Hana Schank was particularly introverted, even for a writer. In her recent essay for the New York Times, she describes her shyness and how she overcame it through writing.
Always confident when expressing herself through the written word, Schank felt awkward when speaking with people in person or over the phone. Eventually her timidity began to affect her professional life.
As time went on, I discovered that my inability to talk to people I didn’t know was seriously limiting the range of topics I could write on. More specifically, I was constantly finding myself in a position where I needed to pick up the phone in order to write about a given topic, a task that to me was as daunting as ice-picking across the Himalayas.
Email helped. She found that if she could initiate conversations with people through email, things often went better when she talked to them the next time by phone or in person.
Eventually the emails led to phone calls, of course, but somehow the initial exchange helped me get over my fear of picking up the phone. Once an interview subject had been contacted and a time set, it no longer felt as though I was approaching a stranger. I’d already laid the enthusiastic groundwork in my written message, and now all I had to do was ask the questions that were in my head.
By focusing on the details of the stories she was writing, Schank actually enjoyed the interviews. She became witty and engaging. “It was as though my writing self and my public self had begun to merge into one whole person.”
And when that happened, it was as though I’d been set free. Previously my entire writing career had been defined by what I was incapable of doing. I wasn’t someone who could pick up the phone. And now I am.
Schank’s essay resonated with me for a number of reasons. I have found that if I can write my way through a task or relationship from the start, it works out fine. Through writing, I always find new resources and perspectives. While working with Arts in Medicine, I have also seen people cope with their illnesses and take control of their lives through writing.