About Writers

Do Shy People Make the Best Writers?

(Asks Joe Moran, in an article on Daily Beast.)

The following is a combination of his thoughts and my own. Italics are his remarks, non-italic, mine.

Here’s the link:



Emily Dickenson, a noted shy-ster. (As a child, on the left.) Not the usual dour image, we see a hint of a smile. The well-known photo may not be typical of her at all. In that era one had to pose stock-still for quite a period, eliminating any spontaneity.


Is there something about writing that attracts shy people in particular? Nicholson Baker, Alan Bennett, Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace, J.K. Rowling, and Garrison Keillor are just a few of the contemporary authors who have written or spoken about being shy. “Most novelists are at the shy end of the spectrum—sly watchers of life rather than noisy graspers of it,” British novelist Patrick Gale wrote in the Guardian. “Many of us have had to overcome that and develop a performative persona behind which the sly watcher can continue to lurk.”

Perhaps the art of sentence writing, which lets you endlessly rework your words until they fall right, appeals to people who in life (he says) are inarticulate. (I say, interact sparingly, easily exhausted by it.)

Bringing words to life is hard. “When you say something, make sure you have said it,” E.B. White wrote in The Elements of Style. “The chances of your having said it are only fair.” Writing is a long lesson in how difficult it is to order words in a way that makes your meaning clear.

First, writing it down forces you to decide what you really believe, and to distill it. Then, set down thoughts are easily reworked, and endlessly polishable. Melodic flow and linguistic originality are joys that are hard to beat but also hard to achieve. Every word the right word requires patience, and psychological stamina. I would guess this is a path that appeals to those who are drawn to less cut-to-the-chase fun in their recreational reading, who take that stance with their own writing. I can give no solid reason for it, but I feel this is the temperament of an inward-looking individual.

Shyness is a retreat from social life. We write partly because we feel that other kinds of dialogue have failed us, and that we need to speak at one remove if we are to speak at all. 

Shy writers, far from being timid, are actually taking the risk that their writing might speak to someone else in some long-off future. If you would live forever, don’t just spit/tweet out thoughts, write them, and don’t just write them, compose them, render them worthy of being retained, possibly even cherished.

These days we have Twitter and YouTube on which to explain who we are and satisfy our desire to preserve something of ourselves for ever and always. Uninhibited self-expression is the new social disease. So little effort is required, and an appreciation for well developed themes is not encouraged.

I use writing to both distance myself from life, and to connect with it in a way that I find enjoyable. I suspect that one who is more of, as they say, a people person, wants foremost to tell a story, that it’s the introverts who tunnel into language and get their kicks down that rabbit hole. That idea pleases me greatly. But that’s my makes-me-smile hypothesis.

What do you think? Is there anything to this theory, or is Moran cherry-picking anecdotal evidence to support an attractive (to those who are shy / he admits to being one of us) conclusion?


12 thoughts on “Do Shy People Make the Best Writers?

  1. GD Deckard says:

    This may be related to why writers as a whole fail miserably at marketing their books, in that writing and selling are two opposite poles of personality.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. mimispeike says:

    All I can say is, I have always been happiest when reading. Was I intrinsically socially awkward? I don’t know. When I was nine, we moved from NJ to a small community in Florida. It had few kids, mostly retired people. The kids that were there were mostly boys. My brother had friends. I had only two, for years, neither of whom I liked, I was thrown together with them. They were bullies. Since I loved to read anyway, that is what I did.

    Do I regret that isolated childhood? I don’t agonize over it. I love to read, I love to write, that’s enough.

    My brother and my sister are more outgoing, but they don’t read. I wouldn’t change places with them, not on your life.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. mimispeike says:

    I believe that introvert-ness runs in my family. But the friendless childhood in Crystal Beach, FL didn’t help. Summers were bad, my mother didn’t drive, and the fact that we never ate dinner as a family, where I might have learned to participate in conversation figures also. My father was a full-on complainer and my mother probably felt she was shielding us. We certainly didn’t mind. We ate in front of the TV. My sister, six years younger, was no companion. My brother shunned me, as brothers do. For creating an introvert, it was the perfect storm.

    Shyness/introversion is a spectrum. One to ten, where do you think you stand? I’m about a two, for ‘prefer to be by myself with a book’ and, of course, to be with my wonderful husband, who is somewhat the same way. Which is why we get along so well. He calls himself an introvert. I don’t see it, he is so good with people. But he understands me, and appreciates me, and I’ve never had that from any relationship.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Perry Palin says:

    I am a shy social isolate. I’ll spare you the details, but growing up I was alone, and there was nothing to address the several causes. I learned to be okay with being alone. In junior high and high school, when my classmates were pairing up at the drive in and behind the bleachers, I was camping alone on the banks of trout streams a mile and more from the nearest road.

    My wife is my best friend. I have a few other close friends, some of whom I don’t see for months at a time. I have positive relationships with a lot of acquaintances; I don’t need to be close with them. On Mimi’s scale, I’m no higher than a 2.

    I adopted coping strategies that allowed me to make a decent living working with people, and not be quite so weird to our three children, who are not at all like me.

    These coping strategies helped me in my work, and they helped me write and deliver my most important messages to date: a father’s tales, hopes, and wishes at the wedding receptions of the children.

    One of the most important coping strategies: preparation. On Sunday I will be the only amateur on the panel at a Writers’ Workshop. Today I visited the conference room. I have researched the backgrounds of the other panelists. I have an elevator speech about my own writing. I have lists of anticipated participant questions, and I know how I would answer them. The pros on the panel will wing it, and they will do just fine. I’ll do just as well because I’m prepared, and I’m comfortable in my preparation.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. mimispeike says:

    Good luck to you. I look forward to hearing how it went.

    I always felt that Beatles song, She’s leaving home after living alone for so many years was written for me. My mother was on hand, but she was wrapped up in her own problems, which included alcoholism. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Perry Palin says:

      Mimi wrote, “Good luck to you. I look forward to hearing how it went.”

      This Writers’ Workshop is a breakout session at a large annual expo targeting outdoor enthusiasts, most narrowly fly fishermen and women. I write other stories too, but this is the area where I’ve had the most success.

      There were seven of us on the panel. The lead guy is a well known and successful painter and magazine columnist. We had a self-published author of a fishing guidebook, a poet, two magazine writers, a blogger/short fiction writer, and me. Most of the others, not the poet, make all or part of their living through their writing. The attendees, we had maybe thirty people out of the many hundreds at the expo, are people who would like to see their names on something in print, or who want to publish a book.

      There were seven chairs behind a long table at the front of the room. The panelists would each introduce themselves, and after the introductions we would call for questions, because we want to talk about the things the attendees came to hear about. There is no collusion between the panelists before the event. Our lead guy took the center chair and the rest of us sat down. I took the chair at one end; I wanted to introduce myself last.

      The lead asked me to start, which caused me to tweak my elevator speech a bit. I got a few laughs from both the panelists and the attendees, which was my goal. The rest of the panel members introduced themselves, and we called for questions from the attendees.

      This year the discussion centered on narrowing market searches, networking with editors and publishers, and the need to identify the writing formulae preferred by publishers. In past years we talked about the craft of writing. This year, not so much.

      The dissension between panelists on some questions was interesting, but no fistfights broke out at the table.

      There’s never enough time set aside for this. At the end some of the attendees approached and questioned us further.

      The entire event was casual, comfortable for everyone including the shy social isolate, and generally declared a success.

      A postscript: The self-published fishing guidebook author had a booth for the three day run of the expo. I was there for all three days. Whenever I passed his booth, he was engaged in conversation with someone, or selling and signing copies of his book. At the end we walked out to the parking lot together, and I asked him how he did. He said he sold enough copies to cover the booth rental, plus $75-$100. That’s not a way I would want to spend my time.


  6. I was a shy kid, and bookish, but I never gave any real thought to writing. I didn’t start until I was well into my forties, and, unlike so many who knew all along, it came as a surprise to me.

    I got over some of my shyness, but a lot of that was the cultivation of “a performative persona behind which the sly watcher can continue to lurk.” I played in rock bands after college, and then as a solo act for a few years after that. I prided myself on doing the unexpected, sometimes for laughs, and sometimes just for a WTF?-reaction. If people left feeling uncertain about whether I was joking or not, I generally felt like I’d succeeded. It turned out I liked performing more than I liked being myself. In the intervening 30-plus years, I’ve decided there isn’t that much difference afterall.

    Liked by 5 people

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