor or writer, to work on projects, to be thorough and demanding and immersed. And as a freelancer working from home, I’ve created that space. The digital world has opened that up to me.

When I worked in the public service, offices were being removed, everyone was going open plan, all staff were being trained to be trainers, brainstorming was the ‘in’ thing, the constant noise was deafening, and no-one ever got any work done. Cain systematically goes through many of these ideas (open plan, brainstorming, group activities at school) and argues that often the end result is not the best outcome (either for introverts or extroverts).

There is also a great deal of pressure on parents to have social children who fit in easily and make lots of friends. Even at kinder level, my son is doing talks to the group. Many parents enrol their kids in whirlwinds of extra activities after school like dancing, soccer and music. But what about the child who would rather stay at home and lie on the couch, reading? In the school holidays I used to take a stack of books, wherever I was, and find a comfy corner. We’re going to the beach! Swimming! The sun’s shining outside! It was very hard to drag me out…But I was passionate about words. And I was completely, blissfully, happy exploring those worlds. And still am.

Now, somehow my introverted husband and I have managed to raise two extroverted kids (there’s another story in itself – it really helps at parties when your son know all the kids’ and parent’s names) but the important main point of QUIET is that introverts should be left alone (in many senses), not forced to change, and can even teach others in their own ways. Without introverts, we’d be missing out on many writers, artists, researchers and scientists who step back and look at the world from a different angle.

Social media is an interesting space because it is an easy way for introverts to become extroverts. It’s much easier to approach others, to comment, to be part of the conversation, to self-promote. But it can be too easy too. When I opened my Twitter yesterday I saw a tweet that I don’t remember sending. I thought I had been hacked! Kirsten Krauth read a book by Kirsten Krauth. It had gone out to everyone! It really brings solipsism to a whole new level, doesn’t it? But what had happened was that I had marked my own novel  in Goodreads (ie I had ‘read’ it) and Goodreads sent that tweet off via Twitter without me realising. The ludicrous nature of that tweet really brought it home. As Cain points out, there is a point when I need to stop talking. And I’ll be ironic and use my blog to say that.

It’s time to get back down under the doona and start on the pile of novels I’ve got beside the bed.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? ARE YOU AN EXTROVERT OR INTROVERT? DO YOU NEED DOWNTIME? HOW DO YOU MANAGE IT ALL?

OK, my book is out, now what?

Thrilled at the book's safe arrival!
It’s arrived! just_a_girl released 1 June…

When I posted that question recently on Facebook, a good mate said: ‘Sell it.’ Increasingly, with the advent of social media, and with book buyers receding, there is pressure on writers to market and sell their own books. I sometimes wish we could revert to the olden days before writer festivals, book tours and launches, when after your book was written, someone else would take it off your hands and you could let it gently fly away (I recently heard someone refer to releasing your book as watching your baby crawl across an eight-lane freeway.)

But who am I kidding?  I realise the irony of this, as I sit here writing a blog about my new book. I recently enjoyed seeing the literary critic James Wood speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. I love his reviews, and they focus as much on the writer as the writing. The audience is hungry to know where the essence of the fiction comes from, what ‘truth’ gives the novel its flavour. I admire the guts of Italian writer Elena Ferrante, who Wood quotes:

Ferrante sent her publisher a letter that, like her fiction, is pleasingly rigorous and sharply forthright. It lays out principles she has not deviated from since. She will do nothing for [her book] “Troubling Love,” she tells her publisher, because she has already done enough: she wrote it. She won’t take part in conferences or discussions, and won’t go to accept prizes, if any are awarded. “I will be interviewed only in writing, but I would prefer to limit even that to the indispensable minimum”:

[Ferrante says] I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t. . . . I very much love those mysterious volumes, both ancient and modern, that have no definite author but have had and continue to have an intense life of their own. They seem to me a sort of nighttime miracle, like the gifts of the Befana, which I waited for as a child. . . . True miracles are the ones whose makers will never be known. . . . Besides, isn’t it true that promotion is expensive? I will be the least expensive author of the publishing house. I’ll spare you even my presence.

Oh, to have the gall! I wonder if she has read Wood’s article…

It is daunting letting your first book out into the world. You want it to be reviewed but to be treated kindly. You want discussion that looks at the real issues, that delves beneath the surface. You want your characters to be respected (but not necessarily liked). You want the fact that you’re a beginner (in terms of novels) taken into account.

Margaret Atwood, in a recent interview with Jennifer Byrne (currently available on ABC iView), mentioned that there were four kinds of books: good books that make money; bad books that make money; good books that make no money; and bad books that make no money. She said that three of these four is OK! I love her cheeky style.

And so here we go…the spruik (I promise I will only do this once).

just_a_girl was released into bookstores on 1 June

It’s been very exciting to finally see the manuscript in book form. When I opened the package from the publishers my hands were shaking and I did the equivalent of the touchdown dance they do in footy (or whatever it’s called).

Apparently, the book is available in Australian bookstores (a friend saw it in Readings in Melbourne but, being a rural Victorian, I haven’t seen it in a bookstore yet – if you do send pics!). If you live in Castlemaine, Stoneman’s will have it.

You can also buy either a paperback or e-book version from UWA Publishing here. If you live in the States or elsewhere overseas (I know a number of readers do), it’s available for pre-order on Amazon.

Invite: Sydney launch of just_a_girl, 18 June, Gleebooks, 6.30pm
Invite: Sydney launch of just_a_girl, 18 June, Gleebooks, 6.30pm

The official launches

The Sydney launch is coming up fast. TUESDAY 18 JUNE, 6.30pm, at Gleebooks, to be launched by the wonderful novelist Emily Maguire. If you’d like to come along, you can RSVP directly to Gleebooks via their website. Children are welcome. Would love to celebrate and meet you there.

The Castlemaine launch will be SATURDAY 13 JULY at Lot 19 in Castlemaine, from 5pm, to be launched by Angela Meyer of LiteraryMinded fame. The band Itchy Scabs will be playing and kids are welcome there too. If you’re in Melbourne, come up for the weekend. It’s a gorgeous spot to explore. Invites are being prepared as we speak…

Order it at your library

If you don’t have the funds to buy books (and many don’t), please ask for it at your library. I love libraries and the more libraries who order it, and the more requests at those libraries, the happier I will be.

Review it on Goodreads and Amazon

The worst thing that can happen for a writer is resounding silence, after ten years of focus on a work… If you like the book (or if you hate it), please talk about it. I’ve set up an author page and the book is now up for discussion at Goodreads. Get in contact with me on the blog, do a review. I’m so keen to hear your thoughts. Also, if you’re not on Goodreads, it is absolute heaven for book lovers. You can create shelves with books you have read, books you’re currently reading, do reviews, rate books, recommend books to others, and get close and personal with writers.

Suggest it for your Book Club — or start your own

Book Clubs are a fantastic way of talking about writers, especially debut novelists! If you’re a member of a Book Club, just_a_girl has some terrific book club notes exploring the following issues:

• Sexuality and identity; Teenage friendships and relationships; The dangers of social media and technology; Mother-daughter relationships; Faith and healing; Searching for connection in a disconnected world

Interviews and articles

The most wonderful thing about social media is how bloggers and tweeters help each other out. I will be posting interviews and articles/reviews regularly at Wild Colonial Girl, but first off the rank is the lovely Allison Tait who invited me in for a cup of tea and a chat at her blog Life in a Pink Fibro — about the teenage voice (in an adult novel) and choosing a publisher.

If you’d like to interview me, would like a guest blog post, or a review copy, just click on the Contact tab and send me a message.

Read a sample chapter or two

Sometimes, with all the choice on offer, I like to see a writer’s style of writing before I purchase a book, especially if it’s the first time. Here’s a sample (introductory chapters) of just_a _girl and I hope you enjoy it…

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

HAVE YOU HAD A BOOK PUBLISHED?

WHAT WAS IT LIKE LETTING IT OUT INTO THE WORLD?

AND HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT PROMOTING IT — AND DID YOU WANT TO?