Introverting In An Extrovert's Paradise (Or, Surviving BEA)
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
It's sometimes assumed that an introvert is shy and an extrovert is the life of the party, but the terms actually refer to where you get your energy. Do you feel more charged and refreshed by being alone, or do you feel your best when you're with lots of other people?
Many writers, including myself, identify as introverts. I'm a very social, outgoing person and I like chatting with strangers, making new friends, and spending all night on the dance floor at weddings, BUT! Social interactions seriously drain me. And because I'm so close to extroversion on the Meyers-Briggs scale, I don't realize that the fun is leeching my energy until the inevitable mental crash. I always have to take time out afterward to be alone, enjoy peace and quiet, and replenish that lost energy.
Recently, I attended Book Expo and Book Con 2017, which was the happiest weekend of my entire life. I had an ear-to-ear grin the whole time! I got to hang out with my amazing agent, Tamar, and my brilliant editor, Brian, and I met up with dozens of Twitter and Facebook friends in real life for the first time. I organized and attended dinners, presented to booksellers and bloggers, and signed hundreds of ARCs of FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS.
It was all a huge privilege and an honor, and something I felt endlessly grateful for, having dreamt about being a REAL author my whole life. But it was exhausting... and I felt SO guilty about being exhausted.
"This is the opportunity of a lifetime," I scolded myself. "You are literally living your dream, Jules. Why are you so tired? How are you ever going to survive a two-week tour?"
But that's how I tick. It doesn't matter if I'm at an event for one day or three or seven. If I'm interacting, presenting, and socializing from morning until night, without a single full hour to be alone, that is an energy suck. I flew in on Thursday and it was nonstop go-go-go until Saturday night, when I was so tired at my friend Stephanie's dinner party that I found it hard to concentrate on the flow of conversation. (I mostly spent the time interacting with Patrice's rosemary French fries.) I am not an exciting dinner guest when I am drained!!!
At a breakfast event for Book Con, one of the attendees asked me an excellent question: "What about author life has happened, so far, that you did NOT expect?"
And my immediate answer was: "Having to talk to people."
Everyone at the table laughed, but it was a serious answer. I never thought, while writing my shelved manuscripts and dreaming of this career, that an author would have to spend so much time away from the safety and solitude of her office. But promotion is a big and important part of author life, and attending conferences and events is often a necessity.
So what can you do to stave off the sensory overload if you're a hardcore introvert? What are some ways to protect yourself while attending something like BEA?
(1) Have a room all to yourself. It's fun to share with friends or a partner, but if you can, try to have your own hotel room. And when you're out there socializing, keep in the back of your mind that you have a safe, quiet space all to yourself waiting for you.
(2) Schedule 15-minute "quiet" breaks throughout the day. Every so often, when you have a precious free block of time, go somewhere alone. Turn your phone to silent and sit quietly, without talking to anyone else. I was hardly ever alone, but I would definitely make sure to do this next time.
(3) Stay hydrated. Lights, noise, and teeming crowds can have physiological effects on your body. I know they do on mine. Plus, when you're busy and doing a lot of talking, you often forget to drink. Keeping your body hydrated helps keep it healthy, refreshed, and calm, AND it's an excuse to go off by yourself to find a water fountain.
(4) Protect your time. Even when I wasn't doing events, I was tightly scheduling in friends I wanted to see. I loved spending time with them, but it meant I didn't have any quiet time all day until bed. It's hard to say no, but we have to learn how to do it. Our mental health comes before fun. Don't feel like a party pooper if you just can't summon the energy to go to karaoke and get drinks with folks after a long day (*raises hand*).
(5) Adjust your schedule if you can. If you have a lot of people to see but can't afford to stay an extra day (I hear that... NYC is EXPENSIVE), try to invite them all to a single social event. You can chat to each of them one-on-one there, they can make new friends, AND you've consolidated these hangouts into one block of time, instead of spreading them over a few days. It's a win-win for everyone.
I hope these tips help those of you who plan to attend book conferences and events in the future!
Any other suggestions for introverts who want to refresh and recharge? Feel free to put them in the comments below!