L’esprit de l’escalier

Do Shy People Make the Best Writers? – an interesting read on The Daily Beast (via The Millions).


The main premise of this article is that shy writers are good writers because of both their personality and the connection between their personal proclivities and writing style.  As life watchers that have trouble expressing themselves articulately in person, the author suggests that reticent folks are better able to express themselves on the page than their outgoing counterparts. There are several authors who self-identify as shy: E.B. White, J.K. Rowling, and David Foster Wallace among them. As a youngster, I used to write stories and the solitude of writing (and reading) appealed to me because I needed a creative outlet but was painfully shy. Did my shyness make me a good writer? I doubt it, but if I was active in sports or plays or music, I probably wouldn’t have turned to writing in the first place.

While I don’t have many writer friends (unfortunately I don’t roll with a writing crowd) my sister-in-law is an amazing author and I think those that know her would not classify her as shy.  Granted my sample size is small but there are also many great television writers that love being the center of attention and don’t fit into the shy=good writer argument (I’m thinking about Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Shonda Rhimes). For every shy writer, I can think of an outgoing one. The same can be said for most professions, even those within the entertainment business.  I think a distinction needs to be made between shyness and introversion.  Some individuals feel very comfortable in large groups and social situations, but they get their energy from introspection and alone time. I have read that introverts need to close in on themselves to recharge, while extroverts seek companionship to energize. Most people probably fall somewhere along the spectrum.

This article also dissects elements of writing style. Specifically the “orphaned” writing idea, where many authors feel an urge to clarify and explain their words; while, shy writers may be more comfortable letting go of what they have written.  L’esprit de l’escalier is a french phrase that refers to the tendency of shy people to carry on conversations in their head, after face-to-face interactions are over. I can definitely relate to this idea of thinking of the perfect response, after the conversation is over or has switched topics.

As interesting as I find analyzing the personalities of writers, at the end of the day there are as many different types of writers as there are readers. Now if I were to go off topic and consider the writers that I would most like to hang out with in person.  Or answer the NY Times By the Book question: “You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?” I would be sure to invite a mix on the spectrum.  I would have to invite Jim Harrison, my husband’s favorite author, foodie and all around life lover. I would also invite my favorite author, Maeve Binchy, who I suspect is pretty introverted. To round out the guests, maybe Malcolm Gladwell, who seems like someone able to listen and pontificate about almost anything.  What wonderful dinner conversation we would have.

Happy Reading!

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