‘Lack of social skills: that was what made him a writer,’ muses the writer/narrator of Garrison Keillor’s ‘Pilgrims’. A humorous novel, but there’s many a true word spoken in jest (illustrating that the more banal the cliché, the more true it probably is). After all, if you’re the life and soul of the party, if people flock to hear your chat at social events, if you’re generally held to be good company, why would you need to write? Or want to?
Yes, I lack social skills. Casual conversation is a minefield to me. What do I say? What do I talk about? Is what I’ve just said sensible or incomprehensible? Why is the person I’m talking to yawning? Did he or she really have to make a phone call or was I just boring them stupid?
Parties, events, socials, meetings, conferences are things I dread though at conferences I can shine once I get my spot on the podium. For if I’m terrified of social situations, I don’t have the much more common fear of speaking in public. Yes, I think I’m pretty good at it, but more important, the rules are so much simpler. I talk, everybody else listens and interruption is frowned upon. Yes, there are questions and discussions afterwards, but again the rules of engagement are clear, the interactions more easy to predict than in the jungle of general chit-chat.
Everything that I’ve said about public speaking applies to writing too, only perhaps more so. I may be a ‘quiet’ person, I may be shy and socially awkward, but by crikey do I have as many opinions, things to say, stories to tell as anyone else – or perhaps more. And you know what? Perhaps because of my social failings, these can perhaps be more reasoned and eloquently expressed than those of more confident, sociable individuals. What’s the answer?
The answer is – I will write; I will create word-webs, weave stories, construct arguments and marshal evidence. And, unspoken but implicit, at the beginning of every short story, article, essay, poem or novel I write will be the message; shut up and listen, this is me, I’m talking now, nobody else.
Perhaps if I had the same attitude when my wife drags me kicking and screaming to a party, I might be a social hit. Maybe one day I’ll come out from behind the standard lamp and try it. But for now, I’ll stick to writing.