I enjoy meeting people. I'm cheerful and friendly. I love chatting with friends. I never fear speaking in front of an audience.

​​These are all characteristics of an extrovert.

But, but....

If I'm tired or stressed or worn out, I want to be alone. I don't get energy from other people; I get slightly worn out. Further, I find it comforting to be alone. When everyone else — kids and husband — is out of our house, a great sense of freedom and relaxation washes over me. I get to be me. I don't have to be in charge of anything or put on a show. I don't even have to talk.

These are the characteristics of an introvert.

Researchers call people like me "ambiverts," meaning that we have characteristics from both the introvert and extrovert camps. That said, I'm not going to argue that this is the best way to be. We human beings can't help how we're hard-wired — our personalities are coded into our DNA in much the same way as height or eye color. (Although, undoubtedly, our personalities are also shaped by how we were raised.)

But being an ambivert is very useful for anyone self-employed. (You need to be an extrovert to sell and you need to be an introvert to work from home alone.) And being an ambivert or introvert certainly helps writers. Why? Because we have to spend most of our time alone. I'll just state this baldly: If you don't like being alone, you shouldn't become a writer.

But even if you enjoy being alone, the exquisite loneliness of writing can still be tough. Here are five ways to deal with that:

1. Give your day structure. Mornings are an exceptionally valuable time for most people. They have more energy. They're more decisive. Their phones haven't started ringing off the hook. Some of them, however, make the mistake of spending their first morning time on email. Not me. I write. I spend at least the first 30 minutes of every day writing and then the next 30 organizing my day. After that, I try to squeeze in as much writing in the morning as possible, around meetings that for whatever reason can't be held in the afternoon. After lunch, I edit and attend to meetings. We all have different "high energy" times — and I know some of you are night owls. But know your own style and set up a day that works for you. If you're happy with your accomplishments, and happy with how you're tackling them, you're going to feel better about being alone.

2. Manage your internal editor. One of the reasons many people don't like being alone is that they have fewer distractions. They can't stroll by the water cooler and strike up a conversation with a colleague. This means that they're forced to confront the ugliest, nastiest most fearsome person in the world – their own internal editor. This is the person who thinks you can't do anything right. Who scorns every sentence you write. Who believes that the world might be a better place if you didn't inflict any of your writing upon it. In my Extreme Writing Makeover, I offer a lesson on how to deal with this unhelpful presence and an entire chapter of my next book will be devoted to the subject. But what I want emphasize here is that you need to manage this voice. Start by being conscious of it. Know that all writers — even the ultra-successful ones — face exactly the same voice. You are not especially untalented or hard-done-by because you have this voice. It's universal. Expect it and don't let it derail you.

3. Constrain your working hours. The hardest thing about being a writer is that you could work 24/7 and still not have enough time. Be disciplined enough to know when to stop. I end every day at 6 p.m. (except for the first Monday in every month when I have a group that meets in the evening) I may start at 6 a.m. but rest assured I never work a 12-hour day. I typically take a long lunch and I do all sorts of errands and personal stuff in the middle of the day so I don't have to do it on the weekends. If you don't give yourself enough time to do things other than writing, I guarantee you will have nothing to write about.

4. Find reasons to get out of your office regularly. You may be working alone but that doesn't mean you need to be a hermit. Meet colleagues for coffee to talk about your mutual writing issues. Join a group. Volunteer for something. (It doesn't even have to be writing related. For example, I'm a high school debate coach.) The regular human contact will help your writing, not hurt it. And, if nothing else, get out for a walk in a nearby park to reinvigorate yourself.

5. Get support online. One of the great things about the 21st century is that we are no longer constrained by the expense and time required by travel. We can simply let our fingers walk across our computer keyboards and meet with people around the world. When I started my business, I joined an online group (not related to writing) and was a very active member for about six years. We had a forum that allowed us to chat with each other and I made many friends who sustained me during some challenging days. I keep in touch with many of them, still. Find a writing group you can join or even comment on blogs, like this one.

The act of writing is precious. Your words link you with hundreds of thousands of other writers from the past and future. I like to imagine our words as pieces in a chain that join us across time and space. You may be the only person in the room. But when you write, you are never truly alone.


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8� Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Friday February 15th, 1:37 PM
Comment by: Keith A.
When I was evaluated by a professional Meyers-Briggs consultant, she explained that the primary difference between introversion and extraversion is the source of one's energy. It's not that an introvert can't meet people (shyness is something different and a possible personality dysfunction) but rather that meeting people is ultimately draining -- resulting in the need get some "alone time" once again. I find that personally to be the case: I can function very well with marketing activities, self-promotion and speaking in front of thousands. But... in the end, I need to retire to a "quiet zone" in order to regroup for additional public time. And it certainly isn't that introverts don't like people (although they may be more likely to have a few closer friends) but that their time with people -- especially in high-energy situations -- needs to be interspersed between quiet times alone.

It's the opposite with extraverts. They are energized by personal contact and "high-energy" events. It is actually more of a challenge for extraverts to be fully rounded. Whereas there is a "social push" for introverts to make interpersonal contact (grocery shopping, getting the car repaired, visiting with children's teachers), there is no equivalent "push" for extraverts to seek "alone time". Thus, some extraverts can be comfortable in a whirl of social activity to the detriment of those aspects of their internal selves that need processing away from a social setting.

Thus, a true "ambivert" would be quite unusual. For most people, their "energy source is either "from within" or "from contact with others".

At a personal level, I can't say too much about how freeing it was to be personality-typed. It helped me understand myself and know it was "OK" and also helped others (wife, for one, to understand me. It also helped me to understand others and work with more understanding and empathy with people of other personality type characteristics.

Finally, your five suggestions on working alone are very helpful. Thanks for the post.
Monday February 18th, 12:23 PM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Let me begin by saying that I'm NOT a scientist, so I'm in no position to evaluate the merits of the Meyers-Briggs "test." (I seem to recall they don't call it a test, however.) I do understand that there has been a burst of publicity about it recently, relating, I think, to a biography of the mother-daughter team who brought this measurement into existence.

That said, I'm not convinced, that a true ambivert would be quite unusual. The world isn't a terribly binary place and we all tend to fall on a spectrum for anything that can be measured. I agree that the difference between an introvert and an extovert is where they get their energy -- from other people or from being alone. But some people STRONGLY get their energy from others/themselves, while others do so to a much lesser degree. I would describe someone in this "middling" area to be more of an ambivert.

I'm so glad you found the Meyers-Briggs system helpful to you, Keith. I think anything that causes us to reflect on how we interact with ourselves and with the world is by definition helpful.
Tuesday February 26th, 1:57 PM
Comment by: JJB (Toronto Canada)
In closing to the above.

These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill.

It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.

Celebrate time spent with your loved ones because they may not be here forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.

Remember to give a warm hug to the one next to you because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a penny. Remember, to say, "I love you" to your beloved and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend pain when it comes from deep inside your soul. Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person may not be there again.

Take time to love, show appreciation & gratitude, give time to speak and give time to share the precious thoughts on your mind. Your beloved is your closest relative; you are one. So become a giving consciousness and carry each other’s heart. This is the heart of marriage.

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