I’ve always been pretty awkward.
That might come as a shock, given my background in theater and my career choice as a teacher and the way I prattle on at length about any- and everything around here, but there it is.
Socially awkward. I’ve even gone so far to consider myself socially retarded. I’m often the quiet guy in the room, not because I don’t want to take part in conversations (well, sometimes), but because I just don’t know what to say. But then, what feels like a comfortable silence to me will turn into an uncomfortable silence in the room, and then I sit there thinking I should really say something, but then the words come out like cow vomit.
I think a lot of people struggle with this, but I also think I maybe have it more than most. (Then again, maybe that’s the old Dunning-Kruger effect talking — that thing that makes you overestimate your experience when you don’t have much. Americans, it turns out, suffer from Dunning-Kruger than most other nationalities.) Like, I know that some people feel awkward sometimes. There are hashtags about it. But for me, it feels like it’s all the time.
And I think that’s part of what compels me to write. Because I screw up these social interactions every day, so I get another crack at them when I create these alternate realities in my own head. And again, I think we all do that — we all play the I shoulda said THIS game — but for a writer, it’s different. When I tell a story, I get to get it right, and (hopefully!) readers get to see me get it right.
They say you should write what you know, and while I think that advice can be overly limiting (if we kept to it, we’d never have science fiction), it’s also pretty impossible to avoid. All writers, I think, write themselves into their stories. And in looking at the stories I’ve written, the characters I’ve spent the most time with… well, it’s safe to say that they’re pretty socially awkward like me.
First novel: A struggling writer battles through his self-doubt with the help of a muse. His only real friend is the one who is financially obligated to spend time with him. Hmm!
Second novel: A girl who is socially segregated because of the role that’s been selected for her by the community. She doesn’t have friends because she will, for all intents and purposed, be “killed” when she comes of age, and everybody knows it. Hmm, hmm!
Third novel: A kid born to superhero parents has no superpowers, but falls in with the superheroes anyway — so that he can learn to exploit them. He trusts none of his “classmates,” and in return they ridicule and fear him. Hmm, hmm, hmm!
So authors write themselves into their stories; this is a trope we’re all familiar with, and I certainly seem to be doing it. But is it a thing we can avoid? Well, with novel #2, the protagonist I described was not actually the protagonist for 80% of the first draft; she was a supporting character who I realized was a lot more compelling than the protagonist I was trying to write. That person was popular, and fit in effortlessly with his social group and with somebody beyond it — and he rang hollow to me for most of the writing. So it can be done, but not without its pitfalls.
Pitfalls. If there’s an apt metaphor for the writing process, it’s a field littered with pitfalls. Because as you build this story for your characters (the ones who are totally yourself), you have to place pitfalls in their path, try to trip them up at every step. But you have to watch out for your own pitfalls, the gaps and the traps that threaten to snag you in the midst of your process. It’s a delicate dance.
And dancing is something we awkward types don’t really do so much.
This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.