This week’s quote comes from English author Julian Barnes who won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for his 2011 novel ‘The Sense of an Ending’. Barnes has also written under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh, publishing several titles under this ‘nom de plume’ as well as his ‘real’ name.
I like this quote for one reason: it seems to be talking directly to me as to the reason why I became a writer in the first place. As a child I was never popular at school or part of the ‘in’ crowd. Most of the time I was a loner, sometimes by choice and other times by being cast out from the main ‘groups’ at school. I was one of those kids that didn’t have the right hairstyle or who didn’t wear the right coat or shoes to school and the other kids set me apart because of it.
Years of being excluded in the social settings of childhood and young adulthood meant that I quickly learned to cut my own path in life, to not listen to the criticisms of others or feel as if I had to follow the latest trends. If I was an outcast then so be it, but at least I had the determination to be my own person, even when others said that I couldn’t.
I have always thought that the most compelling writers (or leaders of any artistic endeavors) have always been folk who felt as if they never quite fit in when they were growing up. Many creative people come from difficult – sometimes traumatic – childhoods and backgrounds and have used art as a way to express the emotions associated with it.
I believe that writers have a greater understanding of and sympathy for the sometimes conflicted emotions associated with being an outcast of some sort. The most absorbing books that I have read have been ones in which the author has masterfully put into words emotions that are so difficult to express verbally. A great writer will leave you thinking ‘Man, that’s exactly how I feel.’
But in order to feel, one must first understand. Writers need to be able to reach places deep within a reader and perhaps the only way to do so is to stand apart from the crowd, to be the outsider looking into to every day situations. A writer is separate from the world around them, yet such an intrinsic part of it. The nature of a writer is paradoxical, constantly contradicting itself, and questioning the meaning of their existence.
Perhaps writers are gifted (or possibly cursed) with the gift of being able to view the world around them with a deeper clarity than those who do not write. Writers – and other ‘artists’ for that matter – are often labelled as walking around with their head in the clouds when the truth is that they are more in tune with the world around them than they are often given credit for.
The next time you spot someone walking around, head moving from left to right with a sense of childlike wonder, spare a moment for them and ask yourself if that is a writer in your midst, looking for inspiration from their surroundings. Spare a thought for the person who sees more clearly than you realize and know that they are probably an outcast of some sort with a troubled or difficult history. Be appreciative of their bravery in baring their soul through the written word as they somehow try to make sense of the world around them.
Bravery is not in the ability to hide one’s flaws but in the willingness to expose them and risk the judgement of others. This is what a writer does each time they craft their words, creating a piece that will hopefully touch something deep inside their reader, setting them apart and making them an outcast. Anyone can be a sheep, it takes real guts to break from the ‘norm’ and cut your own path in life.