The other day, the Random Boy asked me if I’d ever had any imaginary friends.
I paused before answering, then typed back, “Too many to number.” I also had to explain that the past-tense “had” was incorrect: I didn’t used to have imaginary friends, I have imaginary friends. And I talk to them a lot.
Writers are sometimes viewed as people with an odd form of disease. There are too many real diseases in the world to quite count the urge to write as one of them, but that doesn’t mean writers aren’t considered a bit off from what we’d call “normal.” (For the sake of clarity, when I use the word writer, I do not mean people who write. Lots of people write: it’s part of work and school and many jobs. When I say writer, I mean those who, for some reason or another, MUST write. Those people who must go to it every day or feel lost, smothered, and empty. Those people who miss it when they’re away at their “real” jobs or are working on “important” college essays. Those people who, when writing, feel they are feeding a deep hunger in themselves or letting a part of their soul sing because, well, writing.)
Anyways, if none of that makes sense, then fine. I probably can’t explain it to you. If you do understand, then you have probably also had someone–family, friend, or significant other–look at you and say, lovingly but warily, “You’re crazy.”
This was the Random Boy’s response to my comment on imaginary friends, and it’s led me to think, mainly about camouflage.
If you are one of those lucky people who gets to sit in your home, composing books and mailing them out to the world for publication without seeing/speaking to another soul (unless you want to), then none of the following applies to you. If, however, you are one of the many people out there who is forced to interact with physical reality on a regular basis so you can continue to eat, it might be important for you to take heed: there are ways to disguise yourself as a normal person.
1) Watch How You Name the Things
Do not give any of your characters a name that is similar in any fashion to ANY of your loved ones’ names. If you give anyone in your worlds similar names to the people in this world, it’s only a matter of time before you get confused, and call your significant other a name that is not his/her name. As significant others might already be feeling abandoned and unloved because you spend so much time with with people that (probably) don’t exist (but who knows?!), you don’t want to antagonize them further by making them feel like you’re cheating on them with an awesome person you made up in your head. You might also, during late-night prayers, become muddled when you remember that So-and-so isn’t really in danger or suffering (most likely) and, if she was, God isn’t going to help because it’s your story and you have to get her out of the jam she’s in yourself.
2) Talk to Yourself in Private
Talking to yourself is one of the most necessary tasks that exists for you as a writer, particularly if you are a writer of fiction because there will be dialogue and you must get the feel of the words in your mouth before your characters can truly speak like normal human beings. Otherwise, characters end up saying things like: “Actually, I do not think I wish to go to the store with you, Roland,” instead of what they’d really say, which is probably, “Oh, so I have to do the shopping too, now? Go to the store yourself, bub.”
Despite the absolute necessity of talking to yourself to help a story out of your head, the people around you, such as co-workers, roommates, family, and neighbors, will probably worry about you if they catch you at it.
For example, a few months ago, I was in the midst of writing out an intense scene where my main character, under a great deal of pressure, suffers something of a nervous breakdown and begins ranting and raving and crying at this guy she believes to be a no-good jerkface. He is not actually a no-good jerkface, so I felt bad that he was being yelled at, but I could also understand her point of view, because I think I’d react in a similar manner if I was in her situation and hadn’t already been reduced to a sobbing hysterical mess. I was very involved with this scene–the problem was that I was at work. I’d been writing it out furiously, but was interrupted when business picked up over the lunch hour. I hated to just stop, so I resolved to “write in my head” while taking orders and busing tables.
This worked out okay until my co-workers started asking me what was wrong and I realized that I was muttering angrily to myself out-loud. I would have said, “Shh! Leave me alone; I’m trying to think!” But this kind of behavior is frowned upon at Steak ‘n Shake.
3) Claim to Suffer Boredom During Mundane or Disgusting Chores
One of the great things about being a writer is that it gives you license to take an interest in anything and everything no matter how boring or dirty or menial or generally unpleasant it may be. Maybe I can use this! is the thought that strikes almost every writer just before they complain about floor-scrubbing or burger-flipping or tax forms. Instead of complaining, writers instead attend to the task with a focus and delight that makes it part of a grander scheme.
This is not normal. People give you weird looks when they discover you, happily mopping or rolling silverware like some Disney Princess. And you can’t tell them that you’re happy because you look like you’re working, but mostly you are thinking about your story (which is far more important, anyway), because then they might think you’re crazy. You also can’t tell them you actually enjoy the work you’re doing because come on, really?
What you have to do is learn how to make a particular kind of face: a bored, world-weary, almost rolling-eyed face that let’s everyone know you are miserable just like the rest of the world. “I’m normal!” this face screams. “I’m totally not watching a dragon-battle right now. I don’t even know what a dragon is. That’s kid-stuff.”
4) Pretend to be Lonely
When my college roommate got her first boyfriend, she used to apologize to me for her happiness–as if her constant smiling and random dancing would offend me because I was still single and not wholly uninterested in men. But I used to stare at her, confused as to why she should feel the need to show sympathy. At the same time she was getting to know this great guy, I was becoming involved with a new story, and our passion together kept us up late many a night. I was having the time of my life, and, frankly, any approaching boy would have been a nuisance. I don’t think it’s coincidence that my first (and so far, only) romantic relationship began shortly after I’d finished that particular book project and was partaking in a brief break from novel-writing.
I don’t get lonely often. Sometimes, this makes me feel like a terrible person, especially when the Random Boy comes to me all like, “I’m sorry I’ve been ignoring you, it’s just that work has been so busy: I swear I’ll make it up to you and not leave your side this weekend.”
And I’m like, “How can I give him the slip?”
(I’m fortunate to have found someone who is not overly upset by this. I used to tell God I needed a writer for a lover, because otherwise the poor guy would end up hating me. The Random Boy is not a writer, but a gamer, and therefore understands and has taught me things about world-immersion that I will always be grateful for. I guess God knows best after all.)
Anyways, writers don’t always get lonely like the rest of people. It’s because they need space to work and room for thought. But it is important that writers, in their zeal to get writing done, do not drive all people away forever. Because stories come from people and that means writers need people. Especially those people that are able to stand them.
Pretend to be lonely. And you might come to value the companionship you’re lucky enough to have.
Good luck with the camo, now!