Storying Sheffield

Writing, misanthropy, and the world

Many thanks to Jo for this guest blog post. To find out more about her, see below.

Writers have a bit of a reputation for being a little socially awkward. Given that we spend most of our time alone at our desks, cradling mugs of coffee, smoking and scribing I can see why. We’re a little detached from reality. We’re a tad narcissistic. And we all have beards.
As an aspiring writer, I’ve believed this about myself for some time. The beard-growing proved to be pretty tricky, and my smoking habit never really took off given that it’s expensive, makes your skin, hair and clothes smell like rotting Bolognese and I got no enjoyment from it whatsoever. But all that stereotypical writer stuff aside I did detach myself from other people for a while. I used to think that to be a writer I had to hole myself away and just write. I didn’t think that I needed to engage with other people or even with life.
Recently, I’ve revised my misanthropic standpoint. As it turns out I’m quite sociable these days. I’d even go so far as to say I’m in high demand for chats-over-coffee. I’ve realised a couple of things from my various coffee-dates:
1. I actually really enjoy talking to other people. I love listening to people have a rant, or tell me an anecdote, or even launching into their whole life philosophy.
2. Conversation helps my writing enormously.
Talking fuels my writing more than anything else. That’s not to say that I transcribe conversations with friends to use later in a novel (that would be creepy), but I might steal an anecdote or come away with ideas for a character. The very art of conversation reignites my imagination and kicks my creative mind back into action. Simply talking makes the cogs in my mind start to whir and the words flow easier.
Perhaps I got caught up in the cliché of a misanthropic writer and put my imagination under too much pressure to provide me with material. As it turns out, rattling around an empty house all day doesn’t feed the imagination much. And I ended up getting into a bit of a rut, both socially and with my writing.
When I finally ventured back into the world, conversation was suddenly very hard work. I couldn’t concentrate on what people were saying, I couldn’t think of anything to say and I could barely string a sentence together. I responded to people by unintentionally staring at them while I wracked my brain for some words that might make up a response.
The more I spoke to people, the easier I found it to sit down and write, have ideas, think of dialogue and imagine characters.
Perhaps some writers have an endless resource of stuff in their head and they really don’t need the fuel of conversation. They only need a coffee and a cigarette and the words start flowing.
But that isn’t enough for me. I can’t be wholly detached. To write, I still need to be part of the world. I need to be observant and nosy. I need to ask people questions and listen to their thoughts. I like wandering around and absorbing tiny details from life and holding them in my mind. For me – life, people, reality are all fuel for my imagination.

Jo is an aspiring novelist, writer and some-time blogger. She has recently started a ’30 Before 30′ project on her blog Jo and the Novelist. She is currently in the process of writing what will (technically) be her second novel as part of her Writing MA at Sheffield Hallam University. Jo writes about her novel progress (amongst other things) at the Culture Vulture blog and writes book reviews and features for the webzine For Books’ Sake.
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