Some themes that seem to run in writer’s lives are, in varying degrees; introversion, shyness, a tendency toward solitude, a studious nature, a strong goal and productivity orientation, ability to empathize, an intuitive thought process, perseverance, and traits of what psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron calls “highly sensitive people” (HSPs).
Ironically, most writers have to take bold steps to promote themselves, and break out of their shells at times to do so. So at times they may appear out-going, when networking and deal-making — but spend most of their time indoors, alone in front of the keyboard.
Introversion, shyness and the “highly sensitive people” moniker involve three separate, distinctly different sets of attributes.
Shyness has more to do with anxiety around social situations. Shy people tend to feel more anxious when meeting strangers, when facing large groups, and have trouble getting out of their comfort zones to network, do interviews, and when involved in interpersonal activity.
The term “introvert” generally implies that someone is more involved in their inner world than other people who’d be considered extroverts. Extroverts are said to get their energy form interactions and in social situations. Introverts tap into an energy that emanates from within.
Introverts are therefore thought to be able to remain focused for long periods in solitary activities on a receptive level, like reading, studying and mastering – math, say, or language, taking in data and storing it.
On the expressive level, they are similarly thought to be able to focus longer and more efficiently when playing around with ideas while writing or otherwise expressing themselves through the creative process.
This doesn’t mean that extroverts aren’t creative; it means that introverts may thrive on the process of solitary creation, while extroverts tend to do so in meetings, or with others, and in social situations.
While people think of introverts as quiet, well-mannered people who keep their thoughts to themselves — sometimes they can come alive, performing or speaking in front of crowds. Consider some actors, who are extremely shy, or writers like Mark Twain, who – once out of their comfort zones could thrive on stage.
Highly sensitive people tend to process everything, especially sensory data more acutely. For example, HSPs are thought to be super-sensitive to physical and visual stimuli, noises, sirens, jackhammers, traffic and crowded places.
They also tend to be overly sensitive to emotional experiences, catching subtleties and shades of meaning others might not. For example, they may be more sensitive to arguments, sarcasm, voice inflections, tone of speech, and even odd looks from strangers.
They may become more anxious, or reflective as a result, when confronted with over whelming emotionality. They might actually cry during moving scenes in a film, or feel pain while watching a scene portraying some physical ordeal.
Highly sensitive people are thought to process experience at a deeper level. They’re thought to be generally more intuitive and drawn into the process of trying to figure things out.
They’re also thought to be more empathic and, therefore more likely to be more emotionally reactive when observing another person’s struggles, or when processing fictional accounts of people facing adversity.
Highly sensitive people are thought to expend more psychic energy in making decisions, considering every side of the situation before acting. You might think of a writer, anguished over which way the story should unfold, what would their characters do, and other similar questions.
This tendency to consider so many possibilities can result in writers finding more interesting, or more original approaches to storytelling. It can also explain why writers may experience occasional, or even recurring creative blocks.
When observing writers’ behaviors and traits, certain other tendencies come to mind. There are some writers who fit into a category that might be described as self-destructive.
The notion that creating art in any form can be frustrating and even agonizing has been around since the beginning of time. The Agony and The Ecstasy, for example, the story of Michelangelo’s tortuous experience painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling is a case in point.
We’ve all heard about writers like Hemmingway, Kafka, and Sylvia Plath, who famously “suffered” for their art. Part of being a writer involves being severely critical of one’s own work.
There are many stories of writers who’ve worked months or years only to find their work substandard, throw it out and start over from scratch. Additionally, writers might go through their entire careers without ever being discovered, or widely read.
The stress in the screenwriting world is extremely intense. Even the best screenwriters face constant judgment, and rejection, almost all throughout our careers. When studios read their scripts, writers get many, almost all “passes” (rejections) on their material.
As if that wasn’t enough, writers encounter all kinds of creative blocks. Self-doubt, waning motivation, lack of confidence, procrastination, contribute to these blocks. Some writers have to deal with a dangerous type of perfectionism that paralyzes one’s ability to write
Even when screenwriters find success, and scripts get produced, people are quick to judge and ridicule the films, or shows. And if they are successful, ok, critics will say, so they did it once, they wrote a film that got produced and made money; that’s the Holy Grail of Hollywood. Then, there’s the what’s next question. ? In this town, “what have you done lately?’
You’ve probably noticed that many famous writers have used drugs, as a crutch, and especially alcohol to get them through their stressed-out lives.
Some writers (Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Hunter Thompson, Aaron Sorkin) drank or took hard drugs (Stephen King, Philip K. Dick) to get them through their scripts. They found substances like coke, or speed to keep them writing. They’ve self-medicated to endure the deluge of self-criticism they are constantly dealing with.
Writers, especially HSPs and introverts, have got to be strong, and avoid the short-cuts; they have to learn to live in moderation. Those drugs, those uppers, those downers, that booze; it can get you through short-term, but they cause damage long term, especially to sensitive people.
While not all writers have the exact same personality traits, it seems they share some common characteristics. Writers spend long, difficult hours in isolation –writing, and rewriting endlessly. It seems their tasks would come easier to those with personality traits that allow them the patience to work and create inside their heads —for long stretches, alone.