I realized I wanted to be a writer sophomore year of high school, when I learned that engineering–my former ambition–required practicing actual math and science. Not for me.
Impressionable as any 16-year-old, the “writer lifestyle” became all too important to me. I turned to what I thought was the writer look: black-rimmed glasses, messy hair (the natural way), and wrinkled button-ups rolled to my elbows. I adopted the apparent “writer mindset.” My opinions became gold, fart jokes became immature, and as far as I was concerned, no one was capable of understanding the “depth” of my writing.
I lost quite a few friends that year.
Writing itself is a solitary act, a lonely act. However, I’ve learned––the hard way––that the solitude of writing doesn’t and shouldn’t have to affect writers’ social lives.
It should be obvious that writers, writing about society, would make it a point to immerse themselves in that society. But writers are artists, and like most artists we tend to think of ourselves as outcasts. The label is twofold; our creativity and panjandrum is admired, and our variance from normal nine-to-fives is frowned upon. But the mistake is buying into the outcast label, even cherishing it. Doing so separates us from our audience, making us bitter, and even worse, possibly leading to an aloof, chastising tone few enjoy reading.
Interacting with others, even with those who could care less for writing, is crucial to a developing writer. When first meeting someone, we break him or her down in our minds. We analyze their mannerisms, values, habits and speech. If anything is unusual or interesting enough we remember it. For a fiction writer, this process results over time in a well of characteristics to choose from when constructing a character.
If you need a more convincing reason to be a social writer, just look at On the Road, Jack Kerouac’s masterpiece: it was entirely based on real-life characters Kerouac encountered throughout his life, such as Neal Cassady, the basis for Dean Moriarty. It is a captivating book because it’s relevant, and more importantly, it’s relatable, and that is what good writing is all about.
Contrast this with, say, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Pynchon, one of the most secluded authors in history, has not been photographed in years and rumors about his identity and location have been swirling since the ’60s.
Gravity’s Rainbow—Pynchon’s magnum opus and National Book Award winner in 1974—drew acclaim for its transgressive nature. However, it was also criticized for its obscurity and deemed “unreadable, turgid, overwritten and obscene”. Pynchon himself admitted to his obscurity in a rare interview, saying, “I was so fucked up while I was writing it…that now I go back over some of those sequences and I can’t figure out what I could have meant.”
I’m not going to bash a classic like Gravity’s Rainbow, but maybe if Pynchon got out a little more often and tried to better connect with other people, his characters and themes wouldn’t be so unnecessarily complex.
And that’s not such a terrible notion to follow personally. After sophomore year I realized two important things. One, my writing was self-centered and uninteresting, and two, I was becoming someone I wasn’t. The next year I dropped the faux writer persona, started laughing at my friends’ stupid jokes again, and grew as an honest writer and person in the process.