There’s nothing quite like driving down the highway in a strong and sustained heavy rain. The buffeting of wind and the gently pulsing rhythm of rain against the body of the car. The sound and vibration roll through you and overwhelm you, your vision is restricted by the spray and the rain, and every light becomes a pool of colored fire against the blacktop. The noise and the fury of it all becomes simply the way of the world, hypnotic.
Then you pass under an overpass, and for the space of a heartbeat, the world is silence.
If nothing else, the message should be this: We find shelter where paths cross.
There’s this romanticized notion of the isolated author, the lonely soul, the introvert who spends his days in seclusion, away from people. Sometimes their isolation is born of social awkwardness, sometimes of misanthropy, sometimes of simple introversion.
It’s a bad dream. Not just unrealistic, but actively damaging to your genuine desire to be a good writer. And keep in mind the source here: Sure, I like people, I am gregarious, but I’ll be damned if I don’t look forward to wandering alone in the wilderness with the same enthusiasm I used to anticipate Christmas.
None of this changes the truth that two of the most important things writers do is portray relatable characters and play with the heartstrings of readers. You can’t make realistic and engaging characters unless you understand what makes people realistic and engaging. You can’t fiddle about the emotions of readers until you understand with some accuracy how and why people feel the way they do.
And people are like sports; you can’t become great by sitting around watching and thinking, you have to get out there and do them. And by do I mean, you know, participate in things, not have sexual relations with them. Although, frankly, that’s a pretty good idea, too.
The only thing I know for sure about Christopher Paolini from reading his Eragon quatrilogy (a four book trilogy) was that twenty-something Chris had boinked exactly as many women as fifteen-year-old Chris had boinked. And that number was zero. It showed in the way he handled romance that he could barely function around the opposite sex. It was palpable. Now, let’s be fair here, he still made lots of money, but that only makes the awkwardness with the opposite sex even awkwarder in a way, doesn’t it?
Pushing boundaries is important to writers; we should write a bit beyond what we know, but, for that to really push boundaries, we should be starting from a point of knowing at least as much as our average reader.
So, sure, having a supportive network of friends and a healthy romantic life makes life better, but let’s not be afraid to be a little bit about us: Building connections will not do you any harm. There aren’t very many doors closed by being less socially awkward, or knowing more people. Simple as that.
“Hold on!” you say, “My favorite actor/writer is a total geek and so adorably awkward!”
Focus on the word adorable. And then on the fact that you know that because they were interacting, in a memorable and endearing way, with crowds of people while cameras roll. Some of them may really be that way, others know that appearing that way will win the socially awkward hearts of the world, but you’d better believe they are charismatic.
That does just happen for some people. But mostly it’s about practice. And making your awkward social missteps (and learning to avoid them) before people care what you have to say and you’re on camera.
Reaching out to people, building and maintaining relationships, personal and romantic, is not just good for you as a person, it’s a key component of becoming a good writer. Don’t get me wrong, one of the perks of choosing writing for a career is the extraordinary opportunity for solitude it provides, but it’s not a life of solitude, just a life with solitude. And to get there, paradoxically, you’re going to need to learn how to reach out.
So suck it up, go out there, and go find some friends and love and stuff. Books are great, but they’re not people.