ARE WRITERS SOCIAL ODDBALLS?
Recently, a good writer friend of mine asked the above question. My initial response was to smile. Anyone who has attended one of those literary festival/crime writerly gatherings recently would think that authors are extremely social creatures – you only have to look at how hard it can be to get a drink at the bar. But is time spent yattering at public events the best yardstick?
After a bit of thought, I responded to my friend a tad philosophically: ‘Creative types live in dual worlds. Half solitary but, when promoting their work, half singing and dancing.’ Put like this, to outsiders we must appear to be inconsistent, fickle individuals. And let’s not forget that crime writers are, by definition, attracted to the sinister side of life. ‘Normal folk’ would think us round the twist with our dark imaginings, if only they could take a trip inside our minds, so maybe we’re social oddballs after all.
As for the solitary side to which I referred, it’s quite hard to explain to ‘civilians’ how all consuming, dare I say obsessive, writing stories can be. Most writers are aware of that moment in a conversation when you realise that you’ve not listened to a word spoken because your focus is entirely on a plot problem. It’s not that writers are disinterested in others – far from it; it’s just that we live in a strange parallel universe. That ‘not really here’ glaze in the eye, descending at a moment’s notice, has often been mistaken for boredom or, worse, snootiness. Personally, I’m a terror for eavesdropping on conversations, which hardly helps the cause.
Conversely, I’ve often found myself tuning out of a conversation only to home right back in with, no doubt a demon glint in my eye, as someone says something that stimulates a particular train of thought. It can be a bit startling for a conversationalist to suddenly become the focus of a writer’s attention when thirty seconds previously said individual has barely elicited a flicker of interest. Perhaps this accounts for the reason non-writers have peculiar ideas about authors. Common myths are:
1. Writing is easy so why the ‘preciousness’? This is usually followed by the comment: ‘Well, I’m sure I could knock up a novel but I simply don’t have the time/can’t be bothered.’
2. A variation on number 1: If you know about marketing, the story will sell itself.
3. All we need do is hang around and wait for the Muse to appear.
4. We are all as rich as Croesus (or JKR).
So where does that leave us with the social oddball tag? All writers are amateur psychologists. It’s tricky to get inside a character’s head if you have no real sense of how people tick, or how they respond under pressure. In this regard, it’s vital for authors to socialise and interact. I once heard it said that ‘if you don’t love people, you’ll never make a good writer.’ There’s some truth in that, although I’m tempted to substitute ‘fascinated/intrigued by’ rather than ‘love’.
The only extra thing to chuck into the mix is that individualism, tenacity and determination are hallmarks shared by the best main protagonists. The brain behind the pen also shares those attributes because, without them, writers would do something a lot more safe and sensible. Social oddball? Chancer, more like.