Wednesday, December 07, 2005

AH: Are Writers Weird?

Last month, after several days of traveling and teaching, I experienced an epiphany: People think writers are unusual people.

Know what else I've noticed? Some writers want to be odd. They talk about how strange they are, as if strangeness is a quality to be cultivated.

Well, I've got news for you--I have about a hundred close writer friends, and they're quite socially acceptable. You could have dinner with any one of them in a public place and no one would stare at you . (Well . . . last month I was eating with Jim Bell and Stephen Bly when they nearly erupted in a duel over the cinematic worth of the movie Shane, but that's another story).

On the other hand, I took my daughter to art school a couple of years ago, and I stared at everyone in attendance. You want to know strange, get thee to an artists' colony.

Maybe, you say, I don't notice that my novelist friends are strange because I'm strange. But I still beg to differ. Every been to an Amway convention? Hung out with circus folk? Gone "backstage" at a dog show? If you've done any of the above, you'll realize that everyone is strange in his/her own way. And when like minds congregate, the strangeness shows.

When writers cultivate the quality of oddness, I think we make writing seem altogether too mystical, as if mere mortals can't possibly aspire to it. Blarney and poppycock. Anyone with the gift of sitting still can learn to write. They may not be artistic about it, but if they can speak and think, they can write. Written communication is not rocket science.

One of my favorite writing books is Dare To Be a Great Writer by Leonard Bishop. I've had this book for years and never tire of flipping through the assorted entries. But one entry, I think, was written entirely tongue in cheek. Bishop says that once you have become a best-selling author, you need to develop a persona; you need to cultivate the writer's mystique:

"No longer have casual conversations. Conduct orations. Not with passive platitudinous ponderosities, but with dynamics and charm. Use the body language of a shadow-boxing pugilist. Develop cunning facial expressions. Grimace as though pained with profundity. Wink, pout, sigh, crack your knuckles in contemplation. Use a repertoire of snappy jokes employed by any popular dentist. Be direct, outspoken, bold. Do not become subtle or ethereal with implication. Audiences are not talented at grasping existentialist innuendo. Rehearse being extemporaneous. "

I respond to the above with a (genteel) snort. And while I'll admit that my presentations at schools are a little over the top with body language, acting, and humor (two girls from one school dubbed me the 'drama queen'), most of that comes from an earnest desire to keep the kids awake.

Yes, writing requires a lot of hard work. Writing a good novel takes hard work and endless hours. Writing an artistic novel takes even more time. Writing an artistic novel that doesn't put people to sleep requires even more effort. Few folks commit to that level of sacrifice.

But there are surgeons who strive for that level of excellence in their field . . . and teachers who aim for excellence in order to influence young lives. And broadcasters and mothers and fathers and architects and pastors and dog groomers, all of whom have committed their lives and their careers to excellence for the glory of God.

Does that make them weird? In a sea of mediocrity, perhaps. But in the light of eternity, they're not strange at all. They're the called, the committed, the good stewards. The ones who will hear "Well done, good and faithful servant."

I aspire to be one of them . . . but I don't think that makes me odd. Just . . . called.

Angela Hunt, author of The Novelist,


At 1:19 AM, Blogger Camy Tang said...

I like that--I'm not weird, I'm "called." My husband agrees with the "called" part, but he's also in agreement with the "weird" part, although he values his life too much to say it out loud.

At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

See, I told the shrinks there was nothing wrong with me. I'm not weird, I'm just a writer. Now maybe they'll help me out of this jacket. Who puts straps on the back of a jacket anyway?

At 7:55 PM, Blogger Bonnie S. Calhoun said... gave me a way out! Now I can say that I'm not weird....I'm a writer?

Alton, try turning the jacket around (she said with maniacal laughter)

At 11:35 PM, Blogger eileen said...

I just read Uncharted. Wow. I've spent days since evaluating what I say as a caregiver to my mom. You struck a chord!

At 8:54 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I now have my excuse! I've been looking for a "reason" for my weirdness for years and now I have it! Thanks! LOL


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