The last week or two have been really busy, with lots of meetings and presentations. Now I need a couple of days to breathe. It is unsurprising that on personality profiles, I show up somewhere midway between introversion and extraversion (also spelt ‘extroversion’). I need the external stimulus of other people and events, but equally I like the time to process and absorb what I’ve experienced to make sense of it. (According to wikipedia, this makes me an ‘ambivert’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraversion_and_introversion )
Preferences seem to be the usual complex mix of nature and nurture. In her book, The Introvert Advantage, Marti Olsen Laney writes about people who are introverts by preference. If you’re an introvert, you’ll recognise yourself in her lovely opening scene where she has to cross a full-on Las Vegas hotel casino. She finds the place one big overwhelming attack on her senses: coloured flashing lights, unrelenting electronic beeps and tunes from the machines, artificial lighting and the deliberate absence of clocks so that you lose all track of time and the external world. I immediately empathised: on arrival in Las Vegas, my jet-lagged senses were assaulted by too much of everything at one go, and like Olsen Laney, I retreated to the calm and icy air-conditioned room to lie down. Feeling overwhelmed is a common theme amongst more introverted types. Extraverts thrive on all the excitement.
Wherever you are on the introvert/extravert scale, to be creative you need to operate to some extent in both modes. In a recent BBC radio programme, artist Grayson Perry discussed the creative process with various writers, artists and philosphers. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00sx8ng/Grayson_Perry_on_Creativity_and_Imagination/
Getting out and about and engaging with other people is the more extravert role. One of the key areas that Perry emphasised was the need to ‘keep looking, looking, looking’. (Author Rose Tremaine added that writers need to keep listening.) By taking time to notice (and capture) what you see and hear, you create a store of material for possible future use. Taking the pen and sketchbook or notebook should be as routine as taking your wallet and keys when you leave the house. (The very reason that I was prompted to write this post today was that I failed to capture a couple of lines that came into my head on waking up this morning. Unusually, I had no pen and paper by my bedside. It will bug me for the rest of the day.)
Creativity writer Julia Cameron advocates scheduling regular ‘artists’ dates’ for precisely this reason. Researching on the internet just doesn’t have the same impact as an overheard conversation on the train or the colours and smells of a fish or flower market, for example. Research tells us that creative people have a broad knowledge base – that’s how they connect up diverse and unrelated bits of information they’ve stored away to make something new.
The more introverted part of the creative process is digging back through the notebooks or sketchbooks later to find what might be useful: finding ‘diamonds in the dust’, as Virginia Woolf called it. This quieter, more reflective stage may drive extraverts up the wall. They start to feel ‘antsy’ the minute they sit down to write or paint or design. Working in a coffee shop might provide just enough low-level stimulation to keep them happy while they work, whereas the true introvert might need total silence.
Being aware of your preferred style, and then pushing yourself a little bit out of your comfort zone helps to nourish your creativity, grow your store of ideas and then harvest them when they’re ripe.