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Extraversion/Introversion and creativity - The Motive Center
August 22nd, 2004
09:45 pm

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Extraversion/Introversion and creativity
Arcane? Not as bad as it sounds. As I was rehearsing my talk on "The Seven Deadly Myths of Creativity" I will be giving at the Boston Worldcon (Thursday September 2, 3pm), I was thinking about one particular myth, which is that you have to be alone to create. Not so! Isaac Asimov (author of nearly 500 books) wrote while working at his father's candy store, and so had to be interruptible at all times--so he was. Didn't stop him, obviously.

But upon reflection, I realized I could go a step further and note not only that some people can write despite interruption (which is really about isolating yourself mentally or maintaining a train of thought), but some people may produce better when in a group.

Extraverts are people who get energy from groups, or like to think collectively--they bounce things off other people. Introverts, by contrast, prefer to withdraw and consider things themselves. My late, great mentor David McClelland was a bit of an extravert--while he was perfectly capable of thinking on his own, he always worked with a group of students, with whom he would work. For my dissertation, I sent him memos every week, and he would return them every week, and we would respond to each other. When we were writing the same ideas, I knew I was ready to go.

Similarly, many writers like using workshops, where they can use others as a source to think about what they want to write. The key here is (as always) to remember that personalities are different, and nothing works for everyone. Some people might do better reading aloud!

For those who are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, this is the same dimension of E/I, which is incidentally the only dimension of the MBTI that really holds up.

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From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 26th, 2004 12:22 pm (UTC)

Interesting concept

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Not a LiveJournal user, but my name is Andi.

Interesting concept, but I'm a little confused by what little is presented here. I am a writer who, like Asimov, always has to be interruptable when she writes. In fact, it's rather hard for me to write if I'm not likely to be interrupted. However, on the MBTI, I always come up as an I, never an E. You see why I'm a bit confused. LOL!

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From:stevekelner
Date:September 26th, 2004 04:31 pm (UTC)

Re: Interesting concept

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Interesting, Andi. I have a thought or two, but let's start with clarifying something: Asimov did not have to be interruptible, he just learned to write regardless. When he could write without interruption, he rather enjoyed it. So you've got a different issue: needing to be interruptible, which may or may not have to do with Introversion/Extraversion. I can think of several reasons why, but I'd like to hear what you think. Here are my ideas, just to spur thoughts:

1. Needing reassurance that there are people around
2. Getting nervous if you don't know what's going on--being alert to the environment, in other words (useful in the jungle, perhaps not so much at the keyboard)
3. Being able to call on support ("read this! Is this good?")
4. Needing to be available (for example, for kids)

Do you know why you need to be interruptible? What makes it easier to write if interruptible? And is it an emotional thing or something you think is important? Let's discuss!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 3rd, 2004 08:50 am (UTC)

Re: Interesting concept

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Actually, I think it's because I started writing when I was 7-8 years old and was always called away by teachers, parents or siblings (I'm the eldest) who needed/wanted something. When I got older, I'd write in snatches of time when work was nulled (I wrote 3/4 of a book on scraps of paper and napkins LOL!) and that happened long before I was in a relationship or became a mother. Needless to say, once I had kids, this ability to write through noise and interruptions was a great boon. I now have a job where I can write at work when things are null (with my boss's blessing, actually) as long as I am interruptible for anything that comes up that needs to be done NOW. I've talked to many other writers who've said that they could never write in that environs, when I actually find it to be very stimulating. When I'm home and writing, I actually find it harder to concentrate on writing (my roommate is also a writer and won't interrupt me because she hates being interrupted herself--throws her completely "out of the mood to write"). The only difference between home and work I can see is that I'm constantly interrupted at work by comments, visitors, phone calls, tasks, etc.

I am not comfortable in silence, period. I'm the kind of person who must have music/radio/something in the background, but I was also raised in that environment. My mother couldn't be in silence, so the radio and, later, the TV is always on 24/7. I'm much the same way.

When writing with chat in another window, I don't think I'm one who's constantly doing the "Read this! Isn't it great?" schtick because it annoys me when other people do it. I'll generally post a snippet only when chat is dead and a hot-off-the-fingers snippet is generally a good convo starter. When a great writing discussion (yes, it is a writers' site chat) erupts, ot actually stimulates the writing again even while I'm bouncing back into the discussion to add in my constant two cents.

Maybe I'm just a natural multitasker. Don't know. Just know that if I'm home alone and my cell phone isn't sitting in front of me and the door isn't open for the animals to wander in and out and I can't hear what my roommate is doing, I don't have music playing that I may want to sing along with, I play a lot of Spider Solitaire, but I'll not write a word on the book.
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From:stevekelner
Date:October 3rd, 2004 09:32 am (UTC)

Re: Interesting concept

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Okay, now I get it. Studies have shown that some people require more stimulation than others--on the extremes, there are people who seemingly can't have fun if they're not in mortal danger or surrounded by vast amounts of sensory input. Oldest children (speaking from personal experience) either adapt to having lots of stuff around them, or hide more. Younger children actually usually are used to a higher level of stimulation, because they don't have a choice!

More stimulation can include more stuff going on around (music playing, door open, noises out the window, television going) or something that is strongly emotionally engaging. So presumably if you were having a really good day writing, you wouldn't care about the background noise or lack thereof.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the guru of Flow Experience, found that it took 20 minutes of uninterrupted time to get to maximum flow, the point when you are most productive. But there's a difference between uninterrupted and background noise, to my mind.

Arguably this is an extension of the Yerkes-Dodson principle--you need more stimulation to get up the curve (see earlier posts). One clue is your comment that you wrote three-quarters of a book on napkins. Writing under harder conditions (up to and including putting small roadblocks in your way) is a way of raising the stimulation level as well! There's nothing wrong with it; but it does suggest that you should crank up the stereo (use headphones to protect your roommate), leave on background noise, or find some way to keep yourself stimulated enough to focus on writing.
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