It’s inevitable, right? Creatives, especially writers, are often labeled with that word. I’ve been called that word. You know, the one that’s usually reserved for maiden aunts. Eccentric. And boy, was my maiden aunt eccentric! So, it must be in my blood.
However, it’s not like I just rolled out of bed one morning and announced, “I’m going to be a debauched and destitute bohemian who pens devastating verse!” I gave everyone ample time to prepare. I was five years old when Grammie asked me my vocation and I exclaimed, “A writer!” My father buried his face in his palm and groaned. She laughed heartily and said, “Don’t worry, Charles. She’ll be the next L. M. Montgomery.” (I wish. Maud would be Oprah-rich today.) Twenty years later when I was diagnosed with a slight astigmatism, my mother’s sister, an optical software technician, chuckled and said, “You always did see the world a little skewed.”
And just like my family, my friends love to tease me by introducing me with, “This is Kayla. She’s eccentric.” As I shake hands, dressed in total black, or a long colourful skirt swinging at my ankles, my hair whatever cut or colour of the month, I say, “I’m not really eccentric.”
“What do you do?” They ask.
“Oh, I’m a writer.”
“You’re eccentric,” replies my new acquaintance.
Because everyone knows that the word “eccentric” is synonymous with “writer”. Right? But what I really am is my family’s technicolour ewe and dark mule all rolled into one. I’m a divergent thinker. I can’t help it.
Aunt Patty was right about seeing the world askew, or at least from a different perspective. (Let me just take a moment here to clarify that my maiden aunt and Patty are not the same person, and neither would find it flattering if you thought so.) Divergent thinking is the thing that makes most people creative. Our creative, or sometimes odd, behaviours are often informed by this.
So, how are you weird? That’s actually a good question to ask yourself. I talk to inanimate objects and animals. (Another writer once caught me interrogating the fancy cheese at Sobeys.) That could be why I like to blend whimsy and anthropomorphization in my writing. I can easily imagine certain objects as having a life of their own. I see strange allegiances between seemingly unrelated things in the world and language. And when divergent thinking is cultivated as a skill set, it becomes an incredible superpower. Those strange thoughts, ideas, or ways of seeing are an in-depth way of writing you.
Want to try a writing exercise to explore this idea?
THE WEEPING BUDDHA
I call this exercise the Weeping Buddha because I bring mine with me on school visits. He’s a fascinating concept for high school kids to explore. When you rub the back of a Weeping Buddha, he brings peace by helping to lift your sorrows.
- Wander around your house for an interesting object. It doesn’t matter what, so long as it has character.
- What is it? If it were human, what do you think it would have to say? How would it feel on the inside? Write those words.
- Now, in a poem or short story, give it a voice.
Your readers will love your weird; they’re waiting for your perspective. And they’ll tell you so. I first discovered this when I wrote my teenage magnum opus at 17, “Mr. Sexy”, about a well-hung giraffe. That should have been my first clue that maybe I am eccentric. Overtime, the success from that one small poem gave me unexpected courage and I learned to vogue with my weird perspective.
But no matter how well-crafted some of my work is, it still gets rejected. Prepare yourself for that. However, before most writers work up their courage to submit their writing to a magazine or contest, they share with their nearest and dearest first. Sometimes that’s not always the best idea.
Have you had this experience? You’re excited and a little nervous. You’ve just handed one of your babies over to a loved one, a friend, and their eyes scan the lines, jumping back and forth, and you’re getting more excited, but just as they take a moment to collect their thoughts, you start to feel a little sick to your stomach. Were they able to elaborate and give you concrete feedback? In other words, did they leave you with any insightful little nuggets? Or was it something like this:
“Good job. Love the butterflies.”
Uh, OK, but it’s a poem about deer.
Perhaps, “Why is it so dark—do you need to see a professional?”
No…it’s a story about Disneyland.
Or like my father when I handed him my first real in-print poem, “I don’t understand poetry.”
My brother said, “I’m not good at poetry, but I’m really proud of you Sis.”
So I did three things. I stopped showing my writing to people who “didn’t get it” or weren’t able to help me. It just confused me in the end. I valued their opinions, but I realized, even as a beginning writer, that I had ground to stand on. I had an intent and I had training. If I wasn’t there yet, I would be.
I then formed a small group with writer friends, and we edited and encouraged each other.
Lastly, I embraced my family’s idea of me as their mulish technicolour ewe. It made things easier. Honest.
Get out of the fold. The world is full of brightly-coloured-woolly-cud-chewing-mule hybrids who are devoted to achieving their writing dreams. You will learn who “gets you”. There will always be a few individuals who understand what you are working towards. So, take a break, come back, and revise what doesn’t work. Then, go to the sheep salon, pick out a new dye and spice up your fleece! It’s best to keep everyone guessing at what you’re up to next.
Embracing your weird and wonderful, and giving it life on the page is admirable because it’s hard to do. The exact thing that society values in writers is often what they try to shear off our backs. So, be brave and pull on your technicolour wool. Stand in your voice. Strike a pose. Share your work with your herd and keep writing you.