Monday, July 18, 2011

Flipping the Switch from “Introvert” to “Extrovert”

I am hugely excited to share today's wonderful post by editor Deborah Halverson. Not only is she founder of the popular Dear Editor site as well as a former editor with Harcourt, but she has written Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies.

What could be even cooler than that? We will be giving away a copy of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies! (See give away details at the end of the post.*)

Flipping the Switch from “Introvert” to “Extrovert”
by Deborah Halverson

I am an introvert.

Over the years I’ve surprised quite a few people by saying that. I don’t act like an introvert, they say—and they’re right. I readily step up to open microphones, I eagerly shake new hands when they’re offered, I easily sit down next to random strangers at publishing functions and make new friends. I’m certainly not shy. I’m just most comfortable doing my own little thing in my own little corner with my own little family. A wedding DJ once told my now-husband and I, “If you want your guests to dance, you have to dance. They’ll do whatever you do—you’re the life of the party!” We nearly canceled the wedding and bolted for the Little White Wedding Chapel in Vegas. When the option is there, I’ll choose Fly on the Wall over Belle of the Ball every time.

But the option isn’t always there, at least not career-wise. As an in-house editor and then a freelance editor, author, and writing instructor, my career has always required me to reach out to others and get them excited about the topic at hand. I must talk to kids in schools, to other writers, to bookbuyers and booksellers and librarians and publishers. I can only do my job if I put myself out there. So I do—with one quick flip of an internal switch. Bam! Extrovert Mode.

I make it sound instantaneous, but developing that switch has been a life-long process. That’s no exaggeration. I realized my preference for the quiet side of life in late grade school. Figuring that anything I did in a future career would require me to step out of those shadows I so enjoyed, I very consciously set about making myself comfortable with activities that extroverts take for granted. For me, the secret to flipping the switch to Extrovert Mode is being comfortable with extrovert behavior. Here are six things I’ve learned to do to cultivate that comfort:

1. Be prepared. If you’re well prepared when you step out, you’re confident and thus more comfortable putting yourself out there. Preparation may mean writing your presentation well in advance, it may mean researching the people who will be present at a gathering, it may mean, on a grander scale, joining Toastmasters or volunteering for small speaking gigs in order to get used to having a roomful of eyes on you. Preparation equals comfort, and comfort helps introverts step into the spotlight and enjoy themselves while they’re there.

2. Make it personal. Engage with a specific person during every outreach. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re socially repressed; I love making new friends and chatting it up with people one-on-one. It’s reaching out to anonymous masses that feels yucky. Yet that kind of outreach is often what’s required in this social media-dependent world of ours. So, make the anonymous personal by aiming every outreach at a particular person. I designed my writers’ advice site with that in mind—all my posts there are direct answers to questions sent to me by specific readers. Similarly, if I write a guest post on someone else’s blog, I imagine I’m writing the post for one of that blog’s commenters, whom I’ll have identified before laying down a single word. When I write my books, I have specific young readers in mind whom I’ll imagine holding my book and laughing in all the right places. If I’m facing a roomful of writers at a conference or a crowd at a schmoozing event, I immediately pick out a specific person to talk to so that I feel I’ve got a friend in the room from that moment on. That makes me more comfortable about being there—and more likely to say yes when other presentation invites or parties crop up.

3. Lead with a question. Ask questions to drive conversations at gatherings and events. This takes the pressure to be enchanting off of you, the person you’re talking to will feel as if they’ve just had a great conversation because they’ve shared so much, and you’ll get more comfortable being at that gathering because you’ve just made it personal (see #2 above). Plus, you’ll learn the most fascinating things about people! That’s reason enough to get out and about.

4. Channel Miss Manners. Pushiness has no place in an introvert’s efforts to reach out. Embrace niceness instead—it works better, anyway. Catch more flies with honey, and all that. Be respectful about contacting people; having someone’s email address doesn’t mean you can use it carte blanche. When someone reaches out to you, respond quickly, if only to say that you can’t respond fully right now but will by the end of the week. I’m a nice person by nature, so being nice makes me comfortable about reaching out and thus more likely to flip the switch to Extrovert Mode when the time is right.

5. Make it worth their while. I feel more comfortable putting myself out there if I’m giving the people listening to me something for their time. And what I can give is information, so that’s what I do give—at school events, at writing workshops, on You can do that, too. As you learn about your passions (your book themes and subjects, literacy, the craft or business of writing), you’re collecting info that others would like to know. Share it. If people like what you have to say, they’ll tell their friends about you and buy your books. Your outreach will be successful, and you’ll feel happy that you haven’t abused anyone’s time in the process. Happiness equals comfort equals willingness to continue stepping out.

6. Be sincere. One reason introverts don’t like reaching out is that they feel like fakes when they shine the spotlight on themselves. So don’t be a fake. Only promise what you can deliver, only compliment when you mean it, don’t imply friendship if you’re just looking for a sale or a connection, and only ask others to do what you yourself would do for others. If you are genuine in your outreach, then you are comfortable with it—and being comfortable is how introverts flip the switch to Extrovert Mode.

My style doesn’t make for the most aggressive kind of marketing, but as an introvert I want no part of aggressive, anyway. I’ve seen websites where authors barter each others’ mailing lists, assigning value to their list of addresses based on the number of buys they scored with that list. Perhaps this helps them sell books, but such used car salesman tactics send the introvert in me scurrying to the dark corners. I know that the only way to get myself to step out of my comfort zone is to extend my comfort zone—and I am most comfortable when I am prepared, nice, curious, giving, and sincere.

Deborah Halverson is the award-winning author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies and the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth. Armed with a masters in American Literature, Deborah edited picture books and teen novels for Harcourt Children’s Books for ten years before leaving to write full-time. She is a frequent speaker at writers conferences and a writing teacher for groups and institutions including UCSD’s Extension Program. Deborah is also the founder of the popular writers’ advice website and freelance edits fiction and non-fiction for both published authors and writers seeking their first book deals. For more about Deborah, check out her website

*For a chance to win a copy of WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES, just leave a comment telling us:

A) what For Dummies book would you like to see out there on the shelves (That's kind of a no-brainer for me, Introverts for Dummies, of course!)


B) If  you could have an on/off switch that you could flip at will, what personal characteristic would it control? (Personally, I would love a clean-freak switch that I could flip once a week, then turn off once the house was clean.)


Heidi W said...

Great post! By nature, it seems that many writers are introverts. I struggle with this as well.

I'd like to read Intergalactic Space Travel for Dummies because I need a vacation, and no where on Earth is far enough away right now.

storyqueen said...

Such a wonderful explanation of what it's like to be an introverted writer! People who meet me (draped in my velvet robes and jewels as the Story Queen) would never guess that the true me is an introvert. What they don't understand is that the costume is my armor, the stories I tell are my shield.

Anyway, I probably need that clean-freak-switch...or maybe a secretary-switch. You know, flip the switch and take care of all the paper work you've been putting off.

Printing out this post.


Erin Liles said...

I love this post! I am definitely an inrovert but I also struggle with social and general anxiety. Kind of a double whammy I guess! Nevertheless, I have learned to give presentations and speeches relatively well-preparation is definitely key.

So if i had a switch it would be to not only to turn on an extrovert, but one that is much more relaxed too!


Gigi said...

Thank you, Violets and Deborah, for a practical and inspiring post. This is a super-great list that I'll print and keep as a little review sheet! Oh, right now, I suppose I'm in desperate need of How to Be a Good Mom After Your Girl Graduates High School. For Dummies. Yep, simple and basic so I understand what to do next. :-)

Mary Nethery said...

"Lead with a question" is always a good way to go. Here's a link to Top Ten Myths About Introverts that all of us introverts may be able to relate to!

I'd like an on-off switch that let me eat all the frosting and desserts I wanted. Then I'd flip it off before any of the calories turned into fat!

Becky Levine said...

Just what I needed to hear today. I'm heading out this weekend to do my first book festival--where you apparently have to sit at a table and DRAW PEOPLE TO YOU!! There's a reason I haven't done this yet. These tips all help. Thanks!

The on/off switch I'd like is one that would shut off the worrying part of my brain, at times when the worrying can't do any good. :)

Avery Michaels said...

Great post! I was a painfully shy shrinking violet when I was younger. One day I woke up deciding life was short and I was missing out on so much by not venturing out there and enjoying what life had to offer.

I took a huge step and tried out for a community theater play and surprised (shocked is more like it) myself when I won the lead female part!

Now I am such a different person. Love meeting new people and have made some wonderful friends through the effort. Not to mention learn so much from them.

Thanks for the post! Oh, BTW, I'd love to see a 'How to Find Time to Do it All for Dummies'.


Caroline Starr Rose said...

My year on exchange forced me to fend for myself and taught me a lot about engaging others, even when it was hard. I remember a few years later going to a college weekend event and being asked to mingle with the other entering freshman. Wow. A lot of them, it seemed, had never been asked to interact before with people they didn't know.

I credit that year away as my extravert training mode time. It's helped me in a lot of situations over the years...

Jack Ruttan said...

I think I'd check out Self-Organization for Dummies, 'cause I need that. Also housecleaning, since I like handy tips to do that, also hate the work.

Probably would like a general courage switch at the moment, so as not to run away from difficult things.

brian said...

When I was in high school, I was absolutely terrified of getting up in front of people. I'd take a zero on a report rather than stand up and present it in front of the class. Then I got to college and I took a speech class (it was required). I got up there for my first "speech"; we had to read a passage from a book, and I chose The Hobbit. I've read the passage so many times, and I'm such a fast reader, that I didn't really have to read it that much. I glanced at the page, then looked up and said the line, looking at a point on the wall at the back of the room.

When it was over, my teacher gave me an A+, saying "You must have practiced." (I hadn't.) That's when I realized that, you know, most people don't notice that you're nervous. They want to see you do a good job, they want to learn from you, they want a not-crappy performance, and so they project those desires onto your performance. If you screw up, they forget about it.

And so I, too, developed a switch. I changed my major from computer science (definitely an introvert major) to theatre (just about the polar opposite). I haven't regretted it since.

As for the next switch I'd like to develop, I would love a Casanova switch, which would allow me to talk to women without coming across as too big of a dufus ;)

Good article. :)

Metropolista said...

A)Self-confidence for Dummies.

B) Patience / Impatience. If I could switch a flip and become suddenly filled with patience, I would do it NOW. Like yesterday.

Anonymous said...

B. Approachable

I know this is a ridiculously introvert thing to write, but I wish I wasn't so approachable so I wouldn't have to talk to as many people in public. I feel like random people are all always telling me their life stories. Example: I'm sitting in Starbucks right now, and a guy named Gary who is at least twice my age just told me all about his PTSD, past modelling career, failed marriage, dental adjustments, and nose surgery.

I have headphones in because I don't want to be approached.

Deborah Halverson said...

Wow, such fascinating stories of stepping out. I particularly love hearing about you introverts-turned-thespians. Ha! I wonder if one reason that’s so comfortable to you is because you’re acting like someone else? Hmm. Becky, good luck at your book festival. I hope you draw people like flies to [insert your favorite sweet treat]. Caroline, your story about the benefits of time abroad is right on. My husband and I moved with our three 3.5 yrs olds to England for a year, and being both American and triplets really made them stand out---and learn to be comfortable with social interactions; it was a wonderfully formative experience for them (and me!). Kathryn, one of my favorite things to do is sit in the coffee shop with earphones on and people watch. I don’t hear a word they say, just read their body language as they talk with others (or keep to themselves). Major characterization material there! Thanks all, for your kind words about my words. The Violets have been wonderful to work with.

marcie_ann said...

I need a "Do not feel guilty about this" switch. I'm a Special Ed teacher and a mom who almost never takes time for herself but when I do, I feel guilty about it. I'd LOVE for that to stop!

Sandra Stiles said...

Excellent points. Ones I have jotted down to remember. I once horrified my mother when told her my goal as to fill a house in the mountains full of books and have everything delivered so I didn't have to deal with people. I force myself out of my comfort zone when necessary. I agree that on those occasions when I worked in theater it was because I was someone else who was stronger in character. The book I would like to see would be How to stop working and learn to relax for Dummies. I'm like the energizer bunny, I just keep going.

T. Forehand said...

I am also an introvert, yet know that I must put myself out there to promote my prayer book and to get the children's books that I write out there. So refreshing to know that those who are so successful still struggle with the same things I feel. If it wasn't the Dummies book for introverts maybe the next one would be Dummies for those who need to speak in public. Public speaking makes me sweat just thinking about it. I am just not articulate and I get too nervous. Need to get over this if and when school visits are my reality.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I don't write young adult fiction, so don't put me in the drawing for the book...but I just had to comment. I did theater all through school and I've done some community theater as well, but I still hate having to address a crowd as "me." Somehow being a character with prepared lines is MUCH easier than trying to be Melissa with or without preparation! I've gotten better lately, but it's been with sustained effort...

Laura C. said...

I agree with some of the posters that writing/reading is, by nature, an introvert's activity. I have no idea how I'd deal with people if I ever had to promote my book in person. I guess I should be happy with writing for myself. (Then why do I keep sending off queries to agents? Duh.)

Anonymous said...

Number one is key for me!

theartgirl said...

I'd like an on/off switch to turn me into a person who actually enjoys exercise.

Stacy said...

I'd like an extrovert switch.

danakrawchuk said...

I really enjoyed this post because I am most definitely an introvert. At times I'm incredibly shy and it has been quite painful. This article has given me a lot to think about in terms of my writing career. Thank you.

Now, I would like an anti-procrastination switch. And perhaps a self-confidence boosting switch. Those would be best for me.


R.L. LaFevers said...

Wow, I could use a copy of each of these suggested DUMMIES books on my shelves, that's for sure!

And the switches! Oh how easy my life would be with all these great switch ideas!

Thanks for playing along! The winner will be announced tomorrow...

Matt Larkin said...

Thanks on behalf of introverts. For me the biggest thing I take away here is when you say you prefer the quiet, but flip the switch anyway.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Introverts require a bit more insight into something they ignored:

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