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?