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Not A Joiner: A Writer’s Curse

Every once in a while, somebody I know (a fellow writer, usually), points out that I should belong to Codex. Codex is a professional writer’s forum and, to be a member, you need to have sold some amount of pro work (don’t ask me how much). It is a networking site, a place to find critique groups, and often has postings by editors and such advertising various themed anthologies and so on. In other words, it would be a really great idea to belong to Codex.

I do not belong to Codex.

I honestly can’t adequately explain why not. I don’t really consider myself shy and I’m not any more socially awkward than anyone else. And yet I’m reluctant to join a community. Indeed, I am regularly reluctant to join communities of any kind. I had to have my arm twisted to join social media. My wife signed me up for Facebook without my knowledge and then just handed me my profile and said “here, your friends miss you.” If there was a club or an organization in school I was a member of, I never really felt like I was part of it. At the jobs I have held, I’ve done my best to remain a competent employee who is, nevertheless, not really central to the office culture or society. It’s a weird and probably destructive habit. I feel as though it alienates people, and why shouldn’t it? I am deliberately alienating myself from them.

When I was 8 years old, my elementary school had a chamber orchestra for little kids. They trotted out the violin, the viola, and the cello. Everybody chose either the violin or the cello; I chose the viola. Why? Because everybody else didn’t pick it. When they could make my glasses prescription into contact lenses and everybody I knew was getting them, I didn’t – I stuck with glasses and stubbornly so. I don’t like shirts with sports team logos on them. I don’t own a single piece of clothing or paraphernalia with the logo of my college or graduate school on it. Just about my entire work history has been a story of how I could earn money without having to wear a uniform or work in a team or have to deal with coworkers.

Now, as an adult, I see this whole loner thing be nonsensical and immature. I like people, and I like making friends. I care about my job and I do my best to be helpful whenever tasked to work as part of a group. Indeed, the idea that I can somehow exist apart and away from everybody else is arrant nonsense. Where would I be without my beta readers? Without the feedback from my editors and my agent? Without the support of my family? Nowhere. Nobody does this alone. Hell, nobody does much of anything alone. It’s a myth.

The myth of the loner is, I think, probably tied up in the ridiculous notions of masculinity that get imbued into us as kids. Men are strong. Men don’t need anybody. Men can solve their own problems. I read stories of the lone knight slaying the dragon or the lone hero challenging the gods and took all that to heart. If you work hard enough, I thought, you won’t need anybody. You’ll be free. 

So there I was, at Readercon this past weekend. It was a good con, by all accounts – my panels were all great and I met a lot of interesting people – but I still felt this discomfort. I was sitting there, talking with Ellen Datlow on a Saturday night about our respective allergies, and I thought to myself “I don’t belong here. This is their community. I don’t have a community, remember?”

Of all the arrogant, idiotic thoughts to have. I am – and should be – a part of the science fiction and fantasy writing community. Why the hell am I going to all these cons if I don’t want that to be the case? I am not different. I am not some kind of weird loner, living on the outskirts. These people have thrown open their doors and I ought to walk right in and start shaking hands, not lurk in the shadows and listen to the music from a distance.

So I’m writing this now as an entreaty to those out there who are like me: those who have long felt that they have no people and that there is no group large enough to hold them or shaped to fit them. That’s bullshit. That’s self-aggrandizing hornswaggle. Your people are out there. Hell, they are inviting you in right now. Being a writer doesn’t mean you have to be alone all the time. Get out of your basement, meet people, make friends.

Dare to fit in.

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Making Friends and Meeting People

I must confess something: I’m not much of a networker. Honestly, were it not for the existence of Facebook, I’d barely converse with anyone my own age. If Facebook crashes and burns, the thought of having to move to some other social networking site seems like a lot of trouble. I probably won’t unless forced (which is how I wound up on Facebook – my wife signed me up). I lose contact with people easily. I really don’t work very hard to keep in touch.

Your challenge: talk to these people without really having a conversation. Go.

Your challenge: talk to these people without really having a conversation. Go.

It isn’t that I don’t like people – I like them just fine – but I don’t especially need people to feel fine. I can go literal days and even weeks without speaking to another human being. I did it in college during Spring Break my senior year – I stayed at school and just sat at my desk and wrote for the whole week. I barely went out. I barely saw anybody. I don’t think I had a conversation with anybody that lasted more than five seconds. At the end of it, I felt fine. In fact, I felt more than fine – it was then that I finished the first draft of my first novel (no, you won’t be reading it. It was terrible).

I would say that I’m an introvert, but that’s not precisely true. I have no trouble talking to people, I just don’t need to talk to people. In fact, unless there is a reason to speak to someone, I usually don’t. I don’t do small talk, for instance – either we are having a conversation about something or we are not talking. I find meet-and-greet events tedious and troublesome, since usually it involves me having to strike up conversation with people who don’t actually want to have a conversation – they want to talk about the weather and ask banal questions about each other’s professions. God forbid you actually engage in a real answer to a question, like when somebody asks me “how are you” and I give them an honest answer about my health. Suddenly I’m the weirdo for some reason, when they are the person who asked. Sheesh.

But I digress.

As my novel, The Oldest Trick (Part 1), nears its deadline and eventual release, I’m starting to worry that no one will buy it. Well, maybe not no one, but barely anybody, anyway. Not enough people for me to finish out the series, not enough people to put it on anybody’s radar, and not enough people for it to allow me to nab myself an agent. I have, therefore, gradually begun expanding my ‘social media presence’. You can find me on Twitter (which is sort of like the small talk Olympics, so I feel like a camel in the Congo there) and I have set up profiles on Goodreads and Amazon. There’s this place, too, for what it’s worth. I should probably get around to setting up an Author page on Facebook, which is the only social media platform I use with any regularity. I’m also a recent winner of the Writers of the Future Contest, which is a networking advantage all its own, and I’ve maintained some contacts among other up-and-coming scifi and fantasy authors. These are all good things.

Even still, I feel disconnected, aloof. I’ve never been a guy for diving into the crowd. I like parties and I like talking to people, but I generally prefer to do it with fewer people as opposed to more (since, in the former case, I can actually speak with and be heard by others in comfort). There is no earthy way anybody is getting me to go to a bar, and especially not if the bar is playing music loudly. Give me a couch, a dozen friends, and a good meal. All that, though, is sort of the antithesis of what an author wants or needs to build his “brand.” I need to inspire the masses, somehow. I need to make a connection with hundreds or (ideally) thousands of people so that they like me and want to buy my books and follow my every step. Frankly, I have no idea how to do that. I could be doing it right now and I’d have no idea.

Anyway, the point of this post is that I’ll be fiddling with the layout of this blog over the next few weeks, trying to make it a more efficient portal to access my work (evidently, nobody seems to see the “where you can find my stuff” category on the sidebar, despite what I feel is its very, very direct title). Wish me luck, folks. Oh, and if you have any tips on how to be better at networking, be sure to pass them along.

And if you’re an agent looking for a talented fantasy writer, well, I could really use your help. I think. That’s just it – I have no idea.