Sunday, 19 July 2015

If You're A Writer, You're Probably A Bit Weird*

*But that's okay.

If you were to ask someone what they wanted to do with their life, and they told you "I want to put all the little people that exist inside my head through all kinds of intolerable hell just to see what happens, and then I want to tell as many people in the real world as possible all about it"... you'd probably back away slowly while wondering where to obtain the phone number of the nearest psychiatric institution.

But those of us in The Club know that this isn't a sign of mental illness - or at least, no-one's proved it is. (Yet.) It's just the Call of the Writer. To the non-writers of the world, however, this doesn't sound like the healthiest or most productive way to get life done, which is why they offer the subtle but customary eye-roll and suppressed snigger/groan whenever the dirty little secret is revealed. Add to this that many writers are introspective observers rather than table-dancing tequila-slammers at the party that is life, and it's easy to see how the equation 'writer = a bit odd' evolved.

I quite liked being on my own as a kid. I had friends that I played with of course, but on those occasions where they were elsewhere for whatever reason, the prospect of having 'no-one to play with' didn't faze me at all. In fact, the concept didn't really exist; I had 'friends' in my head that I could play with in the absence of real-world ones. Some grown-ups - and kids too - found this a bit weird. Some of my friends also found the way I played make-believe games a bit weird. Most of us have had favourite tv programmes that we 'played' as our own make-believe games. But while all my friends would pick existing characters from the show to 'be,' I preferred to invent a completely new one. This didn't always go down well with friends who were particular about Realism in Their Fantasy Games:

FRIEND: I've never heard of that character before. She's not in that show!
ME: I know. I made her up.
FRIEND: What? You can't do that! You can't just make characters up!
ME: Why not?
FRIEND: Well - because then she could just be anything! She could just be and do anything you wanted her to!

Well, duh!

But apparently, this sort of extreme roleplaying had the potential to Ruin The Game, so I did my best to temper my maverick tendencies in those situations. It wasn't that I had this megalomaniac urge to be a Mary Sue on Steroids - the characters I invented myself had just as many flaws and limitations as the pre-existing ones. I just wanted to take our make-believe games in new directions - create new adventures and scenarios, rather than just re-enact the episodes we'd seen on the telly. But I also didn't want to annoy my friends.

Not all of them felt this way, I have to say. Others were more than happy to jump on the creative train and swing it the heck off the designated track. But the ones who preferred to ground their fantasy in the undisputed reality of its TV series origins tended to be Leaders, Type-A personalities, They were assertive, persuasive and probably destined to be Managing Directors when they grew up. Everyone listened to them because they sounded like they knew what they were talking about. Heck, even I listened to them. After all, what did I know? I wasn't Managing Director material. I was too weird.

As an adult I had a string of office jobs - and never seemed to fit in with any of them. I was that tiresome, awkward one who would try and do the job a little bit differently, rather than doing it 'the way it's always been done' - "Wendy, I appreciate you feel a cartoon drawing of you as a skeleton waiting for a phone call from IT Support is a more succinct way of saying you waited for seven hours for them to fix your computer yesterday - but I'm afraid it's not standard company procedure for documenting progress in your Project Log Book." (Nobody ever looked at those things. Nobody. Until that one day I did that cartoon...)

You can only be the Anakin Skywalker of the office environment for so long before it starts to get you down. I was only 'let go' from a job once (and that was mostly due to my thinking that working on a telephone helpdesk was a savvy career move when you're hearing-impaired - you live and learn...) but I've ended up quitting every other office job I had because... well, to be honest, I couldn't believe they hadn't fired me already. I just seemed to be rocking the boat all the time, with my rebellious ideas and opinions and stuff. And yet my bosses were always surprised when I handed in my notice - as if the idea of not having me around anymore hadn't even crossed their minds. Maybe they secretly enjoyed getting exasperated at my efforts to do things differently - as if I was a variation of Christian Grey, but not so much with a Red Room of Pain as a Stationery Cupboard of Crankiness...

So I learned to accept the idea that I was A Bit Weird. That, even if they sort of liked me, Normal People were always going to think there was something a bit wrong with me upstairs, and any attempts I made to fake Normalness were destined to fail at least fifty percent of the time. Obviously I didn't like feeling like a social misfit, but I realised the only way to not get terminally depressed about it was to just admit that I had the problem and try to minimise the fallout when it occurred.

I never associated any of it with being a creative person though - until I started spending a lot more time among other creative people. I didn't feel like the Nutter on The Bus in their company; in fact, it felt more like I'd jumped on board the Busful of Fellow Nutters (no disrespect intended, guys.) They knew what it was like to feel 'all social-ed out' at the end of a day, only to realise the 'people' you'd spent the most time with during that day... were the imaginary ones in your current w-i-p. They understood that sometimes that statement coming out of my mouth was raw and undiluted from my brain, because it flashed along my neural pathways too fast for the oh-my-god-you-can't-say-that filter who knew that, actually no, it didn't sound like a good idea at any time. And they totally got the long-term love affair with all things stationery, and the deep truth that is there is no such thing as 'too many' pens or notebooks...

If you're a writer, maybe some of the things I've talked about have rung bells for you too. Perhaps they've got you into trouble on occasions - or at least earned you the odd funny look or two. Maybe you too have been forced to accept the idea that non-writer friends and family think you're a teeny bit strange. It's okay. Being somewhere to the left of Normal is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Without us, the world would be one giant Stepford Wives metropolis. And there would definitely be a lot less books to read.

What first clued you in to realising that you, as a writer, thought differently from non-writers? I'd love to know. Let all of us writers gather together - whether in real life or via cyberspace - and embrace our special kind of weirdness!


  1. Yes, yes... totally got me, although mostly I compose music. But I spend a lot of time trying to support the children at my school in a way that I never was as a weird child.

  2. And those children will adore you for it. I know this to be true because my son has a teaching assistant at his school with the same motivation, and that teacher is his utter hero - "The Bestest Teacher In The Whole World, Mummy." And for that, he's a little bit my hero too. :)

    Thank you for being their much-needed friend and mentor. This straighty-pants world needs more people like you!