100 Things Challenge (#1): A Chrysalis Is a Solitary Place (or How a Writer Is Born)
(Here is more about the 100 Things Blogging Challenge, for those of you who are interested.)
The topic I've chosen is writing. Posts will likely take the shape of personal musings on what it means to be a writer, what I've learned about how to be an effective one, what I've learned about being an ineffective one, and what it means to teach others about writing.
Since this is the first post, it's good to start at the beginning. I've often thought about how or why I became a writer. For the longest time, I thought that everyone was like me and made up stories and people in their heads. It wasn't until I was a young adult and honestly asked a few people, "Do you do this too?" that I realized that, no, most people do not.
So why me? A lot of my flist come from brilliant families; their parents are highly educated, creative, or artistic people. It makes sense that they would be the same. I didn't come from a family like this. Both of my parents went to vocational school; my mom had some community college. Neither have much interest in intellectual or artistic pursuits, yet my sister and I both turned out artsy-geeky types. So there goes Nature--it must be Nurture then, right?
I think it is. When I think about it, I've been "training" as a writer my whole life. I had very few friends or playmates when I was young. I spent most of my time in my imagination, playing with people I made up. My sister and I used to construct fairly elaborate shared imaginative worlds. Some of them were based on TV shows, but most of them we made up straight out of our heads. (Confession: I still have imaginary friends. Only--now that Sharon and I are an ocean apart--it's Bobby who talks to them with me.)
The thing is that this wasn't a choice. Elfling!Dawn didn't make the decision one day to sequester herself in the name of her Art; I was ostracized by my peers and none of the adults in my life really gave a shit to do anything about it (even to reassure me that it wasn't a measure of my actual worth, lest someone misunderstand this post as advocacy of helicopter parenting). That's something I've wrangled with for years now: That one of the most painful points in my life forged what I consider to be not only a key part of my identity but also one of my favorite parts of my identity. I do sometimes wonder: What if someone had cared? What if I'd had normal social relationships growing up? Where would I be now? Am I better off now because I was allowed to suffer when I was younger?
And it's not just me: Over the years, in talking to other writers, many of them report similar experiences as children. That doesn't mean it's universal, but it does seem to be a dominant experience, at least among the writers I've talked to.
Because I like [over]thinking about these things, I think that social isolation works in a couple of ways to the writer make. One is that solitude affords more opportunity for observation of everything, and just-right details in a story can make the difference between something that feels real and something that doesn't. As a child, I immersed myself in nature. Not surprisingly, natural descriptions fill my writing. Solitude also allows for exploration, both in terms of actual and literary/intellectual experiences. While exploring nature, I learned a lot about it. Not surprisingly, my stories also contain these kinds of tidbits, things that my peers never had the chance to learn.
I remain almost pathologically hypersensitive to nonverbal cues people give in social situations. I believe this comes from having to be on the defensive against cruelty from peers. Enough people tell me that my strength as a writer is my characters that I've come to believe them, and I think that comes from having watched people all of my life, more often as an outsider trying to assess whether it is safe to ease into a friendship. (I believe I studied psychology for the same reason: It provided a language to describe and a way to attach meaning to behavior.) Even now, as a relatively functional adult, I have to stop myself from overthinking or overanalyzing people's behavior as it relates to me. (This is less true online; in the almost complete absence of nonverbal behavior online, I am not surprisingly very comfortable.)
There's also the empathy factor: I'm inclined to look for reasons for behavior rather than pass judgment upon it. So when I started thinking about Fëanor, for example, I didn't think about what his misdeeds represented in a literary sense; I didn't think about the morality or immorality of his actions. I thought about why he might have committed them. From that, stories like Another Man's Cage were born.
Then there is the obvious fact that making up stories is something to do with one's time in the absence of anything better to do. I also wonder if kids like I was don't make up imaginary friends as a way of practicing social behavior in the absence of ... well, actual opportunities to practice in social situations.
Even now, as an adult with a husband and friends--real ones!--I need solitude in order to write properly. Times like now when I am constantly on the go and constantly interacting with people in various ways mean a dearth of creativity. When I walk in the woods or stand on the edge of the sea; when I allow my thoughts to turn inside out--only then do the muses come, as though they were frightened away long ago from humankind.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!